I don't have anything to say here except thank you to everyone who has read and shared this story. There will be a second epilogue. BPOV. Bringing it full circle.
ShearEnvy, bashfulfan and roglows are wonderful.
Disclaimer: not mine
We weren't perfect. We weren't even close. Some people would say we made a mess of it. There was love, though. More than we knew.
Maybe more than we thought we deserved.
I used to have a different idea of permanence. I thought what mattered was my name, the words I wrote and where I wrote them, but paint will fade and peel and someday no one will remember us. Someday we won't even be a memory.
All that matters is that it happened.
Once, this was everything.
Once, we were here.
No one's at the bench yet. I can see the sky lightening on the horizon, across the city and past the strip of green where the houses spread out.
I'm not surprised I'm alone. No one's hitting trains since the cops cracked down and a bunch of kids got busted. No doubt the bench will be the spot again someday, though. The next crop of writers will come up and won't give a fuck. They'll be invincible, just like we were.
At twenty-five, I'm a veteran. There are kids now that think of me mythically. I've heard them at the art center saying my name, some of the stories fucking ridiculous but some surprisingly accurate after all this time. You can still find my old pieces in the ghost yard and in small spots around the city if you know where to look. I own my name and I own my past, but I don't offer up details unless pressed.
I'm really proud of the murals, though. I've done more than I can count and through that have mentored hundreds of kids, some with success and some without. The board promoted me to director last year. Bella convinced me to take the position, even though it's more work and not much more pay.
The first train of the day rolls by and I follow it with my eyes; there are dull spots where they washed the cars, color still visible in some areas. Sitting here with my hoodie pulled up and baseball cap on, it could be five years ago...ten years ago, easy. Sometimes I still feel like that kid. A lot has changed, though.
People say that marriage doesn't mean anything, that it's just a piece of paper. It wasn't like that for me, though. I needed to say those words and to hear my girl say them back. I needed to slide that ring on her finger and know that no matter what, wherever she is, I'm there with her. It was, by far, the best fucking day of my life.
I spin the titanium band with my thumb. I picked out Bella's ring and she picked out mine, which had to be able to withstand the wear and tear of my job . I know no matter how much paint is layered on top of it, underneath that band is intact. I can scrub it clean. That's some metaphorical shit right there.
Jake's voice announces his presence, as usual. He's talking shit to Sam and Paul as Jared trails behind him with Leah. With all of our schedules and obligations, this was the only time we could get together. We had a barbecue last weekend but Billy's was packed and we hardly had a chance to really say goodbye.
When Sam, Jared and Leah move out West, it will feel like the end of an era- even more than when we stopped writing or when people started pairing off and growing up. Underneath everything I'm happy they're getting out of the neighborhood, though. Too many people get stuck where we grew up, working shit jobs and drinking at the same bars their parents did.
Jake walks up and we hug, pounding each other's backs. He's settled back into a rhythm, the hard edge he got from his time inside has mellowed. He laughs with his whole body again.
"These fuckers are leaving me," he says, wiping away a fake tear. I know it's not all bullshit, though. He steps forward and looks at the view.
Sam throws his arm around my shoulders and squeezes my neck. "Hey, brother." There's sadness behind his smile. I'm sure mine looks the same.
I hug Paul, then Jared, and we sprawl on the benches, watching the sun come up and reminiscing about the years we spent out here watching the city wake up. We talk about the best pieces and the worst days. Sam and I talk about the night Jake got picked up and his face goes serious, but it's not like it was before. We're past it. They bring up parties I forgot about and people we haven't seen in years. We laugh and talk over each other and when we all go quiet at the same time I know we're all thinking about how we'll miss this.
Rachel shows up with a joint, passing it around. Bella and Rose get there and even though there's space next to me I pull Bella down onto my lap, her arm around my neck. She hands me my black coffee from the coffee shop with a smile.
"What time did you leave?"
I left her a note rather than waking her up this morning. I'd been awake for hours, staring at the ceiling. I haven't been looking forward to this day and she knows that.
With her lips close to my ear she murmurs. "Last night was fun. I missed you this morning."
The suggestion in her voice is enough to get me hard again. She grins and maybe she's saying it just to distract me or make me feel better but it doesn't matter. It works. I kiss her pretty mouth and push her hair back to whisper things in her ear that I hope no one hears.
Sam hands her the joint and she takes a hit, holding it in before exhaling. She slides off my lap and passes it to me carefully. We watch the city and listen to everyone's conversations. Rose reenacts the time that Jake got his dick caught in his zipper and we laugh until we cry.
Rachel and Leah sit close together. Leah's eyes are red, and not from the weed. I know she and Jared are really happy, but she and Rachel have been inseparable practically since birth. Rose sits across both of their laps and the three of them hug, joking at first. As the seconds pass it turns into a goodbye and I have to look away. Bella's hand slides to my wrist, at my pulse point. She takes a deep breath and we watch a train go by in the distance, both of us following it until it's out of sight.
Jacob stands, hoodie pulled up and hands shoved in the front pockets.
"It's crazy, out here talking about the good old days...everyone getting married and moving on and shit." He looks down, kicking at the grass. "We were just kids, man."
He keeps his head down.
"I'm gonna miss this shit. All of us together."
It's the part none of us want to start, but as the sun gets higher in the sky we all know it's coming. They're leaving from here. Leah's car is packed and ready to go.
There are more than a few tears shed, but not one of us talks shit. We see them off, standing by the cars. Rachel and Leah hold hands through the open passenger window until Jared starts to pull away. Jake puts his arm around Rachel as we start walking, dipping his head to talk to her.
We go to Carlisle and Esme's for breakfast. Being here takes the sting off the morning, watching Rose carefully and proudly crack eggs into a bowl. Esme pauses between flipping pancakes to hug each of us.
I listen to Bella and my aunt make plans for the next weekend, my finger hooked in Bella's belt loop. My hand comes to rest on her thigh, sliding higher. She turns and gives me a look, smiling and shaking her head at Esme as they keep talking. That part hasn't changed. I still want her all the time, maybe more now.
Bella and I are happy. Not annoyingly happy. Not for show. Just the kind of happy that leaves me feeling stable. Things can go wrong, sometimes really fucking wrong, but I can handle it because I know we're solid.
For the first time in my life I'm at peace with the past.
She rolls her hips slowly and I sigh further into her. She's so tight and wet and sometimes I like to say that shit but we don't always need dirty words. The best times are just us, skin on skin on smooth white sheets. We keep our eyes on each other and she lets her weight settle on me, switching up her movement to shift her hips forward and back. I exhale heavily and she pushes back a little harder, watching my reaction.
I try to use my fingers and she shakes her head, whispering. "I'll come too fast." That makes me harder and I grab her hips, pushing up and trying to get deeper. She smiles and I know she did it on purpose. If we weren't fucking and she wasn't my wife she'd be the biggest tease I've ever met.
She slides up slowly, tightly, before she climbs off of me and onto her hands and knees.
Even though I try to, she does most of the work and when I stop moving altogether she starts to make noises that let me know this is how we're going to come. Grabbing my hand she moves it to where she wants and I hardly have to do anything, letting her slip against my fingers.
The ancient buzzer at the front door sounds and before I can react she grips my wrist so I don't move. "Fuck it," she breathes, still riding my dick. She tightens and the way she's moving gets me harder. I'm close but she comes just in time and I pull her hips back to meet mine as I bust into her with a moan.
When I release her hips, she rolls onto her back, dropping her head to the side to smile at me. I grab her right tit and she laughs when I jiggle it.
It's not until the buzzer sounds again that I remember there's someone at the door. She turns as I get up, rolling onto her stomach. "Let's be naked all day," she says, watching me walk away.
I laugh, walking into the front hallway and pressing the button to speak. I'm sure no one is looking through our second-story windows but as an afterthought I palm my junk.
The intercom crackles but the voice is unmistakable. My heart stops in my chest.
"Edward? It's...Elizabeth. It's your mother."
She looks the same. Her hair is longer and the auburn is touched by grey but her eyes are still the bright green that looks almost unnatural in the right light. Her face falls when I introduce Bella as my wife, her eyes going to our ring fingers. Her congratulation is sincere but there's an ache in the words. We didn't invite her. I honestly didn't feel bad about it until now.
We sit down at the kitchen table with cups of coffee and Bella openly stares at her like she's on the verge of asking a thousand questions, like she's just waiting for my mom to look at her. Her green eyes are trained on me, though. I forget how much we look alike. It's a face I've drawn more times than I can count but I have trouble looking at it now. Bella grabs my hand under the table.
"This is a really nice apartment," my mom offers. I nod, but don't meet her eyes. Our communications have been minimal since I was released. A few letters here and there. A postcard from a vacation she took to Hawaii. For the first time in a long time I feel like shutting down. It would be easy to find comfort in silence and averted eyes.
There are things I forgot about. The lotion she uses still smells the same and her skin is still translucent, perfect without makeup. Her hair is twisted up in a loose bun and she's thinner than before, but she looks good.
"What are you doing here?" I'm not unkind, but she flinches.
It takes her a long time to respond. I forgot she does that and hate that it reminds me of myself. "I don't know if I can answer that without sounding like I think I deserve your forgiveness."
Bella's fingers squeeze mine.
"I did a horrible thing, leaving you like that. Not a minute of any day goes by where I don't think about it...about you."
The adult in me wants to tell her to fuck off and the kid in me wants to get up and walk out the front door without another word. I reach for something less dramatic.
"You want me to forgive you," I say. It's not a question.
"I want to be a part of your life."
I laugh once and know it comes out sarcastic, but can't stop it. My leg starts to bounce and I look out the window, trying to control my temper. I rub the back of my neck and take a deep breath.
"Edward," Bella says, her voice low. I nod, letting her know that I'm okay.
When I look back at my mom her eyes are on my chest. Without thinking I reach up, tucking the dog tags into my wifebeater and concealing them, like they aren't hers to see now. I flash back to them sitting on my nightstand, the rest of the house empty. It's been a long time since I thought about that day.
"I was only fourteen." As I say it out loud, anger kicks up in my gut. "Who packs up all their shit and leaves their kid like that?"
Her gaze slides to the table and Bella holds her breath.
"Don't." It comes out sharper than I had intended, my voice echoing over the hardwood. Over the years I've come to some realizations about my dad, but I'm not giving her that. She doesn't get to hold herself up next to him now. "Do not blame him."
It's a minute before she tries again, a tremor in her voice that she can't conceal. "I didn't mean for you to think I was blaming him. I'm not. But your father and I had a complicated relationship and after he died I had a lot of guilt and a lot of anger. In fact, I spent a lot of my life being angry at people around me for things I could have helped. I spent a lot of time running away, searching for something to fix what's wrong with me. I've tried everything. Booze, drugs...men...religion. Esme told me not to come back, but I wanted to see you."
My heart constricts in my chest and when Bella squeezes my hand again I pull it away. I hope none of what I'm feeling shows on my face.
"And you think this will fix it...coming here."
I watch her swallow hard, trying to keep in the emotion that is bleeding through in the shake of her fingers and the wetness in her eyes. "I hoped," she whispers.
I look at Bella, lost. She gives me a half smile and nods, understanding. I'm halfway to the door when my mom speaks again. I stop and wait, but don't turn back.
"I'm so sorry, Edward. I just want you to know that I love you."
I don't slam the door and I don't yell. A neighbor passes me on the stairs and I manage to smile and say hello, but before I get in my car I try to put my fist through the brick wall of our building.
Esme searches my face, calling for Carlisle to grab the first aid kid when she sees my hand. He brings it into the kitchen and leaves just as quickly, seeing that I need to talk to my aunt alone.
We stare at each other as she waits for me to explain. "My mom's here."
Her face goes from shock to realization. Then acceptance. "Let me clean you up before we talk."
I can wiggle my fingers and my hand doesn't feel broken. The ache there matches the ache in my chest, though. I guess that was the point.
When she's done, she sits back and looks me over.
"You told her not to come back?"
She swears under her breath, bringing her hands up to press in two spots on her forehead. For a second she closes her eyes and I watch her chest rise and fall as she calms herself.
She gets up and gets two beers out of the fridge, popping the tops off and setting one in front of me. Neither of us acknowledge the fact that it's only ten a.m. She starts talking like she's already in the middle of a story.
"So I went to see Elizabeth before I drove here from Berkeley." She takes a deep breath. "She was living with some guy...but when I showed up, she cried. She was still torn up about your dad. She told me how she left you with an envelope of cash. No note, even." Her eyes tear and she closes them, stilling herself. "You never told me that. You're like your dad in that way. Anyway, I told her she was welcome any time, but when I got to Billy's and saw you...how lost you were…"
She takes a swig of her beer, using the back of that hand to wipe her cheek. I wonder what that day looked like from her perspective. "I called her and told her to stay away. I was afraid she would show up and leave again. And kiddo, I could see in your eyes that you weren't going to be able to handle that."
I pick up my beer and down half of it. It doesn't stop the feeling in my chest from taking over like I was hoping, though. I drop my head, knowing it was right but fucking hating what she's saying.
After a few minutes I sit up and finish my beer. She gets each of us another.
"Are you mad at me?" she asks.
Looking at her and seeing the sincerity and love that she shows for all of us, I'm not sure I could be even if I wanted to. "No."
She looks unsure, but she doesn't dwell on it. "How is she?"
I shrug. I don't really have much to compare her to anymore. Ten years is a long time. "She looks the same."
"She always was a beauty. Your dad was a handsome man but she's where you got your good looks from, you know."
When I don't respond she knocks my knees with hers.
"You gonna forgive her or what?"
I look up. "Would you?"
"No. But maybe it's worth it to give her a chance." She attempts a smile. "No regrets and all that."
Her fingers tear at the label on the beer bottle.
"You don't trust her, though," I say.
She looks up reluctantly and I know the answer before she says it. "Never did."
She stops me at the door and when I turn around, the look on her face makes me feel fucking awful. "I'm sorry, Edward. I only want what's best for you."
When I go to hug her, she crushes me in her thin arms, the incense scent still the same as ever. She scratches my back and I'm a kid again, but in this moment I think it's her that needs reassurance.
"I love you, kid," she says.
"I love you, too," I say, without hesitation.
I leave thinking about the future; about how I want my kids to have what I was missing. I leave thinking about forgiveness and growing up...and how I will never punch another fucking wall again as long as I live. That shit hurts.
My mom was staying in a shitty hotel. After two weeks I invited her to stay with us. Bella, of course, says she's supportive of whatever I choose.
When I tell Rose, she practically has a fucking aneurysm. She's standing on the porch of her house while Emmett, Bella and I sit. She throws her hands up, dramatically. All three of us raise our eyebrows, waiting for her to erupt.
"You're letting her stay with you? Are you fucking kidding me? I can't believe we're even having this conversation. I can't believe you even agreed to speak to her. She abandoned you when you were what...thirteen?"
"Fourteen," Bella corrects her. Rose rolls her eyes.
"Whatever. Do you remember that day? Because I do. You're just gonna let that bitch back into our lives like it's nothing?"
The fact that she says "our lives" doesn't escape me. Sometimes I forget that loss wasn't just my own. Rose suffered right along with me.
Emmett reaches his hand out, waiting until she takes it. He pulls her onto his lap.
"Calm down, babe," he says. She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. Just like Esme. It makes me smile.
"I just don't understand, Edward."
I try to find a way to put it into words, my desire to fix things now, to let go of all the anger and shit I've carried around my whole life. "It's the right thing to do. I need to move on." After a second I clarify. "We need to move on."
Rose looks away but I can tell she's absorbing that.
"Step nine," she says after a minute. Bella sighs heavily and I realize Rose is talking about her twelve steps.
That step was the toughest for all of us, with the confessions and apologies and all the fucked up stuff it dredged up. By now we've gone through a few rounds with her. Her last relapse was a year and a half ago and it was so bad we weren't sure she and Emmett would survive it. Like with everything, Rose doesn't slip slowly. That's never been her style. She dives headlong into the shit. But now, sitting with her arm around Emmett's neck, I can't imagine them apart.
"Step nine is the worst," Emmett says.
"The fucking worst." Rose talks over him, but he just smiles at her.
She and Emmett stare at each other, silent understanding between them. Finally she sighs, conceding.
"Fine. Forgiveness. Whatever." She shrugs but her expression lightens, like now that she made the decision she can let go of the weight, too. When she looks down at my hand I know what's coming. "I know it must have been traumatic to see her again but I thought you were working on healthy expressions of anger."
She's right. I've also been working on having a sense of humor about myself. "I have a lot of feelings," I say, straight faced.
Emmett and Bella laugh. Rose rolls her eyes but I can see a smirk twitching her lips.
A month goes by fast. We spend time with our friends and family and include my mom in our plans as much as we can. She and Esme keep their distance but I don't let it bother me.
My mom starts talking about jobs and apartments and it's then that I realize she's not just visiting. She finally tells me about her last boyfriend, how he drained her savings and left. I lend her cash to get on her feet and it's the first real fight Bella and I have as a married couple.
Luckily, my mom isn't home that night. We're both propped up on pillows in bed. She's reading and I'm sketching. I casually tell her about the loan.
"Two thousand dollars?" she says.
She sits up, putting distance between us on the bed as she looks at me, incredulous. Her hair is in a knot on top of her head and she's wearing the glasses she put off getting until this year. I didn't know how much I liked girls in glasses until now.
"She needs help, Bella."
Bella looks at me for a long moment before she stands, walking stiffly out of the room. I rub my hands over my face and groan. This isn't going to be good.
I stand in the doorway to the bedroom, watching her as she gets a glass out and fills it with water. She's wearing a tank top and sleep shorts. I don't want to be fighting. I want to be sliding that tank top up and off of her body.
"I'm sorry," I say.
She turns to face me. "I would never spend that kind of money without talking to you."
My jaw sets and she puts down the glass of water.
"You can't understand. You didn't grow up like I did. Money meant something different to you than it did to us."
She shakes her head. "That is so incredibly unfair."
"I know that we grew up differently and I don't understand how it was for you and your mom. But this isn't about that. It's about you and me."
"Are you angry because of the money or because of how I spent it?"
She holds my gaze. "I don't care about the money."
"But you think I shouldn't have given it to her?"
She hesitates, but not because she's trying to find the words. I can tell they're on the tip of her tongue. "I think she's taking advantage of your kindness."
I sit on the couch. Suddenly this doesn't feel like a fight. It feels like a conversation she's been waiting to have.
"I'm not trying to say she's not here because she loves you, but she's looking at you like you're her life raft. Like you can fix her."
"Maybe I can." Even as I say it I know it's coming from a long-lost, innocent part of me that should know better.
Bella doesn't disagree. She walks over and sits next to me, her body turned so she can look at me.
"I don't want you to get hurt again."
I shrug like it doesn't matter... like my mom couldn't hurt me even if she wanted to. It's a fucking lie, though, and both Bella and I know that.
"You are such a good person. After everything, for you to forgive her...I don't think you realize how big that is."
I don't move. There's a "but" in there somewhere.
"But just showing up here and apologizing...I mean she's been living here for a month. She hasn't even really looked for a job."
I run my hands through my hair.
"What am I supposed to do? Just kick her out?"
"Of course not."
We're quiet. I listen to her even breaths. She slides her cold feet under my thigh and I let her.
I don't know where to go from here. We're not at an impasse. We don't disagree. I realize that this is up to me. She's going to support me no matter what, so I need to make the right choice for us. Because she's my family now.
"The reason I want to talk about all of this now is...I'm pregnant."
I laugh. "Yeah, right." When she doesn't say anything I turn and look at her. "Shut up."
She's not laughing but she's amused. "I'm going to put that in the baby book. That when I told you, your response was 'Yeah, right. Shut up.'"
We stare at each other. Her smile falls.
"Wait...are you serious?"
She nods. She crosses her legs so I can see her stomach. It's still looks the same, flat and toned, but when I put my hand there my eyes start to water. There are things I want to say to her. To tell her how happy I am and how lucky and scared and fucking in love I am with this kid already. I can't get a word out, though.
I tell her with my lips pressed against hers, my hands pulling her closer, onto my lap so our bodies are flush. I tell her with the tears on my cheeks. She doesn't cry. She runs her fingers through my hair and whispers sweet words.
It's the new best fucking day of my life.
Thank you for reading. xo