I own no rights to the Twilight Universe.

This story would be crap without Vagabonda, Beachcomberlc and IpsitaC77, like steaming, stick to your shoes crap.

Chapter 5

Edward was a bit shocked that she went ahead and made a meal. The last two hours had been spent unloading the cart and tending to the nightly chores. He worked methodically, trying not to rush because he wasn't sure how to talk to the woman in his house. Edward tried to think of what she might be doing, and fretted about the mess he had left behind in the kitchen that morning. However, at least he had bought some savoury hand-pies at Newton's for dinner. He'd forgotten to tell Isabella about them and sheepishly handed the pies to her before sitting down to a hot meal.

It had been a very long time since Edward had eaten a meal that was still hot. Since Rachel's death, by the time he'd finished cooking the damn thing and getting it set out, Jasper would need help cutting or eating. Emmett would then demand six different things from him that Edward hadn't thought to bring to the table. By the time the boys had been satisfied, Edward's dinner had become cold and unappetizing. Although, to be honest, most times it was unappetizing long before it turned cold. Edward was not a cook. He didn't like doing it and would have been happy to have bread, cheese and cured meat for the rest of his life. However, the cheese ran out quickly after Rachel died. Edward couldn't make yeast bread, only soda bread and it wasn't nearly as good as Rachel's. Edward often forgot to soak the meat, so most meals were very salty. He took to throwing several things in a pot with a lot of water and hoped to find a reasonable soup or stew at the end of the day. They had no choice but to eat it. The pigs did well over the winter with the leftovers of unpalatable dinners, but Edward lost a few pounds.

He was further surprised by Isabella's dinner for it had never occurred to him to serve breakfast foods for dinner. Edward could have saved himself a time or two if he'd just served eggs instead of those disgusting soups. Isabella's biscuits were very light, flaky and some of the best he'd had in years. Edward mentioned that to her but he didn't convey his sentiments properly.

'Rachel never made biscuits like this,' was how it came out, but he meant to say they were wonderful. He frowned when Isabella apologised and promised to do a better job next time. He thought to himself for a bit, wondering if there was a better way to phrase it, when Emmett piped up with his own opinion.

"Mama made eggs and bacon for breakfast, not for dinner."

Isabella was still standing at the stove with the frying pan full of more food to serve them. Edward was further troubled by both the boy's tone and her quick apologies.

"Mama is gone, Emmett. Isabella is here now and she might do things differently, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. Give her time." Emmett huffed and asked to be excused from the table. Edward allowed him to go and he ran out of the house.

Edward didn't notice the plate Bella had prepared for herself and how it went untouched until after he and Jasper had finished. Bella rushed to clear Emmett's plate; despite his complaints, his plate was cleaned of every crumb. She cut Jasper's bacon into small pieces and spread both butter and jam on his biscuits for him. Edward's glass was never empty and the second he had finished his third helping, a steaming cup of tea was placed in front of him. He was pleased as all get-out as he eased his chair back and rubbed his stomach. He caught his youngest son's eye and was graced with a very happy, smiling Jasper. His mouth was jammy and there were traces of scrambled egg in his hair, but Edward hadn't seen his boy this happy in months. Isabella snuck up behind the messy boy and Jasper let out a squeal of delight when she wiped his face, hands and hair with a warm washcloth. Jasper ran off to play, cheerfully. She rinsed the rag and handed it to Edward so he could wash a bit as well. Rachel never did that either. Edward started thinking that maybe this new woman wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. They just needed a little time to get used to each other.

Edward sat back and watched as the girl washed-up and tidied the kitchen while sneaking bites of her own dinner. He didn't know why Isabella didn't sit at the table to eat with them or even after they had finished, but didn't think to ask or offer it as a possibility. Perhaps it was the way she was raised. He decided he'd ask one day if it continued. Sighing, belly full and content, Edward got up and walked over to his chair on the other side of the room. He grabbed his pipe and tobacco pouch from a small basket on the fireplace mantle and sat heavily in his stuffed chair. He didn't smoke often, only after a particularly hard day or a really good meal.

"Is there anything else I can get for you, Mister?" Bella's voice interrupted a daydream and Edward's eyes flew open.

"No, Isabella, but Jasper needs to get to bed and Emmett needs to come in for the night. If you ready the little one, I'll get the big boy from outside."

Edward pushed himself up and yelled for Emmett when he reached the door.

Jasper was found on his side of the boys' room playing with some wooden animals. He offered no resistance when Bella mentioned bedtime. She helped him dress and wash before tucking him into bed. Jasper grabbed her with his arms tight around her neck and held on for a long time. Bella cupped the back of his head and gently stroked his hair until he let her go. She kissed his forehead and wished him a good night. She left the door ajar and nodded to Edward when she came out of the room. A few minutes later she could hear Edward reading to Jasper in soft tones.

Emmett stood by the ladder to the loft, his arms crossed over his chest and his chin jutting out.

"You're just a servant," he hurled at Bella.

"Yes, I know."

"You're not my mama."

"I know."

"You're never going to be my mama."

"I know. I'm here to look after you like a mother would but I'm not here to replace her. I was hoping we could be friends." Bella took a step closer to him as Edward came out of the boys' room.

"Time for bed, son. Lots of work tomorrow." Either Edward didn't notice, or he didn't care about the hostile stance of his son towards Bella. He walked to the fire, adding a couple of thick pieces of wood to burn until morning.

Emmett disappeared into the boys' bedroom with his arms still crossed. A soft 'Goodnight, Papa' was heard as he closed the door. Edward finished with the fire and walked into the other room, leaving Bella alone in the main room. She looked up at the loft and wondered how she was to get her things up there by herself, deciding it would take many trips. She took a few of the heavier things out of the carpet bag and reached for the ladder as Edward came out of the main bedroom with a huge bundle of blankets and a thick pillow.

"It's not the cleanest, but all we've got for now. I'll camp out by the fire for the time being." He motioned for Bella to take the bedroom he had just come from and began to make a pallet by the fire for himself.

She didn't argue. Bella grabbed her carpet bag and basket and closed the door behind her before the tears could fall from her eyes. The whole day had been overwhelming and she could only hold onto the emotion for so long. Bella wasn't prone to tears; in fact she was known to be stoic and strong, but the culmination of the last few years' events weighed heavily on her tonight. She hadn't had a home to call her own, not that she could claim ownership of this house, but she hadn't even had four walls and a bed to herself in a very long time. Dealing with the master of the house was well worth the feeling. The bed hadn't been made that morning and the sheets sorely needed a good wash. Looking about, she could see the floors were screaming for a scrub and there was a layer of dust on every surface. Nevertheless, Bella found the room to be cosy and homey, more so than any place she'd slept in for a long while. She fell onto the bed, fully clothed, and slept like the dead all night.

Odd noises woke Bella the next morning. Noises she wasn't accustomed to hearing. Animals lowing, baying, and grunting were much different to wake to than the sounds of wagons and town life. She sat bolt upright and used one hand to brush back the mop of hair that had escaped its bun during the night. It took only a moment to remember where she was. Bella freed the rest of her hair and smoothed it as best she could with her fingers. She shook the wrinkles from her skirts and opened the bedroom door. No one was in the main room and the front door was open. After a quick trip to the outhouse, she searched for the mister and the children. All three were to be found in the barn.

"Oh, there you are. You slept a long time, but I guess you needed it." Edward nodded to her.

"I'm sorry, I had no idea of the time. I'll get breakfast started right away." Bella turned to rush back to the house.

"Already had it. You should eat plenty, too. You're a bit too thin for hard farm work. Need some hearty eating to help you work stronger, thicken you up a bit."

"Oh, then I'll start the chores. I'll get to the milking." Bella was becoming concerned.

"Done it, pigs too." Edward spoke again.

Bella's concern was escalating to panicked embarrassment. "My apologies, Mister Masen. I've failed at my job, I won't let it happen again." Bella hung her head and waited for a reprimand.

"I guess it'll take some time to get used to the rhythm of the farm. You've got a lot to learn." He knocked a chunk of dirt off his boots with the rake he was holding, concentrating on that instead of her.

"Yes, sir."

Edward walked into the springhouse and brought out two buckets, handing both to Bella. One was full of milk, the other an empty slop bucket. He looked at her oddly when she thanked him.

"I can keep Jasper with me today and Emmett can skip his schooling while you get ready. Rachel always used to bring lunch out to us when the weather was nice. We'll be down by the creek fishing for dinner, so you won't have to worry about that too much." Edward turned heel and strode away.

"All right, then." Bella said to herself and picked up the buckets. She made it to the house without spilling a drop, a feat for which she congratulated herself.

Step one was to heat the last of the coffee Edward had left behind. After breakfast she would clean, tidy and air the house, while making bread and fixing a picnic lunch for the males.

Step two was to braid her hair. When that was done, she could really get to the work at hand.

The morning flew by. Bella easily found the line Mrs. Masen used to dry clothes and had all the blankets from the beds hanging out, airing. She found new sheets for the boys' beds and changed those; tomorrow or the next day she'd set to washing every bit of fabric she could find. Bread was rising and some dried apples were soaking to make a crumble for dessert. She couldn't imagine there were many sweets made over the last few months since Mrs. Masen's death. She couldn't picture the mister making cakes or pies for his boys. The cellar was well stocked for this time of year; there were plenty of preserves, jams and such. Quart jars of baked beans, stewed tomatoes and various pickled vegetables lined the shelves. There were more of some vegetables than others, as if the mister had cherry-picked the ones he liked and left the rest for a last resort. Bella wondered if he knew to rinse and soak some of the vegetables to rid them of their brine before adding them to his soups or stews. Probably not. She could picture some of the truly odd-tasting meals he would have had to eat over the last few months. No wonder he looked pinched and thin, and here he was bothering her about her slenderness. At least her size was natural; she'd always been slim and able to eat as she pleased without fear of becoming fat. A few weeks of good cooking would help and perhaps improve the temper of the older son, too. Bella may not have grown up cooking, but having to learn out of necessity was a very strict teacher and she took pride in being able to cook well. After all, she had fed her father using only a campfire for months.

Bella found some potatoes and grabbed a jar of carrots to accompany the fish the men were planning to catch. She put the finishing touches on the basket filled with the hand-pies the mister had bought as well as a few other choice morsels. She'd packed a selection to take to the creek, not knowing what he preferred. Slipping on her boots, Bella latched the front door and started her walk to serve up lunch. She stepped back to look at the house. It was plain. Maybe she could add a flower bed or box to the front to liven the place up a bit. She could plant some flowering herbs to serve a dual purpose, or triple if they were insect-repellant at the same time. She'd have to see about that once her new family had warmed to her a bit.

AN: This story is loosely based on the film, Rachel and The Stranger, RKO Radio Pictures c. 1948.

Thank you for reading.