Thanks to shoefreak37 for being awesome. "Me and Jenny goes together like peas and carrots."

Chapter 32: What Will You Blossom Into

James studied the tiny boy sitting in his lap, marveling that he'd helped to create such a small person. It was one thing to know, in theory, that a child was out there existing somewhere in the world, but it was quite another to hold that child in his lap. Ben continued to smile and coo, staring at James with inquisitive eyes, almost as if he wondered who the new person in his life was.

Edward had stepped into the kitchen for a few moments, not wanting to interfere, but there were only so many things he could occupy himself with. He didn't want to intrude upon James' time with Ben, but he felt awkward leaving Bella alone. Finally deciding enough time had passed, he walked back into the living room, taking the seat closest to Bella.

He felt better about his decision when Bella gave him a smile small, reaching over to take his hand. It was a simple gesture, but it solidified what Edward already knew—that they were a family.

Conversation between the trio was awkward, with long gaps of silence, but Bella was happy that there seemed be to no lingering anger or hostility. It wasn't the perfect situation by far and she was sure there would be bumps in the road, but she had to give Ben the chance to know his father. Even if he didn't understand then, she hoped that when he was older, he would be thankful for the choice she and Edward had made.

James was nothing like Edward had imagined him to be. In his mind, Edward had painted him as the villain, as a man who had chosen his money and material possessions over Bella and Ben. But looking at the young man sitting in front of him, Edward realized things weren't so black and white. James had made some very poor decisions, but Edward could see the remorse in his eyes, in the timid smiles and hesitant movements he made. Edward knew James was afraid, fearful that he'd do or say something wrong that would cause him to be cast from his son's life—the son he was just getting the chance to know.

Though navigating the situation was awkward and would be most difficult for Edward, he couldn't feel anger towards James, couldn't wish him out of their lives. Edward knew that at nineteen, he'd made lots of mistakes, though none as serious as the wrong choices James had made. Edward felt that James deserved a second chance.

The real villains in the situation were the mothers. Mrs. Harris had forced her son to make a choice that would alter his life forever, without worry about the ramifications it would have for her son; she'd only thought of herself and her own selfish desires. Renee had done the same, sending Bella away when she was at her lowest point.

Bella had been lucky, however, because she was coming to a home filled with love and support, to a father that adored her and do whatever he could to make sure she was safe. James didn't appear to have anyone else, and that made Edward feel sorry for him. He couldn't imagine not having a family to lean on. Esme and Carlisle had always been so loving and supportive, even when Edward had done things he knew they did not approve of.

Though the manner was cruel, Edward thought that sending Bella away was the best decision Renee ever made—because it gave Bella the chance to grow into the woman she was meant to be. And without that choice, Edward would have never met and fallen in love with her, would have never gotten to experience the joy in being Ben's father.

Edward saw himself as nothing less. He'd imagined himself in that role for a while, yet had been too afraid to voice his feelings aloud. He didn't want Bella to feel pressured, to feel like they were moving too fast. They were in love and committed to one another; that was all he needed at that point, but he saw rings and houses and more babies in their future. Bella was his forever.

When she'd uttered those words, telling him that he was Ben's dad, Edward had felt such relief and happiness. No matter how much he wanted to be that man, he couldn't unless Bella allowed it. And hearing her say those words, he knew that he was her forever, too. Those words meant more than intimate moments together, whispered promises, or heartfelt I love you's. The bond between a father and son couldn't be broken.

Ben's interest in James soon waned and he began to squirm, wiggling his way out of James' lap. James wasn't sure what to do, looking to Bella for guidance. When she made no moves to stop the baby, James allowed him to settle down onto the floor. Ben crawled beneath the coffee table for a moment before turning in Edward's direction.

Bella saw the sadness flash in James' eye before he masked his sorrow with a smile. Ben grasped the leg of Edward's pants tightly in his hand, tugging and pulling. The loud giggle that erupted from Ben when Edward scooped him up reverberated around the room.

James watched Edward closely, wiping his sweaty palms along the thighs of his jeans. "Thank you," he finally said. "Ben deserves a real dad, and if it can't be me, I'm glad it's someone like you."

~ O ~

"So, California?" Bella asked as she followed James to the door, stepping out onto the porch.

"Yeah, I'd miss the sand and the sun too much to really try anywhere else…and I can't go back to Florida. The surf's nice here, for a visit," he replied with a smile. "And I kind of want to at least be in the same part of the country." James nodded his head towards the living room, hoping that Bella got the message. He wanted to be close to Ben—not so close to make Bella uncomfortable, but close enough that he could hop on a plane and be in Forks within a few hours, just in case Ben or Bella ever needed him.

"I can't imagine your mom was happy to find out you were looking for me. Is that why you can't go home?" Bella had wondered about the Harris family, especially James' mother. He hadn't mentioned them at all, and knowing that he'd waited to find her until he gained a large chunk of his inheritance, she wondered if they were very unhappy with him.

James exhaled a mirthless laugh. "She doesn't know. I'm sure she assumed, but…I haven't talked to my parents in a couple of months. I've just been trying to figure stuff out. My dad lost his campaign and, like everything else, my mom blamed me.

"After you were gone, I was just sort of there. I went to all of her stupid parties and functions, but I just couldn't pretend like I was happy. She said people could tell, that it made it look like there was a problem in our family. And you know she couldn't have someone thinking we were anything less than perfect."

He scoffed and stubbed the toe of his shoe against the worn wood of the porch. "She told me not to come back if I left…so here I am. Maybe I'll give community college a try. I could take a few classes, surf, get a job. I guess I can do anything that I want."

"Good luck. I hope you figure out whatever it is that makes you happy," Bella replied, the sincerity evident in her voice. "I'll e-mail, send pictures, keep you up to date on Ben."

"Don't forget my invitation to the wedding," James said with a smile. He stepped forward slowly and then awkwardly wrapped his arms around Bella's waist. "I'm glad you're happy. You deserve to be."

Bella squeezed him back momentarily and then stepped away. "You deserve to be happy, too."

With a wave and a final goodbye, James headed to his rental car, settling in for the long drive back to Seattle. Edward stepped out onto the porch as James pulled away, holding Ben in his arms. Bella moved closer to him and wrapped her arm around his waist, leaning her head against his chest.

"I can't believe it's over," Bella said. "I always thought he'd come find us, but this isn't how I imagined things would go. I'm glad it turned out this way, though."

"Come on," Edward said, turning and guiding her back inside.

~ O ~

"And next up to the plate is Phil Dwyer, a rookie recently called up from the Marlins AAA-affiliate in New Orleans. While down in the Pacific Coast League, Dwyer averaged—"

"Ugh. Turn that off," Bella said, reaching out to grab the remote from the coffee table.

"Hey!" a chorus of male voices shouted when she turned the channel. "We were watching that, Sis!" Seth complained, his mouth full of potato chips. Bella rolled her eyes and threw the remote control into his lap, turning and heading into the kitchen.

With the passage of Edward's birthday and Ben's on the horizon, as well as Charlie and Sue's wedding, Seth had organized a day of male bonding. Edward, Seth, Charlie, and Ben were all wearing Mariners jerseys, watching the other games on tv while they waited for the rest of their group to arrive.

Edward moved from his place on the couch and followed Bella into the kitchen.

"Hey, are you okay?" he asked, reaching out to snake his arms around Bella's waist.

"Yes, I just…I googled," she replied with a frown, her brows furrowed in annoyance.

"You googled?"

"Yeah, when we saw Phil on tv a couple of weeks ago. I know I said I didn't want to know, but I couldn't stand it. There wasn't much info other than 'Wife's name is Renee,' but that has to be her, right?"

"Probably, but if you want to know for sure, I can get someone to look into it." Edward doubted it would be difficult to find out if a marriage license had been filed in Florida for Renee and Phil. If that didn't give them the information they wanted, he could always hire a private investigator to look into Bella's mother's whereabouts.

"I'm sure it's her. It's kind of a relief. At least I know where she is and I doubt she'll bother me again, especially now."

Though Bella wished for karma to come around and bite Renee in the ass, she knew that life just didn't always work out that way. Renee had gotten everything she'd wanted. She'd gotten Bella and Ben out of the way and married Phil. And Phil was playing in the major leagues. She was sure Renee was relishing all of the attention, the feeling of importance—but especially the money.

~ O ~

Charlie and Sue's wedding was held in the backyard on a warm, June afternoon—a rare sunny day in Forks. The affair was simple and casual, with only their closest friends in attendance. Wanting to emphasize the union of their two families, the only attendants were their children. Bella was happy to stand beside Sue, holding hands with Leah as they laughed at the antics of Seth across the aisle; he held Ben, the ring bearer.

Bella couldn't stop staring at Edward, sitting just a few rows away. She hoped that someday they would have a day just like Charlie and Sue's—filled with family, friends, and love. She laughed when he pulled her away as soon as the ceremony was over, settling her onto his lap as they sat beneath the large oak tree along the back edge of the yard. Edward wrapped his arms around her waist and placed his lips against her neck.

"Do you think we'll have a day like this?" she asked, nervousness making her stomach flutter.

"I hope so," he mumbled, trailing kisses up the column of her throat. Reaching out to cup her cheek, he turned her face until their foreheads rested together. "I want to marry you someday."

"I want to marry you, too," Bella whispered, her hands sliding up Edward's chest, around his neck, and curling in his hair. "And someday…I want you to adopt Ben."

Edward moved his hands up to cup Bella's cheeks, kissing her softly. "Nothing would make me happier."

As Charlie stood nearby, celebrating with his new wife, he watched his daughter from the corner of his eye, smiling and sharing a private moment with the man she loved. Bella was so different from the timid, naïve young girl that had arrived in Forks, pregnant and alone. Charlie smiled, because even though he'd missed out on many moments with his daughter over the years, he was grateful that he'd gotten the chance to watch her blossom into a beautiful, self-assured young woman.

A/N: I have lots to say and tons of people to thank, but I'll save it for the epi, which will post soon. Thanks for reading and sticking with the story. I hope you enjoyed it. :)