A/N: This is the final chapter of the story. I hope that it leaves you fulfilled. I have revised the previous chapters so I might re-post with a bonus chapter included. Enjoy!
"Uncle Jake, where's Mommy?"
Jacob switched off the television and followed the sweet, but drowsy voice to the image of a squirming little girl waking up from her nap. He perched himself on the arm of the sofa and gently brushed her wavy, toffee coloured hair back from her face with his fingers.
"Your Mom's in the kitchen helping Aunty Leah cook something," he answered truthfully, before glancing at the clock on the far wall. It never ceased to amaze him how Isabella could organise her time so perfectly around her children's sleeping habits. He wondered if Leah would eventually be able to do the same when their child came into the world in a few months. Perhaps Izzy's cooking lessons could be extended to include lessons on parenting?
He smiled at her inquisitiveness.
"Your baby bro's asleep . . . and we wouldn't want anyone to go and wake him up, now, would we?" he added with a raised eyebrow, knowing little Maggie's penchant for disturbing Brandon's slumber, so that she could play with him like one of her dolls.
Maggie bit the inside of her cheek and looked up at him with large, cherub eyes all too innocently.
"No. That would make Mommy even more upset."
Now Jacob was inquisitive. More upset?
"Was your Mom upset before we came?"
Maggie nodded her head slowly and then whispered into her Uncle's ear.
"Mommy's been upset since Daddy left."
Jacob was momentarily startled by the perceptiveness of his three year old goddaughter. Trying to alleviate the dour expression on her doll-like face, he smiled reassuringly and moved to sit her on his lap.
"Your Dad will be back soon. He just had to visit Grandpa Hank, Grandma Liz, Uncle Emmett and Aunty Rose for work."
"He told me that."
"Mhmm. He told me that I had to give Mommy a kiss every day for him."
"And have you?"
"Yes," she answered emphatically. "But they still don't make her happy."
Jacob knew exactly why Isabella was upset and he took some time to consider how to explain it to her daughter.
"Do you miss your Dad, Mags?"
She nodded her head.
She held her arms outstretched. "This much."
"That much? Well, your Mom misses him a lot more." He outstretched his much longer, well-built arms to demonstrate his point in a way so she could comprehend what Tony's absence meant to Isabella.
Was there another way to explain to a three year old that the last time her parents had been apart had led to her Dad forgetting her Mom and her family for a long time?
Was there an easy way to explain to her that her Mom was upset, because she felt guilty over the fact that her own book launch had prevented her from accompanying her husband?
How could you tell a three year old that Isabella was worried like crazy, because she thought that she could lose the life that she'd forged with her husband, yet again?
Maggie's examination of his arms suggested that he'd made the right decision. Her brown eyes seemed to consider his words for a moment, before they turned questioning.
"Do you miss him that much, too, Uncle Jake?" she asked, eagerly.
He was stumped temporarily.
"Ah . . . not quite that much. But I'll definitely feel better when your Dad comes home," he admitted, recalling how his ending up in hospital with a major injury always seemed to be the precursor to uniting or reuniting Eddy and Isabella.
"No inclination to find out whether the third time really is a charm?" He followed Isabella's voice to the doorway that she was leaning against. Her expression and words suggesting that her thoughts had been on a similar wavelength to his.
Maggie leapt from his lap, ran and wrapped her arms around Isabella's legs. How much of his conversation with Maggie had Izzy heard?
Standing up and moving towards the doorway, as well, Jacob responded to Isabella's earlier unanswered question.
"No, I'm not keen on providing them with enough footage to create the slightly steamier and dreamier offshoot to Grey's Anatomy . . . even if I did get to take my shirt off."
Bella picked up Maggie (who soon nuzzled herself near her Mom's shoulder) and then rolled her eyes with a wry grin.
"Of Course. Doctor McRipped."
Pleased that he was able to put some mirth into her otherwise forced expression, Jacob brushed her gibe aside and continued to joke around as they responded to the sound of the expected doorbell.
"Some producers did approach me after my last stay, obviously recognising my potential, but I told them that I was sick – sick of hospitals."
"Uncle Jake is sick?" a worried little voice piped up.
"No, sweetie. He's very well," Bella answered directly to Maggie, before leaning closer to Jacob and whispering, "Although I have often wondered . . ."
He nudged her gently, but forcefully enough to make his point.
"Lucky for you, I will never grow sick of your teasing," he winked, before reaching for the door.
"How much would you miss it if I stopped?" she responded quietly. He didn't miss her hint that she'd heard most of his conversation with Maggie.
He shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe this much," he said, holding up his right hand, with barely a discernible gap between his thumb and index finger, "… times a million."
Happy with her now smiling eyes, Jacob decided to open the door and invite those who were outside in.
"Aunt Alice! Amelia!" an excited Maggie exclaimed as the Cullens moved into the hall and greetings were exchanged. Bella lowered her to the floor so she could approach Alice and Jasper, who was holding a beautiful toddler dressed like she'd just returned from a photo shoot. No one thought this unusual, though. Alice's desire to make sure everyone was exceptionally dressed would obviously extend to her daughter. She'd even tried to train Maggie in the "art of style".
"How's my little fashionista?" Alice bent down and tapped Maggie on the nose.
Maggie performed her part perfectly, holding out her t-shirt and doing a spin.
"Stylish, as always, Aunt Alice."
A chorus of laughter filled the hall, until Carlisle noticed Bella's expression and smiled in her direction sympathetically.
"Can't she stop corrupting my daughter now that she has one of her own?" Bella answered his glance, as everyone began moving towards the large, open plan, eat in kitchen.
"We'll work on it," Esme winked, placing a bowl of her famous potato salad in the fridge, before moving to greet Leah, who had just checked something in the oven.
"Speaking of work, were you happy with the book launch?" Jasper asked, sitting Amelia on the floor by Maggie and her toys. Alice soon sat down and played with them.
"More than happy. Kate's been pleased with sales and the talk surrounding it, so . . ." she shrugged.
". . . So everyone is starting to realise what we've known all along," Charlie Swan entered the conversation, as he and Billy moved in from the backyard, carrying a covered tray. "My daughter is a talented and very special woman."
"You're only saying that because I let you barbeque," Bella responded, trying to quickly divert the conversation away from herself. "You didn't destroy the steaks, did you?"
Jacob moved forward and peered beneath the foil that covered the tray.
"No visits to the Burn Centre required," he winked, but his actions, for the first time that day, failed to have their desired effect. Isabella's expression sank and she looked to the phone and then the wall clock, suddenly becoming alarmingly aware that he hadn't called.
He always called.
Before she realised it, Jacob - looking terribly apologetic – was touching her arm and everyone else had ceased their conversations to focus on her.
So much for trying to steer their attention away from her.
"I'm fine. I'm fine. Um . . . why don't you switch on the TV and watch the pre-game? I just . . . I just want to make a call."
She didn't wait to see whether they nodded, before she hurriedly moved to her room and reached for her cell. After confirming that she hadn't missed a call, Bella found her favourite contact and then waited for the ringing to cease.
"Hello. You've reached Tony Masen's phone. Unfortunately, I'm not available right now . . ."
Her heart pounding, she ended the call and then found another one of her frequently dialled contacts. There were only two rings before this call was connected.
"Hey, Rose. Is Edward still at the office?"
Anxiously waiting for a response, Bella was surprised when Alice burst into the bedroom looking as if she needed to rectify a mistake. She raised a questioning eyebrow at her friend who was now holding the door frame and breathing heavily. What surprised her even more was Rose's murmured reply.
"I'll kill Alice . . . Bella, are the others there yet?"
"Yeah, they just arrived. Why isn't your brother answering his cell, Rose?"
"Is Alice near you?"
Bella furrowed her brow and then turned towards Alice.
"Yeah, she just burst into the room."
Rose seemed to sigh, before continuing in her I-mean-business tone.
"Alice will be able to tell you . . . but make sure you tell her that she's lucky that I'm pregnant and on the other side of the country right now." Her tone settled before she spoke again. "There's nothing to worry about, okay? Just talk to Alice and remember what I-"
"Yes. Don't worry, I'll tell her right now." Alice ducked her head. "Thanks, Rose. Take care. Talk soon."
"Not too soon. Bye."
Perplexed by Rose's seemingly playful tone, Bella ended the call and then focused all of her attention on Alice.
"Rose says that you're lucky that she's on the other side of the country right now."
Alice swiftly nodded, before launching into the explanation that Bella desired.
"I know. I'm so sorry, Bella. The girls had my attention when you left the room. I was meant to make sure you got this."
Alice drew Bella's attention to the item she held in her hands – an item that Bella had failed to notice while on the phone.
"Where did you get that?" she breathed.
Alice had to contain a scoff and it was her turn to raise an eyebrow.
"Seriously?! You have to ask that?! He left it at our place when he stayed there after being released from hospital." She stepped forward with what was meant to be a comforting grin and placed the notebook in Bella's hand. "More recently, though, your husband visited me, searched for it and then asked me to give it to you today when I arrived."
Bella touched the notebook that held hers and Edward's first conversations reverently, before looking at Alice inquisitively.
Alice's knowing grin grew.
"He said that if you looked at me like that I was to say don't forget to remember. Enjoy!" She said, glowingly, before disappearing down the hallway at a much more sedate pace than when she'd appeared.
Bella ran a hand through her hair, sat down on the bed and bit down on her lip as she opened the notebook to the first page. She smiled as she found her name written in Edward's hand and ran her fingers over the indents made on the page, before skimming to the last page with any writing on it. The words on it weren't familiar and so she read them all the more eagerly.
My darling wife, Bella,
Five years ago, to this very day, you handed me this notebook and we began a conversation that has changed my life irrevocably.
I never want the conversation to end.
Help me to continue it by following the path less travelled?
I love you,
Bella took a steadying breath, while her hand rested against her heart, until Edward's request finally sunk in.
Grabbing a jacket and her cell – and still holding the notebook in her hand – she moved back towards the kitchen, where everyone was still congregated. They eyed her expectantly.
"Would you mind–"
"-Watching the kids?" Alice finished. "No. We came here with that intention."
"Take as long as you need," Esme added, and Bella began to appreciate the efforts that Edward had made.
"Thank you," she murmured, slightly overwhelmed. "I better get going, then," she said, raising the notebook and intimating to it. Seeing Maggie still playing with Amelia, she moved to her daughter, gave her a kiss and then whispered in her ear, "I love you. Be good and I'll be back soon, okay?"
When Maggie nodded much like her father would, Bella smiled and then excitedly moved towards the door with the intent to walk across the road.
As soon as she left the house, Jacob turned to everyone.
"He gave her a notebook?! That guy has been watching too many chick flicks!"
"I think that it's extremely romantic," Alice chimed in. Leah appeared to agree.
Jacob moved away from the women and whispered in confidence to the men, "Romantic or not, I'm not doing any of that chick-flicky shit."
"So how do you keep the romance alive, man?" Jasper asked in amused tone.
Jacob looked at him rather smugly.
"Watch a master at work," he said quietly, before moving back towards Leah, who was cleaning up some vegetable scraps and trying to squeeze them into the bin. He raised his voice so the others could hear.
"Babe, do you need me to empty the trash?"
Leah looked up with an adoring expression, pushed up on her toes and kissed Jacob.
"Thank you," she said, trailing a hand down his chest, before focusing her attention on cleaning up once again.
Jacob pushed his shoulders back and watched Jasper nod his head, rather impressed, before moving towards the door.
Sometimes romance was as simple as offering to take out the trash.
Even though it had been deemed the path less travelled, Bella had travelled it frequently.
Brushing aside a few wayward branches, she soon found herself in a familiar setting, surrounded by the trees that silently shared in her much loved memories. The sun had begun to dip below the ocean covered horizon and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains glistened with the changes in light. Yes, everything was as she expected it to be – apart from one thing. Moving out from the shadows of the trees, she carefully surveyed her surroundings, which only served to make Edward's absence more pronounced.
Had she misunderstood the message? Surely he meant Magnolia Park?
Doubting herself, Bella moved to peruse the notebook once again and reread the note, but an unnatural noise to her left startled her and attracted her attention. Turning around, her breath left her as her Edward slowly lowered the camera from his face, rose from his crouch and walked towards her with an adoring smile. There were signs of her Tony, too. His tie had been shed, but he still wore his black business pants and crisp white shirt in a manner that was lax and almost too appealing. As he brought her into his arms, she appreciated - like she had done for quite some time - that her heart belonged not only to Edward, but also to Tony, because they weren't different, but one and the same.
They were a part of the man who loved her.
They were simply aliases of the man that she loved.
His green eyes looked at her longingly before he bent down and kissed her soundly.
"I knew you'd understand," he whispered with a smile, before kissing her forehead and brushing a loose piece of hair behind her ear. "I was starting to think that Alice may have forgotten the plan. I didn't want to miss the photo op."
"She almost did." Bella played with the hair at Edward's neck. "I got worried when you didn't answer your phone."
Edward's hand immediately reached for his pocket.
"Shit . . . I'm sorry . . . I mustn't have turned it on after the flight."
Bella smiled and kissed his cheek.
"It's okay. I've got you here now. Speaking of which, how is it that you managed to get back a few days early? I thought that your Dad expected the proceedings to take at least a week and he's usually right." Edward raised an eyebrow and stepped back. Bella held up a finger in warning. "Don't ever tell him I said that."
They both chuckled as Edward reached for a blanket and basket that Bella had failed to notice and began placing them on the grass, almost exactly how Bella had placed them on their first visit to the park together.
"My Dad is the reason I'm here and not still in Chicago, though," he continued, guiding her to sit down between his legs and lean back into his chest. He couldn't resist kissing her ear, before continuing. "Before I left, I called him from the office and explained the situation and he was more than happy to oblige me. He actually told me that allowing me to open and head the companion firm here was one of the best business decisions he'd ever made." He paused and Bella turned around to meet his eyes. They couldn't hide how much his father's words had meant to him.
"He said that he was proud to call me his son."
Bella ran her hand down his cheek and smiled.
"Make sure I never forget to tell Maggie or Brandon that I'm proud of them," he said, taking her hand and holding it between his.
"Trust me, I won't let you forget anything."
His eyes drew her in and before he knew it, he was lying on his back and being kissed soundly by the woman who had given his life meaning and made it whole. Trailing kisses down his neck, he felt her pick up the dog tags that he'd never ceased to wear and looked up to see her glance between the inscriptions on them and his face. He reached up and ran his thumb against her cheek.
"I'm yours, Bella. I have been since the moment I first opened my eyes in the hospital."
She closed her eyes before looking at him again.
"When did I become yours, then?"
His mind quickly ventured back to his memories of their first evening watching the sunset and then the sunrise together. His body was soon filled with a new pulse of energy.
"Well . . . if you need reminding . . ."
Bella saw the shift in his eyes and felt her insides tighten, as he quickly changed their positions so that he was hovering over her. When he began kissing her, she was left in no doubt of his answer, but she hesitated to continue as she noticed the shadows darkening.
"Edward . . . it's growing dark . . ."
"Yes . . . so?" He whispered, tickling her ear. She fought to keep her train of thought.
"So we . . . we won't be able to even see each other soon."
He stopped kissing her and held her cheek, drawing her eyes to his.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she saw their past together meld with and illuminate her future – a future where he would always be present.
"The dark won't stop me from seeing you, Bella Masen," he breathed softly, leaving her in no doubt of his love and sincerity. She felt his hand perfectly follow the contours of her body, before his lips grazed hers. "I've got you memorised."
The End. Thank you for reading and reviewing. It means a lot. I hope that my writing has been added some enjoyment to your life.
Leave me a review as a Christmas present?
Wishing you a very happy New Year,
P.S. I have revised the previous chapters so I might re-post with a bonus chapter included.