A/N: Thanks so much for all your wonderful thoughts. I've truly, truly enjoyed them throughout this story. There were some rough patches, but I honestly believe it's the hard times that make the sweet times that much better. My writing tends to convey that belief.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest belong to me. All mistakes are mine as well.
This is complete. :)
Break - Epilogue
Two years later:
It was a bustling, late May, mid-afternoon in Tribeca when I once again found myself gazing distractedly through a café's large windows. Kept sparkling clean, and clear, the windows were so translucent they were almost nonexistent, easily deceiving those separated by them into forgetting the windows were even there.
Through these expansive, crystalline windows filtered in the late spring sun. Bright rays diffused its warmth onto the café's patrons, they themselves oblivious of the sun's gauzy fingers while they enjoyed their craft beverages and conversation with friends. Others sat alone, coffee ignored, laptops open before them, yet their gazes resting emptily on windows.
That same sun shone its light simultaneously onto the world outside. It made the stone-cobbled streets sparkle like opals as men, women, boys, and girls sprinted up and down the block with rays on their chests and backs. It highlighted the centuries-old downtown architecture side by side with modern-day vintage boutiques, art galleries such as the one Mack owned a few blocks away, and in the distance, shimmering, steel bridges.
Yes; windows still distracted me. Like Edward's vaccines, the windows inoculated those within from the world outside – a world full of assholes and idiots…
But mostly, a world full of wonderful possibilities; a world full of people who fell somewhere in between, and who were simply trying to live their best lives. There was a time when my windows went dark, when I couldn't see through them onto those possibilities outside; into the middle of the spectrum. There was a time when I thought I fell at the end of that spectrum, and therefore, my story…was over.
Breathe, darling. This is just a chapter, not your whole story.'
'A scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, "I survived."'
But then…the page turned onto the next chapter; the scar scabbed over, and-
"What are you looking at, and what are you mouthing to yourself while biting that finger?"
Someone took the seat next to me and pulled my thumbnail out of my mouth. When I tore my gaze away from the window, my eyes led me to a set of beautifully clear green eyes, just like those windows to the world. They were, in fact, my second favorite set of translucently emerald eyes in the world.
"Stranger, you really are a nosey one, and I hope you know you interrupt me at your own risk."
"Oh, I know that," he chuckled, sliding my coffee mug toward me across the table. "But if the past is truly prologue, then I'd bet the risk will pay off."
I quirked an eyebrow, studying his handsome face: that angular jaw on which he grew just the right amount of stubble, those almost hypnotizing eyes…and that perfectly imperfect nose which I leaned toward, gently brushing my lips against the slight bump on the bridge.
"You're a risk taker. Maybe that's why you ended up with that."
Edward shook his head and chuckled under his breath. "As I've said before, it was totally worth it." He reached a hand across the table and knit together our fingers, bestowing a series of soft kisses on my knuckles before studying my thumb, eyes narrowing into slits.
"I thought you loved watching me bite my fingers, or was all that just a line?" I teased.
His eyes flashed upward to mine, and he smirked before returning to his examination of my finger.
"I love watching you bite the skin under your nailbeds," he clarified, "because I know it means that at that moment, you're overflowing with passion and inspiration," – again his eyes met mine, warmer now – "and it's one of the most awe-inspiring sights to witness."
When Edward and I first met – or re-met – over four years earlier at a coffee shop much like this one, he'd only allowed himself a hint of all the awe, admiration…and love which he now displayed daily and openly. Yet, even that hint had been enough to awaken those dormant feelings I'd subconsciously developed for him on the day I'd once believed the worst day of my life.
Nowadays, I remembered That Day as a tough day, undeniably; but even more so, I looked back on That Day as the day on which I began to claim my life.
"But it also makes me fucking nervous because you're just begging for an infection every time you bite those nailbeds."
I chuckled heartily. "My nerdy germaphobe."
With a long-suffering sigh, which just made me chuckle all the more, Edward again brushed his lips to my knuckles and set our hands down.
"Keep that away from dirty surfaces."
"Here's the thing, though," Edward continued, preparing his latte and making perfectly-shaped, frothy hearts with his milk, which made me laugh, "you weren't biting your nailbeds right now. You were biting your nail."
I drew in a deep breath. For a handful of seconds, my thoughts swirled around a quote which Edward, the kids, and I found as we strolled through a rubbish sale in Chicago during a book tour last year.
The quote had been framed in a huge, oval, faded and chipped wood frame which was buried among a pile of questionable pieces labeled 'Artwork:'
'When a mountain appears insurmountable, grab a trusted friend or two and scale that mother. Because the higher the mountain, the prettier the meadow on the other side.'
"It's like my life summed up in two sentences."
Edward handed me the baby so that he could carry the frame.
"You want to hang this up at home?" he'd asked with obvious wariness.
"I'll bet Mack can restore it to perfection. Besides, you have a wall hanging of a pair of rams. I can hang a quote."
He'd chuckled ruefully. "I just mean because the frame is such a piece of…" He scratched his head. "And what about the priceless treasures we've got on display now, pictures of you and the baby and…?"
He'd trailed off while I'd paid.
"Mommy doesn't know how to haggle," he'd said, kissing the baby's soft, wispy copper locks. Then, he'd crouched in front of Jay. "Jay, when you grow up, don't forget you're supposed to talk the price down at these places."
Jay had looked up at Edward with all that respect and love bordering on worship a three-year-old openly displays.
"Okay, Uncle Edward."
"It's an important life lesson, which Uncle Edward has imparted there," I'd smirked before crouching down as well. "But here's another one, Jay. When you grow up, don't be afraid to climb the mountains because on the other side is where you'll find the best treasures."
"Treasures?" Jay had wondered.
"Yes. Like you, Uncle Edward, and your baby cousin. The three of you are my biggest treasures, and you were all on the other side of a biiig mountain," I stressed, stretching my free hand and all five fingers up above my head.
Jay and the baby both threw back their heads and followed the trajectory of my arm. The baby stared silently, sweet emerald gaze easily distracted – much like Mommy – and sweeping further upward to blue skies and a circling of birds above our heads.
Jay's gaze, however, remained on the outstretched length of my arm.
"Wow," he breathed.
For a second, he'd looked so much how I remembered his father looking when we were just kids, full of naïvely childish beliefs. It was an immaturity his father never outgrew. But Jay was only three, and as much as it was in our power to do so, Edward and I would protect that childish immaturity while laying the foundation for a real man to one day take hold.
When a tiny crease appeared between his tender brows as if he was giving the situation all the logistical considerations it rightly deserved, Jay looked more like his maternal uncle.
"But…will you and Uncle Edward help me climb if I can't climb by myself?" Jay asked, big blue eyes wide and innocent.
"Of course, we will," Edward said simply; straightforwardly.
From the very beginning of his young life, Jay had spent a considerable amount of time with his grandparents…and with Edward, when he was home from his work trips. From the moment Jay and I finally met, he spent increasing time with me. It was a situation which forced us to swallow much of our pride when having to deal with his mother, such as when Edward requested Jay be allowed to go to Chicago with us.
Yes; I'd learned a child did make everything worth it.
I'd kissed Jay's sweet, gauzy cheek. "Uncle Edward and I will always be there to help you."
"Okay, Aunt Bella," he'd agreed with an easy shrug. "I'll climb the mountains."
"What are you thinking?" Edward asked, breaking me out of my musings and returning me to the present.
"I'm thinking…I'm thinking you and I spend a lot of time in coffee shops."
He nodded pensively, rubbing his angular jaw with the back of his hand. "It's where you and I really began, and where we do a lot of our database management, such as this afternoon. But we spend time in other places too – traveling together, you with your writing and me with work. We spend time with friends and family, with our kids above all, and-"
"And in bed," I grinned.
He offered me a salacious grin in return. "That's definitely one of my favorites."
"I'm nervous," I admitted.
Edward held my gaze, green eyes as clouded by anxiety this afternoon as I felt. Over the years, I'd gotten him to ease up somewhat on his need to protect the world, but protection was a facet deeply ingrained in his personality. As a little boy, he'd seen something a little boy should never see. As a grown man, he would shield his family any way he could.
It was that knowledge, that those things we accidentally see or hear in our childhood are the ones which most influence our formative years, that had us both so stressed that afternoon.
Edward leaned across the table and brushed his mouth to mine. "Love you."
As he pulled back, framed by the golden rays streaming in through the windows, Edward looked so young, it took me back to those first days between us when he'd stroll into the coffee shop all windblown and sweaty from his morning run. He'd always taken care of himself, and it showed. No one ever believed Edward was approaching his late thirties. He was healthy, strong…and so very handsome.
"I have a hot boyfriend."
He jerked back, startled, and snorted. "Your boyfriend," he echoed with no little derision.
"Isn't that what you are?" I teased.
He shifted sideways in his seat, resting his long arm over the table. "I'm kind of old to be called a 'boyfriend,' don't you think?"
"Brady was forty-one when we dated, and he didn't mind being called my boyfriend."
"You did not just go there," he said, while I tried hard not to laugh.
"Edward, you're not still jealous of him, are you?"
He pursed his lips.
"Babe, Brady's been married for a year, and the last time we saw him at Emmett and Mack's engagement party, he looked madly in love with his sweet wife. I'm happy for him. He moved on, unlike what's her name, Katie was it?"
"Kate, not Katie."
"I could've sworn I heard you call her 'Katie.'"
"You never heard me call her Katie," he chuckled, cheeks turning scarlet.
"Okay, maybe not, but she definitely called you Eddie. 'Oh, Eddie, you look so good,'" I said, batting my eyelashes and raising my voice a few sharp octaves to imitate Edward's last girlfriend, whom he'd broken up with a few days before That Day. She was a tall blond with a nasal voice whom we'd bumped into once when I was about seven months pregnant and swollen from head to foot.
Edward held my gaze blandly. "You can call me "Eddie' too if you'd like."
"May I? 'Oh, Eddie, what a shame you got married," I shrieked, now furiously mimicking. "'Wait a minute, you're not married? Well, that's just wonderful! I may still have a chance!'"
Edward grinned throughout my entire performance. "You just made up that whole conversation. She never said any of that."
"It was implied in the looks she gave you."
When he laughed and reached his long arms across the table to try to pull me toward him, I pretended to shake him off.
Edward chuckled. "Why are you mad at me when you just made up an entire scenario? Especially considering she was in awe of you and asked you for an autograph," he leaned in conspiratorially, "which, by the way, I noticed you never gave her."
I chuckled impishly.
Edward snorted. "I, on the other hand, do have a reason to envy Brady."
"I don't know why. You and I have a perfect baby; you're thirty-seven years old – young, healthy and hot; you and Emmett run your own consulting business, we lead full lives together, vacation when we can, and-"
"Zafrina is an exotic beauty, yes. I'm woman enough to admit it," I shrugged.
"You know very well that's not what I mean. You, my girlfriend," he stressed, "are wildly imaginative and massively intelligent as evidenced by the fact that you're a world-famous author with two number one bestsellers under her belt, another one on the way-"
"We don't know that the second part to the trilogy will hit number one-"
"Bella, your readers are ready to give up their firstborns to get a copy on release day. They write fanfiction about it," he grinned. "What's more, the screenplay you're writing for the film adaptation to Gemma is already generating Oscar buzz."
I shut my eyes and shook my head.
"And above all…you're the type of mom to our baby and partner to me I'd only ever dreamed of. My point is, Bella, you're all manner and sort of amazing in ways I couldn't even imagine when I thought I was imagining how amazing you were. And God you're gorgeous to boot," he breathed with all that awe and adoration on full display. "So, no, I don't envy Brady his wife, per se."
I reopened my eyes and smiled softly. "Edward, you know that every day, when I wake up next to you, I'm amazed that I get to have you as the father of my child, as my lover, and as my very best friend and partner for the rest of my life? You know that, right?"
"I do happen to know that," he nodded, grinning smugly. Then, he sighed. "It's why I put up with the boyfriend title."
I chuckled quietly. "Thank you."
"For distracting me."
Edward swallowed. "You've been on edge since we set up this meeting. I hate seeing you this anxious, especially due to them. If they act like assholes, Bella-"
"Then we'll deal with them together."
He sighed. "Speaking of which, where are they? They're late."
Edward glared at the windows, and as if their mention had conjured them up, one of the two individuals we awaited that afternoon calmly crossed the street and headed toward the café.
"Where the hell is the other one?" Edward hissed.
I sighed inaudibly, while Edward's sister opened the door to the café and made inquiries at the hostess stand. Reaching across the table, I squeezed Edward's hand.
"Easy, okay? For Jay's sake."
"If those two had another fight," Edward whispered under his breath, "she's going to be an even bigger-"
"Shh," I cut him off sharply before he stood and pulled out Alice's chair.
"Alice," he said.
Hey," she said curtly in return.
"Hey," I echoed.
Edward waited until the three of us were seated. When he spoke, the inquiry was delivered calmly, though I knew fire brimmed just under the surface.
Alice shrugged. "Who knows?" she replied, studying the coffee menu. "So, what do you suggest here?"
Edward and I looked at her, at one another, and back at her.
I cleared my throat, "Edward and I wanted to speak with both of you."
Alice kept her eyes on her coffee list. She ran a well-manicured finger down the offerings, attempting no reply. It had been a while – since the day I backhanded her when Edward was in the hospital – that I'd been this close to Alice. Yes, we'd been around one another a couple of times, but not this close, not even after the last incident, which made our situation today all the more precarious.
Her hair, as usual, was professionally-styled in long, cascading, blond waves. Her makeup was flawless, expertly applied. But…this close, her ends needed trimming. And her makeup didn't do much to conceal the crow's feet at the outer corners of her eyes or the lines on her forehead and around her mouth. In those five seconds, before we got into the thick of things, I thought back to that evening, about a year and a half earlier, which likely exacerbated her hatred of me.
It was Edward's parents' fortieth anniversary, and one of the few instances in which Edward and I, and Alice and Jasper, had been forced into the same space. Edward had been on edge for the weeks leading up to the party, during which he vacillated over whether we would attend or not.
By then, I'd already dealt with Jasper and Alice – Jasper in Forks and Alice at the hospital when Edward caught that nasty strain. I'd realized how little they mattered in our grand scheme. I didn't particularly enjoy the prospect of being around them, but I was a mom, a writer, and I had a partner whom I loved and respected and who loved and respected me in return. Alice and Jasper were the least of my concerns. What's more, it was an opportunity to spend time with Jay, as I'd begun calling him, since Esme wanted her grandchildren present.
The party was in Edward's parents' home, a gorgeous bi-level on the Upper East Side. The evening started out enjoyable. With the baby barely six months old, it was our first big family celebration since the birth, especially considering the dad was a germaphobe who hadn't wanted too many germy people around his child for the first few months of life.
Now, almost everyone gushed over the baby and seemed genuinely thrilled to see us. The baby traveled from arm to arm with only minimal, undisguised apprehension from Edward. All the while, Jay proudly followed his baby cousin around, wanting to protect and to play. Esme and Carlisle were proud grandparents, and privately, Esme whispered to me about how great I looked despite having given birth less than six months earlier.
And boy, did Edward and I dance. We mingled with surprisingly pleasant members of the family and spent time with little Jay before Esme took him up to bed. Our close friends, who'd become acquainted with Edward's parents through our events, were also invited.
At one point later in the evening, Edward was off on the other side of the room, relaying the story of the baby's birth to some cousins who'd only heard the story a handful of times. Rose and I served ourselves shrimp cocktail and talked babies while bits and pieces of Edward's conversation reached us.
"She was a damn trooper. I honestly don't know if I could've done it."
"Trust me, Yeti, you couldn't have," Rose said dryly as she bit off a shrimp tail.
I chuckled in agreement. "No way."
"Hey, is that her?"
I looked up as Rose furtively jerked her jaw toward where Alice stood off with some family member, hissing together in a corner.
"I'd actually forgotten she was here, but yes, that's her," I whispered.
Rose stared for a few moments.
"I mean, I hate talking crap about other women. It's not empowering at all, and yes, she's pretty, but as someone who's attracted to women…" Rose shook her head. "He risked you for…? I don't see it. Plus, no way she's younger than you."
"She is," I hissed under my breath. "By five years."
Rose dropped the shrimp she'd been about to bite back onto her cocktail plate. "Get the fuck out of here."
"Shh," I hissed again.
"I'm sorry, but she's not all that."
"Right?" Rose agreed with her wife. "That's what I was just saying."
"And that's coming from two lesbians, Bella."
"That's what I said."
"Will you two stop?"
"And get this, babe," Rose said to Vera. "She's five years younger than Bella."
"No, she's not."
Rose snickered. "Right?"
"Where is cool, professional, and fervent feminist Doctor Rose tonight?" I inquired.
"Doctor Rose is off duty, love," Rose grinned, "and since Beck is with Grandma and off the boob, Doctor Rose also has more than a couple of goblets of red wine under her belt."
"Mm, then maybe I should get Doctor Rose home right now," Vera said.
Both women giggled, and I chuckled. But then Vera continued.
"See, I would've never thought she was younger, and, Bella, I'm not just saying that because you're our girl and because that one sleeps with other women's partners."
"I see why you two ended up together," I muttered.
Emmett and Mack approached.
"I don't know what's going on here," Emmett said as he piled shrimp onto a large plate not meant for cocktails, "but that asshole over there's been eyeing you hard all night, Bella." He frowned darkly at Jasper.
I snorted quietly. "Funny, how he was once my husband, and I'd also forgotten he was here tonight."
But Emmett was too distracted to acknowledge my comment. "Jesus Christ, he doesn't even try to hide it," he spat disgustedly.
"Bee," Mack whispered, "Em and I wanted to give you a heads up."
"Heads up about what?"
"Edward's cousin, Jamie," Emmett said, "was telling us all an interesting story before. He said he was here at the house when Esme came home the day my godchild was born."
"My godchild too," Rose interrupted.
"I know that, Rosie," Emmett said impatiently, rolling his eyes. "When our godchild was born. Alice and Jasper happened to be over."
"Jamie says that Jasper went pale, and he looked like he might pass out," Mack said, taking over the gossip.
"He had to excuse himself to the bathroom," Emmett said, "from where he didn't emerge for like a half hour."
"And when he did," Mack said, "he wanted to know all about the baby – weight, size, name, how you were doing, etc., 'til Alice got sick of it and dragged him home."
"Please you two, don't ever tell Edward that story," I begged.
"That's the thing, Bee," Mack said quietly. "Jamie told the story to Emmett, me, and Edward."
I looked over at Edward, who now had his cell phone out, showing off baby pictures and laughing loudly with his cousins. When he caught me looking, he shot me a wink and a smile.
"Are you sure Edward heard the story?" I frowned.
"Yeah, we were right there," Emmett said. "There's more."
"Jamie says when you and Edward walked in tonight, he was standing with Jasper, and Jasper's eyes almost popped out of their sockets, and he said, 'My God, she looks perfect,' before he realized that-"
"No…" I exhaled the breath from my lungs.
"-Alice was standing at Jamie's other side."
I shut my eyes, wishing we would've just stayed home. "Did Jamie tell Edward this story too?"
"Not in front of us, but…they're cousins, and I happen to know he's a lot closer to Edward than he is to Alice."
For a long while afterward, I admittedly walked on eggshells, picturing some sort of replay of That Day. But when Edward returned to me, he appeared completely at ease. We hung around with our friends and danced some more. My breasts started aching while the baby's cries were heard on the monitor. By the time I excused myself to go nurse, I'd long since forgotten about the tale Mack and Emmett conveyed.
Edward met me upstairs a few minutes later, in his old bedroom, while our baby nursed peacefully. He shut the door carefully behind him and locked it before pulling up his old desk chair beside the baby and me.
"Everything okay?" he whispered, stroking the baby's copper locks. It was something he did while I nursed, his way of joining in the bond.
"Everything's fine," I smiled. "You get Runner's Highs from running. I get Nurser's Highs from nursing."
"I didn't know that was a thing," he chuckled quietly.
"And you never will," I teased.
We carried on a light conversation, and when the baby finished nursing, he did the diaper changing while I readjusted my party dress. And when the baby fell asleep again, safely in the bassinet, Edward laid me over his old bed.
"Your dress'll get wrinkled," he said apologetically as he lifted the hem around my hips.
I made no such apology as I pulled up his dress shirt and pulled down his zipper.
When he pushed himself inside, we performed an act we'd performed hundreds, maybe thousands of times by then, yet it was still as mind-blowing and exhilarating as our first time. Made possibly even more so by the fact that we were in his old bedroom, and a slew of guests partied downstairs.
Edward pulled my hands over my head and wrapped them around the bed frame.
With his hands wrapped around mine, he thrust hard, and I arched high, and together, we forgot our surroundings.
"Want me to wait for you?" he asked afterward as he zipped up.
"No," I smiled. "You may be able to zip up and go, but I've got to clean up."
He chuckled ruefully. "All right, then. Sorry about your dress," he whispered. "Now, everyone'll know what we were doing."
"You're not sorry," I grinned.
"You know me too well. I'll meet you downstairs. Love you."
"I love you too."
It was the ferocity of the hisses which caught my attention as I descended the grand staircase. As I stood frozen, halfway down, already knowing whose voices they were, I wondered at my stupidity at thinking Edward would've just let it go. By then, he'd held it all in for too long, and if anyone knew the dangers of that, it was me.
"…a fucking man and take care and worry about your son and your woman. Jay needs a real father, someone who'll be there, and who'll teach him how to respect-"
"She was my wife first, and you don't have the right-"
I jumped when something…someone hit a wall.
"She was your wife, and you were the fucking asshole who gave her up. Again, be a fucking man, and live with your choices. I have every fucking right. She's a strong woman, who can take care of herself, but for as long as she allows me, I'll be there to help her. It will never be me who gives her up, and I will fuck up anyone who ever messes with her again. What's more-"
"There's more?" Jasper hissed.
Again, something hit the wall. "Motherfucker, there's plenty more, but I'll keep it short. What's more, regardless of everything else, it's your job to care for my sister and my nephew. Man the fuck up for them if not for yourself. Make them your goddamn priority. They're my family as well," he growled, "so I have every. fucking. right." I heard Edward draw in a deep breath. "Jasper, this is the second time you've pushed me, and you've ended up against a wall. The next time, you'll go through it. Do you understand me?"
A long moment of silence transpired. I never did hear a reply from Jasper, but when he emerged from the shadows under the staircase, looking a bit roughed-up but in one piece, I quickly deduced the answer. He must've spotted me in his periphery because he looked up sharply, shut his eyes tight, and with a deep breath, he padded off, hands buried deep in his pockets.
And, from the other end of the large, empty anteroom around the grand staircase, Alice emerged. She met my gaze through cold, empty eyes, holding it for a handful of seconds before walking off slowly in Jasper's direction.
With a sigh, I descended the rest of the way and waited for Edward, who met me at the foot of the stairs. He swallowed hard, unable to look at me.
"I…apologize, Bella. I know you've never wanted a scene like that, so similar to…and especially with our baby right up…" He sighed heavily and raked a hand through his hair.
For one, long moment, I simply looked at him, waiting, until he finally met my eyes. Then, I stepped closer and angled my head upward.
"Do you feel better?" I asked.
He stared at me.
"Edward, you have better self-control than I used to have."
Edward blinked, startled, then he swept me into his arms, lifting my feet off the floor and burying his face in the crook of my neck.
"Bella, you never say or do what I expect you to, and it's just one of the many reasons why you and our son are my life."
"And you've got to protect your life."
He nodded against my shoulder.
I pulled away only enough to meet his emerald gaze. "You haven't answered me, though. Do you feel better?"
He searched my eyes.
"I do now."
"Good," I smiled. "Now, let's rejoin the party."
"Alice," Edward hissed now in the present. Alice looked up sharply, shooting daggers at Edward.
"Bella and I are trying to understand why Jay's father isn't here. We thought we made it clear that we wanted to speak with you both."
Alice set down her coffee menu and leaned closer to Edward.
"I said, I don't know where he is." She spoke with exaggerated languidness. "And not that it's any of your business, but we had a fight, and it's over for good. I don't know where he is, and I don't give a fuck. So, if you needed him here too, you're out of luck." She returned her attention to the menu.
Minutes passed, while I silently tried to determine the best way to handle the situation without giving in to my visions of slapping her.
Edward finally shook his head and pulled me out of my musings. "You know, since Day One, you two failed to provide Jay with anything resembling a stable home, with any sort of example-"
Alice slapped her menu onto the table with a fury that left a rush of air in its wake.
"Is this what you asked me to meet you here for, dear brother, so you can lecture me on how to be a parent? Just because you landed a lucky shot into her," she jerked her chin in my direction – the first acknowledgment of my presence – "doesn't make you any sort of expert at-"
"I swear to God, Alice-"
"Enough," I hissed sharply. "Enough, both of you. For the love of…"
While the three of us sat stiffly at that table, ready to pounce on one another, I drew in a breath and tried to recall all those coping techniques Doctor Rose and I had gone over years ago; techniques which had become a daily part of my routine to stave off those darker demons – demons I was now courting.
Twice in my life, I'd met up with Alice under the most stressful situations. The first time, after I caught her fucking my then-husband. The second time, after I'd learned I was pregnant and that her brother, the father of my baby, the man I loved more than I'd ever loved anyone, was unconscious in a hospital.
Both times I'd reacted in anger; though to varying degrees. This time, even more than those previous times, I couldn't afford to lose control; neither Edward nor I could afford it.
I reached across the table and again wrapped my hand around Edward's.
"Let's…let's start over and try to have a civil conversation."
For the first time since she arrived, Alice met my gaze.
"What exactly do you want to discuss civilly, Bella?"
My heart raced. Over and over, Edward and I had reviewed what we would say. We'd speak plainly, calmly, with no accusations, no bribes or threats. Just facts.
"I don't know if you know this, Alice, but Edward, the baby, and I are leaving for London at the end of the summer. Gemma will be shot over there, on location, and I'll be working closely with the director on editing the screenplay. We're thinking…we're thinking we'll be away for about a year."
"I'm sure you find all this fascinating," Alice said drolly, "going from rags to riches between your luck with mindless readers and with my mindless-"
"Alice," Edward hissed.
I put a hand up and cut off the rest.
"The reason we're sharing this with you, Alice, is because…you know that, over the past couple of years, Edward and I have spent an increasingly significant amount of time with little Jay."
"With J.J.," she corrected.
I bit the inside of my lip. "Yes. Yes, with J.J. He…loves his baby cousin, Masen," I chuckled. "When we visit Esme and Carlisle, and J.J.'s there…we love spending time with him. Last year, you allowed us to take him to Chicago with us for a week," I said carefully. "You've allowed us to include him more and more in our family's outings, and I want you to know that I'm grateful for that, Alice."
She held my gaze blandly. "He's not going to London with you, Bella, if that's where this is going. He's my son, not yours," she added, digging a well-manicured nail into her chest before turning the finger toward me so closely, I had to reel back to keep it from poking my eye. "So, if you're planning on playing Little Miss Movie-Maker in jolly, old England, pack up your family and give my J.J. a big kiss goodbye because you won't see him until you return."
With every word she spoke, not only did she dig a dagger deeper into my heart, the way she'd tried to drill that nail into my eye…but my outrage grew exponentially because with this fucking, venomous woman, the animosity would never end. What's more, she had it fucking backward. If I could see past all that had happened, why the fuck-
Once, I'd given in to my outrage toward Alice. Though, in her unmerited defense, it was outrage over two decades in the making. Her heinous actions were the straw which broke the camel's back; the straw which broke me.
The second time I'd given in to my outrage toward Alice, fear for Edward's health overpowered my common sense. Perhaps, had I spoke calmly…remained in control…she and I would be in a different place right now. Not necessarily friends; no. The bitterness between us ran too deep. But for our children's sake, some sort of suspension of hostilities.
And while these thoughts ran through my mind, Edward and Alice exchanged harsh barbs, each one more acidic than the previous one.
"Alice, don't make this decision just to hurt me."
"What?" she spat.
"Make this decision for your son."
"How dare you, Bella? How fucking dare you imply that I'm doing this merely to hurt you." She leaned across the table, her face so close to mine I could see the dark fury which turned eyes a different color yet usually just as bright as Edward's a deep shade of navy. "J.J. is my son. Mine," she stressed. "And you two think you can come in with your 'Aunt Bella' and 'Uncle Edward' and take him away from me? Why? Because I took Jasper from you?"
She turned her fury on Edward. "Because our father slept with my mother?"
"This has absolutely nothing to do with either of those."
"Bullshit! She wants to raise him because he's Jasper's son, so she can have the final win! And you want to prove that I'm exactly the useless piece of shit you've always believed me to be," she choked.
"Alice," Edward sighed, more exasperated than angry now, "that's not true. None of that is true."
"Alice," I said, "I don't want to take Jay from you. I mean, I do."
"You bitch," she spat.
"Damn it, Alice!" Edward hissed, but again, I squeezed his hand.
"Let me finish, Alice. I do want to take him, but not to get even with you. I want to take him because Edward and I love him. We love him like he's our son, Edward's and mine."
"But he's not yours," she cried bitterly. "He's mine, and he's all I have that's mine."
"I know he's not ours, and that's why, as much as we'd love to take him, even more than that, Alice, we want you to grow the fuck up and take care of your son the way he deserves to be taken care of. Let me finish," I said when she opened her mouth angrily again. "Alice, the past is the past, but it's time we all learned from it. You, Edward, and me, the three of us hold bitter feelings and memories from our childhoods."
"And?" Alice's nostrils flared, her eyes and lips tightening in that way which was causing severe wrinkles.
"We grew up with parents who fucked up majorly, and while I'm not here to excuse what you did by blaming your childhood, I don't want Jay's childhood to be affected by other people's mistakes."
"So, you think you can be a better mother to him?"
"I think I can be a better aunt to him, and Edward can be a better uncle to him right now than you can be a mother because you need to get your shit together, if not for yourself, then for that little boy," I said, my voice breaking despite myself. "He's four-years-old, sweet and innocent, but one day, he might see or hear something which will stay with him forever."
Silent tears streaked her cheeks, which she swiped away.
"Edward and I aren't perfect parents, but we're ready to put Masen and Jay's needs before ours. That's the difference right now between you and us."
"None of that explains why you want to take my son to London," she said defiantly.
"For now, to give you time, Alice," Edward replied. "Like Bella said, you need to get yourself together. If you allow us to take Jay to England, it'll give you some space to figure yourself out. You say it's over with Jasper, but we've heard that before. That guy does nothing for you or for your son, Alice. Get your priorities straight, once and for all."
Alice snorted and offered me a sardonic grin. "I guess you figure I got what I deserved there, don't you? You sure as hell dodged that bullet. Now, what? Now, you get to be the mother to his son, anyway?"
For a long while, I merely held her gaze, until she blinked and turned away.
"Alice, if you say no to letting us take Jay to England, please, please, please," I begged, "let it be for the right reasons; because you're ready to be the mom to him that your little boy deserves."
Her eyes flashed. "You have it all worked out, don't you?"
"Not the way you imagine it, no."
"Al," Edward said, startling me because I'd never heard him call her that. I think it surprised her as well.
"Bella and I…we don't want Jay to grow up knowing that his parents signed him over because no matter how much love we ever give him, that'll always be a burden he'll have to live with. Al, you and I both know how those burdens our parents inadvertently place on us as children follow us through the rest of our lives. We don't want that for Jay. Like Bella said, if you keep us from taking him, let it be because you're ready for him, not to perpetuate a situation which has existed between us long before he was even born."
On a crisp day in September, five years after That Day…four years after Edward and I met…re-met…
It was my thirty-fifth birthday to be exact, and Edward and I, our son…and our nephew sat in a row of seats on a plane headed to London, England, waiting for our flight to take off.
Jay had the window seat. Edward sat next to him, with Masen between us.
While the flight attendants performed final flight checks and Edward texted our friends and family to let 'em know we'd boarded without incident, and that we loved them, and all those things people share when boarding a flight, Masen quietly took in his surroundings.
"Hungry, Masen?" Edward asked our now two-year-old son.
Masen shook his head. His hair, bright red at birth, which made Esme weepy with memories of Baby Edward, was now darkening to a shade closer to Adult Edward's tone, a rich copper so dark it was almost brown. He was a quiet baby, pensive; always studying his surroundings, and exactly like his father in that as well, according to his maternal grandmother. His emerald gaze, also just like his father's since birth, finally landed on Jay, who was excitedly playing with the plastic shade covering the small, oval window.
"Jay, when the flight attendant announces it's time to buckle, it's also time to stop playing with the window, alright?" Edward said.
"Okay, Uncle Edward."
Edward ruffled Jay's blond hair.
"I want play with window," Masen said.
"You'll play with it on the return flight a year or so from now," Edward chuckled.
Masen stared at his father, and Edward leaned in to kiss a nose exactly like his save for size and the bump left over from a fracture…years ago.
"Uncle Edward, Mase can share my seat and play with the window with me!" Jay exclaimed with the excitement of someone who'd solved a major issue.
"Maybe in a little while, Jay. He's okay for now. We don't want to get him too excited before the flight takes off," Edward whispered conspiratorially.
"Oh, okay, Uncle Edward," Jay whispered fervently in return before abandoning the window and taking one, small step in the ultra-narrow aisle space toward his cousin. "Did you hear that, Mase? Did you hear that?" He took Masen's small hand into his slightly larger one. "We can play with the window together in a little while! Woo-hoo!" When he threw a small fist in the air, Masen decided it was the most hilarious thing he'd ever seen, and belly laughed so long and hard he ended up hiccupping.
"Again, Jay, again!"
Masen threw back his copper head and roared in amusement.
"Again, Jay! Again!"
This went on for the next five minutes.
"Uncle Edward, Mommy said she'd come to visit me soon – for Christmas she said. She'll come, right?"
"I think so, Jay. I think she will."
"Okay, Uncle Edward. Will my baby cousin Gracie be with us for Christmas too?"
"Not yet, Jay. She's still got to finish growing nice and healthy and strong in Aunt Bella's belly."
"Little sistuh, Gwacie," Masen said.
"Yep, Masen. Your little sister Gracie will be with us in a few, short months."
"Aunt Bella says when Baby Gracie is born, Mase and I can both take turns-"
"You have a lovely family," an older lady across the aisle noted. "Enjoy them while they're little."
"Thank you, and I fully intend to," I smiled in return. When I turned back around, Edward was watching me. He reached across our son and knit his fingers through mine.
"You feeling okay?"
"Not right now…Edward…I was thinking…"
"What were you thinking?"
"When everyone comes to visit for Christmas, and we get married, let's hyphenate our last names, okay?"
For a handful of seconds, he remained frozen. Then, he gave me one of those smiles I adored, the ones that started softly at the corners of his mouth and grew until they became a grin infused with so much joy…a grin which conveyed all his love – the way it always had.
"Okay, Bella. But why are you so quiet, love?"
It was a long moment before I could reply, and when I did, I thought of my beautifully restored, framed quote, safely sent ahead to our new home in England with the rest of our valuable treasures.
The priceless ones were right here.
"I'm enjoying the beauty of the meadow on the other side."
Facebook: Stories by PattyRose
Completing a story is always bittersweet for me. Thanks again, and…BROKEN will follow soon. It's BREAK from Edward's point of view, and with sides to the story not seen in BREAK. :)