**A Month Later**
"Love, I'm sorry."
Bella's tear-filled voice broke me. "I know he was old, and did nothing but sleep, but he was my last tie to my dad." She sniffled.
Jake had died—curled up on his chair, one last fart lingering in the air. Bella discovered him when she went to get a cup of coffee and had stopped to stroke his fur. It happened yesterday, but it was the first chance I'd had to talk with her.
Long-distance relationships sucked.
Bella had flown here once in the weeks since Christmas. The first few days were great, but then all hell had broken loose at the hospital with an outbreak of flu and I was constantly called in. I barely saw her the rest of the week, and since then, we hadn't been able to connect. I missed her terribly—especially once she'd been here. Once I'd had her in my space—in my bed. I wanted her back here, but I knew she wasn't interested in living in a big city.
Lately, I hadn't been either. After the quiet time with my family, Chicago seemed too loud, too chaotic—too lonely.
"I understand," I soothed. "It's okay to be sad, love."
"I wish you were here," she confessed.
Pain lanced through my chest at her words. That was the problem. I wasn't there for her. Despite my words of assurance, Skype, texts, and phone calls were cold comfort compared to what I wanted. What she needed.
Her beside me. I needed her touch. I longed to feel her close.
"I know," was all I could offer.
"We'll see each other soon, though," she said with hope in her voice.
"Ah…" I swallowed.
"You didn't get the time off?"
"I did, but not the weekend we talked about. It's two weeks later," I confessed, hating the fact I was disappointing her again.
"Yes." Not Valentines, like I promised. "I'm sorry."
"I understand," she whispered. "Edward, I—"
My pager buzzing and my name over the loudspeaker interrupted us.
"Damn," I groaned. "Finish what you were going to say."
"No, it's fine. We'll talk later."
"Bella, I'm sorry about Jake."
"And the weekend."
"Okay," She sighed. "I'll talk to you soon."
"I love you," I told her. I had expressed the words to her when she was here. There was no doubt in my mind. Her sweet response left me no doubt as to her own feelings, and it was the one thing that kept up my spirits.
But today, she didn't echo my sentiments.
"I know, Edward," she whispered.
Then she hung up.
I hated the sound of the dead line.
**Four days Later**
"Edward," a voice called.
I turned, meeting the eyes of my boss, Garrett. "Hey, what's up?" I asked. I was anxious to get home. I had put in another long day, caught up on all my paperwork, and wanted to try to call Bella. It felt like days since we had spoken. She was still sad about Jake, and our situation wasn't helping. We were both hurting. I was worried about her, and if I was honest, about us. I let Alice know what happened, and she was great, but Bella needed me.
And frankly, I needed her.
"Can we talk for a moment?" Garrett inquired.
I hid my impatience and followed him to his office. I slid my messenger bag from my shoulder and sat down.
"How are you?" he asked.
I frowned. "Good, Garrett."
"I was talking to your dad last night."
I nodded. Garrett and my dad had gone through med school together and were still close. I had been thrilled to discover I would be working with him here and we got along well.
"He told me something interesting."
"He said you'd fallen in love with a pretty shopkeeper over the holidays and are pining over her. He said how much you hate it here."
I felt the heat creep up my neck. I had spoken with my dad last week and confessed how frustrated I was lately with my life. How I didn't want to be in Chicago anymore. How much I missed Bella. How fed up I was with the nonstop workload here.
I didn't think he'd tell my boss.
"Ah…"I scrubbed my neck. "Hate is a strong word."
He threw back his head in laughter. "I'm kidding. He said you were frustrated. I've sensed that lately, Edward. Longer than the last few weeks. More like the last few months."
"Sorry, I didn't realize…"
"I know," he interrupted me. "That's the thing. You're an excellent doctor, Edward. One of the best. In fact, I had planned on nominating you to take my place when I retire in a few years."
My eyes flew open wide and I felt panic swell. I didn't want his position. In that split second, I realized I didn't want to be here anymore.
Garrett held up his hand. "Except I've seen the signs. You give everything to your patients, Edward. You give until there isn't anything left, and for the first time ever, you need something left over. There is someone outside this place more important now, isn't there?"
I nodded and cleared my throat. "There is, but we seem to be at an impasse. She isn't a big city girl and I'm stuck here. Sorry," I hastily added. "I meant my job is here."
He regarded me quietly for a moment. "What if I told you that you weren't stuck? That I had an idea that might help you."
I leaned forward. "I'd like you to tell me more."
I sighed as I read the proposal in front of me. I was torn as I read the words, wondering if I would have been at all hesitant if I had received this offer in January.
In January, my life looked as if it was going to be different. Still in the thrall of Edward and his determination we were meant to be together, I had flown to Chicago to see him. It was perfect—until his overwhelming duties got in the way. Still I loved being close to him. After I left, the calls and texts continued. We Skyped. Planned another weekend that he had to postpone. We re-planned another weekend only for it to happen again when his responsibilities interfered.
And the past two weeks, I had barely heard from him at all. His calls were sporadic and brief, and he was distracted when he did call.
Part of me wasn't shocked. I knew once the emotion of the holidays was over and he got back to his life this might happen. I simply didn't think it would happen so soon. Edward seemed so adamant. Certain we had a future together. He told me over and again there was a reason his flights were delayed. He insisted he was meant to find my shop—to find me.
When Jake died, he sent flowers. Had Alice come see me. She insisted I go stay the weekend, and being at her house, while lovely, made me miss Edward more. He was everywhere—I even stayed in his room and it smelled like him.
His parents—especially his mom—kept in touch. His family was wonderful.
It hurt knowing when I lost Edward, I would lose them too. And it felt as if I was losing him.
It all seemed inevitable. We had burned hot and fast. It was unexpected, wonderful, and far too quick to be lasting.
Yet my heart ached as if I had lost the most precious thing in my life.
I looked around my shop and the unpacked boxes. Normally, by now, I was organized and getting ready to reopen in a few weeks. These days I was distracted and sad. I was tired all the time, yet it felt as if I slept more than normal. My appetite was off and my energy level at an all-time low. I had barely put away the Christmas items, never mind gotten prepared to open up again.
I looked down at the papers in front of me. Maybe despite things not working with Edward it was time. The offer to purchase the building and the land was unexpected, but it was a good one. I could move and buy a place somewhere. Finish my education. Open another shop. For the first time, I would have the choice. As I pondered, one thought drifted through my head.
I wished I could talk to Edward about it.
Furious banging on my door startled me. I slid off the stool, heading toward the door. No doubt another delivery of inventory I would need to sort through.
Opening the door, I was shocked to discover who was on the other side. His hands locked on the door frame, his hair wild and disheveled, looking intense, determined, and so handsome that my breath caught in my throat.
Bella was surprised to see me. She gripped the edge of the door, her brow furrowed, her voice shocked.
God, she was beautiful. But thin and drawn. I prayed it was because she was missing me as much as I was missing her.
I stepped closer. "Miss Swan, once again, I must beg you for help."
She blinked. "Help?"
"Yes. I have misplaced something of great value and I think perhaps you might have it in your possession."
I saw her eyes drift to the bracelet I had given her. She thought that was the thing of great value. "Not the bracelet, love," I prompted.
She met my eyes, the pain in hers evident, her confusion clear.
"My heart," I stated. "I left my heart with you. I've come to get it." I paused. "And you."
Tears filled those dark eyes of hers. "Me?"
"Yes," I responded, moving closer so I could wipe away her tears. "I'm empty without you. Nothing is right without you beside me. You have my heart, Bella. Will you take the rest of me?" I paused. "Forever?"
"Forever?" she repeated.
She was in my arms in an instant. I held her close, feeling complete for the first time since leaving her weeks prior.
I was never letting her go again.
Bella was curled up beside me on her small sofa. "Here? You're going to be a doctor here?"
"Well, in Seattle. Only three hours from here. And I'm going to be part of a team there. My hours will be more stable." I gathered her hands in mine. "I'll get a place as close to here as I can. We can see each other more. I'll drive here every chance I get. Evenings, weekends…"
Bella shook her head. "Edward—I've had an offer on this place." She jumped up and hurried away, returning with a thick stack of papers. She thrust them at me and I glanced at the number.
"This is generous." I looked up. "What about your store?"
"I can reopen someday, if I want, or I was thinking of going back to school." She looked at me, suddenly shy. "Maybe I could do that in Seattle."
I cupped her face and kissed her. "Yes. God, yes. Live with me, Bella. Be with me every day. Please."
Her breath caught. "I thought you were breaking up with me," she whispered, holding my wrists. "I've hardly heard from you."
"I know. I'm sorry. I was so blown over when Garrett told me about this position. I flew here and interviewed, and they offered me the job right away. I had to go back and settle things in Chicago." I paused and sighed. "Part of me was afraid to tell you in case you said no. The other part was so excited, I wanted to make it a surprise." I smiled. "I only told my family last night. And I decided if you said no, I was going to woo you until you changed your mind and decided to love me again."
"I never stopped."
I pulled her into my arms. "Good."
"I've missed you so much, Edward."
"Me too, love." I kissed her tenderly. "You're never going to be alone again. Neither of us will be."
"I like the sound of that."
"So you'll live with me. We'll get a place together?" I asked, anxious.
"Yes," she said simply.
"Thank you, love. I don't ever want to be without you again." I held her tighter. "God, Bella, when Garrett told me about this job my first thought was of you. Of us. Of being close to you—being able to see you."
I recalled my reaction and the way Garrett had laughed at my words. I had basically said the same thing to him, then realized what I had blurted out to my boss.
He waved away my apologies.
"Don't be sorry, Edward. There is more to life than being a doctor. Find that balance. Be with the woman you love. If you're happy at home, it will carry to your career. And the same goes the other way. You've been adrift for a while, without even knowing it. And since the holidays, you've looked downright lost. When Carlisle told me about your girl, I knew it was you who was meant for that position."
He stood and shook my hand. "I'll arrange the intro and start looking for a new body."
"Perhaps it won't work out."
He shook his head. "You're too good, and they need you. At least I have Newton to torture." He winked and sent me on my way.
"I've been working on getting to you ever since."
She sighed, and I kissed her, studying her face. She looked exhausted.
"I think I got here at the right time. You need looking after, Miss Swan, and you're lucky. I have a degree that certifies there is no one better than me."
"You're a pediatrician, Edward," she pointed out with a grin, but didn't object as I carried her to her room and lay her on the bed.
"Hush. I am a Bella expert caregiver. It's naptime, then I'm making you dinner and we're having a bath."
"What about you?"
"I'm locking up, then getting in there with you. Tomorrow we'll talk about everything and make plans."
I bent down and kissed her. "Doctor's orders."
The next Christmas
I pulled into the garage and killed the engine. I stretched and yawned, then quietly made my way inside the house. The colorful lights from tree in the living room cast a dim glow into the hall, and after kicking off my shoes, I walked into the room, stopping at the pretty tableau I found.
Bella, sound asleep in the big corner chair she loved so much and our daughter asleep on her chest. They were covered by a light blanket, a discarded bottle on the floor. I watched my girls, the intense feeling of happiness flooding my chest as I looked at them.
Our Bree had been a surprise to us both. It turned out those glow-in-the-dark condoms weren't totally effective, and the tiredness and despondent mood Bella had been experiencing was more than simply missing me. Her body was raging with pregnancy hormones. The biggest joke of all was neither of us realized it. I was so busy with the move and looking for a place to live, and Bella was going crazy with packing up her shop after accepting the offer on her place that we missed it. She was used to unregular cycles and thought nothing of it. I was so distracted, I was blind. It wasn't until I was there one day with Alice helping Bella pack up the shop. Bella became dizzy and something clicked as I caught her. Her emotions, the constant tiredness, the occasional nausea. I had missed the obvious completely. Alice procured a pregnancy test, and later that day I learned I was going to be a dad.
Joy wasn't a big enough word to describe my feelings.
Life ramped into high gear. Within a month, we bought a house, moved Bella, I started with my new position, and we settled into a life together. It was as effortless as breathing with her. My family loved her, both my parents and Alice visiting often. As I expected, Bella and Alice were incredibly close.
I surprised Bella one summer day, getting down on one knee in the garden.
"Bella Swan, will you do me the extraordinary honor of marrying me?"
Her beautiful eyes filled with tears. "Yes."
I slipped a ring on her finger and kissed her hand. I held her palm to my cheek. "Soon?"
"Name the day," she replied.
A week later, we were husband and wife.
When Bree arrived in September, our family was there, helping Bella, making sure I didn't drop my infant daughter, and stocking the house with food and every other essential we could need. When they left, the quiet was welcome, and the terror real. But like the team Bella and I had become, we worked through it together.
I crossed the room and kneeled before my girls. I laid a hand on Bella's arm and the other on Bree's back, rubbing it lightly. Bella's eyes flickered open and a smile curved her mouth. "Hi."
I bent closer and kissed her. "Hi, Mommy. How are my girls?"
"Good. We fell asleep waiting for you." She paused. "How is Josh?"
One of my patients had surgery, then spiked a fever. I stayed late to make sure he pulled through. "Good. Fever broke and he is responding well to pain meds."
"Can I have her?"
Bella smiled and slipped Bree into my arms, knowing how much I needed her close. The feel of my little girl snuggled against my chest relaxed me. Her dark hair was curly and wild. She looked like Bella, right down to her mouth, except she had my green eyes. I looked up with a smile and the light glinted off the pretty emerald necklace hanging around Bella's neck. I had given it to her when Bree was born, and she never took it off. Bella smiled at me in return and stroked Bree's head—the action making the matching bracelet twinkle in the light.
I loved holding my daughter. The way she looked—content and warm. Her baby smell. How her eyes followed my movements and she seemed to track my voice when I was in the room. Her sunny smile made me feel ten feet tall.
"Your parents arrive tomorrow." Bella reminded me.
"Are you sure, Bella? We can always tell them we changed our mind and we can go there. You just gave birth. Hosting Christmas seems too much."
She chuckled and sat up. "I gave birth almost three months ago. Mom and I will do some baking while Bree hangs with Grandpa. Everyone else is coming on Christmas Eve, and they're all staying at a hotel. It'll be fine."
I sighed, lifting Bree to my shoulder and rubbing her back in long passes. I was almost grateful our house was small and couldn't hold them all. It would have been wild. Then I grinned.
"Christmas Eve. I can't believe a year ago I was hammering on your shop door, hoping the nice old lady that owned the store would let me in to pick some gifts."
Bella laughed quietly. "Not so old, I guess."
I leaned forward and kissed her. "But very nice."
She traced my jaw with her fingertip. "I thought you were the most handsome man I had ever seen." She quirked her eyebrow. "And generous."
I laughed. "I have never been as grateful for lost parcels as I was that night. I didn't care how much it cost me if it meant spending a few more moments with you."
Bella frowned. "Did you ever get them? The lost parcels I mean?"
I lifted one shoulder. "I have no idea. I totally forgot to ask. I assume they showed up at some point." I bent close, teasing. "And this year I didn't have to worry. I have a wife now who does all that stuff."
She laughed with me, and I kissed her. We had shopped together, decorated the house, and I found joy in small things I had never noticed until now. The season had taken on a whole new meaning thanks to the birth of my little girl and the gift of my wife.
"Last year was all about the lost parcels. This year it's all about the very best thing. My own family. I never could have imagined how my life would have changed when you opened the door. How blessed I would be." I held her gaze. "Thank you, my beautiful wife."
"I love you," she whispered.
I cupped her cheek. "I love you, my Bella. Merry Christmas."
Her smile was bright. "Merry Christmas."
Thank you all for reading this short little story. Thank you for your words that make me smile. I read every one.
However you express it, however you celebrate, or even if you don't. May love, peace, and joy fill your days, and only sweet dreams and smiles fill your nights.
The Experiment will continue posting after the New Year.
All the best to you. Peace my friends.