True Love Way
Life is full of the unexpected. You can either run from change or embrace it. I chose to embrace the change in me after the moving day event. I was confident in my position in life. I felt free to just love my life and live it. Admittedly, Bella's near-death experience was much more genuine than mine, but we'd both experienced something that gave us the drive to pursue living the life we both wanted. We adopted a new attitude to just live every day to the fullest.
We spent years loving each other and our awkward but charming pooch before we took the big leap – adoption. The day Lizzie came home with us was one of the best and brightest. She brought the name with her, and we didn't change it. It was too much of a coincidence that she bore my birth mother's name. I fell for her from the moment I laid eyes on her. She looked so malnourished and indigent. We were told she would be a handful, needing constant care. That didn't matter after holding her for the first time. I swear she felt the connection with me from the start, too. I had silently vowed to make up for any horror she had encountered in her first months out there without us, and Lizzie held me to it.
It felt right having Lizzie in our lives. It was clear to me, and Bella, that we would continue adopting until there was no more room in our house. We took in any in need of a loving home, but we soon became known as the go-to couple for cases just like Lizzie – full care with special needs. We had an endless amount of love for those little ones.
Don Everly did, as well. He would greet each new family member in the same way – cautious sniffs before an energetic tail wag. He took the role of big brother seriously, even in his own final months. In his honour, Bella had two books published. The first was a children's story about a hip-hop doggy, of course. I could still close my eyes and see him dancing, as well as any dog could dance, to the '80s house music he so loved. He was a character, and he was missed. The second book was a compilation of Lauren's sketches and was dedicated to Don Everly – the dog, not the person.
I had doubted feeling anything resembling love for Lauren during our months of dating, but as the years passed and our relationship changed, it was evident that I had loved her all along. We were not meant to be lovers any more than Bella and Jasper were. That didn't mean we couldn't have a different sort of involvement. It didn't mean we couldn't be friends. Family. That is exactly what my love for Lauren evolved into.
I loved her for not giving up on me and treating me like the douche I'd been with her. I loved her for befriending Bella and working with her. I loved her for feeding the bottomless pit of a stomach my brother-in-law had and for being not only our preferred caterer for any and every event, but being there as a member of the family. She attended every one of Emily's piano recitals and sat in the rain for dozens of Nathan's baseball games. She once spent days in my mother's kitchen cooking up a storm for Bree's wedding. It was held in the Cullen family's backyard. Bree's daughter was another grandchild to my parents, and Lauren was another aunt.
Aunt Lauren provided us with portraits of every new family member as Bella and I adopted again and again. Bella even confessed her own love to Lauren the day she offered Bella's cousin, Tanya, an apprenticeship at her restaurant while attending cooking school. Yes, we loved her just as we loved Alice and Emmett. And Kate, Garrett, and Tanya.
I never had another dream featuring Aro, but I thought of him often. He was a mentor and a friend. He was a man who could dig through a mountain of shit to find one gem. The precious stone he'd extracted from me was the ability to consider what was most important in life. To me, there was no hesitation about what was most valuable – it was love.
I'd always know my true love would be Bella, but my world changed forever once her reciprocated feelings were accepted. Once I fully believed that I didn't have to change a single thing about myself to have her love me for eternity, I turned the corner for good. We didn't have to be the couple everyone expected us to be. In fact, we never had been. Our friendship was like no other. Our unceremonious vows aboard a dinner cruise ship had left no ill feelings with family, nor regrets from me and my wife.
Thus, the decision to remain a childless couple seemed natural. It was something we'd both felt strongly about when we'd fallen in love, and returning to that way of thinking released us from the real and imagined expectations of us. We were simply Bella and Edward – fated for true love along with silliness together. Foster parents to dozens of injured, abandoned – and sometimes knocked up – dogs.
On my fiftieth birthday, I returned to the graves of my departed family members. With the grace of God, it was still only Elizabeth and Aro placed in their tombs. I tugged a weed from the ground near the headstone and then took a seat on the ground. I had no purpose for being there other than avoiding going home. Knowing I would be uncomfortable, Bella had warned me of the "surprise party" my parents had waiting for me back at their house. They still didn't understand that I simply didn't enjoy being the center of attention for any reason. For the sake of my family, I would eventually show up and act shocked to see everyone gathered there.
I'd sit through the reminiscing Mom was sure to do and hug her tightly when she finally shed the tears she would hold back through it all. I would join Dad in the garage for a beer. Even at fifty, he would make it seem like a coming of age ritual to have a drink with him. I'd behave like it was my first, because truly, I didn't know how many more I'd get to have with him and I would definitely miss it.
I figured Lauren and Tanya would handle the cake this year, but my mouth was watering thinking of Mom's carrot cake. I hoped she'd made me one to go. Maybe some muffins, with the cream cheese frosting swirls on top. I'd miss those, as well.
Finally, I directed my attention to those I already missed.
"How're ya doing, Mom?" I spoke directly to the ground on my right, where Elizabeth's body lie. "It's the big day. Half a century." For the briefest moment, my mind went to the darkest place, knowing my birthday was also her death day. Like a flash of lightning, it was gone.
"I've got about one grey hair for every year." I chuckled to myself. Bella liked the grey tinges around my temples. Said it made me look "refined." "Thanks for having good hair genes, by the way. Can we say that? They're good? I don't know, I still have this stupid cowlick, but that's beside the point. I'm not balding. It messy and turning grey, but it's still hanging on. Personally, I think not having kids is what's saved it. Jasper's rocking the horseshoe hairline. Wears a hat every day. Emmett and I are trying to convince him to just shave it all off, but apparently he has a birthmark right above the nape that he doesn't want exposed. All these years, I never knew he had a birthmark."
I tugged at the grass absent-mindedly as I uttered my nonsense. Would she be interested in any of this? I could picture Aro staring blankly at me. Appearing to listen intently, but a slight smirk would reveal his amusement.
"Aro… I've been meaning to write a new autobiography, just for you. I haven't got around to it yet. I wonder how different it would be from the original." I took a moment to reflect on my years of depression. It was part of who I was, but it no longer defined me.
"I guess if I were to have a go at it now, the basis would be similar. I still value love above all. My family – parents, siblings. My wife. The extended family. I love them all in different ways. Just like I wrote all those years ago. However, I love myself a whole lot more now. And it's good, Aro. It feels really good. It's my life… mine and Bella's… our life. Our choices. I chose to love her with all my heart, and it paid off in a big way.
"I guess the moral of my life story would be to stay true. Don't fake anything. Don't try to be something you're not, and don't ever think you don't belong anywhere. There is a place, and a heart, for everyone. I do wish they'd have changed the rules here and let me bury Don Everly with you two. It's absolutely ridiculous that he would have to be in a pet cemetery. He's family, for Christ's sake. What, because he's a different species it makes him less real? Asinine rules. Asinine for a canine." My brief annoyance was cleared by my own lame wit.
"I should get going," I said quietly. "There's a houseful of people waiting for me to blush and stammer and generally look like an idiot. Fifty years of practice… I should have it down, right?" I paused as though they would respond. "I'll be fine, but if either or both of you want to jump into guardian angel mode, I'd love for you to come with me. Any takers? Maybe?"
Smirking, I rose to my knees and gave the erect stone a quick hug. I left without another spoken word. They knew how I felt about them.
When I turned, I saw a group of teens out on the roadside. They'd seen my graveside ritual and were snickering. I strolled past them to my car, hands in my pockets, casually whistling a tune. It wasn't rudeness that made them laugh, it was naivety. One day, they would understand love and how it made you indifferent to others' opinions. How it made you invincible. I threw my arms up and did the dance Rocky Balboa did at the top of the stairs before climbing in my car. I'd made it this far, and I would not throw in the towel for anything.
"My party awaits," I said to myself as I cranked up Tone Loc. My canine angel would be with me every time I played his tunes. "Come on, Don, sing it with me… wild thang ..."
A/N ~ That's all she (meaning I) wrote. For the first time, I'm not choked up hitting complete. It's a very long time coming. Once again, I thank everyone who stuck around for the ending. I hope you enjoyed it.
Another first - I don't have a new story anywhere near ready to begin posting. So, for now, I bid adieu. As always, thanks for reading! XX ~ SR