A/N: Ah, and here we are at the end of our journey. I know it's short, and I hope it's sweet. I've loved this story, and I appreciate all of the supporters and readers and reviewers and rec'ers and yes, even you lurkers. You warm my heart.
So, for the last time…let's get to it.
SMeyer…owns it all. Me…not an infringer.
We were sitting in the over-heated gymnasium at Forks' High, and I wanted to pass out. Jax was accompanying the high school choir for the graduation ceremony, which was originally supposed to be outside, but it had rained that day, and it had been relocated to the gymnasium. Our whole family was there to watch our oldest, Chelsea, graduate from high school.
She was eighteen, and she was going to go to college at the Chicago Art Institute to major in Art History. She was an accomplished painter in her own right and had won awards in several local competitions, but she was just as practical as her father, and had decided that she needed something at which she could make a living. She wanted to be a curator, and Chicago had one of the best programs in the country. We were going to miss her very much.
Jax was fifteen, and had skipped third grade. She was finishing her freshman year of high school, and was actually eligible to take AP classes her sophomore year. She was a fantastic musician, and she loved to play, but she was nervous about the graduation ceremony, so Edward was sitting next to her to turn pages for her and offer her moral support.
We'd sent Jacob's car to a restoration specialist to have it overhauled, but he'd called us and explained that the only thing salvageable was the chassis, so after we discussed it with her, we sold it to the guy and put the money in the bank to buy her a much safer car when she turned sixteen. The Mustang didn't have airbags which Edward wasn't thrilled about it, but he'd left the decision to us, and we'd decided that it was the thing to do. I cried the day we went to pick up the check, but my daughter's safety was far more precious than giving her the car. I could tell it meant more to me than it did to her anyway, so I let it go.
Lexi and Lindsey were eight, and both were more tomboy than prissy girl. They both played sports, and our days were quite busy shuttling the two of them and their six-year old brother, Masen, between practices and games. They were sitting with our parents at the end of the row, and I could tell that they were at the end of the patience.
I snapped my fingers at Masen who was just about to put gum in the little girl's hair in front of us, and I cocked an eyebrow at him. God, he was all boy. My mom held out a tissue for him to deposit his gum, and then she elbowed my father in the ribs to stop laughing.
"She looks scared to death," Billy whispered from his wheelchair next to me. He and Siobhan were still together, and they were doing wonderfully. Our kids had three sets of grandparents, and they loved them all very much.
"I think she threw up last night. I don't know why she's so worried. She's practiced this music for the entire school year, and Edward worked with her as much as possible. She said she didn't want to mess up because it was her sister's big day, but she's had many recitals over the years, and she's never made a mistake," I whispered back.
"Yeah, well, you know how much she loves Chels, so it's not surprising that she wants everything to be perfect," Billy reasoned. I nodded in agreement and fanned myself as the speaker continued to drone on. It was Reverend Weber, who was a wonderful man who I'd known for many years from grief counseling, but he wasn't exactly the most captivating orator in the world.
After the diplomas were handed out…all of us standing and yelling at Chelsea as she graduated with honors…we quickly made our way outside into the gloomy May afternoon. Edward and Jax hurried through the crowd to where our own crowd was gathered to hug our graduate, and I was thankful for the fresh air.
"Chels, honey, congratulations," he told her as he hugged her. I'd seen him wiping tears as she walked across the stage, and I saw her wave at him and Jax before she returned to her seat. I'd been lucky enough to get the picture from my seat in the audience, and I planned to give it to Edward for Father's Day.
He loved all of our children unconditionally, and I was so happy to have found the man that I thanked the Holy Trinity and all the Saints every night before I went to bed. He had patience with our children, and he would always make time for his family before everything else. He was a remarkable man who only got better with age.
"Thanks, Daddy. Um, I need to go turn in my gown, so I'll meet you guys at home for the party. Come on, Jax, you can come with me. I believe that you wanted to say good-bye to a certain boy before he leaves for the summer," Chelsea teased. That comment caught Edward's attention.
"No boys," he snapped as he turned to look at me for support. My poor older daughters had their hands full with their father when it came to boys.
Chelsea wasn't allowed to date until earlier in the year, and she was the shy one in our family. Jax, being the social butterfly she'd always been, had boys calling our house all the time, but Edward would only announce that his daughter was too young to talk to boys and hang up the phone.
I'd reminded him that she talked to them at school, but his response was that if that was the case, they didn't have anything they needed to talk about at night. It was a huge bone of contention around our house.
"Daddy, I'm going to be sixteen next winter, and I think I should be allowed to date. This isn't over," Jax snapped as she stormed off behind her older sister. Of course, our other three were laughing along with the grandfathers.
"Charlie, how'd you keep Bella from dating at that age?" Edward asked. I looked at Billy, and he and I both laughed. There was no keeping me from seeing Jacob when I was that age, and Billy knew it.
"Well, I made sure that there was a lock on her window that only allowed it to open about three inches…" Dad began. Mom started laughing hysterically, causing everyone to look at her.
"Charlie, I hate to tell you this, but Bella learned how to take that lock off that window about two weeks after she and Jacob actually started dating. You just didn't know they were dating because they were best friends and kept up the charade until you caught them making out on the school parking lot one night after one of Jacob's baseball games. You didn't keep her from doing anything," Mom announced. Dad's head whipped around, looking at me and then Billy, and we both nodded in confirmation.
"Shit," he sighed. Poor guy thought he'd controlled me. I truly hoped it didn't come out about all the nights that Jacob slept at our house that I didn't believe my parents knew about.
"Great. So, I should just put bars up outside the windows? Hell, Jax is really smart, and the other two coming up behind her aren't stupid either. I guess I don't really stand a chance, do I?" Edward asked as he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me closer.
"Son, I think you lost the fight when you and Bella met. It's just taken you this long to figure it out. By the time Lex and Linds are of the dating age, Jax will have worn you down so much that they'll get away with murder. Masen is likely going to be a juvenile delinquent because you're so busy chasing your daughters around town to keep an eye on them," Carlisle teased. We all laughed, and made our way to the cars to go to the house for the party.
The sun eventually made an appearance just before sunset, and I noticed Edward took Chelsea outside talking on the back patio. I knew he wasn't looking forward to taking her to Chicago in August, but we knew that we couldn't keep them little forever, and we were supportive of her in every way she needed. I knew he'd need the rest of us when we got back from Chicago, and I planned to have a discussion with our other four children before we left so that they could maybe lay off him a little bit.
I saw him hug Chelsea and then turn to face the back yard when she came inside, drying her eyes. I excused myself from a conversation with Peter and Alice regarding an upcoming job that we had, and walked out to the back patio to check on him.
I snaked my arm around his waist and felt him startle, obviously not hearing me come outside. He looked down, and I could see the tear tracks on his face. I reached into the pocket of my dress and handed him a clean tissue. I'd only gone through an entire pack of them that day.
"Thanks, babe. When in the hell did they grow up on us? I feel like I just brought her home from Italy last week and here she is, getting ready to leave us. Hell, Jax wants to date, and the girls are going to be in fourth grade next year. It's all going by too quickly," he complained. I knew what he meant. It was something I'd thought about in the shower that morning.
"I know, honey, but we can't keep them babies forever. She'll come home for holidays and summers, and she's always going to be our daughter. We can go visit her as often as you want, and we'll adjust to it just like every other parent does," I reasoned.
"Yeah, well I don't have to like any of it. I was so proud of Jax today. She was really nervous, but she played beautifully. I've kinda talked to her about Julliard in New York because I think she could easily get in…don't say it. I know, it's in New York, but she so damn talented, it would be a waste for her not to nurture it," he answered. I'd heard him talking to her, and I knew that she was thinking about it, but we still had a few years before we had to worry about it.
"Honey, they're all going to grow up and leave us, but they'll always come back. We're their home, just like our parents were our homes when we were their ages, and it's the way life goes. Someday, Chelsea is going to have children of her own, as will the others, and then we'll have a whole house full of grandchildren. We have a wonderful life, honey, and you know it's going to change as time goes by, but at the end of the day, they're our children and we love them. Now, come back inside and be sociable. Staying out here by yourself isn't going to change anything," I suggested.
He pulled me into his arms and kissed me gently, making me forget my own name yet again, and when we pulled apart, I turned to see our five children standing on the back steps watching us. "God, can't you two ever stop?" Masen complained just like always.
"Leave them alone. I think it's sweet that they still love each other so much and kiss. Think about our friends whose parents are divorced. I can guarantee you that they'd trade places with us in a heartbeat," Jax scolded.
We held our arms out for our five who came over to us and hugged us, and I knew that many people would trade places with any of the seven of us. We had the most wonderful label of all…a big happy family.
Sniff…I hope I did it justice for you. As I said, I appreciate all of you, and I'm so happy you took the journey with me.
I have a few stories going…I know…what the hell? Yeah, well, I had a stockpile. So, on this site, there's "Doors & Windows & Faith" and "Trip of a Lifetime," which has been posted on other sites, but a few asked me to post it here, so I am. It updates daily, and I love the story. I also love DWF, and it posts on Tuesday and Friday. Also, on Twilighted, there's "Choices," but after other DWF finishes here, I'll probably post it because you folks have been quite lovely to me. I don't want to wear out my welcome, but maybe you have tolerance for another story?
I hope you'll follow me to other stories, because I actually have other's that are yet to see the light of day.
For the last time (for this story)…xoxo