A/N: This story was written for the Babies at the Border compilation. (Or more like I'd been writing this since 2013 and I finally found a way to complete it, and what better cause than this!) Thanks to the amazing group of ladies who put this all together - without y'all (and those who donated, of course!), the fandom wouldn't have been able to raise over $13,000.
Our Own Pretty ways is complete. No, I will not be expanding. I'm going to post in two separate chapters. Thanks to those who have already read it and sent some love, and thanks to those who are about to jump in. I appreciate you, I love you, and most of all I MISS YOU, GOD DAMMIT.
Our Own Pretty Ways
"I never want to have kids."
I was eleven years old the first time I said those words. My friend was going to be a big sister and I couldn't see what everyone was so excited about. She went on about how when she grew up, she wanted two kids—only girls because boys smelled bad.
Her mother's smile was affectionate after my remark. "You will someday, sweetheart," she said assuredly.
Even then, I was sure someday would never arrive.
I never played with dolls growing up. Instead, there was hide-and-seek and tag with the neighborhood boys. We'd hang out in the woods behind the school, climbing trees and riding our bikes. I wasn't interested in playing house or pretending to be a mom with the girls in my class. That wasn't me.
I never want to have kids.
I didn't speak those words again until I was fourteen. A mix-up with my schedule landed me in Home Economics the last semester of eighth grade. One of our end-of-year projects was to take home a fake baby and look after it over the weekend. We were expected to treat it like a real child—nurture it with love and attention, and take it with us wherever we went. When the ugly thing cried, we were supposed to insert a key into its back, and eventually it would stop. The teacher warned us that some internal device would record how long it took us to respond to the baby's cries, and that would determine our grade.
Since I was already resigned to failing the class, I hid the fake baby in the trunk of my mom's car when I got home later that afternoon. I didn't need to feign a maternal instinct to know what I was doing was wrong. But I didn't want to see it; didn't want to hear the shrill fake cry in the middle of the night.
My mom found it two days later when she went to load the car with groceries. My dad found the whole thing hilarious, even calling me cute. But my mother was livid.
"Do you not care about your education?"
I didn't know what the big deal was. "Only an idiot can fail the eighth grade," I pointed out, spooning ice cream into my mouth.
"That Newton boy isn't too bright," my dad added. "Isn't this his second year?"
"Charlie." My mother frowned as I gave my dad a small smirk. "What if this were a real baby, Bella?" she scolded. She was always angry about something, always finding something to fret over.
I laughed along with my dad. "But it's not," I reminded her.
She shook her head and stared in disbelief at my attitude. "Is this how you're going to treat your child?"
"Gross, I don't want kids."
I don't remember how the rest of the conversation went, but I do remember being grounded for failing Home Ec.
Life went on.
I graduated high school, then college. I landed a job working for an independent publisher in Seattle. I had a small but close group of friends, none of which shared my sentiment over never wanting to be a parent, but loved me in spite of my "opposition to parenthood."
The night of my twenty-seventh birthday, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me. Riley ended it when we returned to my place after dinner. I was drunk, and he was too nice. He said it was him, of course it was him. We were at different places in our lives. Being almost thirty, he was ready for a family. My stomach dropped as he spoke about wanting kids, because I knew that was something I would never give him. Not because I couldn't, but because I didn't want to.
We'd only talked once or twice about the future, but it was clear we didn't want the same things. Being together was easier than being alone, though, so that's how three years passed.
I couldn't deny that I felt relieved when he walked out of my apartment that night. I was blindsided, of course, but I wasn't heartbroken.
When my mother heard about my break-up a week later, she was beside herself.
"Riley was the one for you, how did you not see that? He was stable."
"You can't possibly know that he was the one for me, Mom. And right now, we're at different places in our lives." I echoed his words. "It's fine. I promise. It's going to be okay."
It was absurd. I wanted to laugh. I was the one who'd been broken up with, and there I was, consoling her.
She grew quiet, probably realizing exactly why we'd broken up without me having to actually explain. I knew I'd never hear the end of it.
"You're going to change your mind about being a mother, and it'll be too late," she insisted, voice hard. "Once you hit the right age, you'll feel it. You'll crave it."
"I'm craving a hamburger right now," I joked. "Maybe I'm already pregnant."
"Isabella Marie Swan, this isn't funny. Do you know how many eggs you'll have left after you turn thirty?"
"I have twelve eggs in my fridge right now."
"You're being insensitive," she snapped.
"No, I'm not. I can't keep having this conversation with you," I sighed. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you want me to say."
The line was silent, but then, "What do you have against being a mother? Did I do such a terrible job that you can't stand to become me?"
"You can't turn this around and make it about you," I muttered. "That's not fair."
"Then why, Bella? Tell me why you don't want to have children."
"I don't think I need to explain myself. When someone wants to have a baby, are they incessantly questioned about their reasons behind it?" I didn't wait for her to respond. "No. So I don't think I need to be questioned as to why I don't want one."
I hated that I had to constantly explain myself. It wasn't that I hated kids. That would be too easy. Sure, they were constantly sticky and whiny, but I could tolerate them. I just didn't like all the power that came with raising a child. The pressure of building someone's personality, hoping they turned out to be a good, well-rounded person.
I might have been the only one in my group of friends who didn't have kids, wasn't engaged or currently married, but most days it seemed as though I was the only one who was genuinely happy.
That was enough for me.
Nothing and no one had ever changed my mind.
"I just don't want to be a mother," I quietly admitted to my mom before I hung up.
I'd never been more sure about a single thing in my entire life.
And then I met Edward.
"I have someone I want you to meet."
It's the first thing Lauren says to me as she sits down at the tiny table tucked in the corner of the coffee shop. I've already ordered both of us coffee with whole milk, and croissants. I take a small bite of the flaky bread, then swallow. She stares expectantly, but I don't say anything. I'm not enthused with this news.
"Okay," she laughs, catching on, unwrapping the scarf from around her neck. "Why don't you want to meet him? I haven't even told you anything about the guy."
"It's too soon. It's only been six months since Riley and I split." I'm lying, though. Time doesn't have anything to do with it. This is about me being lazy and not wanting to put myself out there again.
"I'm not telling you to marry the guy."
With a shrug, I blow into my coffee before taking a sip. "I'm destined to be alone. I've come to terms with that. You should, too."
"You're being so dramatic!"
"I'm not dramatic. I'm realistic," I insist. "This guy and I will start dating. Things will be great, and I'll fall in love and then he'll realize I don't want kids and he'll dump me. I'm saving myself time and heartbreak."
Lauren shakes her head, narrowing her eyes. "You weren't in love with Riley," she points out. "You loved him, sure. But you weren't in love." I stare at my plate, wondering if my feelings for Riley were transparent to him as well. "I didn't even tell you the best part," Lauren continues. "This guy doesn't want kids, either."
I snort. "He sounds perfect."
"Why aren't you dating him then?"
"I'm married to Tyler," she says flatly.
"Since when has that ever stopped anyone?"
She laughs lightly, her brown bob swaying as she shakes her head. "I'm happily married. And I'm serious. This guy is a catch."
I frown at her words. "I hate it when people say that. He's a catch. What does that even mean?"
"It means he's thirty-one and single. He works with Tyler, so you know he has a decent income." I roll my eyes. An advisory manager working for Ernst and Young makes more than a decent income. "He's extremely good looking, Bella. Great sense of humor," she adds. "He has a great smile."
"So he's loaded, knows how to crack a joke, and regularly visits the dentist," I list off. "Anything else?"
"I really think you'd like him."
The last of my croissant is in my mouth and I feel myself caving. "Maybe. What's his name?"
"And why doesn't this Edward Cullen want kids?" I ask, curious. "If he's such a catch, why isn't he already taken?"
"I don't know why exactly. I've only had brief chats with him twice, so everything else I know is just gossip that I've heard from some of Tyler's co-workers' wives."
I wipe my mouth. "I hate those women. Delusional housewives."
"They're okay. You don't know them."
"Yeah, but you don't trust them, so why would I want to?"
"Fair enough. But their gossip never fails to ring true. Remember when I heard that one of the partners was having an affair with an intern?"
My mouth drops open and my eyes are wide, but I'm only feigning shock. "Get out of town. The overweight, overpaid partner was sleeping with one of the interns? Quick! Call the tabloids."
Lauren's mouth twitches, but she stops herself from smiling. "Fine. Be a bitch. I'll set Edward up with someone more deserving." She gasps. "Oh, but wait. You're my only single friend."
"Aw, Laur," I whine. "That hurts."
She picks up her coffee, secures the strap of her purse on her shoulder, and stands from the table.
"It's been fun, but I gotta go."
"Are you mad because I won't let you set me up?"
She leans down, giving me a quick hug. "No. I have a doctor's appointment in an hour. You know how traffic is."
"Doctor's appointment?" I question, trying to keep an even tone.
My stomach drops as she pulls away. She's the last of my friends without a kid, and an extremely selfish part of me wants to keep it that way. There'd be no more happy hours or random midday coffee breaks.
"Not that kind of appointment," she reassures. "I would've told you."
"Right. I know."
She promises to call me later, and I nod, watching her leave before I promptly open the Facebook application on my phone and type Edward Cullen into the search bar.
A few profiles appear, but I click on the one that says Lives in Seattle, Washington.
From what I can gather, his hometown is Forks, Washington (never heard of it), he graduated from The University of Chicago (expensive), currently works at Ernst and Young (probably making a humble income of over 100k a year), and he has over 700 Facebook friends (no one needs that many online acquaintances).
On paper, he's not my type. It'd be easy to judge him and write him off as pretentious.
But then I stare long and good at his profile picture.
Lauren wasn't lying. He's incredibly good-looking. His hair is a shade of reddish-brown, and kind of a mess, completely clashing with the crisp white shirt he's wearing. But it kind of works for him. I guess. The photo is at a slight angle, showing off his strong jawline. I can tell his smile is genuine because his eyes are slightly squinting, like whoever was taking the picture caught him mid-laugh.
I have the strangest urge to know this man.
But since I'm neither completely desperate nor pathetic, I resist the temptation of asking him to be my Facebook friend.
I'll wait until Lauren brings him up again, and then I'll let her set me up with Edward Cullen.
I get swamped at work, which results in me ignoring my mother's calls, ignoring Riley's emails about wanting to talk, and ignoring Lauren's offers to meet up.
I'm having a late lunch with the agent of one of the children's authors we're working with when I see him walking across the restaurant.
It's the hair that catches my eye: messy in all the right places, bits and pieces sticking up every which way.
My eyes stay on him until he's sitting at a table near the back of the restaurant. From where I'm seated, I only have a view of his profile. I end up staring at him until the waiter brings me the check. I pay, thank the agent for her time, but can't quite remember a single detail from our lunch meeting. Well, nothing other than the fact that Edward ordered some type of pasta, is drinking white wine, and is animated when he speaks.
I stand from my chair, gaze flicking his way as I grab my purse and set my napkin on the table. I realize the bathroom is in that direction as well, so I make the quick decision to head that way.
It's not like I'm going to talk to him. I just want to see him up close.
I steal a few glances as I walk past his table. His head tips back slightly, and his laugh fills my ears. I try to listen, try to catch whatever it is he's saying, but someone speaks over him, drowning him out.
I hurry into the bathroom. I check my teeth for food and smooth my hair down. If I wore lipstick, now would be the time to apply it. But I don't, and I kind of regret it. Edward Cullen seems like he's into the type of woman who would wear lipstick.
Without another glance in the mirror, I head toward the exit and push the door open with more force than necessary.
I simultaneously feel the door make contact with an object and hear the word ow being muttered.
"Shit, I'm sorry," I apologize to whomever I've just hit, steadying the door without opening it any further.
"You can come out. I promise not to press charges," the person says, thankfully sounding amused.
I carefully push the door open all the way, stepping out of the bathroom and into the dimly lit hallway until we're face to face.
And then he's staring at me. Edward Cullen. It feels so weird to have his eyes on me when mine were on him all throughout lunch.
I manage to give him a small, friendly smile. And Jesus, he's even better looking in person. His features are sharper, face alive and bright. His hair is thick, darker than in his profile picture. He's devastatingly handsome. It's the only way to put it.
We stand quietly for a moment before he clears his throat, eyes darting toward the men's room.
"I guess I'll…" he gestures past me, and we have an awkward dance of trying to pass one another.
"Right. Sorry. Go ahead." Moving aside, I nod politely. "Edward."
He stops, cocking his head a bit to the right, his friendly smile morphing into a smirk.
"What?" I ask, confused.
It takes a second to realize I've said his name before allowing him to divulge that information himself.
The embarrassment I feel is clear on my face, I'm sure of it.
"Do I know you?" he questions.
I feel like I could lie and say yes. The man does have over 700 Facebook friends. How would he know if I were lying?
But a moment passes, and I decide to put my humiliation aside and come clean. I don't have time to form a lie that would sound halfway legitimate.
"Okay, without sounding like a creep—"
His laugh cuts me off. "Go on."
I hold my chin a little higher. "You work with my friend Lauren's husband, Tyler Larson."
His brows raise in understanding, but the smirk remains. "I'd remember you." From anyone else, it'd sound like a line, but from him it's all charm.
"We haven't exactly met." My cheeks begin to heat, and I wish he'd look away for at least a minute so I could think straight. "Alright. Look, I'm just going to be honest. Lauren mentioned you. She wanted to set us up. So I looked you up on Facebook. Sue me."
I don't know why blurting that out makes me feel better, but it does.
His eyes never leave my face. "Ah. I see. So not only am I pressing charges for assault, but now I have to sue you as well?"
He's teasing me, but I kind of appreciate it. It's making me feel like less of a stalker.
"I don't think the door incident will hold up in court," I say quickly.
With a widening smile, he slips his hands into the pockets of his slacks.
"What's your name? I only need it for the police report, I swear. I won't stalk you on Facebook."
I breathe out a laugh and shake my head. "Bella Swan."
"Bella Swan," he repeats, and I love the sound of my name being spoken from his lips. "Got it. And what about a phone number? In case I need to reach you, regarding the whole," he gestures between us, "thing."
I play along, trying to appear unaffected. "Right. Um. Do you have a card?"
He pulls out his phone from his pocket and hands it to me. I type my number in and give it back to him.
An awkward moment passes where neither of us says a word. We just stand here, smiling at one another. A blonde woman in a business suit walks past us and into the bathroom, and we break eye contact as we move out of her way.
Edward clears his throat, then reaches out to shake my hand. His grip is firm and his palm is warm. "Well, it was nice to meet you, Bella Swan," he says, taking one step closer.
I pull my hand from his.
"Can I call you sometime?" he asks in a low voice.
"Well, I did give you my number under the impression that you'd use it."
"For things unrelated to..." He pauses.
"Yeah." His smile grows. "Like, tonight. Can I call you tonight?"
He's eager and his face is expectant. The woman who walked into the bathroom exits, giving us a quick glance.
"We're wrapping up, Edward," she says curtly before disappearing.
Edward shifts from foot to foot, waiting for my answer.
"Aren't you supposed to wait a few days before calling someone? I think that's what I've heard."
"But the thing is," he says, smiling slowly, "I don't think I want to wait."
Edward called that night, just like he said he would. He asked me out, and it was easy to say yes. We went out to dinner the next night, and the night after that. Eventually one date turned into ten, which turned into falling in love so fast and so hard that years passed without either of us realizing. We loved the same things, shared the same group of friends, had the same views on life and neither of us wanted kids. He challenged me without pushing and loved me without conditions.
And then one day, he asked me to marry him, and just like before, it was easy to say yes.
We had a small wedding. Simple, despite his mother's insistence that we throw an extravagant affair. If it had been up to me, I would've run off with him and said I do with no one else but us. But to some extent that's selfish, and after bringing up the idea more than once, Edward said he wanted to share the day with our friends and family. So that's what we did. And it was by far the best day of my entire life.
"Morning," Edward grumbles, walking into the kitchen. He places a sleepy kiss on my cheek before grabbing a mug. "Do you work late tonight?"
"Don't think so. What's up?"
He searches for milk in the fridge, throwing a playful glare my way when he realizes we're out and has to use creamer for his coffee.
"Tell me, tell me," I jokingly whine. "Why do you want to know if I'm working late? The suspense is killing me."
"Alice wants to know if we can watch the girls tonight."
My excitement deflates. "Such short notice."
"Well, their babysitter cancelled at the last minute, and it's their anniversary tonight."
"Drool and dirty diapers wasn't on my agenda, but I suppose we can do it." I'm mostly teasing. I'm crazy about our nieces. They're adorable, but that cuteness wears off after a few hours and I'm grateful when their parents steal them back.
Edward comes up behind me, nuzzling his face against my neck. "Want me to pick you up from work later?"
"Stop, stop, stop. You're going to get me all riled up and I have to leave in half an hour."
I feel his smile on my skin. "That's perfect. You know it never takes us that long."
His fingers trail up my thigh until I'm squirming and agreeing to jump back into bed before work.
The day is long, but it feels significantly longer when I remember I can't go home, throw on sweats, and drink wine on the couch. I meet Edward at his sister's house a little after seven, and find him in the kitchen with the girls.
"How about two more chicken nuggets," Edward compromises, nudging a pink plastic plate towards Avery's tiny hands. The baby, Stella, is sitting on his knee, holding a sippy cup full of milk.
"You eat them," Avery fires back. She's only six, but sassy beyond belief. Stella spots me in the doorway, cooing at my arrival.
"Hey, babe," I say, giving Edward a quick peck on the lips.
"Ewwww," Avery whines, covering her eyes.
"Two more nuggets," Edward says, ignoring her disgust.
"Dontcha know I'm not allowed to eat McDonald's," she says coolly. "Mom is going to be so mad, like so mad like that one time when you gave us Burger King."
I laugh at this. "You're a kid. Eat McDonald's while you still can," I say, stealing some of her fries.
Edward hands Stella to me, then claps his hands together. "All right. It's a race, then. Whoever finishes first gets a cookie."
"What about a brownie?" Avery suggests, smiling coyly. "Mommy's cookies are gluten-free and so, so yucky."
"Fine. Brownie it is."
"This is a bad idea," I say, wincing as Stella pulls on my hair. "What if one of you chokes?"
"Then the other will get the brownie," Edward says jokingly.
After their eating contest is over and they've both devoured their brownies, we give Avery a bath and hang out in her room. She decides to read us books instead of the other way around, trying to impress us with her reading skills. It's so insane to me how smart she already is.
When Avery is passed out and the baby is content in her crib, Edward and I lounge on the couch, exhausted.
"It's moments like this when I'm grateful we don't have kids," I say, yawning against his chest.
He rubs my back. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. I'm so exhausted. How would I ever get anything done? Seriously, I don't know how Alice does it. Props to her."
"You'd have time. Alice has time."
I hum, shaking my head. "I'm pretty sure she doesn't shave her legs. Or her armpits."
"I think that's more of a personal choice than the outcome of time restriction."
"Well personally, I think my hygiene is more important than procreation. Sorry, Alice."
Edward laughs. "Okay. So you never think about maybe, someday, having kids?"
"No. You know this," I accuse, sitting up. "This is a conversation we've had before."
"Yeah, years ago. When we first met. When having a family wasn't something I could even fathom. But now that I have nieces, I don't know. You never think maybe?"
I feel my forehead crease as I frown. "No. Not even maybe."
Edward regards me for a minute, then presses a kiss to my lips. "Okay."
"What do you mean okay?"
He kisses me again, but this time I can feel him smile. I don't know why he thinks this is so funny.
"This is a huge deal to me," I mutter between kisses. "Not to mention a huge deal-breaker. This is why we're together."
He laughs at this. "Jesus, Bella, no it's not. We're together because we're in love."
"We only fell in love after we realized neither of us wanted kids." I know this isn't true, but now I'm just trying to be an ass. This conversation doesn't bring out the best in me, and he knows this.
"That's not how it worked for me. I loved you long before we ever talked about kids," he says earnestly. "And I love you so much that if you ever changed your mind, I wouldn't be mad at you for it."
Lying back down next to him, I tangle my fingers in his hair, and tell him I wouldn't be mad at him if he changed his mind, either. It's the first time I've ever lied to him.
The topic of babies doesn't come up again until a week later, when I'm out for drinks with Lauren. The plan was for us to meet up with Edward and Tyler, but since they have to work late, we're waiting on them. Which means we're indulging in too much liquor and gossip.
"Did you hear Jessica's pregnant?" Lauren asks when we're two drinks in. I'm grateful she waits until my blood is mostly tequila because I don't think I could handle this conversation without some help.
"With what, her tenth kid?"
"Fourth," Lauren corrects with a snort. "She keeps talking to me about my ovulation schedule. She also claims she knows her body so well that she knew every time she was pregnant without having to use a test."
"Good for her, those suckers are pricey."
"Like you've ever bought one before."
"I have! Once. Many, many years ago."
"You've never told me this!"
I shrug. "Nothing to tell. Obviously."
"Speaking of pregnancy…"
Her words sober me. I'm suddenly serious, but then I glance at her third cocktail. If she were pregnant, there's no way she'd be drinking.
"I'm not pregnant. Not yet, anyway."
"But you guys are trying to get pregnant," I guess.
"We're not not trying to get pregnant," she tells me with a small shrug. "I've been off birth control for a few months now, but it could still take a while. I assumed it would just happen so easily, but joke's on me, I guess."
I hold back from making an exaggerated face that shows my disapproval. "God, that must be weird."
"I mean, I've spent my entire life avoiding getting pregnant. Taking all the precautions. Condoms, birth control, the ole pull-and-pray. So I feel like it would be weird to just... not try to be safe."
"Oh, but I thought at one point you weren't safe. Hence the pregnancy test."
I flip her off. "The condom broke."
She laughs, shaking her head a bit. "I guess the whole not being safe thing doesn't feel as weird when it's with your husband. And when you have a plan. And when you really, really want a baby."
I take a long sip of my margarita. The waitress comes by our table and we tell her we're okay for now. I drink a glass of water, needing my head to just stop: stop thinking about my friend getting pregnant and stop feeling sorry for myself because of it.
Soon enough, Edward and Tyler arrive. The mood is lifted again. We order food and a few more drinks, steering clear of conversation involving ovulation and pregnancy. Instead, we talk about the renovations Lauren and Tyler are having done to their house, and mine and Edward's idea to travel to Aruba in November.
A little after ten, Edward and I walk through our front door. We moved a few months before we got married, leaving our downtown condo for a place in Wallingford. We weren't looking for a house, mostly townhomes in Belltown so we could both be close to where we work.
But once I saw it, I fell in love. I didn't care if was built in the twenties. It didn't matter that the tile in the kitchen was checkered black and white or that the spare bedroom's door didn't shut all the way. There was a large front porch, a wall of windows in the living room, and hardwood floors that made the room glow when the sun was setting. We had a yard, more room than we knew what to do with, and were only a ten minute drive to downtown, without traffic.
Of course, when we moved in, my mom brought up the topic of what to do with the extra bedroom. Multiple times she hinted at us having kids, but we always reminded her that that wasn't on our agenda.
"I'm gonna go wash my face," I tell Edward, kissing his cheek as he fills the coffee pot with water. "You gonna lock up?"
"Yeah, I'll be there in a sec."
I head upstairs, get ready for bed, then crawl under the blanket. Edward walks into the room, smiling at me.
"Are you drunk?" he asks, shutting the door behind him.
"Maybe," I grin. "I'm mostly just tired now."
I watch him take off his cuff links and set them on the dresser. He loosens his tie, then sits on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes.
"Sorry Tyler and I got there late."
"That's okay. It was nice to catch up with Lauren." I yawn. Edward finds my leg under the blanket and gently squeezes it. "They're gonna try to have a baby. Did Tyler tell you that?"
"I need to start looking for new friends," I joke.
Edward doesn't laugh, though, and almost sounds a bit defensive when he asks, "What? Why?"
"Because we'll never see them. They're never going to have any free time."
"I don't really think that's fair." He stands from the bed, removes his shirt and slacks and tosses them on the floor, next to the hamper. "Tons of couples who have kids still live their lives the same."
Instead of pointing out that the hamper is literally five inches away, I ask, "Why are you getting so defensive over this?"
He frowns, crawling into bed. "I'm not."
"I just don't think you should be throwing scenarios around when you don't know what's going to happen. Lauren and Tyler don't have a kid yet, so you don't know what's going to happen. Everything could stay the same."
"But what if things don't stay the same?" I ask, sitting up.
He props a hand behind his head, appearing to stay calm as my blood begins to heat. "If things change, then that's life. You just go with it."
"So if I got pregnant you'd just go with it."
"If it wasn't planned, of course I would just go with it. You're my wife, Bella. Having a kid wouldn't be the end of the world."
"Well that's not going to happen," I say adamantly. "We've already decided."
His nod is solemn. "Okay."
"I mean, what?" I push, not satisfied with his single-worded acceptance. "Are you having second thoughts? Do you suddenly want kids?"
"No." He thinks for a minute. "But I'm not completely against the idea. I don't know. Sometimes I think it'd be nice. We have all this room. But sometimes I'm happy it's just us."
"Having extra space isn't a reason to have a kid."
"Maybe it's not. But I think you'd be a great mom."
"But I don't want to be a mom," I say harshly, letting the words hang in the air.
Neither of us says anything else, because the conversation is over and we both know it. Edward turns off the lamp and we roll over, facing opposite ways. I don't know how everything escalated so quickly. Maybe it's the alcohol, or maybe I was getting defensive because Edward has always been on my side. He's always shared the same views on children and now it feels like he's against me.
When my eyes have adjusted to the dark, I feel Edward move to lie on his back.
"I love you, Bella. Can't we just… talk about this?"
He whispers the words, but I pretend I'm already asleep.
It takes a couple of days, but the tension between Edward and me finally dissipates, and things go back to normal. He doesn't mention anything about kids again, but I get the feeling the subject's not completely out of his mind. He never outright says he wants to have a baby, but he offers to watch his nieces more, and sometimes when we pass a family on the street, I catch him staring fondly at them.
I don't bring any of this up to him because I don't want to start an argument. And quite frankly, I'm scared to death. If Edward changes his mind and wants a baby, that means he's changed his mind about me. And that's too devastating for me to deal with. So I smile and act like everything's okay, and pretend to be excited when Tyler and Lauren finally announce they're expecting in the Fall.
"So we finally booked our trip," I tell Lauren one evening, when Tyler and Edward are both working late. We've been posted up on her couch for hours watching old episodes old episodes of Sex and the City.
"Yep. Second week in November."
She pauses the show, staring at me with hurtful eyes.
"I have a month until I'm due. The baby is coming at the end of October," she says, like I haven't already known this for a while.
"But you can't leave."
"Why not?" I'm not the one having a baby. I'm not the one ruining my life and turning everything upside down.
"Because I'll need you," she mumbles through tears. "You know I'm not close with any of Tyler's family. They're all pretentious assholes. And my mother is gone, and my sister can't come because she has her own kids to take care of. And you can't leave."
When she mentions the absence of her mother, I begin to tear up.
"I don't think that's fair. I'll be here the first two weeks. You'll be fine," I stress.
"I don't feel like I'll be fine. I feel like I'm going crazy. And Tyler's always working late, he's no help at all."
"This isn't my baby," I say, trying to keep my tone even. "I shouldn't have to change my life. You and Tyler made this decision. I'll help you out, and you know I'll love this kid, but I can't put my life on hold for something I don't believe in."
"Don't believe in?" she echoes. "It's a baby for crying out loud. Not a religion."
"I don't believe in the concept of being a mother, raising a kid and giving up your individuality. That doesn't make sense to me."
"Okay. Go live your selfish, unfulfilling life, Bella."
"What? Lauren, get a hold of yourself. When have you ever judged me for not wanting kids?"
"You never said anything."
"Well I lied. It's selfish. It's not fair to Edward."
I don't know how much of this she actually believes or how much is spurred on by hormones. But still, my face is flushed and I'm on the verge of tears because her words ignite something inside of me. She's always been on my side.
"Don't talk to me about what's fair to Edward. Long before we got married we decided we didn't want to have kids. It wasn't a surprise. It's not like—"
"Edward wants kids," she says quickly. "He talked to Tyler about it. And Tyler told me."
This silences me. I can't say anything to refute what she's said. Edward hasn't mentioned anything to me about kids for a while. Which means he's been talking to Tyler about it. Behind my back. Making me look bad because I'm withholding children from him.
Standing from the couch, I shake my head and pull on my boots, rushing to leave. I hate that she's decided to throw this in my face during a fight instead of coming to me with genuine concern. It just goes to show how much has changed within these last eight months.
It just goes to show that everyone is against me.
"But I don't wanna be a princess!"
Avery's bottom lip begins to quiver, and I swear to God if she starts crying in the middle of the store, I'm going to lose my mind and cry along with her. We've been here for almost an hour and she's turned down every Halloween costume I've suggested.
"Then don't be a princess," I say simply. With Stella bouncing on my hip, I grab a nearby dinosaur costume and muster as much enthusiasm as I can. "Be a dinosaur."
"Dinosaurs are for boys."
I frown. "No, they aren't."
"Why do you think that?"
"Mama said I couldn't be a ghost because it's scary and for boys. Are dinosaurs for boys, too, Aunt Bella?"
"Definitely not. In fact, that's really narrow-minded of your mother to stereotype—" I stop myself. "Avery, you can be whatever you want to be. Okay?"
She beams. "Really?"
I wince as Stella yanks on my hair. "Yes."
"I wanna be a bad guy!" she squeals. "I want a gun and dynamite to blow things up, and—"
Alice is going to kill me.
Avery runs ahead of me, through the crowd, seeming to remember where the fake guns are. She's smaller and can get through everyone faster. I apologize to people as I walk down the aisle, holding on to Stella. When I make it to the end, Avery's gone. I call out her name but nothing. People rush past me and other kids run by me, but they aren't my niece. I try not to panic, because of course she's still here. I literally just saw her.
"Um, excuse me?" I stop a woman walking by who's wearing a name tag. "Have you seen a little girl? Brown hair, ponytail. She was wearing, uh… um…" The woman shakes her head, Stella begins to cry, and goddammit.
"Avery!" I call again, half-running through the store, checking nearby aisles.
I don't want to resort to calling Alice. Not yet. Because I can do this. I'm capable of looking after a child.
But the longest three minutes ever pass by, and nothing.
Panic courses through me as I think of the worst-case scenario. I can't help it. I've never been that great under pressure. I try to stay calm but the store is loud and there are so many people and she was right there. She was right there. How did I let her out of my sight?
I move Stella to my other hip and pull out my phone, calling Edward. He picks up on the third ring. Before he can greet me, I begin crying.
"I think I lost Avery."
"What? Hey, calm down. Where are you?"
"We're costume shopping. She was right there and I fucking lost her."
"Okay. Shit. Are you at the place on Denny?"
"I'm on my way. How long has she been gone?"
"A few minutes? Ten? I don't know, I don't know."
"Go to customer service. Have the employees check around the store. It'll be fine, all right?"
"But what if—"
"Bella, it's okay."
We hang up and I head straight to a cashier. I wipe my face and stumble through my words, but she gets the gist of it. She makes an announcement over the intercom, explaining what Avery looks like. But I don't remember what she was wearing and I don't know what color her eyes are and I'd be a terrible mother.
The cashier has me stay by the register as she and a few other employees search the store. And sure enough, a few minutes later they come back, Avery in tow. She's crying. She looks so scared and small and I can't believe I fucking lost her.
"Why did you leave me!" she cries, but still runs toward me, grabbing onto my legs.
I mutter apologies and thank the employees before leaving the store. Once we're outside, Edward runs up, relief clear on his face as he sees we're all here. Avery runs toward him this time and he picks her up in his arms, holding her against his chest.
"I'm so sorry," I mumble, feeling a new wave of tears come on. "I don't know what happened."
"Hey, it's fine. It happens." He kisses my temple, my cheek, my lips. "Who wants ice cream, huh?"
The girls' moods are immediately lifted, but I can't be swayed so easily, staying in a funk until we get back to their house. The first thing Avery does is tell her parents, with a huge smile, that Aunt Bella lost her in the store today. Edward takes the girls to play in the backyard as I retell the story. Alice and Jasper are so understanding and don't seem to really think it's a huge deal. Alice recalls a time where she lost Avery in the grocery store, when she was three. But still. I can't stop beating myself up.
Just after six, Edward and I say our goodbyes and head out. Alice instructs me to get a bottle of wine on the way home and to forget about it.
"Bell?" Edward's voice pulls me out of my thoughts.
"What should we get for dinner?"
"Oh. Um… whatever. I don't care."
He focuses on the road, and I stare out the window, remembering how great he was with the girls today. I realize how wonderful of a father he would make, which forces me to replay Lauren's words—that I'm selfish and not being fair to Edward.
"How were you so calm today?"
"I don't know." When he stops at a red light, he looks over at me, smiling softly. "I didn't want to let myself get worked up over something if it was nothing."
"Right. But Avery was lost. Someone could've taken her."
He squeezes my hand before grabbing the wheel again. "But they didn't."
"Well. I'd clearly make a terrible mother. Good thing neither of us wants kids."
It's petty, I know. It's shitty of me to finally bring up the conversation I had with Lauren. But it's been a week since I've spoken to her, and keeping all of this from my husband has been extremely hard. I didn't want to make it a thing, tried writing it off as Lauren's hormones speaking.
When Edward doesn't speak up, I go on. "Or do you secretly want kids? Didn't you tell Tyler that? Behind my back?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Lauren said you told Tyler you want kids. And since I don't, it's not fair to you and you think I'm selfish."
"Come on. I never said that. I would never say that about you. You're my wife. Whatever decision we make is one we make together. I'd never hold anything against you. You know that."
"So you didn't tell Tyler that you want kids?"
I stare at his profile, but he stares at the road. He's quiet and contemplating, and I need to hear him say it.
"I didn't say the stuff about it not being fair or you being selfish. But I might've said something along the lines of maybe wanting kids someday."
My eyes burn. I can't look at him anymore. I knew it.
"So now I'm the bad guy," I mumble.
"I didn't say that."
"Well it's true. You suddenly want kids and I'm never going to give them to you."
He pulls into the driveway, kills the engine, and we sit in silence.
"I just want to be able to talk to you about this without you getting upset," he says carefully.
"And I want you to stop changing your fucking mind."
I get out of the car, slamming the door. I rush inside, throw my things on the floor, open some cabinets and slam them shut. It doesn't take long for Edward to find me in the kitchen; doesn't take long for us to pick up where we left off.
"Is it so bad that I want to have kids with you, Bella? Is that really the worst thing you can imagine?"
He swallows thickly. "I don't think you believe that."
"Don't tell me what I believe."
"I think you're scared, and that's okay." He cautiously steps toward me. "I'm scared, too. But if we do this together, it's a hell of a lot less terrifying."
"I don't want kids, Edward. You know this. Why are you trying to change me?"
"I'm not trying to change you. I'm trying to change with you. Jesus Christ. Can't you see that? This isn't just about me."
"And I think it's just about me?"
I see the realization in his eyes when he understands what I'm asking, and he takes the bait.
"I do think you're being selfish," he finally agrees. "You won't talk to me about this, or even consider it."
"We're talking about it!" I shout. "But why do I have to consider something when we already decided years ago that we weren't going to have kids?"
"Because that's what you do when you're married!" he yells back. "You make compromises!"
"Sacrifices," I correct, shaking my head.
He laughs humorlessly, taking a small step back. "If having a kid with me is such a huge sacrifice to you, Bella, then what the hell are you even doing here?"
Once the words are out, he grows silent, distant. We don't speak to each other like this. Not ever. But I said it, and what's worse is that I meant it. He pushed me to this moment and I can't take it back.
"No. Fuck you, Bella."
We stand here, red-faced and breathless, staring at one another. Seconds pass and the longer we stay silent, the more I fume. The more I contemplate leaving. The more I fear that he's going to be the first to leave.
"You're right," I say with quiet determination. "I don't know what I'm doing here."
I give him a cold glare as I walk out of the kitchen and up to the bedroom. I expect him to stay downstairs, give me space, but he doesn't. He follows after me, lingers in the doorway, waits for my next move.
"Where are the suitcases?" I ask, digging through the closet.
"You're not leaving."
I check under the bed. "Yes, I am. What the hell am I even doing here, right?"
"I didn't mean that, I just… I don't want you to leave. Okay? Please."
I press the heels of my hands against my eyes to keep from crying. I don't want to leave my house or my husband. I don't want to be the cliche versions of ourselves. I don't want to take this step in becoming a statistic.
"Bella." I hear him shuffle, feel him move closer before he gently places his hands on the sides of my arms. "Look at me."
"What?" I mumble, dropping my hands. "We just need some space, okay?" His face falls and my voice breaks as I shrug out of his grip. "I'm gonna go. Just for the night."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know. A hotel?"
"I'll leave," he suggests. "I'd feel better if you stayed here."
"No. I need to… not be here."
"You don't think we should talk about this?"
"I think we both really need to think about what we want. And what we expect. Because I don't want to feel guilty for the rest of my life. I can't."
His nod is solemn as he leaves the room. I pull out some clothes, holding back my tears when he walks back in and tosses a duffel bag on the floor.
"Call me when you get there. Just to say you made it. Okay?"
He disappears and I allow myself three minutes to cry. Three minutes to feel sorry for myself and this situation. Three minutes to wallow and convince myself to stay. But when I replay our fight, pride gets in the way. And that's what pushes me to leaving my husband.