Thought I'd make you wait until, Friday, didn't you? :) I'm not entirely heartless, hee. Happy birthday vysed!
Nicki, K, H and Cosmo: for every word, giggle, sprinkle and moment you spent listening to me about this story, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you guys.
Dirty blond curls bounce as she's twirled around the floor. Even over the thumping beat of the music, her giggles float across the room to me.
As he leans in to whisper in her ear, her chubby little fingers twist into the hair at the nape of his neck. She's staring up at him with what I can only describe as awe. I do, too.
The smiles she gives him are so reminiscent of her daddy, all dimples and teeth. It's only when she's mad that she resembles her mom.
A warm hand on my shoulder brings my attention away, and I look over to my left. Rosalie is watching her, too; watching them.
"He spoils her," she says, picking up a champagne flute and taking a sip. She sits ungracefully in the chair at my side and does her best to control the too-large wedding dress hanging in creamy white folds from her frame.
I giggle at her pained look. She was the one who wanted the fairytale gala.
When she rolls her eyes at my amusement, I glance back in their direction to see what she's seeing. This time, my eyes land on his face. It's hard not to miss the wince as his eyes crinkle and he transfers Claire from one hip to the other. He still has pain – especially on days like today. We've been on our feet since the early morning hours.
Still, he wouldn't deny her anything, even if it meant a little discomfort. The doctors tell us that no matter how much physical therapy and exercise, he'll always have pain in his thigh from the gunshot wound.
I close my eyes to block out the sounds and memories of that night as they come flooding back in a rush.
The flurry of officers that storm the back steps of my house causes my head to spin. Numb, I stay where I am, waiting for someone to come back and tell me the news I most want to hear.
I tell myself over and over that he's okay. He has to be.
Every second feels like a minute, every minute that passes may as well be an hour. I don't know how long it takes for my breath to come back and for my heart to settle.
I shake my head to clear it. As much as I wish it didn't, that night, particularly those moments of terror because I simply didn't know, still haunt me. The gunshots still creep into my dreams. Though they aren't as often as they used to be, they still hit when I least expect. I wake up sweaty and breathless, gasping for air. Usually, sleep is lost for the rest of the night after one of those dreams.
Luckily, there's always a warm body by my side when I wake. His presence alone reminds me that, no matter how bad the dreams are, how frightening those minutes were before I finally heard his voice calling my name, the reality is so much better.
"She loves him," I tell Rose, smiling.
After the stress of the trial, when Edward had to testify and I listened to his account of what happened on the night my dad died, finding out that Rose was pregnant was a welcomed distraction.
As it turned out, Lonnie and Edward were close friends all throughout their childhood. They'd met in the time Edward was between his own father's home and my dad's, a pair of kids shuttled into the system and clinging to each other for a spare bit of normalcy. Things changed when they got to high school, though. Lonnie fell in with the wrong kind of crowd while Edward chose a different path.
Lonnie never forgave him for choosing honor over their friendship.
Charlie paid for that grudge with his life when he jumped in front a bullet to save the kid he'd raised as his own.
Every day I mourn the loss of knowing my dad, and I know Edward misses him, too. But it feels good to know that the man who took him from us is paying for it. After six months, Lonnie was convicted to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
When it came time for Claire to arrive just over a year and a half ago, Edward made the trip with me. It was refreshing to return to California for the first time in more than a year. I got to show Edward my favorite things and finally introduce him to Phil, Rose and Emmett.
It was the first time I'd been face to face with my mother again as well. Things were still patchy between us, but we took it one day at a time. The relationship would probably never heal fully, but we spoke more often now.
My eyes focus as Edward twirls Claire around again. I've never seen him look at anyone else the way he looks at her. They've shared their own special bond since the first time he laid eyes on her – none of us can seem to explain it.
It makes Emmett jealous; Rosalie, of course, just laughs. Personally, I love it. It's opened my eyes to the bond he'll someday have with our children.
Rose, who never liked any of the guys I dated, freaking loves Edward. She said once that anyone who could make me chill out enough to leave dishes in the sink overnight had her highest respect.
I have to agree. He's pretty much a keeper.
"Yeah, yeah… I know," Rose replies. "At least I know she'll be in good hands while we're on our honeymoon."
"Like there was every any doubt." I roll my eyes.
She puts her arm around my shoulder and leans in close. "So, am I ever gonna get to go all maid-of-honor-zilla on those bitches up in Washington?"
I shrug and lean my head against hers, snorting out a laugh. "Maybe someday," I tell her. "We're not in any hurry. We have the rest of our lives."
You know I couldn't end it without one last cliffhanger, right? Forgive me?
This really, truly is the end. Thank you to each and every one of you that took the time to read this story and invest your time in these characters, it was a true pleasure sharing it with all of you. I can't say I won't revisit these characters again in the future, but for the time being, I'm marking this story as complete. Thank you, yet again, for taking another journey with me - it's been a fantastic ride.