A/N: I have absolutely no excuse except for stupidity. I thought I posted it a week ago, but I only put it into…well, it doesn't matter. Here's the epi.
Thank all of you for reading, reviewing, rec'ing, and supporting. I truly appreciate it all.
Smeyer owns; I don't infringe.
Chapter 26. EPILOGUE
Perfection…the quality of something that is as good or suitable as it can possibly be.
Five years later…
"Mommy, hurry. They just pulled up," the gorgeous five-year old girl with big brown eyes and a head-full of curly bronze hair whispered as Bella stood in the kitchen of the diner putting finishing touches on the appetizers she'd prepared for the surprise party.
She and Edward had closed the diner that night, putting a sign on the door that it was due to plumbing problems. The front parking lot was empty so as to fool the guest of honor, and the dining area was full of friends and family to surprise the birthday girl.
As Bella stood in the dim light from the emergency lights that were on 24/7, she remembered how they'd gotten to that point in their lives…their very happy and fulfilling lives.
Olivia's downfall had been just as dramatic as she and Edward had hoped. The photos sent the Washington press corps into a feeding frenzy, only fueled by Riley Bier's appearances on the morning talk shows, proudly boasting about the illicit relationship he'd had with Congresswoman Olivia Cullen.
When Edward and Bella returned from their trip to Europe for the Cook's Tour he'd given her for Christmas, they were hounded for comment, but they gave none, preferring to allow Olivia to navigate the shark-infested waters of Washington politics on her own.
The family, who was intentionally left unaware with the exception of Emmett, was quite upset with the publicity, but a quick conference call with everyone involved had everyone on board with the "no comment" strategy.
Olivia withdrew from the 2014 Senate Race the same weekend Carlisle and Esme married on the beach in Naples…the same weekend Bella gave birth to the first grandchild in the Masen/Cullen family…Elizabeth Renee Masen. Carlisle and Esme postponed their honeymoon to Italy for a week to spend time with their new granddaughter, and thankfully, the press didn't attempt to contact them regarding a comment on Olivia's abrupt departure from politics. Thankfully, Olivia didn't contact the family either.
When Beth was three months old, there was suddenly a baby windfall. Rosalie and Emmett announced happily they were expecting a baby in the fall, and shortly thereafter, Jasper and Alice announced they were on a waiting list for adoption. Due to a childhood illness, Jasper was found to be sterile, but with the birth of Beth Renee, the couple decided they wanted the joy they witnessed on Bella and Edward's faces when they were with their little girl, and they looked into adoption.
A year later, in the spring, Bella and Edward added to their family…a little boy, Edward Andrew, who would be a great playmate for Rose and Emmett's son, CJ…short for Carlisle James...and Alice and Jasper's three year old son, Monroe Anthony. What no one in the family expected was the announcement that Thanksgiving.
Carlisle stood at the head of the table with the large turkey in front of him and tapped his fork against his water glass to get everyone's attention. Due to the number of guests, there was a card table placed strategically to the side with four high chairs and three happy fathers who were caring for a daughter and three sons during dinner in order to get out of cleaning up the mess after the meal was finished.
The three men had a quick discussion during the afternoon football game and decided they'd take over baby duty during the meal because it would afford the best opportunity to nap while everyone else cleaned up the mess from the large dinner.
Everyone on all sides of the family was in attendance, numbering at twenty, and the discussion was loud and happy, just as Carlisle had always dreamed a holiday should be.
"Can I have your attention, please? I'd like to say how happy Esme and I are to have all of you here for Thanksgiving. The last time we were all together was at the wedding, and we're thrilled everyone, including Renee, Charlie, Maggie, Liam, Tony, Liz, our kids and grandkids, was able to make the trek here for the holiday. I thought we'd go around the room and say what we're thankful for, but with so many of us, I'm afraid this wonderful dinner would be cold by the time we finished, so I'm going to take a quick second to tell you what I'm thankful for this year.
"I'm thankful both of my daughters have given me beautiful grandchildren to spoil, though I don't get to see CJ as much as I'd like with Em and Rose still in Virginia. I do, however, get to spoil Beth, Eddie, and Roe anytime I want, and that's extremely enjoyable.
"I'm thankful Bella and Edward's diner, Scully's, is as successful as it is and they're both doing something they love, along with Em and Rose's jobs in DC. I'm thankful we haven't had any publicity in a while, and that the fallout at the end of the day wasn't too devastating to us as a family." Everyone laughed, knowing to what he was referring.
"I'm thankful we're all healthy and I'm thankful for the special relationships we have with each other. Under ordinary circumstances, it could be quite difficult, what with the unique ties we all have to each other, but for some reason, our family seems to have figured it out.
"Most importantly," he stated as he extended his hand for Esme to stand next to him. He wrapped his arm around her waist and kissed the side of her head, turning to address the crowd with a bright smile. "I'm particularly thankful that I get the privilege to add a high chair to this table for next year. Esme and I are going to have a baby next June."
The uproar of congratulations, some tears, and many hugs did cause the meal to chill, but with a quick trip to the microwave, no one complained as the whole family delighted in the opportunity to be together.
One June 16, another little boy, Matthew Platte Cullen, was born to the delight of a large crowd of friends and family. At his baptism, godmother, Maggie, and godfather, Edward, posed proudly with the little strawberry blonde boy. He was a welcome addition to the family, and Edward laughed that his brother-in-law was his godson, but Carlisle told him in a moment of privacy that if anything were to happen to him, he'd be honored to have Edward there to guide his son to be as upstanding a young man as Carlisle believed Edward to be. Both men teared up and changed the subject to baseball.
Bella was pulled from her trip down memory lane by the key in the lock of the door. "Carlisle, isn't this breaking and entering?" Esme whispered.
"Nonsense. When I dropped Matty off, Bella gave me the key and told me she'd left a picnic for us in the kitchen before she closed the restaurant today when the pipe burst. We'll pick it up and then be on our way to the beach."
Edward reached over and flipped the lights on as everyone shouted, "Surprise!" and broke into a very off-key version of "Happy Birthday," in honor of Esme's forty-fifth birthday. After the song and hugs, Bella hurried back to the kitchen to check on how dinner was coming along. She'd talked two of her line cooks into working that night, and she'd prepared a very upscale menu, far different from the usual diner fare she served six days a week. Monday was family day at the Masen home, and thankfully, the locals didn't hold it against them.
"How we doing, guys?" she asked Brady and Collin, two of her best employees were busy flipping tilapia and petit filet mignon on the wood fire grill she'd installed during the remodel of the diner. They'd upgraded it substantially, and the décor was blatantly retro fifties diner, with stainless, teal formica tables, and sea green vinyl booths and chairs, capitalizing on the beach theme of southern Florida.
"Salads are ready. As soon as those are served, we'll drop the sautéed vegetables, steaks, then the fish. Potatoes are in the warmer, as well as the rolls. You need to give us a heads up when cocktails are over," Brady instructed.
As she was about to answer, Edward waltzed into the kitchen with his son in his arms. "Do you need me to carry things out? You're going to just serve the apps on the counter next to the bar, right?"
Just then, Bree and Angela, two waitresses Bella had hired, came in through the back door. "Sorry we're late, Bella. My car wouldn't start, so we had to get a cab," Bree explained.
"No problem, girls. I appreciate your willingness to help out. Can you carry out the appetizers to the front counter? I'll come back and help with plating after I mingle for a while. You're all getting paid double salary, you know," Bella told them, happy to see the surprise on their faces.
Edward took her hand and pulled her out of the kitchen. He put their son, Eddie, on the ground and sent him to find one of his three grandfather's because Charlie Swan was as much of a grandfather to the boy as Tony or Carlisle.
He turned to Bella and took both her hands in his. "Well, did you think all those years ago we'd have so many people we'd count as family? I know that before you came into my life, I'd have never considered it a possibility my life would have taken the turns it has, but I don't regret one curve or fork in the road."
She stood on her tiptoes and gently kissed him on the lips. "You're getting soft in your old age, Masen."
He laughed a pinched her ass. "I'll make you eat those words when we get home and get the kids in bed, Lassie. I'm forty-one this year. Do you wanna go for a third baby, or are you done, because I refuse to have my kids pushing me around in a wheelchair as we walk them to grade school.
Bella laughed as she looked at her father who was holding his son, both of them with bright smiles on their faces as they followed Esme around to greet all of her guests. She turned back to Edward. "I don't know, Masen, older fatherhood seems to agree with dad very much. I think maybe one more next year? I have two cooks I'd trust with running the place so I could take time off to play mommy full-time because Eddie will be in first grade next year.
"I'd like to be able to be there when he and Beth leave for school as well as when they get home. Think we could swing me taking a year off?"
He placed his hands on her face, knowing he'd give her anything she ever wanted. "Love, if you work with those guys and get them up to your standards, for all I care, you can take off as long as you want. I'll still manage the place, and can still do my consulting work. Remember, we have a lot more financial freedom than a lot of other people, and I truly want us to give our kids the kind of childhood you didn't have because of…well, anyway. I want our kids to spend time with all their grandparents, their cousins, their aunts and uncles, and I want us to be able to travel with the kids, doing things they'll enjoy, not just what fits our schedule.
"You didn't just happen to wander up onto Alice and Jasper's deck at the same time I was house sitting. It was all for a reason, as sappy as that sounds, and I want us to make the most of the life we're lucky enough to have. If there's such thing as perfection, I'd say that's how I'd define our life…perfection."
Once upon a time, there was a young woman who trespassed on a neighbor's property in hopes of sleeping off a drunken night out without enduring the wrath of her distant parents.
Once upon a time, there was a man so disillusioned by the life he'd created for himself, he sought the refuge of house sitting for his sister in a toney neighborhood on Vanderbilt Beach, Naples, Florida.
Neither ever imagined that when Bella told Edward a ridiculous story about being born the daughter of a crack whore, it would lead to a lifetime of love and happiness. Neither knew they'd live happily ever after, but as they looked around their restaurant where all the people they loved were enjoying each other's company, they both smiled. It truly was perfection.
Thank you all for sticking with it, and I'm truly sorry this has been so long coming, but they got their HEA.
I have nothing on the stove right now, and I might not have anything in the future, but I will tell you I'm grateful for your interest in my stories. It makes me happy to read your reviews…even the negative ones…because it means something I wrote brought a reaction from you.
Thank you for spending time with me.
For the last time…xoxo