Chapter 82 – Circle of Love

Twenty-five years later…


"Come on, everyone, we're going to be late! Let's go!"

As usual, we were in a hurry. With our son, Anthony, who was nineteen and would be a college sophomore in the fall, our daughter, Amelia, who was almost eighteen and would be a freshman, and our three fosters who were in elementary school, the backseats of our extended-length SUV were packed. Between our four natural kids, the two oldest of which were just out of graduate school with their master's degrees and married, plus our constant parade of foster kids, I stayed extremely busy. The current three we were fostering were among the dozens who had been through our home. Oh, and the tiny one with the curly hair in the car seat directly behind Edward and I, sitting next to his Great-Grandma Renee, had just recently started trying to call us Papaw and Nana.

"Do we have everyone?" Edward turned around and did a quick head count. "Okay, seatbelts, everyone. We're not going far, but we don't move until everyone's buckled." He glared at the two oldest in the far back. "Come on, Amelia and Anthony, we're going to be late for Annie's graduation. Get 'em buckled, people." The two youngest of our natural children took their sweet time complying with their father's directed request. I would like to say my two still-teenage kids were the best examples for their foster siblings they could possibly be, but they were typical teens, so that negated that idea.

"Edward, honey, did you remember to grab Carson's diaper bag?"

"No, where is it?" he asked.

"Annie and Gabriel left it in the kitchen last night," I said, remembering they had sat it on the kitchen table when they had dropped the baby off for the night, so Edward ran back inside for it. It was an unbelievably bad idea to be away from home without a change of clothes and fresh diapers when tending to a small human volcano. My grandson was known for eating like his Grandpa Emmett, and for making about as much mess at both ends. Edward returned with the diaper bag, and we were finally off.

Driving down the highway, I smiled at the thought of how many more times we would get to make this trip. Last year, it had been to Andrew and Lilly's graduations, only a few months before their wedding. Andrew was in medical school now, with plans to specialize in pediatric thoracic surgery. Lilly had decided to follow in her parents' footsteps and was studying in the field of pediatric mental health and development.

The next trip had been to Gabriel's graduation, where he had proposed to Annie in front of over two thousand people in attendance. Of course, being my daughter, she was mortified at the number of eyes watching, but her love for him was obvious, as it had been since they were small. Honeymoon babies seemed to run in our family, which put Annie's graduation back a year to have Carson, but she jumped right back in and was graduating today, made possible with a little babysitting help from all the grandparents.

Gabriel had graduated with his Master's in Criminal Law and was working on building his career, with an eye towards making District Attorney. Annie worked as a paralegal at the firm where they were interning, while studying towards her career as an attorney as well. She had plans of going into family law, specializing in child advocacy, and they had applied as a foster family. To say we were all extremely proud of all our firstborn children would be an understatement.

After dropping off our three youngest charges at Aaron and Madelyn's for a birthday party with their kids and Stacey's, we continued to the graduation. When given the choice between sitting quietly in hard auditorium seating for two hours or spending those two hours at a popular indoor kid's play restaurant, the mouse had won, hands down. Abigail and Marisol had two more birthday parties between their kids tomorrow as well, so Carlisle and Esme would be busy with the camcorder and doing what good grandparents did best: Spoiling. That, and following Dorianne around, taking footage of her second baby bump, while trying to capture the first smile of Joy Noelle's new baby girl. With seventeen grandchildren, five of them fosters who had been adopted, and more on the way, they stayed extremely busy and active. They were still in amazing shape, even though they had retired a few years ago and were now in their seventies.

Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Rose were waiting for us when we pulled into the auditorium parking lot. Between us and our friends, we had managed to have ten children of our own, and all of us were active foster families, as well as grandparents, or soon-to-be grandparents for Alice and Jasper. Andrew and Lilly were expecting little Bethany Susanne Masen in a few weeks.

Jasper and Alice's youngest, Jasmine, was looking shyly at Micah, who was Rose and Emmett's youngest son. Jasmine was a carbon copy of Jasper, with huge blue eyes and long, curly blonde hair, but she was tiny like Alice. She looked like a beautiful porcelain doll. Micah was the spitting image of Emmett, with his deep dimples, blue eyes, and a head full of dark curls. At only fourteen, he was already almost as tall as Edward. It had been nice watching Alice and Rose be pregnant together for a change without joining them. Four kids were quite enough for me.

Our Amelia grabbed Alice and Jasper's son, Clayton, by the hand and headed off towards the doors, as did our Anthony with Emmett and Rose's daughter, Delanie. Micah shyly reached for Jasmine's hand, and she let him take it. The two of them together were almost comical due to their height differences, but the way they melded together made it clear it didn't matter. The six of us looked at each other, nodding and smiling knowingly, recognizing the all-too familiar signs. In a few more years, we would probably be doing this again, weddings and all.

Great-Grandma Renee was pushing Carson in his stroller. He was looking around wide-eyed at everyone we passed, as Edward led them down the aisles to our seats. I couldn't help but feel a little sad, as we walked through the auditorium behind the kids. Grandpa Charlie would have loved to have been here today to see this and show off his great-grandson. Dad had gone home to Grammy and Poppa a few years ago, right after the twins had graduated high school. He and his namesake grandson had been the best of buddies, and dad had indeed taught all the kids how to fish. The month before he died, he and Andrew had gone on their last fishing weekend, and his grandson had skunked him, not only in fish size, but quantity as well. I didn't think I had ever seen my dad so proud and at peace. His work here was done.

Carson started fussing a little, so I took him from mom and walked around with him to quiet him down. The lights lowered, and the standard graduation processional music began playing, as the graduating class filed into the auditorium to take their seats. Annie looked up, as she entered through the doors. A huge smile spread across her face when I held up Carson's arm and waved to her. An hour and a half later, all the boring speeches had been delivered, all the names called, and the diplomas handed out. Then, it was over.

Annie came running up to me with her arms stretched out to take Carson and gave me a one-armed hug before being swept up into a blazing kiss by Gabriel.

"It seems like only yesterday we were dropping her and Andrew off at kindergarten. Where did the time go?" I asked the man who had been standing next to me for the past twenty-five years. We watched proudly, as our daughter showed off her baby boy to her sorority sisters, while her husband's arms never left from around her, his eyes holding nothing but love and devotion for only her and their son.

"It was well spent, my love. Very well spent indeed." Edward wrapped his arms around me and pulled me in for one of his kisses that still made my heart speed up and my knees go weak after all these years.

"And they say the youth of today are the ones all over each other in public like horny weasels," a sarcastic voice grumbled next to us. We looked up to see Anthony standing with his arms crossed over his chest, shaking his head and rolling his eyes at us, as if he could shame us. Delanie was trying but failing miserably to stifle her giggles, as she propped her chin on his shoulder and looked at us with a raised eyebrow. She was Emmett made over in female form, her quirky personality a perfect contrast to Anthony's overly serious side. Together, they reminded me very much of a younger version of Emmett and Rose.

Amelia bounced up, dragging Clayton by the hand, laughing at us as well. They were quite the contrasting pair. Amelia had gotten my mom's fair features, light aqua eyes, and a lighter version of Edward's hair color. Clayton, however, had gotten Alice's dark hair and Jasper's mother's dark steel blue eyes. He was built just like Jasper, lean and rugged looking, but strikingly handsome. He acted like Jasper, too, with his quiet and reserved ways.

"I take it the four of you want us all to show up for your next dances as chaperones and enjoy each other's company in front of all your friends, just like we're doing right now, huh?" They were all about to protest when Alice caught wind of the conversation.

"Ooh, we can go shopping and get matching outfits, then I can do all our hair, and Rose can do our makeup. Everyone can go, and it'll be so much fun!" By the time Alice got through laying it on thick, Edward was shaking with silent laughter, as all four kids were begging us not to put ourselves out on their account. Message delivered.

"You guys carry on. I'm sure nobody really minds," Delanie said with wide eyes.

"Thank you. I think we will. Edward?" And with that, I was back in Edward's arms for more of the man I could never get enough of. Edward and I had recently celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Having survived all the stuff, good and bad, we had been through to get here, we tried to remember to treasure each day for the gift it was.

After the twins had been born, I had gone back to work for two weeks and couldn't stand it. I'd had my fill of "Blue Mondays" by then, and I wanted to be with my own babies for a change. I still worked part-time as an advocate, but I no longer worked the field. I had respect, however, for those women who managed to work full-time jobs and still run a household, too. Their work was truly never done, just put off until after the world got its usually unfair share of their time, or their laundry piles burst the doors off their houses, whichever came first. Those gals took multitasking to a whole new level.

Edward went into private practice with Carlisle not long after we were married to give him more time at home with us, but he still took DFPS special cases when the need for his expertise arose. We were both looking forward to retiring in a few years after Amelia finished college.

Jacob and Leah Black's oldest son, Joel, was a financial prodigy, and he had helped us add a vacation fund to our portfolio a couple of years ago. We were planning to use it for a trip of a lifetime back to Fiji for our second honeymoon. He highly recommended it, as he and his wife, Amber, who was the oldest daughter of Ben and Angela Cheney, had done the same trip with his parents for their anniversary last year. Yes, the Testosterone Twins had finally settled down, and we were now all good friends. For several years, we had shared the honor of being known as the Diaper Delegation because we'd all had so many kids in diapers at the same time.

Even though my time at work had decreased, my desire to be involved only doubled, and so we applied and became a foster family shortly after the twins had been born. The persistent memories of my frustration with trying to find good, caring families to step up and join the program from my days as a child advocate caseworker had stuck with me after I had left my job. Knowing how great the need was, I couldn't sit by and not help. Throughout the past twenty-five years, we had fostered over one hundred children from every walk of life, and for various lengths of time. Many of those early children had gone on to do the same, and several of them had gone into careers that supported and protected children whose lives and circumstances mirrored their own.

The same went for Alice and Rose. Both had fostered nearly as many children through their homes, some of whom had gone on to make a real difference in the world. It had enriched our families so much, and I finally got to take a few of them home like I had always wanted to and helped make them better. Having worked in the system, I had a unique perspective on how important and pivotal a good foster home could be in an already traumatized child's life. It was so rewarding to see that what we offered to the children we served could change the world for the better somewhere down the line. I didn't know about Karma, but I did know about blessings. The more you gave, even more than that would you receive.

Through it all, Edward had been my rock, my lover, my best friend, and my life. We had started with a firm foundation of faith and built a solid, lasting love. We had ridden that carousel many times around and filled our albums full to the brim with love and things worthy of sharing and remembering. Together with our friends and family, we had also continued the work of advocacy for those with no voice. Besides our children and grandchildren, that would be our most cherished legacy.

I was so glad we had all spent these past twenty-five years building a strong family. I had always considered Emmett and Rose, and Jasper and Alice, as our family, but with our children marrying, we were now permanently connected by blood as well as love. Sometimes, it did get a bit confusing trying to keep all the lines straight and remember who was related to whom, but the most important thing was that we were all together. We had been through each other's trials, triumphs, and tragedies and had come out better for the experiences. I wouldn't trade the past twenty-five years for any amount of riches in the world. Why should I? With God's blessings, the treasure that was our circle of love was more than I could have ever hoped for. It left me contented and wanting for nothing, able to give without limitation, and happy beyond all imagination.

I couldn't think of anything more valuable than that.

A/N: Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and review. I hope all questions were answered. I tried to do a family tree to map out the connections, but it's difficult on here, so below is the best I could do. Hope it's understandable. I have another story I had posted on fanfiction a long time ago called All in the Family that I've reworked and renamed Something More. Drop a yea or nay in your review whether you think I should post it. Some of you may remember it: Renee remarries widower Tony Masen, who has triplets...Alice, Emmett and Edward, who are the same age as her daughter, Bella. Charlie remarried to Sue, who has two kids...Rosalie, who is Bella's age, and Jasper, who is a few years older. None of Bella's new "siblings" like her, and they treat like Cinderbella. Not feeling welcome in either parents' houses, she wonders if she'll ever be something more to them than an unwanted outsider.

Family Tree:

Bella and Edward: Andrew/Annie/Anthony/Amelia

Rose and Emmett: Gabriel/Delanie/Micah

Alice and Jasper: Lilly/Clayton/Jasmine