A/N: So, I think this will be three sweet chapters, hopefully done before Christmas.
Thank you to my group for helping me name Edward's sweetie.
Happy Holidays to all of you.
Edward ran his hand through his hair, frustrated. Brows furrowed, he tapped another response out on his cell phone. It was, he knew, an exercise in futility. He'd been having this argument with Rosalie for the last year with no success.
A small form barreling into him at waist level distracted him from his phone. His hard expression melted into an inevitable smile at the face staring up at him. Hadley was back. His daughter cocked her head, looking at him with concern etched on her tiny, beatific face. He put his arm around her, looking up to acknowledge Jasper and Alice as they came up at a much more measured pace.
"What's wrong?" she signed, eyes narrowed with concern and her tiny mouth pursed. "Why mad?"
He had to work to keep the frown off his face. He tried his best not to let his daughter see his frequent fights with her mother. "Not mad." He made a point of putting on his brightest smile.
"Yes," she insisted. "Your face." Hadley twisted her features, furrowing her brow deep and pouting in her imitation of what his face looked like before she'd run at him.
The adults all laughed, and Edward ran his fingers down her face. "Not mad," he signed again. He pointed all around them at the bright decorations all around the mall. "Christmas. Merry." He looked up at Alice and Jasper. "Who could be mad at Christmas?"
His sister quirked an eyebrow at him. "Anyone who had to talk to Rosalie Hale. That's the face you always make when you're talking to her."
Edward grimaced and glanced at his daughter who had, of course, not reacted to her aunt's words. Still, Edward didn't like Alice talking like Hadley wasn't there just because she couldn't hear. "Nothing new," he said, keeping his tone even and his face free of his frustration and irritation.
Hadley tugged on his arm, looking up at him in expectation. "Santa?" Her eyes were wide with excitement and her mouth turned up in a grin full of teeth.
"As my princess wishes," Edward said, but he only had enough sign to say, "Yes," and offer his hand. Still, it was just as good to Hadley, she grabbed his hand, yanking in that excited way children did, and started hauling him in the direction of Santa. He pulled her to a gentle stop and pointed at Alice and Jasper. "Say goodbye," he admonished gently.
Hadley let go of him and flung herself first into her uncle's and then her aunt's arms. They got big kisses goodbye.
"Do me a favor," Jasper said, extending a hand for Edward to shake goodbye.
"What's that?" But even as he asked, Edward felt his brother-in-law press something into his hand. He grimaced, knowing right off it was a folded up bill. "Jasper."
"Get the deluxe photo package. I want a new picture for my desk." He winked at Alice. "All the girls at the office will stop by just to look at her."
Edward pressed his lips together, wanting to argue. But, he knew the deluxe photo package came with a stocking Hadley would get a kick out of. He ducked his head and nodded. "Okay."
Alice looked like she was about to give him another pep talk about not being ashamed to accept help, particularly from family. Edward picked Hadley up, propping her on his hip before his sister could start. "See you at Mom and Dad's this weekend." He turned, walking away and pointing out a window display for his daughter's amusement.
They found the line for Santa easily enough. Edward set Hadley down as they got in line. He watched the child at the front of the line run at Santa and the animated conversation that followed. He frowned, not for the first time wondering if this was the right thing to do.
The last thing Edward wanted was for Hadley to miss out on anything. She had recently turned four. This was the first year she was really aware of some Christmas traditions like Santa. But his princess was also Deaf. This experience wasn't going to be the same for her as it was for everyone else in this line.
But Hadley seemed unconcerned. She was excited as any other child, bouncing in place and talking just as animatedly, only quieter. Edward tried not to think of Hadley's mother—the biggest reason their sign conversations were so rough and rudimentary. A lot of the signs they used were made up on the spot—more of a game of Charades than an actual language. They were regulated to whatever Edward had taught himself and then taught her. He worked. A lot. Learning to sign was difficult when he fell asleep at his computer.
The upside to their slow conversations was how much standing-in-line time got eaten up, Edward reflected. Hadley asked where the reindeer were, and it took him a while to tell her a tall tale about reindeer games using only the signs they both knew and a few made up ones in between. By the time he was done, Hadley was giggling and they were at the front of the line.
Edward sent up a prayer to whomever was listening that they would get through this with a minimum amount of awkwardness and no one being a dick to his daughter.
"Ho ho ho. Who have we here? What's your name, little one?" Santa asked as Hadley clambered up onto his lap.
Hadley paid him no mind. She was used to the fact hearing people couldn't understand her anymore than she could understand them, and interacted with them only minimally. Edward was almost amused, realizing she just wanted a picture. She looked to the elf with the camera and waved animatedly.
Santa looked to Edward with a question in his soft, brown eyes. He was a skinny guy for a Santa, but that hardly mattered. "Hadley is deaf," Edward explained.
"Oh. I see. No trouble. Can she sign?" Santa asked.
Edward's eyebrows shot up, and he coughed on his surprise. "Uh. Yeah. Yes. Yes, a little."
Santa tapped on Hadley's shoulder to get her attention and signed to her. Edward's eyes stung as he watched his little girl's face light up.
This. Why couldn't Rosalie see this? Hadley was so much happier when someone spoke to her in her own language. Why couldn't she see this made her feel more normal—getting to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas in her own words like every other little girl there.
He was startled out of his moment when Hadley pointed at him. Santa glanced over and then threw his head back, laughing boisterously. He signed something Edward didn't catch at Hadley then, to his surprise, signed at one of the helper elves standing nearby—a pretty young woman Edward couldn't help but notice, with long brown hair and a beautiful smile.
The elf turned scarlet, looked quickly at Edward and away, and signed furiously at Santa. It took Edward a moment to realize the elf had a hearing aid. He only caught one word she signed at Santa: Dad.
Well, that was interesting anyway.
Shaking her head, the young elf offered her hand to Hadley, helping her down. She still blushed furiously as she walked over to Edward. She started signing in a flurry. "Whoa. Sorry." Edward sighed, and signed, "Not good. Just learning."
The woman's lips pursed in an o. She nodded and smiled. "Your daughter has a kind heart," she said, her words just a little bit strained in that way a deaf person's often were. She signed as she spoke. "You can pick up your pictures over there."
Their eyes met and, inexplicably, Edward's breath caught. He blinked. She stared back at him.
Hadley tugged on his hand, breaking the strange spell that had come over him. Edward sucked in a breath and looked down at his daughter. "Right. Sorry." He stepped over to the counter.
Sure enough, Hadley patted the package that included a brightly colored Christmas stocking filled with candy canes and a tiny teddy bear. Edward was grudgingly glad Jasper had given him enough to get the package. The pictures were great. Hadley's whole face was lit, her mouth wide with laughter as she looked at Santa.
"Can't you see how happy she is?" he asked Rosalie when they met in the mall parking lot about an hour later.
"Do we have to have this argument every minute of every day?" Rosalie scowled at Edward, but when she bent to kiss their daughter, she was all smiles. She knelt down to her her level took the girl's face between her hands. "Hello, beautiful girl," she said carefully and slowly, letting her get used to the shape of her lips as she spoke.
Hadley hugged her mother and then waved the stocking at her, clearly happy and excited. She started to sign, trying to tell her mother about her day, but as usual, Rosalie caught her hands. "Don't do that, Had."
"That's how she talks," Edward said for the millionth time.
"It won't always be. She's working with the speech therapist."
"But she's never going to speak the way you want her to, Rosalie. This is her language. Teach her to speak. That's fine, but don't take away her language."
Rosalie scowled as she straightened up, crossing her arms. "Who the hell is she ever going to talk to? You found two random people. You think anyone else in that mall talks with their hands?" She put her hand up, stopping whatever he was about to say. "Shut up, Edward. Look, I know you like to make it sound like I'm the wicked witch of the west. I want her to be normal. That's all."
"She is normal. There's not a damn thing wrong with her. But she's never going to be like the majority of people in that mall."
"She can. She can talk normally if she works hard. She can learn to read lips. She—" Rosalie rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I'm taking my daughter home."
Edward was left, not for the first time, fuming and frustrated in the parking lot. He stood still for a minute, asking himself if he was too angry to drive.
"Yep," he muttered to himself. And with that, he turned around, heading back into the mall to calm down.
A/N: So many thanks to MyOnlyHeroin for helping me navigate this story. Thank you to Packy, Betsy, and Eleanor.
Let's see if I can keep to my three chapter plan.