Hey guys! Sorry for the disappearing act. Fall has been much busier than I had realized it was going to be with travel (if you ever get the chance to see RHCP live, do it! So amazing!) and so many visitors here. Thanks for all the sweet notes and patients.
Here's the final chapter. I can't believe it!
I don't think I could ever write again without WO, Jessypt and Nico. These ladies get huge credit and I appreciate you three SO much. Thank you for all you do for me and what amazing friends you are. Thanks to everyone who reads, leaves me sweet little notes and have become dear friends. I also need to give Teresa R a big shout out for giving me the idea for the baby's name! Loved her idea - thank you!
The last chapter Bella had just given birth to their daughter in the woods.
"During the post-peak period, pandemic disease levels in most countries with adequate surveillance will have dropped below peak observed levels. The post-peak period signifies that pandemic activity appears to be decreasing..."
"I just can't believe how perfect she is."
I manage to peel my eyes away from the little bundle in my arms to see Edward's teary ones.
"I know. She's so perfect," I whisper, running my finger along her little nose and over her closed eyes. Her mouth pouts and her arms wiggle a little as she fusses in her sleep. Edward used water he had boiled before to clean her. Watching him hold her so gently and talk to her, during her first bath has been the best moment in my life to date.
"What are we going to name her?"
I take a minute to think about it. It's an important decision but nothing that comes through my mind fits. All the names I thought of before don't fit her.
"I don't know..."
"Would you want to name her after Rose?" His fingers gently trace over her closed eyelids before moving to her soft dark hair.
I'm touched by his thoughtfulness. "That would be really nice." A tear slips out of my eye. "I would love for her to have some of your mother, too." I look at him, measuring his reaction carefully.
His eyes narrow a little and pain crosses his features. "She could still be alive."
"Oh, Edward," I say, running my fingers across the side of his face, wishing I could wipe the look of pain away. "I wasn't implying that. I just mean it would be nice for her to have some representation, too."
"Oh, yeah, that would be nice." A soft smile graces his face. "You wouldn't mind?"
"Of course not. I would love for her to have a piece of your mother. A piece of Rose, Alice...everyone who means so much to me."
"Rose Esme Cullen?"
I frown, not liking the way it sounds. "Esme Rosalie..." We look at each other and scowl before laughing.
A few minutes pass while we both try to come up with a combination we like. Edward's fingers trace her hair line and I hear him whisper, "Rae Isabel Cullen."
"Rae?" I ask, looking up from the baby to Edward.
He smiles softly. "Yeah, Rae. Rosalie, Alice and Esme but not so obvious."
"Rae," I whisper, touching her little nose. "I love it."
I smile and nod my head, unable to take my eyes off her. "Yeah, I really do."
I cuddle into Edward's side more, holding Rae close to my chest. I fall asleep feeling Edward's lips on my forehead.
"How are you feeling?" I'm peeling back blankets despite the cold air. My skin feels sweaty, and I'm uncomfortable from pain down below.
Like I've been run over by a mac-truck. "Okay."
"That was...intense." His eyes widen and he shakes his head.
I laugh. "Very intense, but she is so worth it."
He helps me adjust the blankets and our movements wake Rae up, who immediately starts to cry.
We look at each other with wide eyes like, "what now?"
"What's wrong with her?" Edward asks alarmed.
"I don't know..." I pull away the makeshift diaper we made only to find it dry. "She's not wet. Maybe she's hungry?" I start to feel overwhelmed. I always imagined Rose here to help me figure out what to do. The birthing kit from the hospital is nothing compared to a loving person helping you.
Her screams get more insistent. I force myself to calm down and ignore Edward's nervous fluttering around me and the baby. Do what feels natural.
I bring the baby up to my chest and guide her where to go. In no time she figures out what to do and calms instantly.
Edward and I both freeze.
"How did you know to do that?"
"Common sense, I guess?" I shrug.
He looks relieved and settles in beside me. I remember Rose talking about how hard it was to get Claire to latch on. I keep adjusting the baby trying to help her but she seems to be getting the food she needs.
It's been a few hours since the baby was born. Edward's only left my side long enough to keep the fire stoked and to help me clean up as best as possible.
"When do you think you'll be comfortable enough to move?"
The question has been lingering in the air but neither of us has vocalized it. I'm so tired, and I can't imagine doing anything right now, much less trying to continue our long journey to the cabin. I know we can't stay here though - out in the elements, not knowing what danger could be near by. "Do you think we could wait until morning?" I shift my weight trying to sit up and wince with the movement.
Edward quickly helps me adjust then sits where I can face him. He nods. "I don't want you to have to move anywhere at all. I know you're tired, but it's not safe out here."
"I know." I'm not comfortable here in the tent but the thought of having to get up and move makes me sick to my stomach.
"We'll take it slow."
"What about Emmett?" God, I hope Peter didn't shoot him upon arrival, but Peter is smarter than that and not trigger-happy.
"If they're not here by then, we'll intercept them on our way up."
"Do you think they're okay?" I ask in a whisper, keeping my eyes on the baby.
He doesn't answer for a while, making my head snap in his direction. He's focused off into the distance beyond the tent. As soon as he sees the worry in my eyes he's quick to assure me. "Of course. It's just a long trip and he left in the dark. They're fine."
I eye him because I can see the worry in him too. They've been gone a long time. I know there's nothing I can do right now though, and exhaustion quickly takes over. I sleep when the baby sleeps and wake when she does. Each time I wake, I see Edward keeping watch in the front of the tent.
The next time I wake I see Edward crouched defensively by the entrance of the tent. Right when I'm about to ask him what's going on I pause because I hear voices in the distance. Bringing a bundled, sleeping Rae closer to me I sit up a little.
Edward turns when he hears my movement and puts his finger to his lips. I nod my head, letting him know I understand, but unfortunately Rae didn't get the hint and wakes up and immediately starts to wail. His head drops forward in defeat then immediately he looks around for something to protect us with while I try and shush Rae.
I'm getting really scared and then I hear, "Goddammit, boy, calm your ass down, or I'm going to throw you into the river."
"Peter," I say with a huge sigh.
I hear Emmett's voice argue back but can't tell what he's saying.
Edward relaxes too and heads out to meet up with them. Bringing the blankets over me I wait for the cavalry to arrive. I'm able to calm the baby back to sleep before they arrive at the tent. Charlotte is the first person through the flaps. When she sees the baby in my arms she lets out a big sigh and her eyes start to water.
"Oh, Bella." She crawls awkwardly into the tent up next to me.
I smile as I pull the blanket back, proud to show her our new daughter. Charlotte puts her hand over her mouth and tears slip out of her eyes. "She's just beautiful. So perfect."
"Do you want to hold her?"
Her eyes widen. "Are you sure?"
I nod and tentatively she raises her arms to take the baby. "Oh my," she says as she cradles Rae. "Just so perfect."
Not a minute later Emmett comes barreling into the tent.
"Shh," I say. He stops dead in his tracks when he sees Rae.
"We're too late." His eyes grow large. "I'm so sorry. We were too late."
"It's fine, Emmett. We're all okay."
"Emmett," Charlotte says, grabbing his hand, pulling him closer to us. "You need to meet your niece."
"What's her name?" he asks, holding her close to his chest. She starts to fuss, making me jump a little, but Emmett expertly bounces her until she quiets down. I smile, relaxing back into my bed.
"Her name?" he asks again.
I nod my head. My voice breaks with emotion as I try to explain. "Rose...Alice and Esme. Rae."
Emmett's eyes stayed glued on the baby but with a smile and a small sniffle he nods his head. "Hello, Rae, you have no idea just how lucky you are to have the coolest uncle ever."
Charlotte and I both laugh, and as usual Emmett is able to break through the thickness surrounding us all.
"All okay in there?" A gruff voice asks outside the tent as Emmett hands the baby back to me.
Charlotte rolls her eyes. "Why don't you come in and see for yourself."
No answers come from outside, and Charlotte makes her way out with Emmett following behind. "Grumpy old cuss," I hear her say to Emmett making him laugh.
I hear them bickering outside before Peter peeks inside the tent, looking more uncomfortable than I've ever seen him.
"Hi, Peter," I say, with a smile.
He nods. "See you handled things okay."
I nod. "We had the birthing kit," I tease.
"Oh for the love of..." he mutters shaking his head. "Well...good for you, getting through it and all."
"What's her name?" He asks gruffly, trying to appear disinterested.
"Rae Isabel Cullen. Rae for Rose, Emmett's wife who passed, Alice my best friend and Esme, Edward's mother."
He looks at the baby for a minute before meeting my eyes for the first time. "That's a fine name, Sweet-pea." He leans forward and touches the baby's foot that is sticking out of the blanket. "A real fine name."
I blink back tears. "Thank you."
He says nothing as he disappears from the tent.
"You're not going to do that here, are you?"
I bring the blanket over my shoulder, covering myself.
"The baby is hungry. Doesn't matter if it's convenient for you," Charlotte says, helping me out of my shirt enough to feed Rae."
"Of all the..." Peter mutters, looking anywhere but in my direction.
Everyone decided the risk of staying out in the open was greater than the risk of moving us. So within the next two hours I found myself in the front seat of Peter's truck. Emmett is driving Edward's Volvo behind us. The baby and I are warm in the cab of the truck between Peter, Charlotte, and Clair, who sits on Charlotte's lap and has obviously taken to her.
I smile as I watch Claire's little hands reach up and play with Charlotte's glasses and hair. I look out the back window of the cab and smile at Edward in the bed of the truck. He refused to ride in a different vehicle than me or the baby. Emmett, Peter, and I tried to make him see reason, but as usual he is too stubborn for his own good. We hit a bump, and I laugh as flies up and slams back down. He barks something out and hits the window behind Peter. Peter laughs and hits something again - on purpose this time.
"Peter," Charlotte admonishes.
"What? He wanted to sit in the back of the truck like a crazy." He sounds annoyed, but the twinkle in his eyes as he hits another bump gives him away. "And that brother of yours..." He shakes his head.
"What?" I ask amused.
"Nuttier than a loon."
"What do you mean?"
"Boy comes running on our porch in the middle of the night like a lunatic. Almost got himself shot until I saw that baby in his arm." He reaches across and tickles Clair, making her squeal.
"Well... Thanks for not shooting him, I guess," I say with a laugh. "So...are you okay with us all staying at the cabin?"
"Of course," Charlotte says, patting my knee. "Nothing would make us happier. Right, Peter?"
"Two crying babies, a human food-bank, a lunatic the size of Goliath, and a goddamn worry-wart," he says looking back to Edward, who waves, oblivious. "What a quiet peaceful retreat."
I smile, feeling so grateful for meeting these two, and lay my head on Peters shoulder. He reaches up and pats my head softly.
"Make yourself at home."
Charlotte helps me inside and leads me to a room with a large bed in the center. After hours of travel and the most difficult hike I've ever had to make, this bed is the best thing I've ever sat on.
"Thank you," I pant, still out of breath, my body screaming in protest from all the abuse it has undergone.
She removes my shoes and helps me lie down. Claire is asleep already, and the baby, a little fussy, immediately starts to nurse. When she's finished Charlotte lays her down in the dresser drawer we've turned into a bassinet. She's just right next to the bed but she feels too far away from me.
"You just sleep, we'll get everything managed."
"Thank you, Charlotte... For everything."
"None of that now. Just rest."
She blows the candle out, leaving me in the dark, but it doesn't matter because I'm not conscious for much longer. I doze and wake, hyper aware of every sound Rae makes. The second time I wake up it's to Edward gently lifting her out of her make-shift bed and bringing her to me.
"I think she's hungry," he whispers.
He lies down next to me as I feed her.
"Claire?" I ask, worried, noticing she's no longer on the bed.
"Emmett has her."
"How are you feeling?"
"Tired. So tired."
He runs his hand through my hair, and I close my eyes, leaning my head back against the wall. "So tired," I whisper so quietly I don't think he even heard.
"How is everyone else? I just came back here and passed out."
"No one expected you to carry furniture up the mountain, Bella." He rolls his eyes.
"I know but I feel bad."
I look out the little window next to the bed and see the sun starting to rise. "Are you just coming to bed?" I feel horrible that he's been up all night working.
He nods. "We managed to get the cars emptied and hidden. The cabin is...extremely full now."
"Do you think we can all stay here?"
He frowns and shakes his head. "No, it's too small."
I feel myself tense and start to panic. "But where will we go..."
"Shh, it's not something you need to worry about right now."
Easier said than done.
"Peter knows about a couple other cabins a mile or so more down the road. We're going to go and see if anyone is living in them."
I nod my head and look down at the baby who has fallen asleep at my breast. I struggle to sit up, but a sharp pain, reminding me I just gave birth a day ago, slices through me.
"Here, let me take her."
Gently, I hand her over to Edward who holds her and talks to her for a few minutes before laying her back in her little bed.
"Sleep," he says, kissing me on the forehead before lying down next to me.
"When do you think they'll be back?"
Charlotte finishes zipping Claire's coat before sitting down next to me on the porch. "Probably not until close to sundown."
I nod my head, patting the baby on the back where she sits happily in the sling Charlotte made out of spare fabric. Claire, who has started to walk wanders around the yard looking for trouble to get into.
"Do you think they'll have any luck?"
She looks over to me with a soft smile and pats my leg. "I'm sure they will."
The boys did find an abandoned cabin not too far away but it's a complete mess. It obviously hadn't been used long before the pandemic hit. With Emmett's construction background getting it fixed and suitable for living would have been easy - if he had the right supplies. The three decided to go down the mountain today to visit some of the smaller towns and to see if anyone has any building materials. While none of us were wild about the idea of them leaving, the seven of us in Peter and Charlotte's hunting cabin just isn't going to work long term.
"How's our girl?" Charlotte coos, making Rae give a toothless grin.
"It's her two month birthday."
"Two?" She asks surprised. I nod. "Already? Wow, time sure does fly."
"It does." She's growing healthy and strong, looking more and more like her father each day. The winter has been cold here, and we've struggled to keep the drafty cabin warm without using all our dry firewood. Emmett has so many ideas to help things. The guys spend hours going over drawings and brainstorming ways to make living here long term a comfortable possibility.
"How about some lunch?"
"That sounds great." I smile as she stands and goes into the cabin. The air is cold, but it feels good to be outside. Claire is loving the fresh air and the chance to explore. She gives me a big smile before trying to stuff a wad of dirt into her mouth.
"Claire, don't eat that," I warn, still forgetting at times she can't hear me. She proceeds to bring the dirt to her lips but I can tell she knows by the look on my face she's not supposed to. "Claire," I warn again, making eye contact with her. We stare in a stand off and as slowly as humanly possible she opens her mouth going for the dirt. I jump off the porch, trying not to startle Rae and wrestle the mound from her little hand, making her cry instantly.
Getting down her level I make her look at my face, mouth no and shake my head. None of us know a thing about sign language but we've all made an effort to come up with our own language to communicate with her - even Peter. In fact, I've caught him reading books to her when he thinks no one is watching and coming up with signs for each word he reads. I don't think she understands yet but she giggles and hits the book excitedly.
Watching Claire thrive has brought the Emmett I used to know almost all the way back. I think he'll always have a scar left from what he's lost, but he doesn't feel like a failure now that he sees his daughter thriving.
"Should we just eat out here?" Charlotte asks, peeking her head out of the door.
"The sun's finally out." I smile.
"You're right. Let me just get a blanket."
The four of us sit bundled on the porch eating some kind of vegetable soup we canned back home. We're doing well on food, but Charlotte is anxious to get her garden planted as soon as the frosty season is over, especially having two more people than we expected.
I stare out in the forest wanting to see Emmett, Peter and Edward walk through the trees.
Apparently my longing is obvious because Charlotte pats my leg. "They'll be okay. You'll see."
I give her a watery smile but keep my eyes on the tree line.
The boys came back hours later that day and have since made many more trips. I'm getting used to their absences but still worry. Laying both girls down for their naps in the back room I go help Charlotte clean up the main living area - and where Emmett and Claire have been sleeping.
"If you're okay with watching the girls I was thinking about going up to the cabin and seeing if I can help at all."
"Of course, we'll be just fine here."
I smile at her before bundling up in my coat. Spring is dying to make its appearance but the air still has a bite to it. The hike to the next cabin gets easier each time I make it, but it still takes me about thirty minutes. The first sight I see when I round the bend is Edward up on the roof. He sees me walking up and waves to me with a big smile on his face. I laugh and wave back.
I take a minute and take in all the work they've done, since I haven't been up in a couple weeks. The cabin looks amazing. Small co-ops are popping up in the little towns at the bottom of the mountain that have survived the pandemic, and we've been able to join. We trade things Charlotte sews, extra food and other items for building supplies, diapers and other items we might need. Money doesn't exist in the small corner of the world we live in, and none of us have much of an idea what's going on in with the rest of humanity.
A very small mail system has just begun where letters get hand carried from town to town and hopefully reach their intended recipient. Edward goes down every week with a new letter trying to find his parents and Alice. Charlotte often goes with him with letters for her children. We haven't heard anything yet but hope is not lost.
I've gone on a couple of these weekly trips but we won't bring the girls. I don't like to be that far from Rae, so usually I'm the one who stays home. There's talk of some people starting classes to help one another. Gardening, building, plumbing, candle making... trades people don't know how to do anymore but has become so necessary in the new world we live in where electricity and ease don't exist.
"Did you bring food?" Emmett asks when I reach the new porch they're constructing.
I roll my eyes. "Do you know me at all?" I hand him the small bag of pressed corn crackers I made this week.
"This looks amazing - you guys are amazing," I tell him.
Everything's mismatched with different colors of siding from lord knows how many different houses, but it's going to be ours, it's going to be warm, and it's going to be where we raise our children.
Emmett drags me around back where they've rigged up an outdoor shower that connects to a stream close by.
"In the summer you can use the stream and when it's colder you just disconnect this here." He bends down, showing me where the PVC piping disconnects. "And put it in a bucket of heated water and BOOM," he shouts, making me jump and laugh. "Instant fancy spa."
"Amazing, Emmett. Absolutely perfect!" Who knew life would get to the point I'd be thrilled about an outdoor shower.
Edward comes around the corner and grabs my hand. "Let me show you what we did inside."
Emmett forces him to wait while he explains the rest of the "bathroom" to me. I've gone from color coded closet hangers to a fancy outhouse and mismatched siding...but I'm not sad. I'm grateful and hold on to Edward's hand tighter. After, I'm excited to see what Edward has to show me and follow him in to where Peter is working on building a fireplace, since the cabin didn't have one originally. "Oh, Peter, that looks beautiful."
He used river rock, and it makes a beautiful pattern up the wall.
"It's not me. Your brother's a loon, but he knows his stuff."
"That's quite the compliment coming from you, Peter." I smile.
"Well…" he grumbles, getting back to his work.
I follow Edward down the short hall. "This is our room, and Emmett's is here."
Both rooms are on opposite sides of the small cabin, which affords us a little privacy.
"Then..." he trails off, going to a door that wasn't there before.
He opens it and I gasp. It's tiny, not much bigger than a walk in closet but it's painted pink and has the crib he built for Rae before we left. There is also a little toddler size bed for Claire.
"We've been planning the room for a while but haven't been able to get the supplies. Last time we went to town there was some drywall, and then this woman had some paint she was trading from her garage and..."
I place my hand over my mouth, the other resting on my waist as I step in the room and turn to look at every angle, a tear slipping from my eye.
"It's perfect," I say, jumping in his arms, wrapping my legs around his waist.
He kicks the door shut and I giggle as we fall to the floor.
Two months later all of us sit in our tiny living room. The weather is warm and our garden is in the ground. Emmett has taught some classes in town to help people rebuild, and I've taken a couple to learn how to sew. It's been amazing to see how we are all rebuilding and surviving what felt unsurvivable.
"Happy Birthday to you..." we all sing to Claire, who places her ear to the table listening to the vibrations, giggling and clapping her hands along with the rest of us. We don't have a cake but that's okay.
A letter came last week for Edward. All it said was "We love you and haven't stopped looking for you ~ Mom and Dad." Someone from our co-op had intercepted it, recognizing Edward's name from another co-op to the south of us, but no one knows the origin of the letter. It's a long shot but we've made sure to send one to the last location we can trace it to, giving them our exact location. It's a risk, but we decided as a group it's one worth taking. While the quarantine has been lifted there really is no order that we can see in the world. From the rumors we've heard, the military has lost most of its power without the wealthy government backing it up. Even though we visit town often, we don't share our exact location, and we feel safe up here on our little mountain.
Edward's hand snakes around my waist and I happily lean back into him. Emmett helps Claire with her lunch, but she's too distracted by the toys we were able to get her for her birthday.
"I love you," he whispers in my ear.
Saying it back, I sigh, resting my head back. Looking around the room I can't help but feel how lucky we are.
Emmett brought up something to me that I never had thought of before. This is the first time we've had a real family. Growing up it was just the two of us alone. Now we have Peter, Charlotte, Edward, and our children - more family than we ever dreamed of. Even with all the devastation we've experienced we've also experienced more love than ever.
We will always mourn those who we've lost and those we have yet to find, but looking around this room and feeling Edward's arms around me, I know we'll be okay.
~And They Lived Happily Ever After~
I do plan on an epi, because I know some of you really like all ends wrapped up. Not sure when, but I will post one that should satisfy curiosity. For those of you who like something more realistic (like me) this is how I chose to end it, because in a pandemic situation I felt this was the most realistic way.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for spending time reading my little story and I hope to chat with you guys on twitter!