So here it is- my final chapter. I had hopes of posting last Thursday; the third anniversary of my first posting of Impact, but real life's obligations took precedence.
You'll notice we've taken a huge time jump. This chapter is a flashback of sorts, in Edward's point of view. The epilogue, which is in both points of view, will post soon-ish.
It's been brought to my attention that I might want to warn my readers that a portion of this chapter has sensitive information that some might find offensive or upsetting. It is Edward's account of his first day on the new job and a portion makes realistic reference to a procedure with laboratory animal subjects. If it concerns you and you'd choose not to read, the passage is preceeded by a page break that looks like this: ooo000ooo. An identical page break marks the end of the passage. You can choose whether you want to skim over it or read. I'm an animal lover and rarely ever step on a bug, but I also realize that there are reasons why laboratory animals are used before treatments are deemed safe for human beings. I don't condone animal cruelty and feel certain that my Edward treats his animal subjects as humanely as possible. I hope you can take it for what it is, just a day in the life of our Labward.
My ending author's note is long, but is by far the most important one I've ever written. Won't you please help me pay it forward by taking a few extra moments and reading to the very end?
Disclaimer: The characters of Twilight are owned by Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Impact's plot and original characterizations are the intellectual property of Nise7465.
From the day I began to fulfill my service obligation after graduation I was bounced from lab to lab, working with whatever research physician that needed an assistant on the publicly funded side of the institute.
During the first few weeks after I returned to the research facility after recovering from my accident, I had been placed with a well renowned investigator in the cardiology lab, assisting with a study on the role of bone marrow derived cells in cardiac repair. Ironically, it wouldn't be my compelling essays on the need for Central Nervous System research to benefit pediatric MS patients, but my contribution to a scholarly article that had been published while assisting in the cardio lab that would seal my fate as a research investigator in my own right.
In early summer, I got my second acceptance letter telling me that I had once again dodged the gauntlet and made the cut making me a contender for the final round of applicants. From that point on, it seemed everything picked up and my life took off like a runaway locomotive. I held on for dear life and prayed that we'd make it through unscathed. As a neurologist already established in a private practice, life after the fulfillment of my service obligation would have been much more predictable, manageable.
However, the people I looked up to, respected, they were the ones who prompted me to reach for more. Reach for the challenge and become all that I could be. And I wanted that, I really did, but I was fighting an internal struggle that made me question whether it was worth it. Would our relationship suffer as a result?
I suppose it was the uncertainty, the fear of not knowing how this change in career would affect our lives that had me out of sorts.
As soon as Jeff got the news that I was in the running for the final selection, he did everything in his power to ensure that I had ample time to prepare. There was a ton of footwork to be done and I was run ragged between the lab, the practice and my efforts to gather letters of recommendation from faculty who had worked with me. There were hours spent visiting my mentors and attending the required interviews in front of the selection committee, I could only hope and pray that my efforts would pay off in the end.
The interviews had been grueling, and I was wound tighter than an eight day clock until it was through, snapping at my friends and colleagues over the littlest things. Thankfully, I'd been able to rein in my anxiety when it came to Bella and our home continued to be my place of solace.
The first round of applicants had totaled more than fifty men and women, all equally gifted in their field of study, but by the September deadline for the final round of essays and supporting documentation, only eight of us remained, vying for those five coveted grants.
After I fulfilled all the requirements for the final round and submitted my packet to the committee, the only thing I could do was sit back and wait. While there was a twelve and a half percent chance that I'd make the cut, reality told me not to get my hopes up.
Bella and I had made a decision as a couple that no matter what the grant committee decreed, I'd concentrate my efforts on getting into some research program for CNS disorders. To show his support, Jeff had already begun sending me back-up information for upcoming opportunities where I could submit my research plan for grant consideration.
I'd been warned, I'd have a better chance being accepted into a program if we were willing to relocate should that be required, but Bella and I both agreed that there was no way we were going to move to another location. Bella made me feel like my dreams were important, that they held merit, but nothing was that important to me- not at the expense of tearing our family apart.
While people did it all the time, I realized, it would have been impractical for so many reasons to make a career driven move at that point in our lives. We were blissfully happy where we were and everyone and everything that held any importance to either of us was right there in Seattle.
Seattle was and always would be our home.
Autumn 2009 brought with it a flurry of activity. Knowing that there was even a remote possibility that I'd earn the grant award, I strived to fit everything I could into our personal lives fearing that if I did receive the award, time away from my family would be the greatest sacrifice.
Carlisle's amused comment that my obsessive compulsion to get everything done before I embarked on a career change was akin to a woman's urge to nest before she went into labor only served to frustrate me further, but in a sense he was right.
Like a mother-to-be, I had the all-consuming urge to fit everything I possibly could into those few short months, just in case. I found it difficult to turn off my mind, even in sleep.
It was early September and there were so many things that needed to be done. Things that needed to be accomplished around the house in preparation for winter, obligations that needed to be met with both the support group and the neurology clinic, personal time I wanted to spend with my parents and Bella, and oh, the many things we needed to do in order to prepare for the baby.
But, at a time when I wanted to spend every waking moment with Bella, it seemed like the moment I walked through the door, my body felt it was time to shut down and I crashed. I had spent the bulk of my summer fighting antibiotic resistant urinary tract infections, and Reilly had gotten me to a point where the only bacteria currently in my urine was the healthy flora that belonged there. Still, it had taken a toll on my health and I didn't have the energy I'd had before they invaded my system.
Bella had her share of ups and downs with her disease process, as well. While the pregnancy hormones did help to keep her MS in check, the stress her body was under manifested itself as unrelenting fatigue. When one of us wasn't snoring on the couch, it seemed that the other was. It wasn't all that uncommon to find us both in that state at the same time.
While I was filled with good intentions, there was just no way I could take on the world. I was working my mind into a frenzy and all that did was upset everyone close to me. I worried that Bella would take on too many responsibilities while she was pregnant because I wasn't there to help her or to delegate the task to someone who was able to do it for us. When Bella told my father that my erratic behavior was making her climb the walls, he dropped by my office for an impromptu visit.
I'd been working mornings in our neuro clinic and buzzing over to the lab after lunch all week. I'd just finished with my last patient and hurried into the office to grab my coat. I pushed the door open with my chair and Hershey let out a "woof" when he spied Carlisle sitting on my couch.
"To what do I owe this surprise? How can I help you, old man?"
He smiled hesitantly. "I actually stopped by to see what I could do to help you."
I cocked my head. "Help me?"
He stood and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Bella's worried about you, son."
I hung my head and sighed.
"There's so much to do. Things around the house and here at the office and we have the baby coming, I just feel like I'm spinning my wheels and not accomplishing anything. I'm letting her down when she needs me."
He gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"That's why you have a support system, Edward. We're here for you, all you have to do is ask. Let us help you shoulder the load son." The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled knowingly. "Remember, I've been where you're at right now."
"Thanks, Dad. I just," I shook my head in frustration. "I don't even know where to begin."
"We'll sort it all out..." And they did.
The following weekend while I was at work, Em and Jasper stopped to clean out the gutters. Carlisle took the screens out of the windows and prepared the yard for winter. Esme bathed Hershey and clipped his nails, and Rose, Alice and Guy helped Bella sort out her old bedroom in preparation for the baby.
When the outside work was done, and Bella's personal items had been placed throughout the house, the guys hauled the rest of her things which had been boxed up to the basement storage closet. The only things left in the room were Bella's old rocking chair and her large collection of children's books, a collection that had only grown larger after Bella had moved all of her personal effects from her classroom into our home.
It had been a long day of Saturday rotation for me and I couldn't wait to get home. My day started with a stroke consult in the emergency room followed by two in-house calls to see patients who had been moved to a floor. After catching up on a ton of charting, I ended my day back in the emergency department consulting with the frantic parents of a small boy who was exhibiting symptoms of a seizure disorder.
So much responsibility being a parent.
How did people do it and retain their sanity? While the prospect of being wholly responsible for a child had to be exhilarating, it had to be terrifying as well.
The sight of our driveway was a relief after such a long day and conflicted ride home. Even though I was tired, the thought of spending a few hours of quality time with our loved ones raised my spirits significantly.
Carlisle greeted me in the front yard with a rake in his gloved hands. I pulled onto the lawn and watched as he pulled leaves out from behind the bushes that I couldn't reach from my chair.
He stood and stretched his back. "Hey, I brought you something. Your mother bought it for me, but I much prefer the gas powered type. Since you have a smaller yard, the short battery life shouldn't be an issue."
Hershey watched from the porch as my dad pulled a tool out of a box and set it on my lap. He held it while I situated the handle in my left hand.
"I thought we could find a way to rig it so your arm doesn't tire holding it, bungee cord the front to your footrest perhaps?"
I pushed the button and it sprung to life. Hershey, who had been fascinated up to that point, recoiled from the sound.
I lowered it to the ground and began chasing the few stray leaves that remained into the huge pile next to the sidewalk.
Jasper's unmistakable laugh caught my attention and I turned the leaf blower off and pulled it back up onto my lap. It wasn't heavy, just a few pounds, and perhaps, like Carlisle suggested, a simple modification would make it easier for me to hold with one hand while I drove my chair with the other. I hadn't done any sort of yard work, other than watering plants in Esme's raised planters since before I'd ended up in the chair. It felt good.
"If your day job doesn't pan out, we could always get you one of those zero-degree radius lawn mowers. Bella could put ya on the seat with your Hoyer in the morning and you could drive from house to house till she gets home at night."
"Hardy-har. How you doing man?"
"I'm good, we got a lot done today."
"About that, thanks. I really appreciate it."
"It was like old times. We all had lunch together, and then we got busy. Everything's done, I was just coming out to see if your dad needed a hand with anything. The girls are out back."
I stopped on my way through the kitchen to feed Hershey and take my evening meds. I watched with a smile from the kitchen window as three giggling girls dragged a basket of blankets and throws from inside the house.
It made me happy to see everyone laughing and having fun.
The sun was going down, when I made it outside to join the group that had assembled in our backyard. Darkness came early anymore and there was a chill in the air, but it would be a pleasant evening for the gang to congregate and just spend some time together.
Alice and Esme lit the fire while Rosalie gently rubbed her hand over Bella's tummy, then draped a soft blanket over her shoulders and gently tucked it around her front before leading her to a cushion next to the fire.
As attentive as she was with my girl, Rose's attention soon turned to her son. She watched him with love and adoration and I couldn't help but marvel over how he'd grown under her care.
I joined Emmett, Jasper and Guy in a lazy game of catch. We played until it was too dark to see, and then joined the gang for friendly conversation around the fire. Guy giggled when Hershey dropped a soggy tennis ball into his lap just begging to play catch a little while longer.
Back when he'd first come into our lives, his life was in a state of upheaval; the only parental figure he had in his life had been taken from him, he had been removed from his home, he had some medical issues and very little self esteem. Life with Emmett and Rose had been good to him, they worked as a team to bolster his self confidence and include him in activities which not only improved his coordination but helped him become more physically fit and ultimately improved his cardiac health. They wanted nothing more than to see him independent and well.
I reached my hand out to Bella and she took it, allowing me to tug her off the bench and invite her onto my lap. She snuggled into the circle of my arms with a contented sigh. My fingers drifted to the swell of her tummy, caressing her softly and soothingly. When I'd stop rubbing, tiny little ripples would flutter under my fingertips making me smile. We were engaging in our own little game of hide and seek. I couldn't wait until our little one was ready to come out and play.
Bella yawned and snuggled in a little more closely. She'd never admit it, but I could tell that the pregnancy was wearing her out.
I loved watching Bella's expanding waistline, much to her chagrin. It seemed as if her baby belly had exploded over night. The added weight in the front really threw off her balance and affected her gait, to the point that many of her evening walks were cut short, turning instead into evening strolls on my chair.
The first night it happened, she'd been in such a great mood. It was a lovely fall night with a gentle, warm breeze and we were having a wonderful time until we encountered a pair of ignorant old biddies sitting in the courtyard of our complex.
I suppose to some the sight of Bella and I wasn't something they expected. There we were- my paraplegic self and my girl, strolling along at a crawl- her one hand clutching her cane and the other safely ensconced firmly in my grip.
For us, our pregnancy was nothing short of a miracle- still there were people who looked at us like they couldn't fathom how we could ever be adequate parents. One look and you could almost see the wheels turning inside their heads.
Bella and I had walked nearly a mile when I felt her falter. Always vigilant, fearful that she'd fall and hurt herself or the baby, I stopped rolling and took her cane from her, stowing it on the back of my chair. I then proceeded to pull her onto my lap and kiss her.
With the chair turned off, the only sounds were the gentle rustle of leaves and the conversation coming from the little gazebo to my left.
I was well acquainted with mood swing Bella, and wasn't really looking forward to seeing her rear her angry head on what had been such a pleasant outing, even if it were completely justified.
I'd heard comments before, about people like us bringing a baby into the world, but that particular night the conversation was most certainly aimed at us.
"Did you see that? He's crippled and they're having a baby, she can barely walk herself. How will they ever be able to care for a baby?"
How dare they?
I saw red. They could say what they wanted about me, but I was infuriated when they verbally attacked my girl. Had I not been raised as a gentleman, I'd have shot back an ugly retort, but it wouldn't have done anything but fuel the fire.
My girl could barely contain her rage or her tears. I held Bella tight and made a hasty retreat dragging poor Hershey as fast as his little legs would carry him, all the while, attempting to smooth Bella's ruffled feathers.
"It's not worth it baby, they're not worth it."
"What's that old saying?" She asked cynically. "Better to act dumb than to open your mouth and remove all doubt?"
"Yeah, I think, but you're not the dumb one here. They're not worth getting yourself all worked up over."
No sooner had my moody girl's anger dissipated, than she crumbled into a blubbering mess.
Thankfully we'd made it to the sanctuary of our home where she crawled onto the couch with her back to me. It took forever for the tears to subside, and I rubbed her back until she finally cried herself to sleep. The hiccoughs continued into her restless slumber.
It was while I watched her sleep that I called my mother.
We'd decided to wait until the baby was born to exchange our vows. I'd been in and out of the hospital several times during my bout with the UTI's and we'd had to postpone our June wedding.
It was ignorance that sometimes led people to the misconception that individuals with disabilities were much more dependent on others than we really were.
Maybe those old biddies were right in one aspect, how could I properly care for her without making her my wife?
Perhaps I couldn't change people's perception of us, as a couple who had disabilities, but one thing I could do was put a wedding ring on her finger and make her my partner in every way.
We both understood how unpredictable life could be and I wanted her to benefit from everything married couples shared. Not just in name, but I needed to know that she would reap the benefits of my health insurance, my life insurance, and my pension, should something happen and I were to succumb to a complication of my disability.
I needed to know that she was provided for, and I wanted our baby to have that security as well.
"Hey Mom. How are you?"
"I'm good. How are you? How's Bella?"
"She's good. Resting right now. That's kinda why I wanted to talk to you."
I proceeded to tell Esme about our evening, and my desire to make Bella my wife before our baby came into the world.
"Poor darling. I want to come over there and give those old bats a piece of my mind."
I chuckled. "Nah, Mom, you don't want to do that. You need it all yourself."
I could hear the smile in her voice when she asked, "Well, if you won't let me do that, how can I help?"
By the time I got off the phone, I'd planned an impromptu celebration with my mother who had volunteered to send out the invitations and contact Bella's parents. When she urged me to allow her to call Renee I hesitated, but I knew that even though she shrugged it off, Bella was hurting over her mother's disinterest in our life together. Esme suggested that perhaps a mother to mother conversation was just what Renee needed to get her head out of her behind. I knew that if anyone could approach the situation with grace and tact, it was Esme.
Bella was initially mortified that I'd gone ahead and made such a huge decision without her, she didn't want to get married 'looking like a whale' but when I explained myself and reminded her that only our closest friends would be there anyway and they were all over the moon about the baby, she readily agreed.
Esme's offer to call Renee though, not so much.
Several days later, however, Renee called asking for Bella.
I wasn't privy to their conversation, but Bella exited our room with a smile on her face and a new spring in her step. She crawled up into my lap and kissed me. "Thank you."
"I didn't do anything."
"No, but Esme did and she wouldn't have; had you told her not to. So thank you."
"You should share those sentiments with Esme."
"Already did. Oh, and plan on two more for the wedding."
"Oh, Baby. I'm so happy for you. Is everything okay?"
"Okay. Not perfect, but we'll get there I think."
I hadn't told Bella that I knew, but Esme had been appalled when she called me after her visit with Renee. Apparently Bella's mother was of the mindset that Bella had just given up and allowed her disability to rule her life. She felt that she should be fighting it with everything she had, when in her mother's eyes, she had given up, electing to immerse herself in the disability community. I guess Esme actually laughed when Renee said that if she didn't know better she'd think Bella was proud of her disability.
We'd have to work on her misconceptions.
It sounded like Renee's greatest concern was my ability to care for Bella. Apparently Esme straightened her out, reminding her that marriage was a partnership of two people caring for one another and by the time the conversation was over, Renee was asking for our home phone number and apologizing for ever doubting her daughter or my abilities to be a good husband. I had no doubts that Esme had explained our situation in a manner that even Renee could understand.
It pleased me greatly to know that the fence had been mended. Bella and her mother could begin to repair the relationship that had begun to deteriorate when Bella's MS first presented itself. She needed her mother, and it sounded like they'd once been close. Perhaps they could have that again, if nothing else, Bella would have the satisfaction of knowing she tried.
When our wedding day arrived, Bella was in the middle of a flare-up. Between the flare and the pregnancy hormones, she was a mess. It was all she could do to walk to the bathroom from her side of the bed, and in a matter of hours she was supposed to make her way through my parent's back yard to the makeshift altar where we planned to exchange our vows.
While she showered, I took matters into my own hands. Several creatively placed phone calls and everything was taken care of.
When she exited the bathroom, I tugged her onto my lap and asked her not to overdo it. To hell with tradition. We were going to do things our way. It was our day. It was about us and no one else. I didn't want her so wiped out that she couldn't enjoy her once in a lifetime experience.
After sharing a quiet breakfast, we showered and dressed casually. The drive to my parents was silent, both of us lost in thought. I delivered her to my old bedroom and into the waiting arms of our mothers with a kiss on the lips and the promise that I'd return for her in a few hours.
I don't know what women did to primp and prepare for events such as a wedding, but it seemed I waited forever for someone to let me know she was ready.
Charlie was more than understanding when I explained the situation and Angela was fine with us changing up the ceremony, assuring me that we could do whatever we wanted, it was, after all, our day.
I stood on the back porch, staring out at our friends who had assembled under Carlisle's tree. My best man stood next to me in silent support. I marveled over the turn my life had taken because my father had volunteered me to consult on yet another one of his cases. I could never thank him enough for bringing her into my life.
I smiled when I got my mother's text saying Alice was putting the finishing touches on Bella's make-up and they'd be ready in no time.
"Time to rock and roll, Pops. Thanks for standing up for me today." I reached out, adjusted my best man's tie and patted down his lapels, straightened his rosebud boutonniere.
Carlisle looked down at my nervous hands, laughing softly. "Isn't that supposed to be my job?"
"I suppose I'm a little nervous."
"Go get your girl, son."
I took a deep breath and stood my chair, more than ready to collect my bride.
I arrived just in time to see her stand on wobbly legs and smooth her ivory dress down over the swell of her tummy. Rosalie had styled her hair into curls that cascaded down her back.
Esme gripped Bella's shoulders and peered from behind her into their combined reflection in the mirror. "You look lovely, my dear. You'll blow him away." Esme exclaimed as I smiled from the doorway. For just a second I closed my eyes and imagined my mother in her place. They looked so much alike, even her voice...
There were days when I felt like they were right there with us in our home and I knew they were smiling down on us that day as we exchanged our vows.
I sucked in a deep, calming breath and gently tapped on the doorframe.
"Your chariot awaits m'lady. Don't want to be late to your own wedding."
She sucked in a stuttered breath when she saw me standing there, eyeing me up from head to toe.
"You're breathtaking in a tuxedo."
I took in the shimmering satin of the dress that accentuated all of her luscious curves. "You're pretty breathtaking yourself."
I held out the bouquet I'd snagged from the refrigerator on my way through the kitchen.
She took it from me, raising it to her face and inhaling deeply. The autumn colored flowers were bursting with an incredible aroma.
She gestured between herself and I. "Isn't this bad luck?"
"Do you really believe in superstitions?"
"It feels wrong to tempt fate."
I lowered my chair and offered my hand. "But Baby, this feels so right. We've been tempting fate since the day we met. Let's go make this official."
She sniffed, muttering a comment that we had deprived her dad of an essential fatherly duty. I shook my head, explaining that Charlie was fine with what we were about to do.
"My dad has been looking forward to this day practically my entire life..."
"He understands, your parents will be waiting at the altar to give you away. Are you ready, my love?"
She settled into my lap gingerly. The act conjured up fond memories of the first times she'd done that, back when my body was broken and my legs were fragile. She'd always been so careful.
"Let's get this show on the road." Alice exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Come on, it's not every day that two of my best friends tie the knot."
When we had arrived to take our places at the altar, not only had someone thoughtfully set out chairs for the entire wedding party, but Bella remained on my lap throughout the entire ceremony. It might have been a little unorthodox, but for us, it was perfect.
And after she was legally mine, we went to Olivia's where Willow and her crew had everything decorated beautifully in a fall theme. We spent a quiet, uncomplicated evening in the lounge celebrating with our friends and dancing to a jazz band in front of the fire. By nine o'clock, Bella was asleep in my arms.
Instead of venturing all the way to the cabin like we'd originally planned, we spent a quiet weekend in the bed and breakfast across the street from the restaurant, knowing that once we got home, our lives would return to the craziness that had become our normal.
After months of submitting essays and applications and sitting on pins and needles, I finally received my final round notification letter from the grant committee.
Late one November afternoon, I found myself behind the desk in my study holding the envelope that had the potential to change my life. Our lives. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing that the second I stuck the letter opener under that flap- no matter what the outcome, everything would be different.
And it was.
Jeff and Dr. Burch had things under control with the practice, but it wasn't without some amount of trepidation that I began making preparations to leave. When Jeff invited me to join his practice, I'd seen it as a long term career move. Never in a million years had I seen myself leaving after only a few years.
I worked crazy hours in the neurology clinic, transferring patients to my colleagues, going over patient files to ensure that they were complete. Patients who I'd taken a let's wait and see approach with, I called in to consult before handing them off to another's care. Some of them deserved more definitive testing. Although most would continue to see one of the two remaining doctors in our practice, others would seek care elsewhere and I refused to leave even one of them feeling like they had been shortchanged.
The most reassuring part of the entire shift in my career was the news that my job transfer was not considered a breach of contract in regards to my loan repayment program. I would not be penalized for changing positions. Even though I was working in the other half of the same building, the study I'd be involved with wasn't qualified work and I was released from my service obligation early with no penalties.
In the long run, it would take a little longer to pay off my education, but I wouldn't be penalized with the exorbitant monthly fees several of my classmates had been charged for voluntary early withdrawal.
I wanted to fit everything I could into our life before I began my three year research grant, knowing that I'd be absent much more than I ever wanted to be once the new position began.
Our lives became a whirlwind of activity and in no time, Christmas was once again upon us. Bella continued to struggle with pregnancy issues, so Esme hosted a huge family get together with Bella's entire extended family from Forks. It was unfortunate that Renee was unable to come out, but she'd been here for our wedding and that was much more meaningful to Bella.
After spending a lazy morning opening gifts we prepared to drive over to my parents and settle in for a long day.
Jane and Alec had dropped by the house as we were getting ready to go. "We just wanted to drop these off." Jane said, handing Bella a tray of Christmas cookies. "Charlotte and I baked all week."
I pulled her into a one armed hug. "I'm so glad you've become close." She needed a woman in her life, someone she could go to for advice. A true mother.
"Yeah, she's really great. Peter is pretty cool, too. I really enjoy working with him. He offered me a full-time job when I graduate, but I'm going to go to college part-time and keep working mornings in the office."
"That's great Jane. I'm proud of you, kid." She'd grown so much from the shy, reclusive girl I'd met all those months ago in rehab.
Alec was wooing my pregnant wife so I had to give him grief over it. "Dude, what are you doing? Trying to move in on my territory while my back was turned?"
He laughed. "You know she's always had a soft spot in her heart for me, haven't you, doll?"
Bella pushed on his shoulder playfully. "I told you Alec, I've only got eyes for one man. Aren't you taken anyway?"
Jane laughed and tugged on his jacket. "Come on Romeo, they've got plans." She gave Bella a gentle squeeze. "Call us when the holidays are over, we should do a movie night or something."
"We will. Have a nice holiday."
The Christmas celebration was in full swing when we arrived at my parent's house. Alice tugged my coat off my shoulders and I caught a glint of something shiny for a split second. I was quicker than she was and caught her left hand in my own.
"What's this Ali?" I asked with a smile, rubbing my thumb over the modest stone.
I heard Jasper chuckle from behind me. "I think they call it a Christmas present."
"Looks like more than a Christmas present to me."
Alice smiled up at me with watery eyes. "Sure took us long enough, didn't it?"
I hugged her tight. "As long as you figured it out, that's all that matters. Are you happy?"
"Congratulations. Have you told everyone?"
"We called our parents, then Rose and Emmett this morning. And Esme, well, she made a scene as soon as she saw it. You and Bella were the only ones who didn't know."
Bella turned from the coat closet. "Know what?"
Alice held out her hand and both girls squealed, hugging each other tightly.
Knowing that several family members had medical backgrounds and wanting to keep a lid on the gender of the baby a short while longer, we decided to not present my parents the framed copy of Bella's most recent ultrasound in the presence of everyone else.
I had watched with a smile as Bella slipped into Carlisle's study while Alice had been assisting me to pull off my coat. By the time my short exchange with Alice and Jasper was over, she was hanging her coat in the closet and nobody was the wiser.
Baby Cullen made out like a bandit, raking in all sorts of toys and clothing. One would have thought it was a baby shower and not a Christmas celebration.
Alice had begged us to find out the sex of the baby so she could help decorate the nursery, because heaven forbid, a girl could not possibly occupy Bella's old room until it had been properly decorated with all things pink and frilly. Bella quickly and confidently reminded her that the room had been decorated for a girl when the house was built and the room had never been pink, or frilly.
Bella wanted to design the nursery on her own terms, while we wanted more than one child anything could happen and we had no idea what the future held for us. This could be our only experience and she wanted to relish it without a lot of outside pressure. While we finally knew what we were having, Bella and I had chosen a gender neutral theme revolving around a number of childhood literature characters we had both known and loved as children. It seemed only fitting.
I remember that day like it was yesterday.
Bella picked up a well worn collection of children's classics and sat in her childhood rocker examining the object in her hands thoughtfully. Her fingers ghosted over the cover art as she smiled wistfully.
"You know I was thinking. Esme mentioned that a friend of hers is a painter who specializes in children's themed rooms." She held up the book she was holding. The back cover was a collage of beloved characters.
"Would you object if we did something like this in lieu of a typical nursery that the baby will just outgrow in a few years anyway?"
I held my arms out and she stepped into my embrace.
"I think that's perfect, baby."
Even though Renee and Bella were on the mend, it had been Esme who'd been mothering my girl for so long, even before we had become a couple. It made me feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside when Bella announced that she'd made plans with my mom to go baby shopping on the evenings I was scheduled to work late. She wanted to share with Esme the opportunity Mother Nature had stolen away. Esme was over the moon about the baby and I knew from the beginning that she'd be the most hands-on grandparent of them all.
The sounds and smells of a gourmet feast wafted from the kitchen and Esme shooed Bella away every time she attempted to help.
Esme refused to allow Bella to lift a finger, and truly, all the work had already been done. Esme's cleaning woman ran a side catering business with her sister, both widowed without family obligations; they'd readily accepted the job of preparing and serving our meal.
Rose, Emmett and Guy were the last guests to arrive and we all stood around visiting until Esme announced it was time to be seated.
Rose pulled out the seat next to me and sat down. She leaned in close to my ear and whispered. "After dinner, do you think we could have a private moment? I could really use your advice."
I nodded and then turned to Carlisle as he stood to bless our family, our loved ones who were absent and finally the wonderful meal before us. Bella gave my hand a squeeze and we both whispered Amen.
My eyes remained closed a moment longer as I said a silent prayer for my parents, wishing more than anything that they could share in the wonderful life I'd been gifted.
It was the first Christmas in years that I hadn't spent at least some portion of with Maggie. She and Liam had followed through on their dream and were in Cambodia spending their holiday caring for under-privileged children. She'd always been a nurturer and she'd found her calling. I wondered if they'd ever come home or if this would become a permanent vocation for them.
She'd been such an influential part of my life for so many years. It was incomprehensible to me that it would be at least ten months until they were stateside, if not longer. For our wedding, she sent us a beautifully crafted basket, woven by a Cambodian farmer. We received a card with a lengthy letter for Christmas, but it just wasn't the same as having her here.
I missed so much more than just the cookies.
A brightly wrapped set of rose chintz teacups sat under our tree. I'd put them away until she came home in the fall and we caught up on life.
Everyone chattered around the table. So many good things were happening in the lives of the people we loved.
Once again, Demetri was spending the holiday with his family, but this time the entire Mitchell family were all living under the same roof. In July, he'd received a substantial settlement from his former employer and while they were currently renting a large home on the outskirts of the city, ground had been broken on the large piece of property they'd purchased with the money from the sale of their home in Gold Bar.
While Demetri continued to need more personal care, Alec had become quite self-sufficient requiring Alice's services less and less. When Demetri was reunited with his family, Alec continued to maintain the apartment at Sanctuary while attending the University of Washington.
The Meteors had made it all the way to the state championships and one of the guys had been approached by a scout for the Paralympic basketball team. Emmett was like a proud father singing the praises of his boys.
Alice gushed about her summer plans for a huge fairytale wedding and asked Bella and Rose to be joint matrons of honor. She was still sharing her ideas with everyone when we moved into the living room so the caterers could clean up and be on their way.
Carlisle tipped his head and gestured for his study.
I don't think anyone even noticed when we snuck away.
He lifted the frame and studied it, his features soft.
"I saw your beautiful wife sneak in here with this when you arrived. I assumed you wanted to keep it under wraps a while longer."
I nodded, watching with pride as he caressed our baby's face with the tips of his fingers and then leaned back in his leather chair, folding his hands behind his head.
"So, I don't see a..."
I cleared my throat softly, slightly overcome with emotion. "Nah, I didn't either."
"So, a little girl, perhaps? That's pretty incredible."
My face broke into a huge grin. "Yeah, it is, isn't it?"
"When you gonna tell your Mom?"
"Later, after things wind down."
"You know she's going to confront me as soon as everyone leaves. She'll want my professional opinion on the gender of her grandbaby."
I shrugged. "That's fine. You won't steal our thunder if you tell her. Bella wanted to keep it under wraps until she and Esme were done decorating the nursery. That's something special she wants to share with Mom."
"I can't tell you how happy that's made Esme."
"I can imagine."
"She has so much love to give. She's going to spoil your child."
"You can't spoil a child with love."
"No, you can't." He smiled at the first ultrasound picture we'd given them, back when our baby looked like more like a peanut than a human. "I can't believe you're going to be a father in a few short months."
I shook my head in disbelief. No, I couldn't quite wrap my head around it either.
Carlisle opened a drawer and pulled out his prized bottle of single malt scotch pouring a small amount in each of two glasses. "I think this event calls for celebration."
It was the same brand he used to share with my father.
He shared a warm smile with me. "You know, I've never had the pleasure of sharing this with you."
I shook my head. "I don't really..."
"It's a taste experience like no other."
I'd had scotch whiskey before but nothing as smooth as Carlisle's, I remembered my dad telling me that one day it would be an experience I'd come to appreciate.
"That was nice. Thanks."
He pulled a Cuban out of his humidor. "Cigar?"
Smoking was something I'd never done. I didn't think it would be a pleasant experience. "Uh, no thanks. I don't want to embarrass myself."
"Alright." He chuckled. "Perhaps when the baby comes. We'll have to buy a whole box to hand out."
There was a quiet tap on the door and Rosalie poked her head through the door.
"Hey, Guy is getting antsy. We're going to head out soon. I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye." Carlisle stood up and came from behind his desk. "Always so nice to see you, my dear. Please give my regards to your parents."
Carlisle put his hand on the small of her back to begin guiding her out the door. She gave me a worried look and I interrupted.
"Rose, can I talk to you? There was something I wanted to discuss before you go. Carlisle, could you give us a moment? We'll be right out."
"I'll just go say goodbye to the boys." He dipped his head. "Rose."
Rose walked to the bookshelf and picked up a photo of the bunch of us. "It seems like it's been so long since some of these were taken." And it had been. There were photos of the four of us, Rose, Jasper, Alice and me at Carlisle and Esme's cabin. It had been years ago during one of the rare occasions where I'd come home from med school and actually spent vacation time with my family.
"So, there was a pressing matter you wanted to discuss?"
She smiled as she pulled a manila envelope from her purse.
"Actually, I was hoping to get your opinion about something. I uh, I was talking to Opal."
"The attorney from the CIL?"
Rose nodded her head. "Mmhmm. She's handling a private adoption for a couple, and decided to run it past me."
I knew Rose didn't normally handle family law issues, so it seemed odd that Opal would ask her for advice. My gaze drifted to the envelope.
"Why did she ask for your assistance?"
"She didn't. Well, not the way you're thinking."
"I don't understand."
"She, um, the child- she's an infant with Downs. It's an older couple, change of life baby. They had twins. They had an amnio and the little boy was fine, but the little girl tested positive. Their obstetrician pressured them to have a therapeutic abortion. Tried to convince her that the boy would be healthier, larger, if he was the only one in the womb. Told them the girl would never have any quality of life. Gave them all sorts of scenarios why they shouldn't continue the pregnancy. He made it sound like having Downs was a death sentence for their child."
"And they chose to not terminate her, but they don't want her?"
I was seething. I hated the fact that the science that was my very livelihood, was sophisticated enough to put people in a position where they could be selective about the babies they chose to terminate. I wasn't a staunch prolife advocate per se, but my profession put me in an awkward position. I took a Hippocratic Oath where I vowed to hold all life sacred, but at the same time, much of the work I did depended on the availability of human embryos.
"No, calm down, it's not like that. They were planning to raise her, but I don't think they were prepared for all of her health issues." She handed me the envelope. I opened it, reading the physicians notes logged by a number of neonatal specialists.
In the 1920's a baby born with Downs and congenital heart disease didn't live into her teens, and today, with the proper care she could live well into her fifties and beyond.
Baby girl Jones had come into the world with a shaky start, but it appeared she might be on more firm footing already. At only a few weeks old she had already undergone several open heart procedures. She had a Mickey Button in her tummy to receive nourishment and physical therapy was working with her.
"They just don't feel they are in a position to give her everything she needs." Rose explained when I handed the folder back to her. "They want more for her."
Our eyes met, and suddenly I understood. "Oh, Rose. Are you sure?"
Her eyes were all misty and I could tell she'd already made the decision. "Yeah," she whispered.
"Are you going to be able to handle her health care issues? Nothing in life is guaranteed."
Her fingers ghosted over the locket that still hung around her neck, but she remained quiet.
"What if, heaven forbid, you lost her too?" I asked. This wasn't something to take lightly. I didn't know if Rose could handle that kind of loss a second time.
"I never planned to have children, you know. Royce and I, we were career driven. But I think, maybe God gave me Emily to show me that my life was destined for something more than a courtroom."
"I could have told you that. But... "
"We'll be alright," she interrupted.
"How do you think all this will affect Guy?"
"He's leaving us, Edward," she whispered.
Since their trip last January, Guy and Tracy had become inseparable friends, and while they'd probably never have a typical romantic relationship, they took turns staying with Em and Rose, or with Tracy's mom.
"He wants to go to Portland. I knew Guy wasn't going to be with us forever. He's leaving in June after graduation. I'd never hold him back. He's a young man with dreams. He should be able to realize those dreams."
Emmett had seemed relieved when Guy told him that doing anything more than kissing with a girl was gross, and he had been more than willing to decorate a girlie pink bedroom for Tracy when she came to visit. Guy also had his own room, in Tracy's home.
They were cute together, holding hands or kissing and giggling softly. It was sweet to witness their interaction, both of them obviously happy. When they told Emmett and Rose they wanted to be together as a couple, Tracy being the more verbose of the two of them, Rose sat down with Tracy's mom and they talked about their fears and concerns; then they came up with a plan that made everyone happy.
With a three hour distance between residences, the most practical solution was for them to reside with one family or the other. While possessing basic independent living skills, everyone agreed- the kids included, that while neither Guy or Tracy were really prepared to live independently, they could certainly live as friends in a parental household. They just knew they wanted to be together. It was a blossoming relationship in its simplest form.
Rose had explained to me when they first began to discuss it that she'd never keep Guy from experiencing true happiness and if she had to let him go, she'd rather give him wings and set him free than cage him and see him unhappy.
Apparently that time had come.
"You're not doing this to fill that void are you?"
Her eyes jerked up to meet mine. "Oh, God, no. I could never replace him, and I don't feel as if we're losing him. He calls home nearly every day when he is with them. But I want him to be able to experience everything life has to offer him."
"You know, you and Em are still practically newlyweds. Perhaps you should be concentrating on having babies of your own, this little girl will find a home. You should be taking this free time and traveling, getting to know your husband."
"I already know my husband, Edward. He'd never tell me no."
"Of course he wouldn't. But this isn't like bringing home a puppy. This is a baby. A very sick baby. One that will require a lot of care."
She blew out a gust of air. "I know."
"From everything I've read in her file, it sounds like she's received excellent medical care and she appears to be improving. There's no reason to suspect she won't live a long happy life, but that doesn't mean she's going to be like most newborns when she comes home. Bringing home any baby is a life changing event, but a special needs child will require even more time and attention."
The conversation which was meant to discourage her from leaping into something without considering all the pros and cons did exactly the opposite.
"When have you known me to back down from a challenge?"
I just shook my head. The girl had tunnel vision once she had chosen her course. "Have you told him yet?"
She shook her head. "Not in so many words."
"Isn't this a conversation you should be having with him?"
"I'm going to talk with him as soon as we get home. I wanted to get your take on her medical needs first. I knew you'd be honest with me about her prognosis."
"But in your heart you've already decided. How will you be able to juggle work and family?"
"We'll only do it if he agrees. I'd never push him into this if he was reluctant. She deserves to have two parents who are fully invested in her future. As for work, I'm planning on leaving the firm."
"You were working towards making partner. If Guy moves, you can actively pursue that. What about your dreams, Ro?"
"Em hasn't told anyone yet, but we're opening two more gyms. He's going to need me at home. We've already made the decision. I'll still be a partner, just in a very different context. He needs someone to handle the business end of things. I can do that from home or I can take a baby with me to work. I'm not sacrificing my dreams. I think I'm just beginning to realize that I never truly knew what they were."
"So you're leaving law completely?"
"Nah, I think I'm going to offer my services to families with special needs family members. I've helped Opal set up a number of special needs trusts and done some estate planning for those families. I think it would be very fulfilling to use my experience in a manner that will help families that might not otherwise be able to afford those services. Someone has to look out for our kids, make sure they are protected when their parents can no longer care for them."
"Yes, like Guy. Had he gone to a facility where he had to pay a portion of his care, his money would have been exhausted in no time at all. The trust I've set up for him is fully funded and should be self-sustaining. I couldn't sleep if I knew his future was precarious."
She picked the envelope off the desk, shuffling her feet nervously and never taking her eyes off the floor. "So the baby?"
"It looks like she has a long road to recovery, but she's a fighter. I suspect the worst of it is behind her."
"I'm going to take Emmett to see her tomorrow. She'll be in the PICU several more weeks. I just can't stand it, knowing that she has nowhere to go when she's discharged- no one to love her. She's absolutely beautiful."
"I'm sure he'll be as smitten as you are, but this really is a decision that you should weigh heavily. Don't rush in out of some misplaced sense of obligation."
She wiped her eyes with a tissue. "No, we won't. I've spoken with her doctors. She seems to be over the hurdle. She needs a loving home and someone to take time working with her. I'd like to be that for her, and I think Emmett will too. We've discussed adopting another special needs child, I just didn't know it would happen so quickly." She stood at the door with her hand on the knob.
"Let us know what you decide. I'll do anything I can to help if you need referrals for specialists or anything. Good luck, Rose."
"Thanks. It means a lot. If Bella needs anything, tell her to give me a call."
"She's doing alright now, but closer to her time- it might be nice to have someone drop by from time to time, maybe drive her to the store. She's already uncomfortable behind the steering wheel."
"Not a problem."
Emmett pounded on the door. "Hey baby, you about ready? Your boy wants to get home and call his girl. I'm afraid he'll explode if he has to wait much longer."
"I guess that's my cue to go. Good night Edward."
"Good night guys. See you soon."
When we got home, Bella and I stretched out together on the sofa. The tree twinkled softly and Christmas carols played quietly in the background. Bella's back was to me and I made circles on her tummy with my fingers, flattening my hand out and smiling when a flutter of activity occurred under her blouse.
"It won't be long and this will all be over. Do you have any regrets, knowing this could be the only one?"
She turned in my arms. "Life doesn't hold promises for anyone. Do you know how many couples plan to have large families only to have their plans changed? Did you know Renee had cervical cancer after I was born? She could have never carried a second child to term if she'd wanted to. I don't regret one single minute with you. You're everything I could have asked for and more."
The evening after New Year's Day, the staff from our practice rented a small banquet room at a local restaurant to celebrate my new job. Esme and Bella met us there and Carlisle stopped after his shift at the hospital was over.
There wasn't a dry eye when Jeff toasted to my success and showered me with accolades. He said he knew I was destined for success when we first met and while he'd miss me, he would be anxiously awaiting news of my first discoveries as a full-fledged research scientist.
I promised to work hard and make them all proud.
As cliché as it sounded, the next morning was the beginning of the rest of my life.
I awoke filled with excitement and anticipation.
For as long as I had desired to work with Dr. Horner in the CNS lab, the opportunity had never presented itself. The day I had waited for my entire career had finally come.
And so it began... my first week-long exploration; a study in directing spinal cord lesion repairs by engineering brain tissue.
However, my first day didn't go the way I'd anticipated and I was in a terrible mood. I couldn't wait to get home to Bella. I knew that once I strolled through that door and into her warm embrace, my sour mood would wash away.
Oh how I longed to be home...
I was directed to a station that had been specifically set up to accommodate my needs. A special lab table had been installed- a huge recess cut out of it so that I could pull in and access things all around me, instead of having to reach for things that were too far away. I shared a cubicle with a scientist named Suki. She had been here a while, would show me the ropes.
Suki introduced me to scientists I'd never met, and showed me state of the art equipment that I'd never encountered anywhere before. Apparently privately funded, didn't mean disadvantaged in any way.
While I had worked in other labs, each one was independent and they were all different. I was also on the other side of the wall then. When ISCRM moved to its new facility, the new building was split in half by a fireproof barrier. One half of the building housed government funded projects, and the other half housed privately funded projects such as embryonic stem cell studies. I had never been permitted to work on the privately funded side, because my loan reduction was federally funded through the NIH. Now that I was in a fellowship of my own, I was permitted to work on the private side of the wall. I was excited to be venturing into unchartered waters for the first time.
This lab was highly sophisticated, and it had things we only dreamed of acquiring on the government funded side of the wall.
Suki explained that much of my work would be with mammal subjects, which was alright, I'd worked with animals before. Years of biology had acquainted me with them. I looked around noting a number of caged mice and rats. For the next three years, they would be my test subjects, co-workers... experiments. I knew many a scientist that was closer to his lab rats than his colleagues, even though he only worked with each animal for a limited period of time. And as such, most of my subjects would be short-lived.
On the other side, I'd been, most recently, working with human tissue, but had no aversion to working with rodents. Along the far end of my station were a handful of empty warming cages. Apparently they were for my subjects after I was done conducting the day's study. It sort of looked like a small animal OR recovery. I guess, in actuality, it was.
We knew that scarring inhibited regeneration of spinal tissue. I pulled up the information I'd be using for my experiment and gathered the surgical supplies I'd need.
I pulled test subject one out of his little cage. I put the little guy under with anesthesia that was injected into the large vein in his tail. I went through the steps to ensure a sterile surgical field and applied a sterile drape to keep him warm.
When I was satisfied that he was prepared for surgery I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
I can do this.
The goal was to perform a T9-10 laminectomy, using scissors and forceps to permanently sever his spinal cord down to the central canal. Once I successfully created a lesion, I was to suture the wound closed and allow him to recuperate in a warmed cage. It was my job to administer analgesics and antibiotics as necessary to keep him comfortable and free of infection until the wound was healed.
While his SCI healed, another mouse would be anesthetized, killed by intracardiac perfusion, and his brain tissue removed in order to process it for re-implantation in test subject one. If successful, good old number one would be healed and the experiment would be a success. That was, however, the goal for the experiment.
I looked down at little number one as he lay splayed out on a heated slab. The drape, made from an adhesive film, secured his little body so that I could perform his surgical SCI. I picked up my scalpel and held it over him with trembling hands. Taking a steadying breath, I made a midline incision from neck to tail.
Ever so gently, I pulled back skin and muscle tissue to reveal his spine. I wiped away a tear as I thought about what I was doing- permanently paralyzing a living creature, even if he was just a mouse. With scissors poised to make the cut, my world tilted on its axis and I watched the room spin before everything went dark.
An acrid odor assaulted me, and I jerked awake. I was lying supine in my chair, looking at the ceiling. Suki's smiling face was gazing down at me and I groaned. I did not pass out dissecting a mouse.
I... passed out... dissecting a mouse.
"Come on Cullen, you need to put the big boy pants on before your mouse wakes up. Time's a wasting."
I raised my chair to the sitting position. "How did you... ?"
"My dad is a Vietnam Vet, he's got a similar chair. What happened there? You okay?"
"Yeah, I guess so. I think it was the subject matter. It was a little surreal thinking I was going to administer an SCI to a healthy mammal. I thought I could do it. I'll be alright."
"The only way to learn how to ride... is to get back on the bike. Come on, I'll show you the first time."
Suki walked me through the procedure, and soon, surgically paralyzed number one was resting comfortably in his warm home, and I'd be catering to his every need. For the next week I'd be monitoring him and managing his pain, watching for signs of infection, and making sure he didn't become dehydrated. I'd inject him at 24 hours with a substance that would prepare his spine to receive the cells I'd be growing for him. At three and seven days post SCI, I would inject my genetically altered cells from Number two, and hopefully I would have facilitated communication between the brain tissue I harvested and the stem cells I'd cloned in an incubator. If I was successful in my experiment- at fourteen days post op, there would be no locomotor dysfunction remaining. And number one would be good to go. And if not, it was my job to euthanize him and move on.
By the time I left the lab that day, the fate of three, four, five, and six had been determined as well. Half of them were newly paralyzed, but resting peacefully, blissed out on mousie downers, while the others were no longer with us, their little brains cooking in Petri dishes in my incubator.
Yes, it was my first day at a lab I'd waited to work in for most of my student medical career, but I never expected it to be such a difficult experience. I was sure I'd get used to it, and in time I wouldn't be so flustered about the things I had to do. I was still a little freaked out about my involvement in paralyzing living creatures when I got to my car.
It had snowed while I was inside, and my car was covered with the white crap. I had an extendable brush to clean the car off with, but the plow had pushed snow up against my car, the entire way around, and it was going to be tough to get close enough to get it completely clean. Just as I was finishing up, someone drove by me, hitting a slushy puddle and the lower half of my body was covered with it.
I had gotten the car as clean as I could, and hurried inside, sitting and waiting until it got warm enough for the rest of the snow to drop off by itself. I was cold and wet and cranky by the time I was able to pull out of my parking space and head home.
All I wanted when I got there was to crawl into a warm bath tub and go to bed.
When I got to the house, the lights were all off.
Where is Bella?
She was more than six months pregnant, and while she was in wonderful health even off of her medication, I worried incessantly that something could go wrong. What if she lost her balance and fell?
Oh God, is she okay?
Like I did every day after work, I stood my chair before I punched the code into the door and hurried inside. I feared something was amiss and knew I wouldn't feel better until I found my wife.
My senses were assaulted with an incredible aroma as soon as I was through the door.
Oh Mrs. Cullen, what have you been cooking?
I could see all the way to the kitchen and it was dark throughout the house with the exception of the little electric markers that I put in all the wall outlets so I could find my way in the dark. As I went from room to room, I flipped the lights on until I looked down the hallway and noticed the sliver of light peeking out from under our bedroom door.
I put my coat away as I passed the hall closet and made my way to our bedroom.
I poked my head inside our room and found my vixen sprawled across the bed, wearing a smile, and little more.
My girl was feeling feisty tonight.
She'd been so tired of late and it was true, my day had been long and I was mentally exhausted, but there was no way I wanted to miss whatever it was she had planned for us. If she could stay awake for it, so could I.
I looked on my nightstand and there next to the lamp was the Uroject syringe, an alcohol prep pad, and a condom. I had to laugh; my girl was planning to get lucky.
She crawled across the bed, stepping down and padding across the floor to me. I ran my hands through her hair as we kissed. "Hey baby. How's my baby?"
"Mmmm. Sleeping. I think she wore herself out." I ran my hands over her shoulders and she leaned into me, wrapping her arms around my waist. She gave me a squeeze as she nuzzled into my chest.
"Ooh, you're wet and cold!"
I grumbled about my experience in the parking lot.
She wrapped my up in her embrace. "I know just the way to get you warm."
I rested my cheek on the top of her head, thankful to be home and in her arms, even if I was cold and uncomfortable. She had a way of making it all go away.
Her smell was intoxicating. Fresh and clean. My hands found their way to her tummy, cupping it, caressing the bump. "Was she active today?"
Her shoulders shook as she chuckled. "I think she was perfecting some kind of Michael Jackson dance move. She's been spinning and kicking me all day."
I cocked my head and gestured towards the night stand. "Are you sure you're up for this? You're not too tired?"
"The better question is, are you?" She giggled as she stepped away from me and stole another kiss. Leaning in close she reached up and took my necktie in her hands, gently working the knot loose and slipping it off. "You look like you need to relax a little. Busy day at the lab, Dr. Cullen?"
I groaned. "You don't even want to know."
She was infinitely curious, the former teacher in her, always on a quest to learn... "Why?"
I couldn't even look at her I was so embarrassed. "I fainted. Swooned like a little girl. I feel like such a sissy."
She dipped down so she could look up into my face. "Do I want to know?"
"Maybe later?" Translated into maybe you'll forget and I can save face.
"Later then." My Bella took control of my chair and lowered me until I was sitting, before she stepped around behind me and started with her fingers, massaging my scalp and tugging at my locks. I leaned into her touch. My eyes were closed and I moaned when she began working over the shells of my ears with her thumbs and index fingers... gently massaging and squeezing. She leaned down from behind and nipped my left lobe, kissing my neck before she was through.
"Can I draw you a bath, Baby? You look tense."
"Mmhmm... a bath would be very nice. I was dreaming of a bath not long ago."
"Fancy that... and here we are."
"Not too hot if you're joining me. Okay?"
Bella sauntered, well... as well as one could saunter with a baby belly... into the bathroom and turned on the water, she flipped the hydro lever on my bath-buddy and I watched as the water pressure raised the seat out of the big overflow tub we loved to share. Bella swiveled the seat and locked it into place so I could transfer onto it.
Transferring in and out of the tub was something I still considered a little hazardous, and I really didn't want to fall. As if she could read my mind, Bella whispered. "Don't worry, love, I already called Ali. She's close by if we get in a bind." She gave me a sweet kiss on the lips and said, "We'll be fine."
"Just let me use the toilet and I'll be ready."
I stood my chair and loosened my pants. Pushing them down as far as I could before sitting back down. I used my reacher to open the Velcro on my shoes and push them off. When they hit the floor, I picked them up, one at a time and set them neatly out of the way so Bella wouldn't trip over them. My pants were next and went right into the hamper.
I pulled out a catheter and took care of business. I only once made the mistake of not urinating before shooting the Uroject. Trying to shove a catheter up there while I was medicated and erect was a near impossible and very uncomfortable, situation.
I washed up and went into the bedroom. Bella had stretched out again. She looked tired.
"You sure about this babe? We don't have to."
"Oh I'm very sure about this. Give Little Eddie a jab and let's get this show on the road." I had to laugh at her lighthearted attitude. Once upon a time I had feared it would be a deal breaker, and now, like all our other differences... it was our norm... and that was okay.
I had barely taken the shot, and my girl took my hand, leading me out of the bedroom. "Come on, let's get you warm. Your clothing was so wet. Your skin is like ice."
I pulled my transfer board from my bag so I could get onto the bath buddy. Bella laid a hand towel on it so I could slide. "Alice will help you get out."
I was relieved; I did not want a pregnant Bella trying to keep a wet paraplegic me off the bathroom floor.
"You have to get the condom, love."
While it had taken so long for me to find my way, intimately, I was convinced that it had been Bella I'd been waiting for my entire life.
Our lovemaking was surreal.
I was sad that I had missed this for so many years, but sharing the experience with only her... incredible.
While I took my shirt off, Bella went into the bedroom, getting the condom from the nightstand. I was almost ready. I had to be fully erect for it to stay on in water. If we put it on too soon, and I got down into the tub, it could come off. Once I was wet, it would be almost impossible to get the same snug fit. The condom was merely a precaution, but one I wasn't willing to take lightly.
Since the antibiotic resistant kidney infection right after she'd conceived, we'd used a condom during every physical encounter. We'd already achieved pregnancy and there was no way I'd risk releasing MRSA bacteria near her womb while she was carrying our baby.
I slid onto the bath buddy and Bella buckled me in. There were those times when I wanted to just say screw the precautions, and leave off the belt... but I knew that we couldn't afford for me to slide off the bath chair, either. Naked, wet, slippery... those things all spelled out a recipe for disaster. I didn't want to go back to the hospital, I'd just left.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bella open the little foil packet and pull out the barrier. She pinched the end and rolled it down over me, leaning in to kiss my lips as she got me situated. There was nothing embarrassing about her helping me anymore, I finally realized it was all part of the seduction, and the love I felt for her swelled in my chest.
Before she pivoted the bath buddy seat and swung my legs over the edge, she got down on her knees between my legs and licked her lips to moisten them before running them over my latex covered member. It made my heart ache to have to do it that way.
She said the latex had an unpleasant taste, but her safety was paramount. For me, the condom didn't cause a lack of sensation. My excitement came from watching as she worked her mouth over me, touching places that were nowhere near my groin. Tiny hands ghosted over my hips, with barely a whisper. Down over the fronts of my thighs, and back up across my nipples. Touching, teasing, tugging... My body was awash in sensation...
I could feel the flush on my chest, and the pounding of my heart. The noise of a freight train rushed through my head. Finding release for me was more mental than physical, but after some practice, my baby knew all the right places that elicited a response. Fingers curled and dug into her skin... hands clenched... my entire body locking down in wave after wave of sensation. When my muscles relaxed and my body slumped, I was thankful for the belt that held me in place.
Bella leaned back, looking smug, before she smiled up at me. "Baby, that was beautiful."
Holding onto me for support, she stood. Her lips caressed me, warm and wet and I shuddered. "You're very cold Doctor Cullen, we really need to heat you up." What a double entendre. Yes, she'd be getting me warmer, in every sense of the words. After checking the tip to make sure it was still empty, she helped lift my legs and swung them into the tub. Bella winked at me and said, "There you go, he's all wrapped up and ready to play."
With a tiny lurch the seat began to lower me into the tub. I could hear the water overflowing into the channel that would return it to the tub. Warm water enveloped me and I could feel my entire body relax. Wet heat was everywhere, warming parts of me I didn't even realize were cold.
Bella moved very carefully and I reached out to steady her as she sat on the edge of the tub, swinging her legs into the pool of warm water. Straddling my legs, she lowered herself onto her knees in front of me.
"I've missed you Dr. Cullen. I'm so glad you're home." She began planting kisses on my face and her belly bumped into mine when she leaned closer. We both laughed and I gently cupped her bump with my hands. All our love was in there, and I couldn't wait to meet our little gal.
Placing her hands down over mine, she gripped them to steady herself and gently straddled the seat that I was tethered to. She bit her lip as she sank down over me and I was lost in sensation. True, much of my lower half was void of sensation, but the special places that knew only her touch came to life.
Kissing, sucking, nibbling... lips and necks and earlobes... her hands on my shoulders and mine on her hips guided her body as she danced over mine. The water gently sloshed over the sides as we rocked together. I lowered my hands to her behind, and cupped her cheeks, helping her to lift with each stroke.
Making love in the water was easy for her, the buoyancy meaning less work. There were nights when my guilt was almost too much bear. It was unfair that she had to work so hard, when her body was already stressed and tired. It made her angry when I mentioned it. I wasn't going to ruin our lovemaking tonight. So, instead, I'd help as much as I was able in this position. As much as I loved our big tub, the wheelchair greatly leveled the playing field; I think it was, by far, my favorite playground.
As she worked herself over my body, I could see the blush growing over her chest and the sheen of sweat that caused her entire body to glisten. I relied on her tells to know she was close. The grip on my shoulders grew increasingly tighter and her gaze was focused on some point behind me. Then she closed her eyes and pushed her head into my shoulder. Gripping me tightly, she shuddered against me while the muscles in her body contracted around me... arms... legs... Her entire body- one giant convulsing mess as she came undone.
Slumping into me, we clung to each other. I knew she was spent. Her MS... The hot water... our lovemaking... the added strain of carrying our child... all culminated into her exhaustion.
"Bella. Baby? We need to get you out of this water." One of the greatest benefits of the Sok tub, was its ability to retain the heat of the water for extended periods of time. She squirmed into me, holding on even tighter. I didn't want her to get too hot. While I knew she'd be fine and the water was luke warm by most people's standards, we couldn't afford the added strain on her body while she was carrying our child.
She latched onto me tighter. "I don't wanna get out. It feels so good just holding you like this."
I looked at the clock, Alice would be here soon. "Come on baby, let's get you up, before Lizzie gets all pruney." Ever so gently, Bella backed off of my lap. I took her hands and helped her to stand. "Careful, don't slip." I'd lose my mind if she fell and I was powerless to help her. I was relieved when I looked on the seat of my chair and saw the cordless phone within my reach.
When did she put that there?
Slowly and cautiously she rested on the side of the tub. One leg at a time lifted over the side. Testing her balance, she steadied herself with my chair as she stood.
"Let's keep you warm Edward." Before tending to herself, she switched on the jets and turned on my hot water. I watched as she retrieved a towel and dried herself. She wrapped her damp hair in a towel and took her big fluffy bathrobe from the hook on the wall. It was so long when she put it on, that it pooled on the floor. I cringed when she wore, it, terrified that she'd trip. She loved it, but acknowledged my fears, so it was saved for moments like this where she took only a few steps with it bunched up at her hips until she found a safe place to snuggle. Apparently, this evening, that place was right next to me. Pulling it around her and tying the sash above our bump, she climbed into my chair. She clicked it on, reclining it and turning on her side to watch me.
"You look mighty comfortable there, Mrs. Cullen."
"Mmmm. I am. I understand why you are able to live in this chair. It feels almost like a cocoon. I could just about go to sleep."
"It's okay, if you do."
"I'm all snuggly and sated... and the sound of those bubbles is so calming... I'll try to stay awake, Edward."
I leaned back and relaxed, letting the soothing water wash over me. I looked over to where my wife was snoring softly, so thankful for this... our love... our life... together.
This has been an incredible journey and it would have never happened without the love and support of my readers. Your words of kindness and encouragement mean more to me than you'll ever know.
A more formal thank you will follow my epilogue when it posts.
For now, I leave you with my final public service announcement. ;-)
In lieu of leaving me a review, please take those few minutes and check out the following story.
Since January 1, 2013, Impact has had nearly 12,000 views and 4,000 visitors. On average I receive 30 reviews. I've never been in this for the reviews, my reward has always come from writing this story and getting to know all of you, but just this once, I ask that you do something in thanks for this story.
If every single person who reads this chapter reads the following human interest story and does something about it, we could make a huge difference.
Jenny Hatch's story is what Impact is all about- raising awareness and bringing about change.
One of my readers sent me a PM saying Impact is too political and she only wants to read about Edward and Bella and nothing else. This story comes from the heart, and while I could write a fluffy little love story with tons of smut and no plot, I chose to write about real life situations that real people with real disabilities face every day. Unfortunately politics play a huge part in those day to day situations, I don't care what corner of the world you live in.
If you're still here reading Impact, obviously it wasn't for the smut, but for the story, politics and all. So many of you have told me about events that have changed in your life as a result of this story, I hope that I've left you with a desire to do something.
What better way to end my final chapter?
If you think back, Jenny's story is reminiscent of an Impact chapter, which was, incidentally, written about a man from my home town who found himself in a similar situation. His neighborhood family and friends filled a bus, armed with hundreds of signatures and they packed the small courtroom where the decision was made to allow him to return to the only home he'd ever known.
Jenny Hatch is twenty-eight years old, lives in the state of Virginia and was fully integrated into her community. She is a high functioning individual with Down Syndrome who lived with a loving family, worked twenty hours per week in a retail thrift store, and is adored by everyone who knows her.
Two years ago, Jenny was riding her bicycle and was hit by a car. Her mother was unable to care for her after the accident, and she was taken in by the family she has worked for since 2008.
In October 2012, Jenny's mother signed over temporary guardianship of the young woman to a group home; robbing Jenny of not only her independence, but the freedom to choose where she wants to live and whom she wants to live with.
One of my readers, cjminecnc, is championing for Jenny and asked that I spread the word. While I've shared this story with local friends and family, I'm remiss not to have shared this with my fanfiction family when I posted my last chapter; because it's far more important than any of the things that I became distracted with in my own life.
It's my understanding that there is a court date on February 7, to hand down a decision in regards to whether Jenny will be permitted to make her own choices, most importantly whether she can choose where she wants to live.
Ultimately, that decision should belong to Jenny and no one else.
I truly believe that when enough voices are heard, people listen. Here's our opportunity to advocate and help bring about change. Perhaps we can play a role in helping Jenny to go back to the home she loves and to the people who love her.
I could never do Jenny's story justice, but a Virginia new station has done a splendid job of bringing awareness to her story.
If you type wavy dot com into your browser, you'll be directed to the proper website. In the upper right corner there is a search box. Just type in "Justice for Jenny". You'll find links for nearly a dozen reports, they follow the timeline of the case from October 2012, to present.
There is also a Facebook page for Jenny. Search "Justice for Jenny".
Thank you in advance for helping to be a voice for Jenny.
She deserves to be heard.
The epi will post as soon as I'm able.
Thank you for reading.