The following three days spent with the Cullens were nothing short of amazing. Chris enjoyed himself immensely, and I was beyond thankful that each member of the family seemed genuinely interested in getting to know him. Carlisle and Esme were so natural with him, and I found myself comparing them to Charlie and Renee as grandparents more than once. I felt so at home there, and it was obvious to me that Chris did as well, because he never once asked me when we were going home. He wanted for nothing while we were guests in the Cullen home. In fact, I worried that he'd never stop asking to go back once we left.
I stood outside Alice's door, eavesdropping on the two of them even though I knew full well Alice was aware of my presence. Edward and I had shared an afternoon together at a local farmer's market, and when we returned, Esme just smiled at us from the kitchen and pointed upstairs.
As I neared the room, I heard the two of them conversing.
"That's a huge doll, Alice!"
"It's actually a mannequin, Chris."
"Oh, right. Like at the mall," he replied happily.
"But then why's it naked? Mannequins are for showing off clothes," my son asked innocently.
"That's true! I'm actually making something to put on her right now."
I heard Chris moving around the room, most likely inspecting all of the photographs, jewelry, and trinkets Alice had displayed on every available surface.
"You should make my mommy something to wear."
"That's exactly what I'm doing!" Alice explained.
"Really? Is it gonna be blue, because that's her favorite color," Chris asked sweetly.
"Hmm, well, I knew that, so I actually chose a red color. I thought she would like something different."
"Oh, yeah! Probably," he agreed politely, even though I detected a slight tinge of disappointment in his voice. It was beyond adorable.
"She looks pretty no matter what," he finally added after a moment of contemplation.
I bit my lip at how heartfelt and pure his devotion was.
The sewing machine stopped, and I could practically hear Alice's smile from my hiding spot before she answered.
"Oh, boy. This one's gonna break a lot of hearts."
The following morning, I was snuggled up with Edward on an absurdly comfortable couch, while Carlisle played a game with Chris in the next room. We were quiet as we listened to the two of them. I knew Carlisle was fishing for information on his own, and I was interested as to what he would ask.
"So, Chris, do you like school?"
"I love it!"
"That's great. What is your favorite subject? When I was a little boy, I thought science was the best," Carlisle offered.
Chris seemed to be thinking it over, because I heard nothing for a good ten seconds.
"I think math."
"Wow, really? That's wonderful. Math is very important," Carlisle responded with enthusiasm.
"Yuck," I whispered my opinion on the matter quietly so that only Edward could hear me. He chuckled from his position behind me, and I turned my head in time to receive a kiss to my cheek.
"That's what my teacher says, too," Chris replied.
"It's your turn, buddy. I got two matches, but I missed the last try," Carlisle prompted.
"K. Hmm, I don't know. This one…and…I think this one," Chris' little voice trailed off until, "Aww, man! They don't match," he grumbled after a short pause.
"That's okay. You'll try again," Carlisle replied warmly.
"Thanks, Carwisle. You're really nice."
Carlisle must have ruffled Chris' hair in response, because Edward and I heard familiar giggles fill the room.
"K, try again," Carlisle said.
I felt Edward stiffen slightly, and I turned to look at him.
"I'm showing him which card to choose," he explained.
I stared wordlessly at the vampire in front of me.
"Grrr! Wrong again. I can't 'member where the other one is," we heard Chris complain.
Carlisle laughed lightly again, "That's okay, Chris. 'Memory' is a tricky game. It's supposed to be hard."
Edward exhaled, and I implored him to give me more information by sliding my hand into his hair and tilting my head.
"Nothing. He didn't hear me at all, Bella. Carlisle thinks he has to be looking at me for it to work," Edward explained.
"Makes sense," I whispered, thankful to learn that Chris' ability seemed very specific and limited to proximity. Right or not, I was relieved.
The night before we were to leave, I went searching the house for Chris after finding he'd left the den and the DVD I started for him only twenty minutes prior.
Most of the Cullens were in the kitchen, chatting and generally getting in Esme's way as she poured way too much effort into preparing a home cooked meal for only two people. Everyone was somewhat subdued with a sense of regret as night fell. I knew they were disappointed to see our time with them coming to an end. It was heartwarming and depressing all at the same time. Our plan was to leave early the next afternoon in order to get Chris home at a decent hour and into bed, so that he would return to school on Monday morning well-rested.
As I climbed the stairs and thought over the weekend, I was nothing but thankful for the assurance the entire trip provided. The Cullens belonged in our lives. Logically, I knew all kinds of hurdles existed, but being with them, even for such a short time, confirmed that the benefits more than outweighed the risks.
I thought maybe Chris had gone upstairs to use the restroom, even though there was one only a few doors down from the den. He was used to using the one between the bedrooms we'd been staying in, so it made sense that he'd go the distance, seeking the familiar.
"Chris?" I called, peeking into empty rooms as I passed them.
I checked all of the bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs before heading back down. I passed the den on my way back to the kitchen, but he wasn't there. I knew he wasn't in the kitchen, because I'd left there to check on him in the first place.
"Where is he?" I asked myself quietly as I headed back to the kitchen to ask Edward. I kept calm only because I knew everything was okay; Edward would have known immediately if he was in any danger.
As I neared the foyer, a light coming from beneath the partially open door to the garage caught my attention. I paused and stepped closer.
"Are you married to Rosie?" I heard my baby ask happily from where he sat perched on a wide workbench. Emmett had undoubtedly placed him up there, because there was no way he managed to climb up on his own.
Emmett was leaning over an engine, wrench and cloth in hand and a huge smile on his face. I watched as Chris swung his legs back and forth.
"Yep. We are. I'm pretty lucky, huh?" Emmett replied as he turned and gave Chris a high five.
Chris laughed and nodded in innocent agreement.
Chris quieted as Emmett pointed out parts of the engine. He moved and plucked Chris from the bench, holding him up to look down at the impressive heap of machinery. I laughed lightly and watched in rapt fascination.
"My mom and dad aren't really married anymore," Chris said as Emmett deposited him back on the bench.
My breath hitched at the sudden exclamation which seemed so out of the blue. I turned to peek down the hallway and saw that Edward was now resting against the doorway to the kitchen. He was watching me intently, a soft smile on his face. I motioned to him that I was listening, and he nodded in understanding. I felt support rolling off of him.
"That's true. But, you know that doesn't change anything, right?" Emmett's tone was gentle but left little room for misunderstanding.
My heart swelled.
"They're still mom and dad, and they love you all the same," Emmett replied seriously, dropping the wrench as he turned to face Chris.
I fell a little more in love with Emmett Cullen in that instant.
Chris nodded emphatically again and rested his little hands on the tops of his thighs.
"Can people get married two times?" he asked after a minute, and I gasped slightly.
I was dumbfounded. They were logical questions, but I'd never heard anything like them from Chris, despite my attempts to get him to talk about it with me.
Emmett sat on a stool in front of the bench. I debated heading in to the garage to help Emmett out, but one glance back at Edward stopped me in my tracks. He shook his head gently and smiled warmly. I stayed where I was.
"Yes, they can. When grown-ups get married, they promise to be together forever, but sometimes it doesn't work out. And, if that happens, they can definitely choose to get married to someone else," Emmett began.
Chris was quiet, his stare on Emmett steadfast.
"And then it is forever?"
I caught a tiny smirk on Emmett's face as he shifted his head to peek at the door before returning his full attention to my son. He knew he had more than one as an audience.
"When they find the exact, perfect person for them, then yes, it's forever."
"The perfect person?"
"Well, I don't mean that they have to really be perfect. They can still make mistakes, have icky habits, make weird faces, smell a little," Emmett laughed as he made funny faces and pretended to pick his nose as he sniffed his underarms while burping.
Chris laughed hysterically and slapped his hands on his belly.
The kitchen quieted, and I knew they were all listening.
Chris and Emmett's laughter quieted and Emmett continued, "They just have to find the perfect person for them. Someone who understands them and loves them no matter what."
Chris nodded again.
"Rosie is my perfect person."
"Yeah, I think so, too," Emmett agreed with a warm smile.
Chris was quiet for a minute, and Emmett did the perfect thing. He just sat there and waited in case there was another follow up question on its way.
I looked to Edward and wiped a tear from my cheek. He walked in my direction as I backed slightly away from the door. Neither of us spoke as he moved us further down the hallway and into Carlisle's study. I barely managed to utter his name before his lips were on mine. I moaned against his mouth and pressed my hands, palms open against his chest. He was comforting me with his lips and hands, and I was never more thankful for a partner who know when I just needed to be held. I felt his fingers brush against my cheek before he ghosted them down my arms and intertwined them with my own. I tilted my head to the side, leaning up on my toes, and deepened our kiss.
He met me move for move, giving as much as I could take while still keeping control.
"Bella," he whispered when I pulled away and kissed his cheek.
"Anytime," he replied lightly, sarcasm evident in his voice, since he apparently didn't feel a thank you was necessary.
I slipped from his arms with a sigh and smiled brightly.
"Let's go," he smiled.
And, so we did. We rejoined the family in the kitchen, complete with Emmett and my son who seemed as content as ever. His smile only brightened when I bent to kiss his forehead and gently tickle his stomach.
He looked at me and smiled, a twinkle in his eye, which I prayed every day would never disappear as he grew up.
"Hi, momma," he breathed through giggles as he tried to bat my hands away.
"Love you," I whispered as I pulled away and moved to help Esme with his plate.
Chris fought going to bed that night. He stayed up until almost 10:30. The reason why did not escape me. The Cullens were worth it.
We left for home only two hours later than we'd planned the next day, which was still pretty impressive considering how many hugs, goodbye's, and mini meltdowns we survived. None of the meltdowns were Chris'. He was great the whole day. He woke up cheerful, dressed in exactly what I laid out for him, and even ate all of his breakfast - banana slices included.
Alice, on the other hand, was a different story. She decided to revert back to being a toddler and practically stomped her feet in frustration when Edward told her she couldn't ride back with us. She planned to fix up the Cullen's house in Forks in the event that they wanted to visit at length, and she figured she could hitch a ride with us. It was obvious that she sought more time with me and Chris, and I found it incredibly endearing, but a part of me was also thankful when Edward decided on his own that he'd rather it just be the three of us for the drive.
I was making sure I had everything back in my suitcase when I heard him tell her 'no'.
"Why not, Edward? That's silly. You're going to make me drive a second car when you're going there anyway?"
"Run then," he quipped, and I blanched, getting a little angry for Alice myself at that flippant reply.
"Nice, Edward. You know I don't like traveling by foot by myself."
"Jasper will go with you," Edward replied smoothly.
"I know he will. I don't want him to. He'll be bored while I shop, and I'd rather not make him miserable. Just let me ride back with you guys."
"Edward Cullen, you are such an ass."
"I know, Alice."
"Oh, for crying out loud. Fine. I get it. You don't want me there," she mumbled, trying the pity route.
I had to hand it to her. She was good.
"Alice," his tone was different. He was falling for it. Such a man.
"It's not that. It's just that Chris has been pretty wound up the last few days, and we want him to relax, maybe even get a long nap in on the way back. I think we both know that won't happen with you sharing the backseat."
I paused in the middle of folding a sweatshirt. Something about how naturally Edward spoke in regards to Chris and what he wanted for him struck me. He sounded like a dad. He sounded like a man who knew exactly what was best for his child and didn't mind standing up for it. He sounded perfect.
I sat on the edge of the bed and listened as they finished their standoff.
"Don't be upset with me, Al."
"I'm not. Honestly. I guess I just still miss her."
"I know. Trust me, I get it. I'm with her almost constantly, and it's barely enough."
"Ok, then. Well, that's good to know," Alice replied quietly.
"Oh, yeah?" Edward said with a chuckle.
"Yep. It reassures me that you'll be very understanding when I show up sometime this week to visit. Sometime EARLY this week," she finished.
I didn't hear Edward say anything back, and I assumed it was because Alice fled the hallway as soon as she'd stated her intentions, leaving him no time to argue.
He entered the room a second later confirming my suspicions. I arched a brow at him and huffed as I pulled the suitcase off the bed. It flopped to the ground with a loud thud.
"Is she going to let us leave?" I joked.
He studied me with a smirk.
"She's contemplating hiding Chris."
My eyes widened, and I laughed.
Edward grabbed the suitcase and headed for the staircase.
"Hurry, Bella. There's no telling what she's capable of."
We were packed and backing down the driveway fifteen minutes later. Chris rambled constantly for the first two and a half hours of the trip before exhaustion won out, and his head lolled to the side as his eyes closed. I turned to watch him from my spot next to Edward. His little lips pursed as he slept, and his eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks. I smiled and leaned back to cover his legs with a blanket I always kept in the backseat.
I turned forward in my seat again and sighed. It was completely quiet in the car, and an incredible sense of peace settled over me as I basked in the silence. I turned to watch Edward as he drove. He smiled softly and reached his right hand over to hold mine for a moment before he returned his to the wheel. I reached over comfortably, running my fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. I rubbed at the muscles of his neck, feeling their incredible strength bunched under the surface of his skin. I had no idea if my rubbing was even a sensation he could register as pleasurable. I still had the intense urge to soothe him however I could. Josh always loved when I massaged his neck while we drove any distance. He'd practically lean his head over and beg for it until I gave in. It annoyed me.
Edward was the exact opposite. I would have gladly kept my hands on him until they didn't work anymore. He moaned appreciatively and turned to meet my stare.
"Love you," he whispered.
I smiled and lay my head back to rest against the seat as I stared at him.
"I love you, too."
I'm pretty sure I joined my son in sleep about two minutes later. The next thing I knew, Edward was waking me up with his fingers on my cheek.
I stirred in the seat and then realized the car was no longer moving.
"You're home, love. You slept almost two hours."
I yawned and stretched as much as my seat allowed, feeling the ache in my neck from its unnatural tilt. Yeah, it felt like two hours. Two Advils were going to be necessary…quickly.
"Wow," I mumbled, turning to find Chris smiling back brightly from the backseat.
"We were super quiet, mommy!"
"You were, huh?"
"Yep! We didn't even wake you up."
"Good job, buddy. Thank you."
"Come on, Chris. Let's go inside first, and then I'll grab the bags," Edward said as he exited the car. I sat there for a few seconds, gathering my wits before I opened the door and joined them on the porch. Edward was already opening the front door with his key when I reached him. He held the door open and allowed Chris to run passed him. He wrapped an arm around me and started to step inside, but I grabbed the sleeve of his sweater, stopping him in his tracks.
He turned and stared at me in question, a gentle look on his face.
"You said 'you're home'," I mumbled, realizing what I'd disliked about his comment but hadn't caught at the time.
Edward nodded and seemed confused.
I shook my head back and forth.
"We're home, Edward. We are home," I repeated.