Title: Uplifting Spirit
Summary: Uplifting: morally or spiritually elevating; inspiring happiness or hope.
When everything around you seems to be falling apart, do you follow the downward spiral or do you fight and persevere?
Word Count: 7915
I watch from across our small living room as she runs her fingers through Jasper's strawberry blond hair. My heart aches. His head rests on the couch, eyes closed, asleep. Our warmest blanket is tucked under his chin, shielding him from the nearly unbearable temperature inside the house. My insides twist in knots making my empty stomach ache.
Angry wind whips at the window panes, howling and hissing as I walk toward my family. Snow is falling again, coating everything that it touches. We used to get excited—a winter wonderland—but now the cold has become our winter nightmare.
I kneel down in front of her. "Angel Face." I tip her chin up with the pad of my fingers, her sad eyes glistening with unshed tears. "I'm so sorry."
She shrugs, shaking her head, whispering, "It's not your fault, Edward." That's when the tears slowly roll from her red-rimmed eyes, breaking my heart. I hug her to my chest and let her cry it out.
I don't know what else to do other than what I've been doing since I lost my job a month ago. I go to ManPower and sit there all day, hoping someone will come in looking for help. I'm used to working hard: welding, working with my hands, or doing odd jobs to make ends meet. I'm not picky. But at this time of the year, no one is hiring.
When she has nothing left but sniffles and hiccups, I sit carefully on the couch next to her, trying not to wake our sleeping child. I drape my arm around her shoulder, nestling her into my side.
"I'll do my best so you and Jazz have a Christmas, kay?"
She nuzzles her nose into the crook of my neck, and her sweet scent warms me. All of us are cold, and since propane is now a luxury, it's hard to keep the frigid temperatures outside. The combination of that and our limited ability to buy food and necessities has us at a disadvantage and a little bit on edge.
She nods. My sweet Angel Face, my Bella, always believing I can make a miracle out of thin air, only because it's happened before. Four years ago, after she found out she was pregnant with Jazz, she was put on bed rest. I had gotten a raise and medical insurance, so we no longer had to worry about the loss of her income. But now, with me being let go from my steady job, I'm not as optimistic. I have two weeks to make sure Jazz and Bella have a Christmas. No matter how small, they still deserve it: a tree, a few gifts, but most of all a holiday dinner on the table. If all else fails, I'll swallow my pride and take them to the Lord's Diner on Christmas day. It's not ideal, but there's no way in hell I'm going to let them go without a hot meal.
"I love you, Edward," she whispers.
"Love you more." Kissing the top of her head and then standing, I tuck the blanket around her shoulders, making sure she's warm.
Before I leave the house in hopes of making a few bucks, I bend down, giving Jasper a gentle kiss on his forehead.
"I'll be a little late tonight. Go ahead and have dinner without me."
I zip my coat and pull the wool hat over my ears before grabbing my sack lunch and heading to the bus stop.
When I get to the temp agency, I sign in at the front desk and take a seat in the stale smelling front area.
There's tension in the air.
We're all in the same boat.
No jobs or money, just looking to support our families, everyone here is desperate. Too many men and a few women bide their time, waiting for potential employers to come by looking for help. We are all hoping for the same thing, a job lasting longer than the normal day or two.
I take a seat next to a guy named Garrett. He's been here every day too. We've talked a little bit about our former jobs and both of us have shared a few personal details, but that's it. He seems okay. He's a single father, but his kids live with their mother. Like me, he just wants to be able to provide some sort of Christmas for them—and keep the bills paid
"I understand, man. I promised my wife there'd be a Christmas." I grimace, not exactly sure how I was going to pull it off.
I open the brown paper sack and retrieve the peanut butter and jelly sandwich Bella had packed me for my lunch. Starving, I inhale the sandwich in four bites. I really need more food, but knowing Bella would sacrifice some, if not all, of her already small portions of food, I wouldn't dream of complaining. She and Jazz need it more than I do.
"Masen?" Aro calls from the front desk.
I perk up, my heart skipping a beat at hearing my name called, but the excitement only lasts for a moment.
"You do electrical work?"
"No, Sir." My shoulders slump as I release the breath I held in my lungs. I mutter, cursing silently for a missed opportunity.
Riley, another guy that has been here all week, pipes up saying he can do the job. I'm happy he gets the work, but I'm feeling pretty fucking sorry for myself.
The same thing happens all week. Either I'm not qualified or my name is too far down the list to be called when work is being handed out.
Another week passes.
I've landed a couple of short assignments, but mostly I've been sitting here in the waiting area, praying I'll catch a break.
It's times like these I wish I still had my cell phone so I could call Bella and check in with her. We had stopped service on our phones, along with cutting back on a lot of other things, when I lost my job. Even the little bit of money we had saved for car repairs had to go to making our house payment this month.
At five I leave the agency, catching a bus downtown to the plasma center. Donating has afforded us a few bucks for Ramen, peanut butter, bread, and milk for Jazz. I've been here a few times over the past couple of weeks, and I'll keep coming until something else pans out.
My eyes are closed with my head resting on the reclining chair. I'm trying to block out the holiday music playing in the background. It makes it worse, the happy lyrics and upbeat melodies. The music reminds me of the things I cannot provide for my family. Thoughts of inadequacy cloud my brain; I'm consumed with our predicament because until I find a job, things won't get better.
I slowly tilt my face toward the voice on my left, barely opening one eye. I'm not in the mood for a conversation, but the elderly gentleman's blue eyes catch mine, so I answer. "You could say that." I close my eyes once more, blocking out the other people in the room. I go back to my not so happy place … thinking about how to make more money.
"I see," the gentleman says, pausing for a few brief seconds while whistling the chorus of Jingles Bells. "I remember when I was a young man just like you. Ran cattle, worked on my family's ranch, and being exhausted at the end of the day. Aww… yep, those were the days."
Not being in the mood to reminisce with the old guy. I roll my eyes under my lids before I say, "I lost my job."
The last thing I want is to partake in a conversation with a stranger at a plasma center. I'm irritated that I'm here and not home. I want my wife wrapped in my arms with Jazz on my lap, reading Christmas stories until he falls asleep. To make things worse, it's getting late, and I know Bella will start worrying.
I worry about her too. We really hadn't planned to have another baby, but it isn't unwelcomed. During Bella's first pregnancy the doctors discovered she has an incompetent cervix, requiring her to take a leave of absence from her job. And this time is no different. This surprise pregnancy ended up with her having to take a leave of absence from Newton's department store, which was fine until I lost my job.
I need to get home, but I also need the fifty bucks that donating brings.
Ten minutes or so go by and I start feeling bad for being an ass to the old guy. He hadn't done anything other than try to start a friendly conversation with me. His melodic whistling resonates in my ears, almost soothing me now.
I look at him with apologetic eyes and notice a jovial smile on his face. "Hey, I'm sorry for being short earlier."
His face is creased with wrinkles, most likely from the amount of time he's spent out in the sun in his younger years. A respectable amount of white facial hair covers his cheeks and chin. His eyes have a youthful sparkle, still lively, even though he is up there in years. He isn't frail; actually, he looks burly and is dressed in a red and blue plaid shirt that hugs his plump torso. He has on worn leather cowboy boots with his jeans.
He smiles and shakes his head. "Don't apologize. Most people that come here need money for one reason or another. I'm just here to honor my wife. God rest her soul."
"Oh man, I'm sorry," I utter, suddenly feeling sorry for him.
He shakes his head again, holding his fingers up off the arm of the chair in an 'it's okay' gesture. "She fought her illness for quite a few years, and then one day, I went out to feed cattle and when I came inside to fix our lunch, she had already passed. She looked so peaceful though. I thought she was asleep. Didn't realize she was gone until I went to wake her. That was fifteen years ago."
I can't find appropriate words to say. I feel like a total ass for being such a dick. I make a silent vow to myself to be kinder in the future because you never know what someone else is going through. Their story could be worse than your own.
He speaks with a distant look in his eyes. "Although we never had children, we were very happy. We had a fantastic life together." A melancholy smile tugs at his rosy lips. "Making memories is important. You can tuck them away and enjoy them whenever you get the urge to revisit the past."
I nod, agreeing. I had a feeling he was remembering his wife at this very moment.
"You got a wife?" he asks.
"I do, a son, too, and a daughter on the way."
I'd agree with him if only our financial situation was better. I'd always thought I was the luckiest man alive, with the greatest wife a guy could ask for and a happy, healthy son. We haven't ever been rich by any means, but we had always been able to put food on the table and pay our bills.
I'm convinced meeting Bella was fate.
When I was driving home I noticed a girl on the side of the road, standing next to her car. The air was thick with humidity, and she was wiping her brow with the back of her hand. Her slim, tan belly peeked out from under her tank top when she clasped her hair between her fingers, bringing it up off her neck. With the sun setting behind her, the messy bun looked like a halo sitting on top of her head. Immediately I thought of her as an angel. As I slowed down, my conscious took over. I couldn't drive past a female needing help at nightfall, especially an angel in distress. I pulled my truck over to give her a hand, never imagining I'd fall in love. But the moment I came face to face with her, I was sure that God had placed her in my path for a reason. She was unbelievable; I'd never seen such beautiful eyes: light brown with flecks of green and gold. She was a tiny thing, only reaching the middle of my chest. At first, she was wary of a stranger coming to her aid— timid, wringing her hands as I introduced myself. I kept a few feet between us, not wanting to scare her, and offered to run to get gas so she could get on her way. After a few seconds, she admitted she was on her way to her parents, just passing through and had no other option than to accept my help. Her cell phone was dead, and she was unfamiliar to the area.
As soon as we got the gas for her car, she asked if there was somewhere nearby where she could get some food. As it turned out, my favorite diner was just down the street. We both ended up in a booth enjoying one another's company and exchanging phone numbers before we parted. Shortly thereafter, we ended up in the same town, the same apartment and then married a short while later.
The rest is history.
"Not so lucky at the moment though," I mutter, more to myself than to my new friend sitting nearby.
"By the way, I'm Carlisle."
"I'm Edward. Nice to meet ya."
We continue to talk for the duration of our time, and I find myself getting lost in his stories. It doesn't bother me as much being here now that my new friend is taking my mind off my troubles. He's lived all over the world, but his favorite place is here in Oklahoma, running his ranch.
When we're finished donating, I pull my hat over my head and fasten my coat, so I can brave the wait at the bus stop. Carlisle and I shake hands and go our separate ways.
The bus is running late, and snow has accumulated since this morning, making the streets harder to navigate. Snowflakes still fall from the snow-bright sky and it's bitter cold.
I yearn to get home.
When the bus finally arrives, I let the woman who has made her way with two small children go before me. She fumbles with her bag with the younger of the two children on her hip as she digs in her purse to find the fare. I rock back and forth on my feet, trying to stay warm; the tips of my toes tingle, going numb. The wind sifts through my outer clothing, chilling me to the bone. I wonder briefly how long a person can last in these elements, and I decide not long at all. I see the driver shake his head and hear the panic in the woman's voice as she tells the driver she can't find enough change.
"Here ya go." I reluctantly hand over the last of my change. At this point, the two kids are crying, faces red, runny noses smeared on their chapped cheeks. God forbid that Bella was ever in her position, I would want someone to help her. So I give my last dime to help the woman and start walking home.
I make it a few blocks when I hear tires crunching against the snow covered street, and I see headlights illuminate my darkened path. I'm nervous at first until I see Carlisle pull up beside me, yelling over the rumble of his truck and the whipping wind.
"Hop in, Edward. I'll take you home."
I don't think twice, my body seeking shelter from the hideous cold. My feet are nearly frozen, and my fingers barely move even though I have them sunk deep within my coat pockets. My face is stinging from the icy temperature and my eyes water, blurry from the relentless weather.
Once I'm inside the cab of the truck, I'm shaking uncontrollably. I need this refuge from the cold, so Carlisle turns the heat full blast, helping to warm me.
"Thanks." I manage to mumble through frozen lips and chattering teeth.
"You miss the bus?"
"Naw." I groan out, barely able to speak.
"You're a good man, Edward. Just point me in the right direction."
I nod. I can do that. My home is fifteen minutes away, and by the time we're pulling into my driveway, I've thawed enough to thank Carlisle.
"Take care," he says as my feet hit the snow-covered ground, the wind once again whipping around me. I trudge the thirty feet up the walkway to the house, ready to see my family.
Bella pulls open the door just as my hand touches the knob. She's wrapped in a blanket with her winter hat snuggly on her head. Concern is deeply etched on my face, but I give her a kiss and then turn, waving to Carlisle as he pulls out of the driveway. I quickly shut the door behind us, kicking off my boots and hanging my coat and hat on the hook by the door.
"Angel Face." My voice is laced with worry at seeing her dressed as she is. "Is it colder now than when I left this morning?" I ask, not really wanting to hear the answer but already knowing what she will say.
I barely see her head move when she nods since the blanket covers her ears.
"I turned the oven on for about thirty minutes tonight and cracked the door to help Jazz keep warm while he ate his dinner."
Taking her in my arms and nuzzling my nose into the soft yarn of her hat, I ask. "Did you eat?"
"A little. I wasn't hungry … I was worried about you." Her voice trembles.
I sigh deeply. "I was at the plasma center."
She shivers. "And someone brought you home?"
"Yeah." Rubbing my hands over Bella's blanket-covered arms, I look at my son, already asleep on the couch. This situation is devastating; it's about to break me. "Come on, let's go to bed."
I gently pick up Jazz and carry him to our room. We've all been sharing a bed since we can't afford propane for the furnace; we're worried our son will get too cold during the night.
The three of us are cozy under the thick comforter and blankets we have tucked in around us. Jazz sleeps peacefully sandwiched between us. We face one another, and I run my fingers through her silky hair.
I keep my voice low. "You know I'm doing everything I can, right?"
I feel her head move, nodding. "I know, baby."
"I hate this for you and Jazz." I pause, swallowing back a thick lump burning in my throat. "Christmas shouldn't be like this." I feel tears prick at my eyes; I'm thankful the room is pitch-black, so Bella can't see my tough exterior crumble. I've always been her rock, and she needs to be able to lean on me and trust that things will be all right, but I feel as though I'm nearing a breakdown.
"I don't need stuff, Edward. I need you and Jazz and … some heat." She scoots closer to Jazz, who is curled into the front of me, draping her arm over my side.
I lean forward, kissing Bella and then our son.
"Sweet dreams, Angel Face.
Tomorrow's a new day."
The next week goes by as the previous ones have. I make the commute to ManPower and work a few days here and there. Some of the employers that I help are interested in hiring a few of us after the first of the year. It isn't going to help my current situation or the fact that Christmas is only two days away, but my spirits are lifted just thinking that a job may be within my reach.
I catch the bus once more to the plasma center and decide that afterward I'll stop at Walmart and buy Jazz and Bella something small for Christmas morning. I'm even resigned to the fact that we'll be having Christmas dinner at the Lord's Diner, but my outlook has improved. I smile at the people around me, putting good energy out there. And I've been thanking God that I've been blessed with an amazing family. However, most of all I'm appreciative that we're in good health.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I choose to make the best of our situation.
Carlisle is already in the room donating when Victoria, the nurse, takes me to the chair next to his. Over the past couple of weeks, Carlisle and I have donated on the same days, and I find that I look forward to his company. His stories are captivating and I've even opened up to him about not being able to find a job. He always says to keep the faith and something good will come along and things will get better. He seemswise, and I appreciate his kind words.
They've boosted my moral lately.
Today, when I tell Carlisle where I'm going after I'm finished here, he offers to take me and seems excited when I don't turn him down.
Walmart is bustling, packed with shoppers grabbing up last minute gifts. I'm not sure what I want to get my son, so Carlisle and I walk up and down the crowded toy aisles until I spot the perfect gift, an I Spy Preschool game. It's on sale for fifteen dollars, but I figure we can play as a family and have fun together time and time again.
"Perfect," Carlisle says. "Now what for your little lady?"
"I want to get one more thing for Jasper. I think a bag of his favorite cookies, and then I'd like to find a book for Bella." I smile. Christmas cheer is spreading through my veins, and I blame the holiday music filtering through the overhead sound system, but whatever the case, I'm ready to choose Bella's gift, and I'm happy.
The book section isn't huge, but it's too big for a guy that knows nothing about them. I look at the covers, trying to choose something that appeals to me, but soon Carlisle starts asking questions.
"Is she into Adventure? Romance? Mystery?"
"Most definitely romance." I think about how Bella loved it when I'd bring her flowers or write notes, leaving them for her to find.
Carlisle tips his head in the direction of the romance section, and I follow him like a puppy.
"Here ya go." He points, and I scan three shelves of Harlequins and other lovey-dovey looking books.
"Hmm, this one looks interesting." I pick up a book with a muscled man on the cover holding a woman in his arms, protecting her from who-knows-what. It oozes romance, and I think Bella will love it. "I wanna get her some chocolate covered cherries, too," I say, and Carlisle claps me on my back as we walk out of the book section.
As luck would have it there's a table set up with gift wrappers dressed in elf outfits. It'sby donation only, so I throw a dollar in the collection can for them to wrap the four little gifts I have purchased. I choose the shiny red paper with mistletoe printed on it for Bella's packages. Usually, I hang a sprig of real mistletoe in one of our doorways, but this year the paper will have to symbolize our usual tradition.
Carlisle buys us cups of coffee while we wait, chatting until they are finished. I'm proud of myself for having their gifts wrapped and can't wait to get home.
As we're driving, I see something laying in the road, and I ask Carlisle to pull over. It's perfect for Bella and Jasper, so I hop out before he has a chance to completely stop and throw my surprise in the bed of the truck.
"You're a good man, Edward," Carlisle says to me when we pull into my driveway.
"You're a pretty good guy yourself. Thanks for hanging out with me tonight. I enjoyed it."
Grabbing my packages and the surprise I found on the road, I jog carefully through the snow up to the house. It's dark when I open the front door—I imagine both Bella and Jazz are sound asleep. I flick the kitchen light on, so I can find what I'm looking for and then set up my surprise.
I crawl into bed and place kisses on their foreheads before drifting off into a slumber, filled with all things magical.
A house with heat.
A car that runs.
Food in the cupboards.
A stable job for me.
I'm roused out of sleep with tiny fingers twisting through my hair and big eyes staring into mine.
"I love you, Daddy."
Placing my nose on Jasper's, I give him Eskimo kisses. "I love you too, big boy." I close my eyes again and hug my son close to my chest. "I have a surprise for you and Mommy," I say.
His voice rises with excitement. "What is it?"
Bella lifts her head off the pillow and leans her cheek in the palm of her hand. "Surprise?"
I can't contain my smile. "Yes, I have a few surprises for my lovely wife and adorable son." I tickle Jasper's side as I say it.
"When do we get these surprises?" Bella cocks a brow, the corner of her mouth turning up into a smile.
"One today and the others will have to wait until tomorrow on Christmas Day."
"You didn't buy gifts did you?" Bella's features pinch into worry. "Cause … I didn't get you anything."
"Angel Face." I cup her cheek in my hand. "The only thing I want is for you two to be happy." I give her a wink, and she smiles sweetly.
"Let's go, Daddy. I wanna surprise."
Chuckling, happy that I'm able to put a smile on my child's face, we all crawl out of bed and bundle up in warm clothes before going to the living room. I can't help but look at their faces when they see what I have waiting for them.
Jasper runs to the coffee table where I have a vase with the pine branch stuck in it, the one I picked up off the road last night.
Bella curls into my chest with her arms around the small of my back, hugging me. I drape my arm over her shoulder and lightly rub her swollen belly with the other.
"Edward. It's lovely."
My subtle but heart-felt gesture is making a difference at this moment, and my chest swells with happiness.
"And they're pwesents too," Jasper shouts, bouncing up and down in front of the makeshift tree with the four small gifts I bought them.
"Yep, and you, little guy …" I pick him up and toss him over my shoulder, tickling his sides. "… will have to wait until tomorrow morning to open your two gifts. The tree is today's surprise."
"I getted two?"
"Of course you do. You've been a very good boy this year." I toss him in the air and then place him on the couch.
Bella's clutching her hands under her chin, her eyes shining with unshed tears. Lately, she's been emotional because ofthe pregnancy and with me losing my job.
"Come on, Angel Face, let's fix some breakfast." I turn on the TV for Jasper and then take her hand.
Our oatmeal is bubbly and almost ready when I tell Bella about my plan to take them to the Lord's Diner tomorrow. Her eyes flicker to mine and her lip immediately finds purchase under her teeth.
She shakes her head and then pours piping hot oatmeal into three bowls.
I rest my chin on her shoulder and hug her very pregnant belly. "I promise next year will be better. I can feel it, Angel Face." I kiss her neck and then set our breakfast on the table.
Since it's Christmas Eve, I don't go to the agency. Instead, I stay home and all three of us cuddle on the couch for a few hours. Jasper is full of questions about what's inside the wrapped packages, to which I keep telling him he'll have to wait one more night until he can open them. He asks about Santa and if he's going to visit our house, and I have to tell him that Santa is very busy and he might just have to visit next year. I feel horrible for lying to him, wishing I could tell him that Santa is really Mommy and Daddy and they can't afford Christmas this year, but he's three and doesn't understand. The only reason he even knows about Santa is from the books Bella and I have been reading to him.
"Jazzy, you want to help me with something?" Bella asks, standing, holding her hand out for him to take a hold.
"Where are we going?"
"We're going to make Daddy something for Christmas."
"Okay. I wanna do it. I wanna make a picture."
I chuckle; he's so sweet and innocent. My family is perfect in every way.
Bella smiles and sighs heavily. "Okay, let's make Daddy a picture." She dips her head down, her lips brushing against mine. "You didn't hear that. Okay?"
I cup her chilly cheeks in my hands, pressing my lips firmly on hers. "Didn't hear a thing, Angel Face." Her kiss lingers on my lips as I stretch out on the couch watching the rest of It's a Wonderful Life.
After dinner and another Christmas movie, Jasper is asleep, so I take advantage of a few minutes alone with my wife.
"Wanna take a hot bath, and I'll join you?" I waggle my eyebrows. We haven't been spontaneous as of late, and we're supposed to refrain from sex because of the baby, but I can love her in other ways and I intend on showing her.
A coy smile plays on her face. "That'd be nice, Baby."
I get the bath running and place a few towels in the dryer. I don't want Bella catching cold.
"Here, let me." I lift the hem of her shirt, taking the flannel completely off and exposing her naked breasts. They're full and heavy in my hands when I cradle them in my palms. Her nipples harden as I glide my thumbs over them. "Mmm." I hum, sitting on the side of the tub, bringing her to stand in between my legs; her fingers weave through the hair just above my ears. "Your fucking tits," I say, sucking one in my mouth earning me a moan from Bella. I suck, tease and then release her nipple from between my teeth. My tongue makes a continuous circle, tracing the dusty pink area and every so often nipping at the hard peaks.
"Oh my God." She pants, tightening her grip on my hair, holding me in place. It's been too long since we've been intimate, and my dick strains at the top of my sweatpants.
I watch as my calloused hands slide languidly down her curvy sides, her soft skin my reward. My thumbs hook into the waistband of her pants, slowly taking them down along with her panties. I can't take my eyes off her. She's sexy as hell, nurturing my child within her, her tan fading into creamy ivory where her swimsuit covered last summer. My lips ache to make contact again, to kiss a path down her body, but instead I help her into the tub.
She holds my hand, gracefully dipping the toes of one foot in the bath, testing the water. Then the second foot enters. I quickly rid myself of my clothing and join my wife, sitting behind her and then lowering her down in front of me.
"We almost don't fit," she says, patting her belly.
"We fit just fine." My legs hook over hers making more room. My hands cup water letting it drip over her shoulders, leaving wet trails over the skin not submerged in the tub. "I've missed the feel of your skin, Angel Face." I smooth the cascading water over her belly and I'm gifted with the feel of little ripples under Bella's skin of our daughter moving, making herself present.
"I've missed our special times, too." She leans her head back on my chest, turning toward my neck. "I've been so stressed lately."
"I know and you're supposed to take it easy. I'm going to help you relax. Forget about our troubles while we're in here together, okay?"
"Okay." She kisses my jaw. "I love you."
"Love you, too."
I continue lightly touching her wet skin, both hands trailing down the middle of her round belly, then parting and circling upward when I feel the soft hair at her pubic bone. The repetitious movement of my hands relaxes her further into my chest, her head lulling to her shoulder. My lips kiss and my tongue skims the delicate skin on her neck. I watch her pert nipples harden even more, and I cradle her boobs, squeezing them together, gently lifting, and weighing them in my hands.
"You've always been a boob man," she says.
"And the problem is?" I tease.
"No problem. No problem at all." She wiggles her butt cheeks against my balls. My dick has been pressing into the small of her back the entire time we've been soaking. It's torture, but sex is off the table, so I inhale deeply every so often to quell my desire.
My hands leave her breasts, making their way under the water to the apex of her thighs. I can't do what I actually want to, but I stroke the fuzzy hair there with my fingers, twirling the pad of my index finger over her swollen folds, teasing her clit that hides underneath.
"I need you," she begs. My eyes close; I need more, too.
I whisper in her ear. "We can't. We shouldn't." The doctor said no sex until after the baby, and I can't let her persuade me otherwise. "Huh uh." My fingers stop caressing, not wanting to withdraw them, but I do when I hear a small tap at the bathroom door.
"I needa go potty." Jasper's tiny groggy voice sounds from behind the door.
Bella sticks her bottom lip out and huffs in mock disappointment. "No." She draws the word out quietly.
"All right, baby. Just one second," I say, lifting myself out of the water and grabbing the towel hanging on the rack. "Saved by the bell." I shrug, looking back at Bella.
Water trickles down my chest and back as I hurry, wrapping the towel around my waist in a mad dash to unlock the door.
"Here. Let Daddy help you." I hold onto my son, steadying his weary body so he can relieve himself. When he's finished, I help him wash his hands and then pick him up carrying him to our bed.
I speak over my shoulder as I walk out of the bathroom. "I'll grab the towels from the dryer, Angel Face. Relax. Enjoy the water while it's still warm."
We're all in bed, toasty, covers tucked in around our bodies, ready for a good night sleep. I rest my hand on Bella's hip, linking my fingers with hers, and drift off into a dream filled with all things wonderful.
In the morning, I'm kicking off covers, perspiration on my brow with my pajama pants sticking to my overheated skin. It's strange; I can't put my finger on anything because I'm barely awake, but I'm burning up and need a drink of water.
"Baby?" Bella's voice is thick with sleep.
"Yeah?" I answer, trying not to wake Jasper, but it's too late. He's wiping his hair from his forehead— blinking, his eyes starting to open.
"I think I'm coming down with something. I'm really warm."
I touch her cheeks with the back of my hand. "You're fine, Angel Face. I'm hot too, and so is Jazz."
I sit up, taking a minute to figure out what's going on. The room is comfortable, and our bodies are reacting to the warmth surrounding us, taunting us to peel away some layers.
But wait, how can our house be warm?
"Did Santa come?" Jasper sits alongside me, looking up with big eyes. "Maybe he bring'd us some warm."
"Maybe, Baby," Bella tells him, patting his back. "Let's get some breakfast."
When we open the bedroom door, we are greeted with the most amazing aromas. The first that hits me is roasted turkey. The savory smell of herbs and spices makes my stomach growl.
Our eyes are wide with wonder.
Bella and I look at each other, just standing, holding onto Jasper's hand, almost too afraid to move.
And then it hits me, sweet pumpkin with the harmonious fragrance of cinnamon and nutmeg wafting in the air.
I turn to Bella and mouth the words, Pumpkin Pie? She nods slowly with a look of confusion frozen on her beautiful face.
Our noses are not disappointed at the homey holiday smells that keep coming our way.
It brings a smile to my face.
Is this a Christmas miracle?
Are our parents here, surprising us, making dinner? It couldn't be. My parents have been in Africa, missionaries on a six-month hiatus from their jobs. Bella's parents aren't in good health, leaving home to visit isn't even a possibility, and the reason we haven't told them of our financial troubles. We planned to drive to Texas after the baby was born so they could meet her, and then we'd celebrate Christmas with them.
We creep to where the hallway meets our living room, woody pine heavy in the air. I look toward the coffee table where our Christmas branch acts as our tree, and I can't believe what I'm seeing. An enormous tree catches my eyes. Ornaments, tinsel and flickering lights welcome us—my branch insignificant in its presence, overshadowed by a tree, I cannot explain.
The much larger, prettier of the two is an astounding background to the measly branch I have stuck in a vase of water.
"Santa, bisited. Santa bisited," Jasper yells with delight. He's jumping up and down and then takes off toward the stockings hung on our imitation fireplace.
Bella takes off in the opposite direction, heading to the kitchen.
"Edward!" she yells. "Come here!" I flinch at her high-pitched command and jog her way.
"Angel Face. Is everyth…" I stop in my tracks when I see our kitchen counters lined with food. Pies cooling on wire racks, rolls in a basket, cookies in a cookie jar that I don't recognize, and much, much more.
"I'm … I …" She can't articulate and neither can I.
My taste buds tingle and my mouth drops open. I'm itching to taste a bite of everything I see taking up counter space in my kitchen.
We have no clue.
"Mommy! Daddy!" Jasper yells, bringing us out of our stunned state.
Grabbing hold of Bella's hand, I whisk her into the living room to check on Jazz.
"I gotted toys!" He squeals. He's riding on a miniature train with a conductor hat sitting cock-eyed on his little bed-head.
"Oh. My. Oh my gosh," Bella says.
We drop to our knees in front of our son. Thrilled he's happy and more thrilled that … Santa came?
My heart is thumping from excitement and wonder. I feel like a child again, although even my Christmases as a kid weren't this extravagant. Bella and I slowly scan the room, our eyes landing on wrapped gifts tucked under the tree.
"I don't even know what to say, Angel Face."
"Maybe there is a name on the packages?"
We fumble with the gifts, noticing that each of us have been remembered. Even the baby has gifts with her name on them. But what's strange is we haven't told anyone the name we have chosen.
To Alice … Love Santa
Tears lace Bella's lashes as she hugs the baby doll to her chest.
"I believe, Edward," she admits. "There's no other way to explain … this." She waves her hand toward the tree and then around the room.
I nod for lack of words.
Her voice lowers. "Maybe there really is a Santa."
"Sit down, Angel Face. Let's see what Santa brought us." I pass out the beautifully wrapped gifts, placing them in separate piles on the floor. Since Jasper is still playing with his train, Bella and I take turns opening ours.
We each have ten presents.
Large, medium, small and even a few in gift bags.
We smile as we open boxes containing new coats as well as an assortment of other items that seem to have been picked out just for us.
We're more than grateful to Santa or …whoever it was who gave us this wonderful Christmas complete with all the fixings for an incredible dinner.
Bella scoots closer to me and we watch Jasper move on to his stocking. He is pulling out goodies: small books, an orange, a toothbrush, socks, Disney figurines and more stuff that I can't keep track of.
"Lookie!" Jasper says after each item. We are laughing at his expressions of shock when he reaches his hand back in the stocking and continues to pull out more gifts, his mouth forming an O after each one.
Bella looks at me and asks, "You know … we have stockings, too. Wanna take a peek at them?" She sucks her bottom lip into her mouth and looks at me with wide eyes, literally like a child on Christmas morning.
I nod; I can't help the excitement bubbling within. "I'll get 'em." I jump up quickly and take them from the hooks, which also weren't there last night.
I hand Bella a red sparkly stocking with her name on it. Shiny beads have been sewn on it, making an angel. Her smile is brilliant when I hand it to her. It's heavy, stuffed full of things I'm sure she'll love.
My stocking has my name, and a Santa head made from beads and whatnot. It's light, not much sticking out of it or stuffed inside, but I don't care. This morning has been the best day in a very long time. My family wearing smiles is a gift within itself.
"You go first, Angel Face." I motion with my head. "Dig in." I smile when her eyes sparkle at the many little gifts that again have been chosen just for her. The bookstore gift card and the perfume are two of her favorites.
"You go, Edward," she says when she's finished, smoothing her hands over her tummy, leaning her back against the couch, her legs crossed at the ankles.
Jasper is still playing with the small items from his stocking and paying us no mind.
"All right." I reach my hand inside the stocking and take out an envelope with my name on it.
"What is that?" Bella questions.
I shrug. "I have no idea."
I carefully run my index finger under the flap, tearing it very carefully until I'm able to extract the card inside.
"Is there a name?"
"I don't know." When I open the card something falls out and floats like a feather to the floor. I leave it while I read the card.
"What's it say?" Bella asks.
"Oh. My. God. I think I know who did all this."
"Who?" She scoots close to me. "Your parents?"
"Uh, uh." I shake my head.
I have no idea how he pulled this off, the food, the tree, the heat… everything. "Um, no," I reply my eyes never leaving his handwritten words.
This should help you make memories of a lifetime.
You're a good man.
"What fell out of the card?"
I had forgotten that something was in the card until Bella reminded me, so I pick it up from in between my crossed legs.
My heart nearly stops.
I grab my chest in utter shock and disbelief.
"Baby, you okay?" Bella's voice is laced with concern, her hand squeezing my shoulder.
I nod and keep nodding as I hand the cashier's check to my wife.
She speaks slowly, her voice shaking, tears start making their way down her cheeks.
"Five million dollars?"
"We can't keep this," I say.
"But who …?" Her eyes haven't left the check. As if we dare to look away, it might vanish.
Monday morning I don't bother going to ManPower. Instead, I wait and stew and wait some more until it's the time I usually go to the plasma center. I have the check wedged safely in my wallet with my hand holding it in my back pocket. I don't let go for fear something will happen to it.
We're not keeping his incredibly generous gift.
There's no way.
I just can't.
I arrive and sign in, and when my name is called, I hurry to where I hope Carlisle is sitting, donating. I scan the room, but he's not in any of the chairs. He's always here. It's like he knows I'll be here and he's just … here …
He's been our angel in disguise this entire time, and I didn't even know it until a few days ago.
"Vicky, have you seen Carlisle today?"
"Who?" She looks confused.
"Carlisle, the old man that usually sits next to me when I'm here?"
"You mean, Paschal?"
"No, Carlisle. Stout guy, belly out to here." I motion with my hands.
"Edward, that's Paschal Baylon." She says, walking to the door to retrieve her supplies.
I'm more confused than ever before.
The library is quiet. Not because it's a library, but because I seem to be one of three people here today. I decided to Google Paschal's name. I had to figure out how to get in touch with him and find out exactly who Carlisle … I mean Paschal is.
My foot bounces under the computer table as I login.
This information is critical.
There's no way I'm cashing a fake check. If it's some sort of sick joke, I don't want to be arrested for trying to pass it off as authentic. Bella and I are still reeling over the Christmas he provided to us. The money, although extremely exciting, isn't necessary.
I carefully peck the letters of his name into the search bar. The name Paschal Baylon immediately pops up so I click on the first one.
When it's done loading, my breath hitches and my heart pounds in a thunderous rhythm under my ribs.
My eyes surely aren't deceiving me when I read:
Paschal Baylon, Saint of Wealth.
It was then I knew that we'd received a true Christmas miracle. I knew my family would flourish and that Carlisle—Paschal—would be one of the memories that I would keep tucked away and enjoy.
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