If I owned the Twilight saga I would be wealthy; I'm not, so I'm sure you can work the rest out for yourself!
A. N. - This piece takes place during Breaking Dawn whilst Bella is still in the earlier stages of pregnancy with Renesmee.
I loathed the mall with perhaps a greater passion than I reserved even for high school. But today I was there for a purpose far more pressing than simply playing living mannequin to Alice on one of her many shopping jaunts.
Since today was Saturday throngs of teenagers had gathered in the food court apparently with the sole intention of launching fries at each other whilst the rest of the shoppers gave them a wide berth. Every now and again I received a reproachful glare from a member of the mall staff as though I were guilty merely through very tenuous association. This was one of the perils of being forever frozen in the body of a seventeen year old. No matter how far one mentally progressed the body ultimately did not, and so I found myself continually tarred with the same degrading brush as the rest of the youths of the time.
My mind was assaulted by thirty hormonally motivated thoughts as I placed myself in the thick of the teens and scanned the sea of bodies for her face. Tuning out the lustful din with some difficulty, I attempted to focus on locating her scent. My logic told me that I was unlikely to find her within this particular crowd but I was determined to leave no stone unturned if only to prevent my fear from escalating.
Bella was missing.
Rosalie had called several hours ago whilst Alice and I had been in the middle of the hunt. She had insisted that she had left Bella alone for no longer than ten minutes in order to fetch her lunch, but when she had returned to the lounge she had discovered the couch minus it's now semi-permanent occupant. The front door hung wide open and the keys to my Volvo, which Bella deemed the more inconspicuous of all our cars, were gone.
Apparently, Bella had given no indication that she was planning a jail break and therefore few clues remained as to where she may have gone. Given the fact that Bella was now physically around seven months pregnant with the child that was killing her, we were all considerably worried. These days her strength was so low that she required assistance to complete even the most menial of tasks. I could hardly bear to dwell on how she would be faring out in the world, alone.
The fetus continued to hamper Alice's efforts at attempting to locate Bella and the only hint she had been able to provide me with was the smell of cinnamon pastry that filled her nostrils whenever she attempted to get a lock on my wife.
I immediately thought of the mall situated a little over ten minutes outside the limits of Forks. In the farthest corner of the building there nestled a French coffee house that served a kind of cinnamon muffin that Bella had proclaimed divine. Occasionally on a free afternoon, she would take one of her much loved books to the café and lose herself for a few hours amidst the scents of ground coffee beans and toasted pastries. I was holding desperately onto this one rather feeble lead because my very life depended on it.
Growing frustrated, I began to push my way through the warm bodies taking less care than I really aught to. Their indignant thoughts and startled cries of pain washed over me with little effect and I ploughed on. My eyes narrowed as I spied the bay window of the coffee house. The front table was occupied by a dark haired young woman who was pouring over a novel as she twirled a strand of hair around her index finger. The gesture was too juvenile and I could tell without taking a further step that this was not my Bella.
I groaned and resisted the urge to sink to my knees in the middle of the shopping centre. Massaging my brow with the palm of my hand, I cast my eyes downward as though the floor tiles may provide me with the answers my psychic sister could not.
It was then that I caught her unmistakeable scent.
My head snapped up and my eyes widened as a mixture of relief and sheer fury threatened to overwhelm me. With little effort from my brain, my legs pushed my body forward until the smell of her blood only grew stronger. I was led past the coffee house by several metres until I came to a sudden halt outside a boutique that had previously escaped my notice. The multicoloured pastel sign that hung above the doorway simply read 'Bebe'. I pushed through the swinging doors without hesitation.
My eyes adjusted to the softer lighting in less than a second. I was suddenly confronted by innumerable rows of baby clothes and accessories that stretched far back into the recesses of the store. To my right, pushchairs were lined up with military precision whilst to my left a selection of dummy nursery booths had been set up to demonstrate the themes the store's products catered to. It was from the latter direction that Bella's scent seemed to be the strongest.
I took a few measured steps forward and then I saw her. My heart swelled as a wave of relief drowned me and for a moment I remained unmoving. Bella peered slyly out from behind the wall of one of the bedroom scenes, apparently captivated by something before her. I followed the path of her gaze to a young couple who were pouring over the lemon swathed cot that dominated the centre of the floor. The woman, a well rounded brunette, trailed her fingertips across the smooth wooden bars and let out a sigh that I was sure was inaudible to anyone but I. Her partner slipped his arm around her waist and placed a tender kiss on the crown of her head. One hand stole unthinkingly to her protruding stomach and came to rest there with an ease I envied.
My heart ached as I saw what my Bella saw.
"Is this the one?" the man inquired with a beaming smile that reminded me a lot of Emmett. A delighted grin broke out across the woman's features and she clutched tighter to her chest the stack of clothes I now noticed in her hands.
"I think so. But can we afford it?" she leaned forwards eagerly, clearly holding her breath as she awaited the decision. The man examined the ticket that hung from the mobile suspended above the crib, swallowed, and then slowly nodded. My eyes darted to Bella's face and I watched numbly as a cascade of tears flowed down her cheeks. The couple departed arm in arm towards a waiting sales assistant, leaving Bella lost amongst the racks.
She looked pale and fragile in comparison to the other women that milled around the store with stomachs blooming and cheeks glowing their content. I noted the basket clutched in her hands as I decided now was the time to make my approach. From what I could tell, it remained empty and I wondered if she were just using it as a prop to hide behind.
"Love?" I said softly, moving towards her with my arms extended so as not to startle her anymore than necessary. Bella jumped and as she noticed me her cheeks flushed with a becoming blush and her gaze dropped guiltily to the floor.
"Edward," she replied, her voice so weak that even my ears strained to hear it. "I'm sorry. I suppose I frightened you all. That was wrong of me."
"If you wanted something love, you only had to ask one of us," I began in gentle reproach, taking Bella's hand in my own and kissing the smooth skin. She shivered a little and I quickly withdrew my touch, not wanting to cause her any further discomfort than I already had.
"What if someone from town had seen you?" I prodded, attempting now to pry the basket from her fingers and begin guiding her towards the exit. Bella refused to relinquish her grip and I quickly gave up not knowing how much force it would be safe to exert given her condition.
"Oh well, I already had lunch with Jessica and Mike, then I took in a show with Angela, and later I've booked myself in for a pedicure with Lauren," Bella snapped tartly as she suddenly pulled away from me and moved further into the racks. I ignored her outburst, understanding her anger, and simply offered her a smile which I realised too late only seemed to provoke her rage. I sighed feeling utterly helpless and folded my arms across my chest.
I watched as Bella reached out a trembling hand in order to caress a powder blue playsuit that hung from the nearest clothing rail. She appeared to hold her breath a little as her fingertips stroked the material. Slowly, her lips curved upwards into an awed smile and her free hand drifted absently to her belly. I stiffened, pained to see her in such a state.
"Bella, what are you doing here?" I asked, my voice shaking somewhat. I took a step closer to my wife as she swayed a little on her feet, threatening a sudden and unceremonious descent to the ground. Bella shrugged off my steadying hand and turned to glare at me with a startling ferocity. I was not used to being the subject of Bella's wrath.
"What does it look like Edward?" she spat, seizing the suit in her hand and tossing it violently into the basket without pausing to even check the size. "I'm shopping for the baby."
Had my heart been beating, I was confident it would then have stalled.
"Love," I said, struggling to form other sounds. After a few seconds I found the strength to continue, "Is this wise?"
Bella paused, her once radiant brown eyes affixed upon my face but betraying little of her internal struggle. Over the last few weeks the brilliant chocolate brown hue had dimmed considerably, a fact that filled me with even greater sorrow.
"I want to," she replied simply, seeming to deflate a little now. All traces of anger had dissipated from her tone and she offered me a sad smile. "I just couldn't bare the thought that I would die without having had even a small part in my baby's life."
I shook my head with a vehemence that surprised even myself.
"No, that will not happen Bella," I hissed, struggling to cage the growl that promised to tear from my lips and terrify the surrounding shoppers. "I will not let that happen."
"But you don't really have a choice Edward," Bella said, so infuriatingly matter-of-fact. This time I did growl, a steady hum low in my throat that made Bella wince.
"The hell I don't," I snarled, the tip of my nose mere millimetres from hers. I blinked in surprise at my own loss of control and quickly took a retreating step backwards. Bella appeared unfazed and returned her attention to the clothing.
"It's silly really," she continued, even giggling a little, "I don't know the first thing about babies. There's so much to think about and I don't even know where to begin. I wouldn't know what to use half of this stuff for anyway so it's probably a good thing that…"
"Don't," I interjected, unwilling to allow her to complete her self-damning sentence.
"It's so unfair Edward," she murmured, turning to regard me through a film of unshed tears. I wanted to gather her into my arms and run with her, take her away from here and all danger, but I knew that instinct was too late in coming. The proof of that was staring me in the face. I watched in shock as the mound of her stomach shifted, her skin strained by the creature within her. Bella seemed barely to notice now.
"I want to be like everyone else," Bella said, struggling to hold herself together at the seams, "I want to shop for baby clothes and car seats and buggies with my husband. I want to argue over names and whose nose the baby will have, although hopefully for his sake that will be yours. I want to call every person in my phone book and tell them we're having a child. I want to talk to my mom and ask her how to change a diaper or sterilise a bottle. I want to research family cars and budgeting and decide what colour we'll paint the nursery. I want stretch marks and back ache to be the worst of my worries. Hell Edward, I even want to watch birthing DVD's… I- I just want to be like everyone else."
As she uttered her final sentence, she swept her hand around her in a gesture designed to encompass the couples that milled around the store, each lost in their own private bliss.
I turned to gaze at these humans, all on the verge of the most exciting chapter of their lives. I wondered if any of them truly knew the value of what they held, as my poor Bella seemed to. Esme had spoken little of the day she had become a mother since it was a privilege that had been snatched from her so cruelly. But on the rare occasions she had, her entire being had held such reverence that it was difficult not to feel that one was being deprived of something truly magical.
The mothers in the store paused to coo over unbelievably miniscule booties, compare the sizes of their stomachs, and fill shopping carts with armloads of stuffed toys that they would only later end up donating in vast quantities to Goodwill. The fathers-to-be examined price tags, frowned at items handed to them in flat packed boxes, and worried over the more trivial issues of parenthood such as trunk space and re-decorating. I knew all too well what it felt like to crave normality as Bella did now, and my heart bled for her. In that moment I was stricken with guilt at what I could not provide. I said the first words that entered my head, not caring for the moment whether I would later come to regret them or not. All I longed for, was to give Bella exactly what she wanted and deserved. Despite my feelings towards the child that was ebbing away at my beloved's life, I would endeavour to grant Bella this one moment to be savoured. She asked so little of me as it was, I could hardly deny her something so trivial.
"Have you picked out a crib yet?" I inquired, sliding my hand into my jacket pocket and producing my wallet. Bella's eyes widened a little but she shook her head.
"Edward, no," she pleaded, beginning to chew anxiously on her bottom lip, "I don't want this. I don't want you to pretend just for me."
"Shhhh," I soothed, forcing my lips into a smile that would not betray me. With every fibre of my being, I wished that I could have provided her with a baby instead of a façade.
"Love, I'm not pretending," I replied, instructing my hand to caress the peak of her stomach. It was an action I generally refrained from and Bella seemed stunned. To my own surprise, beneath my fingertips I felt the child stir and rearrange itself. It seemed almost to be taking care with it's movements as though it was beginning to recognise the fragility of it's mother. I pondered this for a moment and pressed ever so gently on Bella's stomach to test my theory. There was the faintest responding pressure to my touch and when I looked into Bella's eyes I saw that some of the old light had returned. Despite myself, I smiled.
I found that my hand had seized a toy from the shelf above my head and I realised with genuine amusement that it was plush lion. I smiled at the irony that only Bella would recognise and dropped the trinket into her basket. She gasped.
I wrapped my arms around Bella's waist and gently guided her further into the store towards the shelves stocked with crib blankets and hooded towels. My credit card suddenly anticipated a battering but money had never been a concern of mine.
Lowering my lips to Bella's ear, I whispered huskily, "Come on love, let's be parents…"
Bella grinned, delighted, and I patted her belly as gently as possible so as not to startle the fetus. Bella reached out and took my hand, already beginning to drop items into her basket with the same eagerness as the humans around us.
Of all the things that alluded me, I knew that I could at least give her this; a day to be just like everyone else.