A/N: This is the last chapter. Thanks so much for reading.
Left to right
Up and down, love
I push up love, love everyday
Jump in the mud, oh
Get your hands dirty with
Love it up on everyday
"Demetri and Emma are pulling into the driveway," Edward announces as he walks into the kitchen. He stops behind me and wraps his arms around my waist while I continue making hamburger patties. "Whose idea was it to have people over on the night your parents have the kids?"
"Yours," I laugh, turning my head to kiss him when he bends down. "But we still have tomorrow… alone."
"I checked in with Alice today, so she shouldn't bother us tomorrow," he mumbles against my lips.
"And my girls know the drill," I reply, leaning away to look at him. "They won't bug us after tonight."
He pulls at me until I turn around to face him, holding my messy hands to the side as he presses me against the counter and kisses me again.
"Don't you two ever give it a rest?" Emma asks disgustedly when she comes in. "You've been married almost two months now."
Edward straightens up, but doesn't let me go.
"We can't help it. We never get to be alone," I whine, turning to look at her.
"Newsflash: You're not alone now either. So knock it off," she orders with a smirk. "And wash your hands. We have something to tell you and I don't want your hamburger fingerprints all over me."
"You have something to tell us? Something that's going to make me want to hug you?" I ask excitedly, breaking away from Edward. "Are you getting married?"
"If I say yes, do you promise to keep the meat juice off me?" She's still smirking, but I can tell by the way her eyes are lit up that I'm right.
"Then yes," she answers. "We're engaged!"
Gasping, I move toward her and hug her tightly, keeping my wrists flexed so I don't get her dirty, as promised.
"I'm so happy for you guys," I whisper. "I love you, Emma."
"I'm so happy, B. I had no idea I would be act like such a girl when Demetri proposed though," she says disdainfully.
"Did you cry?" I ask, pulling away to look at her.
"Big, ugly sobs," she says, sighing and shaking her head. "And I jumped up and down."
"You did not!" I gasp.
"Totally did," she admits. Then she looks at me seriously. "I swear to God I'll hurt you if you tell SG that I'm not as scary as he thinks I am."
"I won't tell," I reply, laughing.
When Ang and Ben, and then MK and Seth arrive, we go through the whole thing again. Eventually, the guys retreat outside to the grill while Emma and I finish up the side dishes. Holding her lower back, Ang shuffles to the table and sits down.
"If I don't have this kid soon, I'm convinced it's going to come clawing its way out of my belly like in that one movie," she complains. She exhales loudly and rests her hands on her bulging stomach. "I can't breathe, my ankles are so swollen they have rolls, and now that I'm sitting in this chair, I have no idea how I'll get back up."
"Sweetie, you're almost done," I soothe, glancing over at her. "Only two more weeks until your due date."
"Yeah, yeah," she mutters. "One of you bitches had better bring a good, strong martini to the hospital for me."
"You know I will," Em laughs, picking up the pitcher Ang brought over tonight. "What about these? Can we have them now?"
"Yep," Ang sighs. "God knows someone should be drinking."
Once the drinks are poured – and Ang has a bottle of water – we all raise our glasses.
"To Emma, who finally found her cosmic match in this big, crazy universe," MK pronounces. Emma immediately protests all the Zen crap, and the sound of the two of them bickering drives me to drink half the liquid in my glass. Well, the drink also tastes really damn good.
By the time they stop fighting and start drinking, I've lowered my glass to look suspiciously at a giggling Ang.
"What's it called?" I ask with a heavy sigh, realizing what the clear, yellow drink resembles and anticipating a disgusting name… but I'm wrong.
"The baby maker," she laughs, dropping her head back, and then moaning a little when her stomach shakes too much.
Emma spits the liquid in her mouth back into the glass, and then sets it down loudly on the granite counter.
"What the hell? I don't want a baby right now," she says, glaring at Ang as if the drink will actually make her pregnant.
"If you drink enough of that you will," Ang retorts.
"No. Drinking a lot of this will make us drunk and horny," MK chimes in.
"Which is how we get knocked up," Ang says, exasperation evident in her voice. "Point proven."
"Bella's glass is almost empty," Em remarks amusedly.
"I did that before I knew what the damn drink was called!" I protest, feeling my cheeks heat.
"But you want a baby with Edward," MK says softly, staring me down. "I know you do."
"Yeah, I do," I admit, smiling at her. "I'm going off the pill next month. But, realistically, I know it could take a while."
"Well, if you can get your parents to keep taking the kids one weekend every month, you'll increase your odds substantially," Ang teases. Suddenly, she hisses and sits up straight, grabbing her lower back for the third time since she arrived. "Fuck! These back spasms are killing me!"
Emma looks at me with concern, and then raises her eyebrows, asking wordlessly if I'm thinking what she's thinking. I nod minutely at her, and then walk to the table.
"Lean forward, sweetie. I'll rub your back," I say softly, standing behind her chair. Immediately, she sets her arms on the table and rests her head on them, groaning as I move my knuckles in small circles on each side of her spine. From the corner of my eye, I see Emma and MK sneak silently out the patio door and head for Ben. "How long have you been having these?"
"I don't know," she exhales. "Three hours maybe."
"Have they been getting more regular? Like about every five minutes?" I ask, still trying not to alarm her. But I know she'll get it in a minute.
"Yes! How did… you… know?" she replies, her voice trailing off. "Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, shit."
"Shh. It's okay," I whisper as I feel her start to shake.
"It's not, Bella," she answers, sounding panicked. "I'm in labor, right? I'm in labor, and soon a person is going to come out of me. And I'm gonna have to be its mother. And I'm already flunking my first mother thing by not realizing I'm in fucking labor!"
I see Ben walking toward the door, wide-eyed and dazed. Twenty minutes later, Ben and Angela get into the backseat of my car so I can drive them to the hospital.
"I'll be right behind you," Edward says, opening the driver's door for me.
"You won't forget her bag?"
"Emma and MK already went to get it," he answers, smiling.
Hearing Ang gasp in pain again, I stretch up to kiss Edward, wrapping one arm around his neck. "I love you. I'll see you there," I say.
"See you there," he echoes, closing the door for me after I get in.
Six hours later, we all meet Abigail Weber Cheney.
"Jesus! Why can't anyone else in this house put stuff away correctly?" I grumble. I rearrange the silverware drawer loudly, separating the tablespoons from the teaspoons and moving the knives so they're all facing the same direction.
"What's with all the noise, baby?" Edward asks as he comes inside and shuts the patio doors. It's raining outside, so he's sopping wet and I see him shake his head, sprinkling droplets of water all over the inside of the French doors – the glass French doors.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath before speaking, but counting to ten – okay, seven – doesn't do anything to calm my temper.
"Did you do this? Unload the dishwasher and put the silverware away like this?" I snap. I already know the answer since the kids have been at my parents' house since last night and I sure as hell didn't make a mess out of this drawer. But I want him to admit it.
"Yeah, I did. What's the matter?" he asks, slowing down before he reaches me. He's eyeing me like he knows he might want to make a hasty retreat.
"You didn't put the spoons or the knives away correctly. And while we're on the subject, quit putting the glasses in the cabinet upside down. That's not how they go," I say, raising my voice at him.
"Jesus Christ, what the hell is the big damn deal?" he mutters, walking over to the cabinet behind me. "I was trying to help."
"It doesn't help me when I have to come along behind you and re-do everything," I say testily. I look over my shoulder at him, but he's facing away from me as he turns over all the glasses he put away earlier.
"What's your problem with me, Bella?" he inquires. "Your parents took the kids so we could spend some time by ourselves, but you hardly spoke to me last night before you passed out on the couch at nine. And now you're clearly irritated as fuck with me. Maybe I should just go. Give you some space."
"You want to leave me?" I croak. Immediately, tears fill my eyes.
I see his shoulders heave as he sighs deeply before he turns around, smiling softly at me. "No, honey. I just thought maybe you needed some time to yourself. You've been a little… moody the last few days."
Nodding, I swipe away the tears running down my cheeks. "I know. I'm sorry," I whisper.
"It's okay, baby. Just tell me what's wrong."
Sniffling, I shake my head. "I don't know what's wrong. I think maybe I have a virus, or a parasite," I say with a shrug.
"A parasite?" he asks, eyebrows lifted. He looks like he's trying not to laugh… which pisses me off all over again.
"Yes, Edward, a parasite. My stomach has been upset for days and I'm really tired. Everything makes me cry," I spit, glaring at him. As I continue, though, I feel the anger drain away as I connect the dots. "And now even my boobs… hurt… oh… my… God."
"What?" he looks concerned now.
"I'm so stupid… I didn't realize," I mumble, looking down, wishing I was better at keeping track of my periods. I count backwards… it was a Thursday… I think it's been five weeks.
"Bella, you're scaring me. What's the matter?"
"I think I'm pregnant," I say quietly, raising my eyes to his.
"Edward," I huff in exasperation.
"I mean… you just went off the pill… I was in L.A. for ten days last month… Chase is in our bed half the time," he reasons. He looks a little shell-shocked.
Rolling my eyes, I grab his hand and walk out of the kitchen, pulling him along behind me. "It only takes one time, hotshot. Let's do a test."
Several minutes later, he stands in the doorway of our bathroom reading the test instructions over and over. I tried to tell him that no one reads that crappy pamphlet that comes in the box, but he's a read-the-small-print kind of lawyer, so he's undeterred… or maybe he's uncomfortable watching me pee on the little stick.
When I'm finished, he follows me to my sink, standing behind me as I set the test down and wash my hands. I'm trying to avoid looking for a minute, trying not to get too excited just in case it really is a parasite. In the mirror, I see him folding the instructions – not looking at the test either.
After I dry my hands, I take a deep breath and look down. Immediately, Edward steps forward, wrapping his arms around my waist from behind and peering over my shoulder. Neither of us speaks for a moment, but the result is clear.
"Is that….does that mean….yes?" asks the man who just spent seven minutes reading the damn instructions. But at the moment, I'm too happy to be a smartass. Looking up, I meet his gaze in the mirror and nod.
"You're going to be a dad," I say quietly, smiling through the tears in my eyes.
His eyes look watery, too, but he frowns. "I'm already a dad," he reminds me.
"You're right. You are," I agree. "You're going to be a dad again."
I turn and put my arms around his shoulders. He picks me up, holding me tightly against his still-damp chest for a moment before he sets me down on the counter next to the test.
"But I got to be here for the fun part this time," he says, smirking as he leans back to look at me.
"Watch it, SG. Pregnant or not, I can still kick your ass," I answer, quirking one eyebrow the way I know he likes.
"No doubt, baby," he says, sliding his hands from my back down to rest on the outside of my hips. "I love you." He rests his forehead against mine, closing his eyes and swallowing loudly.
"I love you, too," I murmur, sliding one hand into the back of his hair and pulling my fingers through the wet strands unhurriedly.
"Can I get you anything?" he asks after a moment. "Pickles? Ice cream?"
Chuckling lightly, I tilt my head and kiss him. "No cravings yet, SG… except for you."
"Well, that craving is one I can definitely do something about, wife," he answers, kissing me again as he picks me up and carries me to bed.
The months fly by quickly, marked by the steady expansion of my belly. I swear I didn't show this fast with Chase, but we've had two sonograms to confirm there's only one baby in there.
Dr. Denali was especially pleased by the baby news – probably because now she has a reason to continue counseling us. The kids seem excited so far, but the reality is that a new person added to the household could upset the still-delicate balance at home. Edward and I are alone with Dr. Denali one day in late February when he brings up the subject of adoption… again.
"This feels like the right time to me," he says insistently when I argue that it's too soon.
"I'm just not sure how far we should push Michael," I say, turning to reach for his arm. "He's doing so well, but you know this has been difficult for him, Edward. Piling expectations on him, making him feel like he has to choose between you and Marcus, deciding whether to change his last name might be too much."
"I know, but I don't think you're giving him – or me – enough credit," Edward insists. "We're close, Bella. And I don't think he'll object to this, especially once we explain that it's just a formality. I don't expect him to magically start calling me dad. There's no pressure to choose between Marcus and me. Marcus will always be their dad. And I don't expect any of them to change their names. This is my commitment to them."
He's so impassioned, so eager to prove to them that he's just as much their dad as he is this new baby's that I can't bear to hold him off any longer. We spend most of the rest of our session making a plan of action to present the idea to the kids. I don't think there will be any resistance from Sophie and Chase, but I'm afraid Michael will balk. And that will hurt Edward, no matter how much he says he's prepared for the possibility.
But instead of voicing my worries, I'm supportive, I smile back when Edward turns to beam at me. And that night when we sit down in our bed for a family meeting – still held in pajamas – I sit right next to him, winding my arm through his. With tears in my eyes, I listen to him talk to the kids, his voice persuasive as he explains his reasons – the emotional ones and the legal ones. He's patient when they ask questions, never skimming over the things that are difficult to answer.
"Can we have a few minutes to talk about it?" Michael asks.
"You can have as long as you need," Edward replies. "You don't have to decide tonight."
When they hop off the bed and leave the room, I lean over against Edward's shoulder with a sigh.
"They took it okay, I think," he remarks, turning his head to kiss the top of mine.
"They love you," I whisper, wiping at the wetness under my eyes. "And so do I. No matter what happens, Edward, we're a family. The five of us are a family."
"Five and a half," he says, twisting to put his hand on my stomach. He tries to look like he's paying attention for the next couple of minutes as I chatter about fetal development and upcoming doctor appointments, but he's distracted… nervous.
He sits up straighter when the bedroom door opens and the jury comes filing back in. I hear him take a deep breath as the kids climb onto the bed again.
"Okay, we're in," Michael says. He's smiling slightly, but the other two kids are grinning widely. "What do we have to do?"
"Uh, I'm not entirely sure," Edward answers, making us all laugh.
"Jeez, Dad, what kind of lawyer are you?" Sophie teases.
"A corporate one," he retorts, turning to smile at me. "I'll get my phone and call Judge Peters at home."
Two hours later, I climb into bed after washing my face. Edward is reading, but I'm sleepy. I turn my bedside lamp off and lean over to kiss him.
"I told you Michael would be fine," he says as I pull away. "I know my kids."
"Oh, God. Do you always have to gloat?" I moan.
"No. I only gloat when I'm right," he answers, smirking. "I'm just right a lot."
"Yeah, and you're also annoying," I laugh, lying down and rolling to face away from him.
"In general or just right now?" he asks, amused. He turns off his light and lies down, scooting up behind me.
"Just right now, but don't press your luck," I say, reaching behind me to grab his arm. I pull it around me and link my fingers with his.
"Okay," he agrees. His voice is hushed when he continues. "It's a big deal though. It's a really big deal to me that they agreed."
I lift our hands up and press my lips against the side of his thumb. "It's a really big deal to me, too, Edward."
He takes a shaky breath, his chest pushing against my back. "I want to be good enough for them. For all of you."
"Edward, you're a great dad. The kids are happier than they've been in years," I say, rolling over to face him. "I'm happy. Are you happy?"
"Yeah," he answers quietly, smiling as I scoot closer. "I don't know how this day could have been better."
"Well, I can think of one way." I lean forward to kiss him.
"Yeah, there is that," he murmurs against my lips. Reaching for the front of my pajama shirt, he unbuttons it partway and slips his hand inside.
"The door," I whisper. "I don't think it's locked."
"Yes, it is," he answers, using his thumb to circle my nipple.
"I love it when you're sneaky," I sigh, tilting my head back as he kisses down my neck.
"I know, wife. I know."
As winter turns to spring, Emma is consumed with wedding plans, Angela is in full mom-mode, MK breaks up with Seth, and I keep growing. Much to everyone else's amusement, my bridesmaid dress has to be custom-made to accommodate the belly. Finally, though, the wedding weekend arrives, and all of us fly down to Los Angeles.
Emma and Demetri get married outdoors in a beautiful garden at a country club. I cry through the beginning of the ceremony, standing next to my tough, often abrasive friend who is completely undone by the man standing beside her. And he feels the same way about her.
He accepted my offer to transfer to the Seattle office soon after they got engaged, and he moved up north two months ago. But since his family – and Aro and Heidi – live down here, they decided to hold the wedding in a closer, and sunnier, location to them.
From behind me, I hear Baby Abigail laughing. Ben and the baby are sitting right in front of my kids, who think Abigail is the cutest thing they've ever seen. I'd be willing to bet that they're responsible for the persistent giggles. Glancing to my left, I meet Angela's gaze and we smile at each other as we listen to her. Ang is just as great a mom as I knew she'd be, and Ben is crazy about both of his girls.
When Emma turns to hand me her bouquet before she faces Demetri to say her vows, she widens her eyes and leans close for a second.
"Oh, my God, B. I'm fucking getting married," she whispers through clenched teeth, never losing her smile.
My shoulders shake with silent laughter. "I fucking know," I reply just as quietly. "Now turn around and finish the job."
As Emma recites her vows, MK is sniffling on the other side of Ang. She's as positive as ever about finding her perfect cosmic love, but breaking up with Seth was difficult for her. She hasn't really dated anyone since him, but she flirted all night long last night with one of Demetri's friends. I know she'll be okay… and now that she seems ready to move on, I'm totally going to set her up with one of the lawyers Edward hired in Seattle. I think they're perfect for each other.
As we applaud Emma and Demetri's first married kiss, I turn to look at Edward and the kids in the crowd. They're all looking at the newlyweds, but when I slide my eyes to the left, I meet Gramps' twinkling gaze. With a wink and smile, he points to his chest, silently taking credit.
"I helped," I mouth to him, then laugh quietly as he holds his thumb and forefinger up about an inch apart.
When Emma turns to get her bouquet from me, tears fill my eyes again. "Congratulations," I say quietly, leaning forward to kiss her cheek.
"Love you," she whispers. I return the sentiment and we smile at each other before she turns away to walk up the aisle.
"Jesus, these bleachers are hard on the ass, aren't they?" Emma says lowly.
"Yes. That's why I told you to bring a cushion," I remind her.
"I'm not carrying some padded ass seat around like a grandma," she grouses, wiggling around next to me. "Or a pregnant lady who's about to pop."
"Shut up," I laugh, elbowing her lightly. "I still have five weeks to go."
"I know how long you have left, but you look miserable."
"I'm not miserable," I protest. "I'm doing fine except for spending four or five nights a week sitting on these bleachers. By the end of the game, I can hardly get up."
"This conversation does not encourage me to ever have a kid," she laughs. She pulls off her sunglasses and squints out at the field, lifting a hand to shield her eyes from the setting sun. "What number is Michael?"
"Nineteen," I answer, looking out at the field from our seats on the first row right behind home plate. "Playing shortstop."
From my other side, Edward leans forward to rattle off Michael's batting average and on-base percentage to Demetri.
"What are they talking about?" Emma whispers.
"Don't ask. It's a forty-five minute explanation if you get Edward going about it," I giggle.
The game is exciting and close. We're down by one in the eighth inning with one out. Michael's on third base, ready to score the tying run if there's a hit. When we hear the crack of the bat, we all start cheering. I watch as the second baseman scoops up the ball and fires it toward the catcher.
"Run, Michael!" I yell as he sprints toward home.
"The catcher," Edward mutters. He's right. The kid is blocking the plate.
I gasp quietly in horror as Michael slides feet first into him.
"Safe!" the umpire calls.
The crowd around us yells and whistles, but I'm watching Michael roll from side to side in the dirt, holding his knee. Edward jumps to his feet and I can tell he wants to go, but he looks at me.
"Go!" I insist, struggling to stand. "Demetri can help me."
Before I'm steady on my feet, Edward is on the field, and the coach moves aside to let him kneel beside Michael. I can't hear what he says, but I hear Michael's answer.
"I felt something pop in my knee, Dad," he says, lying still now but still grimacing in pain.
Raising my hand to cover my mouth, I walk to the fence. Edward is talking quietly to Michael as he gingerly presses his fingers around Michael's knee, giving no indication that Michael just called him Dad for the first time. A moment later, Edward and the coach lift Michael to his feet and help him hobble toward the dugout as the crowd applauds. Demetri lets me lean on him as we walk to meet them.
Knowing Michael will be embarrassed if I act too upset, I try to be cool as we approach. Michael is sitting on the dugout bench with Edward crouched at his feet, holding an ice pack on his knee. I stop behind him, curling my fingers through the chain link fence and looking pleadingly at Edward.
"He's okay, B," Edward says softly. "We'll get an x-ray at the ER, but Michael wants to watch the rest of the game first."
"Okay," I whisper, nodding.
"Mom, Demetri," Michael says, twisting around to look at us, "did you see me score? I tied it up."
"It was the best play of the game," Demetri says excitedly. "Of course we saw it."
I sigh amusedly as I listen to them recount the play, cringing when Michael describes how his knee felt after crashing into the catcher. Once the game is over, we head for the hospital where we find out that Michael's knee is only sprained. But it's almost midnight when we finally get home with crutches and pain medicine.
Edward gets Michael upstairs and into bed, and I join them a few minutes later.
"Quit looking so worried, Mom," he says as I walk into his room. "I'm fine."
I get him to sit up and take his medicine, and then Edward tells him goodnight and heads downstairs. When I bend down to kiss the top of his head and start to turn off his bedside lamp, he looks up at me.
"Did you hear what I said to Edward tonight?" he asks quietly.
"Yes," I answer, swallowing around the sudden lump in my throat.
"It's kinda weird," he says, bowing his head and looking down. "I don't want to forget about Dad, but I feel like Edward's my dad, too."
"I know. And you know that Edward understands."
"Yeah. He told me that when we were waiting at the hospital," he nods. "He said it's no big deal if I never say it again, but I think he liked it. You know?" He tips his head back to look at me again, smiling slightly.
"I'm sure he liked it," I answer honestly.
"I'm glad you married him," he says, yawning. When he lies down again, I cover him up and bend down to kiss him.
"I'm glad I married him, too," I smile. I turn out the light and walk toward the door.
"Mom?" he asks sleepily. I turn around to look at him in the shadowy light from the hallway. "Tell Dad I said goodnight."
"Okay, sweetie. I'll tell him."
When I get downstairs, Edward's not in our room. He's not in the kitchen. He's not in the office or the living room, but as I pass the front door, I notice it's unlocked. Stepping outside, I see him standing at the railing on the far end of the porch.
"Edward?" I ask quietly as I reach him. He hmms without really answering and lifts the beer bottle he's holding to his lips. "What's wrong?"
He drinks heartily and swallows before speaking. "It fucking sucks to find out you're not nearly as honorable as you thought."
"Me?" I ask, confused.
"No, me," he sighs. Standing beside him, I put my arm around his back, rubbing up and down slowly. "All this time, I told Michael it didn't matter if he called me Dad or not. All this time, I thought I was being truthful with him. But when he called me Dad today, it made me so fucking happy, Bella."
"Did it change the way you feel about him?"
"No," he says forcefully, turning to look at me. "Of course not."
"Then why are you upset?"
"Because I've told him for a year now to call me whatever he wants," he says, turning away from me again. "But now that he's said it once, I really fucking want him to say it again. And that makes me feel like shit."
"It's completely normal, Edward," I soothe. "And he knows you liked it. He told me."
He chuckles quietly and takes another drink. "He's a perceptive kid."
"He also told me to tell you he said goodnight… Dad."
He smirks and shakes his head slightly. "That feels incredible and horrible at the same time," he muses. "Come here."
He sets his beer down on the railing and pulls me to stand in front of him, wrapping his arms around me to rest on my stomach. I lean back against him, covering his hands with mine.
"It's all gonna work out, Edward," I say quietly.
"I know," he agrees, kissing the side of my head. When the baby moves under our hands, he bends forward to look over my shoulder, chuckling. "I'll never get used to that."
"Well, you won't have that many more chances," I answer with a yawn. "This baby is coming soon."
"I can't wait."
"Me neither," I respond, then flinch when I get poked in the ribs. "Especially since this kid is kicking the shit out of me."
He laughs, shifting away from me to pick up his empty beer bottle. "Bella, you never disappoint. You know that? You always know the right thing to say to me."
"Yep, SG. You're pretty fucking lucky to have me around," I say teasingly, smiling up at him.
Laughing harder, he slips his arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer as we walk inside. "Yes, I am, wife. Yes, I am."
Two weeks later, we've finished the interviews and home study required for the adoptions to be finalized, and will sign the papers and make it official in eight days. I'm relieved… and excited… and miserable. I've reached that point in my pregnancy where I can't breathe, can't move well, and can't wait until the delivery.
"This sucks balls," I complain, sitting on the side of the bed. Edward is behind me, his legs extended on the outside of mine, performing what has become our ritual the last few nights. My shirt is pushed up, Edward's hands are covered with lotion, and he's rubbing my aching lower back.
"Three more weeks, honey," he consoles.
"Or less," I grumble. "Maybe I could talk the doctor into doing the C-section early."
He laughs and presses his lips to the skin of my shoulder. When there's a knock at the door, he pulls the material of my tank top down before he answers.
"I thought you kiddos were in bed," I say when I see all three of them in the doorway.
"No, we've been having a meeting in Sophie's room," Michael announces. "But we want to talk to you guys now."
"Okay. What's going on?" I ask nervously. Edward scoots away, and then piles pillows against the headboard for me to lean against. None of them speaks as I awkwardly move around until I'm comfortable… well, as comfortable as I'm going to get until the baby is born.
"Um, we've, um, been talking the last few days about how everything's going to change when the baby comes. I mean, our family will change," Michael begins. Edward reaches for my hand and we smile at each other for a brief second before turning our attention back to the kids.
"One thing I'm not changing is diapers," Chase pipes up.
"Gotcha, buddy. No diaper duty," Edward answers.
"Well, we were talking about how you two both have four names in your whole name and how we think the baby should, too, so it matches you," Michael says.
"Okay, we'll consider that," I say after shrugging at Edward and receiving a shrug and slight nod in return. We still haven't decided on a name for the baby.
"And we think we should match, too," Sophie says. "If it's okay with Dad."
I wait for her to explain, but she doesn't. Frowning, I turn to look at Edward. He's also frowning, clearly not understanding her either. Seeing our puzzled looks, Sophie rolls her eyes and huffs out an exasperated breath.
"Catch on, parents. We want to match," she says again. "I want to be Sophia Swan DiClemente Cullen."
"Michael Marcus DiClemente Cullen," Michael says proudly. I'm trying to hold the sobs in, but don't stand a chance against the tears.
"Chase Charles DiClemente Cullen," Chase finishes.
I look over at Edward and see that he's having trouble holding it together, too. His eyes are shining and he can barely speak when he tries.
"I'd love that," he replies hoarsely. "I've told you before that I don't expect you to change your last name, but it makes me incredibly proud and happy that you want to."
"So, it's okay?" Chase smiles.
Edward glances at me, and then answers. "Yeah, it's okay. In fact, it's a lot more than just okay." When he gets up and walks to the dresser, I ask where he's going. "Getting my phone. I'm calling Judge Peters to see if we can add it to the adoption proceeding."
"Didn't you wake him the last time you called him at home?" I ask, laughing through my tears.
"Don't make him mad, Dad," Michael pleads. "He might change my name to Lester… or Chester."
"All right. All right," Edward acquiesces, holding up his hands. "I'll wait until morning."
The kids stay in our room for another twenty minutes, amusing us by thinking of terrible names for each other. When they finally go to bed, I lie down on my side and close my eyes. Edward turns the light out and lies down beside me.
"Did you know they were gonna do that?" he whispers, sounding emotional again.
"No. They didn't mention it to me beforehand," I answer, reaching over to rest my hand on his chest. I hear him swallow loudly a couple of times before he replies.
"When I showed up here two years ago and found you again, it was the best surprise I ever got," he says. "But this is close, Bella. This is really close."
"I know," I respond. "One of the things I love most about you is the way you love our kids."
"Our kids," he repeats. I feel the bed move as he tries to scoot closer to me.
"That's it, SG," I say with a laugh when his stomach bumps against mine. "That's as close as you can get for now."
"I can still get close," he boasts, cupping my face with his hand. He pushes himself up and leans over me, pressing his lips against mine. "I just have to try a different angle."
I bury my hand in his hair as I chuckle against his mouth. "I recognize that tone," I say warningly. "But I'm so far from being in the mood, I could be in Toledo."
"Hmmm," he murmurs, sliding his lips toward my neck. "You know what I learned in law school?"
"Huh uh," I breathe. My heart is pounding and I'm already panting. Shit. I look like a whale and I'm going to end up having sex with my unbelievably hot, hasn't-gained-any-sympathy-weight husband.
"The power of persistence," he answers. "And the art of persuasion." He pushes himself up as he reaches for my hand. Looking into my eyes, he lifts our joined fingers to his mouth and brushes his lips across my knuckles.
"More like coercion," I laugh. "Cheesy coercion."
"Is it working?" he smirks.
"Then I don't care what the hell you call it, wife," he replies, leaning down to kiss me again. I find that after a minute, I don't care what it's called either.
"All right, everyone. I'm feeling rather claustrophobic, so let's get this show on the road," Judge Peters announces from his desk. "Would the pertinent parties please step forward? Well, to the best of your ability."
We all laugh lightly as I look around the crowded office. Emmett and Alice have wedged themselves into a corner behind the judge's desk to take video and still photos. Edward's parents and mine are standing right behind us. Rosalie is trying to contain two year-old Paloma and all the Cullen and Whitlock boys in the back of the room. Aro, Heidi, Jake and Nessie, who also insisted on being here, are standing on one side of the judge's desk, while his secretary and the court reporter are sitting in chairs on the other side.
Edward, the kids, and I, who are the pertinent parties, are already standing in front of the desk, but we all move a little closer. As the court reporter types everything into the record, Judge Peters reads Edward's petition for adoption, and then excerpts from the recommendation letters written by Aro, Demetri, and a couple of Edward's law partners. He also notes the social worker's report endorses the adoption.
Collecting all the papers into a neat stack, he looks up at us. "Edward, is it your desire to adopt these three minor children?"
"It is, your honor," he answers.
"Bella, you have given consent and are in full support of Edward's petition?"
He nods at me, then turns his attention to the kids standing between Edward and me. "And, most importantly, you three. You each indicated to me earlier today, privately, that this is your wish as well. Correct?" After they answer yes, he smiles. "Then let's sign these papers and get you people on your way… and out of my office."
We all laugh again as he turns to his secretary and takes the folder she hands him. I sign all the documents first, then step back from the desk to watch the kids and Edward. I take a big breath and blow it out, then inhale sharply when my stomach tightens up.
"You all right there, Bells?" Jake whispers, looking at me with concern. I nod, but it's a lie. I don't feel so great all of a sudden. I've had contractions off and on since yesterday, but this one is much stronger.
I feel my dad at my back. "Lean back, sweetie," he says quietly. Carlisle grabs my wrist to take my pulse.
"I'm okay. It's just warm in here." But I lean back and close my eyes.
"Bella?" Edward sounds panicked.
"Finish," I mumble without opening my eyes. "And then I think we'd better call Dr. Brown."
"But you have a scheduled C-section in four days," Edward says.
"E, never argue with a woman in labor," Emmett laughs from the corner.
"You're gonna have the baby today, Mom?" Chase asks excitedly. "Yes! I'm finally gonna be a big brother."
"Honey, do you really think –," Edward asks.
"Finish," I order through clenched teeth.
When I hear the rustling of papers a minute later, I open my eyes. Judge Peters is smiling as he quietly congratulates Edward and the kids, and then he looks at me.
"Congratulations to you, too, Bella. These are the best kind of cases for someone like me who often oversees the dissolution of families," he says. "To see the creation and strengthening of a family makes the other parts of my job a bit more bearable."
"Thank you, sir."
"But it appears you have another event to get to," he chuckles. "So I'd better let you go. Would you like a quick photo first?"
I hang on to Edward's arm as we gather around the judge for the picture. Right after it's taken, another contraction hits, causing me to hiss and lean forward slightly.
"Okay, time to go," my mom announces, beginning to usher people out of the room. I hear her tell Edward that they'll take the kids and wait to hear from us. Carlisle steps out to call Dr. Brown for us, and returns almost immediately.
"Dr. Brown wants you to head straight to the hospital," he advises. "With two previous C-sections, your risk of uterine rupture is elevated the longer you labor."
"So I really am having this baby today," I mutter as we walk out to the hallway.
"I think so," he answers gently, seemingly realizing that I'm pretty close to freaking out. I've never been in labor. My scheduled deliveries have always happened on schedule, not ahead of schedule. "We'll meet you there."
"You're not going to pass out, are you?" I ask, using my left hand to pull the oxygen mask away from my face enough to talk.
"I'm fine. Leave that on," Edward scolds, taking my hand after I replace the mask. My right arm is immobilized since the IV is hooked up to it. "I wonder if it's some kind of record to go from legally having zero children to having four in one day. I mean without having quadruplets or something."
"Proud of yourself?" I tease.
"Proud of my wife and kids," he answers. I can't see his mouth since he's wearing a surgical mask like all the doctors and nurses, but I know he's smiling.
Suddenly Dr. Brown's eyes appear above the screen stretched over my chest. "Doing okay, Bella? You've got quite a bit of scar tissue, so we're taking our time."
"Is that bad?" Edward asks.
"It's normal. It just takes a little longer to get to baby. But we're monitoring them both and we can go faster if we need to," she answers.
Dr. Brown disappears again, but I can hear her and the assisting doc talking about their summer vacations, their kids, and other random subjects. Edward talks to me a little and the anesthesiologist asks me several questions, but mostly I'm just quiet, taking in the sounds around me – waiting impatiently for the baby's first cry.
"Okay, Bella. You'll feel pressure and then pulling," Dr. Brown announces. "Edward, if you'd like to get the first look, you can stand up."
Immediately, he's up from his stool, still clinging to my hand.
"Tell me," I plead, squeezing his fingers. I feel tears leaking from the corners of my eyes and running down to my temples.
"It's a… it's a boy, B," he says, glancing at me. When I hear his first cry, I laugh.
Dr. Brown holds him up above the screen for just a second so I can see him. "What's his name, Mom?"
"Anthony," I answer, pulling my hand out of Edward's. I lift the oxygen mask away again so I can speak clearly. "Anthony Aro Carlisle Cullen."
"That's a mouthful," she responds with a laugh, handing him off to a nurse.
"He has to match," Edward says, smiling at me briefly. "Long story."
Baby Anthony passes all the newborn tests, and soon the nurse is ready to take him to the nursery for his first bath.
"Dad, you come with me. We'll meet Mom in the recovery room in a few minutes," she orders.
Edward looks at me hesitantly.
"It's okay. Go with him. Go tell the kids and our family," I insist.
He wipes the tears from his eyes as he leans down, pressing his lips against my forehead. "I love you. I love you," he whispers. "I love you so much."
"I love you, too," I answer, reaching for his face. "Go. They're all waiting. Gramps will cry when he hears the name."
"I know, baby. I know."
August…two years later
"Dere's my baby," Anthony says as Edward carries him into the bedroom where I have just finished feeding our fifth – and final – child, Elizabeth Esme Renee Cullen. This pregnancy was harder on my body than the first three and Edward and I agreed that this will be the last.
"Remember to be gentle, buddy," Edward tells him, setting him down on the bed. As I look at the two of them, I smile. Anthony looks almost exactly like Edward did as a toddler. If I hadn't grown him in my body, I would think Edward illegally cloned himself.
"I hold," Anthony says, scooting across the bed toward me and Lizzy. Edward sits down on the other side of the bed. He settles Anthony against the headboard and puts a pillow on his lap.
Sniffling, I lay Lizzy down on the pillow gently.
"Hi, baby," Anthony says in a quiet voice, touching her gently, giggling when she grips his finger.
"She loves you, Anthony. Do you love her?" I ask, dropping a kiss onto his head. Sophie has appeared at the end of the bed with a camera and is snapping photos of Anthony's first time holding the baby. Michael and Chase are coming in the doorway as he answers.
"I yoves Zibby," he says.
"It's Lizzy, honey," I correct. "La-la, Lizzy."
"Ya-ya, Zibby," he tries to repeat. We all laugh and Anthony laughs, too, looking around at us. He loves to be the center of attention and especially loves when his big sister and brothers laugh at something he's said.
"You can call her Elizabeth," Edward suggests to him.
"No, Dada. Zibby," he says, looking sternly at Edward. The teenagers all laugh again.
"Yeah, Dad. It's Zibby," Chase says. I groan quietly and look over at Edward. I have a feeling this is going to stick. He smiles at me and asks Michael to go get Esme or Carlisle from the other room.
"I want a family picture of all of us on the day we brought the littlest Cullen home," he explains when I raise an eyebrow at him. I exhale slowly, puffing my cheeks out, trying to hold it together.
"Oh, no. Mom's getting ready to blow, Dad," Chase says, eyeing me warily.
Edward laughs and reaches over Anthony's head to put his hand on my neck. "She's fine. We're just happy to finally all be home together, right, B?"
I nod, not trusting myself to speak yet. Edward picks Lizzy up when Esme comes in and we all rearrange on the bed to get in the picture. Our big boys don't even grumble about having to take yet another family photo. Once we're done, the older kids offer to take Anthony to the park and Esme offers to hold her namesake so I can nap.
I lie down gingerly on my side of the bed and am not surprised when, a few minutes later, Edward comes in our room and shuts the door.
"How's Mommy?" he asks, dropping to his knees on the floor beside the bed to look at my face.
"Fine. Just an emotional, hormonal wreck. How's Daddy?" I ask, smiling tiredly at him.
"Good. I'm so happy that my girls are finally home," he says, bending forward to kiss my lips gently. "It's not the same around here without you." The week I spent in the hospital before Lizzy was born, plus the three days I spent there after, left Edward home alone with the four kids for ten days. My parents helped. Carlisle and Esme came when Lizzy was born and are staying another week until I can get around a little better. But I know Edward doesn't like it when I'm not here.
"Miss me?" I ask, tangling my hand in his hair.
"Like you wouldn't believe. Baby, please don't leave me alone with the teenagers again," he says, laughing against my lips. I laugh, too, then cringe when I feel the pull across my incision.
"Don't make me laugh," I chide. "Lay down with me?"
"I don't want to hurt you," he says.
"Just keep your hands up top and I'll be fine," I say, sighing as he climbs carefully on the bed and snuggles up behind me, wrapping his top arm around my shoulders.
"Bella, I could not have imagined five years ago that I would have you, have this family, be this happy," he says, his voice thick with emotion.
"SG, if you start crying, there's no way I'll be able to hold it together," I threaten, already feeling the tears gather in my eyes.
He laughs and sniffles behind me. "Okay, I'll stop. I just want you to know that it's still true, Bella. I still couldn't imagine my life without you, without all of our kids. The six of you are more than I ever hoped to have. I love you so much," he says, kissing against the back of my shoulder.
I reach my hand up to grab the arm he's got around me and try to hold the sobs in while letting the tears run down my face.
"Dammit, SG. Quit saying shit you know will make me cry," I say, bending my head down to kiss his arm. "I love you, too. Now let me get some sleep."
"Okay, wife," he says, shifting my hair out of the way to get his face nestled against my neck.
"That's still my favorite nickname," I say, smiling with my eyes closed as I scoot back closer to him.
"I know, baby, I know. Sleep. Zibby will be up before you know it," he says, chuckling into my skin.
"Oh hell. Not you, too," I mutter. But I can't stop smiling.
Christmas Eve… three years later
"Daddy, what means nocturnal?" Zibby asks from the back seat. She and Anthony are in the middle section of the SUV, and all three teens are smooshed into the back. They haven't complained too much, but I know it's because we're on our way to Carlisle and Esme's for Christmas… and presents. I never thought I'd feel this way, but thank God for the cell phones they are all playing on. It makes the three hour drive to Forks much more pleasant for Edward and me.
Edward is patiently explaining to Zibby what nocturnal means. I turn to look at her. She's nodding and I can practically see the wheels turning in her little head. As soon as he's done explaining, she's on to the next question.
"What means plastic?" I'm still looking at her and thinking it's a good thing that the older three kids look a little like me because the youngest two are all Edward. Not a trace of me in their hair, eyes, or faces.
I turn back around and am smiling out the front window until Zibby asks her next question.
"Daddy, what means fuggin' asshole?"
I gasp. The teenagers laugh uproariously in the back, momentarily focusing on something other than texting. I glance over at Edward and he's clearly trying not to laugh, too. I bite the inside of my cheek, but the smile breaks through anyway.
Edward reaches across the console to take my hand. "That's you, sailor," he accuses quietly, glancing at me quickly, his eyes shining with the laughter he's holding in.
"I know," I reply a little snarkily. "But I was talking about you." He loses the battle and laughs out loud then while I explain to Lizzy about grown up words and how she should not use those particular words again.
After a bit, it grows quiet in the back.
"They're all asleep. Even the big ones," I whisper to Edward. He squeezes the hand he's still holding and tugs on it a little until I lean over against his shoulder. "What are you thinking about?" I recognize the sentimental look on his face. The holidays always bring it out in him.
"About our first adult date. Remember the night we went to dinner? The first time you took me to Sophia's?" he asks. Of course I remember. It was the night we agreed to take a second chance on each other.
"Yes. What about it?" I reply quietly.
"In the car, we were talking about Nessie, about her name," he says.
"And we both said we'd never give a kid some crazy-ass name," I say, lifting my head to look over at him.
"And now we have a daughter named Zibby," he laughs, pulling our joined hands up to his mouth to kiss my hand. I chuckle with him. "But I wouldn't have it any other way. Life in this family is never boring."
"Is that what you wanted? A life that isn't boring?"
He shrugs, lowering our hands to his leg. "I wanted a life with you."
"I wanted a life with you, too," I sigh, leaning against him once more. "I mean, since Gramps was already spoken for."
He chuckles quietly, then turns serious. "We should probably try to get to L.A. a little more often this year, B."
"I know," I nod. Gramps and Heidi have both had health scares in the last few months. "I talked to Heidi this morning. They're anxious for us to get there next week."
"No, they're anxious for the kids to get there," he argues. "You and I become second-class citizens when they're around. Especially Anthony."
"Especially Anthony," I concur. We're both quiet, lost in our own thoughts for a moment. "We're lucky, Edward. All that we have – the kids, our family and friends. And each other."
"I agree," he says as we pass the Forks city limit sign. "Should we wake them or let them sleep five more minutes?"
"Sleep, definitely," I insist. "These are the last five minutes of peace we'll get until we go home in two days."
Stopped at a stoplight – rather, the stoplight – in Forks, Edward leans down to speak quietly in my ear. "You don't think everyone will stay in their own beds tonight?"
"We can hope," I reply, tilting my head toward him and looping my other arm around his neck.
"We've learned to be creative and quick," he murmurs.
"Uh huh," I agree, pressing my mouth to his. We kiss several times, moving our lips and tongues together slowly, until I pull away.
"It's going to be a long afternoon," he chuckles. He kisses me once more, and then turns his attention back to the stoplight. It's green, so he drives forward.
"Maybe we could offer to go to the store for your mom. She always needs something at the last minute," I suggest, smiling slyly at him.
"That might work, baby," he says, squeezing my hand. "None of the kids will want to go. I've taught you how to be sneaky, huh?"
"You have," I laugh. Turning sideways to face him, I continue. "But you taught me much more than that, Edward. You know that, right? Every day. My life is better because of you every day."
"I feel the same way about you," he answers lowly as he turns onto his parents' street. "Every day."
We're quiet until we've pulled into the drive way and stopped. Smiling, he turns to me and crooks his finger until I lean toward him.
"I love you," he says, then kisses me.
"I love you, too," I answer as I sit back up. "Ready?"
"Ready," he nods. "Let's go."