Ten Years Later
The road curved. My heart raced. Edward's hand came over the console to take my hand. I gazed at him, watched the corner of his lips pull up.
A shout came from the back of the rented SUV, destroying the moment.
I sighed and turned around to see Ella's face go red as she glared at her younger brother. Her long, wavy blonde hair fell over her shoulder as she leaned forward, bright green eyes trained on mine.
I was suddenly struck by how much she looked like Rosalie right then.
"Mom, if you don't get him away from me, I swear-"
"Wyatt, stop pestering her."
He paused, his finger suspended mid-poke. "What's that mean?"
"It means you're buggin' her," Edward answered, his green gaze finding Wyatt's matching one in the rearview mirror. "So leave Ella alone."
"I'm bored," he huffed, and slunk into the seat.
I glanced around the SUV; Ella and Wyatt were the only two awake. The other three were sacked out in their seats, mouths open and heads back at awkward angles.
Moments still hit me, after all this time, when I couldn't believe that this was my life now, full of ballet lessons and cheer practices, football and Little League; when I couldn't believe how far I'd come since moving to Masen Valley almost eleven years ago.
God, how I wanted to take a picture of the five of them, capture this moment in time. Judging from the sullen look on Ella's face, though, I had a feeling it wouldn't go over so well.
As a parent to a fourteen year old girl, you quickly learned to choose your battles wisely.
"We're almost there," I finally promised. "Another five minutes."
With that, I turned back around, reaching for Edward's hand the moment I was facing the road again.
"Ya doin' all right, sug?"
I shook my head silently. Sights were beginning to look familiar to me again, smatterings of trees recognizable. The welcoming sign would be just ahead on the right, town visible with it.
"I want to go back home," I whispered.
"Iz, come on. It was your idea to show the kids where you're from. They're excited to see it all, especially those whales you were talkin' about earlier."
My gaze sharpened. "Really? A guilt trip?" I hissed. "Thanks a lot."
He sighed, squeezed my hand once. "That's not what I meant."
I stared out the window.
He let me sit and stew for a while, brace myself for what was ahead. It was the first time I had come back to Forks since I'd left, and it would be the first time I saw my old house, their graves-
Suddenly, I wanted to throw up. My chest filled up with nerves, stomach churned. My breathing was louder, harsher.
I was pretty sure my palms were sweating, too.
I tried to pull my hand from Edward's, but his grip tightened.
"Where to?" he murmured.
I looked ahead.
We'd reached the town limits.
"Go through the light, and then take a right."
I sat up straight, used my other hand to hold myself up on the dashboard.
"I'm gonna stop and get some gas first. Give ya some time to…"
"Can ya take the kids in for a break?"
I nodded once.
"Stop it," I said, and almost laughed at how ridiculous we were both being. "I'm not going to have a panic attack or anything."
Stopped at the light, he eyed me warily.
"I'm okay. Just… really, really nervous about it all."
He conceded with a slow, "Alright."
We parked at the first pump available. Edward was out of the car, American Express card in hand, before I realized it, leaving me to handle the kids, this place, on my own.
Reluctantly, I got out and inhaled the thick, cold morning air. Fog still settled on mountains in the horizon, and the ground was wet from the earlier rain.
It was like nearly every day of my childhood had been.
Not wanting to get choked up the second I arrived, I put everything from my mind, and went to open the back door. I rubbed Cole's legs, stirring him almost immediately. His dark hair was everywhere, green eyes sleepy.
He spotted me and smiled, that lone dimple like Edward's - and his brother's, for that matter - peeking out at me.
Just like that, I was reduced to a puddle of mushy, sentimental mom at his feet.
"We a- the house, Mama?"
"Almost, baby," I confirmed, and then stretched to wake Grace from beside him.
She was the only one who looked more like me than her father, and the only one that had my dark eyes.
The Repeat, as Edward liked to tease her for it.
"I gotta potty, Mama," she said quietly, reaching for me.
"That's why we stopped," I told her with a grin.
I pulled her from her booster seat, and somehow managed to settle her and Cole both in my arms. They were the Irish twins in the family. A definition that, unlike Edward, had once terrified me. I'd been the one to stress over diapers and feedings, toddler tantrums amidst teething. Edward had simply gone with the flow, joked about his strong swimmers and their ability to make babies through birth control.
Looking back on it now, it all seemed so pointless - my fear futile. Not for one second after his birth had I wished for Cole to come into my life any differently.
He was the missing piece, the completion of our branch of the Masen family.
Wyatt and Annie came barreling out of the SUV, jumping past me and starting toward the building excitedly. Ella and I ran after them, catching them at the glass doors. I snuck my foot out to stop Annie from going any further, threw Ella a look over my shoulder.
"Why do you always have to be such a pain in the butt?" she asked Annie, reaching out and taking her hand.
Annie gazed up at her and shrugged, sending her long, auburn curls bouncing. She was, almost down to her DNA, exactly like her namesake, Annabeth, had been. Smart and sassy. Kind and generous. She was stubborn and full of pride, excitable and friendly.
She held a special place in all of our hearts, despite how it sometimes hurt to see someone we all loved so much reflected in her.
"Mom, can we get snacks?" Annie asked me, staring up at me pleadingly.
"We'll see," I answered, and opened the door.
She didn't like that answer, grumbling to Wyatt on her way inside, but wise six-year-old that she was, didn't say anything to me directly.
I put Grace down and led the kids to the bathrooms in the back, making sure that the little ones were taken care of first before meeting Ella back out in the hall and waiting for Wyatt to finish in the men's restroom on my right.
Typical male that he was, we were stuck waiting for a while. Long enough that Edward came in to see what the holdup was.
"Go make sure he's not wrecking the place, will you?" I said exasperatedly, causing Edward to chuckle.
"Ya know he's probably just sittin' there." He paused, strained to listen to what was just behind the door and grinned widely. "He's singin' to himself."
I laughed. "Okay. While you work on getting him out of there, I'm going to work on getting all of our other dependents buckled back up."
"Meet ya back at the car." And with a loud warning of, "Wyatt Charles Masen!" he headed in to retrieve our son.
The drive from the gas station to my old house seemed to take less time than I remembered. Or maybe it was simply my nerves playing tricks on me, making me lose sense of the minutes that passed.
The second Edward put the SUV in park, my stomach knotted up again. We were parked in the very same spot along the road my father, Charlie, used to always park his police cruiser to give my mother free reign of the driveway; to save her the hassle of having to ask him to move every other time she needed to leave the house, because for as detached and unemotional as my father seemed on the outside, he did everything he could for my mother. Even something as inconsequential as giving her the good parking spot.
The red and blue "For Sale" sign swung with the breeze in the front yard. I leaned forward and stared past Edward to the white house I'd been forced to sell after my parents' death.
"It looks exactly the same," I whispered.
And for just a moment, all the feelings, the memories, came rushing back to me.
Edward silently brought his hand up to wipe away the tear that rolled down my cheek, his eyes full with concern.
"There's an open house today," I whispered.
"I know," he answered. "Rosie found it online and sent me the link. We didn't tell ya so ya didn't feel pressured to go inside."
I stifled a sob and went to run my fingers through his hair, having no other way to let him know what that meant to me.
"You tell her to stop worrying about me and worry about making it to her due date with our nephew. She's got enough to worry about being on bed rest like she is."
With a chuckle, he nodded. "Believe me; it didn't go over so well when I did. Thank God I have Emmett on my side."
"I almost feel sorry for him," I said, and went to open the door.
Edward snorted. "I don't. He had to know the kind of girl he was marryin' after datin' her for as long as he did."
Not having anything to argue back to that, I got out of the car and stared up at the house, vaguely aware that the kids had all filed out of the SUV and were playing in the front yard.
"You comin' or not, sweetheart?" Edward called out to me.
"Come on, Mama!"
I search the yard for Grace and found her up on the front stoop, hand on the screen door handle.
"Gracie, don't go in there without Daddy or me!" I yelled back.
"I not, Mama. I promise."
And she didn't. She waited for Edward to scoop up Cole and throw him over his shoulder, wiggling and laughing, and for me to take Annie's hand, gesture our other two inside before opening the door for us all.
Nothing inside the house seemed any different, other than the seller-neutral paint and a new coat of wax on the hardwoods. The owners had their furniture laid out the way my parents had, and had pictures of two little girls on the mantle in the living room.
Edward kept the kids quietly occupied and let me walk around on my own. The kitchen cabinets had been painted white at some point over the years. The linoleum replaced. The bannister on the steps still had the dent on the side from where I had run my clarinet into it in the fifth grade.
The two little girls from the pictures on the mantel now occupied my old room. Each bed was pushed up against the opposing wall, and without thinking about it, I went over to open the closet door, knowing the luck of finding-
The air rushed out of me.
Unbelievably, the handmade growth chart Charlie and Renee had put against the doorframe when I started walking was still there.
I carefully ran my fingers over it, and then drew them away immediately.
My vision blurred; my heart cracked open.
I didn't bother trying to see the master bedroom or the hall bathroom. I hurried down the steps and back outside, inhaling the sharp, cool air and letting it clear my head.
Calmed down some, I could hear the kids laughing from the backyard.
I wiped my face, even though I knew it was probably red and blotchy and absolutely useless, and walked around the house to where they were, finding them all racing around a wooden swing set.
I started to tell them to get off of it and respect others' property, but a silhouette out of the corner of my eye stopped me.
I whirled around to see an older man in front of me, his eyes bouncing back and forth between the kids and me. Edward came up beside us, hand on Ella's shoulder, staring at us curiously.
He smiled, and immediately, I knew he was. Waylon Forge, one of my father's fishing buddies. I held my breath, too afraid that if I said anything or moved in any way that I'd burst into tears again.
"My God," he sighed, "you're beautiful… Are these your kids?"
I nodded once, and his gray eyes flickered over Ella, brows knit ever so slightly.
"I'm adopted," Ella blurted out. "You know, in case you were wondering why I'm so much older and don't look like any of my mom's other kids."
"Ella," I said through my teeth, elbowing her.
"What?" she demanded. "He looked really confused."
Edward snickered beside us.
He didn't say anything about her outburst, smiling even wider at me. "You made some good looking ones… Charlie woulda loved having all of them to dote on."
I didn't think I could answer that without crying, so I kept silent.
"Well, what brings you back home?"
"Vacation!" Wyatt piped up from the yellow slide.
"Vacation? Here?" Waylon said with a playful gasp. "Didn't your mother tell you there's nothing to do in this town?"
Wyatt's lips pursed, and he turned on the platform to find Edward.
"We're just stoppin' off here first," Edward replied. "We've got plans to go to Redwood and hopefully catch some whales migratin' on the coast."
"Oh, God, I'm sorry," I interrupted. "This is my husband, Edward Masen. Edward, this was one of my dad's friends, Waylon Forge."
Edward held out his hand, shook once with Waylon.
"Good to meet you, kid," Waylon said.
"Sir?" Waylon laughed, a deep, rolling belly laugh. "Where'd ya find this one, Bells?"
My heart lurched at hearing my old nickname, and I knew I was going to have to leave soon.
I couldn't keep this charade up much longer.
Edward must've sensed the change in me, because without a sound, he wrapped his arm around my waist and held me against him.
Waylon nodded, explanation sufficient. "Is that where you're living now?"
I shook my head. "We're actually down in Jacksonville. Edward owns a contracting company there."
"Florida, huh? No wonder you all are bundled up."
I smiled a little. And then I noticed the navy suit he wore. "Is this your listing?"
"Yeah. Need a little something to keep me busy now that I'm retired from the mill." He scanned the yard, letting his smile slide away. "Well, listen, I'll let you back to... You need anything, I'll be inside."
I nodded once and, not knowing what else to say, let him walk away.
"I should really offer to do dinner with him or something before we go," I mumbled to myself.
"Only if you're okay," Edward responded. "You look…"
He trailed off and let me wrap myself around him. Ella took off to where Annie was running out by the tree line, and Wyatt's rough laughter caught my attention.
He'd tripped and fallen over Cole.
Cole's bottom lip jutted out as he sat in the damp grass.
I held my breath, anticipating a meltdown.
Instead, he pushed himself up in that adorably awkward, three year old way and went back to playing with his siblings.
"Iz? You're okay?"
"Not really," I said, inhaling and tugging at the fabric of his jacket, "but I will be."
I raised my head and smiled at him, earning a kiss at the tip of my nose in response. "Yeah."
This was where I was meant to be now, in this moment, with this almost perfect life we'd carved out together.
Not stuck in the past. Not living in regret.
Things happened. Life happened. Good. Bad. But it made you evolve, grow into someone better. Stronger.
The accident, hard as it was to go through, gave me a sense of perspective, of firsthand knowledge of how blessed a person could become after tragedy. And all of those blessings… The bright, joyful, incredible days filled with the laughter of my children, the touch of my husband...
Each one of those moments made every bite of pain worthwhile.
Had I given into the guilt, the darkness, these four, little, wonderful people Edward and I had made together wouldn't exist.
I wouldn't be Ella's mother.
It was the ending I couldn't imagine anymore.
It was the ending I no longer wanted.
I want to quickly thank everyone who read and reviewed, spread the word and recommended this little fic. For sticking with it when I had so much going on that I could barely write a sentence, much less an entire chapter.
I want to thank the people who helped me work on it in the beginning: twilover76, stephk0525, and claireoth. You guys rock my socks off, and I'm so sorry things were so crazy and I couldn't use you the entire way through!
Thanks to my awesome beta, Stratan. I don't feel like anything else needs to be said, because he knows how I feel about him.
The outtake's written. Just need to proof it and have it beta'd. There's a Melt With You epilogue in the works too, for those who've read it. Also, While You Were Gone Part 2 is finally happening. Soon-ish, we hope.
I don't have any new fics at the moment. It doesn't mean I won't ever have anything more; just that my kids have a lot going on with school and extracurriculars and I haven't had time to really plot any ideas out.
Until next time!