AN: On to the epilogue. Crazy that I'm finally hitting the complete button on this one. It was a journey that took me up and down and I'm so appreciative of the readers who stuck along for the ride.
All things Twilight belong to SM (giving her credit one last time since I failed to do it so often)
"Are you nervous?"
"On the verge of pissing myself," I answered Alice without looking away from the mirror. I applied a third and forth coat of lip gloss just to occupy my hands. I was shaking like a leaf and the opening was still an hour away. I was waiting for Edward to finish dressing so we could ride together to the gallery.
She hopped off the table she was sitting on and walked over to me. She grabbed the tube and wand from my unsteady hands. "This is going to weigh your head down if you add any more."
I wanted to rub my face in frustration but I remembered the small amount of makeup I was wearing.
"I just want to get this over with. I don't think…I'm not ready for this."
"It's been four years, Bella," Alice began in the motherly admonishing voice she miraculously picked up when she found out she was pregnant three years ago. "How long do you want to put off this debut?"
"It's not like it's going to be how it once was. My name isn't big enough anymore. On top of everything else, I feel like I'm doing a huge disserve to Jane - like I'm airing out her dirty laundry."
Tonight was my "reemergence", as Prof. Banner liked to call it. After all these years, which included getting my college degree, I finally agreed to have a certain collection showcased. Tonight, four of the five pieces of "The Diary of Jane" would be on display for anyone to critique and evaluate. That fifth piece, however, was mine to keep private and hidden.
"I don't see it that way and I don't think David does, either. I doubt that he would have convinced you to use those knowing what he does about your past." She gave me a knowing look, as if she dared me to disagree. I wasn't going to, but she continued on. "What is this really about, Bella?" Her look was scrutinizing; her stare willing to pull whatever it was she thought I was hiding.
I scoffed at the ridiculousness. "This isn't about anything." I was simply scared of the inevitable failure.
"Mmhm. Well, you know what they say – when the going gets tough, Bella gets going," she quipped sarcastically.
I nodded, suppressing an exacerbated sigh. "I apologized for that, Alice, and you forgave me." I pointed at her. "As did everyone else. It's not fair that you're throwing it in my face since it has nothing to do with tonight," I defended myself as I felt my temper rising. In all honestly though, it hurt more than I would admit that she brought up such a hard time in my life.
Eric's trial had dragged on longer than I or anyone had thought it would. He was charged with rape and aggravated assault. Everything about me was brought into question. Even Prof. Banner was called to the witness stand, much to my colossal embarrassment and shame. It seemed like every detention and speeding ticket I ever received was dug up. My name was praised before it was harshly yanked down and dragged through the mud.
But I was expecting all that and was ready for it. What I wasn't ready for was to hear Emmett's, Jasper's, and Edward's testimony. I wanted to claw my eyes out and rip my ears off. I had practically chewed my nails off – more than one time drawing blood.
I cried. More for them than myself. For what I had put them in the position to do because of my own stupidity. During those days I realized how much of a miracle it was that they had ever forgiven me.
Eric was found not guilty of rape, but guilty of the assault and later sentenced to ten years with the possibility of parole after five.
I was scared,hurt, and confused so I did what Alice accused me of. I ran. I could admit now that I didn't go about things the right way, but I just needed to get away and be alone. I went to the only place I knew to be familiar. I went home to Forks. However, I didn't tell anyone I was leaving.
I was in Forks three days before Edward crashed through my parents' front door. He found me huddled on my parents' bed; his tear streaked face matched my own. We stayed another four days before I was ready to face my sins back in Seattle.
I'd been seeing Dr. Brash every week since.
"Bella," Prof. Banner began, "I need you to meet these people. They're very interested in your Jane collection. I really think you should talk with them." He had a very intense look, telling me with his eyes that meeting these people was not something I was going to pass on. However, he underestimated my willingness to part with any of the pieces. I had made it clear that they were not for sale and no amount of money would sway me.
"They're not for sale, David," I sneered. Making sure no one was paying any particular attention to us, I continued. "Don't do this? You've been a great manager so far, but I will fire you," I threatened through clenched teeth. Edward, who had stayed with me all night, pulled me against his body and gently rubbed my back.
"Calm down, sweetie," he whispered in my ear.
Banner was taken aback, but any shock was quickly replaced with anger. "When have I ever lied to you, Bella? I've kept my promise at every turn, even when you didn't. Now you listen to me. You will meet that couple over there and you will answer every question they have, no matter how ridiculous." He glared – begging me to defy him. My respect for him ran too deep and caused me to swallow my pride and agree. He had stuck around when I had had given up on myself. It was something that happened more than once.
Although I agreed to meet the couple, my reluctance wasn't something I was going to hide. "Lead the way," I replied with a sarcastic smile.
He narrowed his eyes, but motioned for me to follow him.
I spotted the couple hovered closely together, whispering and pointing at a haggard, but smiling, Jane. They were probably judging her like they knew her – knew her struggles. Like they knew our struggles. I felt my lip curl in disgust with these strangers and with Banner for making me meet these nobodies.
"Rachel, Austen?" Banner called to them softly. They were startled out of their quiet judgment, but turned to look.
Gobsmacked. Absolutely gobsmacked.
I was losing it again. A hysterical giggle slipped through my lips before I could cover my mouth. My painting, what I imagined my beautiful Jane would have looked like if the world hadn't awarded her a shitty hand on a platter.
"Jane," I whispered, reaching my hand out to touch the reincarnation standing in front of me. I brought my arm back when I realized that this was just like my parents.
Rachel began crying. Turning to the man, she clutched his jacket and hid her face against his chest. Her muffled sobs could still be heard as if sirens were being sound all around me. Austen tried comforting her, but was making little headway as his own tears wouldn't be stifled.
"Did you know her?" I asked. I knew, though, but I needed an answer. I needed to know that I wasn't the only one who loved her and missed her and knew how wonderful she was. It didn't matter that she was an addict who easily sold the most intimate part of herself for her next hit. She was my best friend and the reason I was able to stand here today.
"That's our daughter," Austen confirmed.
"That's my savior," I countered. It wasn't a competition of how important of a role she played in our lives, but I needed them to know that she was beyond just a daughter.
"Is she here?" he asked as he looked over my shoulder.
"She saved me, but she couldn't save herself." I felt my knees get weak and the room begin to spin. Nothing was as overwhelming as Jane's mother's loud sob, though. Why was I feeling like I was Jane's murderer? Maybe I was. Maybe I should have tried harder when she was alive.
"Did she die alone," he bravely asked. Rachel's head popped up – her eyes had swollen so quickly.
"I stayed with her until she sent me away." I swallowed hard and wiped my tears aggressively, not giving a shit about make up or what I looked like to other. "She had AIDS," I choked out, ready for any blame or backlash.
"We know," Rachel answered, rendering my speechless. "She left shortly after finding out she was HIV positive." She took deep, steadying breaths. "We didn't handle the situation very well," she added which brought another round of tears from both parents.
"We still loved her," Austen said as if he needed to defend him and his wife. "We were just so shocked and having trouble coming to grips that our little girl, our Janey, had HIV. She was a drug addict living under our roof and we didn't even know it. We failed her."
"I failed her, too."
Sometime during this short encounter and impressive emotional display, we had earned ourselves a small gathering around the Jane showcase who were probably wondering how these pieces rendered so much emotion.
Edward and Banner shared a look that I didn't miss and gently removed Jane's parents and me to a less populated area of the gallery.
"Are those for sale?" Rachel asked. My instinct was to quickly tell her that they weren't to be bought, just for show. But how was I supposed to deny Jane's mother of her only child?
"Those are not…" I hesitated, knowing what I had to do," but there's a fifth piece that I did not bring with me tonight. No one's seen it except Edward and me." I motioned to my boyfriend since no introductions were made. "It's not for sale either, but maybe it's more important for you to have it than me."
We continued to talk and make arrangements. I became uncomfortable with the amount of gratitude they were showing. It was unnecessary for someone like me. I was doing this for Jane. Some kind of atonement.
I found out it was complete serendipity that they came tonight. A family friend had some photos that were being showcased tonight as well. They were stopped in their tracks when they saw their only child gaunt and dirty on the street, but smiling tiredly. Banner approached them after watching them stare at the hanging art for an extended period of time. He made the connection quickly.
Jane's parents excused themselves for the night, emotionally drained from tonight's revelations. I hugged each of them tightly, feeling as if I was connected with Jane once more. I hugged Banner, also, for making me meet two people that I wanted to refuse.
Throughout the night I greeted patrons and answered some questions that were asked about my work. If I deemed it too personal, I politely declined. Jane gathered more interest than I thought it would. I was also shocked when a few people actually recognized my name from my past work. One person even confessed to owning one of my pieces.
Throughout the night I felt as if my emotions were tethered to some unknown force – forcing me to the brink only to pull me back when I was about to fall over. I was grateful to see the faces of Rose and Emmett, Alice and Jasper, and Carlisle and Esme, but then an overwhelming sadness would envelop me at random times when I thought of Rachel and Austen.
I was relieved when it was finally time to go home. I held Edward's hand the whole way home.
"Thank you for coming."
He lifted my hand and kissed my knuckles. "As if I'd be anywhere else tonight."
I let the silence sit upon us peacefully. My thought s strayed to different parts of the evening. All in all it was a successful event. Just one element was missing.
"This was the first time my parents weren't present for one of my shows," I told him, breaking the silence.
He squeezed my hand. "I'm sure they were there tonight," he reassured me.
He pulled into the garage and turned the car off, but didn't exit after unbuckling his seat belt. He turned on the overhead light and grabbed my hand.
"Did I ever tell you about the dream I had of them? Your parent?" he asked. His eyes looked at me cautiously. Stunned for the umpteenth time that night, I turned my whole body to face him.
"Yeah. It was the night before David told you about the show. It was kind of a sign." I looked at him confused. "In the dream they hated me," he chuckled. Why was that funny? "They told me that you did me a favor because the shirt was ugly anyway." It took me a moment to realize he was referring to the shirt I spilled coffee on years ago. I could smile at the memory now. "Anyway, they told me that I would never be good enough for you – that one day you were going to be the next Michelangelo. Their words," he laughed. "It's a pretty far-fetched comparison if you ask me." I pushed his shoulder, but laughed with him anyway. It sounded like something my parents would say.
"It was a weird dream, in general. I think it was a lot of flashes from your life. They told me that there was going to be a sign. I woke up not knowing what it all meant, but then David told you about the show and you finally agreed. Maybe I'm wrong, but I took that as my sign. I didn't even know what I needed a sign for until it just hit me one day."
I was still confused as he reached into his inside jacket pocket.
"I was trying to find the right time tonight to do this, but it never felt right. It still doesn't feel exactly right, but waiting isn't an option. He held something tightly in his hand.
"While I didn't think it was an ugly shirt, the sacrifice was completely worth it to have you in my life. And maybe you won't be the next Michelangelo, but you're amazing in your own right." I leant forward to kiss him, my lone tear moistening our touching lips. He pulled away first.
"Bella. Marry me?" he asked as he simultaneously opened the box. A beautifully simple solitaire diamond perched proudly on the cushion.
How do you answer the man who helped you live again? The man that time and time again saved you from yourself? The one who took you in and helped you see your own worth when you were convinced it was gone. Despite what my parents said in his dream, I knew that it was me who would never be good enough for him. I answered the only way I could at the moment.
I grabbed his face suddenly, kissing him hard and longingly. I pulled away just long enough to answer if he wasn't clued in.
"Yes." I kissed him again as my tears showered our lips this time. I pulled away briefly once more. "Thank you for putting the pieces back together when I was broken."
AN: Almost three years later and this story is finally finished. Damn! A few quick thanks. To those who helped me in some way, shape, and form. Thank you. I want to thank the readers, new and old, who reviewed (or not), alerted, and fav'd. I was horrible at responding but I read them all, most of the time more than once. Also, and maybe most importantly, I want to thank the readers who stuck with the story when others flounced because they couldn't handle of the content and believed that this story couldn't have a happy ending. I was VERY close to flouncing the story myself after a lot of hate I received.
Lastly, I want to apologize for the slow and inconsistent updates. I know at times it seemed that I wasn't going to finish the story, but it was always my intention to. And this is proof Again, thank you all so much.