The Last Minute Holiday Fun Times One Shot Contest
Title: The Christmas Gift
Your Pen Name: SparklingTwilight
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, they belong to SMeyer. The only thing that belongs to me is the plotline of this here one-shot.
To see other entries in the contest please visit the C2 page:
The Christmas Gift
As Bella made her way up and down the aisles of the toy store, her mind was aflutter with uncertainty.
Batman, Spiderman, Cabbage Patch dolls, Barbies, stuffed animals, Moon Sand, Play-doh...what is it that kids these days like?...
She was out of her element. Severely. She couldn't remember the last time she'd bought a Christmas gift for a child as she didn't have any of her own and she didn't have many friends. Much less any friends that had children. The only child in her life, at the moment, was Lily - her four month old niece...and Rosalie had handed her a detailed list of gifts to purchase, so she didn't even have to think about what to buy.
"Someone remind me why I'm doing this...please," she muttered to herself as she narrowed her eyes at yet another aisle jam packed with hundreds of toys.
Because these kids deserve to have a good Christmas and you're a big softy...her mind answered her. She sighed as she turned the corner again and spotted her God-sent salvation. An aisle filled to the brim with five and ten dollar toys, one side for boys and the other for girls. A wide smile graced her face as she began filling her two carts with fire engines and dolls, ninja play sets and tea party settings, remote control cars and doll houses. All she'd ever need to bring a little Christmas cheer to some children in desperate need of a little happiness.
Three months ago she had returned to Chicago at her sister's request. While their adoptive parents, Carlisle and Esme, had put them both through medical school, Bella had chosen to spend her post-residency years abroad whereas Rosalie had chosen to work for the local children's hospital.
Bella had always been fascinated with her father's tales of traveling the world and using his knowledge and training to provide healthcare to third world country civilizations that lacked modern technology and pharmacology. For the last three years, home had been mission bases set up in remote parts of deserts, savannas, and jungles all around the world. If it hadn't been for Rosalie begging her to come home to stay, now that she had started a family of her own that she desperately wished Bella to be a part of, Bella may have never returned for more than just a visit. She thoroughly enjoyed her selfless work and the sense of accomplishment it brought her.
Not that every day had been good...because many hadn't.
But, the things she'd seen and experienced over the last three years had helped prepare her for the heartache she'd been enduring daily since her return. Just three months ago, she'd joined the ranks of a league of physicians at Children's Memorial Hospital.
Her first week alone she'd lost track of how many times she'd found herself hiding in a supply closet or an empty patient room, bawling her eyes out as she struggled to cope with the emotions that battered her heart and soul. Many of the things she'd seen abroad had been curable conditions, things readily treated by drugs or surgery. She hadn't really had to face the already grieving faces of parents who hadn't yet lost their child, and in the beginning, it was just too much to bear without letting her emotions overtake her. She wished there was an instant fix for all of those poor children in that hospital that were suffering from cancer or needing organ transplants where a donor may or may not be found in time to save them.
It was heart wrenching, but it made her resolved in her position to stay and fight to find the cure for such ailments. If it took her entire life, she'd find the cure. She had to.
After that first week, she took her place beside her sister and joined the hospital's oncology team. Together, they'd use their combined strengths and knowledge to discover the cure.
As she stood in the aisle and struggled to keep the boxes from repeatedly falling out of the carts she'd overflowed, her cell phone began to ring.
"Hell..oh crap!" she cut herself off as an avalanche of boxes slid from the cart.
"Eloquent as ever," Rosalie laughed. "Have you finished shopping yet? Mom wants us at their house for dinner and gift wrapping tonight."
"I'm almost done, Rose...though I think I may need another cart. Why did you guys stick me with toys? I have no idea what would make these kids happy," Bella chuckled, trying to restack her purchases.
"Because you're horrible with clothes, Bells. You can barely match your own let alone colorful children's outfits," Rose teased causing Bella to purse her lips.
"Love you too, sis," she responded dryly.
"You know I love you. So listen, Emmett freed the twentieth for us to play Santa at the hospital. Does that work for you?" Rosalie asked as she shifted Lily in her arms.
"Yeah, the twentieth will be good. Did Ali finish the costumes?" Bella asked as she slowly made her way toward the registers, careful not to drop anything else.
"She sure did...but you'll probably want to kill her when you see yours," Rose chuckled.
"Oh no...what'd she do?" Bella asked worriedly.
"Nothing...the elf costumes are cute...short, but cute....And stop right there Bells," Rose warned as Bella began to bristle. "Alice bought leggings to go underneath them. These are kids we're dealing with, not drunken hornballs."
"Thank God for small favors. Alright, lemme get off of here. I'll see you and Ali at home tonight," Bella replied as she debated which line would be best to jump on.
It never failed her, even the shortest line in a store would inevitably take the longest to get through. She often wondered if she should just choose the longest one to spite Karma...but feared she'd die a withered old woman before getting out of the store should she do so.
She hung up with Rosalie and took her place in a line...right behind a little boy with bronze hair. A little boy who seemed to have no adult with him...which made Bella worriedly look around for his parents. Surely they wouldn't just let their child wander around aimlessly...would they?
As she inched her toward the register, and kept a protective watchful eye on the little boy, her phone rang once more. Her other sister, Alice - Carlisle and Esme's only biological child, called and asked her to pick up egg nog ice cream to top her caramel apple pecan pie. Bella's nose scrunched up at the idea of it, but agreed to pick some up on her way to the house.
"I'm sorry, honey, but you don't have enough to purchase this toy," the cashier said and Bella frowned as tears began to fall from the little boy's eyes.
"But...it's for my little brother. Daddy says this may be his last Christmas with us...he might be with Jesus next year," the boy sniffled and Bella squeezed herself by one of her carts to kneel down beside the little guy.
"Is your brother sick?" she whispered as she wiped a tear away from his little cherub face. He nodded as another set of tears escaped his beautiful dark green and golden flecked eyes. "He has cancer."
"Add that toy to my bill," she told the cashier as she looked up. The lady smiled at her and nodded as she handed the boy back his five dollar bill.
"What's your name, sweetie?" Bella asked the little boy.
"Matty," he answered as he swiped away at his face with his scarf. "It's short for Matthew."
"Well, Matty," she smiled as she took the gift from the cashier and handed it to him. "Merry Christmas to you and your little brother."
"Thank you," he smiled angelically as he threw his arms around her. "Merry Christm..."
"Matthew! My God I've been looking everywhere for you!" a deep and frantic masculine voice boomed, making Matty jump and lose his footing as he spun around.
Bella caught Matty from falling and righted him just as the man that had nearly yelled slid to the floor in front of him, tear trails streaked down his panicked face. Bella had no doubt he was the boy's father, they had the same odd bronze colored hair and sparkling green eyes. A deep forest green she'd never seen in eyes before...it was stunningly beautiful.
"Why did you walk off? I told you if you sat in that chair and behaved, I'd take you to the toy store," he rambled as he checked his son over.
"I wanted to get a toy for Nicholas...please don't be mad, Daddy. I was coming right back... I promise," Matty murmured nervously.
"I'm not mad, buddy...I was terrified that something happened to you. You're all I have left...please don't ever do anything like that again," the man responded, wrapping Matty up in a tight and desperate embrace.
When he finally let the boy go, he roughly ran a hand over his face to clear the wetness of his tears and inspected the gift Matty still held.
"Buddy...I can't afford this right now. How about we pick out something else for Nicky?" he asked, looking completely defeated.
"Sir...the gift is already paid for," Bella started as she stood and smiled down at them.
"I...we can't accept this," he stammered as he stood and shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He wasn't one for taking handouts and accepting something he neither paid nor worked for from a stranger was impossible for him.
"Please accept it. It's nothing really. Merry Christmas," Bella responded, unable to think clearly as she gazed at the man.
He was...indescribably handsome with his chiseled angular features, soft looking lips and wild wind blown hair...and she wanted to kick herself for the attraction to him she was feeling. It was clear that the last thing this man needed in his life at the moment was some thirty two year old woman crushing over him.
"At least give me your name so I can find a way to repay you for this," he said after a few moments of looking down at the gift in his hands. When he'd looked back up at her, his head was still tilted downward and he was looking through his lashes...and the sight of it nearly knocked the wind out of Bella.
"Bella...Bella Cullen," she responded, blushing even brighter as a slow smile graced his face. "And you are?"
"Edward Masen," he said as he held his hand out to her. Someone behind Bella in line started grumbling and she scowled as she turned around, still holding his hand.
"There are worse things in this world than waiting in line for five stupid minutes. If it kills you so bad, go find another line to wait in," she retorted, rolling her eyes as she turned back to a highly amused Edward.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Bella...and thank you...for Nicky's gift," he stammered, unable to keep from smiling at the beautiful and generous woman.
"Daddy...you should take Miss Bella for coffee," Matty whisper yelled up to his dad. He smiled down at him and nodded before looking back up at Bella.
"We'd like it very much if you joined us for some coffee and hot cocoa...as a small thank you. I can't afford much, but I'm sure I can wing that," Edward offered.
"Sure...but first thing's first," she quirked a brow at him and then looked down at Matty. "Go and pick something out for yourself real quick. It'll be my Christmas present to you."
"Really?" he asked excitedly as he bounced and Bella nodded as Edward grumbled to himself and shot her a reproving look.
"Can I, Daddy?" he asked and Edward sighed as he looked down at him.
"Keep it cheap. I'm not one for denying a beautiful generous woman anything, but I don't want you breaking her bank either," he replied as he shook his head. Bella couldn't help the giggle the bubbled out of her, though she tried to hide it behind her scarf. Seeing the happiness radiating from Matthew, Edward wondered if he'd ever be able to capture one last moment like it with his little Nicholas.
If only he could see that spark of life in his eyes and a smile on his face once more, then maybe...just maybe, he'd be able to hold onto that memory and keep his little boy safe and alive in his heart until the time came for him to join his son in the heavens.
Just one more smile after endless months of tears and sickness.
"Thank you...sincerely. What you've done for them is..." Edward started, unable to look at her fully as she placed a comforting hand on his arm. He didn't want her to see the agony and despair in his eyes...but she didn't need to. His pain was palpable to her, just as it was with all of her patients' parents.
"What any person standing in my place in line should and would have done," she said, finishing his statement for him in a way she hoped would lessen his guilt over accepting her gifts. His slow smile as he gazed down into her eyes and covered her hand with his own let her know she'd succeeded.
The cashier smiled secretly at the pair of them, wondering if anyone else was able to see the magic she was witnessing between them as she scanned and bagged Bella's items.
Once all of her purchases were paid for, Edward helped her bring everything out to her truck. Upon seeing the monstrous vehicle capable of seating at least seven, and the mountain of infant toys and gifts already inside on top of what she'd bought in the store, he wondered if he'd made a wrong choice in inviting her for coffee. She was probably married with children.
"How many kids do you have exactly?" he laughed, trying to cover up his unease.
"Forty six," she smirked as his face fell and she laughed as she shut the back of the truck.
"Wha...how....that isn't even possible," he spluttered, fueling her laughter.
"They're not actually mine, but they're all part of my life. They're my patients," Bella responded when she calmed, leaving Edward breathless.
She was buying gifts...for her patients. She was either a nurse or a doctor, and she obviously worked somewhere in Chicago. He wondered if it was possible that she was one of Nicky's caregivers that he hadn't met thus far. Unlikely, but possible nonetheless.
Getting out of her truck in the McDonald's parking lot that she'd followed Edward to, she smiled as he jogged up to her and apologized for the location, explaining that the indoor playground would keep Matty occupied while they enjoyed their coffee.
She didn't mind it at all, not in the least. The little boy she'd seen crying earlier was smiling brightly as he flew his Optimus Prime Transformer she'd bought him through the air, and that was enough for her. She wished it were that easy to bring smiles to all the sad faces she witnessed daily.
Once inside, Edward ordered their coffees along with a happy meal for Matty and they took seats in a large booth right next to the giant window separating the restaurant from the play area. As they talked, Matty would run in and out of the play area, eat a chicken nuggett or a few fries and take a few sips of his Hi-C and take off running again.
It was comfortable and natural...everything Bella hadn't expected this outing to be, simply because Edward was, undeniably, a stranger.
"I don't mean to pry, and feel free to tell me to butt out if I'm overstepping my boundaries, but Matty mentioned that Nicholas has cancer. What kind of cancer?" Bella asked.
Edward sighed as he ran a hand through his hair and his eyes lost a little of their vibrant spark. "He has leukemia. He's been fighting it for over a year now, but nothing's working. After all the chemo and drugs he's been on, he's weaker now than ever before. His doctor says that his only chance now is a bone marrow transplant."
"Have you been tested as a donor match?" Bella asked gently as she reached her hand across the table and placed it over his as a comforting gesture.
"Yeah...we all have, but we aren't close enough matches. I didn't really understand all of it, but apparently Matty and I were the closest...but still not close enough. I've been trying to track down his mother, but she won't even return my calls," he replied heartbroken as he watched Matthew climb the rock wall. "I just hate to think that he's only five and his life is rapidly coming to a close. The doctors keep telling me to remain hopeful, but I see him. I've watched him fight with everything he has in his tiny body and I know he doesn't have much left in him."
Bella stifled a sniffle and fought back the tears in her eyes. She knew exactly what he was talking about, how you could just tell when the end was approaching. She'd only been around those kinds of illnesses for three months, but she'd seen it enough to recognize it, but even so, the doctor and the scientist in her spoke aloud.
"They're right. Improvements in technology and treatments are being made every day. You have to keep hoping and praying and fighting so that he will too. Don't give up," she said as she squeezed his hand. He smiled sadly at her and turned his hand under hers to wrap his long fingers around her hand.
"Thank you, Bella," he whispered, looking deeply in her eyes. Deep brown eyes that he could get lost in. Something was brewing in him that he hadn't felt in years, and it both elated and terrified him. "So enough about me. How is it that someone like you hasn't managed to be swooped off her feet yet?"
Bella laughed lightly and rolled her eyes, "It's a long story."
At his insistence, she delved into her years of medical school where she had no time to focus on anything but her education, and then her years abroad where her love life had remained as dry as some of the deserts they'd built camp in. Being surrounded by illness and poverty isn't exactly a romantic scene, and while she'd had a few partners during that time, it was never anything more than a mutual need for a physical connection that brought them together.
She didn't share that part with him though. She was sure he'd rather hear about anything other than a five minute quickie between co-workers in a tent.
As the skies began to darken, Edward, Bella and Matty said their goodnights to each other. Before she left, she gave Edward her cell phone number and told him to call should he ever need someone to talk to...as a friend and not a physician. He appreciated it immensely as he wasn't sure how much more medical jargon he could tolerate. It seemed to infiltrate even his most basic conversations with his family. There wasn't a moment in his daily life that wasn't filled with it, and he was tired of the hopelessness in it. So tired.
After dragging all of her purchases into her parents' oversized and elegantly decorated living room, she stopped to admire their tree. She smiled as she touched various ornaments, the silver bells engraved with her name for her first Christmas with the Cullens, Rosalie's wreath from hers, Alice's baby stocking for her very first Christmas ever.
She'd come as a surprise to both Carlisle and Esme. They'd tried having children for years but had never been able to. They'd adopted both Rosalie and Bella, Bella when she was three and Rosalie two years later when she was five, but it wasn't until they were both nearly ten that Alice had graced her mother's womb. Rosalie and Bella were both thirty two years old, but their baby sister trailed behind them at only twenty two. They loved her dearly and truly took to the roles of big sisters when she was born. They mothered and coddled her like the tiny miracle baby she was.
Even though both she and Rosalie had been adopted, they'd never felt as though they had been. Carlisle and Esme had always tried to make them feel as though they were their own, and for the most part, they did feel that way. They were treated no different than Alice over the years, and it warmed Bella's heart that she'd been chosen by such a wonderful family. Looking around the room, she admired the twinkling garlands adorning the windows and entry way, the fire burning bright in the fireplace with pictures of their family upon the mantle and their stockings hanging beneath them. Esme had always had a unique way of filling every inch of their home with the Christmas spirit.
"Hey pipsqueak...here's that nasty ice cream you wanted," Bella laughed, handing Alice the bag.
"Yeah yeah...I'll leave it off your piece you picky brat," Alice giggled as she wrapped her sister in a hug.
"Where are Mom and Dad?" Bella asked as she looked around the kitchen.
"Dad's out back chopping more firewood with Emmett and Jasper, and Mom's upstairs with Rose giving Lily a bath," Alice answered as she turned away from the freezer to tend to their dinner.
Alice was in culinary school, having chosen not to follow in the footsteps of their father...which was probably a good thing. Ali sometimes had a bit too much energy and Bella was sure that would frighten some patients...even though the mental image of it made her snigger under her breath. Their mom always claimed it was because she was trying to cram a normal sized person's emotions into her tiny body. Tiny because she barely stood at five foot and weighed in at probably ninety eight pounds sopping wet.
As Bella enjoyed the night with her family, eating dinner and dessert and wrapping the tons of gifts for the children and their families at the hospital, she couldn't get her mind off of Edward and Matty. She wished there was something more she could do for them. She wished she could find the cure and the answer to all of Edward's prayers...to heal his heartbreak.
It wasn't fair. It never is. Here was a decent man, a loving father who centered his entire world around his children, and he was about to lose one. Where was the justice in that? He'd already been through so much heartbreak when his wife left them and divorced him because they just weren't enough for her, why did fate have to hand him this hand as well?
"Bella, honey? What's wrong?" her mother asked, rubbing her shoulder comfortingly. Bella reached up and touched her hands to her face as she shook her head, not even realizing that she'd been silently crying until she felt the moisture of her tears on her hands.
"Nothing, Mom...it was just a hard day at the hospital," she answered somewhat truthfully.
It really had been a hard day at the hospital for her. She'd gone in hoping to have some good news for one of her patient's families, but instead had to break the news to them that the treatment hadn't worked and they were going to try again.
"I often wonder how you two manage what you do. Your father's a physician, yes, but he's limited himself to general family practice for as long as I can remember," she responded, wrapping her motherly loving arms around Bella.
"We'll find it, Bells...You and me sister," Rose said encouragingly as she gripped Bella's hand.
That night, Bella slept horribly. Something was eating at her and she just couldn't let it go. She had to find a way to help Nicholas. There had to be a donor match out there for him somewhere, and she was determined to find it.
The next morning, she dressed for work and sped to the hospital. Walking through the main doors, she frantically pounded at the up button with her finger and paced anxiously until the doors opened. She sped down the hall toward her and Rosalie's offices and barged through Rose's door without even knocking.
"Nicholas Masen...is he a patient of yours?" Bella asked breathlessly as Rosalie sat startled in her chair.
"What? Who?" she spluttered as she started breathing again.
"Nicholas Masen, he's five and has leukemia. He stopped responding to chemo three months ago," Bella rambled as she paced in front of Rose's desk.
"Yes, actually he is. He was just referred to me by Angela over at the Comer Children's Hospital. I'm supposed to meet with him and his father today at noon," Rose responded, wondering what was going on.
"You already have his medical file?" Bella asked, slowing her pace as she approached Rosalie's desk. She nodded and pointed to it on the corner of her desk, where it sat waiting for her appointment with them. She'd already gone through it earlier that morning. It was one of the first things she did when she entered her office.
"Have you run his test results against our database of donors yet?" Bella asked as she reached for the file.
"Yes, I did it last Friday when Angela faxed me his most recent test results," Rose said, eyeing her sister warily. Something was up with her. "Bella, I don't know what your connection with this kid is, but I have to be honest with you, there weren't many possible donor matches close enough to use for transplantation."
"That's what I was fearing," Bella sighed as she plopped down in a chair and fingered through his file. What she read, in both the numeric test results and Angela's expert interpretation of them...was heart wrenching. His prognosis was poor. Very poor.
"Test me..." Bella whispered, closing the file and looking up at her sister. "I want you to take a sample of my blood and do a comparative tissue typing against his HLA genes."
"Bella...you know there are a million reasons why I shouldn't, and really can't, do that," Rose responded, frowning at her sister.
"I don't care. If you don't do it, I'll find a way to do it myself. Please Rosalie, this kid hasn't got much longer if we don't find a suitable match for him," Bella pleaded.
Rosalie sighed as she leaned back in her chair and rested her head on her hand. Bella had never been one to ask for anything. Ever. For her to be asking for something of this magnitude from her, Rose knew it had to mean the world to her.
"You do realize the chances of you being a positive match for all five genes while being of no relation to him are slim, right?" Rose questioned.
Bella's eyes closed as a tear slipped from her eye and she nodded. "But it can't hurt to find out. Please Rosie...I just...I need to know for sure."
"Alright...you up for it now? I've got a half hour before rounds. I can analyze it later myself," Rose said as she lifted herself from her seat.
Bella practically ran out of the office before her, thanking her all the way. They ducked into an empty phlebotomy room and Rosalie quickly withdrew eight vials of blood from her sister.
"Say a word of this to anyone and I'll hunt you down and beat you to a bloody pulp," Rose warned, only half sincere as she disposed of the contaminated needle and tubing.
"Cross my heart," Bella smiled at her. "Thank you, Rosalie."
"Don't mention it, just leave me something shiny and gold under the tree," Rose quipped as she winked at her sister.
When they parted, Rosalie quickly took her samples down to the lab where she'd analyze the samples as soon as she got a chance and Bella headed off to check on her patients.
"Hey Doctor Cullen, I thought you'd like to be the first to know...Kelly Henderson's MRI scan results came back just an hour ago," Jessica said, a knowing smile spreading across her lips as she pushed Kelly's chart across the counter.
"Are they good? Has the tumor shrunk enough to be excised?" Bella asked excitedly as she sat down at the chart station.
"See for yourself," Jessica winked and Bella tore open the chart, speedily reading through the most recent report.
"Yes! Yes, yes YES!" she crowed, jumping from her chair.
"Easy there doc," Jessica laughed.
"Do you know what this means? She can be out of surgery and past the last of her radiation therapy just in time to be home for Christmas," Bella grinned, sitting back down in her chair as she fingered the image of Kelly's brain tumor that would no longer be there come the end of the week.
She'd been one of the very few to respond to treatments rapidly, and it was cases like hers that gave her the hope that they'd be able to provide that type of recovery to every child in their care one day.
Bella made her rounds and shared the excellent news with Kelly's parents before locking herself up in the research lab, determined to take one more step that day toward finding the cure. She worked tirelessly with precision focus for hours and hours before she was pulled from her work by her cell phone ringing.
"Hello?" she answered as she sat on a rolling chair in the middle of the lab.
"Hey sis, got yourself holed up in the batcave again?" Rose joked, trying to hide her anxiousness.
"You know it. I had a theory today that I wanna run by you tomorrow if you get a chance," Bella responded.
"Sounds good, I'm off tomorrow but I can swing by first thing in the morning," she said, truly looking forward to what Bella may have come across. "So listen, are you sitting down?"
"Yeah, why?" Bella answered, feeling her stomach and heart drop as she sat up straight in the chair.
"I'm down in the cyto-lab. I don't know how this is possible...and I've run the damn test twelve times, but it keeps coming up the same. Bells...you're an exact match for this kid. All five HLA gene pairs match up perfectly..."
Bella nearly slid off of her chair at hearing the news and interrupted Rosalie mid-sentence. "When can you get me in for harvesting?"
"Bella...are you sure about this? I met with this kid and his father today...he's barely hanging on by a thread. I'm not even sure he can withstand the immunosuppressive treatments before we can do a marrow transplant," Rose responded worriedly.
"Yes, I'm sure Rose. Get consent for the treatment from his father and let me know when you need to do the marrow harvesting. Can you do one more thing for me?" Bella asked hesitantly and Rosalie sighed.
"What is it?" she asked warily.
"Set it up from an anonymous donor. Everything. The cost of the treatment and his care while he's here," Bella responded as a tear slipped out of her eye.
She knew, from having spoken to Edward, that his family was in financial ruins after all the medical bills they'd endured. Even without her pocketing the massive cost this would present him, he'd probably never be able to overcome the debt he already owed on just his teaching salary alone. Bella had been sitting on a sizable inheritance she'd received when her biological parents had died, before she was adopted by the Cullens, and had never felt right spending a dime of it when it was turned over to her at age eighteen. It felt right now, to be using it for a good cause. To use it to provide the chance of life rather than using it for something meaningless.
"Okay...I've gone along with this up until now. No more vagueness...who is this kid to you and why are you trying so hard to help his family, Bella? You have numerous kids in your care, but none of them have affected you like this," Rose demanded, needing to know what she was getting herself into.
"His father...he's a...friend. I can't explain it Rose. I met him the other day and I just...I need to help them," Bella responded.
"So why do it anonymously? Why not just tell them its you helping them?" Rose asked curiously.
"Because he won't take a handout. It's like against his genetic makeup or something. Christ, just trying to get him to accept two kids toys while I was already buying a truck load of them was like pulling teeth," Bella grumbled and Rosalie laughed.
"Oh no...another martyr. I can see...well hear...right through you Bells," Rose smirked. "Just be careful, honey. This man's broken in more ways than one."
"I know...trust me I know," Bella whispered, not sure if Rosalie had heard her or not.
"Okay...I'll do what I can. Don't ever let me hear you say I don't love you," Rose warned jokingly and Bella smiled as she wiped the tears off her face.
"I love you too Rosalie. You're my sister and best friend always."
Four Weeks Later- December 20th
"My God I look like a fool," Bella chuckled as she looked at her reflection in the glass.
She was head to toe green and red with candy cane striped leg warmers over her green leggings, and jingling bells hanging from her elfin hat, the points on her skirt, and even from the curled tips of her slippers. Everyone in the hospital would hear her coming from a mile away.
She and her family were headed into the hospital to give out gifts and play the parts of Santa and Mrs. Claus and their elves. Her poor dad and Jasper had been picking wedgies since they came down the stairs that morning, and they were vowing to unite and take down the inventor of spandex leggings.
"You? Does anyone here have the slightest clue how wrong it is to put a middle aged man in tights?" Carlisle shot back, taking a wide step to the side to dislodge the damn creeping fabric...and only making it worse. "Alice...I'm putting a stop payment on next semester's tuition check as payback for this."
"Oh, Dad...quit being the Grinch already. It's only for an hour or two and you look adorable," Alice giggled as she pranced along, her jingling bells actually sounding musical.
"Hey, you doin alright?" Rose whispered to Bella as she hooked her Mrs. Claus costumed arm through hers.
"Yeah...I just...I just wish there'd be some change in his test results already," Bella whispered back.
"Relax, Bells...it's only been a week," Rosalie whispered, squeezing her arm before she let it go and joined Santa...Emmett.
They spent two and a half hours handing out gifts and taking pictures with the kids. Even with her wig, hat, and elf ears, most of the kids recognized her. The others were too busy staring in amazement at Emmett in all his ho-ho-ho-ing Santa glory. When they'd run out of gifts to give, they rounded up all of the able children into the playroom on that floor and Santa and Mrs. Claus sat in rocking chairs while reading Christmas tales such as "Twas the Night Before Christmas", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and "Frosty the Snowman."
Midway through the second story, Bella snuck off with her own little gift bag, heading for the room of one of the kids that wasn't well enough to join the others.
He'd been in a quarantine room for weeks, necessary for keeping him from catching any mild illnesses that could be fatal to him in his weakened state. They'd had to fully suppress his immune system for the bone marrow transplant, so his body wouldn't reject it. With no immune system to help fight off things like the common cold, they had to keep him quarantined and any visitors had to adhere to strict procedures to keep him healthy.
Bella stepped through the first door to his room and shut it behind her. She washed her hands thoroughly and slipped on a pair of clean scrubs and shoe covers over her clothing from the cabinet. The last thing she placed on was a face mask, to keep any airborne germs she may be carrying from him. Once fully shrouded in protective apparel, she took the two gifts from her bag (that she'd cleaned vigorously with Clorox wipes before wrapping) and stepped into the room.
"Knock, knock...Santa was sad that you couldn't join him and his elves, so he sent me to personally bring you his gifts and Christmas wishes," she said softly as three heads turned to look at her.
"Miss Bella!" Matty crowed as he waved from across the room. Edward's eyes crinkled as he smiled at her from beside Nick's bed.
"Hi Doctor Cullen," Nicholas voiced weakly as she approached the bed. "Did you bring me a pudding cup today?"
"Hmm...I don't know," she smirked even though he couldn't see it, but she raised her finger to her mask covered lips. "Did I?"
He smiled and nodded, looking up at her with bright green eyes and pale skin, devoid of any hair. She didn't want to jump the gun, but her breath hitched in her throat at the light sparkling in his eyes. She hadn't seen that light in them once since she met him for the first time, and it gave her hope. Lots and lots of hope that she prayed wouldn't be destroyed.
"Aww...you got me," she chuckled as she pulled the pudding cup and wrapped spoon from her back pocket.
"You've been sneaking him pudding cups?" Edward asked amusedly as Bella nodded.
"Every day...it's the best part of my rounds," she smiled behind her mask as she handed the boys their gifts, which they tore into with vigor and then crowed.
"Transformers!" they yelled simultaneously as they held up Bumblebee and Ironhide to each other. She'd guessed they'd enjoy them when Matty had wanted to buy Ratchet for Nicholas for Christmas and he'd picked out Optimus Prime for himself. Sticking with the Transformers seemed to be a smart move to make when picking them out gifts.
"You really didn't have to do this," Edward said sheepishly as he shifted in his chair.
"I know I didn't, Edward. I wanted to. Besides...every other kid on the floor got something today. It wouldn't be fair to leave them out of it," Bella replied as she pulled up a chair next to him to watch them play as Nicholas ate his pudding.
"Thank you," he said, looking at her with sincere gratitude shining in his eyes.
When she left, he sat and watched his boys with a sad smile on his masked face. He counted every smile on Nicholas's face and every sparkle in his eyes, wondering if each would be the last he'd ever be able to count and praying that he'd be able to remember each and every one of them for the rest of his life.
As Nicholas began to fall asleep from exhaustion, the mere activity of lifting a small toy and making whooshing and explosion sounds draining the life of him quickly, he wondered if they'd found a donor match for him too late. If the overly generous anonymous gifts his family had received were made in vain.
As grieving tears once again began to fall from his eyes, Matthew climbed into his lap and curled against his chest.
"Christmas miracles happen, Dad. Nana says so all the time," he said quietly before falling asleep.
"I'm praying for one, buddy...I really am," he whispered into his mess of bronze locks.
An hour later he lifted up Matty's sleeping form and brought him to his parents' house for the night. He tucked him in bed with his two Transformers and kissed his forehead before heading back to the hospital to spend the night with Nicholas. He wanted to spend as much time with him as possible while school was out for the holidays. He wasn't sure if he'd get much more time to spend with him in the future.
As he passed by the dimly lit rooms, all containing sleeping children, he prayed that they'd all be able to overcome their illnesses. He prayed they'd all fight as hard as Nicholas had, and even more that they're parents would never feel as hopeless as he currently did. Watching the light of life fade from your child was the absolute hardest thing in the world a parent would ever have to do. He'd know. He'd been watching it for over a year.
Turning the corner, he paused as he spotted Bella's wavy mahogany hair cascading down the back of her lab coat as she studied the chart that had been hanging on Nick's door. It confused Edward, because even though she stopped in to visit Nick daily, she wasn't his doctor. His doctor was Rosalie McCarty.
"Damn it...Jesus, just let his body accept the donor cells already," she spoke to absolutely no one as she closed his chart and hung it back on the door. She leaned against the doorway and sighed as she gazed through the little window, worriedly gnawing on her bottom lip as she frowned.
And then it clicked. He knew where the anonymous donation came from. He knew who Nicholas's marrow donor was.
It had been Bella.
No doctor that he'd ever met or seen had ever been so focused on the progression of just one patient's treatment. Especially not when that one patient wasn't even one of their own.
In that moment, his entire body was crippled with a myriad of emotions. Disbelief, adoration, hope, guilt, awe, longing for something he wasn't quite sure he could define, overwhelming gratitude, and....love.
This woman, standing just feet from him, that he'd just met a month prior and had become incredibly important to him over the passing weeks, had given his son a part of her in hopes of healing him. Not only did she provide the one thing they thought would never be found in time, she'd paid for all of it as well.
How he hadn't figured it out through all of their long talks over coffee or midnight phone conversations when he was feeling overwhelmed with despair...he didn't know, but the woman that had invaded his heart and continuous thoughts had also been the answer to all of his prayers.
His feet began moving before his brain could even process their movement and he was suddenly standing beside her. "It's you...isn't it? You're the anonymous donor."
Bella didn't know what to think or say, having been called out on it, so she just nervously nodded and shoved her hands into her pockets as she looked down at the speckled flooring. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, I just...I knew you'd put up a huge fight over it and you're already in way over your head and if my offer made you hesitate, we would have just lost more time that we could have been treating his illness aggressively..."
Her words were cut off abruptly as he grasped the sides of her face gently and tilted her head up as he brought his lips down to hers. Her nervous tension relaxed as he stepped even closer to her, causing their chests to touch as he caressed her cheek with his thumb and slid one hand down to her neck. He kissed her top lip and then the bottom one before pulling his head back just slightly.
She could barely manage to open her eyes as she continued to savor the feeling of his lips on hers in her mind, even after their soft warmth had vanished. If she hadn't known it already, she definitely knew it in that moment. She'd fallen in love with them. Not just him, but Matthew and Nicholas as well.
"I don't want to ever hear you say I'm sorry. You're an angel...Nicholas's angel...my angel. Your heart is the most beautiful and wondrous thing in my world. I don't know how I would have gotten through this last month without you. I love you, Bella," he said, breathing unevenly while his heart threatened to burst through his chest as he gazed down into the fathomless depths of her eyes.
"I love you, too. All of you," she smiled as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that, because my boys are quite taken by you as well...and we're kind of a package deal," he smiled, ducking his head down to kiss her once more.
He kept it chaste even though he wished he didn't have to, knowing full well that they were in her place of employment and such behavior would be deemed inappropriate if witnessed, and then led her into Nick's room. They donned their protective apparel and slipped into the room silently. He took his seat in his accustomed chair and pulled Bella into his lap when she tried to sit in the chair next to it.
It was there, as they watched Nicholas sleep peacefully in the room lit by the television airing a holiday cartoon, that they fell asleep in each other's arms for the first time.
December 25th - Christmas Day
After a two hour phone call with Edward that lasted until one thirty in the morning, Bella woke up late for her shift and was darting around her room, hopping on one foot as she tried getting the other one into the appropriate leg of her pants. She'd barely gotten them up to her knees when her cell phone rang.
"Hello?" she answered, panting slightly in her rushed state.
"Bells...you need to get down to the hospital. Now...like an hour ago," Rose practically shouted into the phone.
"Oh God...no, no, no," she spluttered, dropping the phone as tears streamed down her face.
She wrenched the pants up her legs and threw on a sweater and boots with no socks. She didn't bother to brush her hair or even wash her face as she grabbed her keys and ran straight out the door.
She prayed both silently and aloud as she sped toward the hospital, breaking every speed limit known to man along the way, and even running a few red lights. If a cop wanted to ticket her, they could follow her to the parking garage and leave their tickets on her windshield because she wasn't stopping for anything. She slammed her massive truck to a stop on the bridge level of the parking garage so she could dart across the breezeway to the hospital quickly, and steadfastly ignored the protests of some person yelling at her that she was taking up nearly three spaces as she bolted for the doors.
She ran as fast as her feet could carry her, probably terrifying the people she passed as she sobbed while running. The only thought in her mind was a repetitive echo of "he can't be gone...he just can't."
She ignored all the questioning stares as she blew past the nurse's station, heading straight for Nicholas's room and threw herself through the first door. Her breaths were coming in hard gasps as she collapsed against the second door, terrified to look into the room but needing confirmation that he was in there. That he was alive and still a part of this world.
A part of her life.
When her eyes opened in front of the glass and took in the empty bed, freshly made with crisp linens and the room entirely sterile and empty...as though nothing had ever lived inside of it...she crumbled. Bella fell to the floor with a wailing cry that resounded and echoed throughout the hallway of that wing on the western side of the fifth floor.
He's gone...he's really gone...her mind echoed as she curled against the cold linoleum floor.
She hadn't saved him. She hadn't found the cure in time, and she'd failed him. A beautiful child with a heart of gold and the soul of an angel...she'd failed him.
"Bells?" Rose whispered as she tried to lift her sister from the floor.
"When?" she sobbed, her body lifeless. "Why? Why'd God take him from us?"
"Bella...Nick didn't pass away," Rose said softly as she crouched down in front of her sister.
"What?" she spluttered, her eyes opening wide as she gripped the counter beside her and pulled herself off the floor roughly.
"He's fine...he's down the hall in the playroom with Edward and Matthew," she said as she stood along with her. "I called you because you have to see this shit. I've never seen anything like it."
Rosalie passed her Nick's chart, and opened it to the latest results of his blood work.
"Oh my God...he's...no way...he's..." Bella stammered.
"Healthy," Rose smiled as fresh tears began to stream down Bella's face. "His immune system is rapidly gaining strength, his white cell counts are within normal range as well as the rest of his cell counts and they couldn't find a trace of leukoblasts in this morning's sample. Ellie took a second sample when I went to call you, the results should be back within the hour."
"If it comes back clean, what are you planning to do?" Bella asked, trying to keep herself steady against the counter.
She was nearly bursting out of her skin in all directions with elation. She couldn't understand the miraculous change in his labs, but she didn't need to. If they were accurate, she had the only answer she'd ever need. He'd be healthy. He'd live and return to being a normal little boy, and she'd be grateful to whatever higher power made that possible for her entire life.
"As long as the next results come back as encouraging as these ones and I can be sure it isn't a fluke, I'm going to start his discharge workup. He should be out of here by the end of the week at the latest," Rosalie grinned happily as Bella threw herself at her.
"Did you tell Edward yet?" she asked as she pried herself away from Rosalie.
"No," she replied as she shook her head. "I told him that he was doing well enough to transfer him to a shared room and he could be around the other kids, but I didn't want to get his hopes up for more prematurely. I'll let you both know the results of the last sample as soon as I get them."
"Okay...I won't mention it. I think I have like five minutes before my shift starts so I won't really have time to anyway," Bella sighed as she looked down at her completely mismatched outfit and realized how horrid she probably looked.
"By the way, I called in a favor this morning. When you dropped your damn phone and took off, leaving me yelling at you on the line to calm down because everything was fine, I hung up and called Heidi. She's going to cover for you today. I kind of figured working would be the last thing you'd want to do today and she was looking to pick up some overtime anyway," Rose said as she led Bella out of Nick's old room. "Go grab some scrubs and take a shower before you scare all the kids on the floor."
"Thank you, Rosalie. For everything you've done," Bella sighed as she hugged her sister tightly.
Under the hot stream of water in the shower, Bella released a torrent of tears. She was grateful and relieved, but most of all...she was worried that Edward's feelings for her would change when he no longer felt the need to lean on her for support. She hated feeling that way, but she'd grown so close to the three of them, they'd become such a big part of her life in such a short time that she wasn't able to picture her life without them any longer. His kids were no longer just his, she'd adopted them...not legally but in her heart. They may not be hers, but they felt like they were hers...and that was all that mattered to her.
She was finally able to understand how her adoptive parents were able to make Rose and her feel like one of their own. They'd told them time and again that they were their true daughters in their hearts, but Bella had never understood how.
She did now.
She dried off and quickly changed into a pair of wrinkled hospital scrubs, not really caring how odd her boots looked with them, and shoved her earlier outfit into her locker. She brushed her hair quickly and tied it back with a elastic band that had been hanging from a hook on the locker door. She always kept extras there just in case. She closed up her locker tightly and clicked the combination lock in place, taking a relaxing breath as she pulled herself together once more and made her way out of the locker room.
The sight that greeted her as she entered the playroom was one to behold and made her heart sing with joy. Nicholas was sitting in Edward's lap, wrapped tightly in his arms, cheeks flushed and eyes shining brightly with life as he laughed while chasing Matthew with a remote control car. He laughed every time the car clipped Matthew's heel or ran over his toes, the sound of which had tears springing into Bella's already reddened and sore eyes.
When Edward's tear filled and heartbreakingly relieved eyes reached her own, her breath hitched as he mouthed a silent "Thank You" to her just as a tear escaped and trailed down his cheek. She smiled softly at him and mouthed "Love you" back to him as she approached.
Two hours later, Bella and Edward found themselves building a Lego kingdom with the boys, neither of them tiring for a single second, and Nicholas never willingly further than an inch from Edward's side. As much as she wished to be that close to Edward, Bella was completely content where she was, with seven year old Matthew in her lap constantly. He smelled of fabric softener and the peppermint candy canes the boys had been devouring all morning. It was rapidly becoming her favorite scent in the world as she laughed and hugged him while they built their soldier fort.
At one point, she looked up and spotted Rosalie leaning against the doorway with a soft smile spread across her lips. Bella pleaded with her with her eyes, begging for the good news she was hoping and praying for. A stuttering breath swooshed out of her lungs as Rose smiled wider and nodded to her silently. Bella's eyes closed as they watered and tears streaked down her cheeks once again as she reached out and blindly grabbed a hold of Edward's hand.
"So...I have some good news to share with you," Rosalie spoke as she entered the room fully.
Edward stood instantly and pulled Nicholas into his arms as Bella held Matthew against the front of her, their hands not separating for a second. They stood there, a family of four filled with love for each other as they awaited her next words.
"Nick's blood work is promising. A miracle really. There's no evidence of his body rejecting the donor marrow, or of any replicating malignant cells. His cell counts are all within normal range which means his immune system is functioning normally again. He should be ready to leave within the next few days. We just want to give him some time to gain some strength before sending him home," she said and Edward nearly collapsed beside her.
His arms wound tightly around Nick's frail form as his shoulder shook with silent sobs of relief.
"You hear that, buddy? We're gonna go home," he sniffled into Nick's shoulder.
"I'll leave you guys some privacy," Rose whispered as she wrapped Bella in a one armed hug. "If you're really serious about him and his boys, you should bring them home for dinner tonight."
Bella smiled faintly and nodded at her as she pulled away, knowing it was Rose's way of telling her it was time to make a decision for her future. Bringing them home with her would take their relationship to a new level, and doing so would require voicing her concerns to him.
"Be good, boys. I'll miss you both when you leave here," Rose grinned down at them as she ruffled Matty's hair.
"Doctor McCarty," Edward called to her as she moved away from them. She stopped and turned to look at him. "Thank you...for everything."
"It was my pleasure. Merry Christmas you guys," she smiled with a single nod before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
Edward set Nicholas down on the floor and the boys instantly went back to building their Lego fort as if nothing had even happened, leaving an awkward silence hanging in the air between he and Bella. There were so many things he wanted to say to her, to ask her, and to thank her for. She only needed to hear one thing, what part he wanted her to play in his life. Somehow, for all the talking they'd done over the last month, neither could form a single word at that moment.
"Daddy? Can we go to Miss Bella's for Christmas?" Matty suddenly asked, severing the tense silence between them instantly. It was as if hearing his little boy had sparked the neurons in his brain and his mouth was instantly forming words faster than his brain could catch up with what he was saying.
"Bella...I don't know what these past few weeks have meant to you, but they've meant the world to me. I'm profoundly grateful for everything you've done for us, but I don't want to confuse them. I need to know where it is exactly that we fit into your life. We're a package deal, I've told you that before, and I know you care for them deeply, but if we're too much to handle...my need to protect them is greater than any selfish desire I may have," he rambled nervously.
At his words, Bella breathed a sigh of relief and almost chuckled. Here they stood, both fearful of the same thing...not fitting into each other's lives.
"Edward," she smiled. "I don't just care for them deeply. I love them as if they were my own. When I look at them, I don't see your boys, I see our boys. My fear was that when this was all over, when Nicholas recovered, I wouldn't fit anywhere in your lives anymore because you wouldn't need me any longer."
"Oh, Bella," he sighed as he stepped toward her and pulled her into his chest. "I'll always need you. Always. I can't ever offer you the first two places in my heart, because they are and forever will be taken, but I'd love nothing more than for you to have the rest."
She laughed and hugged him back as she gazed up at him. "I'll gladly take it as long as I'm a part of your heart and all of your lives. I can't even begin to imagine my life without the three of you in it."
"We're so going to Miss Bella's for Christmas, Nicky," Matthew laughed, breaking apart the Earth shattering kiss Edward had planted on Bella's lips.
"She's not just Miss Bella, Matty...she's my angel. Daddy said so," Nicholas replied as he smiled up at them.
"Are you sure about this? About me? Meeting my family is kinda like sealing the deal," Bella teased. Edward just chuckled as he kissed her once more and nodded.
"Absolutely, I've never been more sure of a single thing in my life," he responded sincerely. "Would you mind if I invited my parents along? They were supposed to come spend the evening with us here."
"Not at all, the more the merrier," Bella smiled as Matthew took a hold of her hand when Edward picked Nicholas up into his arms.
And so, an hour later, Bella and Edward found themselves surrounded by both of their families around a table adorned with the fabulous dinner spread that Alice had created, each person at the table with their head ducked in silent prayer and thanks. They all had more blessings to be grateful for that night then they'd had their entire lives.
As Carlisle raised his head and looked around the table, he was filled with a profound degree of pride. Sitting at his table were his three beautiful daughters, two brilliant doctors and the other a master chef in the making. He couldn't help but smile adoringly at them as he wondered what joys in life still lay ahead of them.
If he could wish for anything for them, it would be that life would provide them with the happiness it had bestowed upon he and Esme over the years. Life had granted them three amazing and precious girls, and later, down the road, one granddaughter, and one honorable son in law with another rapidly on his way. He smiled even wider at Jasper a few seats down, knowing that just earlier that evening he'd asked both he and Esme for their blessings to propose to Alice that very night.
Looking to the other side of the table, he felt his heart burst with joy at the sight of Bella and Edward smiling lovingly at each other, with their boys seated between them. He knew, without a doubt, that Bella finally understood how true his and Esme's words had been when they'd told she and Rose that they were loved as though they were their own. To he and his wife, they were. They'd never been any less, and he had always wished that someday Bella would be able to understand that fully.
It tore at him for years that although she knew she was loved, she didn't have the slightest idea how very much. She was the light of his eyes. His little angel. She took on the world with admirable strength, never letting anything stand in her way. She was courageous, beautiful, smart, compassionate, and generous beyond words.
Looking at Nicholas's smiling face between them, he thanked God for the traits Bella possessed, for she'd fought tirelessly for him. Looking back up at Edward, he laughed to himself amusedly as he realized that poor man probably didn't have the faintest clue what kind of force of nature he'd been enraptured by. He knew it wouldn't be long before there was a third son in law in the making...and he was thrilled by the idea of it.
From all he'd heard of this man, he couldn't have chosen a better one for his daughter. He was a family man, revolving his life around his loved ones. He'd persevered where many a men would have faltered and failed in the hardships of being a single father. That alone made him an honorable man in Carlisle's eyes, but that wasn't the only reason.
That man that sat just feet from him at his table, had given up nearly every possession in his life in his fight to keep his child alive and healthy. Something that both he and Esme would have done for one of their girls in a heartbeat had they ever been in the same situation. Yes, he was an honorable man, but more important than that...he was a selfless man and a wonderful father. Carlisle knew that, someday, he'd make just as wonderful a husband to his little girl.
Bella looked down the table and caught her father's gentle smile and loving eyes. Her own misted up as she smiled back at him and mouthed "Love you, Dad" to him, making him smile even wider.
Later that night, as the boys slept in front of the fire all wrapped up in blankets, Edward and Bella cuddled together on the living room couch reflecting on all the happiness they'd shared that day. The lights from the tree and the garland around the room continued to twinkle as the firelight flickered and danced across the room, filling it with the heady scent of smoky pine as a fresh snowfall began to cover the landscape outside of the window...but neither had eyes for anything other than each other and their boys.
"You know...the first time I saw you, I never would have thought that you alone would be the answer to every one of my prayers," Edward said quietly as he gazed down at Bella's beautiful face while she lovingly looked over the sleeping forms of the boys.
"You mean while I was kicking myself for being instantly attracted to you when it was obvious that you had enough going on in your life?" Bella snickered as she turned her head to look up at him.
"I guess so...but I'd never take a second of it back. I just wish there was something I could give back to you," he smiled sadly as he brushed a lock of hair away from her face.
It saddened him to know how much her presence in his life had given him and he had nothing to offer her in return but himself. He literally had nothing left besides his heart and his sons, both still alive and healthy all because of her.
"You already have, Edward. You gave me everything I'd ever want or need when you gave me your heart and allowed me to be a part of all of your lives. That's all I need to be happy," she replied and leaned her head up to press a soft kiss against his lips.
He sighed contentedly as the warmth of her lips spread into his own and he cupped the side of her face tenderly. His love for her surged through his veins as he shifted his upper body over hers and deepened the kiss, parting her lips with his own and languidly sliding his tongue over hers. It was a kiss unlike any other that they'd shared previously as there was no desperation or consuming need to feel anything other than his overwhelming despair behind it. This kiss was filled with nothing but his overwhelming adoration of her.
It was during that kiss that Edward envisioned spending the end of every Christmas in their future just as they were, wrapped in each other's arms with their children sleeping in front of a crackling and popping fire.
Only next year...he hoped that her graduate ring, which she faithfully wore on her left ring finger, would be replaced by something else that sparkled as radiantly as her eyes.