Chapter 29 – Something More

Twenty years later…

"EJ, Ezra, leave your sisters alone, or Santa won't bring you anything for Christmas but socks and underwear!" I yelled at my two little troublemakers. The twins loved to pull pranks on Esryl, who was home for Christmas, and Emily Anne, our nineteen-year-old honeymoon baby, who was born two weeks after my twentieth birthday. Yes, I was apparently one of those lucky ones for whom birth control pills didn't work. We certainly hadn't planned on having any children of our own anytime soon, but sometimes, God had other ideas. After Emily was born, we discovered the beauty of the shot. The birth of our identical twin boys ten years later, however, reminded us of what would happen if I didn't remember to go back and get another one in time once the effectiveness wore off.

It was a surprisingly sunny and dry day here in Portland for December, and we were trying to get ready for a combination family and friends reunion/Christmas celebration/Ethan's twenty-first birthday party. Unfortunately, our nine-year-old terrors were in rare form today, but thankfully, our six-year-old daughter, Elisha Adeline, was content to play quietly with Sugar, her basset hound puppy, while her mother, Sweetie, lay lazily nearby, watching with a bored expression. Honey had crossed over the rainbow bridge a few years ago, so we'd brought Sweetie into the family, since life without a basset hound just seemed incomprehensible now.

We hadn't realized it at the time, but Sweetie had been expecting when we had adopted her. We had gotten her from a breeder who had been getting out of the puppy business. Sugar was the only puppy she'd had that survived, and we just couldn't let her go. The puppy was keeping Elisha out from under foot at that moment, for which I was thankful.

Elisha was the one child we'd actually planned, and she was her daddy's little princess. She looked just like Emily and her Aunt Esryl, and the twins looked just like their Uncle Ethan. It was wonderful, because we were able to see our parents in them all every day.

"Daddy!" the boys yelled when Edward came in from an emergency appointment he'd had this morning. He had gone on to PSU and then transferred to OHSU for his degree in dentistry, and then he had joined a dental practice for a few years before opening his own office. He was very popular, and he had a busy schedule and quite a large patient base. He was a great dentist, but I always teased him that all the women came in just to be treated by the handsomest dentist in town.

He hugged all the kids and then came to me, wrapping his arms around me. "How's the party prep coming?" he asked, after kissing me soundly.

"Good, except your boys are being Masens," I sighed in exasperation. "I think they've been spending too much time observing their older cousins. They've learned some really wicked new pranks," I griped. Emerson was just like his father, Emmett. Rose had tried to keep him reined in, but running around after his two younger sisters and working as Carlisle's head RN kept her on her toes, and he often ran amok. Elijah and Evan weren't much better.

Lately, though, Emmett had recruited the older boys to work as busboys at his restaurant, which was keeping them out of mischief and added to their college funds. According to Esme, Ethan, Elijah, and Evan were just like Elliott when he was younger, very much into mischief. Ella took after Carlisle, quiet and studious, and she was beautiful and musically gifted like Esme. The biggest surprise was their daughter, Erin. They hadn't even thought about trying for any more children, but two years after the twins were born, Erin Alisson Cullen made her appearance, much to the surprise and delight of everyone. She reminded me a lot of Alice when we were younger, very energetic, with a huge personality. She drove our Emily crazy with always wanting to get into her clothes and makeup.

"We're here to help decorate!" Alice declared as she came in carrying a bag of decorations she'd likely gotten as samples. She had switched majors in college to Interior Design after getting tired of the whole cutthroat fashion industry nonsense during her first year. She was being trailed by their youngest, five-year-old Eva. Her tiny seven-year-old mini-me, Elaine, was wrapped around Jasper, being her usual shy self. Their oldest, Elijah, waved hello before he went in search of Ethan and the twins, his nine-year-old brother, Easton, following close behind. Alice had indeed been pregnant with Elijah at the time of our weddings, and he and Emerson were only a couple of months apart in age, both of them now going on twenty. I still teased my sisters over what they'd said about wanting to wait to have families, since they'd both had babies within a year of getting married.

"Look at my little sweetheart," I grinned, tickling Eva. "You're getting so big!" I said excitedly, and she giggled.

"Don't remind me. She's already outgrown all her new winter stuff, and she's still growing like mad. I don't think she took after me in the size department at all," Alice shook her head. She was probably right, as Eva looked just like Jasper, and she would most likely be taller than Alice and Elaine, probably by a lot, when she was grown.

We heard a loud noise on the porch and looked out the door to see Peter and Charlotte's two oldest kids arguing over who was going to carry which present, which was typical for them. Those two girls argued about everything. It turned out that Charlotte couldn't have kids, so they became foster parents. They'd eventually adopted a set of sisters who were "doorsteps" they were so close in age. They were only a newborn, a one-year-old, and a two-year-old when they'd gotten them, and seven years later, they had all become little divas now. I was sure Charlotte spent at least an hour a day just trying to tame their masses of blonde curls. It was funny how wrapped they had Peter. All they had to do was bat their big blue eyes at him, and he was done for. Being their godmother, I kind of was, too.

"Hey, come on in. Where's Chelsea and Adam?" I asked Peter, and he broke out in a huge grin.

"They're coming, but Adam is walking a little slow today, so have mercy on him. The big baby is whining that they pulled the stitches too tight. I think he's just mourning his manhood, and the fact that he's about to turn forty-six," Peter smirked. He loved to torment his brother-in-law so much.

After baby number six, I couldn't blame Chelsea for demanding that Adam get a vasectomy. Especially since, like me, she was resistant to the effects of birth control pills, hence their last little late surprise, Hannah, who was almost two. Better them than me. I was forty myself, so I couldn't imagine having a small baby in the house again.

I was busy building my career now. I had taken my time, doing most of my college coursework online, and I'd eventually gotten to go to PSU to finish my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I had taken turns babysitting with my siblings, while they had all finished their degrees as well. Once Elisha had turned two, I'd started working on getting my PhD in psychology. I had a goal of becoming a youth counselor, and I was currently working on my internship, with plans to join Jasper's group permanently once I was licensed.

As much as Edward and I loved our careers, we made sure to still take care of our family and be the parents we never had. We had learned from our parents' less-than-ideal example, and we were determined that our children would always come first. They would never be taken advantage of, neglected, or have their needs and feelings minimalized like ours had been, especially mine.

As we had gotten older, we had been able to recognize how that was exactly what we had all endured to varying degrees. Our parents had been so caught up in their own goals and personal growth that they hadn't had the focus for us that we had needed from them to insure that we were all secure and well-rounded individuals. We had been forced to learn those things on our own.

"We're here, the party can start now!" Jake called, leading his brood through the front door, Vanessa carrying their youngest. It was a good thing our house was huge, because it was filling up fast with kids. Jake and Vanessa had three, Ben and Angela had five, Paul and Beccah had two, Colin and Clarissa had four, and Seth and Summer had seven. We always teased them that they were overachievers and trying to outdo us all.

Once the rest of the SHAGNIC's arrived with all their kids and their families, we had close to sixty kids running around, toddlers all the way up to Esryl, who was the oldest at almost twenty-four. I'd guess I really couldn't consider her a kid anymore, though. She was still tiny, even shorter than Alice at under five feet tall, but the girl had gotten a curvy figure like mine. Her high school years had been challenging, trying to keep the boys off her, but thankfully, she'd had lots of people looking after her, Adam being one of her staunchest protectors. His Performing Arts class was still one of the most popular classes at Stanford High, and Esryl, Ethan, and Emily had taken it all four years of high school

As I looked at Esryl now, standing near the window and watching all our friends and their children arrive, I couldn't help but smile, albeit somewhat sadly. Ethan, of course, didn't remember anything about our parents, and Esryl really didn't remember them now either, even though I had tried to help her remember them with pictures and stories through the years. Once Ethan was big enough to start calling me mommy, she had stopped referring to me as Bella and did the same. It was a bittersweet title for me for sure. I still missed my parents, all of them, as did the rest of us. I was never more thankful for Carlisle and Esme, and for Helene and Gerald, than in the years following the accident. They'd filled the roles as grandparents for all our kids, some of whom would have had none otherwise.

"What are you thinking so hard about?" I asked my little sister, who wasn't so little anymore. She was just about to answer me when the doorbell rang again. Edward went to answer it, and the smile on her face widened when a handsome young man stepped inside.

"Ephraim, you made it!" she squealed and flew into his arms. I looked at her confused and then looked closer at the guy she was hugging, realizing this was Ephraim Cheney, Ben's little brother. Last time I remembered seeing him, he had been a sweet little boy, running around at Jake and Vanessa's wedding ceremony. He and Esryl had been the same age and had spent the whole time playing together. Of course, he had towered over her, but she hadn't seemed to mind then, actually letting him lead her around and protect her. I'd had no idea they had met up again. He certainly didn't look like a preschooler now. The boy - no, the man - was huge.

Edward shot me a look that questioned the scene they had begun making when Ephraim picked Esryl up and started kissing her soundly.

"Ahem, excuse me, guys, but when did this happen?" Edward asked with a raised brow. He had gone into protective father mode again. Esryl and Ephraim finally pulled apart, seemingly startled that they weren't alone.

"Um, we met up again when we both ended up in the same economics class. I vaguely remembered him from the Black's wedding…that was, until he smiled at me, and then I remembered him completely. Even at four, I thought his smile was amazing," Esryl sighed, still holding Ephraim's hands.

"I remembered this tiny girl with the pretty curls and big hazel eyes who made me dance endlessly with her. She never left my mind," Ephraim smiled softly down at Esryl.

They stood there staring at each other, and I felt like we were intruding on a moment, so I dragged Edward off into the living room to give them some privacy. He looked like he wanted to protest, but I pulled him along. "Come on, you knew it'd happen eventually. She's not a baby anymore."

"She'll always be my baby…sister. That'll never change," Edward grumped.

"That she will. Now, let's go find the birthday boy," I said, and we headed upstairs to the attic room to find Ethan. As the family had expanded, I'd given my beloved attic room to first Esryl and then Ethan, who had decided it needed a private entrance from outside and had designed and built the staircase and access himself. The kid had proven to be a prodigy and one heck of an architect. He was getting ready to graduate in the spring with his degree in commercial architecture.

We arrived just outside the attic room door in time to hear high-pitched giggling, which sounded distinctly feminine. Edward looked over at me with another raised brow. It sounded like our little brother had used that private entrance for a special guest.

"Ethan, I know your voice dropped about six years ago, so I doubt that giggle came from you. You want to come down and join the party now?" Edward asked loudly through the door. It suddenly opened, and our little brother was standing there looking very sheepish, his arms around a gorgeous, curvy redhead with vibrant green eyes and freckles smattered all over her. She was an Irish beauty.

"Hey, Mom and Dad, this is Beth. She's my…"

"Fiancée, nice to meet you," the girl said excitedly, holding out her left hand to shake. On it was a beautiful engagement ring. She saw me looking at it and smiled widely. "He just asked me!"

"Well, congratulations are in order, then. When's the big day?" Edward asked, clearly surprised. I was, too. This was the first I had heard of this girl. However, given the way she was looking at my little brother, I was pretty sure she thought he'd hung the moon, and he was no better. I'd guess him being away at college meant we'd missed a whole lot more than just a few family dinners together. Our little brother had grown up.

"Soon, as soon as she'll marry me," Ethan smiled, looking lovingly at Beth. "I'd marry her tomorrow if I could just get her to agree."

"I was thinking next summer after graduation, and then we can get settled into a house, so we can start on that big family you want," she chimed in, and Ethan grinned back at her.

"I'll take that as a challenge to convince you sooner is better, then," he smirked at her, pulling her in for another kiss.

We finally got them to break it up and all headed down to the party, which was pretty much in full swing at this point. Gifts were passed out, pictures taken, and enough cake and ice cream eaten to wind the kids up good and hyper. All the while, I sat in Edward's arms, taking in the happiness and love surrounding us. I had questioned on that first day I had met Edward, when we were just twelve, whether I would ever feel loved again. I was happy to say that I had, many times over. I thought about our parents, who had missed so many holidays, birthdays, and all the major events we'd enjoyed over the past twenty years, and I sighed. I knew they were watching over us, but I had missed them so much.

Edward sighed at the same time, no doubt thinking similar thoughts to mine. He smiled at me then kissed me softly. That plane ride since our first meeting had been bumpy at times for sure, but the trip had been worth it and had definitely become something more than the start of our future, it had been the start of our happily ever after.

The End

Thanks again to everyone who reviewed. So many commented on how badly Bella was treated, and she was. Many of the people in her life took her for granted and used her terribly. However, instead of letting it make her bitter, she chose to forgive when they all apologized and focused on magnifying her love instead of harboring resentment or grudges. I prefer doing that myself, as being querulous is just plain tiring to me and not in my nature.

This story hit on a few themes, such as be careful what you wish for, tomorrow isn't guaranteed, don't put off till tomorrow what you should be doing today, 'tis divine to forgive, love is worth the wait, and a few others clichéd sentiments I could name. Yes, the cheesiness factor is gooey, but hey, I love queso, so there you go.

I'm working a several other stories at the moment in between beta-ing for a few people, but I don't have a set timeframe to post anything yet. I like to finish a story before I share it, so I'm not stressed out or take forever to update. Follow me if you want to know when I post the next one. The four main stories I'm working on are:

1. You Sang to Me - A sweet Bella/Carlisle love story that starts when she's 11 and he's 21. I know that might seem a little creepy, but trust me, nothing will happen while she's a minor. Just…ew.

2. Clusters of Heaven – Set in the Texas Hill Country. Edward starts college, studying to be a viticulturalist (wine grower) to work in his family's vineyard. He falls for and marries Irena, who ends up choosing to quit college to become an international flight attendant, which takes her away a lot. They separate eventually, but she leaves with a secret that he'll only discover once a feisty, no-nonsense stranger contacts him to deliver news that will change his life forever…

3. Angels Sleeping in the Abyss – Edward is a doctor from New York with lackluster references who takes a position in Oregon working in a low-budget hospital that specializes in coma/hospice/rehab patients…and a little something else that will have him running for his life. I have about 62K words written on this one, and it's not even half finished!

4. The Invisible Game – Bella is adopted as an infant by a woman who later marries a ventriloquist with a dummy that has a preference for little girls. Edward is also adopted but loses his family and is put into a bad foster home where he's neglected and abused by the other boys there. This is a difficult story to write, but I hope it will raise awareness of child trafficking and encourage donations to Grindstone Ministries, a ministry that works to rescue and rehabilitate trafficked children. I already have over 75K words written on it, but there's still a ways to go.

Till next time…