Disclaimer: Twilight and its inclusive material is copyright to Stephenie Meyer. Original creation, including but not limited to plot and characters, is copyright to the author of this story. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Okay class, it's time for recess. I'll see you in fifteen minutes," I told my grade 3 class as they all scrambled for the door. I finished wiping off the blackboard and turned, jumping slightly when I spotted Jacob Black behind me.
"Jake? Why aren't you outside with the rest of the class? Is something wrong?"
He fidgeted from foot to foot, wringing his hands together. I put my hand on his shoulder, guiding him over to the chair in front of my desk. I sat down opposite him and gave him an encouraging smile. "I can't help you, if you won't tell me, Jake."
He blushed and looked up at me shyly. "Can you… umm… help me make a resume?"
I sat back in my chair a bit, more than a little confused—Jake was only eight. Why would he need a resume?
"Jake, don't you think you're a little young to be needing a resume?"
He shook his head back and forth. "No! I need to get a job. My mom said! She said me and my brothers needed to give her our resumes so we could get jobs to pay for stuff."
Jake had two older brothers, fourteen-year-old twins, Seth and Paul. They were over at the middle school, and I had never taught them.
"Jake, I'm sure your mother doesn't want you to get a job at your age."
"Uh-huh," he said adamantly, nodding his head as he spoke. "Paul said it's cause Daddy's an"—Jake lowered his voice—"asshole and doesn't pay Mommy for anything. He said now we have to suffer and get jobs and pay for stuff ourselves. Seth called him a 'deadbeat,' Mr. Cullen—what's a deadbeat?"
"I think you shouldn't worry about that right now. I'll tell you what—why don't you go outside for the rest of recess and I will talk to your mom for you, okay?"
He grinned up at me. "Thanks, Mr. Cullen; you're the best teacher ever."
I tried to get hold of Jacob's mother during what was left of recess, but had no luck; when class resumed, I knew I would have to wait for lunch. Lunch came and went, and still there was no answer at the number she had left for emergencies. I had one last chance on final recess, and it was then that I finally received a response to my persistent calling.
"Hello?" a sleepy voice answered.
"Mrs. Black?" I questioned.
"No, it's Ms. Swan—Mrs. Black was my married name. Can I help you?"
"It's Mr. Cullen, Jacob's teacher."
There was a gasp. "Jake, is he okay? He isn't hurt, is he?"
"No, no, he's fine. There was just something he said to me in class today, and I believe it may warrant a face-to-face meeting. Would it be possible for you to meet with me after school?"
"He's not in trouble, is he? I was worried about that—ever since… well, never mind. What time did you need me? I have to leave for work for six."
"It shouldn't take too long." I let her know. "I will see you after class? At 3:30 p.m.? I think it might be best if I see you without Jake being present. Is it possible for someone to pick him up?"
"His brothers always pick him up," she replied. "See you then, Mr. Cullen."
I dismissed the class at 3:15 p.m. and set about tidying up while I waited for Jake's mother to arrive. At 3:30 p.m. exactly, there was a knock on my classroom door. I didn't know what I was expecting, but the beautiful woman at the door was not it. I walked over to her, hand outstretched.
"Ms. Swan? I'm Edward, Edward Cullen. Jake's teacher. It's nice to finally meet you."
It was a little odd to be meeting a child's parent so late into the school year. She had been unable to attend parent/teacher night, sending her father instead.
"It's nice to meet you, too. Sorry I haven't had the chance until now. I work the seven-to-seven shift, and I often can't get away for things. I just hope everything is okay with Jake."
"Please, let's make ourselves comfortable and we can discuss why I called you down here."
As we settled at my desk, I tried to come up with a way to start what I knew would be a very tough conversation.
"Are you having financial problems, Ms. Swan?" I blurted.
Her gasp alerted me to the fact that was not the way to ask.
"Forgive me; that was way out of line. Please let me start over."
One look at the ire on her face told me to get on with it.
"Jake came to me at recess today... He wanted my help making his resume. And I get it, I do. My mother was a single mother; my father was a deadbeat just like Jake said his brother said his dad was, but to be honest, Ms. Swan, I don't think forcing your minor children to get jobs is the way to handle this situation. We have programs at the school designed to help you and your family."
I was not prepared for her to start laughing.
"Oh," she said, wiping tears from under her eyes, "you think… I can't believe you think... Jesus Jake."
"Ms. Swan, I fail to see the humor in forcing an eight-year-old to get a job," I said, a little upset she was not taking this seriously. "And, what would you have him do?"
"I'm so, so sorry." She gasped, trying to control her laughter. "It's just, you don't understand."
"So, help me understand."
"Do you have anywhere you need to be?"
I shook my head no.
"Then grab your stuff, Mr. Cullen, and follow me."
I followed her to a small cottage a few streets over from where I lived. I pulled up alongside the curb and exited my car.
"It's right this way," she said, leading me into the living room. She motioned for me to take a seat on the couch then disappeared into the kitchen. When she came back, she had a stack of papers in her hands.
"Here," she said, handing me the stack, "take a look."
I flipped over the stack, and what greeted me was a help wanted poster.
Help Wanted: Kitchen Manager
Description: Will make sure the kitchen stays clean at all times.
Responsible for making sure everyone washes their own dishes and puts them away.
Help Wanted: Lead Housekeeper
Description: Responsible for the upkeep of the living room, hallway, and bathroom.
Also reminds living mates to pick up after themselves.
Help Wanted: Laundry Supervisor
Description: Responsible for making sure living mates keep their laundry clean and neatly put away. Will keep clean towels and washcloths in the bathroom.
The bottom of each poster said: To apply, please hand your resume into Mom. Salary will be discussed during your interview.
"These are… chores," I say, a little in awe.
"Yes, they are chores," she replies with a laugh. "I apologize that Jake made it seem like anything different. I'm trying to teach my kids that they have to work for some things. I have money, Mr. Cullen. I work hard, and even though I get no help from their father, I'm not struggling. I can give my children what they want, what they need, but this way they realize the value of a dollar."
"You're… amazing," I breathed out.
"Well," she scoffed, "I wouldn't take it that far."
"No, really. I told you before, my mother was a single mother, and she never would have thought of doing that sort of thing. She overcompensated, to be honest—gave my sister and me everything we asked for. To make up for our dad not being in the picture."
I looked over at her, and she was blushing slightly. "I'll help Jake with his resume tomorrow. Anything in particular HR is asking for?" I asked with a wink.
She shoved my shoulder. "I'm not telling. There is no special treatment in my house."
The next day, I sat down with Jake and helped him put together a resume. It wasn't the type of resume I was used to doing, given he was only in second grade and had never had a job before, but we filled it with stuff he was good at like, keeping his room clean and not fighting with his brothers. When I asked him what job he was applying for, I had to laugh when he said with a grin, "All three."
"What is so funny?" he asked. "I got to increase my chances."
"You're right, Jake. There is nothing wrong with increasing your chances."
I spent the weekend doing my own chores around the house. If there was one thing I really hated, it was chores. I laughed to myself thinking that maybe I should ask Bella if I could hire her kids to do my chores for me. Then I realized it wasn't a horrible idea. When I was Seth and Paul's age, I used to mow the neighbors' lawns for money, and not to leave out Jake, I could have him weed the garden.
I pulled out my phone and dialed Bella's number. When there was no answer, I left a message asking her to call me back.
I didn't hear from her for the rest of the weekend, but figured she was busy.
On Monday, I sent Jake home with a flyer of my own.
Help Wanted: Lawn and Garden Care
Description: Mowing the lawn, taking care of the garden.
Responsible for mowing the lawn and raking the grass clippings, weeding/watering the garden.
I included a note for Bella, letting her know if the boys wanted some extra money, she could send them over to my house to do my yard work. That it was similar to a job I had when I was their age, and it would help me to get the rest of my stuff done on the weekends, because it would be one less thing for me to do.
The week passed quickly, and since I hadn't heard from Bella, I assumed I wouldn't be seeing the boys that weekend. So, I was a little surprised when my doorbell rang at nine in the morning.
"Well, hello there, Jake," I said. "I assume these are your older brothers?"
"I'm Seth, sir," a boy wearing a red shirt said.
"And I'm Paul." He was in green. I was glad they were wearing different colors, as they were identical.
"I wasn't expecting you boys today, as I hadn't heard from your mother. Why don't you come in and join me? I was just making some breakfast."
"Oh, that's okay—" Seth said, but Jake cut him off.
"We love breakfast—what are you having?" He pushed right into the house, past me.
"I was about to scramble some eggs and make some pancakes. I already have bacon cooked. And don't worry about it boys, there's plenty, if you're hungry."
We all chatted while I made breakfast, and boy, could those boys put away some food. It made me wonder what Bella did to make money. She had said she wasn't struggling and I believed her, but it couldn't be easy.
"All right, now that breakfast is done, let me show you boys what I need you to do."
For the rest of the morning, I showed them where everything was in the garage, and we discussed their payment. The older boys would be getting ten dollars an hour to mow the lawn and rake the grass into bags; Jake would be getting ten dollars an hour to pick the weeds out of the garden and water the garden and grass, once the older boys were finished mowing. They would be coming every Saturday at nine and join me for breakfast before starting. If they were still there at lunchtime, I would feed them then, too.
We agreed they would start the following Saturday, and I sent them home with a wave.
The next few months passed by in a blur of class days, evenings alone, and Saturdays with Bella's boys. What started as the boys simply doing my yard work, became them hanging out on Saturday afternoons, watching sports or playing video games on my ancient Super NES system. Often Bella had to call and ask me to send them home for dinner.
A couple of times, we were able to convince her to come and join us, and those were my favorite times. She always handed me my ass when we played Duck Hunt and the boys would laugh at me, then they would laugh at her when I whipped her at Mario Kart. I never felt like I was missing anything in my life until that woman and her boys came into mine. But since I was Jake's teacher, asking his mother on a date wouldn't have been appropriate.
"It's not fair, though, Mr. Cullen. It's our money," Paul complained.
"Yeah, so what if I want to spend it all on comic books," Seth added.
"I'm saving mine, Mr. Cullen," Jake chimed in, causing his brothers to scoff at him and Paul to shove him.
"Hey now, no shoving. Come on, let's go sit at the table for breakfast and we can talk about this."
I finished preparing breakfast and set it down in front of the boys.
"I can understand both your sides on this issue," I started, "but I'll tell you what my mom told me when I got my first job. She said to take half of my money and put it in the bank for savings, and then take the other half and split it in half again—half to spend on something I wanted right then and half to save for a long-term goal. Do you understand what I mean?"
"It means you think my mom is right—adults are always on each other's side," Paul grumbled.
"You're only on her side because you want to date her," Seth said.
"You wanna date my mom?" Jake asked. "Cool!"
"Now, I'm not going to deny that I like your mom a lot, boys, and I want to ask her out on a date, but I would never do that without asking you boys first. But that isn't why I am on her side with this issue. It's good to save money for a rainy day."
I proceeded to tell them about all the money I had managed to save from my first job as a teenager and all the cool things I was able to buy with that. It seemed to get them into the same mindset as they ran off outside to start their chores, talking about all the stuff they could save up to buy later on.
When the leaves started falling from the trees, the boys were worried their job with me would end.
"Mr. Cullen?" Jake said. "What are we going to do when we can't do the gardening and grass chores anymore?"
"Jake, I told you, outside of school, you can call me Edward." I chuckled. "And I figured you boys would want to continue working for me—well, I hoped you would—so we'll figure something out for the fall and maybe even into the winter. Does that sound okay?"
"Yes!" They exclaimed with a fist pump. "That way we can still save and buy Mom that thing for Christmas."
"What thing is that?"
"She needs a new laptop," Seth said, matter-of-fact.
"Her old one is a piece of shit," Paul added.
"Language!" I admonished, and he blushed.
"She was in the middle of writing another book," Jake said.
"She wrote a book?"
"Uh-huh! It sold lots and lots of copies."
"That's how come she doesn't care that our dad's a deadbeat asshole!" Paul said. "I mean jerk—sorry, Mr. Cullen… I mean, Edward."
I knew Bella worked as a night-shift nurse, but I'd had no idea she'd been published.
"What book did she write?" I asked.
Seth and Paul looked at each other and shrugged. Jake shook his head. I made the decision to ask her after Christmas, so the boys' surprise wasn't ruined.
"Well, I'll tell you what boys, since you can no longer mow the lawn and do the garden, we'll change your jobs around. There are plenty of leaves that will need raking and bagging, so Paul and Seth you can do that, and Jake, you can help me with inside chores. Pay stays the same, deal?"
"Deal!" they said, high-fiving each other.
"And when you have enough saved for your Christmas present for your mom, why don't I take you shopping as well so it can stay a surprise."
"So, the boys can go shopping with you? You're sure it's not a problem?" Bella asked.
"Of course, it's no problem; I offered in the first place," I replied.
"But it's Black Friday, Edward—you know how insane that's going to be?"
I laughed. "I'm used to it—my sister used to drag me out every year."
"Won't she be dragging you out this year, too?"
"No, she and the rest of my family are staying in Chicago this year. Her sister-in-law had a baby, so she and her husband didn't want to leave. And my mom and step-father didn't want to leave her there by herself, so..." I shrugged.
"You aren't going to see your family for Thanksgiving?"
"No. I'm just planning to stick around here. Maybe cook myself a Hungry-Man turkey dinner." I laughed.
"Nonsense! Edward, come join the boys and me. My dad is going to his girlfriend's this year, so it will only be the four of us."
"I don't want to intrude, Bella."
"You wouldn't be intruding. You're important to us… I mean the boys, please, come."
I couldn't help but hope that she really meant I was important to all of them.
Thanksgiving was fun. We talked and laughed and ate until we could barely move, then curled up on the couches to watch TV. When the boys all fell asleep, Bella motioned with her head for me to join her in the kitchen.
"I figure it will be easier for me to get these dishes done while the boys sleep. Who knows what they will want to do when they wake up. I've given my dishwasher the weekend off."
"Well, let me help. What do you need me to do?"
"I wash, you dry?" she asked.
"Sounds like a deal to me."
While we did the dishes, we talked about random stuff. I told stories about some of the kids in my classroom—without naming names, of course—and she told me some of the stuff she's seen at the hospital working nights. Over all, both jobs seemed similar when it came to the crazy shit we'd seen.
It was one of the most fun times of my life. I couldn't remember a time when I was more comfortable with another person, let alone a woman. Of course, being me, I had to go and fuck it up.
"You have..." I motioned to some bubbles she had accidentally wiped on her face.
"Oh!" She blushed. "Here?" she asked, and wiped her opposite cheek.
"No, here, let me." I took my thumb and wiped away the bubbles. I couldn't tear my gaze from her eyes. When she glanced at my lips quickly, I leaned in and kissed her.
I thought she was responding at first, but then she pushed me away. "Edward, I'm sorry; we can't."
"Shit, I'm sorry... I…I should go."
I didn't let her finish before taking off and going home.
The next day, as promised, I took the boys shopping. They had asked me why I wasn't there when they woke up; I simply told them I had to leave to speak to my family for a bit. They didn't question further after that.
When we got to the store, they found a laptop they wanted to purchase. It was on sale for a really good price, so they had enough to cover the cost. I went ahead and purchased her some accessories I thought she might need—like a new laptop bag and wireless mouse. I had no idea if I would be seeing her over the Christmas holidays or not. I feared I had fucked up our friendship beyond repair.
I dropped off the boys at their grandfather's, as they were going to be staying there for the night while Bella worked, then went home to drown my sorrows for a little bit.
The pounding on my front door mimicked the pounding in my head the next morning. Groaning, I rubbed my eyes then my temples and made my way to the front door. I wasn't expecting Bella to be standing on the other side.
"Hey, Edward, can I come in?"
I motioned her to enter, and we went into the living room. I waited for her to tell me why she'd come. I didn't want to put my foot in it again, as I had the previous day, so I figured staying quiet would be my best bet. That, and I was hungover as fuck.
"Edward, I didn't mean to embarrass you the other day," she started.
"No, please, let me finish."
"It's not that I don't want to kiss you. I'm flattered you seem to be as attracted to me as I am to you. It's just… you're Jake's teacher. And if, for some reason, it didn't work out between us, that would be awkward. I honestly do want to explore this—whatever it is between us—just not right now. That's all I meant the other day."
"Oh..." I breathed. "Bella, that's… that's fantastic. Of course, I agree. I don't know what I was thinking in that moment on Thanksgiving. I mean I'm pretty sure what I was thinking was, 'Man, I'd love to kiss her right now.'"
We both laughed, and she leaned her head on my shoulder.
"I'm looking forward to wooing you this summer, Bella Swan."
She laughed. "I'm looking forward to being wooed by you this summer, Edward Cullen."
And before I could stop her, she planted one right on me before getting up from the couch and leaving out the front door.
I took my hungover ass back to bed, feeling a whole lot lighter than I did.
The break for Christmas was going to be the longest two weeks of my life, it seemed. I was used to seeing the boys on Saturdays, and given that I was going to spend the holiday with my family in Chicago, I would be missing them, and Bella, tremendously. The boys were still going to go by my house to check on things and do their chores. Bella and I thought having that stability would be a good thing. Especially, since their father had decided to come out of the woodwork recently.
My sister knocked on my childhood bedroom door, and I pointed to my cell phone and held up my finger for her to give me a second.
"And then, Dad said he would see us on Christmas Eve. Isn't that the best, Edward?" Jake's excited voice rang in my ear.
"That's awesome, buddy," I replied. "Listen, I have to go for a little bit, but I'll call you, your mom, and brothers after dinner, okay?"
"Okay! Bye, Edward!"
I turned to see my sister giving me a weird look. "What?"
"You look happy, Edward—love suits you."
"Love," I sputtered. "I don't know Bella well enough to love her."
"I think you do, Brother. Besides… I wasn't only talking about Bella. Come on, dinner's ready."
"God, I could just kill him, Edward!" Bella ranted over the phone. "Who the fuck does that? Who the fuck tells a little boy they are going to come see them on Christmas Eve, and then doesn't show up? Ugg! I want to kick his ass so bad."
To be honest, I wanted to kick her ex's ass, too. I would give everything I had to be able to see them, and here he had every opportunity, told his kids he would, then bailed, without even calling. What a dick.
"I'm really sorry, Bella. How are the boys taking it?"
"Well, Jake is devastated." She sighed. "He hasn't even played the Switch he bought himself with his chore money. Paul and Seth are pretending they don't care, but I know deep down they are just as upset as Jake. God, Edward, I want to wring his neck. Jake's calling me; I'd better let you go."
I sighed heavily as I hung up the phone.
"Everything okay, Son?" My mother asked from the doorway to the living room, my father standing beside her.
"Bella's ex told the kids he would come see them today and bailed. The boys are devastated, and of course, she wants to kill him. I feel helpless—because there is nothing I can do from here. Not that there is much I can do from there either."
"That's nonsense, Edward," my father said. "Go, be with them. Just having you there would probably make them feel better."
"But, what about you guys? I'm supposed to be spending time with you all, and I've missed you."
"And we miss you, too." Dad smiled. "But there will be other opportunities to see us. Go. Be with Bella and her kids."
And that was how I found myself on the red-eye out of Chicago, back to Seattle on Christmas Eve.
It was only six a.m. by the time I arrived at Bella's place. I didn't want to risk waking the boys, so I texted her instead. To say she was shocked was an understatement.
"What are you doing here?" She asked as she closed the front door behind her and stepped out onto the porch.
"The boys were upset. I wanted to spend the day with them."
She threw her arms around me and kissed me… hard.
"I could really love you, Edward Cullen."
"I could really love you too, Bella, and the boys."
Just then, the front door opened and Jake ran out. "Edward! You're here! You came!"
"Of course, I did, buddy. It wouldn't have been a good Christmas without you, your brothers, and your mom."
"We didn't think it would be good without you either. But Paul and Seth said your parents probably missed you, so we couldn't say nothing to make you feel bad so you'd stay."
"Let's go inside and see what we can make for Christmas breakfast. Then we can see what Santa brought you guys," Bella said.
"But, Mom, Santa already brought my present!"
"Yeah, Edward! Merry Christmas to me!"
I felt my eyes tear up and turned quickly to wipe them away.
Spending Christmas with Bella and her boys was one of the best experiences of my life. Bella loved her laptop and the boys were thrilled about being able to give it their mom—it was a beautiful moment. Even with the underlying sadness surrounding their dad not coming as promised—well, Jake was sad; Seth and Paul were pissed—everyone had a good time.
I fit with their little family in a way I never felt like I fit before—not even with my own, to be honest. We spent a great day laughing and playing. I helped Bella make dinner. It was amazing, and when the kids invited me over the next day, I didn't hesitate to say yes.
The passage of time was quick when you spent your time with those you loved. And before I knew it, the end of the school year had arrived.
It was both bitter and sweet. Bitter because I loved having Jake in my class and he would no longer be with me, but sweet because now we could finally get moving on making us a family.
"Hey, Jake, before you leave, can you give this to your mom?"
He opened it and read:
Help Wanted: Girlfriend
Description: Going out on dates, having the occasional sleepover, falling in love.
Responsible for loving me as much as I love you.
"This is so cool, Mr. Cullen! But why would you want to sleep over?"
The transition was seamless—Bella and I going from friends to more. We went out on dates with only the two of us and dates with the boys. When my parents and sister came for a visit, I didn't hesitate to introduce them.
"They really are lovely," my mom told me before they left. "Make sure you find a way to hold onto them."
"I am working on it, Mom."
And I was; I just didn't know if it was too soon.
The summer seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, it was almost time for back to school. The boys and I had spent a lot of time together that summer while Bella worked; instead of going to Bella's father's all the time, she asked that I stay with them at her place. We had a lot of fun, and to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to having to stay at my own place again. Bella and I didn't want the boys to get the wrong impression, so we'd only had few sleepovers. Really just on nights when the boys had sleepovers at their friends' houses. Nonetheless, I had still stayed at her place often, and knew I would be lonely in my own house.
The day before school started was a busy one. Bella and I took the boys out for some last minute shopping and went out for dinner, before I dropped them back home.
"I don't understand why you don't just come to our house," Seth said.
"Yeah, it's not like we don't know that you and Mom sleep together when we go to our friends' places," Paul added knowingly.
"You and Mom have sleepovers?" Jake asked. "Why am I not invited?"
"Edward doesn't want you there when he's screwing Mom," Seth said.
"SETH!" Bella and I yelled together.
"We'll tell you later," Paul said mischievously.
"You will not. Or you will both be grounded," Bella said firmly, fixing them both with a glare.
I couldn't help but laugh at the whole situation, and soon everyone was laughing with me.
The week went by with our schedule going back to somewhat normal. I worked during the day, picked up Jake after school and brought him home, made the boys dinner, then let them stay up a bit past their bedtimes before ushering them off to bed. We would be getting up as Bella arrived home, and she would make us breakfast before we went off to work and school and her to sleep.
It was getting to the point where I wondered why I kept my house at all. Bella and I had a moving in conversation. She said she wanted to talk to the boys about their thoughts on it—which was why I found myself at home alone on a Saturday. It felt very weird.
My phone rang at 3:30 in the afternoon, and I smiled when I saw Bella's number. But I was confused when it wasn't her voice on the other end but Jake's.
"Is your mom okay, Jake?"
"Yeah, she's in the bath. Seth and Paul and I want you to come over early. Mom said I could call you."
I didn't even hesitate to jump in my car and head right over there.
The door had a sign on it that I thought was a little weird...
...was painted in blue and red. It was obvious that Jake had done the sign.
I didn't even knock on the door anymore I was over so often. I walked in and the boys were nowhere to be found. They didn't answer when I called out for them, which was odd.
I walked into the living room. There was a help wanted poster on the wall.
Help Wanted: Step-Father
Description: Dad who will make sure to love us forever.
Responsible for making sure Mom and us boys are taken care of and loved.
Tears immediately stung my eyes, and a laugh-sob escaped.
"Will you?" I heard from behind me.
I turned to see Bella down on one knee, ring in hand, with Paul, Seth, and Jake all kneeling with her.
I was over to them in seconds on my knees hugging them all until we were a pile on the floor.
"In case you didn't understand my answer: that would be yes."