Happy Birthday DICATAKADD! I didn't forget!
"Yeah, me and Angelina." Edward was pacing in the living room, his hand in his longer hair as he spoke on the phone. It had to be the hundredth time someone mentioned that he and Angelina Jolie had had chicken pox at the same time, but he managed it like he did everything else, with grace and kindness.
Bella smiled as she plated some French toast, dusting it with confectioners' sugar and setting it at Edward's place.
His place. His usual seat at her table. In ways it seemed like he'd always been there.
"Looks great." He kissed the back of her hand which still held the sugar, before dropping into his chair.
As much as she loved having him here, the way he seemed to skid, dive or jump onto the furniture still surprised her. It was like he was always so eager to get to the next thing, he couldn't take the time to slow down.
He was already halfway through his first slice before she took a bite. "So the sub-let on the apartment's a go. Guy's moving in this week. Wants the furniture."
Not surprisingly, Edward had a huge network of friends at the hospital. Once he put the word out about his place being available until his lease was up in six months, calls started coming.
She'd been there once with Jasper to retrieve Edward's Lego collection and his clothes. Edward was more concerned with his Millennium Falcon and Death Star than his wardrobe.
Jasper had driven the new minivan Alice picked out, the one with the highest safety ratings in all categories as she'd tell anyone who asked. Magically someone was vacating a parking space half a block from the front door of Edward's building where a tiny shrine with a laminated copy of the Time magazine cover featuring Edward, a few balloons and stuffed animals were attached to the telephone pole. Bella was surprised both that the decorators had found the place and that no one had removed anything. Jasper flicked on the turn signal as they waited for the car to exit the space and as they waited she snapped a picture of the telephone pole tribute to send Edward, something from the outside world.
She felt bad that he was still stuck at home, and as much as she loved him she was happy to have this excuse for a few hours away with a change of scenery. She remembered reading about the bio-dome experiments in the 90's, and wondered why none of the inhabitants wound up killing each other. Was she so unusual for wanting her own bit of space? That the three blue pillows stayed on the large sofa and the single beige pillow on the chair, instead of helter skelter on the chair or floor or sofa in any combination? Edward was larger than life, and even when he was in another room she felt his presence, as if his heart powered the tide of the whole apartment. Maybe it wasn't her. His spirit was too big for the confines of this over sanitized world. He hinted that he'd thought of making a long term commitment to MSF. She wondered if she was holding him back, that he felt ill-suited for her little home but didn't want to tell her.
Jasper did a respectable job of parallel parking, and she was out on the sidewalk where Edward once walked every day. Edward mentioned that he frequently walked to work, and she imagined he had a whole slew of friends and acquaintances along his route. He was the kind of guy who'd know the names of everyone in the coffee shop, the guy at the newsstand and the crossing guard. It hit her how lonely he must feel, stuck with just her and her obsessive compulsive need to have everything in order.
The apartment wasn't quite as bad as Alice said, even though you could cross the whole thing in four strides. It was a cross between a dorm room and a storage unit, and Lego displays aside, it was definitely just a place to sleep, not really a home. She was selfishly glad that the sub-let-ee wanted to use the furniture, giving her another six months to find a way to tell Edward she didn't want his stuff in her place. He'd foraged for everything, including the mattress, in dumpsters, curbside piles and the free section on Craigslist. And while the overall effect had its charm, in theory, it reminded her of one of those articles on decorating that relied heavily on spray paint and repurposed, clearance-sale bed sheets.
She'd bought all her furniture for her condo at once. Once she found a room setting she liked at the store she ordered the whole thing, sofa, rug, table, lamps, chair and pillows so everything went together. She was proud of her grownup furniture and didn't want to drag Edward's salvaged bits into the picture. She feared he'd think she was an insufferable snob if she told him how she felt. She was a little embarrassed by her feeling as well, but there they were.
And there he was, looking rumpled and adorable, looking at her with his impish eyes.
"This French toast," he was on his last bite, "is amazing. Marry me."
"That's when we're having late Christmas with your family."
"But you need to check that I don't have any pox left."
Between the issue of Alice's pregnancy, and her mother's fear of contagion, Bella had promised both women that she'd be one hundred percent positive Edward was clear before he saw them in person. And she'd checked, most diligently. She'd never enjoyed an examination as much.
"I did that two days ago. And last night." She raised her eyebrows at him. "And this morning, in the shower. You're clean, in every sense."
"Obviously you haven't been inside my head while you wear those new yoga pants. It's very dirty."
The way he said it, so seriously leaning on his chin, made her laugh. He'd taken to proposing multiple times a day, whenever he was happy about something. The first time he was cleared for intimacy, he'd done it half a dozen times. And she answered the same way she had the first time, which made him laugh. They hadn't shared the news with their families yet, they were still nurturing the little glow of their private spark.
Alice was frantic to see her brother in person, as if she didn't actually touch him, he wasn't really there. Bella assumed it was the pregnancy hormones, but Edward said she always had a manic edge. She hoped Alice didn't become one of those mothers who came to every office visit armed with printouts from WebMd, assuming every tiny freckle on their child was the symptom of something horrible. It was hard on everyone when that was the case, and always worse for a first child, or when such a mother had only one child. Horrible things happened every day, but the majority of the children in her practice would grow to be adults without experiencing anything worse than a broken bone or stomach virus. Her phone beeped.
"Time for my staff call, and no I'm not sitting on your lap." During last week's call, against her better judgment, she'd taken Edward up on his offer to cuddle with him while she listened. She should have known he wouldn't keep his hands or lips or tongue still during the call and she'd let out an undignified gasp as he sucked on the side of her neck, which she had to explain away as a paper cut.
She settled herself with a pen, notepad and phone in the armchair while Edward cleared the breakfast dishes. Dr. Lopez opened the discussion after all the doctors, nurses and the office staff confirmed they were on the call. It was one of the things she'd liked about the practice, the staff calls meant everyone was informed but didn't have to waste time traveling from their respective offices to meet in person.
"Dr. Swan, you're still planning on returning to us next week?"
"Absolutely. My blood work has been stellar." Bella had another few months on her contract and she was looking forward to spending it in a first world medical office. She and Edward were still discussing their next step.
The office manager spoke next. "Dr. Lopez, this is Monica. Darlene will be going on maternity leave earlier than planned, she's on immediate bed rest."
Darlene was Bella's favorite nurse, but she'd been gone so long she didn't even realize she was expecting.
The gasps and questions were stopped when Dr. Lopez called for silence. "Please wish Darlene our best. How are you covering her shifts?"
"I have the schedule covered for this week, but we'll need a per diem nurse starting next week."
Bella glanced at Edward, putting away the last of the dishes. His blood work had come back clean but he still hadn't told his hospital when he was returning. How selfish would it be of her to try to get him to fill in while Darlene was on maternity leave? He'd probably be bored treating kids with colds, filling out sports physical paper work, giving vaccinations. Any time they got an interesting case, the child was sent to a specialist. What Edward did in the oncology ward was so important; surely he wouldn't enjoy the mostly commonplace world of a pediatric practice? The call ends quickly with a few "See you next week's" aimed at her. They're good people and it was honorable work, but compared to fighting the cancer beast everyday it must seem so ordinary. She decided not to ask Edward; being turned down would be hard on both of them.
He found the scissors right where Bella said they would be, second drawer next to the fridge, left hand side. He should have also asked for the tape, but since he claimed that he was done wrapping all his presents, he couldn't backtrack and ask her. The roll of wrapping paper unspooled as he tried to pull it around the big box containing the breast pump Bella recommended. It's been here for a week, and if he'd done as Bella had, wrapping each present as it arrived, decorating each box with coordinated ribbons and bows, then placed in its own shopping bag, he could be in the kitchen stealing crumbs from the apple pies she baked this morning. She must have cellophane tape in here, he thought, there's a desk after all. Pencils, pens, markers, paper clips, but no tape. The French toast is wearing off. His sister said to bring his appetite, she was cooking a feast. He rummaged through the drawers, trying not to trash the contents too badly, hoping that Bella wouldn't mind that everything was no longer at right angles. No tape but, "Ah Ha!" a roll of stickers. Of course, a pediatrician would have rolls of reward stickers stashed around. Wrapping issue solved.
While he enjoyed the scenery as Bella drove, his stomach was starting to rumble. "Alice better have dinner on the table when we get there."
Bella glanced over. "You worked up that much of an appetite wrapping presents?"
"What—" Why did he think Eagle-Eye Swan hadn't seen the unwrapped presents stuffed under the guest room bed. Since he was planning for a lifetime with this woman, he needed to up his game and find better hiding spots. "I'm still recovering. I shouldn't skip lunch."
"Um hmm." His beautiful fiancé was not being particularly sympathetic. "There's a protein bar in my bag. Side pocket."
Of course she had a particular pocket for her protein bars. When he carried his backpack to work it was always a bit of a treasure hunt. He examined the wrapper. "High Fiber Prune walnut? What are you, ninety five?"
"Starving people who don't pack their own snacks can't be choosers."
He took a bite, finally beginning to recognize the road they were on. Bella was always prepared for everything. She thought of things that hadn't happened yet and had supplies just in case. He'd always been a one day at a time kind of guy, going by his gut. The only check lists he used were at work, at home he just went with the flow. How was she going to put up with him, especially once she found that stain he left on the sofa cushion the day she went to the city with Jasper? He blotted, used soda water and a roll of paper towel, but the blob that used to be his coffee was still there, haunting him. One day Bella would flip the cushion and he'd be dead meat. She really liked her furniture, while he'd sit anywhere that would hold him.
"What are you thinking about?"
"What?" His brain scrambled for a better answer than 'don't look at the middle cushion.' "I was wondering how big Ally is. I noticed she only shows shoulders up on Skype."
"Pretty big. Petite women don't have a lot of space to hide a baby. Don't say anything, she's sensitive."
"Don't worry about it, she's my sister."
He guessed everyone had been watching for them since as soon as they pulled into the familiar driveway the front door opened and out spilled his mother, father, Jasper and his sister, who looked like she was hiding a beach ball under her shirt.
"Ally!" He reached for her but his arms didn't meet behind her back. "You've the circumference of a redwood!"
His sister pounded him with one fist, while hugging him with the other arm. "You! Good thing you were sick or I'd have to clobber you."
"You'd have to catch me—oooff" His mother was squeezing him around his waist so hard that he lost his breath. "Mom, mom, air."
"It's so good to hold you." From her spot under Edward's arm his mother directed, "Carlisle get the packages from the car, Edward is still weak."
He grinned at his father as he passed them on the walk, "Weak my ass. Boy looks great." His dad talked a tough game, but still pounded him on the back and hugged him from behind before obeying his wife and helping Bella bring their things in.
"Oh, the little animal stickers! What a cute idea! Edward!" Alice hugged him while Bella rolled her eyes at him. "Thanks for the breast pump!" Everything Alice said seemed to require an exclamation point these days. Pregnancy had hyped up her usually energetic self to a frenzy. She put the box to the side and struggled to get out of the deep chair. Jasper grabbed her arm and helped her up. It was sweet how they treated each other. They'd always been loving but now there was that extra bit of care. He caught Bella's eye and wiggled his left ring finger. He wanted to tell everyone the second they'd walked in the door, but Bella wanted to wait until after dinner. It was more polite, she'd said. Edward was not such a fan of polite, he preferred right now to waiting until the right moment. But it would bother Bella if he blurted something out so he'd wait. Hmm, he congratulated himself, maybe I won't be so bad at this husband stuff.
A wailing sound came from the kitchen, and his sister emerged, crying. "I set the oven to 275 instead of 375. The meat's not done, I just ruined dinner." She covered her face with her apron, and her belly jiggled oddly while she cried.
His mother leapt up and hugged Alice. "I'm sure everyone had a big breakfast. We'll just raise the temperature and it'll be done in an hour or so. No one's that hungry, right?"
His father and Bella agreed while his belly made a square knot. Bella took the small bowl of tortilla chips from the end table and put them in his lap, looking at him with an arched eyebrow. Nope, didn't need to be a mind-reader to understand that one. The cheese that had been on the plate on the coffee table had been eaten. His father quickly grabbed the last red pepper strip. All that was left were a few celery sticks. Bella, Jasper and his mother all took one.
"Why don't we all sit." His mother guided Alice back to the chair. "Since we're waiting anyway, Dad and I wanted to tell you some exciting news. Carlisle?"
"Yes, well Darren was supposed to lead the next Smile Train trip but-"
"He went snowboarding and broke his leg." His mother threw her hands up in the air. "What was he thinking? You tell the story honey."
"So Darren called me and—"
"We're leading the next trip!" His mother clapped her hands. "And it leaves next week, but the best part is, tell them the best part sweetie!"
Carlisle didn't even bother opening his mouth.
"We'll be back in three months, before the baby is born!" His mother was hugging a smiling Alice, but Edward could see that Bella was frowning.
Her parents were away on a twenty-nine day anniversary cruise. He and Bella had decided on a tiny wedding, just their families, and had arranged for it to happen in two weeks, when her parents returned. So either they had wedding without his parents, or moved it up and had it without hers. Neither one appealed to him. Well, Bella's happiness was the priority.
"That's great." He walked over to his betrothed and lifted her hand. "But that means you'll miss our wedding."
"You knuckle head." Bella pulled him down so she could hiss in his ear. "We can move the wedding! I know you want your parents there. What does it matter if we get married in two weeks or a few months?"
"Okay, we can get wait." He shrugged his shoulders. As long as she didn't throw him out in the meanwhile, he was fine with that. It also gave him more time to find a replacement for the cushion.
"So many surprises in one day." His sister reached out her hand and pulled him down for a hug. "Congratulations Eddie."
His father, mother and Jasper moved in for hugs and then the women swarmed Bella with high pitched squeals, part of the ancient female response to weddings. He wandered off, hoping to find something to nibble on and to spare his hearing.
His sister had always been a careful eater but since pregnancy, according to Jasper, she'd been a ruthless reader of labels and only shopped in the organic food store. He wasn't expecting to find anything interesting, especially since Alice wanted to avoid anything with refined sugar. The refrigerator held only carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, unsweetened yogurt and wheatgrass juice. He strolled to the kitchen table, that held the pies and some cupcakes covered with white frosting. His mother must have brought the cupcakes, surely Alice wouldn't have made anything so sugary. He couldn't cut the pie Bella made, that would be obvious, and she'd threatened him if he stole one more crumb. He didn't know why everyone else was happily sitting around chewing on celery sticks, he was hungry. He eyed the cupcakes. There were a full dozen, so really no one would miss if he took one. Peeling off the white wrapper, he wondered if this was some new Christmas tradition his mother had come up with. They'd never had cupcakes for dessert on Christmas day before. In one bite he bisected the cupcake. There was something odd about the filling. He walked into the living room, holding the remaining half in his hand. "Alice, what's this blue stuff in the cupcakes?"
Bedlam broke out. Alice screamed, Jasper looked happy and shocked at the same time, Bella smiled, and his parents sat looking confused.
Jasper explained, "We're having a boy!"
Alice rushed over and took the remaining cake out of his hand. "It's supposed to be a surprise."
"How is it a surprise if you have to tell the baker what color to put in?"
"You don't. You give the baker an envelope and they fill the cupcakes. It was supposed to be a surprise for everyone, for after dinner."
"Oh." Esme suddenly understood. "My grandbaby is a boy? Carlisle, it's a boy!"
"A boy?" Carlisle joined his wife in hugging their daughter.
Bella was hugging Jasper. Edward was still hungry, so he stuffed the incriminating cake into his mouth. Bella waved him over, and he hugged Jasper, then hugged everyone else in the room.
Alice hugged him around the waist. "Only you Edward."
Last year a very dedicated reader, DICATAKADD, politely asked for an update on this story for her birthday. I hope you liked it D! There is more to come but I'm making no promises