This is the final chapter of this story. Thanks to all my readers & particularly those who've left me some reviews. I truly appreciate it.
I don't own Twilight.
~ XII. ~
New Orleans, 1950
My mother's words taunt me more than Edward A. Cullen's story. I tuck the letter between the pages of the notebook and store the diaries together with the rest of the memorabilia in the box underneath my bed. Staring at the ceiling, I try to recall things about her. I remember so little about the woman who gave birth to me. After reading so much about her, I suddenly feel like I not only lost my mother all those years ago, but also a woman who could have been my friend and confidant.
When she first died, I hated her for leaving me behind. She used to read to me, hold me and spoil me with sweets. One of the last memories I have of her before she died was her taking me to the stream behind Grandpa Maurice's house to show me how to fish. I still go there sometimes. After her death, the house felt empty, devoid of life. My grandmother was a ghost who never spoke to me, and my grandfather's temper was hardly conducive to dealing with a three year old child. Bernie did her best to soothe me, hug me, and keep me occupied, but she wasn't my mother.
My grandfather, Charles Swan, or Charlie as I usually call him, rarely talked about her. I always thought he held her in contempt because of who she'd become in the end – a sick addict. Maurice, Alec, and Bernie only had kind words to say about my mother, but I never fully gleaned who she was from their stories. Alec probably knew her the best, but he never spent much time with me. He'd stayed behind in Atlanta after my mother gave birth to me and returned to her parents' house, and then he died when I was still young. Seeing my mother through the eyes of an outsider who genuinely and completely loved her, I can see now for the first time who she was as a person. I've come to the conclusion that more than anything else that was the reason Charlie disliked her.
My mother was smart, educated, and had dreams about a future that did not include being caged into a mansion with pretty dresses and jewelry. She wanted more from life than what she had. Her opinions, her choices in life, in a sense her very essence, went against everything Charlie believed in and still does. In his opinion, which he values above all others and preaches to anyone who is willing to listen, women are men's property; their sole purpose is to get married and bear children. She defied him by going to college, and then again when she married Alec, even though the marriage saved his business.
Whenever I got into trouble as a child, Bernie used to tell me stories about how my mom and Charlie used to fight like cats and dogs. She said the part of me that contradicted and argued with him came straight from my mom. Almost since the day she could talk, she fought with her father. Not even the occasional slap with his leather belt would shut her up.
By the time my mother met Edward Cullen, she had defied her father several times already. Alec once told me when I was about six years old after old Caius Volturi had walked past us, that right before my mother was supposed to go to college at the age of seventeen, Charlie had almost forced her to marry Caius. I wrinkled my nose in disgust and Alec laughed. Apparently Mr. Volturi had agreed to pay some of Charlie's substantial gambling debts back in the day, in exchange for his daughter's hand in marriage.
Caius Volturi is still alive today, and by all estimates he is the most powerful and richest man in this state. Financially he would have been a good match for most eligible bachelorettes, but his considerable age and his appearance left him single despite his riches. Overall, his looks resemble that of an ancient, decaying mummy; his skin is paper thin, sagging eyelids obscure his eyes, and he can only walk with the aid of two canes. By my estimate, he must have had at least thirty years on my mother.
Bella refused the proposed marriage the minute she got wind of it, but her refusal in all likeliness meant very little to my grandfather. Feisty, her will to defy Charlie not yet broken, Bernie told me that my mother took it upon herself to examine the books of her father's business. With help from Alec, who was in his first year at Harvard at that point and only home for the summer, she managed to find enough funds to cover Charlie's debts. She also managed to cut some wasteful spending in his business, making it profitable for a while. Confronted with this new reality and additional money, Charlie relented under the condition that Bella would agree to marry a man of his choosing immediately upon her graduation from college.
Once she graduated, she didn't bother at first to return home and instead worked for a year as an assistant to a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I have no idea what her experience was in New York. From what Bernie told me, she was disappointed and depressed when she finally did return home in defeat, so I assumed it couldn't have been a positive one. Once my mother confessed to her over glass of sherry sitting at the kitchen table that she found it immeasurably hard to deal with the fact that she had little chance of succeeding in a career all because none of her colleagues would consider taking her seriously as long as she had breasts.
By the time she returned, Charlie's finances were again in dire straights due at least partially to the economic downturn that wreaked havoc on so many businesses during that period, though surely his inability to cut his spending habits and to devote more time to work rather than leisurely indulged debauchery didn't help his business either. So he wasted no time looking for a suitor for my mother.
While the Dubois were most certainly wealthy enough to make Alec Dubois a suitable match for her, my grandfather did not consider him to be a good choice for his daughter. In contrast to Charlie, Maurice Dubois was a hardworking business man who insisted on a strict accounting of all expenditures. Borrowing money from Maurice would have bought Charlie's business under the eagle eyes of Maurice, and that thought alone gave Charlie nightmares.
In the midst of the depression Charlie's choices were limited and so he expanded his search.
When Aunt Petunia fell ill due to a particular heinous and persistent case of migraines, my grandparents agreed to send Bella to Atlanta to care for her, in the hopes of possibly finding a husband there. And I guess in rather typical fashion of my mother, she did meet a potential husband in Edward A. Cullen, a choice that would have sent dear Charlie into a fit of rage. Reading the rather explicit entries in his diaries about the time he spent with my mother, I gather it is safe to assume that he is my father. I guess if I had known either of them growing up, the diary would have been quite shocking and uncomfortable to read, but other than the stories Bernie, Alec, and Maurice shared with me about my mother, I know very little about my her and next to nothing about my father. They are to me like characters in a book; people I've grown quite fond off and sympathize with, because their story has moved me, but at the end of the day they are strangers.
Like Charlie, I knew from an early age that I was not Alec's son. It wasn't that he'd ever treated me unkindly, but our relationship always felt strained. I know Alec must have loved my mother in some way, but I always doubted they were romantically involved. I noticed his preference for the same sex when I was about ten years old, shortly before his death. I was sent to visit him for two weeks in the summer that year and accidently wandered into his bedroom one morning, where I found a naked man sprawled out on his bed. I didn't think anything of it. I was still too young to figure it out completely. Reading Edward's diaries simply confirmed something I already knew.
Maurice more than adequately made up for Alec's lack of attention. He treated me like I was his own son until his passing. I had a room in his house where I could stay as long as I wanted and often did so for extended periods when Bernie left to visit her daughter in Georgia. For my sixteenth birthday, Maurice threw a party for me. I remember it well. He spared no expense, making my birthday bash the biggest social event of the late spring season. I hated the party, but I amused myself with the girls who were easily charmed by my smile. In fact, I lost my virginity in the large walk-in-closet next to the library during said party. Her name was Jessica Stanley, and I still thank my lucky stars today that I didn't get her pregnant. What I remember most about that night though is the conversation I had after all the guests had left. I hadn't seen Maurice all night, but when I loosened my tie in the empty entryway and was about to head to my room, he was leaning in the doorway to the living room. He watched me intently, his hands folded around a glass of scotch.
"Happy Birthday, son," he said with a big smile playing across his lips.
"Thanks," I muttered, rolling my eyes, feeling suddenly dead tired.
"Have a drink with me, son, will ya?" He motioned for me to follow him.
He handed me glass of scotch, which I barely touched during our conversation, and a cigar, as we settled across from each other in front of the burning fireplace. We chatted for a while casually about which bay provided good fishing this season and other nonsense, until the conversation turned serious.
"Edward, since my son and wife have passed away and I'm not getting any younger, I think it's time to discuss some family matters with you," he started, swirling the scotch in his heavy crystal glass. "As you know, my son left you his entire estate when he passed away, and I have maintained his investments well during the last years, so that you are entitled to a decent size inheritance when you turn eighteen. Jane is well taken care of and since she has no children, I'm not planning to set aside anything for her in my will. My wife left plenty for her already. I will maintain this house for as long as I live, and upon my death you will inherit the title to it along with the rest of my estate."
"Thanks, but it's not necessary –" I started objecting, feeling uncomfortable. Part of my discomfort possibly originated from an underlying sense that I was linked to his family only by name, not by blood; though no one ever mentioned any suspicions they might have had in my presence.
"I know it's not necessary, but there is nobody else who is as near and dear to me as you are. You are in a certain sense the son I always wished I'd had. You can sell the house once I'm gone, but maybe you will think about keeping it. Bella always loved this house, because the garden is much bigger than the one behind the Swan residence. Alec and her used to play together down by the little stream that runs across this property. They were like two peas in a pod, glued together since they were toddlers. Do you remember her, Edward? I know Charlie never talks about her, but your mother was a heck of a girl."
"I do a little," I answered, remembering pictures I'd seen of Alec and my mother when they were children. In nearly every single one of them they held hands. I always used to envy the connection they seemingly shared.
He nodded, a sad smile playing around his lips. "So, back to business." He sighed heavily and crossed his legs. "In addition, as has always been the tradition in the Dubois family, you will be entitled to a trust fund. In the past, the requirement was that you be married before gaining access to the fund, but I think it's time to get rid of such an antiquated rule. I made Alec adhere to it and no good came of it, so you will have full access to the fund upon your twenty-first birthday, irrespective of whether you chose to settle down. Don't worry about Charlie or Renee either. I've taken care of that. It is the way Bella would have wanted it."
I wasn't sure how to respond to his generosity. "Thank you," I finally managed to say. "I really don't know what to say, Grandpa."
"Nothing is fine. No need to thank me. I owe your mother, I suppose, for bringing you into this world. You've grown up to be such decent young man. She would be so proud of you," he said, his face crinkled by a genuine smile. "Life wasn't the same for Alec, after your mother passed. He loved her. Maybe not the way he needed to, but I can't fault him for that. You probably don't remember her well enough to know this about her, since you were so young when she died, but she was the most vibrant woman that ever walked the face of the earth. So much passion, so much energy. She would have been destined to greatness, if she were born a man. The person you met still had that spark, but it was slowly extinguishing. It was a shame really. My son is partially to blame for that. He failed her, and for that I must apologize to you."
"Bernie said there is nothing that anybody could have done. She was sick."
He smirked at me. "Ah, wise, old Bernie! Well, she is right in some way. Nobody could have cured the underlying physical illness that she suffered from after your birth, and no matter what anybody tells you, she only took to smoking tar because it killed the pain and made her forget. Don't judge her for the way she left."
"I don't," I answered truthfully. I still have memories from my early childhood and her crying in agony in the middle of the night. Bernie would get up and run to her room to try to sooth the pain with potions and tea, but they would never help. My mother refused to take the morphine the doctors prescribed, because the brown glass bottles the liquids came in reminded her too much of the laudanum bottles her own mother fell victim to. In the end, she found the illicit version of the painkiller more appealing. Her physical discomfort became more bearable after she discovered an opium den one night. She started smoking opium habitually for the last year of her life.
"But Bernie is also wrong. We all share some blame for killing the flame that sustained her; I am, because I insisted that Alec be married before allowing him access to his trust fund, thereby forcing my son to follow a path he wasn't designed for; my son, because he persuaded her to marry him even though he knew he'd make a lousy husband and she was in love with someone else, and your grandfather surely shares some blame too. After all, if he hadn't perpetually gambled money away back in the day, she wouldn't have been forced to marry for money."
I was perturbed by the acknowledgment of collective guilt, but didn't know what to make of it. Only now do Maurice's words make sense to me. I excused myself shortly after his confession and fell into a deep sleep, slightly drunk from the sips of champagne I'd stolen during the party and the scotch.
Charlie never acknowledged any lingering feelings of guilt or regret over my mother's passing. Yet, after reading my father's diaries, I blame him the most for her death. He is technically the only family I have left, but I have little desire to return to this house once I leave for college in the fall. Maurice died last winter, and Renee's heart stopped beating two months ago. I didn't grieve her. She was dead long before the doctor signed her death certificate. The only person I will return to this house for is Bernie. She's the only person left I care about.
Jasper Whitlock has gracefully spared me any attempts to search for Mr. Cullen by including his death certificate in a separate envelope together with another note from him explaining the circumstances of my father's death. After he found out about my mom's passing, he assigned all his worldly possession to a trust fund I am now the beneficiary of and volunteered for the army. Since he'd completed his first year of medical school, they assigned him to the medical corps. He was stationed mostly in the South Pacific region, where he succumbed to malaria and died in 1945.
Along with the enormous wealth he left me, as detailed in the letter I first received from Mr. Jenks, I have all his personal possessions as well. Aside from the diaries and my mother's two letters, the packet included a pocket watch with the initials E.A.C. engraved and several pictures of my father when he was younger. I marvel at the outward resemblance between us, and I wonder whether I inherited any other traits from him. I shall never find out.
I won't mourn the fact that I never knew my father or my mother. Or fault Edward A. Cullen for never seeking me out, but instead volunteering to be slaughtered in a war. It's pointless. Instead, I will focus on living and not wasting time.
The one thing I learned from their story is that sacrificing some part of yourself for social standing or wealth never really pays off. In the grand scheme of things, it won't make you happy. My mother may have saved her family's business and wealth, but she killed herself doing it. Edward, for all his distaste of wealth, felt constrained by norms he should have defied and let them propel him into gaining something he had ultimately no use for. Neither of them chose to live, to seek out what made them whole. I will not repeat their mistakes.
Thank you for reading.