A/N: We have arrived at the end of the road, ladies and gents. I won't say anymore here, but there is a novel in and of itself waiting at the end. ;)
Chapter Songs: Ice Cream by Sarah McLachlan, I Love you Forever by Jewel, Making Memories of Us by Keith Urban
Characters belong to SM. All the hot commodities in this corner of the fanfic world belong to me.
Epilogue 2 – The Edge of Forever
January 1, 2015 – Nine months later
"How's LA?" I stretched my legs out in front of me and cradled the phone between my shoulder and chin.
"Sunny. Warm. Boring without you." Edward's voice was thick with sleep. I looked at the clock on our nightstand and cringed. It was eleven-thirty in New York. That meant it was only eight-thirty on the West Coast.
"I didn't realize what time it was! I'm sorry if I woke you."
"S'okay," he yawned. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year," I repeated. I waited a few beats for him to wish me something else too, but the steady in and out of his breathing was the only sound I heard. "How did the signing go?"
"Good. Really good, actually." Sheets rustled in the background, and if I closed my eyes I could picture him sitting up and rubbing the sleep off of his face. "I could get used to this public speaking thing."
"I hope so. It's part of your job now," I joked.
"I miss you," he said. Not enough to remember our anniversary apparently. Though his words brought a small smile to my lips, there was still a part of me that wanted to say something snarky. Instead, I opted to take the subtle route and drop a hint.
"I wish you were home. It sucks being across the country from you on such a special day."
He laughed. "I'm sure you'll survive, sweetheart. We've got plenty of New Years ahead of us that we can celebrate."
So much for that method. "I guess," I mumbled.
"Should I woo you with my version of Auld Lang Syne?" Edward began singing the song, off key and messing up the words. My irritation dissolved and I snorted out a laugh.
"I think you should stick to public speaking, Cullen. Tone and inflect you can handle. Pitch, not so much."
"Damn! I guess that means I'll have to scratch vocal performance off my list of things to do at our wedding." The mere mention of our wedding unleashed a flight of butterflies in my stomach. May was drawing closer by the day, and even though I'd been planning tirelessly for months, I sometimes felt stuck on square one.
"Our guests thank you in advance," I joked. Edward chuckled.
"What's on deck today? Brunch with the ladies?"
"No brunch, but I am meeting Rose and Mike for my dress fitting."
"Dress fittings already?"
"This is pretty normal actually. Alternations can take forever," I explained.
"She's the designer though. There must be some strings she can pull. You know, to expedite the process."
I shrugged, though I knew he couldn't see me. "I'm sure there are, but you know me. String pulling isn't necessary around here."
"I know. And your humble nature is one of the many reasons I'm in love with you." I started to let out a sarcastic remark, but he continued before I had the opportunity. "Shit, Carlisle is beeping through. I need to take his call."
"Of course. Tell him I said hi." I did nothing to hide the disappointment in my tone.
"I will. Still meeting me at LaGuardia tomorrow afternoon?"
"I'll be there," I told him. We said our goodbyes and I hung up, tossing the phone on the bed and slumping back on the pillows.
Edward was good with dates. He remembered everything, from the night we first met at the Guggenheim to my mom's birthday. He hadn't forgotten our anniversary last year, so I was a bit surprised that he did this time around. The fact that it coincided with a holiday made it even harder to believe.
My phone beeped and I grabbed it.
David won't go down for his nap. Can we meet at two instead? - R.
I punched in my response and dropped the phone once more. I looked around the room, finally setting my gaze on a pair of Nikes sitting in the corner.
Going for a run seemed like the perfect idea. Not only would it kill some time, but it would help keep my mind off of the things that threatened to bog it down.
I bolted out of bed and quickly changed into my athletic clothes.
Moping the failed recognition of our three-year anniversary would have to wait.
"Bella! It's gorgeous!" Mike's eyes had welled with tears before I even removed my dress from the garment bag. Now, as I stood in the middle of Rose's studio modeling the soft white gown, a full-on waterworks display began.
"Get it together, Newton!" Rose swatted playfully at him, but I could see tears glistening in her own eyes as well.
"Do you see how beautiful she is?" Mike stepped forward and gestured for me to spin around. I held on to the upper part of my dress, which was too big, and did a full three sixty. He was smiling big when I faced him again.
"Can someone take a picture? My mom needs to see this."
Rose scrunched her nose. "You want a picture now? Don't you think it'll look better once the alterations are done?"
"Yes, but she's been dying to see what it looks like since I told her you were designing it. She'll appreciate the gesture." Rose shrugged and pulled out her phone, snapping photos from a few different angles. The tailor arrived then, and after taking a few minutes to discuss some things with Rose, she began working on my dress fitting.
"Are the bridesmaids dresses in yet?" Mike asked. I stood in the middle of the room, arms at my sides as the tailor measured my chest and waist.
"I should have them by the end of the week," Rose explained.
"And my tux?"
Rose patted his arm reassuringly. "Your tux will arrive with the dresses, don't worry."
"Good. I'd be offended if it didn't arrive with the other bridesmaids' couture." I resisted the urge to giggle out of fear that the tailor would stick me with a pin.
Last summer, I had taken Mike out for drinks and asked him to be a part of my bridal party. He was so excited by this that he nearly fell off of his barstool. Nobody had ever asked him to be a male bridesmaid, and he took the role very seriously. When it came time to order tuxedos, he insisted that his stand out. So, while Edward and his groomsmen were set to wear cream colored tuxedos with Tiffany Blue vests, Mike had ordered a Tiffany Blue tuxedo with a cream colored vest. Under ordinary circumstances, I'd frown on the combination. Mike could pull anything off, however, and I knew when all was said and done he'd probably end up looking better than I did on my special day.
"I assume you'll want to be a part of that fitting too?" I glanced over my shoulder at my friends, where they were busy eyeing things up with the tailor.
"Of course! Just because I have a penis doesn't mean I should have to miss out on the vagina-centric activities." The tailor's jaw dropped as she stared at Mike in shock. He simply gave her a wink and went on. "Besides, tuxedos need alterations at times. I mean, it's not an every day occurrence, but maybe mine will."
Rose rolled her eyes and placed a hand on the tailor's shoulder. "Please don't mind him, Mallory. He leaves his verbal filter at home most of the time."
One hour later, my fitting was complete and the dress was packed up and on its way to the tailor's shop. Mike had stepped outside to take a call from Laurent, so Rose was showing me some ideas she had for wedding accessories.
"Do you and Emmett celebrate your anniversary every year?" My question came out of nowhere. Rose closed the magazine in front of her and looked up at me.
"We haven't even had our first wedding anniversary," she pointed out.
"I know, I know. But before you got married, did you do anything to celebrate the anniversary of when you'd started dating?"
Rose thought for a minute before answering. "We went out to dinner, if that's what you mean. I think Em bought me flowers and maybe a piece of jewelry? We didn't make a huge spectacle of it, but we took the time to remember it."
"Ah, okay." I crossed my arms over my chest and looked down, pretending to be fixated on a thread that had come loose from my sweater. Rose reached out, tucking one finger beneath my chin and lifting my head until our eyes met.
"Why are you asking me this?"
I bit my lip, hesitant to answer. It was the first day of a brand new year, and I didn't want to bring anyone down with my ridiculous problems. At the same time, Rose was my best friend, and I really just wanted five minutes to cry on someone's shoulder. "Edward forgot our anniversary."
"Sweetie, it's only four fifteen. I'm sure he'll call you in the next eight hours. Give the man until midnight at least."
"I already talked to him today," I pointed out.
I nodded. "I called to wish him a happy New Year."
"And he wished me one as well, but said nothing about our anniversary. I even dropped a hint in hopes of helping him along." I sighed and sat down on the edge of Rose's desk. "Last year he went all out. This year he's across the country and can't be bothered to remember it."
"I'm sure there's a reasonable expla-" Mike burst back into the studio, halting Rose's words.
"Laurent wants to meet us for an early dinner. Are you two in?" I stood up, nodding and grabbing my coat. Spending time with friends would keep my mind off of the whole anniversary thing.
Rose grabbed my elbow on the way out the door. "We're finishing this conversation later," she whisper-hissed.
We piled into the back of a waiting Lincoln. Rose called Emmett to tell him our plans, Mike was engrossed in some game on his iPhone, and I tried to think about some of the accessories Rose had shown me. By the time we arrived at the restaurant my mind was off Edward and back in wedding planning mode.
"Hello my favorite bride-to-be!" Laurent swept me up in a warm embrace and planted a light kiss on each of my cheeks. I smiled and gave him two air kisses in return.
"I'm the only bride-to-be that you know currently."
"That's not true! My cousin's boyfriend's sister's college roommate is planning her wedding too," he sassed back to me. I snorted out a laugh and rolled my eyes.
"Thank goodness I rank above someone with four degrees of separation from you."
"Oh honey, you rank higher than Mike sometimes, and there is no separation there anymore." Laurent winked and grabbed Mike's hand in his. "I got us a place to sit." We wove our way through the crowded pub and settled into a large booth in the back.
"Alright ladies, it's time to share," Mike looked back and forth between Rose and I expectantly.
"Share what?" I asked, confused.
"Whatever it was you were talking about in the studio." Mike arched one eyebrow. "I know I interrupted something. You both looked far too serious to be discussing accessories."
Rose looked at me and I looked at her. There was no point in evading the subject. Mike wouldn't let up until one of us told him. "I was just expressing some frustrations I had over Edward forgetting our anniversary today."
"Is today your anniversary?" I nodded at Laurent. "Well, happy anniversary girl! What are you doing spending your day with us?"
"Edward is in LA," I explained. "He won't be home until tomorrow night, and when I called him this morning, he made no mention of our anniversary."
Laurent's eyes were as wide as saucers. "Ohhhh…"
"Did you tell him what day it was?" Mike asked. I shook my head.
"I dropped a hint, but that didn't seem to help. In fact, when I told him I was bummed about being on opposite sides of the country on such a special day, he told me we'd have 'plenty of New Years ahead of us' to celebrate."
"Ohhhh…." Laurent flagged the waiter over. "I think we're going to need a round of martinis. Extra dirty, if you know what I mean."
"As I was trying to say before Mike so gracefully interrupted us earlier, I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for this." Rose turned so she was facing me in the booth. "Edward is in LA for a book signing and speaking engagement, right?" I nodded. "Embry probably has him on a tight schedule. There are usually one or two social obligations that come with a trip like that. You know how it goes, Bell. You spent five weeks jetting around the country with him on his first tour. Maybe he's so wrapped up in everything out there that it really just slipped his mind."
When she wanted, Rose could find the logic in any situation. I loved her for that.
"That seems like a plausible explanation to me," Mike agreed. "Edward's playboy days are long gone, my dear. If he was a bumblebee, then you'd be the flower that draws him in. I highly doubt it's a person causing him to forget."
"That thought never crossed my mind," I answered honestly. The bet had set us back some, but living together for two and a half years had brought us up to speed. Since we started cohabitating, Edward had never done anything to make me question his honesty – or love for me. "I was thinking more along the lines of did I do something to upset him?"
"What makes you think that?"
"I don't know." I shook my head in an attempt to rid the thoughts from it. "Maybe I'm just overwhelmed? The holidays just passed, work is hectic, and the wedding date keeps drawing closer and closer. Maybe I need to take a deep breath and relax?"
Rose grabbed my hand with both of hers and gave it a squeeze. "That's probably not a bad idea."
"I bet Edward has something up his sleeve for tomorrow," Mike speculated. He wiggled his eyebrows and laughed. "A little afternoon delight, perhaps? Something to help with your loneliness and his jet lag…"
"Okay, okay, that's enough!" I stuck my tongue out at Mike and turned back to Rose. "New topic. Where did you find a tailor that was willing to come out on New Years Day?"
My friend popped a fry in her mouth and smiled. "I've known Mallory for ages and she owed me a favor."
Our conversation continued as we ate. Laurent had a dozen questions about the wedding and Mike had an equal amount of opinions he was more than willing to interject. One round of martinis turned into two, and as I sipped mine, it dawned on me:
The miles that separated Edward and I were just that - miles. He'd be back home with me soon enough. In the meantime, I was with good friends, having a wonderful conversation over delicious food and drinks.
I couldn't think of a better way to have spent the first day of the new year.
Fat, heavy flakes of snow had started falling by the time we left the restaurant. I said goodbye to my friends and began the short walk back to our apartment.
Winter was, without a doubt, my favorite season in the city. There was something about the lights and lingering holiday décor that struck a chord in me. Every year around December I fell in love with Manhattan all over again.
I pulled my phone out when I reached our street. The screen lit up, but there were no new notifications. I thought about texting Edward, but decided not to. Rose was right; he had enough on his plate in LA. My post-holiday blues wouldn't do either of us any good.
I slipped my phone back into my purse and began searching for my keys. I was almost to the building's front door when I saw the Lincoln out of the corner of my eye. There's no way…
I turned around just as the back door of the car opened. Edward stepped out with his messenger bag slung over one shoulder and a bouquet of purple and white calla lilies in his hand.
"What are you doing here?" I asked as he approached me.
"I wanted to surprise you." He grinned sheepishly and bent down to kiss me. "Happy Anniversary, baby," he whispered. His lips brushed against mine, soft like velvet and sweet like sugar. I slid my hands up his back, grabbing on to his shoulders and pulling him closer to me. His lips parted ever so slightly, and I slid my tongue between them.
"I thought you forgot," I said in a breathy voice. He used his free hand to pinch my nose.
"How could I forget? You're, like, you know, the best thing that ever happened to me." I swatted his chest playfully.
"I think you spent a little too much time in California, Valley Girl."
"Probably." He looked down at me, his emerald eyes afire. "In all seriousness, you really are the best thing that ever happened to me. And forget our anniversary? That's all but impossible." His lips covered mine again, and for a brief moment I wondered if Heaven felt anything like kissing him did.
I melted against him as his words – and his lips - melted everything inside of me.
May 2015 – Four months later
"What is this?" I stood in the door to my and Edward's hotel room, gawking at the sight before me. Rose, Alice, and Victoria were decked out in cocktail dresses, while Mike donned a pair of black skinny jeans and a navy colored button down. If I didn't know any better I'd think they were all going out.
"What does it look like?" When I didn't answer, Mike continued. "This," he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, "is your Dominican bachelorette party."
"My what?" I looked down at my yoga pants and tank top. Even if I wanted to go out, I was in no condition to do so.
"Relax, Swan." Mike pushed past me and made a beeline for the minibar. "The ladies have everything covered."
"We're just going to dinner," Alice whispered. "I told him we weren't allowed to make a spectacle, since we already had your formal party back in New York."
"But I'm not dressed-" Rose covered my mouth with her pointer finger and handed me the bag she was carrying.
"This is from one of the resort boutiques. It's simple, chic, and you don't need to accessorize." I took the bag reluctantly.
"I just had a massage, guys. And I'm so comfy. Can't we stay here and have a relaxing, wine drinking party?"
Mike scoffed. "You're in your 30s, Swan, and you're in Punta Cana, for fucks sakes. You'll have plenty of time to go geriatric on our asses after we get back to the city."
"There's no way I'll win this argument, is there?" Rose smiled sweetly and shook her head.
Mike glanced over his shoulder at me and arched a brow. "Would it help my cause if you knew that Edward was out right now with Emmett and Jasper?"
"Is that so?" I tried to sound shocked. In all honesty I expected him to be out with the guys. They'd been itching to give him a final sendoff for months. And if he's out enjoying himself, then you should be out doing the same. "Who wants to help me get ready?"
"You know I will!" Victoria slung her arm over my shoulder and steered me toward the bedroom. Fifteen minutes later my hair was brushed down, my face was made up, and I looked pretty good in the dress Rose picked out for me.
"That's better! Ready ladies?" Mike held the door open, ushering us into the hall. We followed his lead to the resort's Caribbean restaurant and bar. The hostess led us to a private room, and I gasped when I saw Renee, Esme, Charlotte, and Laurent waiting to greet us.
"You're all in on this?" I asked as my mom swept me up in a hug.
"Mike did the dirty work. We just had to show up," Esme said with a wink. I smiled, giving my soon-to-be mother-in-law a hug before taking a seat.
"Girl, we couldn't let you sit in your room on the eve of your wedding!" Laurent breezed by, stopping to kiss my cheek and slipping into the open chair next to Mike.
"Well thank you for this. It means so much." Though I had myself firmly convinced a night of rest and relaxation was the best pre-wedding plan, I was happy that my friends had thought to bring me out.
When Edward suggested having our wedding in the Caribbean, I was immediately on board. I'd always dreamt of saying "I do" on a white sandy beach, and knowing that was what he wanted as well only made the idea seem that much more perfect.
Of course I had no idea then how much planning went into preparing for and executing a destination wedding. Picking a location had been the easiest part. Punta Cana was Edward's favorite Caribbean vacation spot, and somewhere I'd always wanted to visit. Getting everything organized in the Dominican, on the other hand, turned out to be one headache after another. After several meetings with various travel agencies, I approached Edward and suggested we hire a wedding planner. It wouldn't be the cheapest route to take, but there were plenty who specialized in destination weddings, and I felt more comfortable handing paperwork responsibilities over to someone with experience. We spent a week going back and forth on the issue when Esme offered to help us out. Years in the hospitality industry had left her with a solid network, and as it turned out she knew someone who had worked on many a Dominican wedding over the years. Despite my attempts to cover the costs, Esme insisted on giving us the planner as a wedding gift, and so while Maggie worked on securing rooms at the resort and making sure we had all of the necessary documents for a civil ceremony in Punta Cana, I focused on color schemes, dresses, food, and who to invite.
At the end of the day things had worked out quite well. In addition to our close friends and parents, Jasper's parents were able to attend, as well as some of my college friends and a select group of Edward's business colleagues. Most of us had arranged to spend ten days in the Dominican, turning the weekend wedding into a weeklong getaway. For Edward and I, the week following the ceremony would act as our honeymoon. Only instead of spending it alone, we would have the pleasure of enjoying the time with our friends.
"Are you nervous?" Victoria asked.
I shrugged. "A bit I guess. It's not so much nerves about the marriage itself though. I'm more concerned about everything going according to plan tomorrow." The forecast called for light rain in the morning, which would move out around lunch and leave clear skies the rest of the day. Our wedding was scheduled for four in the afternoon, with dinner and a small reception on the beach immediately after. I hoped that Mother Nature had mercy on us and didn't decide to drop a random afternoon thunderstorm.
"Maggie made preparations, so you don't have to worry." Esme reached across the table and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. "The resort has a room held in the event that it rains. It's not ideal by any means, but it helps to know all your bases are covered."
"C'mon, now. No speculating about what could go wrong tomorrow!" Alice shook her finger at us dramatically.
"Ahem!" Laurent cleared his throat and clinked his fork against his water glass. A hushed silence fell over the table and he stood up. "On behalf of everyone here, I would like to say thank you to Bella for inviting us to join her and Edward during this magical week." Everyone at the table nodded their agreement. "Now, I know we already had a wild bachelorette weekend back home, but a few of us wanted to give you some gifts that we thought would be nice to use while you're here."
"Oh, God." My heartbeat quickened and my cheeks flushed. The thought of receiving inappropriate gifts didn't worry me – under normal circumstances. Esme, Charlotte, and my mom were there, however, and I was simultaneously nervous and excited to see what people had in store.
"I'll start," Victoria offered, handing me a card. I slipped it open and two pieces of paper fell out.
"An ocean spa?" I asked as I scanned the papers.
Victoria nodded. "Mhmm. It's an afternoon cruise," she explained. "You'll get four hours alone with Edward, complete with massages, body treatments, and a trip to some natural swimming pools."
"Wow! Edward is going to love this! Thank you so much!" I smiled appreciatively and tucked the papers and the accompanying card back into the envelope. Alice was next, sliding a sparkly bag toward me.
"For tomorrow night," she said with a wink. I pulled a layer of tissue from the bag, revealing a matching bra and panty set. The lingerie was navy colored and sexy in a subtle way. It was exactly the kind of thing I would wear.
"Thank you, Ali." The next half hour consisted of more gifts, none of which we too inappropriate to my relief. We were about to dig into our food when my mom clinked her knife against the side of her plate.
"Everyone else had a little something special for you, and I do too." She pushed her chair back and pulled a large box out from beneath the table. I thought I heard Mike snicker, but I was too busy trying to figure out what she could have gotten me that was that big.
"Seriously mom? Did you put all of Seattle in here?"
"Nah, just a few … hand-me-downs, you could say." I watched as she exchanged a knowing look with Mike. Confused as ever, I tugged at the large bow that held the box together. I looked around at my friends in hopes of getting some form of reassurance, but expectant faces were all that greeted me.
I pulled the top off of the box and gazed inside. A familiar brown Louis Vuitton suitcase was all I saw. Realization hit me and my cheeks started to burn. I wondered what would be easier – hiding beneath the table or bolting out the restaurant doors.
"What is it?" Esme looked over Renee's shoulder.
"Is this…?" I didn't have to finish my question. I didn't even need to ask it. I already knew where the suitcase was from and what the contents were.
"I believe you forgot this at our place a few years back." My mom's eyes glinted mischievously. "Mike was kind enough to call and remind me about it. We thought you and Edward might like to have it for your … honeymoon."
"Is there a story behind the bag?" Charlotte asked. Mike opened his mouth to speak, but my glare silenced him.
"It's nothing," I said, putting the lid back on the box and shoving it under the table. Once everyone else was busy conversing, I leaned over and hissed in my mom's ear, "I can't believe you kept that."
She shrugged. "It's an expensive bag, Bella. Even the contents are expensive."
"How do you know anything about the contents of that bag?" I regretted the words as soon as they were out. "On second thought, don't answer that."
"I wasn't born yesterday, darling daughter." She patted my arm and winked. "I know my way around the Internet and the erotica section on Amazon."
I cringed. "Really, you don't need to elaborate."
"I'm just returning the favor, Bella."
I furrowed my brow in confusion. "Returning the favor?"
Renee nodded. "My face was probably twice as red as yours is now when I found that suitcase."
At this, I couldn't help but smile. "Touché, Mom. Touché."
I looked down at the box under the table and bit my lip.
One deliciously spicy honeymoon week was coming right up.
I pushed my toes into the sand and sighed as the warm granules slid against my feet. Renee ran the blush brush over my cheeks twice more before instructing me to open my eyes.
"Perfect!" She smiled and admired her work. "You look stunning, Bella. I've never seen you so happy."
I blushed and looked away. Even though my relationship with my mom had changed dramatically since high school, I still struggled with taking compliments from her at times. Now was one of those times.
"Don't be embarrassed, sweetheart." Renee cupped my chin with her hand and turned my head until I faced her once more. "Today is a day you'll remember forever. Not just because of what you're about to do, although that is where most of your recollections will come from. But the way you feel and look – in love, overjoyed, and beautiful – will stay with you forever too."
"Renee, is she-" Alice's words caught in her throat as I turned to face her. A smile spread across her face and she clasped her hands together over her chest. "Oh, Bella. I've never seen a more beautiful bride."
I let out a nervous laugh. "So I heard." Humor seemed like the best way to distract myself from the anxiety that pulsed through my veins.
My best friend stepped forward and carefully wrapped her arms around me. "They're ready," she whispered. I nodded and pulled back, swiping my thumbs over my cheeks softly. No tears yet, Bella, I reminded myself.
"Are you ready?" Renee asked when we were alone once more. I took a deep breath and nodded.
"More than I've ever been for anything."
My mom took my hand in hers and led me out of the dressing tent. Charlie was waiting for us, and when his eyes met mine another round of tears threatened to spill onto my cheeks.
"Bells," he whispered. He ran a hand over my hair and cupped it against my cheek. I pressed my face into his palm and closed my eyes, relishing in the comfort my father's touch brought. The first few chords of a Caribbean guitar song began playing behind him. That was our cue.
"C'mon, Baby." Renee gave me an encouraging smile and Charlie took my free hand in his. We made our way to the small group of guests who had gathered on the beach.
"I love you, Bell," Charlie whispered, leaning down to kiss my cheek. Renee did the same and I squeezed both of their hands.
"I love you guys too," I said.
The walk up the aisle with both of my parents at my side was relatively quick, but I felt like it took forever. I attributed this to my nerves and the incredibly handsome man waiting for me. Edward had cut his hair before we left New York, and it was styled up into an attractive mess. The cream color of his suit stood out against his tanned skin, and his green eyes sparkled with a degree of excitement I'd never seen before.
We stopped a few feet from where the bridal party stood. Edward stepped forward and Charlie placed my hand in his. Both he and Renee gave my soon-to-be husband a hug before taking their seats behind us.
I could feel the everyone's' eyes on me – the bridal party, the guests, and the pastor – but the only person who mattered was the one standing beside me.
"You have no idea how beautiful you look right now," Edward whispered. My cheeks warmed and I gave him a sideways glance. The pastor began to speak, but I could barely hear the words he said. My body was on the beach, but my mind was all over the place. I couldn't wait to call this amazing man my husband. I couldn't wait to get back to New York and start building the next leg of our life together. I couldn't wait to get Edward alone in our suite later and show him exactly how a loving wife worshipped her adoring husband…
"Edward and Bella elected to write their own vows, which they will now exchange." The pastor's words brought my attention back to the present, and I turned so that I was facing Edward. Jasper stepped forward, handing us each the correct ring, and Edward cleared his throat.
"From the moment the first 'I love you' fell from our lips, I knew I wanted you to be the woman I spent the rest of my life uttering those words to. What was once darkness is light when I'm with you. What was once desolation is comfort and joy when I'm with you. What was once a life so ordinary and predictable is extraordinary and meaningful when I'm with you. I'm a better man when I'm with you, and the world around us is better too. I vow to bestow everlasting love upon you, Bella, and to give meaning to the word 'forever.' I don't come to this marriage with just my body, but also with my soul, my mind, and a heart that is full of love for you. With this ring," he said, slipping the band onto my finger and continuing, "I thee wed."
I blinked back the tears that blurred my vision and swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat. My own vows weren't as long, but there was just as much feeling behind them. "A year ago I promised you my heart. Today I'm sealing that promise with a ring, a kiss, and a vow meant to last forever. I promise to support your dreams, because through them your passion and talent shine. I promise to give my heart to you and only you, because nobody has ever proven himself more worthy of it. I promise to be faithful, kind, and patient with you, Edward, and to never give up on us. One lifetime with you could never be enough time to show you how deeply I love you." I slid the ring onto his finger and brought his hand to my face, pressing my lips chastely against his palm. "With this ring I thee wed."
"Edward and Bella, through the vows you just exchanged, you have made a commitment to one another. It is with these vows in mind that I pronounce you husband and wife." The pastor smiled at us. "You have kissed already a thousand times, maybe even more. Today, your kiss acts as a promise, one that will seal the lifelong commitment you've just made. Edward, you may kiss the bride."
Edward tipped his head down, pressing his forehead against mine. I gazed into his eyes, faltering ever so slightly as the love I saw nestled there began to flow through me. He cupped my face with both hands and pressed his lips to mine. I closed my eyes and got lost in the sensations. Sand tickled my toes, his tongue tickled the corner of my mouth, and his fingers tickled my warmed-with-a-blush skin. I tangled my fingers in Edward's hair and pulled him closer. If it weren't for the loud whoop Mike let out, we probably would have remained like that for the rest of the afternoon.
"Friends and family, I present to you for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cullen." Our guests stood, all claps and smiles. Beside us, Rose and Alice were wrapped up in a hug, spinning each other around on the beach like children. My dad and Carlisle approached to give Edward a handshake, and Esme and Renee threw their arms around me at the same time.
The rest of the night was spent dining, drinking, and dancing on the beach. The seashell adorned cake Mike helped me pick was almost too beautiful to eat, but that didn't stop Edward from slicing into it – or whispering to me what kinds of filthy things he'd do with the frosting if no one was looking.
My bouquet was partially made of seashells, and for that reason I decided it would be best not to toss it out for anyone to catch. Mike insisted he would have caught it, however. He claimed he was destined to get married next, and then made a grand display of harassing Laurent about it for the remainder of the evening.
Edward held me close during our first dance, which was to Frank Sinatra's "Always." Carlisle gave a long toast that started out silly but ended on such a sentimental note that most of the ladies in the bridal party had tears in their eyes. And Charlie was kind enough to give a toast too, complete with a veiled threat to be remembered in the event that Edward ever hurt his precious baby girl.
Toward the end of the night the photographer asked the bridal party to gather for a final group photo. The six of us made our way out toward the water, stopping when we were about fifty feet from where it crashed into the shore. Jasper stood behind Alice, arms wrapped around her and face nuzzled against her neck. Emmett chased Rose in a circle, picking her up and spinning her around when he finally caught her. Edward grabbed my waist and spun me around until I faced him, then dipped me backwards so the ends of my hair brushed against the sand. His eyes twinkled brightly and a smile danced on his lips.
"I love you."
I couldn't help but return the grin as all the built-up happiness from the evening came pouring out. "I love you too."
The shutter clicked and the camera's flash went off, catching us at a unique and beautiful moment.
We weren't models and we certainly didn't look perfect.
But we were dressed in love. And that alone made the moment perfect enough.
November 2016 – A year and a half later
Since first getting together, Edward and I made sure to visit Forks on a regular basis. We tried to alternate holidays, doing Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next. This was supposed to be our year to stay in Manhattan for Turkey Day, but when Esme told us she and Carlisle wanted to see the Pacific Northwest town I once called home, neither Edward nor I could refuse.
"This place is beautiful." Esme stood at the picture window that overlooked my parents' backyard. A few of the trees still had green leaves, but they were bare for the most part, having surrendered their foliage to Mother Nature's harsh demands.
"Thank you. I'm sure it's nothing compared to some of the spots you've traveled to for holidays." I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Renee adored Esme, but she also developed a complex when in her presence. The Cullens had the privilege of visiting places my parents – my mother in particular – had only ever dreamed of.
"We have been to some lovely locales," Esme admitted. "But when it comes to holidays, there's no place quite like a home to celebrate. You've done a terrific job of making this house homey, Renee."
This time my mother blushed. "Bella, can you help me in the kitchen?"
"Sure, Mom." I squeezed Esme's shoulder and smiled before following Renee through the house. The smell of turkey made my mouth water and my stomach grumble. I swiped my finger through the bowl of whipped cream on the counter, dropping a large dollop on my tongue. Renee shook her finger at me and snatched the bowl away.
"We won't have any left for the pies if you keep that up."
"Oh, please. You don't need that entire bowl for two pies." I reached for the sweet treat once more, but my mom was too quick. She had it tucked away in the fridge before I could get to it.
I crossed the room and peered out the window, taking in the scene outside. Charlie was busy showing off his new toy, a 1969 Chevelle SS. Edward looked like a kid in a candy shop, sitting in the driver's seat while my dad leaned in the window and pointed out various things on the dash. Carlisle had his iPhone out and was snapping some photos. Between the car and the upcoming football game, I had no doubt that the three of them would stay occupied for the day.
"Can you mash the potatoes, Bell? The turkey's almost ready." Renee closed the oven door and tossed her potholders down on the counter. I nodded and grabbed the manual masher from one of the drawers. This had always been my task at Thanksgiving. This year I welcomed the job with open arms. I had news to share with everyone, but I wanted to wait until we were all seated for dinner.
Half an hour later my mom called Charlie in to carve the bird. Edward and Carlisle followed, washing up and putting out the place settings. Soon enough we were all seated in the small dining room with a good spread of food before us.
"We have a bit of a cheesy tradition in our house," Renee explained. "Every year before we dig in, we go around the table and share something we're thankful for. Would you like to start, Carlisle?"
My father-in-law said he was thankful for his family, which made Esme smile. She in turn said she was thankful for Renee and Charlie welcoming them into their home. Edward was thankful for a blissful first year of marriage, Charlie for a longer-than-normal fly-fishing season, and Renee for the newest additions to the family, meaning the in-laws. When it was my turn, I fumbled with my napkin and glanced over at Edward. We had news to share, and this seemed like the perfect moment to do so. He searched my face with his eyes before giving me a small smile and nod. I turned back to our parents and took a deep breath.
"I'm thankful for new additions to the family as well," I began. "I'm especially thankful for the addition that's coming in May of next year." I watched as realization dawned on everyone's faces. Renee was the first to understand what I meant, jumping up out of her chair and letting out a loud squeal.
"You're expecting?" As soon as the words left her mouth Esme leaped up as well. Carlisle clapped his hands together, and Charlie leaned back in his chair with a big smile on his face.
"How are along are you?" Esme asked.
"Twelve weeks," I explained. Edward reached over and placed his hand on my stomach. It was an intimate gesture, and one he'd been doing frequently since we found out.
My mom came around the table and flung her arms around my neck. "I'm going to be a grandma! Charlie, did you hear that? We're going to be grandparents!"
Esme was practically bouncing. "Will you find out the gender?"
Edward shook his head. "We're going to wait until the birth."
"Congratulations," Carlisle said, shaking his son's hand. Charlie did the same, and the focus of the day shifted from the meal and football to discussions about our child.
Later that night, when our bellies were full of pie and the leftovers were put away, Edward and I headed off to bed.
"That went well," he commented, stripping down to his boxers. I stretched out on one side of the bed and smiled.
"We knew it would."
"I love you so much." Edward dropped to his knees beside me and rested his cheek on my chest. I smiled at him, running my fingers through his hair and down the sharp angle of his jaw.
"I love you more." I said the words in a teasing tone, though I meant every one of them. His lips curved up in a smile and he closed his eyes.
"I think the tryptophan is kicking in," he joked, sitting up and stifling a yawn. I ran my fingers through his hair once more and laughed.
"I promise I won't be offended if you go to sleep."
"Are you ready for bed?"
I shook my head. "I'll stay up for awhile," I said. "My food coma hasn't quite kicked in yet."
I watched as Edward stood and stretched his arms above him. Every part of him was so beautiful – his heart especially.
"Goodnight, love." He flipped off the light, shrouding us in darkness. His lips brushed against mine briefly before he flopped back on the bed and closed his eyes.
I flung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up. I wasn't tired in the least bit, so I grabbed a book from my suitcase and made my way to the kitchen. The house was quiet save for the ticking sound of Grandma Swan's old clock. I withdrew a canister of hot cocoa from the cupboard and busied myself with making a cup. Once I had added just the right amount of powder to the milk, I tossed in two fluffy white marshmallows and headed for the living room.
I took a seat in Mom's favorite chair, tucking my legs beneath me and setting the mug of cocoa on the windowsill. A light snow had started to fall earlier in the evening, and about an inch of fresh powder coated the deck and sidewalk. As I watched fat, fluffy flakes fall from the sky, I thought back to an earlier time and place.
Bits and pieces of the previous five years started to flash through my mind. Meeting Edward for the first time at the Guggenheim and feeling so ridiculous when I spewed champagne all over his suit; taking him on as a client and vowing that I would not allow myself to fall prey to his womanizing skills, though everyone around me knew I eventually would; our first kiss in his Lincoln, the excitement on his face at the book release party, and the exhilaration I felt when I finally agreed to give our relationship a try; the book tour, the bet, and our time in Paris; the way the air left my lungs when he dropped to one knee on a Maine beach, and his reaction when I said yes; his expression when I spoke my vows and the way his cheeks glistened with dampness just before we kissed; the love I saw in every one of his features when I presented him with the stick that held the two pink lines that would forever change our lives. We'd seen our share of both good and bad times. Through it all we managed to stay together, coming out stronger and happier, and ending up in a place neither of us could ever have dreamed of.
In that moment – silence around me, snow falling before me, hot chocolate warming me – I realized that it didn't matter where the next five, ten, even fifteen years took us. What mattered was that we had each other; to lean on when times got tough, to cheer when things went right, and to show incredible, unconditional, everlasting love to no matter what.
And love like ours? Well, that was something worth envying.
Love like ours was a hot commodity.
A/N: I wonder how many of you will remember which chapter I foreshadowed the events of this epilogue in? Hmmm... ;)
Before I say anything more, there are a few thank yous in order:
Chloe Masen - Through this entire, crazy ride, you've been one of my biggest cheerleaders - and become one of my best friends. Thank you for fixing my grammatical errors, listening to my rants, giving me doses of reality when needed, and always encouraging me to forge ahead.
Joey - So many parts of this story never would have come to fruition without your help and support. I am so blessed to call you my friend. Thank you for hours at Panera, helping me crush evil writing roadblocks, wrangling me in when I was lost out at sea, and helping me find inspiration when I most needed it.
RoseArcadia - It started with a blinkie and ended with a beautiful friendship. Thank you for the artwork, the pimpage, the support, and the always entertaining chats. I can't wait to really start working with you on the next leg of my writing journey.
Coppertop Johnson - Though we only recently really got to talking, you've always been graceful and inspiring. Thank you for your endless words of encouragement, your kindness, for reccing this story, and for all the help with teasers in the group. I look forward to continued conversations that span well beyond the world of fanfic.
EvilNat & KittyVuitton - You were two of the first people to rec this story and send others over to read it. Your support and kind words mean so much. Thank you for everything.
To all the ladies in my Facebook group - THANK YOU for sharing your theories, what you liked, what you didn't like so much, and for many a chapter of good conversation about the story and the characters. Your words - and support - mean so much to me.
To all the people and sites who recc'd or featured this story, to anyone who nominated or voted for Hot Commodity or me in the many fandom awards - THANK YOU so very much. In a world as large as the fic one is, it means more than I can even explain to know that people liked this story enough to do any of the above things.
Last, but absolutely never, ever least, THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH to all of my readers. Some of you I know well, others I'm not very familiar with, but your support and willingness to stick around, even when times got tough and updates became sporadic and it may have seemed like there was no end in sight, is something I can't thank you enough for. I appreciate every single one of you so very much. I hope that you'll continue to stick around as this journey goes on.
What's next in my world? A number of things:
* In terms of Hot Commodity - I have a futuretake from this story that I am donating to the Fandom 4 LLS compilation. There are a number of incredible authors contributing to this compilation, so please visit fandom4lls . blogspot . com (without the spaces) for information on how to donate and get your hands on a copy.
* I fully intend on picking up If You Only Knew and finishing that story as well. So, for any of you who read that, please don't give up on me or on them. It's coming back, I assure you.
* Joey (aka WitchyVampireGirl) and I are in the process of whipping up a collaboration piece. She unleashed a brilliant plot bunny, I fell in love when she shared it with me, and now we're running with it. We just got that ball rolling, and the story won't post until it's complete, but we'll get the word out once we're ready to unveil it.
* I am currently in the process of writing a trilogy of original fiction novellas. With the help of an amazing team (all of whom I met through this beautiful fandom), I hope to have the first one available as an ebook sometime around the holidays.
If you want to keep up on all of the things I'm doing, please make sure to follow me on Twitter - rpexaminer - or friend me on Facebook - I go by my penname, Rhiannon St Clair, over there. (There's also links to both my Twitter and Facebook on my bio page here).
This has been one hell of a wild ride. Thank you again for joining me on it.
Nikki aka blueeyedcherry