Disclaimer: It all belongs to Stephenie M. No harm intended in any way. EternallyAddicted and I are just lucky to dabble with them.
Tadpoles' First Christmas – A Worth The Burn Outtake
"Would you stop with the foot tapping?"
I turned my head away from the window and toward Lance. "I can't help it."
"Why? It's not like this is the first time you've ever been around Bella. Or the babies for that matter."
"I know, but it's been months. What if they forgot me?"
Lance leaned over and set his head on my shoulder. "You have nothing to worry about, Bree. You're unforgettable."
I sighed and set my head against his. "I hope you're right."
"Halloween wasn't that long ago. And besides that, you talk to them through Skype practically every evening."
"It's different though. Seeing them through the screen versus actually holding them are two different experiences."
"I'm sorry my job keeps us from visiting more often."
"I'm not complaining, Lance. I know you have limited vacation time and the fact that you're always willing to spend it in Forks means the world to me."
"I don't know them as well as you do, but I know they're your family and I care about them all."
"They care about you too. Bella's always asking how you are and how we are."
"And what do you tell her?"
"That I'm happy. I miss her like crazy, but I wouldn't trade life with you for anything. And she gets that because she feels that way about Edward."
"You know, those two seemed a little mismatched at first to me. He came off as her opposite in everything. But in the past year or so, they've kind of evened out."
I lifted my shoulder just enough to nudge his head. "Amazing what happens when you stop hiding and start talking."
He sat up, smiling and nodding as he said, "Okay, I deserved that jab."
I wasn't completely sure I wanted the answer, but I still found myself asking the question. "Do you ever think about what life would be like if you hadn't come back to Portland to talk to me?"
He pursed his lips for a few seconds before answering me. "Sometimes. I mostly think about what would have happened if you hadn't opened the door and let me in, let me explain."
"You did show up with my favorite brand of beer so I figured whatever you had came there to say was pretty important to you."
"You could have held a grudge."
"I did hold a grudge. You just said things that made it not matter so much. And after a few months passed, after I trusted me being there was what you really wanted, I let the grudge go."
"Is that why my socks kept getting mysterious holes in them?"
I snorted. "No, that was that ridiculously old dryer in the apartment basement. If I were going to get at you through clothing, I would have bedazzled your J-brand jeans so I could take them all for myself."
Lance lifted his eyebrows. "Vicious, Babe."
"You love that I'm vicious."
"No, I tolerate your vicious side because I love you."
"I guess this would be the part where I say I love you back, huh?"
He shrugged as if he could care less if I said it back or not, but we both knew better. It was an extremely new dynamic to our relationship and we were still in the 'honeymoon phase' of enjoying it. "If you felt so inclined."
"I love you, Lance." And because I was so much like Bella in not being able to help myself I added, "I especially love your naked body in my bed at night."
Lance ignored my teasing. "So what do you want to do first when we get to Forks?"
I smiled, knowing exactly what I wanted. "I'm going to get my arms around Bella and hug her as hard and for as long as she'll let me."
He put his head on my shoulder again, grabbed my hand and laced our fingers together, and then put my arm around him. "Don't worry, Bree. If Bella doesn't want your hug, I'll gladly take it."
I smiled and used one of Bella's favorite words for Edward. "Cheesy."
We would be in Seattle in fifteen minutes and get to the Cullen home about three and a half hours after that. I wanted to already be there, getting my hug from Bella and seeing those beautiful babies with Edward—hottest DILF I knew. As sexy and sweet as he was though, he was no Lance. Being able to touch and not just being stuck looking turned the tables like you wouldn't believe.
"I don't even want to know what's making you laugh like that," Lance said as he squeezed my fingers. "In fact, I'm just going to start praying for you and Bella now because if you're laughing like that without her, there's no telling what kind of trouble the two of you will get in together."
"Oh, silly Lance. There's only one kind of trouble for Bells and me … The best kind."
"Alright, I'm ready to admit you were right," Alice said as she curled up on the end of my bed with Toby in her arms.
I couldn't resist teasing her—well, I probably could have but I didn't want to pass up such a golden opportunity. "What's that, Little Bit? I didn't hear you clearly."
She huffed and rolled her eyes at me. "Isaid … you were right."
"Sweet, sweet words." I gave her my evil grin and said, "Now what, oh what, should your punishment be for doubting me?"
"You could let me dress the kids tomorrow for their pictures with Santa."
I snorted at her. "Yeah, no! That would be punishment for my tadpoles, not for you." My words had her pulling out the big, bad pout but I knew I had Edward to back me up on this so there was no way I was giving in.
"Hear that, Toby?" she asked. "Mommy is being mean to Auntie Ali."
"Auntie Ali is asking for things she has no hope of getting."
Toby didn't care about our conversation; he was busy trying to get hold of Alice's little hoop earrings.
Thea laughed, though, and even tried to clap which made it twice as difficult to zip her snowsuit closed.
"Thea, don't laugh, sweetheart. It only encourages your mommy and aunt to be sillier," Edward told her. He was standing beside me and struggling to get Tony's arm into his snowsuit.
When I'd originally ordered the suits, Edward and Alice had acted like I was insane for wanting them. Even having Carlisle, Esme, and Charlie on my side hadn't helped quell their doubts about the need for the suits. But I knew as soon as we got outside in all that snow, the babies were going to be glad to be all toasty warm and the adults would be glad for extra time outside with them. Besides, the snowsuits were freakin' adorable on the kids! Thea's was a soft green with pink trim; it also had koala bears, flowers, and polka dots stitched on. Toby's suit was dark blue with a light blue trim and red buttons. It had a brown wooly mammoth on the left hip and a fur-trimmed hood. Tony's had the wooly mammoth and light blue trim too, but his suit was red with dark blue buttons and his hood didn't have the fur.
Since Edward was still struggling, I decided to give him a helpful tip. "Babe, if you put a toy in the hand you already have in the suit, he'll let you mess with the other arm."
"You know, you and Alice might think these snowsuits are a good idea but I'm not sure they're worth all the trouble of getting them on. Especially when the kids are only going to get about fifteen minutes max in the snow."
"Hey, that's fourteen minutes more than they would get without them," I told him. "And seeing as this is their first Christmas, they are getting the full-on experience no matter how much hassle it causes you and me."
"Bella is so momma bear to her cubs," Alice said. Her giggling got Thea and Toby laughing but Tony ignored them in favor of continuing to gnaw on the head of his brontosaur from Uncle Emmett and Aunt Rosalie. Since Carlisle and Esme had given the tadpoles an early gift of a baby sled, Emmett had demanded to give them an early gift too. I was more concerned with the fact that everyone had gotten the tadpoles multiple gifts—whenever we moved we were going to need a section of house just for baby toys.
Rosalie poked her head into the room. "Em's got the sled ready."
As soon as I had Thea situated in my arms, I looked over at her aunt to see if she would be sticking with that statement.
Rose grinned. "Okay so technically I got the sled ready, but I'm letting Em have the credit for it."
"Tell her, Thea. Tell her we know better than to believe things like that about goofy Uncle Em."
"Those snowsuits are twice as adorable on the kids," Rose said. She put her hands out and waited for Thea to decide if she wanted to go with her aunt or stay with her mommy. Surprisingly, Thea picked her aunt. Then again, the second she was in Rosalie's arms she wrapped her little fist around a huge chunk of blond curls.
"Her fascination with tugging my hair has to end soon, right?" Rose asked, pleading with her eyes for me to free her.
"Not if Bella's fascination with Dr.Who is any indication," Edward said.
While he and his sister laughed over the comment, I smoothed Rose's hair back and secured it with the holder from my wrist. "I was a hair puller too," I confided. "When she gets her own hair pulled the first time, she'll understand. Charlie says that's how I got broken out of the habit."
"Ooh," Rose cooed while snuggling Thea against her chest. "I don't want anyone pulling this little angel's hair ever."
"Sorry, she's got brothers. It's a package deal. Can't tell you the when or the why, but it's gonna happen."
Alice's comment had me looking over at my husband. "Babe, did you pull your sister's hair when she was little?"
He had Tony in his arms now so he could only put one hand into his mess of hair. "Kind of."
"What the hell is 'kind of', Cullen? Either you subjected your baby sister to the torturous pain of a hair pull or you didn't," I told him.
He shrugged and gave me that lopsided grin I loved. "It was her own fault. She kept stealing my ninja turtles."
"Oh, well then yeah, case closed."
"What?" Alice squealed, staring at me with wide eyes. "Bella, how can you side with him?"
I shrugged. "Easy … Turtles before siblings. Ask Jake and Bree what used to happen to them when they took my turtles without asking. You'll be glad all you got was a hair pull."
"As scary as you were as a child, it makes me want to pray for the future friends of your children."
I could only nod in agreement with Rosalie since I'd wondered a time or two about that kind of thing myself. For my kids' sakes, I hoped their behavior was based a lot more on environment than genetics.
"Come on," Emmett whined from the doorway. He was already fully dressed for the outdoors and had the new baby sled in his hand. "I wanna be the first to pull the kids around the yard."
"Not gonna happen," Edward told him. "I get first pull."
"Because I'm the dad."
Rose and I looked at each other and said at the same time, "Not the momma!"
Emmett let out a loud huff, clearly not having heard our reference to that short-lived but totally classic Dinosaurs show. "You break one little condom and you think you're hot sh—" Em was stopped from finishing that curse word by a swift smack to the back of the head from Jasper.
"I swear on all that is holy, if the first word out of any one of these little angels' mouths is a curse word heard from you, I will shave you completely bald," Rosalie threatened.
"That would punish us more than him," Edward pointed out.
"I'll just take him out back and whip his butt if he's not careful," Jasper said. And then he grinned and added, "Again."
"No one steps foot outside of this room until I have a picture of my tadpoles in their suits," I ordered, already pulling my camera out of my back pocket.
"Two pictures max, Bella," Edward warned.
"Yeah, I remember our deal," I told him. He knew I could get carried away with snapping photos of the babies and he wanted to make sure I didn't spend all day behind the camera instead of joining in on the fun so we'd agreed on a two picture maximum for each activity we did with the babies during the holidays.
I took my two pictures and then we headed into the living room for the rest of us to put our coats, hats, and gloves on while Emmett kept an eye on the trio of crawling tadpoles. Once we were all dressed and ready, Jasper scooped up Thea, Edward picked up Tony, and Alice took hold of Toby again.
Since the boys were just about the same weight, we decided we would put them in the front and back with Thea in the middle. Edward settled Tony in and then Thea, but when he reached for Toby, my little boy started squalling and trying to climb Alice while calling for "mom-mom".
I tossed my camera to Rose and ran right over to rescue my little tadpole from that big, bad evil sled that had scared him so badly. As soon as I had him in my arms, he was clinging to me with both hands and hiding his face against my shoulder.
"What do you think scared him about it?" Edward asked while rubbing our little boy's back. He'd relinquished first pull of the sled to Emmett to help me calm down Toby.
"I wish I knew, Babe." I tried to shift Toby into a more comfortable position for holding him but he must have thought I was going to put him down or near that sled because he started screaming all over again. "Alright," I cooed as I held him tighter against me. "Let's take a walk. You and me and Daddy."
Edward grabbed my arm to help steady me in the snow and we walked up onto the porch, hoping it would be far enough away to appease Toby. It seemed to take forever to get him calm enough where I could turn him around so he could watch his siblings. By then, Emmett, Jasper, and Rosalie had each taken a turn pulling the babies from one end of the yard to the other.
"Toby, look at how much fun Tony and Thea are having," Edward said, pointing toward the sled and our laughing tadpoles. "Don't you want a turn?"
Toby pulled his entire body as far away from his daddy as he could get it.
"I'd take that as a 'no', Babe."
"Maybe if you bring him and pull him," he suggested.
I turned Toby around and set his booted feet on the porch railing and hunkered down so we could be on eye level with each other. "As much as you love Daddy pushing you around in that toy dump truck of yours, I can't believe you would be scared of the sled. I was so sure you had Daddy's need for speed ingrained into your little body."
Toby just stared at me.
"Okay. What about this? What if I help you walk over to the sled and you check it out a bit, huh?"
He continued to stare and I took that as an "alright but if I start crying, it's on you". I lifted him back into my arms and headed down the steps with Edward following right behind.
"Hey, guys, stop for a minute and take the babies out of the sled," I said as I crossed the yard with Toby. I stopped when we were about a foot from the sled and set his feet on the ground. I held his arms just tight enough to keep him on his feet and let him approach the sled at his own speed. He stared at it for at least a minute before deciding to toddle on over to it.
When he was close enough to grab the sled, I let one of his arms go so he could touch it and figure it out. He squeezed the padding and touched the wooden side for a bit and then slapped a hand against it while looking up at me.
"Want to try it now?" I asked him.
He slapped it again so I took that as an "okay, mom" and slowly lifted him up and set him down in the sled. Edward and I both squatted down next to it and waited to see what Toby would do next.
After looking all around to see where everyone was, Toby held his hand out to his sister and brother and opened and closed his hand. That was their little sign that they wanted the other so I had Jasper and Emmett bring the kids over. We put Thea in first to see how Toby would handle her sitting behind him. When he smiled and seemed happy to have her with him, we put Tony in right behind her.
Moving very slowly, Edward started to pull the sled while I walked right beside it. Toby looked for a second like he was rethinking this whole sled business but then Thea and Tony started to laugh and he soon followed.
"Never a dull day with them, huh?" Emmett asked, walking on the other side of the sled.
"Never ever," I confirmed with a nod.
"That's cool how you and Edward like got him okay with the sled and didn't just have him miss out on the fun."
"Edward's read five or six baby books a week since the tadpoles were born so some of it stuck."
"Seriously?" Emmett asked, looking shocked.
I laughed. "No, I was just kidding. But we did just read the other night about how now that the kids are moving around really good on their own they're going to come into contact with things that frighten them. The book said the trick is to not force them or make a big deal out of it. Just pull them away from it and then gradually introduce them to it again after they've calmed down."
"Well that explains why you didn't just put him in the sled."
"Toby has a temper like his dad," I said, looking up and smiling at Edward. "He's very slow to get mad but once he is, you better watch your bee-hind."
"Oh, I'm so glad he's giving it a try," Alice said, popping up beside me. "Look at the smile on his little face."
Jasper had a huge grin on his face as he put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. "Of course he's smiling. He just needed a moment to decide if he liked that sled or not."
"Look up, Bella!" Rose called out.
I did as she said and found her with my camera, taking a picture of all of us walking with the babies. "Edward, is there a limit if Rose is taking the pictures?" I asked, making everyone laugh.
Rose suddenly lowered the camera and looked toward the driveway. "I see a car coming. Looks like a rental."
"Might be Karen," I said to Edward. We knew she was coming home but not what day. Her original flight had been canceled so she'd been left waiting in the airport for the next available flight. Sadly, she was coming alone; she'd broken up with Alisa at the end of the summer. She said she'd enjoyed the relationship but she wanted to take some time to herself before dating again.
"Doubtful. She probably won't be here until tomorrow," Edward replied. "I bet it's Bree and Lance."
The car came up behind our SUV and before it had really even stopped, Bree was hopping out of the passenger side. "Peaches!"
I totally pulled an Alice—I squealed and charged full-speed-ahead at him. He somehow managed to catch me without dropping us both in the snow; we probably looked insane to the others, standing there laughing and hugging for so long. Technically it had only been a couple months since I'd seen him at Halloween but Skype sessions just couldn't compare to having Bree home in the flesh.
"Jeebus, I missed you," I told him while letting go and standing on my own two feet.
"I can guarantee you I missed you more," he said, slinging his arm around my shoulders. Our hugging moment must have gone on for awhile because Lance was crowded around the sled of tadpoles with everyone else and no one was paying any attention to Bree and me.
"They so big now! How much have they grown since Halloween?"
I laughed at that. "You saw them just yesterday during our chat."
"Not the same."
"No, it's not." I slipped out from under his arm and grabbed his hand, tugging him across the snow with me. "Come on, Aunt Bree. You've got tadpoles to spoil."
"Where is Jacob?"
"Working. He'll be here tonight for dinner with my dad and Sue and Seth."
"Ooh, full house."
"A full, happy house," I corrected, getting a laugh out of Bree.
"Look, babies," Edward said. He was squatting down next to the babies and pointing up at Bree. "Who's that?"
All three of them yelled "Bee" at the same time and started giggling. They all knew Aunt Bree was the one in the computer that made goofy faces at them and got them laughing.
Bree leaned over and gave each of them a kiss on the cheek, starting with Toby and ending with Tony. He also ended up with Tony refusing to let go of his jacket and forcing Bree to pick him up.
"You little schemer," I joked, tickling Tony under his chin. "Look at you getting Aunt Bree to pick you up."
He just giggled and tucked himself closer to Bree.
"As devious as his mom, I think," Lance said from beside me.
I smiled at him and gave him a big hug. "It's good to see you, Lance. We're glad you could come with Bree for Christmas."
"It's not like we could trust him to travel on his own. Remember all the trouble he got into when he came by himself to meet the babies for the first time?"
"That was so not my fault," Bree argued. "That rental car had that ding when I picked it up at the rental office. They just didn't mark it on their little sheet. No way was I paying for damage I didn't cause."
Lance and I looked at each other and both said "right" as sarcastically as we could.
Toby and Thea's loud yell of "Dadda" had all eyes on them and had the added bonus of keeping Bree from responding.
"It's my turn to pull," Alice called out while jumping up and down and waving her arm around.
"Seriously, Peaches. What drug is it?" Bree whispered to me. "Crack? Smack? Speed? 'Cause that woman is always on."
I smiled at Bree and took hold of Tony's offered hand. "That's just my Ali girl in all her glory."
He smiled back for a second before getting serious. "I really missed you."
I put my arm around him and kissed his cheek. "Ditto." I thought about adding a "welcome home" too but this really wasn't his home. His home was with Lance just like mine was with Edward and our beautiful babies. But while I had him here, I was going to enjoy every second I could with him and everyone else I loved.
Our giggle fest over Rosalie's latest revelation was interrupted by a throat being cleared very loudly and dramatically.
Bree had a self-satisfied smile on his face for having grabbed the attention so quickly. "No offense, Rosie, honey, because we certainly do enjoy a good make 'em beg story, but I have been dying for Bella to show me the outfits for the kids' pictures today and I really will fall the hell over if I don't get to see them like now."
"Dramatic much?" I asked, snorting a little.
He was holding Thea and he stood her up on her little feet, hiding his head behind her while aiming her arm at me. "Mommy, I wanna see my outfit right now. I am too cute to deny so make with the clothing quick-like."
That had us all laughing again. After giving my baby girl a kiss that had her giggling, I grabbed the box I'd brought up to Esme's room with us. Edward and I had started planning for Christmas right after Thanksgiving, wanting to have everything planned well in advance to make life easier on ourselves. Last minute decisions were not a feasible option with three babies—or so we'd learned quickly.
While I pulled the lid off the box, Esme giggled beside me and took out the Santa hat she'd crocheted for Thea to wear in the pictures. "They are going to look so adorable," she whispered.
I nodded in agreement and pulled out the little red shirt and pants of the pajama outfit all three babies would wear today for their first Christmas photos and held them up against my chest for everyone to see. The babies would be dressed in these and sitting with little gift boxes and holding baseballs. Cute little outfits for me and baseballs for Daddy. Edward and I were pretty pleased with ourselves for coming up with the plan and finding the outfits together.
"As soon as Edward and I saw these, we loved them and knew these were perfect for the babies. And Esme totally made Thea's hat all on her own," I told them.
"Peaches, really?" Bree asked, lifting his eyebrows almost all the way up to his hairline.
"Bella, I know you sometimes forget there is an entire industry devoted to covering people in the most stylish way possible, but really!" Alice added. She had her hands on her hip and her lower lip jutting out so far I was seriously considering seeing if it would hold one of the baby's pacifiers like a shelf.
Before I could say anything, Rose stepped in and defended me. "If this is what Bella and Edward picked for the babies to wear, then that's what they picked. They're not even a year old yet for jeebus sake. Let them at least get into double digits before smothering them with fashion do's and don'ts."
"Personally, I think the outfits are just darling," Esme announced.
Alice rolled her eyes. "Mom, you're just saying that because you crocheted the hat they're going to have Thea wear."
"Listen here, Munchkin," I warned, shaking a finger at her. "Our babies, our rules. If you don't like that, buy a doll to dress-up or get Jazz to knock you up. Either way, the kids are wearing these totally cute Christmas pajamas for their pictures. If you don't like that, then you don't have to get a copy of the pictures."
"Down, girl," Rose said as she placed her hands on my shoulders.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to find that calm place that resided inside of me even though it tried its damndest to hide whenever I felt stressed. This was just such a big deal and Edward and I had been looking forward to it for weeks and for some stupid reason it always bothered the crap out of me when Alice hated the outfits I'd picked for the babies and I'd hardly slept last night because I was so excited and it had been almost two weeks since I'd had any time alone with Edward and—
"Open." I followed Bree's instructions and when my eyelids lifted I found him holding my daughter out to me. "Take this, take a deep breath, and then relax the cheeks, Peaches. And you know I'm not talking about the ones on your face."
Thea was more than happy to have me holding her; Bree had decided she was never too young to start enjoying women only time with us and although I'd thought it was silly before, I was glad to have my little girl with us now. The only thing in the world that centered me more than my babies was my husband.
"There we go, Peaches," he said with a big shit-eating grin on his face. "You listen to Doctor Bree and the world won't seem like such a scary place."
I snorted at that and then kissed his cheek in thanks.
"Bells, I really wasn't trying to take over," Alice said as I sat down next to her on Esme's bed.
"I know. I'm just … I'm stressed out and tired and for some insane reason I care what you think about their outfits and … I'm sorry, Ali girl."
"Nope! This one is totally on me. What I would dress a kid in is irrelevant because I'm not the one with the baby. And the pajamas really are cute. And they look comfy too. Babies need comfort more than style."
I smiled at her as I helped Thea stand on my legs. "It's killing you inside to say that, isn't it?"
"Jeebus, yes," she said with a sigh. And then she gave me a big, bright smile. "But totally worth it for you, Bells."
"Give your auntie a kiss," I cooed as I leaned Thea toward Alice. She giggled and then gave her aunt a big slobbery baby kiss on the cheek.
"Gross," Alice squealed, making Thea laugh even harder.
Before I could launch a full-on slobber kiss attack against Alice, there was a knock on the door followed by it opening and revealing Edward. "Bella, it's getting late. We should start getting the kids ready to go or we'll miss that appointment at the photo place in the mall."
"Ladies, that's our cue to depart," I said as I stood with Thea in my arms. "As always, lovely to chat with you all about dominating the male species but now I must go dress my babies."
"And for those planning to come with us to the mall, we're leaving in twenty minutes with or without you," Edward added.
We actually left thirty minutes later but only because Emmett misplaced Tony's brontosaur and the kid was already attached to the toy and … well if you've never been through the experience of a little one without their favorite item, there just are not words enough in the English language to explain how devastatingly heartbreaking it is for both child and parent. Luckily though, we'd gone to the mall in Seattle so there had been plenty of time for his little red eyes to dry and clear up—and mine too.
"Listen up, family," I said, standing by the open car door while Edward and Lance worked on setting up the stroller we'd gotten last Christmas. "The babies go in the stroller. The babies do not come out of the stroller. The reason for this is that if the baby comes out, the baby is not going to want to go back in and I can promise you that while they feel light to start with, those twenty pounds they're packing get heavy after awhile and they are not going to want to be put down just because you're suddenly tired. So for the sake of your arms and my babies, please leave them seated at all times."
"She knows what she's talking about," Jacob said, backing me up. He'd made the mistake of taking Toby out at the grocery store a couple weeks ago and the madness that had ensued had included a scratched neck, a bitten finger, and a whole lotta tears—not all of the tears were from the baby either.
Emmett huffed and smirked. "I could carry a kid in each arm for hours and not even break a sweat."
"Bells, let him try. Please let him try," Jasper begged. "We can bet him and when he loses we can have a nice chunk of change to split and your half can go in the kids' college funds."
It was Edward who answered Jasper. "While the idea of Emmett sobbing from the cramps that will most definitely be in his arms is incredibly appealing, I'm gonna have to say 'no'. We want everyone to have a good time today so the tadpoles are staying in the stroller."
"And here is the first one," I said as I handed Tony to Edward. Our little boy got a big kiss to the cheek from Daddy that made him giggle and then he was strapped into the stroller.
Once we had Thea and Toby in and the diaper bags piled into the back cargo area, we headed toward the mall entrance. We looked like a tour group with so many of us—Jacob, Alice and Jasper, Bree and Lance, Emmett and Rosalie, and Karen and her niece Melody. Jacob's girlfriend hadn't been able to get out of work to join us today but she would be with us tomorrow for lunch on Christmas Day.
"So, Eds, we have to talk about the severe lack of photos in my inbox," Karen said as she came up beside Edward and me.
"What are you talking about? I send you a new picture once a week."
"Yeah, I know. I need them daily."
His head swiveled in my direction and those green eyes burrowed right through me, making my mouth run off without my brain's consent and blurt out "sorry". He flashed me his cocky smile and then turned his attention back to Karen.
"Nice try. What'd she bribe you with?" he asked her.
"Oh, you know. A little of this, a little of that." Karen looked over at me and completely lost it, giggling so much she nearly tripped over her own feet.
I shook my head at her goofy behavior. "Karen, I love you, but you are so the worst accomplice ever. And that's saying a lot when you consider my best friend was born without a whisper setting."
Alice nodded in agreement. "It's true."
Karen was still giggling a little as she looped her arm around Edward's and smiled up at him. "Come on, Eds. You know you love me."
"Yeah, well, that was before you decided to join rank with my devious wife."
"Hey, she brought it up to me," I defended. "And for your information, Mr. Cullen, it didn't even include a bribe because she loves getting pictures of the babies so much."
Bree's head popped up in between Edward and me. "If we're taking turns walking on the arm of the DILF, I get nexties."
I put my hand over his face and pushed his head away. "Lance, control your other half."
Lance happily obliged, locking his arms around Bree's waist and pulling him back into his chest. I couldn't hear what he whispered into my friend's ear, but it damn sure had Bree smiling and staying right there at Lance's side. The sight of them together gave me that overflowing feeling in my heart and had my eyes stinging; Bree'd confessed just this morning that they'd recently started to say they loved each other.
Always quick to pick up on my moods, Edward tugged me against his side and asked if I was okay. I gave him a big smile and a completely honest answer, "Better than I've ever been. I love you."
"You better because you're stuck with me," he teased. He gave me a quick kiss since he needed to watch where he was pushing the stroller monstrosity that held our little angels, but he kept me at his side and did that thing where his thumb rubbed circles on my hip. It didn't take away my tiredness or all of my stress, but it did keep me focused on the right then and there with him and our family.
Even with our late start, we managed to get to the studio on time for our appointment and with so many extra hands, we got the babies out of their winter gear quickly. Alice ran a brush through Thea's hair for me while I just used my fingers on the blond wisps that covered my boys' beautiful heads. With all three looking presentable and perfect for their pictures, Edward, Alice, and I carried them over and set them down where the photographer directed.
Their initial reaction to Mommy, Daddy, and Aunt Ali stepping away from them was immediate whimpers and pouty lips that had us scrambling back over to keep the big, fat baby tears from rolling down their little cheeks. This time, we backed off one at a time, leaving Edward there last and showing the baseballs to the kids. Thea was only interesting in the top from Toby's box. Toby only wanted to look at the baseball he was holding and refused to look up for the camera no matter how many times we called his name and pleaded with him to look over at us. Tony wanted to play with Daddy and ended up launching the baseball toward Edward—with a pretty damn accurate aim in my opinion. We ended up selecting the picture where Tony's ball was still in flight and he had this really pleased look on his face, like he knew he'd just made his daddy the proudest man on the planet in that moment.
"Did you see my boy's arm?" Edward asked proudly as he carried Tony over to the guys.
"Dude, you totally should have seen your face," Emmett said as he clapped him on the shoulder. "You looked ready to climax and shit at the same time."
While all the adults were standing there in stunned silence that Emmett had completely forgotten to watch his mouth for the umpteenth time, little Melody chastised the big guy. "You're not supposed to say those kinds of words," she said, looking up at him and shaking a finger at him as if he was just a really tall kid. "Your mom is going to wash your mouth out with soap and it's not going to taste good at all," she promised him.
"Yeah, what she said," Edward finally managed as he turned away with Tony cradled against his chest, looking like he was protecting our son from something a lot more dangerous than his idiot brother's mouth.
"Sorry. I forgot," Emmett apologized. "It's still hard to remember since I don't get to see them that often."
I gave my son and my husband each a kiss on the cheek and then whispered into Edward's ear. "A little harsh, don't you think? I mean, it is the first time he's slipped in the three days he's been home."
"But he's had like fifty almost-slips in that time."
"True. But he's got a point. He's not around the babies all the time. He doesn't have to watch what he says every minute of every day like you and I do. Or a couple days a week like Ali and Jazz and Jake."
"That is true," he agreed. But from the way he was still keeping Tony against his chest and sweetly kissing our son's head, I knew Edward was still bothered. So I pulled out the big guns …
"Your son threw a baseball to you. Directly to you, Babe. You have a future baseball player on your hands."
Now Edward was all smiles. "Can I get him a little glove? Please? I know we agreed it was silly since they're still so little but he threw that ball so perfect. And overhand too, Bella. He already knows to throw over and not under."
His smile mixed with his excitement had me agreeing even though I still felt it was silly. "Yeah, sure. We'll pick one up while we're here in the mall."
"Do you think we should get them for Toby and Thea too?"
"Nah. Neither of them seemed interested. Toby held the ball but it was more like he was trying to figure out if it opened up to show him something else. And Thea just wanted to play with the box top."
"Yeah, that's true." Edward lifted Tony up so that they were looking right at each other. "We're getting you your first glove, big guy. How cool is that?"
I chuckled at my husband while taking our son from him. "Go on and get the glove. I know you're dying to buy it already."
His smile doubled in size and he dipped his head to peck me on the lips. "You are so the best wife ever."
"Get out of here, Cheesy. Go get your son's glove. And take your brother and let him know his slipup isn't the end of the world."
Edward mumbled "thanks" against my lips before sweetly kissing me. When he pulled back, he had that lighting-up-buildings smile I adored on his face. Before I could even begin to tease him about his excitement level and how it mimicked his sister's behavior, he had his arm around Emmett's shoulders and was towing him out of the studio. He stopped just long enough to invite the other guys along and then he was gone, along with Jasper and Jake. Lance wasn't really into sports so he stayed with the ladies and babies.
"Where are they off to? And why does my brother look like he's the cat that swallowed the canary?" Alice asked as she helped Rosalie to get Toby redressed.
"Edward really wanted to get Tony a baseball glove so even though I think it's a silly thing to buy for a ten-month-old baby, I told him to go ahead and get it," I explained. "Karen, would you help me with this little guy?" I asked since Bree was busy getting Thea redressed with Lance's help.
"I'll help too," Melody said as she skipped over to me with Tony's brontosaur in her hands. As soon as his little eyes landed on the toy, he had his hands opening and closing for it. She giggled as she gave it to him. "He really likes this dinosaur, huh?"
"Yeah, he got from his uncle."
"The big one who's gonna get his mouth washed out with soap."
She covered her mouth with her hands and giggled behind them.
"You know, you just made Edward really happy by agreeing to let him get that glove," Karen said as she knelt in front of me and started to wiggle the sock onto Tony's foot. "I know it really is a silly thing for a baby, but sometimes the silly things make someone else so happy that it stops being silly."
"Sometimes it seems crazy to want so much to see him smile but then I think of how many times he's used that as the reason for the things he does for me and the babies and it's not so crazy anymore," I confided.
She smiled knowingly and nodded in agreement.
A half hour later, we were reunited with our guys and had three very hungry babies on our hands. We decided it would be easier to just grab lunch at the food court since we could get instant meals and push enough tables together to have us all at the same table. Since the guys all knew what they wanted and most of us ladies didn't, we left them with the babies and went to get food for everyone.
By the time we got back to the table, the babies had been freed from the strollers and were heartily enjoying their lunch of sweet potatoes and peas, with pears for desert. Edward had Tony laughing as much as eating since he was pretending to give the brontosaur clutched in our little boy's hands a bite of peas before actually giving them to our son. Jasper had folded his leg up with his right ankle resting on his left knee and had Thea nestled there while he fed her. He was talking so low I couldn't hear what he was saying but it must have been something really good because my little girl's brown eyes never moved from her uncle's face. As much fun as those two were having, Toby was most definitely having more. He was sitting on Uncle Lance's lap while Uncle Jacob made "vroom-vroom" car noises and had the spoon full of food zigzagging its way to my little boy's happy mouth. Each time the spoon made it in and Toby swallowed, he clapped and looked up at Lance and then Jacob, like he was saying "yeah, we did it" to them.
"Cuteness overload?" Bree asked as he nudged my shoulder with his and reminded me that I needed to actually set my tray down and sit down.
Since it looked like they were all engrossed in their activities and wouldn't notice me, I slipped my camera out of my pocket and started snapping pictures of the "cuteness overload". It wasn't until I got to Toby that anyone noticed and it was Jacob of all people.
"Bells, if you don't put that camera away and leave my tadpoles to eat lunch in peace," he warned.
"Dude, when you see the pictures, you will totally appreciate my efforts."
"Dude," he mocked, lifting his head and staring hard at me. "Don't make me get Edward involved."
"Why you little traitor," I huffed. "You would really sell me out like that?"
"For the tadpoles? Hells yes."
I could only nod in agreement with that since it was exactly how I wanted him to feel—protective of my babies. I put my camera away and then sat my butt down in my seat and ate my own lunch.
Once every adult and baby had eaten their fill, we packed up the stroller and headed to our last mall task of the day—pictures with Santa. Now, I had been doing some research on this particular tradition since I only vaguely remembered going to see Santa as a kid. There were pictures but I didn't appear too pleased with the situation in any of them. And after comparing pictures of Edward, Alice, and Emmett with my own, it didn't really seem like any kid under the age of three enjoyed sitting on Santa's lap. Edward tried his best to soothe my worries over this particular tradition but we both knew how much I hated for anything to make my babies cry so he barely even put a dent in that particular worry bin.
Standing there in the long line and watching kid after kid sit on Santa's lap and start to bawl was not helping matters. I was starting to get that twitchy, jittery feeling, like I'd had way too much coffee and had gotten trapped in an elevator with only my mind to entertain me for the countless hours it would take the fireman to come and rescue me—cue fantasy of Edward as a hot ass fireman. But even that drool-worthy image in my head did nothing to quell the panic rising up in me and I was suddenly turning and going back the way I'd come with Thea held protectively against my body.
"Hang on there, Cullen," Edward said, laughing under his breath as he used the belt loops on the back of my jeans to haul me back beside him.
"I can't do this," I told him, switching my weight from foot to foot in an effort to stand there and talk to him instead of hauling ass and running away.
"You can," he said simply. "Remember, this is all part of the full-on Christmas experience."
"What if they cry?" I asked, trying not to do that very thing myself while kissing the top of my little girl's head.
He shrugged. "What if they laugh?"
"What if they don't?"
Edward pulled me over and held my head to his shoulder. "Do you need to call my mom? Would hearing from another protective mother calm your panic? I've got her on speed-dial. Just one button and she'll be telling you how it's okay for you to worry but not for you to let that worry deprive the kids of experiencing things."
"I'm being a freak, aren't I?"
"No. You're being a new mom in a new situation."
"Okay. We'll do this. But I'm warning you now, if they cry, I'm gonna cry."
I could feel the smile on his lips when he pressed them against my forehead. "I've got a nice comfy sweater to soak up all the tears."
"So are you."
"Less than you."
"I love you, Bella."
I closed my eyes and let those words settle over me and calm me for a moment before repeating them right back, meaning them just as much.
And then it was Edward's turn up with Tony and my little boy wasn't scared a bit, even letting Daddy hold his prized brontosaur while he sat on Santa's lap. He stared up at the man in the suit for a few seconds, decided he was cool with him, and then proceeded to giggle and tug on Santa's long white beard, making everyone in our group crack up laughing and I felt silly for being worried.
And then I was bringing Thea over and something about the way Santa held his hands out to her freaked her out and she started doing that thing where she was a mountain climber and I was the mountain and I wanted to haul ass and get her away from what frightened her. But then I remembered our book and how we were supposed to make it okay for them so that they would get past the fear and all I wanted was to be a good mom. So I held her close and told her how Santa was a really nice guy and then I offered to take the picture with her and I felt like a total spazz sitting on Santa's knee at my age but it was for the little girl in my arms who was now smiling and waving to her Daddy who was right behind the elf manning the camera.
A flash pop later and we were standing with Edward and Tony, watching Jasper bring Toby over to Santa. Toby cocked his little head to the side, gave Santa the once over and then looked up at Jasper and I swear the kid gave a nod. Jasper set my boy on Santa's lap and stepped away slowly, just in case of kid meltdown. Toby was absolutely fine though. Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas and it was like my boy knew to think Santa was nuts for expecting an answer because he gave him that lopsided grin that made him look just like Edward and the elf captured the whole thing on film for all-time.
"So if you had to rate that by scariest moments in your life, what would you give it on a scale of one to ten?" Edward asked as we put the kids into the stroller.
"That? That was barely even a one," I joked, grinning because I knew he knew better.
Once we had the kids strapped in and the adults and Melody were busy cooing and telling the babies how great they did with Santa, Edward pulled me to the side and into his arms. "Seriously, are you feeling better?"
"I'm feeling equal parts better and stupid," I admitted. "I know why I got freaked out but now it seems like the stupidest thing ever."
"There's nothing stupid about wanting to protect them, Bella. I want that too. It would have hurt me just as much if they'd all cried and hated it. But we can't ever let our fears for them stop us from letting them try new things."
I narrowed my eyes at him. "I feel like I should write this down. Because I'm not so sure you're going to be spouting this not holding them back business when Thea is old enough to date."
His cocky grin made an appearance as he leaned in closer, resting his forehead against mine. "Good thing I've got thirty years before that's a possibility, huh?"
"Jeebus, you are awful and amazing and I love you so much I don't remember anymore what it's like to not love you."
"Runaway mouth or you meant to do that?" he asked.
I smiled as I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him as close to me as he could get. "Totally meant it, Babe," I promised him. And then I kissed him, backing my words up with a little passionate action.
My deep sleep abruptly ended and I rolled over, already knowing I would find Bella's side of the bed empty. It was also cold to my touch so she'd been out of it for a while already. I hoped she was just up with one of the kids and not up worrying. She was working so hard to be a good mom and to make the babies' first Christmas special that she'd started to stress out over all of it and I hadn't really been able to help her. First it was work getting in the way and then family started arriving home and then the babies went completely off their schedule.
None of those were really good enough excuses for me, though. I knew Bella would tell me right away I was being silly and not to feel bad about it, but it was just impossible for me to accept her being unhappy for any reason. Lying here certainly wasn't going to change anything so I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and then went in search of my missing wife.
I found her sleeping in the dimly lit living room, lying sideways in an armchair pulled right up to the window. She'd obviously been watching the snow fall with the little angel fast asleep on her chest with his mother's arms holding him protectively. I checked the part of his hair and then smiled as I leaned in and kissed Toby's temple.
Instead of lifting our son off of her and waking her up to get them both in their beds, I sat down right in front of them and just watched them. While Thea looked like Bella, it was Toby who shared the most in common with her. All I could really see of myself in him was his love of cars. When I compared him to Bella, I could see they both stood back and watched before participating in something new. They had a sense of adventure but it was also tempered with a healthy dose of caution. They both loved music and could just sit and listen for hours, perfectly content. He wasn't even a year old and he had three favorite songs already. The first was a kiddy classic, BabyBeluga; he especially loved it if she sang it to him. The second and third were both Bella's favorite songs as well: YouandMe by Lifehouse and AllMyLife by Foo Fighters. The first song never failed to get him down when he was fussy and the second always left them breathless from their dancing and giggling. Watching her hop around the room with our son wrapped so tight and secure in her arms … it always left me breathless, marveling at how lucky I was to have them both.
Toby also got anxious like Bella, the sled from yesterday being a perfect example. But he was also braver than he realized, just like his mother. Once he actually took a minute to stop and breathe, he figured out pretty quickly that whatever had bothered him wasn't that bad. And curious like her! I'd lost count of how many times I'd watched him inspect something, turning it over and over in his hands to make sure he had it all figured out. Where he differed from Bella was in that he was never afraid to let you know what he was feeling. If something scared him, you knew. If something made him happy, you knew that too. Just like you knew he trusted you to make it better. Just like I knew that part of his personality was the only thing that made the similarities bearable for Bella because she was always worried about our babies having an easier time growing up than she did.
Now Thea … I chuckled softly, making sure I wouldn't wake my sleeping wife and son while I laughed at the thought of my daughter and her vibrant personality. She had her Grandma Esme in her, through and through. She had that power to tell you everything on her little mind with just a look. And she had a smile that made any day better, no matter what had gone wrong. She loved to love, to be cuddled up in someone's arms and just enjoy the bliss of being with them.
The only times I saw Bella in Thea where those times where she was being mischievous, like pulling on Rosalie's hair or purposefully squirming around to keep you from dressing her while she giggled as if it was the funniest thing ever. More often than not, it was the funniest thing and you found yourself laughing right along with her. As for seeing myself in my daughter, that came whenever she saw a book in your hand. Being read to her was her all-time favorite activity and she was always the last to fall asleep during reading time.
Tony was a good mix of Bella and me. He had my love of sports and her sense of humor and our love of family. He was sentimental like we both were, case in point that silly dinosaur from Emmett that he could not leave home without this morning. Then again, that might have been more of the stubborn streak he had in common with his parents than his sentimentality.
Tony was also the protector of the trio—Bella liked to say that side of him came from Charlie because of how protective her father had always been of her. If anyone was upsetting his sister or brother, Tony was quick to let you know that behavior wasn't going to fly with him. Earlier tonight, Emmett had annoyed Toby by taking his monkey slipper off his foot so Tony had picked up his mini basketball and tossed it right at Emmett. He had good aim too because the ball hit Emmett square in the shoulder. I knew I was supposed to tell my son not to hit but watching my brother apologize to two babies had been such a treat that I let it slip.
Bella groaned and her eyes fluttered open. She looked down at the sleeping baby on her chest and the smile that filled her face was nothing short of breathtaking.
"So what has you two in here all by yourselves?" I whispered as I reached over and put my hand on her arm.
She turned her eyes and smile my way. "What are you doing sitting there?"
"Watching my wife and my son sleep and thinking of how much I love my family. Your turn."
Her focus went back to the baby in her arms and she slowly ran her hand along his blanket-covered back. "I could hear him tossing and turning so I thought watching the snow fall with me would soothe him."
"Looks like you were right, Mommy. He looks pretty peaceful to me right now. I bet he'll even stay that way once he's in his own bed."
She grinned at me and I knew what was coming before she said it. "Five more minutes."
"We have to be up in less than five hours for their very first Christmas. You sure you really want the five minutes here and not when the alarm goes off?"
She looked down at our son again and her smile widened. "I'm sure."
I put my hand over hers on his back and felt her wedding ring pressing into my palm. Even though we'd already had our first anniversary as a married couple and our second Halloween anniversary, it still didn't seem completely real that this was our life. It wasn't perfect and it damn sure wasn't easy but we always knew where we stood with each other too—it was all worth it because we loved each other.
Bella sighed and I knew from the heaviness of it that it was something weighing on her and not just tiredness. "Wanna talk about what's bothering you?" I asked while rubbing my thumb against the back of her hand.
"I don't really know how to put it into words and you know how much that frustrates me."
"I do. Just like you know I'll listen to whatever words you do have and try my best to understand."
"It's just … How do you know? How do you ever know you're doing the right things as a parent and not screwing them up? And how do you stop yourself from analyzing everything you say and do or don't say or don't do? But if you don't analyze every little bit, how are you going to know if you're doing it right? With you I can tell because when I'm doing things right everything between us easy and effortless no matter how the rest of our life is going. Plus you can tell me if something is bothering you. But they can't talk and nothing is easy because they're so little and need so much and I don't mind giving them everything I have at all. I just have this need to know that it's enough, that it's right and good for them."
"Let's look at it from a checklist view. Are the babies healthy?"
"Yep. Perfect weight, perfect height, and right where they should be developmentally."
"Are the babies fed and clothed properly?"
"Well Alice would probably disagree on the clothing part but I know they get healthy meals and snacks every single day because I make them myself."
"Are they loved?"
She snorted. "Nope. Not at all. No aunts and uncles vying to hold them and kiss them or begging to babysit them."
"So I guess that means you saw Emmett, Jasper, and Bree doing rock-paper-scissors over reading to Thea?"
"Oh, hells yes. And I saw their faces when they turned around and found that Esme had already swooped in and scooped up her granddaughter. Jeebus, I love her."
"So if you look at your checklist and all the things you marked as a 'yes', do you think we're doing right by our babies?"
She didn't take long to think about it before answering. "Yeah, we really are."
I got to my feet and then very carefully lifted Toby off of Bella. Once I had him resting against my shoulder and was sure he wasn't going to wake, I held my hand out to help Bella up. "Come on, Angel. Let's all go to bed."
She held tightly to my hand until we were right next to Toby's crib. He started squirming as soon as his back touched the mattress but after Bella hummed a few bars of YouandMe to him, he relaxed and stayed asleep.
Snuggled up in our bed with my arms wrapped tight around her, I felt like we were both finally relaxed and content together. But I needed to be absolutely sure she was completely over her worries so I whispered into her ear, "You're a wonderful mom, Bella. I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true."
She let out a little happy sigh. "Thank you. I really needed to hear that."
"Anything for you, Angel. Always." I kissed the wings on her neck and then tucked her head under my chin, determined to hold her close and tight until it was time to get up and spend Christmas with our big, loud, loving family.
"Thea Elizabeth, you come back here," Alice ordered as my daughter continued to crawl away from her. My sister turned her head my way and stuck her lower lip out in a pout. "Edward, how am I going to show her all of her new clothes if she keeps crawling away?"
"You wait until she enjoys clothes," I told her, watching to see where Thea was going. She went over to her Uncle Jasper and used the sleeve of his sweater to pull herself up to stand beside him. He was helping my dad, Jake, and Lance put together the bouncy zebra ride-on things that Bree and Lance had given the babies. From the way she was standing there watching, I was pretty sure she was telling them she had first dibs on taking a ride.
"So what do you think, Bells?" Charlie asked. I looked up to find my wife trying her damndest not to laugh out loud at her dad and the gifts he'd bought the babies. It was really sweet of him and we loved that he was looking forward to future activities with the babies, but buying them fishing poles and tackle boxes when they weren't even a year old yet seemed silly. Then again, I was the one who couldn't wait to get Tony a baseball glove yesterday.
"They're perfect, Charlie," I told him. "The kids are going to love using those with you."
Charlie had a proud smile on his face as he turned the poles toward me. "I figured the boys would like these since they have those cars with faces on them and of course a princess for Thea."
"Of course," Bella said, just barely managing not to laugh. "It's really great, Dad. In fact, I'm going to go put these in a really special place so they're safe until the kids are old enough to use them."
She gathered up the poles and matching tackle boxes and headed toward our bedroom in the den.
"Eds! Paging Eds!" Karen called out, almost running toward me with Tony held out at arms length. From her panicked expression and his self-satisfied one, I knew exactly what she wanted.
"No way," I told her, crossing my arms and sticking my hands under them. "You begged to let him have the bacon bites for breakfast so you get to change the diaper."
"Come on, Eds. Take pity on your best friend."
I chuckled and shook my head. "You fed him, you change him."
Karen looked for a moment like I'd just told her to shoot herself and then she started smiling and walking away from me. "Bella! Help!"
"Think Bella will help her out?" Emmett asked as he sat down beside me on the couch.
I shrugged. "There's no predicting with Bella."
"You know, Ed, I might have to get around to marrying Rosie and having me one of those," he said, nodding toward Rosalie. She was standing near the tree with Toby in her arms, the two of them oohing and aahing over the decorations.
"You could always just move home and spend more time with my three," I suggested.
"We've been talking about it but it's just not the responsible thing to do right now. We've got a lot invested in Boston and my law school so until I finish that, we really should stay put."
"Then that's exactly what you need to do, Em. Your family with Rose comes before your family with us. You can't make everyone happy all the time, but you definitely have to make her as happy as possible as much as possible."
"It used to seem really hard to do that but now … I don't know, it's like I finally figured her out. I finally get what she's saying."
I gave his shoulder a playful punch as I said, "It's because you finally started listening, you goof."
He grinned. "Yeah, that too."
"Ooh wee, Daddy. Look at your girl go on her horsy." Jasper was laughing as he knelt right behind Thea with his arms out on either side in case she slipped off the toy.
"Bree, she loves it," Lance said, sounding and looking proud as he watched Thea bounce and giggle.
"Duh, her aunt picked it out," Bree retorted. His face was mostly hidden behind the camera he was using but you could definitely see his smile around the edges. "Thea, sweetie, look over here at Aunt Bree."
Thea either didn't hear or didn't care—she was busy riding that zebra.
"What do you think, Esme? Future cowgirl?" my dad asked my mom, making her laugh.
"Oh, we should get her a little pink cowgirl hat," Alice squealed.
"They don't need props for every toy they get," Rosalie said as she brought Toby over. She turned him around and held him out to me but just before I got my hands on him, she pulled him back and said "mine". I watched my little boy giggle in her arms and figured Bella had told his aunt about this game and how much Toby loved it.
"Dadda," he called, holding his arms out to me and opening and closing his hands.
Rosalie brought him close once more and pulled him away again. "Mine."
Toby's little giggles were so contagious that Emmett was guffawing next to me and shaking the loveseat. Toby tried to get "Dadda" out again but he was laughing too hard this time.
After two more times of "mine" and "Dadda", Rose handed me my breathless, red-faced son. I started rubbing his back to calm him as I whispered into his ear, "You are so much like your mom when you laugh, big guy."
"Damn, Ed, he's a mess. Looks just like Bella after she's had too much caffeine and lost it over something silly."
"I don't see the resemblance at all," I teased, turning my head to see the woman who had just put her arms around my neck.
"Cute, Cullen," she said, smiling as she kissed my cheek.
"So who changed Tony? You or Karen?"
"Team effort, Babe. She's left Team Edward for Team Cullen."
"You are so ridiculous with that."
"Hush it. Eds."
I pretended to be annoyed with her. "You're gonna pay for that later."
Her lips curled into her evil smile and came close enough to mine for a kiss. "Make me."
Instead of giving me a kiss, she gave it to Toby and then took him over to see what had his sister and brother giggling. Everyone except for Emmett and me were now crowded around the zebras with at least half of them taking pictures. They all knew about Bella's limit on picture taking so they'd all brought their own cameras to take more for her. It was just a little thing but it meant the world to Bella—and to me.
"You're a really lucky bastard, you know that?"
I knew the smile that Bella called cocky was on my face when I replied to my brother. "Hells yes."
"So how long is an appropriate waiting period before playing the video of Emmett and Tony?"
I snorted at Bella's question while fixing the blanket over our legs. Everyone else had gone to bed so we were sharing the chair next to the fireplace. "I'm not sure," I said as I took the mug of cocoa she offered me.
"I'm thinking a week tops. Having it up on the big screen for New Years seems like perfect timing."
"Really? You only want to give him a week to get over his traumatic experience?"
"Considering we both warned him and he still kept on, no. I feel no pity for the big guy."
My brother had decided to play airplane with the kids. Bella and I had both warned him it was a bad idea since they'd only finished eating about fifteen minutes earlier. But Emmett was positive he knew what he was doing so we stood back and watched him lie on his back and reach for Tony first. He lifted and lowered our son and turned him side to side. The whole time he spoke as if he was an air traffic controller talking down a plane while my son went from just giggling to that silent laugh that made his face redden.
It hadn't taken long at all for it to happen and my brother's timing couldn't have been worse. Just as Tony's face had gone from red to white, Emmett had brought him up directly over his head. Tony had barfed right onto his uncle's forehead and all through his hair.
"I bet Emmett's going to be saying he can still smell the throw-up in his hair tomorrow morning," Bella said, giggling a little as she poked at a marshmallow floating in her cup.
"Probably. At least he was smart enough to stay still until I took Tony away from him."
"I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with being smart and everything to do with being shocked that you and I were right."
"So what did you say to him? I figure you two talked while I was upstairs with the girls giving the kids a bath."
"He was gone the entire time you were. I heard him telling Jazz that he took five showers."
"I bet it's six now," she said with a snort. "I heard him telling Rosalie he was going to take another shower before bed."
"Was she still laughing at him?"
"No, she had the laughter under control. But she was still smiling."
"Like you this morning when you saw those fishing poles."
"I never would have thought I would call my dad silly and sweet but he really is when it comes to the babies."
"I'm not sure what to call my parents with that giant sandbox they got the kids. Plus all the toys for playing in the sand."
"How about 'young at heart'? I can so see them getting into the sandbox to play with the kids."
"Maybe even while you and I are away for the day, just the two of us," I mentioned, watching Bella's face closely for her reaction. While I was used to being away from the babies for work Bella had never been away from them for more than an hour at a time. I completely understood her reasons and I rarely left their sides on the weekend, but I also wanted to start planning more alone time for the two of us. With three little tadpoles, we no longer had the luxury of being spontaneous with our time alone.
"Could we go to Pike's Market? We haven't been there together yet and the market is one of my favorite places in Seattle. Oh and we definitely have to go to Empire Espresso. They have this waffle that comes with raspberry jam and powdered sugar and it totally melts in your mouth."
She was much more excited about the idea than I'd expected and it made me wonder if she'd heard me right. "Bella, you do know it'll just be you and me? No tadpoles?"
She leaned across me to put her empty cup on the table. "I never would have suggested Empire otherwise, Babe. It's not a place you bring babies."
I set my own cup down and then took her hair into my hands, getting the thick locks off of her shoulders. "I just wanted to make sure. I was hoping you would like the idea but I wasn't sure."
"If it was a couple months ago, I probably wouldn't have liked it. The kids were just starting to crawl and they were so miserable with their teething that I would have felt guilty leaving them. But they're past that now. That's not to say I want to leave them every weekend or anything."
"I don't want to leave them that often either. I just want to have you all to myself every so often."
"All Cullen all the time?" she joked, showing off her evil grin.
I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and pulled her close so I could give her a soft, teasing kiss. "I just want to be able to take my time," I told her, knowing she would understand the full meaning of my words.
Her groan proved me right and she let her head drop to my chest. "Edward, you know I hate it when you say things like that and can't act on them."
"Who says I can't?"
She groaned again, shaking her head and rubbing it against my sweater. "The three babies sleeping in our room."
"Our room? I think you mean the room Alice and Jasper are borrowing for the night."
Bella's head quickly lifted and her brown eyes studied me closely. "They're in the den with the babies?"
"And they're spending the night in there?"
"Yep." I pulled my lips up into the smile she called cocky.
"So … Where are we sleeping?"
"We are staying in my room on the third floor."
"You said staying instead of sleeping? You promise we won't get upstairs just for you to say we're up there to catch up on sleep?"
I leaned in and brushed my lips against hers, refusing to turn it into a kiss no matter how she tilted her head. I waited for her to give a frustrated groan before smiling and answering her. "You might get some sleep at some point but I promise you aren't going to be saying you're rested in the morning."
"Not to sound—Screw it! I am greedy and needy. What are we waiting for?"
I couldn't help laughing at her blunt honesty and I kissed the lips that said so many unexpected things. "I love you."
"I love you too. And I really want to show you."
After leaning in and kissing that little spot on her neck that always made her shiver, I told her, "Later, Angel. After I've properly, and very slowly, worshipped every inch of you."
"How the hell am I supposed to respond to that?"
"How about … Merry Christmas?"
She smiled as she slipped her arms around my neck. "Merry Christmas, Edward."
"Merry Christmas, Angel."
We shared a long, slow, sweet kiss before breaking apart so we could get out of the chair and head upstairs. We had one last gift to share with each other on this holiday and the best part of this gift was that it was one we could keep on giving each other.
We hope you enjoyed it! We've got pictures to go with the chapter up on the Worth the Burn page at the ebarules site. Merry Christmas from My-Bella and EternallyAddicted. We hope you all have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones.