A Rough Start
"Leave me alone!"
"Get away from me!"
The front door opened and three children came thundering through it before a resounding SLAM! shook the kitchen window.
"Hey!" Bella spun from where she stood frosting cupcakes for Rosalie's upcoming baby shower. She turned and looked over at Edward, who shrugged in return and then went back to cuddling the blonde curly-top that snuggled against his legs.
A nearly thirteen year old Anthony disappeared down the hall, putting as much distance between him and the sister that, until recently, he'd adored so much.
Five and a half years ago, Delaney was named by a brother who had astutely pointed out that since his name started with 'A' and Bella's started with 'B' (not 'I' since nobody called her Isabella), it was time for a 'C'. But Edward hadn't been ready, so without question Anthony skipped to the next letter, 'D', which he reasoned was better anyway, because it was close to the letter 'E' (for Edward).
"What's going on?" Bella tried again for an explanation. There were exactly three days left of summer vacation, and she wasn't sure if she was going to survive another hour of it.
Delaney, the spitting image of her mother at age five, was all too anxious to fill any interested parties in on the events of that afternoon's trip to the park.
"Me and Bodie was havin' a high contest on the swing, and –"
"A what contest?" Edward asked with amusement.
"A high contest. I winned because Bodie cheats. His legs are bigger than mine," Delaney answered matter of fact. Then she put her hands on her hips and reprimanded her father for his faux pas. "Daddy, you inner'upted me."
Edward traded a glance laden with comical indignation with Bella before he apologized to his little girl and urged her to continue.
"When me and Bodie-"
"Bodie and I," Bella corrected, always the teacher.
"When I and Bodie finished the high contest, we wanted to come home b'cause we were hot. So we looked for Anthony to tell him we wanted to go home."
Bodie Hale, who spent his summers with the Cullens while his parents were at work, had been perfectly content to allow Delaney to have the floor. However, now he felt it necessary to pipe up to explain that his mother had told him to make sure to get plenty of fluids on hot summer days so that he wouldn't suffer from heat exhaustion. Bodie was one of those children who always thought he was suffering from some ailment or another. His seventh birthday was coming up in July, but Edward jokingly told him he acted more like he was turning seventy.
"So, you were able to find Anthony and tell him you wanted to come home?" Bella attempted to get her daughter's storytelling back on track. Delaney had long ago discovered that being the storyteller was a precious role because she'd have everyone's attention, and therefore she usually drew it out for as long as she could.
"At first we tried, but we couldn't find him," she looked to Bodie for corroboration. When Bodie nodded, she continued. "He wasn't by the tables or the wall-ball wall, or the swings or anywhere."
"I got worried that maybe he left us and then me and Laney would be lost. And I didn't have my allergy puffer!" Bodie exclaimed.
Edward snickered at that and Delaney feared that she was losing her audience, so she hurriedly pressed on.
"I remembered what you said, Mama, about being lost, and I was going to stay right on the swings, but then Bodie said we could check by the bathroom-"
"Nu-uh! I'm the one who wanted to stay by the swings. You said to check by the bathroom!" contested Bodie.
"I said for you to check by the bathroom. I was going to stay by the swings," Delaney raised her chin at him.
"I couldn't stay by myself. Buddy system, remember?" Bodie asked incredulously, another of the many things his mother had drilled into him that he rattled off at random times throughout the day.
"Okay, so you both decided to go check by the bathrooms," Bella hurried them along. "Good idea, by the way, Bodie. It is always better to stay together." She gave her daughter a warning look and then gestured for her to continue.
Apparently this was the best part of the story, because all of a sudden, both Bodie and Delaney were warring to tell it.
"The bathroom smelled stinky-"
"-but we didn't go in. We went on the other side-"
"-to the back-"
"and that's when I see'd it!"
"Mommy, I screamed, but they wouldn't stop!"
"-pulled his hair."
"Wait, slow down. What was happening?" Bella asked.
"Anthony was getting beat up," Bodie stated, matter of fact.
"By a girl," Delaney added.
Suddenly all of the humor left Edward's face. "What the hell?" he bellowed. The blonde curly-top in his lap, his three-year-old daughter, hastily put her two fingers in her mouth – something she always did when she felt anxious.
"A girl was beating Anthony up," Delaney repeated. "I see'd it."
"Me too," Bodie nodded. "She was pulling his hair and pushing him…and I think she tried to bite him, too."
"Poor Anthony," Bella looked at Edward with worry as she made a move toward the back of the house.
"He got beat up by a girl?" Edward muttered in contemptuous disbelief.
"Well of course it seems that way, Edward," Bella rolled her eyes. "Anthony is much too sweet to hit a girl."
"Why the hell not? If she hits him, I say she's fair game."
"Edward!" Bella admonished, but her words held no rebuke as she moved to go to Anthony's room.
But Edward caught her arm before she could get far. "I'm guessing he probably doesn't want to talk to his mother about getting into a fight with a girl."
"But I have to make sure he's alright," Bella protested.
"You're going to make him feel worse," Edward smiled. "My parents will be here soon. Why don't you go get ready and I'll talk to Anthony."
It was Edward and Bella's weekly date night and his parents were coming over to watch the children while Edward and Bella partook of the luxury of having a meal where they weren't interrupted by bickering, crying or the latest current event at school. Often, like teenagers, they'd drive down to the lake, park, and then paw at one another's bodies until they couldn't wait to get home to their bedroom and finish one another off for the night.
"Anthony?" Edward rapped softly on his son's bedroom door. After a few beats silence, the stereo began to blast out a tormented melody. Edward waited an appropriate number of seconds before he opened the door and let himself in.
Anthony scowled at the intrusion and pretended to bury his nose in the entertainment magazine he had opened before him.
Edward crossed over to the stereo and shut it off before taking a seat on the end of his son's bed. He fought the urge to suggest that Anthony pick up his room and instead gave his son the first opportunity to speak. When Anthony continued to ignore him, Edward finally spoke up.
"Nope," Anthony quipped, leaving no doubt about how he felt about having his father in his personal space.
"Mis-mey and Grandpa are coming over in a bit. I don't want you to spend the entire evening in your room."
Despite the fact that Anthony had given his grandmother her special nickname when he was five years old, it didn't occur to him to call her anything else. In fact, his siblings and his friends referred to her in this way as well. On the other hand, he and his grandfather shared a less casual relationship and therefore he simply called him 'Grandpa', or 'Gramps' if he was feeling exceptionally cheeky.
Yet even cheeky wasn't enough to classify the brooding young man, whose long, lean body usurped the double-bed he was sprawled upon. It was clear from Anthony's features that he was not only unhappy, he was downright mad.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Edward asked.
"No," Anthony snapped.
"Alright, then," Edward stood up. He'd never appreciated people trying to make him talk when he didn't want to, so he had no plans to force his son to do so. But there was just one thing that was bothering him…
"Anthony…I know Mom and I have always taught you to respect girls and not to be rough with them, but…well that doesn't mean you can't defend yourself."
"I know that."
"Then why didn't you?"
"Why didn't I what?"
Confusion won out over agitation and Anthony put down the magazine long enough to look over at his father.
"What are you talking about?"
"Laney told us what happened at the park-"
Edward's words were cut off by Anthony's loud groan.
"Now Anthony, it's nothing to get too upset about. I can understand that you're not comfortable hitting girls, and the element of surprise wasn't on your side. Plus, I hear there was more than one. With those odds it's no wonder she got a few hits in, but son-"
"No, listen, Anthony. I know how nice you are and I know what you're gonna say, but I'm giving you permission right now: if a girl ever tries to beat you up again-"
"Beat me up?" Anthony sat straight up, his offense obvious. "You think a girl beat me up?"
Edward faltered for a moment. "Delaney said you were fighting at the park. She said a bunch of girls jumped you and were punching you and…" Edward trailed off when he saw the dubious expression on Anthony's face.
"Well she didn't exactly use those terms, but give or take a few syllables."
"Nobody was fighting, Dad." Anthony lay back down on the bed and used the magazine as a shield from any further conversation.
"Hair pulling, scratching, biting…sounds like fighting to me." Edward didn't bother to add that it sounded like girls fighting. He hoped that the description his daughter had given only applied to the girls and not to Anthony. Either way, he planned to introduce his son to a punching bag ASAP.
"None of that happened."
"Then what did happen?"
"So I'm supposed to believe that Laney and Bodie imagined all of this?"
Anthony shrugged. "Maybe that's what it looked like to them."
Edward was growing tired with how difficult it was to converse with Anthony and he all but gave up until a snippet of what his daughter had said in the kitchen suddenly came to him.
'…we went to the other side…to the back… and that's when I see'd him…'
Saw, not heard, even though altercations were often heard before they were seen.
Of course Anthony wasn't seen because he was behind the bathrooms – a place kids usually went when they didn't want to be seen…
"Anthony, I'm going to ask you one more time," Edward eyed his son suspiciously. "If you weren't fighting, what were you doing?"
The crimson stain that began to color Anthony's cheeks gave Edward much more information than he ever expected to get from his son verbally.
"She kissed me, Dad! I didn't want her to. She just did it!" Anthony suddenly looked like he was on the verge of tears.
Edward watched the silent battle that waged within Anthony as his son looked everywhere but at him, and he did his best to hide the amusement that so badly wanted to escape.
"So, is she cute?" The humor won out and Edward cracked a smile.
Anthony was caught off guard by his father's question and he almost grinned himself. But then he remembered that it was against a teenager's code of conduct to laugh with a parent, and so he frowned instead.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" Edward mocked. "You didn't look at her? You don't even know who she is?"
Anthony rolled his eyes. "She's alright."
"Looks aren't everything! Why is that all anyone thinks is important?" Anthony snapped.
Edward was taken aback by the outburst. "You're right. It's not."
Anthony pulled at the rim of his sock and suddenly Edward realized that something more than embarrassment might be ailing the boy.
"Anthony, you can talk to me about anything. You know that," Edward coaxed.
"No I can't," Anthony said stubbornly.
"Why can't you?"
"Because you won't understand," Anthony shook his head. "None of my friends do."
"Try me," Edward said bravely – but inwardly he was quite nervous. Anthony wasn't five years old anymore and the days of remedying his sullen moods with ice cream and building blocks were over.
"There's this new girl, Lisa, and all my friends like her because she's got…well they think she's really pretty," Anthony began.
"Uh-huh," Edward encouraged him to go on.
"But she doesn't like any of them because they say stupid stuff all the time." Anthony continued to pull at his sock as he spoke.
"She doesn't like anyone, eh?" Edward prompted.
A little bit of paternal pride welled up in Edward as he watched his son grapple with his thoughts.
"And you like her?"
Anthony shrugged. "Everyone keeps telling me that I should ask her out and stuff. And her friends," Anthony paused to roll his eyes. "Her friends are the worst! They follow me everywhere. 'When are you going to call Lisa?' 'Are you going to take Lisa to the movies?' 'Lisa wrote you a note. Did you write her back?' They never leave me alone!"
"So tell 'em to leave you alone," Edward said as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
Anthony sighed in exasperation and lay back down on the bed. "I knew you wouldn't understand."
"I won't understand that everyone thinks you're all that because Lisa likes you, and if you don't like her back then they'll think there's something wrong with you?"
"Something like that."
"So you kissed her."
"I wasn't planning to. It just sort of happened."
"Things like that don't just happen, Anthony."
"I was sitting on the bench watching Laney and Bodie when Lisa's friend, Robin, came up and tapped me on the shoulder. She said that Lisa wanted to talk to me behind the bathrooms. Only, when I went behind the bathrooms, I saw Lisa there with Mike and Jeremy." Anthony stole a glance at his father before continuing. "She told them she liked me and so they wanted to ask me if I liked her."
"And you said…"
"I said I guess I did."
"But you don't."
"Dad, they asked me right in front of her! What was I supposed to say?" Anthony asked in agitation. "And then they dared us to kiss each other, so we did. That's it. No big deal."
"I bet Lisa would think it was a big deal. In fact, I'm positive Lisa is on the phone this very minute reliving that big deal for all her friends," Edward said. "She's going to be devastated when she finds out that you don't feel the same way about her that she feels about you."
"I didn't say I didn't like her. I said I don't know if I like her." Anthony argued. And then all the fight left him, and he looked just like the little boy his father remembered. He looked over at Edward then, and asked in a small voice, "Have you ever…did any of your friends ever tell you to do something that you didn't really want to do?"
"Please tell me we're still talking about a girl," Edward begged.
"We are," Anthony confirmed. "The thing is, my friends really know me, and if they think Lisa is perfect for me, then, I should probably listen to them…right?"
Edward stopped himself from giving the obvious answer. Instead, he stared into Anthony's imploring eyes – that gaze pleading with him to give him an easy escape to a problem that seemed so monumental to a twelve-and-a-half year old.
After weighing the pros and cons, Edward decided to tell Anthony the entire truth about how he'd dealt with a similar situation.
"When I was in high school, there was this beautiful girl there. And when I say beautiful, I don't just mean her face. She just had this attitude about her. She thought she was beautiful, and therefore everyone else did, too."
"She sounds stuck up."
"Oh she was. But all the guys wanted to date her anyway. Only, she didn't like them. She wanted the one guy who didn't seem to be paying her any attention."
"Was that you?"
Edward nodded. "All my friends told me I'd be a fool if I didn't go out with her. Even though she hadn't wanted to date any of them, she'd befriended them all, so they knew both of us. They kept telling me how alike we were and how we liked all the same things and how she would be the perfect girl for me."
"Did you ask her out?"
"And was it as perfect as your friends said?"
"Not at all," Edward laughed. "We fought like cats and dogs because we were so much alike. We didn't have anything to learn from each other and we got bored pretty quick. We broke up, but then we'd listen to our friends, get back together, only to remember why we broke up in the first place."
"Did you ever start to like her?"
"It took me awhile to realize that I only liked her as a friend. There were other girls who I liked a lot better, but I never got the chance to pursue them because I was wasting time with someone I didn't really care about – all because my friends told me I should."
"Whatever happened to that girl? Did you finally tell her you didn't like her?"
"We finally told each other we weren't a good match." Edward held Anthony's gaze with his own. "But a lot of years passed and a lot of bad things happened in the meantime…and only one good thing."
"What was that?"
"You were born."
When Anthony looked puzzled for a moment, Edward solved the riddle for him.
"It was your mother – your biological mother."
"Oh," Anthony said quietly and looked down at his hands.
The dichotomy of emotions he felt at being reminded that Bella was his adoptive mother filtered across Anthony's face. Three years ago, he'd confessed to Edward that he didn't know how to feel about Jessica because he didn't remember her very well and it made him feel guilty. And asking questions about her had made him feel guilty as well, because he'd thought he was making Bella feel uncomfortable and unloved. He'd also feared that Bella would love his sisters more as a result of him asking about his biological mother – something he'd confessed to his Papa Charlie on one of their overnight fishing expeditions. Charlie had discreetly made a hypothetical suggestion to his daughter about how someone in a similar situation might want to respond. Bella had immediately heeded her father's words and had a heart-to-heart talk with Anthony about how much he meant to her – all of him – his past, present and future.
"How you came to me shaped who you are as a person, and I love you so much and think that you are so perfect. I couldn't fathom having an issue with anything that has made you everything that you are today. I never met Jessica, but I love her immensely for bringing you into this world. If you ever want to ask your father anything, please know that I don't mind at all. On the contrary, I'll be more upset if you don't ask. It's important to know these things. I ask Daddy questions about your mother all the time." And then with a wink, she corrected herself. "Your biological mother."
It had been enough to satisfy Anthony and occasionally he'd ask a question or two about Jessica, but it was clear that it wasn't something he liked to bring up often. Still, Edward thought it was important that Anthony understand that even though the relationship between Jessica and Edward hadn't been ideal, the product of Anthony had been.
"Anthony, you have plenty of time to kiss girls when you get older. That's not something you need to rush into at your age."
"I know but…that's all my friends are into."
"Well, maybe it's time to find some new friends – friends with interests more similar to yours."
"Well…it's not that I don't like girls." Anthony sidelined a glance at Edward. "Some of them are pretty cool."
Edward understood immediately.
"Anyone in particular?"
"Not really," Anthony feigned ignorance. "Well, I dunno…maybe Julie."
"Julie? Julie, from down the street?" Edward asked of the unassuming young girl that lived a few houses down.
"Yeah. She built a rocket that actually launched. That was pretty cool."
"Uh-huh, and she also made this sandwich that had three kinds of meat, and peanut butter and tomatoes on it. It was disgusting-looking, but she ate it. Everyone was really grossed out, but she didn't even care. It was so awesome."
Edward couldn't help laughing out loud. It had been a long time since Anthony had opened up to him about the everyday happenings in his life, and Edward wasn't anxious to have the moment come to an end.
"Hey Anthony, what do you say we go out to dinner tonight, just you and me?" Edward asked.
"But what about Mom? I thought you guys were going out."
"We can go out another night. Besides, I think you're going to need me to tell you what to do when Julie finds out that you kissed Lisa."
Anthony's eyes grew wide with fear. "You think she'll find out?"
"I think she probably already knows by now."
Anthony collapsed down against his pillow in despair, but Edward pulled him up on his feet. "Get up, Romeo, and get ready. I'm gonna go tell Mom about our change in plans."
"Dad?" Anthony asked in a small voice right before Edward exited his room.
"We're not…gonna talk about sex again are we?"
Edward was still holding in his laughter when he made it back to the living room. He hadn't heard his parents' arrival, and he was surprised to see his mother holding out her purse as Bodie looked on while Delaney waded through it in search of the "treasure" she was sure to find there.
On the sofa, Carlisle sat with Edward's youngest daughter secure in his lap with her head resting on his chest as she played with the prism key chain she always reached for when he was near.
Yet unseen, Edward took the opportunity to watch his parents with his kids – something he never grew tired of viewing. He took in the way his mother hung on Delaney's every word and the way she even managed to include Bodie as if he were one of her own.
He'd made strides by leaps and bounds over the past seven years and Edward was in awe of him every day. Though he would never return to an occupation and preferred not to be without a companion on an outing, anyone who hadn't known Carlisle would be hard pressed to guess that he'd been mute for over ten years.
The advanced therapy that Esme had taken a huge financial risk on had worked wonders, and hospitals, medical research groups and psychologists the world over were trying their hardest to get Carlisle to speak about his experiences.
But Carlisle wasn't interested. As only his family could truly understand, he'd spent too many years being a prisoner to the horrors of his past, and he didn't want to devote any more time to being reminded of the tragedy that had decimated years of his life, and the lives of his loved ones.
For that reason, Edward had been leery of the decision he and Bella had made nearly four years ago: to name their youngest daughter Claire, after his sister, whose death had been the catalyst for Cullen's personal Armageddon.
Edward, himself, hadn't been able to consider a namesake for his sister when Delaney was born, but after two years of focusing on the positives of such an action, he was finally ready to add that 'C' name to their family when Bella had unexpectedly announced that they were having another little girl.
Nonetheless, though he was confident of his own readiness, he was terrified of the effect it would have on his father. So scared, in fact, that all the way up until the baby was actually born, Edward and Bella had another name selected just in case.
But once they laid eyes on their blonde-haired, blue-eyed bundle, it was as if his sister was sending him a message from the afterlife. Even now, almost four years later, his daughter looked so much like his sister did at that age that their photographs were interchangeable.
"We're going to name her Claire," Edward had said to his parents that day when the decision had been solidified in his mind.
Esme had cried and Carlisle had simply stared down at the baby fondly.
"She's definitely a Claire," he'd said softly.
And she'd been the apple of his eye ever since.
Before Edward could reminisce anymore as he took in the scene, Bella was behind him, squeezing his hand and looking at him nervously.
"Well?" she asked when she got him alone in the kitchen.
"What do you mean, 'what'? What's going on with Anthony?" she asked impatiently. "Is he okay? What happened?"
"Oh," Edward smiled. "We don't have anything to worry about. Anthony's a lover, not a fighter."
When Bella didn't catch on to the joke, Edward gave her another clue.
"He wasn't fighting," he wiggled his eyebrows notoriously.
"Then what was he doing?" Bella's concern was getting the best of her reasoning ability.
"Kissing? Kissing? Kissing!" Bella hissed.
"Don't go making a big deal, Bella. And before you ask, no, you don't know the girl."
"Edward, he's too young to be going around kissing girls. You need to talk to him. You need to…no, I need to talk to him. He definitely needs a female perspective…"
"Honey," Edward placed his hands on Bella's shoulders to calm her. "You're over-reacting. And I am going to talk to him. Tonight. If you don't mind, I think I should take him out, kind of a guys night out sort of thing."
"I think that's a great idea." Bella nodded. "I'm sure Laney and Claire will love having Grandma and Grandpa all to themselves. Let me just get my purse."
The confusion skirted across Bella's face and then dissipated. "Oh. Right. Guys night out."
"We'll go out twice next week. I promise."
"No. It's okay. It sounds like Anthony needs a little one-on-one time. And besides, if your parents are up for it, I might just take advantage of being able to grocery shop without Claire. Suddenly she doesn't want to ride in the cart anymore."
Edward smiled and pulled Bella against his chest. "Thanks babe," he said before kissing her lightly on the lips. "And if you need something to do, I could give you a little project."
"What's that?" From the glimmer in her eyes, Edward could tell that Bella thought he was going to suggest something sexual.
Well, he was…sort of.
"I've been thinking about something for awhile now, and I want you to think about it…to be open to thinking about it, at least," he began.
That certainly got Bella's attention and she reared back to look him in the eye. "I'm not getting on a motorcycle with you, Edward."
"No, that's not it," he chuckled. He kissed her ear, nibbled on the lobe for a second, and then whispered, "I'd like to give Anthony something I never had."
"What?" Bella's voice revealed that she hadn't yet recovered from the impact of his ear ministrations.
Bella blustered as she realized what Edward was saying, but before she could ask him if he was seriously asking her to consider having another baby, his parents caught sight of him and interrupted the discussion to give him the warm, jubilant greeting they always lavished upon him.
Still stunned by what Edward had said, Bella managed to get out of the house and on to the grocery store like she'd planned, but her mind definitely wasn't on the chore. A baby? And more specifically, a baby boy? What was Edward thinking? It wasn't as if they had any control over the gender of the baby. What if they had another girl? Then what?
"I'm not seriously thinking of doing this, am I?" Bella questioned herself out loud. True, just six months ago she'd considered broaching the subject of another child with Edward, but now she wondered if she'd only considered it because she knew Edward would say no. He'd made it clear that he only wanted one or two more kids after they were married, and they had that.
But another boy…
If it would be half as much fun to raise another little boy as it had been to raise Anthony…and to experience him from birth…
Suddenly Bella felt herself warming to the idea. More than warming…seriously considering.
And by nine o'clock that night, more than considering it.
Across town, Edward's cell phone buzzed in his pocket and he retrieved it to see that he had a message from his wife.
How are things going? Did you tell Anthony that he's too young for a girlfriend?
Great. And you don't have to worry about Anthony.
Coming home soon?
We'll be home in a bit. But in the meantime, you have some thinking to do.
I know and I have been.
What do you think of the name Forrest?
I think it starts with an F, like something else-
"Dad, is everything okay? Is something wrong at home?"
Edward barely registered Anthony's question as he looked up from his phone.
"Uh, no. Nothing's wrong."
"Oh. Because your face looks kind of weird and you're holding your phone like it's going to fly out of your hands."
Edward rolled his eyes and pointed at the basket of fries that sat between them. "Are you done?"
"Yeah. I can't eat another bite." Anthony sat back and rubbed his stomach.
"It's a miracle," Edward smirked as he left the money for the tip on the table.
"So, where to now?" Anthony asked as they marched toward the truck that was tucked in the back of the restaurant's parking lot.
"Yeah. Your mother's waiting."
The sounds of crickets and frogs filled the night air and then Anthony suddenly made a bilious groaning sound.
"What?" Edward reacted to the accusation in Anthony's tone.
"You said we weren't going to talk about sex!"
"We," Edward pointed between the two of them, "aren't."
"That is so gross," Anthony shook his head.
"Yet another reason why I know you're too young to be kissing girls."
Anthony balked at his father's words, even though he secretly agreed. He liked girls, and he liked the attention he got from them…well, some of them. But kissing girls was scary. He'd much rather blow something up.
Edward draped his arm across Anthony's shoulder and leaned down and briefly touched his lips to his son's hair.
"Thank you, for always."
They walked the rest of the way in silence and Anthony moved a little closer to his dad and reveled in the feel of the comforting grip on his shoulder. It was times like these that made Anthony feel a little sad at the idea of growing up and not being his father's little boy forever.
And it was times like these that made Edward sure that he couldn't wait to father a little boy all over again.