Thanks, everyone, for being so supportive.
I'm thinking just this last chapter to tie up loose ends and then I'll do an epilogue. This was never really meant to be more than a one-shot, so I apologize for the serious lack of plot development and all the fluff. I just wanted to see if I could possibly write and some of you seem to think I had a pretty good first crack at it.
As always, thanks to Mrs. Meyer for her wonderful inspiration!
What started out as a tear-filled family bonding moment eventually turned into a happy time. As Carlie became more comfortable with me, she started to open up. She told me all about her teacher Miss Angela, her best buddy Max and Max's funny daddy and his pretty mommy. ("But not as pretty as you, mommy," she had interjected here.) She showed me her picture with all the different colored hearts. She touched my hair and my face with her little hands, making sure I was there and I was real. It was absolute heaven.
As Carlie talked, I listened. My girl had a heart-shaped face and chocolate brown hair like me, but she had her daddy's straight nose and forest green eyes. The way she talked about Miss Angela and her school revealed that she loved learning, like me. The way she talked about Max revealed that she was highly protective of the people she cared about, like Edward. She was perfect in every way.
We were startled out of our talk by a booming voice from down stairs shouting, "The McCarty's have arrived! Now the party can start!"
Edward stood up from the floor, where he had been holding my hand and listening to Carlie and I talk. "Sounds like Emmet, Rose, and the kids are here. Let me take you down and introduce you," he said. I still had not learned why Emmet was considered family, so I was a little apprehensive to go meet him. Reminding myself, however, that his wife was Alice's sister-in-law, I put on a brave face and let Edward take me downstairs. Carlie flew down ahead of us, eager to see Max.
At the bottom of the stairs I was met by Emmet and one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. She was a tall blond bombshell and the way her face glowed with happiness made her completely stunning. Emmet was a very tall, muscular guy with dark curly hair and dimples, just like I remembered. His face split into a huge grin as Edward and I approached. He reached out and landed a gentle punch on my jaw, saying "Well, hey there, Bella! It's about time you joined us!"
Emmet introduced me to his wife Rose and their sons Max and Lucas. Max hid behind his dad's leg looking at me with big eyes as Edward placed me back in the wheel chair. He seemed shy. That is, until Carlie dragged him over to meet me. "Don't be scared, Max," she demanded, "my mommy will love you just like your mommy loves me!" I smiled up at Rose, thankful for her presence in my daughter's life. She just winked at me and smiled back.
Once we were all settled, with Carlie and Max entertaining baby Lucas on the floor, Esme brought a large tray into the sitting room covered in sandwiches. As the food was dispersed, I asked, "So, Emmet, you and Edward are… friends?"
"Oh, shit, I'm sorry, Bella!" Edward started, "I completely forgot to explain about Em and Rose." He squeezed my hand while I shrugged, indicating that it was not big deal.
Emmet cleared his throat. "Well, after your accident, Edward here turned into kind of a Debbie downer. When he came to work at the school, everyone was supportive, but Edward was just kind of going through the motions." I glanced at Edward, concerned that he had shut himself out from the world. Emmet must have seen my concern, because he continued, "Don't worry, Bella. No one can resist my charms! I dragged his boring butt out with me one night and he finally opened up. We started running together so Edward could work off the stress and I dunno…. We just hit it off. He's like my brotha from anotha motha." Everyone giggled at Emmett's lame attempt at humor, but he smiled good-naturedly, eating it up.
Hearing Emmett's story, I was so relieved that Edward had made friends with him. Growing up, we were always each other's best friend. When our friendship developed into something more, I know we had been so lucky. But that meant that while I was out, Edward had no one besides his family to keep him sane – and let's face it… sometimes family can do exactly the opposite.
"I'll never forget the first time Emmett came over here for dinner," Alice piped up. "Rose was coming over too so Max and Carlie could play. Then Emmett walks in the door, takes one look at Rose, and says 'Holy super-model, Batman! Who's the angel in the living room?'" All the adults laughed as Emmett turned slightly pink. "I didn't mean to say it out loud," he mumbled.
Rose's smile while gazing at Emmet revealed that she loved him with her whole heart. "Well, it took me a little while to agree to go out with the big idiot. I didn't have a good experience with Max's biological father. But once I let myself relax a little, Emmet won me over. We were married and pregnant with Lucas just a year later!" As I learned about Rose and Emmet's history, I came to realize how well they fit into our family. They were like a puzzle piece that had been missing all along.
Everyone was just finishing up their lunch when we heard the door open and Leah's voice from the foyer. "Hello? Anybody home?" Esme jumped up to meet them and welcome them with big hugs.
When Leah came into the room she immediately bolted to my side, smiling beautifully. She reached down and hugged me tightly. "Oh, Bella, I'm so happy you're here," she whispered. "We need you in our lives so much." I hugged her back, breathing in her familiar spicy perfume. When my dad had died in a car wreck my senior year of high school, I had gone to live with Leah's family. Edward and Alice put up a fight, wanting me to live with them, but the Cullens, the Blacks, and the Clearwaters all thought it was better that I not live in the same house as my boyfriend. At that time in my life Leah had been my saving grace, my sister, and my confidant. Her perfume always made my think of home.
"Leah," I breathed, "it's so good to be back."
Leah and I finally released each other. When I looked up, I saw Jacob. Eyes red, clothes rumpled, he was leaning in the living room door with his arms crossed, a soft smile on his face. Carlie bounded up to him and threw her arms around his legs, yelling "Hi Uncle Jake!"
"Hey, munchkin," Jake said, reaching down to ruffle her hair.
She grabbed his big hand and yanked him in my direction, saying "Come say hi to my mommy!" Jake chuckled and wrapped his big arms around my waist, lifting me right out of my chair.
"Hi, mommy," Jake whispered. His voice cracked a little as he admonished, "Jesus, Bells, don't ever to that to me again."
I hugged Jake back and lay my head against his warm chest. Jake always gave the best hugs. "I won't," I promised him. After a few moments soaking up Jake's welcome, I started to giggle. "Put me down, you big oaf."
"Sure, sure," Jake chuckled, placing me carefully back into the chair.
Before he could turn to go back to Leah, I remembered something very important. "Hey, Jake, come down here," I told him, motioning for him to lean over. When he was at my level, I quickly reached out and smacked him on the back of the head. "Propose, already!" The whole room broke into laughter, including Jake and Leah.
I sat with my family, talking, laughing, and catching up for the entire day. We ended up ordering pizza because we couldn't bring ourselves to leave. At one point, as everyone was engaged in their own conversations, I leaned over to Alice. "I wish I had been around for all these family get-togethers in the past five years. This is just so nice."
Alice smiled sadly. "Bella," she said, "We haven't had one like this since your accident. It just never felt right without you. Even at our wedding, it wasn't like this." Seeing my shocked face, Alice smiled. "It's you, Bella," she continued. "You're the one who brings this family together. It's always been you."
Slow tears leaked from my face as I sat back and thought through Alice's words. She quickly kissed my cheek and crossed the room to steal baby Lucas from his mom, leaving me with my thoughts.
Slowly, everyone began to depart. Jake and Leah were the first to go, with Jake claiming he was tired. I knew better. Just before they left, he whispered that he was going to propose that very night when they got home. I barely managed to keep a straight face as they left, Jake giving me a secret wink. Emmet and Rose left shortly after, taking their family with them.
Eventually, it was just the Cullens and Whitlocks left in the house. "Well, guys," I said, "I'm pretty beat. I think I'd like to head up to bed soon." Edward and I had already decided that he and Carlie would stay there with me until I was ready to go home with them. "Carlie," I said, "why don't you go get ready for bed, sweet heart?"
"Will you read me a bed time story," she asked. I wasn't sure if this was her normal routine or not. I looked to Edward who gave me a smile and a slight nod. I smiled back, realizing that we would handle this parenting thing together. I still had so much to learn.
"Sure," I replied, "Go get ready for bed and then bring your book into mommy's room and I'll read to you." Appeased by my promise, Carlie hugged her aunt and uncle and her grandparents good night, then bounded up the stairs.
Alice and Jasper gave us all a quick good night, with promises of returning the next day, and Edward carried me up to the guest room.
That night Edward, Carlie, and I all fell asleep together in the bed. I lay there that night, arms around my sleeping family, and offered up a little prayer of thanks. I had come so close to losing them. I knew that our road to recovery was going to be long and tiresome. I knew I was headed for physical and emotional turmoil as I relearned to take care of myself and my family. But I also knew, without a doubt, that we would make it through together. I am so happy I woke up.
So... that's it! I hope it gave everyone a warm fuzzy feeling. Again, sorry about all the fluff. I'm not sure if I'll write again, though I do have ideas for other stories.. we'll see.
I'm calling this story complete, but I do intend to post an epilogue soon. Thanks!