It was the first time they'd made love – well, the third if you're going by actual instances – and Bella was sprawled rather inelegantly on top of Jacob, gasping for air while he ran his hand up and down her bare back.
"Uh… wow," she puffed out.
Jacob smiled to himself, and it might have been a little bit smug. He brought his other hand to her hair, tangled his fingers in it and lifted sections, watching as the strands spilled in the half-light.
"You're so lovely Bells," he said softly.
She smiled, pressed her lips to his burning chest. "So are you."
She was surprised that she didn't feel the need to answer back, qualify his statement, that the compliment didn't embarrass her. Frankly though, it would have been a little ridiculous to be embarrassed by some words given the things they had just done and the position she was currently in.
A long moment passed while they held each other and breathed, nothing more, and Bella was thinking about the last ten years, the next ten, all of it. Eventually she wriggled off Jacob, rested her head on his firm upper arm, her eyes shining as she looked up at him, whispered earnestly "I can't believe I almost gave this up."
Jacob's lips curved slowly. He brushed her hair out of her face before he leaned in and kissed her with an mmm sound that was equal parts agreement and, well, just mmm.
Bella clung to him, poured herself into the kiss and found herself breathless again when he rubbed his nose against hers, murmured "Thank God for almost."
Japan. They were tourists, worse, obnoxiously in love tourists, and Jacob forced Bella into the matching 'I heart Tokyo' teeshirts and made peace signs for the camera relentlessly.
He took obscene amounts of photos of her at Osaka Castle Park where she was lit up with excitement and practically swimming in cherry blossom. There was a brilliant smile for every click of his finger.
Years later he would decide his favorite shot was the one he took just as Bella stretched her arms out, tipped her face up to the golden sun overhead and laughed loudly and in front of all these people.
"Jake?! This is incredible! I can't believe I almost gave this up!"
The first night they brought Rose home from the hospital, Jacob and Bella spent a long time staring at her in her crib while she slept, when they really should have been taking advantage of the quiet to get some sleep themselves. (They would pay for their foolishness later.)
Long stretches of awed silence were softly broken from time to time with some observation about the color of her skin, or the way her eyelids fluttered, and once with a whispered "I can't believe I almost gave this up" from Bella.
She looked up at Jacob, her eyes suddenly brimming with unshed tears. "I can't believe I almost took this away from you. Jake, I almost took her away from the world."
Jacob smiled, leaned down and pressed his palm to her face, asked quietly and still with the tiniest hint of trepidation "So it was worth it then?"
"Of course it was worth it." Bella reached up and took his hand from her cheek, twined her fingers in his, then gazed adoringly at her baby girl again.
"How could she not be worth it? She's worth anything."
Jacob chuckled under his breath. "That's not what you were saying – sorry – shrieking in the delivery room."
Bella rolled her eyes, nudged him. "Hush you."
Bella managed to get her job back at the Community Center on the Reservation once the kids were in school. She was doing what she loved and putting her psychology degree to good use, but she found that the whole working thing had lost some of its charm now that she and Jake had a million other things to take care of at home.
It took her a while to find a balance and she was exhausted and cross a lot of the time.
Her third week back she came home whining to herself every afternoon – Monday – Oh God, why don't those kids ever listen? – Tuesday – How am I supposed to help them if they're just going to make jokes and ignore me all day? – Wednesday – I cannot believe Stacy wants me to come in on Saturday. I mean she knows I have two kids at home, who does she think she is! – Thursday – That's it, I'm quitting. We don't need the money this badly. – Friday –
Friday was different. Bella threw the door open with a broad grin, decided to make a full roast dinner and Cake! We haven't had cake in ages.
When Jacob came home a couple of hours later with the kids, she was humming and the whole house smelled like heaven.
Rose dragged her brother upstairs by his karate belt and Jacob raised a suspicious eyebrow. "What the occasion, Bells?"
She shrugged. "No occasion." Then she smiled to herself. "Well, you could say there was an occasion. Remember that kid Aaron Carey that I used to bitch and cry over back when I started at the Community Center?"
Jacob frowned, thought for a moment. "Oh yeah! The one whose dad used to beat the crap out of him."
"Yeah, and he's also the one who was on the brink of liver failure at the age of fourteen and had a habit of showing up to school drunk. Remember?"
Jacob nodded and Bella stepped toward him, hands on her hips.
"Well. Guess who came in today and guess who is graduating college? Graduating. Freaking. College."
Jacob's eyes widened in surprise. "Seriously?"
Bella giggled. "Seriously! He brought us a lucky bamboo for the office."
Jacob dropped his keys on the counter and hugged her. "Bella that's amazing. No wonder you're in such a good mood."
She sighed happily against his chest. "I know I complain a lot, but really… working with people this way, getting to be a part of their lives long term… Sometimes I can't believe I almost gave this up."
Their son was getting married. He was getting married young, too young. Bella hadn't been entirely happy when he'd told them he was going to propose, but Jo was as headstrong and determined as his father. He knew what he wanted and nobody was going to stand in his way.
Now, here she sat, a couple of too-short months later, one hand wrapped tightly in Jacob's, the other in Renee's, a smile and a nod from Charlie, who was with Billy at the end of the pew, a quick wink from Rose at the alter, holding the bride's bouquet.
The priest spoke. "Do you, Joseph Charles William Black take this woman, Ellen Louise Thackeray to be your lawful wedded wife?"
Bella could feel her nails digging into Jacob's palm, sweat beading on her forehead. She was experiencing the same crippling anxiety that had always and would always follow her at weddings, but moreso because this was her son and he was so young, too young, and she –
Jo's voice was strong, absolutely sure, and there was so much joy packed so tightly into those two little syllables that Bella felt her heart crack, and a reciprocal honeyed happiness trickled out.
She relaxed her grip, first her left hand, then her right. A tear slid down to the corner of her wide, wide smile.
A few minutes later, as the new Mr and Mrs Black strode beaming down the aisle, bells ringing, cheers erupting, Bella whispered shakily to Jacob "I can't believe I almost gave this up."
They were sitting at the little wrought iron table on the porch, sipping sweet tea in perfect peace, when the front door flew open and a small dark-haired boy went hurtling into the yard.
Two little girls followed close behind, then Rose, carrying a tiny brown screaming bundle, and finally Ellen with a plate of cookies.
She sighed heavily as she placed them on the table. "I burnt them. Again."
Jacob chuckled. "I told Jo he shouldn't marry you time and time again. But did he listen? No."
Ellen rolled her eyes. "Oh haha Grandad."
A set of high-pitched echoes came from the grass. "Haha Grandad! Haha!"
Rose was heading down the front steps, bouncing the baby gently, muttering "Jesus Christ," then yelling "Michael quit that! You're stomping all over the petunias!"
Michael just grinned, kept right on stomping, and when the two little girls joined in, Ellen hurried to catch up with Rose in order to help administer the scolding.
Bella smiled, shook her head. "There goes Grandma's flowerbed."
Jacob took her hand in his, gave it a squeeze. "We'll plant a new one after the holidays."
She gave his hand an answering squeeze and grinned at him. "So Michael can go to town on it next year?"
Jacob nodded solemnly. "Why else?"
Bella threw her head back and laughed, and in that moment the wrinkles and silvering hair faded away and to Jacob she was that girl again, the one in the photo, arms flung out in a snowstorm of pink, happy and free and his, always.
The laughter spilled into coughing and Bella gulped down some tea to soothe the tickle in her throat.
When she met Jacob's eyes again the look in them made her whole body warm impossibly. She smiled tenderly, reached up and stroked his fine, weathered face. "What are you thinking?"
He leaned forward, mirroring her when he touched his fingers to her paper-soft cheek. "I'm thinking…" His lips stretched into a broad grin as he considered his answer. "I'm thinking Bells, honey… I can't believe you almost gave this up."