A/N: Oh, my lovelies…I hate that this is the last chapter, but I have enjoyed taking the journey with you all…even if it wasn't always a walk in the park. I loved the investment you all made in the characters, and those of you who wrote it was your 'drop everything' story. Warms my heart. My girl, SoHe, asked about an outtake. I'll give it some thought.
SMeyer owns…I don't infringe.
Chapter 29. EPILOGUE
Four years later
"Congratulations, Sarge," Bella whispered as I held Bunny in my arms. Jasper was home for the weekend for the "Grand Re-Opening" of 'B-C Classic Customs'. We'd had to close the garage for three months while renovations were made, but since it was late spring, we were able to do some work to keep our customers satisfied. I was looking forward to getting back to normal because we had enough work to keep us busy for the rest of the year. There was actually a waiting list for us to work on custom jobs, and we owed it to Ben Cheney.
After we finished Angela's Shelby for her fortieth birthday, Benny had written us a check for $127,000.00. It was the money we needed to ramp up the business, and we used it. Benny and Angela took that car to car shows and word traveled fast regarding who'd done the work. That brought us publicity and people from all over the country who wanted us to refurbish their cars, and we were finally adding the extra space to the garage complex to allow us to handle all the work coming our way.
Rose had graduated from college the summer before, and she was the business manager. She had an assistant, Claire Watts, who kept us on schedule, and it was a well-oiled machine. When I needed her, or when she wanted, Posy came out of the office, suited up, and worked right alongside me, Garrett, and Seth Clearwater, Leah's brother. He was a good kid, and he knew his way around an engine, so I didn't hold his familial ties against him.
JC would graduate in a month with a degree in American History, and after he finished his certification, he was going to teach at the Port Angeles Community College. An injury in the second game of his senior year took him out of the draft, and the college had asked him to red shirt for his senior year and stay at UW for another year after rehab. JC declined because he'd had enough time away from his daughter, and that was when he had to take a draw from his college fund to pay for his senior year.
Alice was set to graduate with her degree in nursing, having had scholarships and help from Bella and me. We were proud of her, and she'd already secured a job at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles. Bella and I were happy they were going to be living close-by, and Alice's parents were thrilled as well.
Rosie and Emmett were still together, and he'd talked to me at Christmas regarding his desire to marry my daughter. I'd given him my blessing with the understanding they'd hold off for a couple of years while he went to law school.
He'd never planned to play football professionally, and for Posy's sake, I was glad. Riley and I could have managed the business alone if she went with him wherever he ended up, but Rose wouldn't have it. Em was planning to propose after graduation and before he started law school, and Rose was going to split her time between Forks and Seattle.
She'd moved out of our place and had her own apartment, and I turned a blind eye to the fact that McCarty spent a lot of time there when he came home every fucking weekend.
The parents were all well, and Bella and I just got better every day. We'd made ourselves a promise to take a nice vacation once a year, just the two of us, and we'd kept it. We'd gone to Hawaii, Italy, Ireland, and last summer, we took the whole family…down to our parents…to Disneyland for a week. Lexie enjoyed it very much, and we decided to do something of the sort every couple of years.
"Where's Alice?" I asked as we milled around, Bella making a plate for me to share with Bunny.
"I think they're separated," she told me quietly.
Lexie wiggled in my arms when she saw Rosalie, so I put her down and watched as she ran off to her Aunt Posy. When I knew Rose and Em had her, I turned to my wife and pulled her away from the crowd.
"What do you mean you think they're separated?" I asked quietly.
"Last night after we had our fill of each other, I went to get your water," she reminded.
Even at forty-two, soon to be forty-three, we had a hell of a good sex life. With both of the kids out of the house for the most part, we spent more time in bed than out of it after we got home from work. I woke every morning with a smile on my damn face that no trivial bullshit could erase.
"Don't sidetrack me. So," I prompted.
"So, I checked on Lexie in her room, and I heard JC on his phone. He was fighting with Alice and I heard him say, 'My Monday class is canceled, so we're not coming back until early Tuesday morning. I'll drop Lex at daycare before class, and you can pick her up and take her to your place after you finish.' I haven't had the chance to ask him what's going on. Maybe you should…" she motioned her head toward where JC was talking to Seth.
I nodded and wandered over, greeting guests along the way. As I walked up, I heard JC comment, "So, motorcycles? You custom build them? How much would a classic Harley cost?" I damn well didn't want him on the back of a motorcycle, so I clapped my hand over his shoulder to let him know I was there.
"Seth, I think Rose wanted to talk to you about the schedule next week. You needed time off for something," I prompted. Thankfully, the kid was savvy and smiled.
"Oh, yeah, my nephew's graduation. I'll talk to you later, JC," Seth told him. I didn't comment on his nephew because I knew who it was…Jared Black.
Jake was released on parole a year prior and he'd moved to Oregon alone. Leah moved back to the rez with Jared, and Seth and his mother, Sue, actually took over care of the boy after Leah took off again. Seth made more money than some of the other guys in the shop because he was helping his mother with the kid, and I knew how much Bella had worried about Jared over the years. I hated the kid's father, but the boy hadn't done anything wrong, so I did what I could to throw side work Seth's way to help out.
As it turned out, his mother wasn't as helpless as Jacob had made her out to be. She had a job, and the only drain on her bank account had been Jacob and Leah. Without them around, well, things were fine at the Clearwater house, and I was happy about it.
"So, where's Alice? I'd have thought she'd be able to get off this weekend since this is a family event and I know how much she values family," I baited.
I saw the guilt before he could hide it. He was just like his darling mother with that look, and as I waited for the lie, I truly wondered if I could have done something different when it came to that relationship.
"She, uh, she's doing her clinicals at Harborview, and she's trying to get the finished as soon as possible so she can, uh, graduate without having anything left undone. She, uh, she had a job offer there, and she's considering it. It would be a lot of money for her, more than Olympic because her specialty is trauma, and well, there's not much trauma at Olympic." He was looking down at his wedding ring and spinning it, and the sadness on his face was apparent.
"How long have the two of you been separated?" I asked bluntly.
He looked up, surprise evident. "How'd you know?"
I wrapped an arm around his shoulder and led him to the new paint shop we'd built, grateful it was empty. "Jasper, you're not a good liar, just like your mother. Alice is a member of this family, and I know her well enough to know she'd never miss a family celebration unless something was going on between the two of you. What happened?"
"Look, Alice is the breadwinner in the family, and I've been taking care of Lex all the time. I take her to daycare, pick her up, fix dinner for her, and put her to bed. Alice is gone all the fucking time, Pop. I'm a single parent, and when I confronted her about it, she got pissed. I know…I know she's trying to get her clinicals finished, but hell, we never have any time alone, and it seems to be okay with her. I just can't live that way," he explained.
I perused the crowd and saw Bella watching us, so I motioned for her to come over. "I love you, JC. I hope you know that, but this is out of my realm of expertise because in this scenario, I'm Alice. I'm going to turn you over to the expert before I give you some half-assed advice because I made a mess of things with your mother, and she's far better suited to discuss this with you.
"I'll offer this. Leave Lex with us and go back to Seattle and try to fix things. You and Alice love each other, and I know the pressure the two of you live under, but it shouldn't ruin you. Talk to your mother, JC. I promise you, she'll have better advice for you than I could ever give."
"How are my guys?" Bella asked with a smile.
I leaned down and kissed her gently. "I love you, baby. Talk to the boy. He needs your advice more than he needs mine. I'm going to get Bunny and let her play with that new iPad thing Rose makes me use to keep me on schedule. I downloaded some games Posy doesn't know about, and I think Bunny can teach me how to play them."
With that, I walked away and left Bella with our son. I knew in my heart, she knew more about how to support your spouse than I could ever tell JC. She'd done it for me after all.
"No, Poppy, that's not her clothes. Those go with this giwl," Lexie told me as I sat at a little table with her playing with dolls. They weren't Barbies, for which I was grateful, but we were dressing them up for a tea party. That was something I knew about because of Rose, so I was on board with it.
Bella was at school, and Bunny and I were going to pick her up and go to the diner for dinner. I'd taken the week off to take care of our granddaughter while her parents hashed things out in Seattle. I never asked Bella what advice she gave JC, but when he left that Saturday night, he had a look of determination on his face I was happy to see.
The doorbell rang, which surprised me. "Bunny, Poppy needs to get the door. Will you dress my dolly because my fingers are too big," I told her. She giggled and nodded as I hauled my old ass up from the floor and went to the door.
I was surprised to see Mark Brandon standing there in his suit. His tie was loose around his neck, and he looked haggard. "Mark? Everything okay?"
"Can I come in? I've had a hell of a week, and I miss Lex."
I nodded and he followed me inside. "We're about to have a tea party," I told him as he followed me into the living room, which was a disaster.
"GRAMPY!" Lex called as she ran over to him. He picked her up and kissed her on both cheeks.
"Hello, sunshine. Grampy's been too busy to come by because its tax season, but I finally got out of work. So, can I come to your tea party?" he asked.
We kept in touch with the Brandons, having actually gotten close with them, and I was glad. We kept each other up on what was going on in the kids' lives, bringing different perspectives. When Bella had called Denise and said we were keeping Lex until graduation, they were surprised, but they were both too busy to take her, and selfishly, I was happy about it.
"I'll be back," Lex announced as he placed her on the floor. She ran upstairs to her room, and he turned to me, concern on his face.
"Have you got something stronger than tea? It's wedding season, and Denise is slammed at the flower shop. I finally finished today, but I could use a drink and an update. Have you talked to JC? Dee talked to Ali for a hot minute the other night, but she refused to talk about what's going on with her and JC," he enlightened.
I sighed and went to the cabinet, pulling out Uncle Jack and filling a gravy boat Bella had in the cabinet with bourbon. It looked like a teapot, and we could convince Lex it was ours and she'd have her own filled with apple juice.
"JC calls every day to check on Lex, but he hasn't mentioned what's going on with the two of them. Did you and Dee ever run into a brick wall?" I asked as I floated a couple of ice cubes in the pot to cool the liquor. We both walked back to the living room and I place the gravy boat on the table next to Bunny's apple juice pot and pretzels.
I poured the two of us a shot in the little plastic tea cups from Lex's set as she hurried downstairs with feathered scarves and tiaras for both of us. She'd already changed into her ballet clothes and princess shoes, and I pulled my phone out to take her picture. Those blonde curls and big grey eyes were too much to resist.
'He-uh. You get blue, and you get gween," she instructed as she handed us our gear.
I was used to the routine, and I placed the feathers around my neck and the tiara on my head. Mark laughed and pulled out his phone. "I'll break your effing fingers," I hissed.
Lex wrapped the thing around his neck and removed his tie. She put the tiara on his head and poured herself some apple juice, along with the cups in front of her dolls. "This is fun," she exclaimed as something on the television caught her eye.
"I never thought I'd see the day Master Sergeant Edward Cullen would be sitting in the floor of his living room with a feather boa around his neck and a crown on his head. You have to let me take a picture," he teased quietly so as not to disturb Lex from her trance.
"You pulled me out of my truck by my hair once, and you punched me once. Don't think I won't take you down, Grampy," I responded as I help up my pink cup of Jack. He laughed and toasted with me.
We both shot them back, knowing we weren't the best role models for our granddaughter at the time, but in the spirit of the event, we were making do. "So, have you talked to A-L-I-C-E?"
After he blew out a heavy breath after downing the shot, he refilled our cups. "A couple of times, but she's closed mouth about it. He didn't cheat on her, did he?"
I was almost livid until I put myself in his shoes. With none of us knowing what was going on, it was too easy to speculate, and of course, his little girl, much like my Posy, would be completely innocent in his eyes. "Not that I know. From what I got, she's working a lot and she's never home. He's been taking care of that one," I motioned to Lex, "most of the time alone. I truly don't know what to make of it."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Dee and I went through a couple of bad times in our marriage where I found myself sleeping on the couch instead of in our room, but we were too effing poor to separate. We had to fight it out under the same roof. I wish I knew what to do for them," he whispered as I filled his cup again.
An hour later, Lex was on the couch for a nap, and Mark and I were worse for wear. We were sitting at the little table eating pretzels and drinking beer because too much Jack wasn't going to go over well with our wives. I heard the front door open as he was explaining some tax incentives I should be taking advantage of, and it was then I decided I was going to hire him as my accountant because Rose had a lot of talent she was wasting with doing payroll and shit. We worked out a plan, and I'd made notes on my iPad in case I got too hammered to remember the conversation.
"Oh, God," I heard from the doorway of the living room.
We both turned to see Bella with her phone poised, and we both heard the click of her camera. Before I could get up, because my legs were asleep, she was laughing hysterically and texting away. I wasn't so far gone that I didn't know it wasn't going to go well for us.
"Bells, erase that," I said, realizing the damn tiara and boa were still on me. At least Mark was still wearing his, but the scene was definitely incriminating…we were sitting at that little table with two dolls and no Lex. That wouldn't be easy to explain.
"Oh, too late, Sarge. It's out there now," she sang as she laughed hysterically and walked upstairs.
"We're fucked," Mark stated as he pulled off his garb. I did the same and poured us each a last shot into our little teacups.
"Yep. To your health, Grampy," I told him as I lifted my cup and held out my pinky.
He laughed and held his up in similar fashion. "God save the Queen." We shot 'em down, and laughed. Our women were going to never let us live it down, but it had been a pretty good afternoon. As I thought about it before I passed out on the living room floor after him, I decided maybe we should babysit together anymore without supervision. It likely wouldn't win us any awards, but it was a hell of a good time.
Three Years Later
"I'm not doing it," I stated firmly. I sat down on the nearest chair and I was putting my foot down.
Alice walked over and grabbed me by the ear. "Oh, yes you are, Pop. You only get to do this once. You are going to do it. I've worked too damn hard on this, and in my condition, you don't get to deny me."
I tried to bat her hand away, but she was a persistent little devil. She led me down the hall, by my fucking ear, and she shoved me into the room with my daughter and my wife.
When I caught sight of them, I nearly dropped to my knees. They were both so beautiful, I almost couldn't breathe.
I wanted to find the son-of-a-bitch who'd decided that the father of the bride had to "give" her to her groom. I didn't want to give my Posy to anyone. Emmett wasn't a bad guy, but no man would ever be good enough for my Rose, and I just couldn't fathom walking her down that damn aisle to "give" her to him.
"Here he is. Sarge, where were you?" Bella asked as she walked over and adjusted my tie. I was in a tux I felt was too small, and I wanted to grab my daughter, my wife, and my granddaughter and take them all out of that damn church. Giving my Rose away, I couldn't do it.
"I was, uh, I need to talk to you, Bella," I told her as I led her from the room. I couldn't even acknowledge my beautiful daughter at that point.
I led Bella outside, and I bent at the waist to catch my breath. I'd been trying to catch my fucking breath since they'd set the goddamn wedding date. McCarty…well, I should have killed the guy a long time ago.
"What's wrong?" Bella asked as she stood by the door while I paced.
"This is wrong, you know. Giving away our daughter? We can't do that. She's our daughter. She's my business partner, and it sounds as if she's a possession I could give away. She's not, Bells, she's our daughter. I just can't do it," I stated firmly.
Bella walked over to me and lifted my chin to look into her eyes. "My darling husband, I love you, and I understand how hard this is for you because you and Rosalie have a very special bond, but Edward, she's happy. She wants to marry Emmett. They've waited for seven years, Edward. She wants her hero…her father…to walk her down that aisle to her future. You will take her arm and lead her down that aisle to the man who loves her more than anything.
"My father led me down the aisle to you not once, but twice, and Mark led Alice down that aisle to Jasper. Honey, we have a granddaughter inside that church, and a grandson on the way. Emmett and Rose are more than ready to start a family, and they're actually doing it the right way. Accept the fact that your Posy has grown up and she's getting married, and then you get your ass inside that church and walk down that aisle with your daughter.
"By the way, we're leaving tomorrow for Cabo. I've talked to Flora, and we're all set for our cruise. I already packed for you," she informed.
I was surprised at the news. "We are?" I asked.
"Yep. Two weeks in Mexico for us, Sarge. I already squared it with the guys at the garage, and Garrett's prepared to take care of things. JC's going to help out on weekends, and Riley gave us the go-ahead because apparently, you've been a miserable bastard to be around. You, me, sand, sun, drinks, nakedness, you see where I'm going with this?"
I picked her up and kissed her with everything inside me. When I pulled away, I had one thought. "I don't suppose we have time to, uh…" I waggled my eyebrows and saw the bright smile on her face.
"Between the wedding and the reception, I believe we do, and Sarge, I'm not wearing panties."
I nearly buckled at the idea, but she'd done what she'd set out to do. She got my mind off the fact I was walking my gorgeous baby girl down the aisle to her future, and when I went up to the bride's room in the church and looked at the smile on my daughter's face, I knew it was right for her.
"Posy, I'm always going to be your dad," I whispered as Alice toddled down the aisle after Lexie.
Rosalie turned to me and smiled. "I know, Daddy, and I thank my lucky stars every day. Now, take me to my future." She leaned up and kissed my cheek, and when the doors opened, I did the last thing I wanted. I led my daughter down the aisle to a man who was perfect for her, though I'd be hard pressed to admit it.
The bottom of her dress was the bottom of her mother's wedding dress, and Rosalie looked stunning. Much like when Alice and Jasper got married, I cried the whole time after my part was done, and Bella held my hand like she'd done for many years and as she'd likely do for many more to come.
After we walked out of the church when pictures were finished, I turned to my wife and wrapped my arms around her. "You do know, don't you, that none of this life would have been possible without you."
Bella placed her hands on my face and looked into my eyes…brown into green…and she smiled the smile she always gave me which put my heart at ease. "You do know, don't you, that if you hadn't been so damn persistent, this second half of our life would have never happened in this fashion.
"I love you, my gorgeous husband, from today to the end of eternity," she whispered as she pulled me down and kissed me passionately. I heard a flash, but I didn't break the kiss.
When Bella did, she was still smiling, so I took a shot. "Can we have sex in the bathroom on the plane? That's likely the one place we've never done it."
She giggled loudly. "You pervert. Well, maybe. What the hell, sure." I kissed her again, and led her to a limo to go to the reception.
I not only had my life back, I had a better life than I ever imagined. I couldn't wait to see where it went from there because it was gonna be beautiful.
E/N: Sniff…There it is. They're going back to Cabo and joining the Mile-High Club! Again, thank you all for your wonderful support and kind words when things were a bit rocky. I appreciate it more than I can articulate.
As for me and the future? Right now, I've got nothing in the hopper, but who knows? Maybe inspiration will strike. Right now, I'm trying to quit smoking, so I'm not too focused on anything, but maybe…well, keep me on alert if you like my stuff.
Thank you for reading.
For the last time…xoxo