Epilogue – The Bells
A year and a half later…
Frank stood nervously in front of the mirror, looking at his reflection. He thought about the events of the past few years and how long it took to get to where he finally was. Nancy and him almost didn't make it but not in the mortality sense. They sought to be together in the months they were apart because of Ned. But when it was all over, reality settled in and their relationship was put to the ultimate test.
"You look like you have the weight of the world still on your shoulders," replied a soft, female voice. Frank looked up to see his mother's reflection in the mirror, a kind smile on her face.
"I just…I just have a lot on my mind, that's all," he mumbled, turning around to face her.
"As if that should stop you from being happy," Laura replied. Frank always thought his mother was a beautiful woman and today, she looked radiant in a peach colored dress that stopped just above her ankles. She walked over to him, pulling out a white rose boutonniere. He sighed as his mother carefully pinned the flower to his lapel, the last reminder of what the day really was. "There, all better." Laura did a double take at Frank. His face was pale and he looked anxious to the point of needing to throw up. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"
"No, Mom," he replied softly. "It's just that we went through so much to get here. I don't know if we'll be able to survive if something else happens."
"It's called life, sweetheart," she said gently. "Do you think your father and I didn't go through rough patches over the course of our relationship? There are times still where I want to just pack it in and call it a day with the stupid shit he pulls."
"Mom!" Frank laughed.
"I'm serious," Laura replied sincerely. "But in the end, I always go back to him and make up because even after all these years, I still love him more than anything. Nancy is a wonderful girl. You have spent the last year and a half truly finding the love that you have for one another. Every couple goes through problems. Just look at your brother. To this day, I keep wondering how Vanessa even stays with him half the time. Maybe he gets it from your father. I don't know. My point is that life isn't perfect so don't expect it to be."
"Thanks, Mom." Frank looked back in the mirror at himself. This was the day he'd been waiting for ever since he realized how much he loved Nancy so many years before.
"You look so handsome." She smiled at him and sighed, wiping a tear from her eye. "Both my boys are all grown up and having families. I feel so old."
Frank laughed, giving her a hug just as Joe came into the room. "Oh good. I missed the gushy moment," he remarked with a silly grin. Joe was dressed similar to Frank though he wore a red rose on his lapel. He held out his elbow to Laura. "You ready, Mom?"
"Is it that time already?" Laura asked with a smile. She reached up and gave a kiss on the cheek to Frank before taking Joe's arm to leave the room.
Frank sighed once they left, turning back to the mirror. He still had thoughts rushing through his head causing him to hesitate in leaving the room. After several minutes, Joe returned but didn't say anything right away as he watched his brother.
"They're waiting for us," he replied after awhile.
"I know that, Joe," Frank mumbled, still not moving. Joe could see Frank was anxious, his face still pale.
"I'm surprised to see you so nervous, Frank," Joe replied. "She said yes a while back and is still with you after everything. Shouldn't that account for something?"
"I know, Joe," Frank repeated. He sighed and turned toward his brother. "I already got a pep talk from Mom. I really don't want one from you too."
"Well, then, how about you just tell me what's going on? I do have ears, you know." Joe saw Frank hesitate. "Maybe getting it off your shoulders will help. I don't think they can start without you."
Frank sighed again, shaking his head. He went over to a couch nearby and sat down, his head in his hands. Joe walked over, taking the seat next to him and waited.
"We've been through so much even after everything with Ned," Frank began, resting his chin in his hands. "There were times when I didn't think we were going to make it."
"But you did," Joe reassured him, "and the two of you have a stronger bond for it."
"Nancy's been on edge the past few weeks, getting ready for this whole thing," Frank continued, sounding as if he were trying to find an excuse to leave. "I swear, weddings are the death of men in this world with everything women have to have for them."
"Why do you think Van and I never had a real service?" Joe laughed.
"You guys went to Vegas, got drunk, then tied the knot at a cheesy wedding chapel," Frank said. "That hardly sounds like it was planned."
"True, it wasn't," his younger brother shrugged. "And I still don't remember it but you probably will remember today. You're the more respectable of the two of us so people expect you to have one of these big shindigs with all the bells and whistles. The question is do you love her?"
"That's a dumb question, Joe," Frank rolled his eyes. "Of course, I do. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
"Okay, then what's the problem?"
"I don't know."
"Alright, we're not getting anywhere here," Joe sighed. He looked at his watch. They were supposed to be in the sanctuary ten minutes before. "Reminds me of when Vanessa has her moments. I swear, when women get pregnant, they become completely different people. After CJ, William, and now the new one coming, I don't think I can take much more. I really hope she doesn't want another one after this."
"I know what you mean," Frank laughed.
"Yeah, this time she's hoping for a gir…" Joe stopped in mid-sentence and gave him a look. Frank quickly rose and headed for the door.
"I think I'm ready," he said.
"Not so fast," his brother replied, stopping Frank at the door. "What did you mean by that?"
"Mean by what?"
"I can tell when you're keeping something from me, Frank," Joe replied, folding his arms in front of him. He stood in front of the door, barring Frank's quick exit.
"Drop it, Joe," Frank mumbled, looking around the room for another exit.
"Oh, hell no," he shook his head. "You said you knew what I meant about pregnant women. What did you mean by that?"
Frank stared at him, biting his lower lip. A knock came at the door but Joe didn't move. He raised an eyebrow and waited. Finally Frank sighed, defeated. "Okay, I said that because it's the reason why Nancy was more on edge than just planning a wedding," he replied. "I didn't even put two and two together. She told me last night right after the rehearsal dinner. We had made a deal that she wouldn't keep secrets from me anymore after…nevermind. It's not important. Anyway, she didn't even know until a few days ago and waited to tell me until after her first doctor's appointment. She's due a few weeks before Vanessa."
Joe was quiet then his mouth stretched into a large grin. "That's awesome!" he cried. Joe clapped his hand on Frank's back though his brother still looked pale almost as if he was going to lose his lunch. "What's wrong?"
"I need a drink," Frank suddenly said. He searched the room but remembered that they were in a church where liquor wasn't allowed. Another knock came at the door, this time it opened revealing Phil and Tony, both dressed in matching suits.
"Hey, what's going on?" Tony asked, looking at the brothers.
"Yeah," Phil replied. "They're waiting for you. You're not getting cold feet, are you, Frank? Because if you are, I could take your place."
"You're not helping, Phil," Joe mumbled, giving his friend a look. He pulled Frank away from their friends and into the hall. "What's the matter with you? You've never been like this before. You're usually calm and collected even in the face of danger. What gives?"
"What if something happens and I lose her, Joe?" Frank cried. "Or there's something wrong with the baby? What if I'm not a good husband and father?"
"Is that what this is about?" Joe asked incredulously. "You, who hung from a root on the side of a cliff; you, who has defied bad guys countless times on cases every step of the way and you're worried about being a bad parent? Come on! You can do this! Look at me! If I can do it, so can you. I get yelled at every day by Vanessa about the littlest things and she still lets me sleep in the same bed with her every night. My kids are still alive even after the incident with the permanent marker and flour. Believe me, I'm still making up for it with Van but they all still love me. That is what matters the most. There's no instruction manual on parenting. You just learn as you go. As for Nancy, she is crazy about you and you've loved her for how many years? The one thing I don't think she'll take well is if you leave her hanging at the altar."
"I wasn't going to do that," Frank replied.
"Then what's the problem?"
Frank eyed his brother and sighed. Joe was right. His mother was right. He was about to say something when he saw his mother rushing down the hall, her face scrunched up in anger. "Oh, shit," Frank replied, preparing himself for an onslaught from his mother.
"Is there a reason why you are still not in that church, Frank Hardy?" Laura asked angrily. Phil and Tony moved away from the Hardys, knowing their presence would only make matters worse. "It's bad enough that Nancy isn't ready either. What is with you two? Are you mentally challenging each other to make this day as miserable as possible?"
"What do you mean Nancy's not ready?" Frank asked, surprised. Color seemed to return to his face, his anxiety melting away with concern replacing it.
"Apparently, she locked herself in the bathroom," his mother stated. "Your father went to go check on her. The guests are getting restless. Maybe if you get out there, she'll follow."
Without another word, Frank turned around and went in search of Nancy's room. Joe and Laura both called out to him but he ignored them as he rounded the corner. Frank passed the open doors to the sanctuary, hearing the murmurs from the guests. He ran through the halls, finally catching sight of Bess and George who were wearing deep blue bridesmaid gowns. The two were standing in the hall, talking quietly. They stopped when they saw Frank approaching them.
"What's going on with Nancy?" he asked.
"She seemed happy as we were getting ready," Bess explained quickly. "We were running a little late anyway because Vanessa threw up just before getting her gown on, thank God, but she had to redo her hair. Then once we found out that you still weren't ready, she completely shut down."
"I think Nancy got scared that you weren't coming," George chimed in. "We tried getting her out of the bathroom but she locked the door. You dad and Vanessa are trying to get her out as well. Obviously it hasn't worked yet."
"Where are they?"
Both girls pointed to the door to Frank's left and he went in. When he opened the door, a strong flowery scent rushed toward him. He saw four bouquets sitting in a box just beside the door. Frank noticed a basket of half-eaten chocolate sitting on a table nearby, his stomach growling, reminding him of his poor choice in breakfast that morning. Reluctantly, he turned his attention toward the corner where his father and Vanessa stood, knocking on a door.
"Dad!" Frank cried, walking over to them. Fenton turned around, surprise on his face.
"Frank!" he said. "What are you doing here? Oh, who cares? Maybe you can get her to open the door."
"Nancy was worried you changed your mind," Vanessa explained. Though she didn't say it, Frank had a feeling she knew about the baby. He was relieved to see that his father was clueless on the matter. "Maybe if she hears your voice, it'll calm her down."
Frank walked slowly toward the door. He turned back to the others just before knocking. "Would you mind giving us a minute?"
Fenton smiled and nodded, guiding Vanessa out of the room. Once the door was closed, Frank knocked on the bathroom door. "Nancy?" he said softly. He heard a sniffle on the other side of the door but it remained closed. No other sound or voice came from the bathroom. "Nancy, please open the door."
Seconds later, the door cracked open just a little, a watery blue eye stared out from behind. Frank smiled. Once she saw it was him, Nancy opened the door and rushed to Frank, wrapping her arms around his neck. He immediately noticed she wasn't fully ready to walk down the aisle as she was dressed in only a silky white robe that covered her undergarments.
"You're here!" she cried.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Frank asked gently. As he held her, all his previous worries seemed to go away. He knew this was where he was meant to be at that moment.
"Just before I was going to get the gown on, someone came in and said that you weren't in the sanctuary yet," Nancy sniffled. She looked up into his eyes. "I thought you changed your mind after all this time."
"Nancy, I have to be honest with you," he said. She looked a little nervous as Frank hung his head, ashamed. "I…I was thinking that I was going to fail you and our baby. That I wasn't going to live up to your expectations. That's why I was taking so long to get ready."
Nancy did something that Frank didn't expect her to do. She laughed, taking his head in her hands and looking into his eyes. "We are such a pair, aren't' we?" she said. "You're worried that you won't be a good husband and father and I'm worried that you left me. I don't think we have a problem other than our own fears."
"But what if we lose this one too?" Frank replied. "What if I lose you? We don't exactly have jobs that are completely safe."
"Whatever life hands us," Nancy said philosophically, "we will deal with it. We can't live life worrying about things that could happen. We both have made mistakes but yet we're still here, aren't we?"
"God, I love you," he said, gazing into her eyes.
"And that's why I'm marrying you," she smiled. The two kissed until there was a knock at the door. They could hear Fenton on the other side asking if they were okay. Nancy sighed and laughed. "I guess we should get this over with."
"We could sneak out the back," Frank laughed.
"I think your mother would hunt us down," Nancy said, a twinkle in her eye. "Especially since Joe and Vanessa chose not to have a formal wedding."
"You're right," he rolled his eyes. "Mom knows how to get rid of the bodies too."
The two laughed and leaned their foreheads together. "You know it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony," Nancy laughed. The two kissed again leaving little room for breath.
"You have no idea how hard it is for me not to go over and lock the door," Frank whispered in her ear. She giggled. "There is so much I want to do right now."
"Calm down, Prince Charming," Nancy smiled. She stood on her tip toes and whispered. "You'll get your chance tonight."
He smiled and kissed one more time before heading to the door. When he opened it, Frank was surprised to see his father, Vanessa, Bess, and George standing close enough to the door that they looked guilty of eavesdropping. He cleared his throat and squeezed his way through them. "I think we're ready," he announced as he quickly headed down the hall.
The three girls went into the room while Fenton followed Frank. Bess soon stuck her head out the door. "Mr. Hardy," she called. Fenton turned around to see her beckoning him to return. He noticed that Frank was already passing the sanctuary again so Fenton walked back toward Bess, a confused look on his face.
Ten minutes later, Frank finally walked into the sanctuary with Joe, Tony, and Phil. Laura breathed a sigh of relief though she still looked around for her missing husband.
"You good now?" Joe mumbled, leaning toward his brother.
"Yep," Frank nodded, keeping his eyes toward the back of the room. "I wouldn't be out here if I wasn't."
"I'm just making sure," his brother replied. "About this whole baby thing…"
"Drop it, Joe. Especially since Mom is staring at us." The two brothers looked down at their mother who was giving them the evil eye.
"How did you not know she was pregnant anyway?" Joe asked quietly, ignoring his mother's look. "You figured out Vanessa before we did but you couldn't figure out your own girlfriend's."
"She had no symptoms other than the irritability," his brother explained. "Believe me that should have been a red flag but neither one of us was paying attention with the wedding and the caseload we had."
"Well," Joe shrugged, "at least you know you're going to have a boy. There hasn't been a girl born in the Hardy family in generations."
"Of all the things you want to tell me right now," Frank looked incredulously at him, "is that you want to assure me Nancy's having a boy?"
"Just saying. As much as Vanessa wanted a girl, she's come to terms with it." Frank glared at him. "Just hope that Nancy will too."
Joe looked at Frank and gave him a goofy smile. The two brothers burst into quiet fits of laughter only stopping when their mother cleared her throat. It was then that they noticed the bridesmaids had already reached the altar and the guests were standing. Frank waited with abated breath, watching the doors at the back of the sanctuary that were now closed. Seconds later, they opened and collective gasp of awe came over the room. As nearly every groom does when first seeing their bride come toward them on their wedding day, Frank's mouth dropped open slightly, his heart pounding in his chest.
"Well, at least we know where Dad went," Joe muttered though Frank ignored him. He was too busy taking in the sight before him.
Fenton stood proudly next to Nancy, her hand holding on to the crook of his elbow. She looked stunning, her face beaming with excitement. The gown she wore in Colorado paled in comparison to the one she picked out herself for the day. The satin ball gown was strapless, showing off her delicate shoulders and the pendant around her neck. It was an elegant design with a ruched bodice that accentuated her figure, hiding her secret within the folds. Opting for a simple veil that didn't cover her face, Nancy looked like a princess in every sense of the word.
As Fenton and Nancy walked down the aisle, she and Frank never took their eyes off each other, a broad smile on each of their faces. It took all of Frank's might to not rush down to her and sweep Nancy off her feet. He just wanted the ceremony and reception over so that he could have her all to himself. As his father and Nancy reached the front of the room, Frank took her hand and the ceremony began. Their life together was about to change and there was nothing that was going to stop them from being together anymore.
As the ceremony finally drew to a close, Frank's heart was pounding and he could feel the anticipation rising from what was about to happen next. He was so engulfed in Nancy's smile and beauty that Frank didn't hear the pastor say something.
"Huh?" he asked, blinking several times. The guests started laughing and he felt a nudge behind him from Joe.
"You may kiss your bride," the pastor repeated with a smile.
Without even thinking twice, Frank took Nancy in his arms, giving her a passionate kiss not caring about who was watching. The guests erupted in cheers. Their journey to be with one another finally over.
I am so sad to see this story go. It is by far my favorite of everything that I have written. Thank you so much for going on this journey and for the support you have given. There are no words to express how I appreciate all the kind words. As for future stories, they are coming. I have two in mind (not one-shots either) that are in this universe. I like it too much to not continue on with their story. With that being said, I do want to let you know that I won't be publishing right away. I am taking a few days if not a week or so to deal with things around my house. However, I will be writing along with way. The story that I have planned next is somewhat of a prequel to this epilogue. I'm sure you noticed several instances where I mentioned a few things that happened between the end of the last chapter and the epilogue. I'm sure you want to hear about why Nancy and Frank took a year and a half to finally tie the knot and that story will explain it all. Plus you'll also meet Joe and Vanessa's new addition (Drumboy100, that one I took from you!) and yes, Vanessa is pregnant AGAIN at the wedding. So, keep on the lookout for Trouble in Still Waters that I hope to release here within the next few weeks.
As much as I hate to say it, I will leave you all for now. Thank you again for the amazing support on this trilogy. Until we meet again, have a great day! God bless!