A/N: This was my entry for The Countdown to Christmas – Have Yourself a Smutty Lil Christmas, hosted by Breath-of-twilight. I had a few requests to continue this, so if you're in that camp, let me know in a review! I'll see what I can do. :)
I love Christmas, and this is pretty much all fluff by the end (some angst in the beginning, I just can't help myself). Also, no one uses birth control in my lemony one-shots because it sounds awkward and I can't write it in. So just let it slide, okay? ;) Anyway, enjoy! Thanks for reading!
I remember thinking as a girl that I would never, under any circumstances, put my own child through the torture and humiliation of sitting on Santa's lap. Renee had taken me every year for just about eight years, until I whacked Santa in the face while trying to climb off his huge thigh. Because that's what I did, when it came to Santa. I tried to get away from him.
But here I was, almost twenty years after that last assault, holding my son's tiny hand while the mall swelled with screaming children. Jack was small for his age, just a few weeks shy of his fourth birthday. He had crystal blue eyes and a freckled face, but he wore the expression of someone who never smiled, never laughed. Jack didn't remember his father. When he died three years ago, he took a part of our son with him.
I always thought about him this time of year, with the holidays and presents and family get-togethers. I hated Christmas. I wore a smile for Jack's sake, but my parents knew better. Even my dad, whom I hadn't seen since last Christmas, could see it written all over my face. Christmas for me was torture. Standing here in the middle of the Port Angeles mall, surrounded by happy families and even happier children, just about killed me.
"Mommy, how much longer?" Jack asked, tugging on my hand. He looked up with his big blue eyes, a serious look on his face. He never whined, never complained. He just asked questions as if he were sitting in a classroom, his tone even and uninspired. I felt my eyes misting and forced a smile.
"Soon, honey," I said. "Just a few more minutes. We can go home if you want, though. Do you want to go home?"
He shook his head, his fingers tightening around mine. We waited the next few minutes in silence, isolated from the world around us, like two people who didn't belong in a room with so much joy.
"Next!" barked the elf, or whoever it was. I wasn't looking at her or Santa or anything else; I was focused on Jack, his hands shaking, his eyes fixed on the man with a white beard and a red suit.
Jack looked up at me, his eyes full of wonder and a little bit of fear. The room was crowded, full of energy, but all of that seemed to fade as we walked the ten steps to the man in the chair. When I finally tore my eyes away from my son, the sight of Santa's blazing green eyes almost took my breath away. In spite of the ridiculous white wig, red suit, and padded belly, I could tell he was young. Young as in my age, which for Santa was young indeed.
Beyond that, I could only discern those searing green eyes, which met mine for just a split second before he hoisted my son onto his lap. Jack sat there in his usual silence, his tiny legs dangling in the air, his knuckles in his mouth. He always chewed on those knuckles when he was nervous, just like his mom chewed on her bottom lip. I resisted the urge to bring his hand down, to break him of a habit that would probably stay with him forever.
"What's your name?" Santa asked, steadying Jack with one hand. This particular Santa had lovely hands, and I wondered for a fleeting—and wildly inappropriate—second what they would feel like on my bare skin.
"Jack," he said. "What's your name?"
"I'm Santa," he said, his voice smooth, more like music than words. I felt my stomach flip and cursed myself for such a ridiculous reaction. This is Santa, Bella. Jesus.
"Hi, Santa," Jack said. "This is my mommy."
I managed a smile, but the force of his eyes on mine made my heart sputter in my chest. And once that happened, the smile failed and my dignity went through the floor.
"Hi, Jack's mommy," Santa said, and the way he said "mommy" made my cheeks flush a wild, incriminating red. This was really getting out of hand. I couldn't even see this person's face, and he was turning me into a puddle of mush.
"I'm Bella," I said, reaching out to shake his hand. He smiled—or at least it looked that way, since I couldn't see much with that beard on—and grasped my hand. His grip was warm, firm, and in that instant a current of some kind of palpable, furious energy passed between us. It ran deep in my veins, like a slow burn of attraction and lust and need, three things I hadn't felt in a very long time.
"So Jack," Santa said, turning away from me to face my son. "What do you want for Christmas this year?"
Jack looked down at his hands, his tiny, trembling hands that betrayed his nerves. I took his little hands in mine and brushed a few wisps of hair from his face.
"It's okay, sweetheart," I said. "Tell Santa what you want this year."
Jack heaved a deep, sighing breath, and looked up at Santa after a few seconds of intense deliberation. I held his hands the whole time, still feeling the heat from Santa's body, still wondering why all my self-control had taken a sudden vacation.
"I want my daddy," Jack said.
"Jack…" I said, reeling against the ache in my chest and the despair in my voice. In that instant, I could sense that the man holding this little boy in his lap understood what he meant. My son's dad wasn't at home, watching football or fixing the dishwasher or wrapping presents. That man was gone.
"Where's your dad?" Santa asked, his tone as smooth as before, but softer now. Jack never once looked away from him. He trusted him. My son, who trusted no one, trusted this man in a big red suit with the one thing he never talked about.
"In heaven," Jack said.
My eyes were already wet, which meant it was time for us to go. I didn't want to make a scene in a goddamn mall, not with all these people watching. And I sure as hell didn't want to cry in front of Santa. I was sure that would be a first.
"I can't give you your dad back," Santa said. "But I'm sure he'll be there just the same, even if you can't see him."
"Does Santa live in heaven?"
Santa chuckled, the lines crinkling around his glorious green eyes. "No," he said. "I live in the North Pole with all my elves. Now tell me what we can bring you on Christmas morning, because you've been good this year. I can tell."
A trace of a smile tugged at Jack's lips, as his eyes darted from Santa to me and back to Santa again. And then he leaned in to Santa's ear, and whispered something I couldn't hear.
"Ah," Santa said. "That's a very special request."
"Don't tell my mommy."
Santa smiled, his gaze finally finding mine. His eyes twinkled with mischief, and when he spoke, I thought I might combust from all the tension.
"I won't," Santa said, his eyes lingering on mine while he talked to Jack. "This is our secret."
"Thank you," Jack said, always the gentleman.
"You're welcome," Santa said, lifting him up with two hands and placing him on the floor. "Merry Christmas, Jack."
"Merry Christmas," Jack said, and my heart broke all over again. How long had it been since we'd had a merry Christmas? Did those even exist for us anymore? Would they ever?
"And Merry Christmas to you, Bella," Santa said, just as I was turning to walk away. Our eyes met for a few seconds, his gaze so intense I swore he could see straight through to my soul. It was disarming, but intoxicating. And it reawakened something in me I thought I'd lost forever.
"Merry Christmas," I whispered. I didn't look back as we meandered through the crowd, didn't wait for some kind of impulsive gesture I knew would never come. Those kinds of things didn't happen in my life. Not anymore, anyway. And certainly not at Christmas.
"Mommy," Jack said, tugging on my hand as we made our way toward the exit. It took me a few seconds to register the sound of his voice, now that a goddamn Santa Clause had disrupted my constitution. I tried to block out his voice, his eyes, his hands…thank God I hadn't seen the man's face.
"Yes, Jack? What is it?"
"Can we come back?"
I didn't live in Forks anymore, but my father did. I had moved here for my last two years of high school after my mom got remarried and handed me off to the father I barely knew. Charlie had lived in Forks all his life, and every Christmas, I came up here for two weeks to spend the holiday with him. I would never admit it, but I needed these two weeks. I needed a change from the city, from my job, from the never-ending routine of working, living, surviving. And Jack loved his grandfather, in spite of Charlie's gruff personality and complete ignorance when it came to little kids. But he adored Jack, and every year he begged us to stay for another day, another week. By the time we left, he was always asking us to move back home.
This year was no different, and Charlie took some lighter shifts to spend time with his grandson and give me some much-needed time to myself. When Saturday night came around, Charlie ordered me to leave the house and see my old friends. So when Alice showed up on my doorstep with a smile on her face and a dress in her hands, I felt a conspiracy coming on.
Alice was my best friend since high school, my polar opposite in terms of personality, appearance, and general approach to life. But she was a devoted friend, probably more devoted than I deserved. She had carried me through the worst of those dark months after my husband's death, and every day, she reminded me that even though he was gone, I still had my son, my friends, my family. And for that, I owed Alice Brandon my life.
"Is that a dress?" I asked, my eyes narrowing at the sight of it. She always picked out skin-tight dresses that bordered on inappropriate. But Alice knew what she was doing. She knew how to beat the homely single-mother right out of me, at least for a night.
"Why yes, it is," she smirked. "Put this on. We're going out."
"To a party."
"What kind of party?"
"You ask too many questions," she scolded. "You just leave these details to me."
I rolled my eyes and took the dress, which was a deep satin blue with white lace trim. I was still mumbling my discontent about some random party when I emerged from my room, the dress grazing my knees as I walked. Alice did have a thing for this, I had to admit. The dress hugged my curves in all the right places, and it even managed to make my smallish breasts look, well, amazing.
"Lovely," Alice said with a warm, excited smile on her face. She fixed my hair and makeup, just as she had done ten years ago for our junior prom. I knew I looked different now—my hair was a little straighter, my face a little thinner, my eyes betraying the secrets of loss and despair and unwelcome experience. When I smiled, it wasn't the smile of a carefree teenager with nothing more than a silly crush on her mind. I worried about so many things now. Most of all, I worried about Jack. He was only three, and already life had taken so much from him.
"Where are we going?" I asked, as we piled into Alice's yellow Porsche. Yes, she owned a Porsche, thanks to her lucrative writing career. Alice had found her niche writing steamy romances, and believe me, she liked to dish out a few pointers when she had the opportunity.
"Port Angeles," she said. "The party's at the art gallery there."
"Well, let's hope so," she said with a smile. "I only do classy parties, you know."
"Oh, I know," I said, breaking out in a smile of my own. Alice and her classy parties. But she didn't go to them for her sake; she did it for me.
We arrived at the art gallery just after eight, along with hundreds of other people. There were greeters, caterers, photographers, and even a valet. Hundreds of people dressed in expensive black suits and silk gowns filtered through the halls, their breathless chatter mingling with the soft piano music in every room.
"Who are these people?" I asked, scanning the crowd for any familiar faces. I didn't see any, as expected. My social circle in northern Washington consisted of me, Charlie, Sue, Alice, and Jasper. Jasper was Alice's husband, and he was away on business this weekend, which was just as well. Alice didn't like Jasper interfering with our social outings; she knew I felt like the third-wheel, even though she made every effort to make him seem more like a random friend than her husband of four years.
"Mostly Seattle people in the industry," she said. By "the industry," she meant writers, editors, publishers, agents. She knew a few of them, but didn't travel in their social circles. This was just an attempt to get me out of the house and into the real world.
"Do you know anyone here?" I asked.
"Well, there is someone—oh, wait, that's my agent over there. Let's say hello—"
"Actually, I'm going to hit the bathroom," I said, doing my best to avoid Alice's agent. That lady was nuts. She had eighteen rings on her fingers and a wig that looked a little bit like a dead cat. Whenever I talked to her, I felt like she was casting some kind of spell on me.
"Okay," Alice said, as she scampered across the room. Instead of the bathroom, I headed straight for the bar. The wine was flowing freely, along with liquor, beer, and even some champagne. I settled on a gin and tonic, figuring I'd enjoy this night a lot more with some alcohol in my veins.
"What can I get you, ma'am?" asked the bartender, his voice carrying above the din of the room.
"Um, gin and tonic would be fine," I said.
"What kind of gin?"
He nodded, then looked at the person beside me. "And for you, sir?"
"The same," he said. "But top shelf, please. And the same for the woman in blue, unless she protests."
I looked over at the sound of his voice, almost as if something had clicked in my brain. I knew it couldn't be him; there was no way a guy who dressed up as Santa for money would hang out at a swanky party like this.
But his eyes…those fiery green eyes…when he looked at me, I couldn't believe anyone else in existence could possess those same green eyes. This man's eyes pulsed with energy, the same energy I'd seen that day in the mall, and in that instant I truly believed it was him.
But it couldn't be him. This man was too beautiful, almost inhumanly so, to hide behind a Santa costume. He was young, maybe thirty or so, with a shock of bronze hair and a crooked smile, which he was giving me now. My heart stuttered and stalled and I took a step back, deciding there was no way in hell a man this fucking perfect would be smiling at me.
"I hope you don't mind," he said. "You can't enjoy a gin and tonic unless it's decent gin."
"Oh," I said, my eyes darting everywhere to confirm that yes, he was indeed talking to me. "I guess not."
"You're not convinced?"
"I don't usually drink," I said, which was the truth. I didn't have the time, nor the occasion, nor the money to support a drinking habit. But when I brought the chilled glass to my lips, I remembered those late nights in college, the day I got engaged, my wedding…
"Did I say something wrong?" he asked, reading the look on my face. This always happened when I thought of my husband—my smile faded, my eyes became glassy, empty. I saw it every morning when I looked in the mirror.
"No," I said. "I just…got distracted for a second."
He didn't say anything, his eyes never wavering from mine, his arm resting on the bar beside him. In that moment, for some reason I will never understand, I could feel him read the truth in my eyes. A delicate heat rose in my cheeks, and I looked down at the ice swirling in my glass.
"Well," he said. "Enjoy your evening."
He turned to walk away, which every man always did, sooner or later. But this man, with his gaze that pierced my soul, knew exactly what I was thinking within three seconds of meeting me. And he knew I would run. So he did it first.
"Wait," I said, grasping his arm before he could slip through the crowd and disappear.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I should have introduced myself."
He didn't say a word. He wanted me to do this, to say something, to convince him I wasn't about to retreat into my comfortable world of solitude. And maybe he knew, even before I did, that I didn't want him to go.
"I'm Bella," I said, extending my free hand. That smile of his touched his face, and when he took my fingers in his, I found myself thinking of, well, Santa Claus. Which was ridiculous, of course. It cost $400 to get into this party. Santa probably made less than that in a week.
"Edward," he said. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Bella."
I blushed at the sound of my name on his lips, rolling off his tongue like rain. And that smile—boyish, crooked, with a hint of mischief—almost brought me to my knees.
"You, too," I said. "What, um…what brings you to this party?"
"I work in publishing," he said. "My firm's in New York."
"New York? Then what in the world brought you here?"
"Family," he said. "Or Christmas, I guess you could say."
"You came home for Christmas?"
He nodded, but didn't seem sure quite sure of himself. His smile faded and he placed his drink on the bar.
"Do you want to take a walk?" he asked.
I felt my stomach flip. This man, this perfect being, wanted to take a walk with me? I felt like a giddy schoolgirl, aside from the familiar stirrings of arousal.
"Sure," I said. "Where to?"
"There is one exhibit I'd like to see," he said. "But I think it's better shared."
I followed him through the crowded entryway, down the long corridor until we reached the stairs at the end of the hall. We climbed them to the third floor, away from the music and voices and crowds, to a room that was empty aside from the paintings on the wall.
I didn't even register them at first, the array of color and faces and life, sprawled on the canvasses. This was, indeed, a special exhibit. It was the Christmas exhibit: paintings, photographs, even sculptures, depicting the one holiday I had come to hate. My gaze lingered on each one, mingling with the memories of so many Christmases gone by, frozen in time and space and someone else's vision. I felt my chest tighten, not with sadness or despair or regret, but longing. Longing for new memories, a new life. For the last three years, I had squandered my future on a past that didn't exist anymore. I had forgotten how powerful hope could be.
"Do you like Christmas, Edward?" I asked, drawing my eyes up to his. He was tall, quite a bit taller than me, even with my heels on. But I didn't feel dwarfed, or minimized. I felt protected.
"It's my favorite holiday," he said. "My family always goes all-out for Christmas."
He smiled, but it was sad, distant. In that moment I didn't feel like I was the only one with memories of loss, and love, and letting go.
"My grandfather always dressed up as Santa Claus, ever since I was a kid," he said, chuckling. "He loved it. God, he lived for it."
"Did he…did he look like Santa?"
He laughed at that, shaking his head as he considered the thought. "No, no," he said. "He was a thin guy, although he tried very hard to put on the pounds for the kids' sake. And every December, he grew a beard that could have passed for Santa's, if you ask me."
I smiled, thinking about all those years I'd tugged on Santa's beard. Clearly I wasn't the only one.
"And this year?" I asked. "Do you still tell Santa what you want for Christmas?"
"Well," he said, straining to keep a smile on his face, "not this year. He passed away earlier this month."
"I'm so sorry," I said, feeling his shift in tone from the depths of my being. I knew the tone of grief. I understood it, perhaps better than most.
"It's okay," he said. "I think I found a way to thank him for all those years—"
"Bella! Oh my God!" Alice shrieked, the brightest smile I'd ever seen coloring her face. She threw up her hands and hugged me, which didn't surprise me since Alice always hugged me. But when she hugged Edward, my jaw dropped.
"You met Edward!" she cried, her face glowing with delight.
"Oh, um…" I stammered.
"She did," Edward said, his green eyes twinkling. "Bella was nice enough to scope out the exhibits with me."
"And you ended up here?" she asked, her eyes scanning the Christmas scenes and lights and even some holly. "You're so predictable, Edward."
"What can I say? I love Santa—"
She rolled her eyes while Edward laughed, as I tried to figure out how the hell these two knew each other. Alice knew a lot of handsome men—I would know, since she did her best to set me up with each of them—but she had never talked about an Edward before.
"Oh, Bella," Alice said, grasping my wrists. "You look confused."
"Edward's my cousin," Alice said. "He lives in New York, so we don't see each other too often."
"Oh," I said. "Yeah, he mentioned that…"
"But he, um," she said, stumbling on her words for the first time ever. "He's here this year because of special circumstances."
"Wait, Alice, if he's your cousin…oh my God. Did your grandfather pass away, and you didn't tell me?!"
Her eyes went wide as she glanced at Edward, and then back at me. A flash of understanding crossed her features, and she sighed.
"It was a few weeks ago," she said. "I didn't want you suffering through a funeral this time of year—"
"Alice," I said, cutting her off. "You should have told me."
"I know," she said. "I'm sorry. You know why I didn't, though."
"I know," I sighed. "I just feel terrible. Your grandfather was always so kind to me…"
"It's okay, Bella," she said, her smile returning. "Let's talk about something a bit more upbeat, shall we? I'm just thrilled you met my cousin!"
"Yeah," I said, feeling my cheeks flush for no reason. This seemed to happen every time Edward looked at me, and it was happening now.
"Oh, shoot," she said, when the ring of her phone filled the silence. She looked at the display and rolled her eyes. "I have to run downstairs. Meet me there later?"
"Sure," I said, glancing at Edward for his reaction. Maybe he wanted to go downstairs. Maybe he was desperate to get away from me.
After she hugged us both again and flitted out of the room, Edward gestured toward a painting at the far end of the room.
"That one's my favorite," he said.
I walked toward it, studying the soft pastels of the children's faces as they played in the snow. It was a very innocent, very simple scene, like something you might see on a thousand school yards this time of year. But there was something heart-wrenching about it, something so very beautiful in its simplicity.
"I like it, too," I said.
"What do you like about it?"
I looked at the painting once more, then back at him. He had a kind, beautiful face, the kind of face you trust on instinct. I could tell this man my deepest, darkest secrets, and not only would he appreciate them, he would understand them.
"I like their faces," I said. "The children. They just seem so…happy."
"Are you happy?" he asked. But instead of lying, instead of giving him the recycled answer I gave every human being who asked, I shook my head.
"I used to be."
"It's harder than I thought it would be."
"You know," he said, "For someone so young, and so beautiful, it seems as though you're carrying the world on your shoulders."
"I feel like I am. I just…I don't know how to let go anymore." I glanced back at the painting, with so much happiness and promise and childhood innocence. I missed that. I missed it everyday.
"You can move on," he said, "without letting go."
"How?" I whispered.
The heat from his body was everywhere, enveloping me, warming me, drawing me in. I took a step closer, so close that I could feel his heart racing in tandem with mine.
"I don't know," he said, his voice low in his throat. "Is there any mistletoe around here?"
The nervous smile on his face surprised me, because hell, just about any woman in the place would pay good money for a kiss from this man. As I thought about that, my cheeks flushed a deep red, which made him chuckle.
"I don't think so," I said, my voice shaking, my words lodging in my throat. I was so nervous, so surprised, and so turned on. All I wanted was for him to touch me, to kiss me, to close the miniscule distance between us because doing so felt more right than anything I'd ever done.
"Can I kiss you anyway?" he asked.
When I looked up, his green eyes were blazing and his tone was anything but teasing.
He wanted me. Just as much as I wanted him…
"Bella! You guys are still here!" Alice cried, rounding the corner as I backed away from Edward. She had her creepy agent on her arm, along with a few other young, handsome men I didn't recognize. But they paled in comparison to Edward. They might as well have been invisible .
"I…um…" I stammered, looking between Edward and Alice. I couldn't read the look on Edward's face, but he seemed almost disappointed.
"Come on," she said, tugging me along. "I want you two to meet my entourage."
"That's okay, Alice," Edward said, his eyes lingering on mine before he focused his attention on her. "It's an early night for me."
"Unfortunately, yes," he said. "But maybe tomorrow we could all do dinner?"
"Yes, of course!" Alice cried, her voice so high it almost shattered an ear drum. But I had always cherished Alice's enthusiasm. It made even the most mundane things worth doing.
"Bella?" she asked. "You free tomorrow night?"
"Oh, um…" I said, racking my brain for any pockets of free time. There were none. Christmas was just a few days away, a massive shopping trip was in order, and I couldn't expect Charlie to pull babysitting duty two nights in a row.
"I don't think so," I said, my voice dropping as I admitted the inevitable. "I have a date with Jack tomorrow night."
I cursed myself at the word choice; I didn't want Edward thinking I had a date. But he didn't look surprised, nor did he seem disappointed. In fact his whole face brightened, and for a second I thought he had misunderstood me.
"Bring him," Edward said. "We'll have dinner at my parents' place. You'll make Esme's night if you bring a three-year-old—"
"But how did you know…"
"Oh, I told him," Alice said. "I might have, you know, given Edward a little bio of your life. Anyway, that's not important. Dinner tomorrow night. Be there, or I'll bring Edward over and we'll all have dinner with Charlie."
"I'll be there," I stammered, still reeling from the whole exchange. And with that, Edward wished us a good night and disappeared down the stairs.
Carlisle and Esme Cullen lived in Forks, as they had for decades. I'd only lived here for two years in high school, so I didn't know them well, and I certainly didn't know their two sons. According to Alice, Edward was four years older than us, and Emmett was a year older than Edward. They had both gone to Forks High, but they were in college by the time I started school. For this reason, I had somehow never met the Cullen boys.
Emmett and Edward, as it turned out, were complete opposites. Emmett was loud, boisterous, and decidedly crude, but it was more sweet than offensive. Edward, on the other hand, was quiet, reserved. But when he looked at you, spoke to you, listened to you, the rest of the world disappeared. It happened to me the second I stepped inside the door, my whole body responding to his touch as he pulled me in for a brief hug.
"It's Santa!" Jack blurted, which made Edward laugh. My face grew warm and I shook my head.
"No, Jack," I said. "That's Edward. Where did you get Santa from?"
"He has a hat on," he said, his eyes darting between us. That part was true, but I hadn't even noticed the red hat, not with Edward's green eyes staring so intently into mine. Plus there was that smile, that crooked little smile that made my nipples hard and my nether regions…Jesus. I needed some air.
"He does," I said. "I…I didn't notice. Let's, um, let's put our coats away."
"It's okay," Edward said. "I'll take them upstairs." He bent down and plopped his hat on Jack's head. Jack seemed to study it for a few seconds, then smiled.
"I like it," Jack giggled.
"Good," Edward said with a warm, amused smile. "You can be Santa for tonight."
Just then, Esme blustered into the room, looking as radiant as ever. It almost seemed as though she never aged. Neither did Carlisle, for that matter. Sure, they had a few more grey hairs and maybe an additional wrinkle or two, but if I looked that good in my fifties, I'd be one very happy woman.
As if Esme didn't have enough good qualities, she was amazing with kids. She had spent the last thirty years teaching kindergarten, and it showed. Jack took to her immediately, following her into the kitchen while Edward took our coats.
"Would you like a tour?" he asked.
"Another escape to the third floor?" I retorted, a little smirk on my lips.
He smiled. "How'd you guess?"
Edward didn't try to kiss me that night, nor did he make any references to the previous evening. I began to wonder if he thought he had made a mistake, if he realized he didn't want to get involved with a single mother. Then again, "getting involved" with me was impractical on every level. He lived in New York, probably in a very fancy, very expensive apartment, and I was barely making ends meet working two jobs in Seattle. I had a college degree, but that didn't even matter in this job market. I needed to pay the bills, and with a little boy to support, one job didn't cut it.
But Edward didn't avoid Jack like most men did. He talked to him all night, played with him, treated him like a little man instead of a three-year-old. And I realized for the thousandth time that my son needed a father. But thinking about Edward that way—about anyone that way, really—just wasn't fair. It was foolish. I put the thought out of my head and busied myself with a conversation about Christmas-themed porn with Emmett.
We stayed until just after ten, an hour after Jack had dozed off on the sofa. I thanked everyone for a lovely evening, which it was, in every way. Well, except for Edward's mixed signals. At this point, I had absolutely no idea what he was thinking.
They all walked me to the door, and after it closed behind me, I carried Jack in my arms toward the car. It was a blustery night, with little pelts of ice prickling my skin. I shivered as I placed Jack in the car seat, and almost screamed when I collided with Edward's chest.
"I'm sorry," he said, almost in a whisper. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"Oh, you didn't," I said. "I just…I wasn't paying attention, I guess."
"I wanted to thank you again for coming."
"You're welcome," I said, forcing a smile. Disappointment was swirling in my head, but I tried to ignore it. I really was a charity case. A woman with two jobs, one son, and zero prospects. I wasn't exactly a hot commodity.
"Yes?" I asked, my teeth chattering in the cold. I wanted nothing more than for him to wrap his arms around me, to breathe me in, to whisper in my ear that he didn't want me to go. But my life didn't work like that because my life wasn't a fairy tale.
"I wish…" he began.
"You wish what?"
"I wish I had more time with you."
I sighed. Reality was setting in. And reality was never kind, never optimistic. "Why? Alice has told me all about you, Edward. I know how successful you are, how different your life is in New York—"
"And why does that matter?"
I shrugged, blew out a breath through my teeth. It sounded almost like a hiss, and I knew I was angry. Not angry at him, but at life, and circumstances, and Christmas. I really hated Christmas.
"Because it does," I said. "Anyway, I have to go. Have a merry Christmas, Edward."
A flash of something—regret maybe, or even hurt—darkened his features. But he managed a smile, a different kind of smile, and opened the door for me.
"You, too, Bella," he said. "Merry Christmas."
Christmas was a mere five days away, and I spent the next few days hoping Jack would forget about seeing Santa again at the Port Angeles Mall. But he kept talking about it as the days passed, and not just to me, but to anyone who would listen. This included Alice, who made it quite clear to me that my dismissal of Edward was a raging mistake. And yes, it probably was. My lady parts would never forgive me, that was for sure. Now that I remembered what lust felt like, it was hard to make those instincts go away.
But none of that mattered, because in five days, Jack and I would go home to Seattle and Edward would fly home to New York. Our normal lives would resume, and these few days would just be a blip in the radar of my uneventful life. It didn't matter that I hated this plan. I didn't have a choice.
Two days before Christmas, when Jack's whining hit a fever pitch, I caved. It was a clear but frigid Tuesday, and both our cheeks were a raw, vibrant red by the time we made it across the parking lot into the mall. Mass chaos had infiltrated the long corridors, and we stood in line for three hours before that ridiculous little elf beckoned us to Santa's lap.
This time, though, I didn't look at Santa or the elves or anything else. I kept my eyes focused on my son, listening as he talked and laughed and smiled, never once mentioning what he wanted for Christmas. When the conversation ended and I tried to tear Jack away from his new best friend, Santa reached out, grazing my bare skin with his fingers.
"Bella," he said, the heat from his skin prickling my nerves, humming through my veins. My breath hitched in my throat, and it was loud and obvious and embarrassing, but if he noticed, I couldn't tell.
"What do you want for Christmas?" he asked.
I tried with everything I had not to look at him, because if I saw those searing green eyes staring back at me, I'd stay here forever. And I couldn't stay. I had to go. He had to go. We led separate lives, and even Santa Claus couldn't change that.
"Bella," he said, my name slipping from his lips like music. It broke me, and I looked up, meeting his gaze and knowing, in that instant, I was a fool for pushing away the one man who had brought me back to life.
"It doesn't matter," I whispered.
"Tell him, Mommy," Jack said. "I told him what I wanted. If you don't tell him, you won't get any presents."
I shook my head, summoning what little strength I had left to go home, forget about all those hopes and dreams, and celebrate a holiday that had always disappointed me.
"I want it all," I whispered, never meeting his gaze.
When I woke up the next morning on Christmas Eve, the skies were a dark, billowy grey, thick with snow. It started falling a few hours later, a dense, raging white that coated everything in sight. Fortunately, I had finished my shopping lists yesterday, so I didn't need to leave the house.
Jack, Alice, Jasper and I spent the morning decorating the Christmas tree, which we always let go until the last minute. I wouldn't have done it at all, if it weren't for him. Jack deserved a Christmas tree. And he deserved every gift in the world, if only I had the means of giving it to him.
"Mommy," he said, after he'd stepped on his fifth ornament. "Why didn't you tell Santa what you wanted?"
My chest tightened with regret I shouldn't feel, but couldn't seem to push away. "Because I have everything I want."
"No, you don't."
I almost choked on a candy cane. Was my three-year-old really that intuitive? Alice looked at us both with a curious expression on her face, but didn't say a word.
"Of course I do. I have you, and Charlie, and a nice, warm house…"
"I think you should tell Santa what you want," he said, his voice steady and firm. It took me by surprise, the sheer conviction in his tone. I sat down on the couch and pulled him into my lap.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I told Santa what I wanted, but I don't want anything unless you tell him, too."
"I think Santa already went home—"
"No, he's still there. He told me. Go, Mommy."
"Go where, sweetie?"
"Go see Santa."
This was pretty shameful, my son's ability to wear me down like this. It didn't help that Alice was also standing by the tree, eyeing me like a hawk, nodding with each word my son said.
"I didn't say anything," she said. "But Jack has a point."
I stood up, feeling the heaviness of both their eyes on me as I paced across the room. This was insane. Driving all that way in a snow storm, just because my son wanted me to talk to Santa? I was a grown woman; I couldn't stand in line and sit on Santa's lap…
"Mommy," Jack begged. "Please."
Alice smiled. "I'm with him," she said.
"This is insane," I protested.
"I think it's the most sane thing you've done in a while," Alice countered.
As much as I hated to admit it, she had a point.
The grey morning had morphed into a thick, menacing white-out, which gave my truck some serious trouble on the road to Port Angles. It took me three hours to get there, and my heart sank at the sight of an empty, snow-ridden parking lot. The mall didn't even look open.
I was too late.
I leaned back in my seat, and my teeth started chattering just a few seconds after I turned off the heater. I pulled my coat up around my neck, and shoved my hands in my pockets. The tears felt warm on my face, warmer than I expected on such a cold, windswept afternoon. So warm, in fact, that I stopped shivering and climbed out of the truck.
I don't know what compelled me to walk toward those front doors. The glass was misty, clouded, a sign of the temperature difference between the blustery outside and the warm interior. When I tried the door, it didn't open. It clanged against the lock, the sound rattling in my ears like cold metal.
The house was dark by the time I got home.
Charlie and Jack were spending the night at Sue's house to give me some time to get things in order for Christmas morning, which was just as well. I was exhausted, but even more than that, I was furious at myself for indulging in such a silly whim. Those fake Santas didn't even work on Christmas Eve, at least not the ones in malls. Why hadn't I thought about this six hours ago?
I walked up to my room, where I'd hidden all of Jack's gifts and most of Charlie's. I hadn't wrapped them, yet; I always left the wrapping until the last minute, along with the stocking stuffers and milk and cookies and everything else my parents had always done for me growing up. One day, Jack would remember these things, too. He would do them for his own kids, and in that way, I knew I was doing something right.
It took me an hour to wrap the presents, while the snow raged outside and the night settled into a still, peaceful silence. When I was finished, I loaded the presents into my arms and began the trek down the stairs, my feet padding along the carpet. Something felt different, although nothing about this house, this night, this place had really changed. It was almost like waking up from a dream you can't remember, but you know it meant something. You know, because you had woken up with a smile on your face and a lightness in your heart that wasn't there before.
I felt this way now as I walked down the stairs, balancing the gifts as I went. But they all crashed to the floor anyway the second I saw him standing there, that silly red hat on his head, a worried expression on his face.
"I didn't see your dad's car and I was worried…Alice let me in because she said you were here…I'm so sorry, Bella. I should have called…" he stammered.
I didn't hesitate this time. I didn't wait, didn't reconsider, didn't try to talk myself out of something I had desperately wanted since the moment I looked into those same green eyes the day we met. I ran towards him, his strong arms hoisting me around his waist as he kissed me with a very raw, very real desire that brought me back to life.
It was, in so many ways, like being kissed for the very first time.
"Bella," he whispered, trailing kisses along the length of my jaw, his breath hot in my ear. A delicious chill ran down my spine as he whispered my name over and over and over again, needing me and me alone. I gasped as he ran his fingers beneath the hem of my shirt, teasing my bare skin. It had been so long. So very, very long…
But then he broke the kiss, his breathing heavy, his eyes panicked. He took a step back and seemed to lose his voice.
"Don't go," I said, reclaiming the distance between us. I took a step toward him, fingering the buttons on his shirt as I ran my knuckles down his chest. He took a sharp breath, his arousal as obvious as my own. When I took another step toward him, I could feel it against my stomach. He took an even sharper breath, which made me smile.
"I should have kissed you that first night," he said, his voice rough. "Fuck, I should have kissed you ten years ago."
"Ten years ago?"
"I came home from college one Christmas," he said. "And I saw you at the hospital with your dad."
I winced. God, how embarrassing. I had tripped on a power cord that year and landed in the Christmas tree and needed a few stitches to fix the damage…
"That wasn't my best moment," I said, and he smiled.
"You were beautiful then," he said. "And now…I don't even know what to say, Bella. I don't deserve you."
The blush rising in my cheeks spread all the way to my collarbones, warming the blood in my veins. He traced his fingers along my shoulders, which he followed with a trail of soft, lingering kisses on my bare skin.
"Every time you blush," he said, "I want to do that."
"Then I'll blush more often," I breathed.
The conversation stalled after that, as Edward continued his trail of kisses back up my neck, lingering on my jaw, before ravishing me once again with a deep, urgent kiss that made my head spin. I felt my knees buckle and he followed me down to the floor, hovering over me on the thick carpet beneath the tree. I couldn't help but smile at the sheer cliché of the whole scene, but fuck, I didn't care. And judging by the massive bulge in his pants and the urgency of his hands, he didn't either.
Whatever hesitancy Edward felt when he walked in here disappeared as I undid the buttons on his shirt, letting it flutter to the floor with a breath of air. He pulled his t-shirt over his head, and it landed on the tree like a drape. We both smiled at that, but only for a second before he kissed me again, his fingers wandering to the hem of my shirt. And then he sat up, worried, his eyes wide.
"Shit," he said. "Is Jack okay? Could he come downstairs?"
"No," I said, chuckling at the look of horror on his face. "He's with Charlie and Sue tonight."
"Oh," he said, relief washing over his face. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," I said, pulling him down toward me. "I'm very okay."
He leaned closer, bringing his lips to my ear. His warm breath made my whole body shudder with anticipation, and when he spoke, I could feel myself unraveling.
"What do you want for Christmas, Bella?" he asked.
"You," I gasped, not hesitating this time. Never again would I hesitate. I wanted Edward Cullen. I wanted to be with him, date him, know him. One day, I wanted to love him.
"Would it be cheesy," he asked, "if I said I wanted the same thing?"
"No," I breathed, smiling against his lips as he kissed me softly, lovingly, like two people who had known each other for a very long time.
I reached down for the hem of my shirt, which he pulled above my head as I rocked my hips into his. He hissed through his teeth, then grasped my waist as he pulled me closer. I yanked his belt from his pants, and within a few seconds we were both down to the bare essentials. All my life, I'd felt self-conscious like this, so exposed, but not with him. With Edward, I felt respected, admired, even coveted. The way his eyes took in my body, I could see how much he wanted me, and probably had since that miserable night in Forks Hospital.
"Bella," he growled, as his fingers grazed the skin on my legs, lingering at the edge of the fabric so I was aching with need. He took his sweet time teasing me, until he slipped them off in one swift movement and grazed my clit with his knuckles. I bucked my hips into his hard, massive cock, realizing in a truly sobering moment that I hadn't had an orgasm in three long years.
He groaned at the contact, teasing my entrance with his fingers. "You're so fucking wet, Bella. Do you want me? Do you feel how much I want you?"
"Yes," I gasped, arching my back as he trailed hot, wet kisses along my breasts, teasing my nipples with his teeth as his fingers worked my clit. I was already close. With each pass of his fingers, I knew I wasn't going to last another minute.
I came just seconds later, breathing his name as the most intense orgasm of my twenty-six years rocked through me. Wave after wave of pleasure radiated to the very tips of my fingers, and it was a solid minute before the haze of such a glorious release faded away. I pulled Edward down to me, kissing him hard and deep, before pulling his boxers down his legs.
"Fuck," he rasped, as I stroked the length of him with my hand. He was thick and huge and very hard, so hard that within a few seconds, I could feel a second wave of arousal seeping down my legs. "I want you, Bella. I've wanted you for ten long years."
"You have me," I breathed, my words catching in my throat as he pushed himself inside of me. He hesitated at first, gauging my reaction, but fuck, I needed this. I arched my hips into his, savoring the feel of him so completely inside me. His thrusts at first were slow, deep, and patient, his pace increasing as I responded to so many years of unfulfilled desire. Our bodies fit together, moved together, and in that instant I felt as though I had spent my whole life looking for him, and only him.
I could feel a second wave coming, rising, pushing me over the edge. I knew he could feel it, too, his pace increasing as my muscles tightened and my cries became choked, desperate whimpers for release.
"Come for me," he murmured, the words falling from his lips like a soft plea, and I did just that. He came moments later, spilling into me with a hot, pulsing rush, and it took us both a few minutes to open our eyes and realize what the hell had just happened.
"Come here," he said, pulling me into him. We were both lying on our sides, our bare skin gently illuminated by the white lights of the Christmas tree. He brushed a wayward strand of hair from my face, a gesture so simple, but so meaningful, that it made my heart ache for him.
"Don't go," I whispered. "I know it's selfish and stupid and unrealistic, but I don't want you to go back to New York."
"I'm not," he said, trailing his thumb down my cheeks. I hadn't even realized I was crying until he brushed the tears away with his fingers.
"I'm moving to Seattle," he said. "For good."
"Because this is my home, Bella," he said. "Living so far away from family…it does something to your soul."
I nodded, my gaze dropping to the floor as he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into his chest. I could feel his face in my hair, his breath warm against my ear.
"Do you know what your son told me he wanted for Christmas?" he asked.
I had thought about it, of course, over the last few days. I'd just assumed it was a toy, or a game, or something any typical little boy would want. But I knew my son. I knew now what he wanted, what he saw that day that I had missed.
"He wanted me to kiss you," he said, as he stroked my hair. "He must really like that Christmas carol."
"Well," I whispered, smiling at the crooked grin on his face, and the sincerity in his eyes. "He's not the only one."