A/N: This is a little futuretake I wrote for the Fandom4LLS compilation.
I hope you all enjoy this small snapshot. It was so great to revisit these characters, cause lord knows I miss them. :)
Thank you for reading. xo
Characters belong to SM. Hot Commodity belongs to me.
The Art of Forever - A Hot Commodity Futuretake
May 2022 – Five and a half years after the end of the second epilogue
"Mommy!" Footsteps thundered down the stairs and through the hallway. I turned away from the sink just in time to catch my son as he tripped on the kitchen rug.
"Masen, you can't run in the house," I scolded. When he had regained his balance, I dropped my arms and stood back up.
"Sowwy," he said, green eyes cast down toward the floor. I ran my hand through his thick brown hair and shook my head. Edward's eyes weren't the only thing Masen had inherited; he could win people over better than his father, and he had only just turned five. We're so screwed when he's a teenager, I thought
"Aren't you supposed to be playing a game with your grandma?"
Masen looked up at me, an excited smile on his face. "We finished the game, mommy. I won!" He stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "When can I go outside with Daddy?"
"Daddy is busy with Papa and Grandpa Carlisle. He needs you to stay inside until they're finished."
He started bouncing up and down. "Please, Mommy."
I shook my head. "Daddy said you had to stay inside, and you need to listen to him." My mom appeared in the doorway. Saved by Renee. "I bet Grandma would like to watch a movie with you."
"I'd love to!" Renee winked at me and stepped forward, grabbing Masen's hand. "C'mon, Mase. You can pick what we watch." My little man took off for the living room before my mom could finish getting the words out. Their chatter filled the air, and I returned to the lunch I'd been preparing.
I looked out the kitchen window and surveyed the guys' progress. Edward, Carlisle, and Charlie were working hard to assemble Masen's new play set. Our backyard wasn't huge, but it was big enough to hold the birthday gift from my parents. Charlie had insisted on having the parts delivered while they were in town visiting. Edward wasn't thrilled about having to put it together, but the idea grew on him, and he eventually decided to recruit his own dad to help out too.
After Masen was born, Edward and I toyed with the idea of relocating. It wasn't impossible to grow a family in Manhattan; I knew many people who had done it successfully. We craved more space than Manhattan could give us, however. So, when I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, Joey, four years earlier, we made the decision to get something bigger. Several months of searching led us to a beautiful townhouse in Brooklyn, in the same neighborhood Edward grew up in.
Now we had ample space for the four of us, Carlisle and Esme were literally just around the corner, and we could still see our friends whenever we wanted.
Five and a half years was a long time, and as it passed by, we all went through changes. When David turned five, Rose and Emmett decided to purchase a home in Connecticut near her parents. Emmett continued to work on theater productions, and had started doing some writing along with directing and producing. Rose was now working on style guides in addition to her fashion design. She spent more time in front of her computer than she did in her studio, but she didn't mind. Working from home meant she could spend more time with David and Emmett, and unless she had something to take care of in her studio or a social function to attend, we didn't see her face too much in the city.
A year after Edward and I had Masen, Alice and Jasper welcomed twin girls, Chloe and Mandi, into the world. As much as she wanted to have a natural birth, it just wasn't in the cards for Alice, and so she'd delivered by caesarean section. Postpartum depression hit her like a pile of bricks, and she'd spent six months after the birth of her girls getting help with overcoming the deep seeded sadness she felt. None of us were surprised by how well Jasper handled the darkest of his wife's days. He somehow managed to continue working full time, handle everything around the house, and ensure the needs of two newborn babies were met. An experience like theirs had the potential to tear two people apart, but in the end it only brought Alice and Jasper closer together.
The event-planning segment of our firm had continued to grow. Our clients told their friends how good of a job we did, and before long we started to get a decent amount of inquiries from the West Coast, asking if we were willing to travel or do some type of long-distance work. After many hours of discussion, Alice and I decided to make Mike a partner, and asked him if he was interested in opening and running a Los Angeles based office. He talked to Laurent that night, and by the next day had made his decision. The LA office opened a little over a year ago, and so far things were going great.
After years of catching bouquets, Mike was finally getting the one thing he'd always wanted – a wedding of his own. He had proposed to Laurent on Thanksgiving Day, and true to Newton form, the whole thing had been a bit theatrical…
"How do you want me to carve this turkey?" Edward leaned against the counter and inspected the finished product.
"What do you mean 'how do I want you to carve it?'" I wiped my hands on a nearby dishtowel and peeked over my husband's shoulder.
"Is there a specific way you like it done? White meat and dark met separated? Mixed together? Drumsticks included or left on the bird? It's a delicate process I hear," Edward winked and grabbed the electric carving knife. I rolled my eyes and started fishing dishes out of the cupboard.
" Just get it carved and don't worry about it."
Edward shrugged and got busy. He almost had the whole thing done when Mike burst through the kitchen door.
"Bella, Masen is-" Mike stopped abruptly and threw his hands in the air. "EDWARD! What are you doing?"
My husband turned around slowly, knife in hand and one eyebrow arched. "Carving the turkey?"
"Shit! SHIT!" Mike tugged at his hair and began to pace back and forth. "I was going to do that!"
I blew out an exasperated breath and put down the stack of plates I was holding. "Who carves the turkey is the last thing on my mind right now, Mike. I have a table to set, a dinner to put out, and two children to wrangle up before Carlisle and Esme get here."
"No buts!" I picked the stack of plates back up and thrust them towards Mike. "Take these and set the table. The silverware should already be out there." Mike opened his mouth to say something, but closed it quickly. His shoulders slumped forward as he made his way out of the kitchen.
I was being a bitch and I knew it. The morning had gotten off on the wrong foot, with Edward forgetting to set the alarm and our new dog, Honey, doing his business all over the living room floor. Between dressing the kids and cleaning up after the dog, I had gotten a late start with the cooking, and now I was rushing around in an effort to compensate for the lost time. My nerves were fried and we hadn't even eaten yet.
"Um, Bella?" I looked up to find Laurent standing in the doorway. "Masen had a little bit of an accident." I watched as my son stepped out from behind Laurent's legs, his pants and shoes covered in mud.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, counting to five in my head before responding. "Masen Charles Cullen! What on Earth have you been doing?"
"'I'm sowwy mommy." His lower lip began to tremble and tears glistened in his eyes. "I was wacing Unca Mike and I twipped on Honey's wope."
I bit my lip and sighed. My own tears were on the brink of unleashing themselves. Masen's outfit was a gift from Esme, specifically for him to wear that day. Even if we washed it, which we wouldn't have time to do, the outfit was still ruined; I could see rips in both knees on the pants.
Edward's eyes met mine and he took in my expression. He set down the carving knife, rinsed his hands, and bent down to kiss my cheek. "It'll be okay," he whispered in my ear. I watched helplessly as he picked our son up and hauled him off towards the stairs. Laurent crossed the kitchen and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Can I help with anything?"
"We can start bringing the food out," I said with a weak smile. He pulled me against him in a half hug and kissed the top of my head.
"We'll make it through the day, Bella. And just remember, this shit only rolls around once a year." Laurent's comment made me laugh, and I felt a small bit of weight lift from my shoulders.
By the time my in-lawns arrived, Masen looked presentable, the table was set, and Joey had woken from her nap. Mike snapped out of whatever funk the turkey carving had left him in, and for the first time since waking up that morning, I felt like the day might actually be okay.
Once we were all seated and had said what we were thankful for, Carlisle began passing around platters full of food. We were about fifteen minutes into our meal when Laurent dropped his fork and began sputtering.
"I think he's choking!" Esme stood, placing her napkin on her plate and rounding the table. She pulled Laurent's chair out and got him to stand, then proceeded to perform the Heimlich. After two strong pumps to the chest, a wad of turkey flew from Laurent's mouth, landing on the table in front of him.
"Jesus," he sputtered out, grabbing the nearest glass of water and gulping down half of it. "What the hell did you put in this turkey? I think I may have broken a tooth!"
"The only thing that went in that bird was stuffing," I promised.
Mike laughed, and when I looked at him, his cheeks were the color of cherries. Using his fork, he pushed around the clump of regurgitated turkey until a silver band fell out. "There she is!"
"There who is?" Laurent asked as he leaned over to get a better look at what Mike was doing. Mike cleaned the ring off and pushed his chair back, then dropped to his knees on the floor.
"If someone would have left the turkey for me to carve, this wouldn't have happened." Mike gave Edward a dirty look before continuing. "I had this sitting on the turkey platter, with the intention of putting it on top of your turkey once dinner was plated. That obviously didn't happen. I'm just glad it ended up on the right plate. Laurent, love of my life, will you be the man who carves my turkey forever? Will you be my husband?"
"You were going to put the ring on top of my turkey? Who does that, Newton? What if I had poured gravy on before looking?" Laurent sounded serious, but he had laughter dancing in his eyes. He reached his left hand out. "Of course I'll carve your turkey forever, you beautiful, ridiculous, man. I might even give you some good stuffing to go along with it."
Charlie's eyes bugged out of his head and Renee laughed. "I get the feeling we aren't talking about turkey anymore," she whispered. We watched as Mike slid the ring on Laurent's finger. The two men stood and wrapped each other in a big embrace.
"Mommy, how can Unca Mike mawwy Unca Lawant? Two boys can't get mawwied," Masen said matter-of-factly.
"Uh…" I couldn't find the words to say. I wanted my son to grow up knowing that I didn't care who he fell in love with. All that mattered was that he was happy. He was far too young to try and explain that to, however.
Esme leaned down so she was eye level with Masen. "In New York, we can marry anyone we want," she explained. "Lots of people marry their best friend. That's what Uncle Mike and Uncle Laurent are doing."
Masen took a bite of turkey and chewed, his face contemplative. "Is Gwandpa youw best fwiend?"
Esme smiled. "He is," she answered, grabbing Carlisle's hand and giving it a squeeze. "He always will be."
I smiled at the Thanksgiving memories. I would always look back on that day fondly. What had started as a stressful mess turned into an entertaining and romantic day. Now, six months later, Mike and Laurent were preparing for their wedding, which was scheduled to take place in Central Park in two weeks. My parents had come to town for the occasion, and Carlisle and Esme were gracious enough to let them stay at their place while in town.
"How's lunch coming?" I jumped at the sound of Edward's voice.
I turned and smiled at him, then crossed the room and opened the oven door. "It's done."
"Just in time," he said, rubbing his belly appreciatively. "All that hard work makes a man hungry."
"Are you finished already?" I turned back to the window and took note of the completed play system. Masen was running around it in circles, waving his hands in the air and yelling excitedly.
"We got done about ten minutes ago. I thought you saw? You've been staring out the window at us for the past half hour."
I turned back to my husband, sliding my hands along his shoulders and linking my fingers behind his neck. "I must have spaced out. It looks great. Masen will love it."
Edward wound his arms around my waist and pulled me closer to him, "I think Joey will enjoy it too. Now you won't have to make as many trips to the playground."
"Oh yes I will." I pulled away and grabbed my trusty Ove' Glove. "Playground dates are the equivalent of Sunday brunch nowadays, in case you hadn't noticed," I said, taking the pan of lasagna out of the oven.
"Ah, that's right!" Edward came up behind me and slid an arm around my waist. He pulled me toward him until my back was flush with his chest. His breath tickled my ear when he spoke. "I'd never begrudge you Sunday mornings at the playground."
"Thank you for that." I turned my head and sighed as his lips met mine. I worked my hand up and over his cheek until my fingers were tangled in his hair. He groaned when I tried to pull him closer to me.
"Whoa, let's try to keep this g-rated, shall we?"
My cheeks burned with a full-on blush as I turned to face Charlie. "Sorry, Dad."
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked awkwardly around the kitchen. "Your mom said I should see if you needed any help in here," he explained, finally looking me in the eye. It didn't matter how old I got or how many times Charlie caught me kissing Edward; it always left me feeling embarrassed. "Do you need any help?"
"You could bring the lasagna out," I said. Charlie simply nodded and grabbed the pan, disappearing through the kitchen door.
"I swear, that man has a built-in radar for detecting physical contact," Edward muttered. I laughed and grabbed a bowl of salad, shoving it in my husband's hands and giving him a light swat on the butt.
"Perhaps we just have too much physical contact," I teased.
Edward squeezed my hip and lowered his mouth to my ear once more. "Later, when the parents are gone and the kids are in bed, we'll see if you think it's too much physical contact." I shivered involuntarily at the promise behind his words.
Some things – my hair, his wardrobe, and our family composition – had changed over the years.
Other things – my attraction to him, his insatiable appetite for me – hadn't.
-=- HC -=-
"How many kids can safely fit on that thing?" Rose swiveled in her patio chair and looked out at the back yard.
"I have no idea. Edward didn't give me specific numbers." I sipped my water and popped a carrot stick in my mouth.
"Well, someone should check with Charlie. The last thing we need is a Sunday afternoon trip to the emergency room." Rose continued to watch the gaggle of children that had collected on the play set.
It was the day of Masen's fifth birthday party, and our townhouse was full. In addition to our family, friends, and their kids, Masen had requested to invite a small group of his preschool classmates. Roughly ten kids were busy crawling around and playing on his birthday gift.
"The play set is fine, I assure you," Edward said, coming up behind me and planting a kiss on the top of my head. He held a plate of food in one hand and wore a large, silly looking white chef's hat on his head.
"Can I get that in writing?" Rose joked. Edward brought his free hand to his face and used his middle finger to scratch his nose. The girls and I laughed.
"Bella, this is such a lovely party!" Lauren Mallory, one of the few preschool moms I knew, gushed. I stood and gave her a friendly hug.
"Thank you, but I can't take any of the credit. My mom planned everything."
"Well, your mother is a terrific party planner. Like mother, like daughter, right?" Lauren waved to the play set. "I'm afraid Kyra and I have to get going. Her sister has a dance recital this evening and I still need to pick the costume up from the tailor."
"Thank you for coming out! Masen appreciates it," I said, giving her another hug and a warm smile. Lauren nodded and collected her daughter.
"Dance recitals, play sets, kiddie parties… When did we become such moms?" Rose placed heavy emphasis on the last word.
"We're 40 and we have children. We're supposed to be moms," Alice laughed.
Rose sat forward in her chair, pushing her sunglasses down her nose and glaring dramatically at Alice. "Speak for yourself, Short Stop. You are 40. Bella and I are still living out our thirties, thank you very much."
I snorted. "Rose is going to be one of those women."
"What women?" she asked, turning to face me.
"The ones who spend each year after 40 turning 35 again."
"Oh, she's totally going to be one of those women," Alice said, leaning back in her chair and laughing.
"35 was a good year, bitches." Rose stuck her tongue out at both of us and pushed her sunglasses back on.
"Language, ladies! There are children present!" Charlie stood near the door, hands on his hips and a frown on his face. I bit my lip to keep from giggling even harder.
Alice crossed the patio and gave my dad a big hug. "Our apologies, Mr. Swan. We don't get out as much these days, so when we're together, things tend to get a bit crazy."
"I have a hard time believing the first part," Charlie chuckled. "Edward wants to know if you're ready for cake and presents?"
I glanced at my watch. "That should be fine. We'll round the kids up." It took a good ten minutes to get the raucous bunch into the house, but we succeeded. I moved to stand next to the chair Edward sat in, but he intercepted me and pulled me down onto his lap instead. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and sat up straight, so as to avoid falling off of his knee.
Renee and Esme sat Masen in the center of his circle of friends and began handing him gifts. Each item seemed to excite him more than the last, and when my mom placed the final ones – a rectangular shaped box and a gift bag from Mike and Laurent – in front of him, he was practically vibrating with excitement.
"It's weally big," he shouted as he started ripping the paper away. When I saw the graffiti on the side of the cardboard, I immediately knew what the gift was. I turned to Edward and pressed my forehead against his.
"God help us…"
"What is it?" he whispered.
Edward tensed up. "I'm going to kill them." After watching a video of Jamie Thomas at Alice and Jasper's house, Masen decided he wanted a skateboard of his own. He'd spent the last six months asking for one, and each time Edward and I explained that he was too young and it was something we would consider when he got older. I'd never thought to tell our friends that he couldn't have one, and I was sure Masen had brought it up around them during one babysitting adventure or another. I just never thought anyone would bite the bait and actually buy him one.
"Mommy! Daddy! Look! A skateboawd!" Masen opened the box itself and jumped up He stood on the board, kicking his foot against the wood floor.
"Easy there, Mase." Mike nudged him off the board and picked it up. "We still need to attach the wheels."
"Thewe's mowe!" Masen tore into the accompanying gift bag, throwing tissue paper in the air. He pulled out a helmet and a set of knee and elbow pads.
"I told Mike he had to get the safety gear if he was going to get the board," Laurent explained. I smiled gratefully. At least one of them was using his head when they made the purchase.
Masen spent the next twenty minutes begging us to put the wheels on his new skateboard. Edward finally got fed up and put the board away, telling him that he was not allowed to do any skating with so many people in the house or without one of us present. This led to a temper tantrum, complete with crying, stomping feet, and some screaming. Once the hysterics concluded, everyone enjoyed a piece of cake and then the guests began to trickle out.
A few hours later, Alice joined me at the kitchen sink, giving me a light hip check. "Let me help you with those," she said, gesturing to the dishes I was busy rinsing. I smiled and handed her a plate to dry.
"The girls must be exhausted," I commented.
"Right now they are. That will change the minute we get home." We both laughed, knowing the truth behind her words.
"I think Edward's going to kick Mike's ass."
"For getting the skateboard?" I nodded. "That's what aunts and uncles are for. They supply your kids with all of the obnoxious, unsafe toys you refuse to buy yourself."
"I know, but a skateboard of all things? He's too young for something like that, Ali."
"Bell," Alice started, setting the dishtowel down and turning to face me, "have you ever gone on You Tube? There are videos of kids even younger than Mase skateboarding. There's even dogs that do it. It's not like he'll be out mimicking Tony Hawk on your front steps. He'll learn, and you and Edward will make sure he does it safely and slowly."
I breathed a sigh of relief and gave my best friend an appreciative smile. This was how we spent some of our days now: talking one another off the ledge when our kids did or thought of something crazy.
"Ali?" Jasper stepped in the kitchen, followed by Edward and Charlie. "Are you ready to head out? We still have to run by my parents' place."
"Sure." Alice gave me a quick embrace and tossed the dishtowel at Edward "Think you can handle the work, Cullen?"
My husband was about to answer, but Charlie grabbed the towel and took Alice's spot instead. "I've got it."
Everyone cleared out of the kitchen, leaving my dad and I to work in comfortable silence.
"This place isn't so bad, kid," he said after a few minutes. I rinsed the final platter and pulled the rubber stopper from the sink.
"You've got a good thing going here." Charlie hung the towel over the handle on the oven and leaned against the counter. He crossed his arms over his chest and glanced out the window. "Your mother was talking to Carlisle about property upstate. She thinks we should retire out this way. You know, so we can be closer to you and the kids."
I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. This was the first time either of my parents had mentioned anything about moving.
"Don't get too excited yet," he continued. "We're just tossing ideas around right now. But I wanted you to know and have a chance to say something. In case it's not what you'd like to see happen, you know?"
"Dad, stop." I held my hand up and closed my eyes, taking a minute to collect my thoughts. When I opened them again he was looking at me. "I would love for you and Mom to live closer. I just need a few minutes to process the information."
"You've got plenty of time to process it, Bell. Like I said, we're just tossing ideas around right now." Charlie pushed himself off the counter, planting a kiss on my head. "You know me, though. I always give in to that woman."
I laughed. "Yeah, yeah you do."
Charlie stopped in the doorway to the room, turning to face me. A ghost of a smile danced on his lips. "I'm proud of you, Bell." He looked like he had more to say, but he didn't. Instead, he turned and walked away.
I'm proud of me too, Dad, I thought.
I'm proud of all of us.
Two weeks later...
The morning of Mike's wedding brought rain – lots and lots of rain.
At 8am my phone rang, pulling me from my slumber.
"Swan!" Mike barked out. I rubbed my eyes and pushed Edward's arm off of me so I could sit up.
"Good morning to you too," I grumbled. Edward opened one eye and looked at me. I shrugged and stifled a yawn.
"Have you looked outside?"
"The only thing I've looked at this morning is my phone, and that's because it wouldn't stop ringing, even after I ignored the first three calls," I said sarcastically.
Mike paid no attention to my tone. "It's raining outside, and not the good raining men kind of rain." I got up and crossed the room, pulling back the drapes. A big bolt of lighting lit up the sky, followed by a clap of thunder so loud it rattled the windows.
"Was this in the forecast?" I asked lamely. I had no idea what else to say.
"No, it was not in the forecast!" Mike screeched. I could hear Laurent in the background, trying to calm my friend down, but it was no use. "You're my Best Matron, Bella. You need to get over here right now and help me figure out what the fuck I'm going to do."
"Are you serious right now? The wedding isn't until four. Mother Nature has eight hours to get her shit together."
I sighed and swung my legs over the edge of the bed.
"I'll be there in a half hour," I mumbled, hanging up the phone before Mike had a chance to freak out more. Edward sat up, running his fingers through his shaggy hair and frowning.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Mike is freaking out because it's raining," I explained as I moved around the room and gathered my things. "I need to get over there and diffuse the situation before he goes completely postal."
"Shouldn't Laurent be the one doing that? I mean, after today that'll be his job. Forever and ever."
I sat on the edge of the bed and kissed Edward's cheek. The stubble from his very noticeable five o'clock shadow tickled my lips, making me giggle. "I hope he remembered to include that in his vows."
"Are you coming back here?"
I shrugged. "I have no idea."
"What's our plan if you don't make it home before the ceremony?" Edward always worried about logistics, especially after we had Masen. I knew where his mind was without him having to tell me.
"Our parents are bringing the kids with them," I said in an attempt to ease his worries. "I packed Masen's suit and Joey's dress when I dropped them off with your mom last night. If I'm not back here by noon you should meet me at The Four Seasons."
"Do I need to bring anything?"
"Only your tux." I gave him another chaste kiss and stood up. He grabbed my hand in his, tugging me back down and pulling me close.
"You're amazing," he whispered, pressing his lips against mine and tangling his fingers in my hair. As always, I was powerless to the effect he had on me. I melted against him, like putty in his hands.
I broke our kiss before things could go any further. "I love you," I said.
"I love you too, baby," he murmured. For a minute, I thought about calling Laurent and telling him to deal with his fiancé. I could put my things back, crawl into bed, and spend the next few hours making love to the man who had brought me so much joy over the years. I could enjoy a good breakfast, get ready at a leisurely pace, and arrive at the hotel feeling refreshed and happy.
I sighed and shoved off of the bed once more. I could do all of those things, but I wouldn't. Instead, I would get in a taxi, hair a mess and makeup smudged all over my face, ride over to The Four Seasons, and try to get the situation – and my always histrionic best friend – under control.
"Esme said they'd keep the kids tonight if we wanted. So, you, me, and that deliciously comfortable bed have a date later," I said, winking at Edward as I grabbed my bag.
"Promise." I blew him a kiss and headed for the door.
By the time I got to The Four Seasons, things had gone from bad to worse.
"My day is ruined!" Mike wailed. He was pacing around the suite that he and Laurent shared, tugging at his hair. The skin on his face and neck was covered with bright red blotches, a side effect of his escalating anxiety. Alice showed up a few minutes after me, having been alerted to the situation via a text from Laurent.
"This is ridiculous," I whispered to Alice. She crossed her arms over her chest and nodded her agreement.
Laurent sidled up next to us and passed me a prescription bottle. "I found his Xanax."
"Thanks," I mumbled. I took a deep breath and crossed the room, grabbing Mike's arm and shoving him down on a nearby armchair. "Alright Newton, listen up. You're not here to audition for a comeback season of Bridezillas; you're here to get ready for your goddamn wedding. I know it's raining, and I know that sucks, but this show has to go on regardless of the circumstances. Now, you're going to take this Xanax, you're going to lie down on that couch, and you're going to let Alice put some cold washcloths on your face. I will call the yacht company and see if it's possible to have the ceremony on the boat prior to the reception. You know, in the event that the rain doesn't let up. This isn't the end of the world, it's just a little hiccup in your plans."
Mike's head snapped up. "Washcloths? Is my face red?" I bit my lip and nodded. Mike's eyes bulged and he let out another wail. "Nothing is working out!" He dropped his head to his hands and kept yelling. I looked at Alice, who gave me a knowing nod. She and Laurent began to work on getting Mike to the couch while I stepped into the suite's bedroom and closed the door.
Forty-five minutes later, I hung up my phone with a smile. The yacht company agreed to do the ceremony on board if it was still raining. Because of the circumstances, they offered to let us board the boat an hour early for no extra charge. The photographer was coming to the hotel to take some afternoon-of-the-wedding photographs, and Rose was on her way over with our tuxedos. It sounded like Laurent and Alice had managed to get Mike under control, and when I poked my head back into the sitting room, I saw the sandy haired bridegroom sleeping on the couch.
"How many Xanax did you give him?" I whispered as I joined Laurent and Alice at the table.
"Two," Laurent explained. "But we gave him a gimlet with them."
I shook my head and chuckled. "You better hope he's up by one."
"He will be," Alice said. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and looked at me. "What did you find out?"
"The charter group said we can board at three and they have no problem with Garrett performing the ceremony on the boat," I explained. "Rose is on her way over so we can get ready here, and the photographer will be here by two."
"You're a fucking rock star, Bella." Laurent rounded the table and hugged me tightly from behind. "Seriously, we both owe you. Me especially. He doesn't listen to anyone like he does you."
"Well he better start. Los Angeles isn't exactly close, and I don't have enough frequent flier miles to use to diffuse his every crisis."
"Los Angeles is way laid back compared to Manhattan," Laurent said. "And, oddly enough, Mike is way laid back when he's in The Golden State."
"That's good to know." I looked at my phone and stifled a yawn. "How do you two feel about breakfast?"
Alice blew out a loud breath. "Yes, please. I need food and caffeine."
I looked at Laurent. "Sarabeths?"
"Works for me," he said. I fired off a text to Rose, letting her know where we were going and that she should meet us there as soon as she could. Then, the three of us gathered our things and headed down to catch a cab.
Hopefully Mike wouldn't wake up while we were gone.
If he did, I knew the already long day would only get even longer.
When push came to shove, everything worked out just fine.
The rain let up shortly after noon, and by four the sun was shining and the humidity had arrived. We piled into a limo, which took us to Central Park. The good thing about wearing suits was that we also wore Chuck Taylors, so heels sinking into wet grass weren't a concern, at least not for the wedding party.
Mike was all smiles as Garrett guided him and Laurent through the unconventional ceremony. I expected vows that were just as ridiculous as everything else that came out of his mouth, but the ones he wrote were actually quite heartfelt, bringing tears to my eyes. Laurent's vows were sweet too, and by the time they said, "I do," I was certain we all were teetering on the edge of romantic overload.
The reception was fabulous. Mike's attention to detail showed through in everything, from the dessert bar containing nothing but pink, purple, and blue (the color of our tuxedos and the theme of the wedding) types of candy, to the verses from our favorite songs that were scripted on the back of our place cards. I didn't ask, but I knew that despite his morning worries, Mike was pleased with the way things had gone. He'd pulled off his own fairy tale wedding, to a man who he'd always said could rival any one of the many versions of Prince Charming.
Laurent and Mike toasted one another, each taking a minute to recall their version of how they had first met. Alice and Jasper said a few words as well, having been the ones who were ultimately responsible for seeing that the men of the hour got hooked up. Laurent's big, boisterous Italian family took turns with the microphone, and when all was said and done, at least ten people spoke about their union.
Mike didn't want a traditional wedding cake, so he opted for miniature cheesecakes of different varieties. He liked to do things different, but we all knew he was just trying to save himself from getting cake smashed in his face. That plan didn't work, however, and Laurent managed to sneak up behind him and get cheesecake all over Mike's face as well as his hair. The theatrics started all over again after this, but ended fairly quickly. Everyone was too happy – Mike included – to cry over smeared cheesecake.
The yacht docked once after dinner, so guests with children could clear out if they desired. Esme took Masen and Joey with her, leaving Edward and I to enjoy another rare childless evening. As much as I loved the way my husband looked, all dapper and devilish and sexy in his tux, I couldn't wait to get him home and out of it later.
The dance floor had starting to empty, but we stayed in place, swaying to the sounds of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." It was nearly midnight, and our time on the boat would be up soon.
"Can I cut in?" I looked up and saw Mike's sparkling blue eyes gazing down on me. Edward unwound my arms from behind his head and took a few steps back.
"Only if there's no funny business," he growled jokingly.
Mike put his hands in the air and feigned innocence. "Funny business? Me? You must have the wrong person in mind."
I laughed as my husband put an arm around Mike's shoulder, giving him a half-hug. "I've known you too long to even think you're the innocent kind," he whispered loud enough for me to hear. Mike just shook his head and held his hand out. I grabbed it with mine and he pulled me close to him.
We danced in silence for a few minutes before Mike whispered, "Thank you."
"Everything." He pulled back just enough for our eyes to meet. "Dealing with my crazy ass all of these years. Putting up with my theatrics. Not choosing to hate me when you very easily could have on more than one occasion."
I giggled. "I could never hate you, Newton. You provide me with far too much free entertainment."
"Well, it's nice to know I serve a purpose," he chuckled. His expression grew serious and he stopped moving. "Really though, thank you, Bell. You're the best friend I've ever had. I need you to know that."
Tears brimmed my eyes. "You're welcome. This city isn't the same without you in it."
"Well, with all due respect to California and its residents, LA is nothing compared to this city." With that, we resumed our dancing.
I rested my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes, following his lead and letting my body move easily to the music. I couldn't believe it had been nearly twenty years since the two of us first met. We were young back then, new to Manhattan and wanting so badly to fit in and find our place in the crazy, fast-paced world.
Now we were older and wiser thanks to all of the things life had thrown at us. We'd learned a lot over the years. We'd stopped trying to fit in and started embracing who we were. We'd given up on looking for our place and had instead created places for ourselves. We'd learned to trust, learned to love, and learned that no matter what happened, with a little help from each other we could always get by and keep going.
One thing we hadn't done was given up on – or stopped loving – one another.
And I knew we never would.
One week later…
"Onion or egg?"
"Seriously, Bella? Do you want your breath to reek for the rest of the day?"
"I don't really care, Rose. It's not like I'll be out trying to impress anyone." I grabbed the onion bagel and pulled it in half, dipping my plastic knife into the tub of cream cheese that sat between us. Alice leaned forward and looked over at us, rolling her eyes.
"You two are something else, you know that?"
I took a big bite of my breakfast, chasing it with a swig of the latte Alice had brought me. "I have two kids and a home to maintain. Stinky onion breath is the least of my worries."
"Hey, if I recall correctly, you had stinky onion breath the first day you met Edward at the office," Alice remembered. I blushed at the memory. I was so angry that day; with Alice for agreeing to have me represent him without asking first, and with myself for being attracted to him despite his atrocious behavior.
You were a goner from day one, Bella.
"That's right!" Rose exclaimed. She tipped her head back and let out a loud laugh. "Do you remember how angry you were when you called and asked me to go to lunch?"
"Oh, I was more than angry. I wanted to corner Alice in her office and tear all of her hair out," I said, laughing. Alice winked and patted my knee.
"Not so angry about that anymore, are you?" she teased.
"Not angry at all," I answered. "In fact, your careless-at-the-time actions led to the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"I beg to differ," Rose said, stuffing a chunk of egg bagel in her mouth and chewing thoughtfully.
"Meeting the two of you was just as important," I said, rolling my eyes. Rose held a hand up and shook her head as she finished chewing.
"I'm not talking about me and Alice," she said, surprising me. She pointed toward the playgroup and smiled. "I'm talking about those two heathens."
Alice pressed the back of her hand against Rose's forehead. "Are you feeling okay?" she joked. Rose swatted her away and looked back and forth between the two of us.
"I'm serious. I love Emmett, I love being married to him, and I love where the last ten years has taken us, but David … he's my lifeblood. He is the best thing to come out of all this."
I squeezed Rose's arm and rested my head on her shoulder, looking out at the scene in front of us. The playground was packed today, with moms and dads milling around, some in groups and others there alone. We were camped out on our usual bench, as we had been most Sunday mornings following the birth of Alice's twins.
Sunday brunch and other outings were easier to do when Rose was the only mom in our trio. Things became a bit more complicated when we all had little ones to tote around, and as a result we'd traded in Sundays at Sarabeths for Sundays at the playground. Each week was the same; Alice brought the coffee, Rose brought the bagels, and I brought juice boxes for the kids. Our routine worked well. It gave our husbands some alone time, it gave the kids a chance to release their energy, and it gave us a chance to catch up and relax for a few hours.
"Do you ever wonder where we'd be if we hadn't gone to the Guggenheim event that night?" Alice asked.
"I've thought about it," I admitted. "Not because I want a different life or something. I wouldn't trade what I have now for anything. But, curiosity gets the best of me at times. I'd like to think our paths still would have crossed with the guys."
"Oh, I would have found Emmett one way or another." Rose wiggled her eyebrows. "I had such a crush on him. I was determined to sleep with him, at least. I got a bit more than I bargained for in that deal."
"I think Alice and I were in a perpetual state of shock for the first year you two were together," I told Rose. "What started as an innocent romp turned into this whirlwind romance, complete with a baby."
"Yeah, right," Rose snorted. "Alice was too busy riding on cloud nine with Jasper while you and Edward danced around each other like teenagers. "
"I'm still riding on cloud nine," Alice said dreamily. I looked at Rose and we both laughed.
"Auntie Alice!" We looked up to see Masen standing on the jungle gym. A mischievous grin covered his face. "Look what Unca Mike showed me!" He stepped forward until the tips of his shoes were flush with the edge of the play equipment. I started to stand, but Rose reached her arm out and stopped me.
"Trust, Bells," she whispered. I glanced at her and then back at my son.
"One," Masen yelled.
Alice pulled out her phone and got her camera poised.
Rose uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and watching my son intently.
"Thwee!" I sucked in a sharp breath as Masen leaned forward, wrapping his arms and then his legs around the playground pole. He twirled down it fast, tipping over and landing on his butt when he reached the bottom. He stood and brushed his shorts off before running toward us. He was all shiny green eyes and giggles when he jumped on my lap and flung his arms around my neck.
"That was great!" I said, ruffling his hair and kissing his cheek. Joey came running after him, latching on to my legs and giving my knee a kiss.
I looked over at my friends and smiled.
Rose was right.
The men in our life were great. They were more than great – they were amazing.
But the kids? They were our lifeblood.
And right then, with my lifeblood looking at me, lopsided grin on his face, excitement on hers, I knew three things:
I had never been so happy.
I had never felt so at ease.
And I had never felt so very, very lucky.