"Hi, Dan. How are you, Son?"
"Fine. Are you leaving soon?"
"Yes. Just getting ready to walk out the door in fact."
"Would you like me to come pick you up? I could be there in twenty."
"No, Son. That's fine. I'm fine to drive myself."
"Are you sure? I don't mind. Honestly."
"No, Dan. I'm OK to make it on my own. I should be at your place in an hour or so."
"Alright. If you're sure."
"OK then," Dan said, finally giving in. "Oh, hang on a minute."
Edward could hear Dan carrying on a muffled conversation with Cassie on the other end of the phone.
"Dad? Cassie wants to know if you remembered the candy."
"Have I ever forgotten the candy, Dan?"
"And today isn't going to be the first. Tell her Grandpa's got it all under control."
"Ok. Will do. Call me if anything changes."
"See you soon."
"Right. Oh, and by the way, Dad. Happy Thanksgiving."
"Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Son. Bye."
"Bye, Dad." Dan disconnected from the call and looked over to Cassie, who was busy peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink.
"How'd he seem?" she asked.
"OK," Dan answered thoughtfully.
"You didn't really think that he'd take you up on the offer did you?" she questioned him. "He's happy for company on her birthday and Christmas, but you know he keeps his Thanksgiving tradition just for himself."
"I know. I just thought this year might have been harder than others, that's all."
"What? Harder than the first? Or the second? Or all the others after that?"
"It's been ten years, Cass. Ten years is a pretty big milestone."
"Babe, it's no harder or easier than the other nine," she said, her voice full of empathy for her husband. "Just leave him be. He knows where you are, and he'll be here soon enough."
"I suppose," Dan replied, walking over to Cassie and wrapping his arms around her waist, planning a kiss on the side of her cheek.
She leaned back into him, closing her eyes briefly and nuzzling her hair against the side of his face. "Your Dad will be fine," she said, reinforcing her earlier sentiments.
Dan simply nodded in response. "What time are the others arriving?"
"Sooner rather than later," she hinted. After all these years, Dan still wasn't good at managing his personal time or punctuality. With respect to his work, on the other hand, he was the epitome of efficiency, but the homefront was another matter altogether.
"I'd better go check the-"
Dan's sentence remained unfinished as a large crash sounded from the backyard.
"Oh, what the hell!" Cassie exclaimed in frustration, putting her hands on the counter in front of her.
"It's alright, Gorgeous. I'll go check it out."
"That sounded like one of the planter boxes. If they've gone and broken one of the planter boxes, tell them I'm going to serve them for lunch instead of the turkey."
"I'll warn them."
"Make sure they clean it up."
"No, Dan. Make them do it. They'll never learn if you keep bailing them out all the time."
"I'll handle it, Cass. Keep peeling the spuds. I got it."
Dan walked out to the backyard, looking at two of his three sons who were indeed standing around a broken planter box.
"Your mother heard that. She's out for blood, or your tails' in the oven," Dan started, as he made his way down the back steps and out into the yard. Looking around, he added, "Where's Alex?"
"He pussied out and took off," replied Charlie, the eldest.
"Don't catch your mother hearing you talk like that, young man," Dan warned his son sternly before yelling at the top of his voice, "Alex! Get your backside right back here! Now!" he added for good measure.
"I knew it," Cassie said to herself in the kitchen, easily catching Dan's bellow from the backyard.
"Billy, get the shovel and the dustbin from the back of the garage," Dan ordered his middle son. "Move it, quick. The others will be here shortly. Charlie, give me a hand to lift this upright will you?"
"Sure, Dad," his thirteen –year-old son answered.
As Charlie and his Dad heaved and lifted the large fern, and what remained of the planter box, back into an upright position, Dan smiled to himself, despite this new and unexpected task he had for the morning. He loved his sons and, in all honestly, the chaos they created on almost an hourly basis. It was true that they drove their mother crazy almost eighteen hours out of every twenty-four, but deep down, they were all very happy, and they cherished their family, even if some times proved more challenging than others.
"Alex!" Dan bellowed again, wondering just where in the backyard his youngest son had managed to hide this time.
He had his answer a few moments later when he heard a car horn honk from the front drive, accompanied by a loud, high-pitched squeal of delight. "Hurry it along, boys. Sounds like your Grandma and Grandpa are here."
Ten minutes later, the planter box mishap behind them, Dan, Charlie and Billy made their way into the house to see a sheepish-looking Alex curled up in his Grandmother's lap on the living room sofa.
"Saved yet again by Grandma Alice I see, Alex," Dan said warmly as he walked over to shake Jasper's hand. Turning to Alice, he continued, "Your timing, as always, Grandma, is just perfect." He bent down and gave her a welcoming kiss.
"Grandmothers come in handy from time to time," Alice chimed in, giving her youngest grandchild a tight squeeze and a kiss on the cheek.
Alex was looking rather pleased with himself, but his brothers were shooting daggers at him. No doubt, there'd be a bit of payback later on in the day.
Turning to Dan, Alice said, "Cassie told us you spoke to your Dad this morning."
"Yeah. He's just making his usual pit-stop before coming over."
"How did he seem to you?"
"I thought this year might have been harder for him."
"That's what I'd been thinking, too, but he said he was fine to go alone, so..." Dan shrugged and left the rest of the sentence unfinished.
"You could go and meet him if you like. I can help Cassie out here with the rest of it, and Rose and Em shouldn't be too far away either."
"Oh, I don't know. He really said he wanted to go alone." This was one of those times when Dan didn't know what to do. He respected his father's privacy, but also expected that today might be harder for him than he let on to others.
"Sometimes we don't know what we need most until others help us realize it," Alice suggested wisely. "This day is important for the both of you, Dan. If you want to go, you go. He doesn't need to know you're there if you don't want him to."
Dan looked from Alice to Jasper and then over to Cassie, who'd come in from the kitchen for the last part of the conversation.
"I know you want to go, babe," she told him, responding to the question she could see forming behind his eyes. "It's your call. He's your Dad."
Dan exchanged a knowing look with his wife of twenty years; there was no need for further words.
"Take my car, Dan," Jasper offered. "I parked it in front of the garage."
"Right. Thanks, Jasper," Dan said, taking the proffered keys. He crossed to give Cassie a quick kiss and some affectionately whispered words of thanks before heading toward the door.
"Can I come too, Dad?" Alex asked, guessing where he father was headed.
"Not today, Al. OK? Next time, buddy, I promise."
Alice cuddled her youngest grandson tightly again, distracting him as his father slipped out the door.
Dan backed Jasper's car out the drive and headed off down the street, and only a couple of hundred yards from the house, saw Rosalie and Emmett's car, closely followed by Sammy and Chris'. He smiled and waved happily at them as they passed; two thoughts running through his mind as he did. First, that Cassie will have plenty of help preparing what was left to organize for their lunch, and second, that his sons were really going to let fly once Sammy and Chris' boys arrived. He seriously hoped that it was only one planter box that would need replacing by the end of the day.
Dan drove for another fifteen minutes towards the cemetery, thinking back over the last ten years since his mother's death. Her illness had been very short-lived – six weeks was all they had from the time of her diagnosis. It was over, it seemed, in a flash. One minute she'd seemed fine, albeit a little tired, eating a barbeque lunch with the family and celebrating one of the kid's birthdays; the next, she was gone.
They'd been fortunate enough to have been able to share her last weeks with her and say their goodbyes, but in the end, her decline had been swift. She'd passed away at home, his father on one side of her bed, Dan on the other. Her two men, the ones she'd loved with all her heart, with her to the very end.
Their grief had been overwhelming, and there'd been times when Dan had held serious concerns for his father's well-being. He'd withdrawn from the whole family after Bella's death. Slowly though, and with his family's support and encouragement, he'd returned to them; older and sadder, but wiser and grateful for the gift of his son that Bella had given him.
The family had been rocked again, two years later, when first Esmé, and then Carlisle passed away. Just like Bella's parents, they had died six months apart, and their loss within the tight-knit family was heavily felt. Dan had to admit that there had been a time in the past when he'd been worried that his father's broken heart may have lead him to a similar demise. As time continued to pass, and Edward rediscovered the incredible joy in experiencing the young lives of his grandsons and great-nephews, Dan no longer believed that the grief Edward still felt would take his father from him, too.
Bella and Edward had shared an incredibly happy ten years together. Their delayed honeymoon, that first trip overseas, had been the first of many extended trips all over the world. Dan and Cassie, along with other members of the family, had joined in on some of them, and together, they'd had created many wonderful memories that were treasured and looked back on with fondness.
Bella never returned to teaching – not in a school, anyway. In between her trips abroad with Edward, she'd taken on a voluntary role within the Cullen Foundation that Dan was now managing after having taken over from Eleazar upon his retirement six years ago. Edward's love of music had enveloped Bella, and she'd spent many hours, fiddling, as she'd called it, mastering the basics of several instruments. She'd learned enough to go into hospitals and work with both the children in the hospital wards or the elderly in several of the retirement homes around Santa Barbara.
Two years after Edward's successful transplant, and when Dan and Cassie were finally looking to move out into a place of their own, Edward and Bella decided to sell their beach front property in Long Beach and move to live closer to the rest of the family. Dan and Cassie, followed suit, and so, for the first time in many years, the Cullen family were all living within half an hour's drive from each other.
This was a very happy time in everyone's life, and Bella and Edward chased their collective dreams. They traveled, they worked, and they lived life to the fullest. With Edward's ill-health mostly a thing of the past, Edward encouraged Bella to re-enroll in dance classes and he joined her. They developed a large circle of friends, and they entertained regularly – a far cry from their single days.
Together, Edward and Bella welcomed with great joy the birth of their first two grandchildren, and they were very hands-on grandparents. Cassie returned to part-time work after the births of each of her children, and Edward and Bella shared the care of the boys with Alice and Jasper.
Sadly, Bella's illness took her before she ever had the chance to see Alex born. Still, that didn't stop Edward from keeping her memory alive in the minds and hearts of his grandchildren. He showed them videos and photographs. He told them stories – funny stories, like when Bella had taught Edward how to change a diaper, but forgot to mention to stay on the lookout for errant penis spray, especially during colder weather; or the time when Bella decided that she'd like to try skydiving while in Australia. Wanting to catch the occasion on film, they had paid a little bit extra and had video footage taken of the jump. Mid-jump, Bella had tried to smile for the camera, only to have her cheeks fill with air and the rest of the video showed Bella's cheeks flapping madly against the force of the free fall.
Edward also told them moving stories – how Bella would sing them to sleep or how she had a special way of holding them as babies when they had tummy pains. He told them how she would clean the house singing Van Morrison at the top of her voice, and the way she could always be relied upon to cry at the sappiest point in movies. To Edward's grandchildren, their grandmother was an ever-present memory, and he made sure he took the boys at least once or twice a year to visit her grave and those of his parents, so they would know their heritage and keep a special place for it in their hearts.
As Dan pulled into the cemetery this Thanksgiving morning, he drove the car over to the section that housed the Cullen family. Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, Carlisle and Esmé had, years earlier, purchased a series of plots so its members could eventually be laid to rest side by side for all of eternity. Their actions had come to light after Bella's death, and Dan had been grateful that it was just one less decision that had needed to be made during such a harrowing time.
He parked the car a hundred yards away and wound down the window. There were small floral tributes scattered randomly among the gravesites. Some were freshly laid, while others had slightly withered with age, but all reflected the incredible ties that still bind the lives of the people buried there with the ones they'd left behind.
Dan looked over toward his mother's grave and found what he had expected to see. His father was sitting on the well-tendered lawn, flowers on the grass next to him. He knew from experience that his father held silent conversations with his mother when he was here. You would never see Edward's lips move, never hear him utter a sound, but Dan would, on the occasions when they would visit this place together with Cassie and the children, see him smile quietly to himself as if he and his mother had just shared one of their private, and so often silly, jokes or quick-witted banter.
Dan had no intention of interrupting his father's time here today. Cassie had been right. Thanksgiving had become Edward's personal homage to Bella. It was the one day each year, when he would visit her independently from all the others to thank her for giving him his son, remembering that fate-filled day, twenty-one years before, when Dan had attended his first Thanksgiving with Cassie, only to discover that his father was there; a member of Cassie's family.
How that day had changed all their lives forever more.
Dan silently watched his father. He wouldn't visit his mother himself, today. He would just carry out her last request of him – to watch over his father and keep him safe.
Today, he would just be doing it from a distance.
Edward ran his hands over the grass as he sat with his legs outstretched next to his wife. He took one long, slow breath before readying himself to leave her again. Thanksgiving was always his special time with her. He was at a loss to explain why he felt the need to visit her grave each year when he felt her presence with him each and every day of his life. She was in the music he wrote, the memories he treasured, and their grandchildren's brown eyes. She was in Alex's mischievous smile, Billy's thoughtful expressions, and Charlie's chestnut hair; in Dan's gentle and calming way he dealt with his boys, and in the reverent and respectful way he treasured his wife.
Bella had become the cornerstone of Edward's life. Her untimely death had hit him hard, and it had taken him time to summon the strength to move on with his life. It was only when he realized that moving on didn't mean leaving her behind that he came to terms with her death. What Bella had brought to his life, he realized, still existed. She'd brought warmth, affection and happiness. She'd brought joy, peace and hope. She'd brought her love and their son into his previous, hollow existence.
It had been a cathartic moment when he'd understood that Bella's death hadn't robbed him of those things. Sure, it was different, and he missed her terribly, but as Leo's Buscaglia's teaching, Bella's personal mantra that had hung in her house in New Hampshire before they'd been reunited, and now held pride of place in their kitchen at home said: Happiness and Love are just a choice. Edward had chosen happiness and love. He'd chosen it with Bella, and now, he'd chosen it because of her.
Edward's life was full. He loved his family – his son, daughter-in-law and their children, as well as his sisters and their families. Even now, ten years after Bella's death, Edward remained a very hands-on grandfather. He went to every school play, little league game and birthday party. He was there at Halloween, Easter and Christmas, and even, when the situation arose, collected sick children from school. He was as devoted to his son, daughter-in-law and his grandchildren as he continued to be to the memory of his Bella.
Edward loved his work, and was now once again writing prolifically, his skills in heavy demand. At the age of 64, Edward had years worth of talent left to share with the world, and even though he now traveled it without his soulmate by his side, he felt her in every piece he wrote as if she was still sitting in his studio, silently watching him create magic.
Now, as he prepared to take his leave from her and this sacred space, and as had become his own personal tradition, he pushed himself up on one knee and leaned forward, placing one arm on the headstone. Ever so slowly, he kissed the tips of his fingers before bringing them to rest over his heart. Gently and reverently, he then traced the gold lettering that listed her name and dates, which seemed to so inadequately pay tribute to her life. His fingertips continued to move down the headstone, towards the lettering at the bottom, which Bella, in one of the many letters she wrote leaving instructions for after her death, expressly stated that she wanted written there.
As always, his throat caught as he read and traced those words, so lovingly penned, leaving behind a message that he and their son would treasure for the rest of their lives.
Love, with all its blessings and surprises, gave me the two greatest prizes of my life.
This Epilogue is dedicated to all who love, and live their life to the fullest - and treasure both.
It is especially dedicated to my paternal grandmother, who was widowed at the young age of 52, and who remained devoted to her beloved husband, Jack, for another 52 years until her death, two weeks short of her 104th birthday, when she was finally buried by his side. Through my grandmother's devotion, I got to know the grandfather I never met. My Gran lived a long life. Some might say that it was full of sadness - she outlived her husband, her siblings and all her in-laws; she struggled through two world wars and supported her family after the death of her husband - yet her life was anything but sad. She chose happiness and had a spirit that was larger than life. She took me to the cemetry. She told me stories. She showed me photographs. She taught me my family's history and she left me the greatest gift she could - my wonderful memories.
I experiencing a similar thing now, in other areas of my life, with someone very close to me. May you all have the chance to be so blessed.
My best wishes to you all, and thank you for reading.