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.
Life was good. Really good.
While personal time was at a premium we'd learned, as Carlisle had predicted, to juggle home life around our working hours and once we'd gotten into a rhythm, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd made it out to be, in my head.
I loved my job.
I thought I'd loved my partnership with Jeff, and at the time I truly had, but the mental stimulation that came from establishing my own line of stable adult stem cells and manipulating them in a manner where they might one day replicate damaged nerve tissue was like nothing I'd ever experienced in my career.
I wasn't naïve. I made the conscious decision when I applied for that grant to follow a path that could involve the destruction of human embryos to further scientific research.
There was a time when I'd allowed Carlisle to convince me that embryonic stem cells held the promise for a much different future in regards to the outcome of my disability. Back then a conflict raged inside me over the moral/ethical dilemma of benefiting from something that meant the destruction of a human life.
Now, I found it nearly impossible to balance that fine line of justification. My own personal struggle with fertility changed how I saw a lot of things. I'd never forget how it felt to wonder if I'd ever father a child, or the rush of exhilaration when I first got the news that I had.
I was pleasantly surprised and very much relieved when Carlisle shared the news that the research center where I would be working acquired stem cells exclusively from a reproductive center that adhered to the practice of obtaining a single blastomere from an embryo, which, instead of destroying the embryo, allowed it to survive the cell extraction and continue to grow normally to the stage where it could be implanted in the mother's uterus.
I found pride working with a group of doctors who were driven to eradicate disease through science but refused to do so at the expense of human life, no matter how far developed that life might be. That conviction to preserve human life rather than sacrifice it for the greater good was a deep seeded belief I embraced. The excitement of medical progress was much more appealing to me with the knowledge that I could irrefutably uphold the oath I'd taken as a doctor to preserve life and hold it sacred.
I understood that to be a successful scientist, one had to be objective. Theoretically, the origin of the stem cells I was working with should have been of little consequence, and for many research fellows, the manner in which they were derived held little significance, aside from the fact that embryonic cells were much more versatile, as they could be used to reproduce any human cell. Many scientists saw those cells as a by-product of medical trash which they could recycle.
In my mind, I saw them as something similar to donated organs. The parents who selflessly donated the cells for research truly had donated the gift of life and there was no one who understood more than I did just how precious that was.
While it was my job to take the stem cells that were available to me and utilize them in a manner that would allow me to establish lines that could one day eradicate disease in ways that had never before been possible, I was confident that I could conduct the research I had set out to not only ethically, but through means that would allow me to sleep at night.
Before my three year grant period ended, it was my goal to begin building the stepping stones of research that would allow scientists to stop the destruction of nerve tissue that resulted from the demyelination caused by Multiple Sclerosis. If finding the pieces to the puzzle that would enable medicine to begin solving the mystery that was MS, I'd been successful as a scientist, neurologist and husband. I didn't want to fix Bella, but I felt an inherent need to do something to keep that disease from doing to my wife what I'd seen it do to others in the prime of their lives. I couldn't live with myself if I sat back and did nothing when I had that power within my grasp.
The success I'd achieved in my early studies on mice on the effects of reprogramming brain tissue to repair spinal cord lesions, was just the beginning, there was so much to learn and I had been blessed with a situation that would allow me to do so.
While I had committed to the lab full-time, I still missed the personal interaction with my patients. They had come to me from all walks of life and it was a joy getting to know each of them.
Working daily with laboratory rats and cells in Petri dishes just didn't compare to spending one on one time with human beings, however, I held firm to the belief that I had made the career move for the ultimate benefit of those individuals and I felt confident that I had left them in the most capable of hands.
On the home front, I had never felt more loved or appreciated than I did each day when I walked through the door.
Home was my sanctuary. From the moment I came through that door, I felt loved.
My beautiful, incredible wife, lover and best friend.
Over the time since I'd left teaching and had moved into advocacy full-time, I found myself involved in a number of disability related organizations, an active member of different committees, and a participant in workshop after workshop. It seemed crazy, I had grown from a woman who didn't have a clue how I'd ever find my way in this world, to the person I was now. Strong, confident, assertive. Instead of wanting to bury my head in the sand in hopes it would all go away, like I had so many times in those early months with a disability, I found a passion I didn't know existed.
On those lonely Tuesday nights when Edward worked an evening shift in the lab, I ventured out to visit his support group. Even though my days at the center were fulfilling, the frequent nights when he worked became terribly lonely and it was nice to get out of the house and interact in a social manner. There was usually an activity planned and refreshments were served, so I assisted in any way I could. Even though he didn't regularly attend, this group was his brainchild, and I felt a responsibility as his wife to help it remain successful.
In the beginning, I was uncomfortable when someone would look at my growing tummy with longing in their eyes. I understood what they were going through. I'd witnessed Edward's struggle with the insecurity of male factor infertility and had lived through the uncertainty of whether we would be able to have a child of our own.
As I attended on a more regular basis, I got to know everyone and they began to ask questions. Individuals shared their experiences and some, like Edward, had given up on that essential part of their lives. With Edward's blessing, I shared our experience and those looks of longing became smiles of hope.
In no time, the commonly absent Dr. Cullen began to get requests to attend and share our fertility experience from his perspective. They were almost insatiable in their desire to know what he'd gone through.
How did he handle the disappointment? How did we cope with it as a couple? How could he keep trying when it seemed nothing worked? I looked up from the table where I was setting out a display of sensory technology from the pediatric medical supply company I'd visited at the abilities expo, to find him smiling in my direction.
He peppered the disappointing moments of our story with humorous ones, like the battle with the sample packages during his college years between himself and his well-meaning, but relentless father; to the wonderful night we spent experimenting with the sensory toys; he concluded with my fall out of bed as my parents slept in the room below us. Thank God he left out my most embarrassing moment, the night he came face to face with Mr. Lucky.
"With the right partner, anything is possible," he encouraged. "Any time I had doubts, she found a way to turn it around and give me just what I needed. There were times I had to do the same thing for her. I'm confident now, that if we weren't able to experience the joys of love making in the traditional sense, our physical relationship would still be passionate and fulfilling. It took a long time for me to understand that. I was so stuck on being able to satisfy her with that one piece of my anatomy, that I overlooked so many of the creative ways a couple can share to make love."
Everyone loved Edward.
No matter where I went, it seemed someone we knew stopped me to ask how he was and to congratulate me on our little blessing.
He took expectant fathering seriously and from the day he found out I was pregnant, he'd begun to prepare. He was determined to be the best father he could be.
Someone told me they had seen him out about town for a walk in his wheelchair with a baby pack strapped to his front; a large stuffed animal tucked safely inside. When I dropped by for an appointment with my neurologist, his former partner shared that he'd seen him sitting in on a lunch hour class the hospital offered for expectant daddies, his account of my studious husband bathing and diapering a simulated newborn was too sweet. Another afternoon I came home to find him snoozing in his tilted chair with a pregnancy book propped open across his chest. Even though he'd captured my heart ages before, things like that made me swoon all the more.
When the time came to celebrate, it seemed only natural to have a couple's baby shower. I wanted to share the entire pregnancy experience with him and spending a fun afternoon with friends and family was something we had both enjoyed.
When the girls and I sat down and created a small guest list, it was with sadness that I realized our very first supporter was in another country and couldn't possibly be a part of our celebration. Although they had both been busy, and spending one on one time with Maggie wasn't something he did as much as he'd have liked to, I knew he lamented her absence. It was one thing to miss someone you could easily drop in on if you had the desire to visit; it was something entirely different to long for that person when they were completely inaccessible to you.
I couldn't imagine not extending an invitation to one of my husband's oldest and dearest friends, so we sent her an announcement with a copy of our most recent ultrasound, even though it would arrive late and she'd never be able to attend.
By the end of my second trimester I began to slow down, and after attending a team meeting with my husband, my neurologist and my obstetrician we jointly agreed it would be best to cut my hours back to a part time status with no out of town trips. It was an even harder pill to swallow several weeks later, when I made the decision to start my leave.
Ideally, I had wanted to work right up until the day the baby was born, but my body kept sending little messages in an attempt to change my mind. Perhaps I was acting so stubborn because for the first time since my diagnosis I felt really good- as long as I could keep my eyes open.
Between the pregnancy and my MS, I suffered incapacitating bouts of exhaustion. The exhaustion led to lingering brain fog and I knew I wasn't performing my job to the best of my abilities, but the afternoon I had to pull into a shopping center parking lot to take a nap three blocks from home, because I kept nodding off behind the wheel, was the final straw.
It was with a heavy heart that I submitted my request for leave the next day as I handed in my quarterly report for the previous period.
Dr. Cullen doted on me and tried to keep me entertained whenever he could, but I had self-deprecating moments where not even the fact that I was incubating a human being could provide the feeling of self worth that employment had. I felt lazy and useless, sitting around the house with my feet up while my dear husband worked long hours to support us.
Turns out, the shower was the opportunity to break up the monotony and brighten my sour mood.
We had a wonderful time!
The boys played a few rounds on our game system in the basement while I watched. Upstairs, Esme and Sue refused to let me lift a finger in the kitchen as they plated refreshments; I huffed and made my way to the living room. Rose, Alice and Jane were putting the finishing touch on decorations. No one needed me.
Sulking, I plopped into the old leather chair in the alcove and watched with a smile as "Uncle Carlisle" entertained little Hope under the scrutiny of her big brother, Guy. She didn't take her eyes off the fire place, mesmerized by the flickering flames until she heard the booming voice of her daddy. Emmett scooped her up and with exaggerated animation and swung her carefully through the air. I held my breath, but the gentle giant supported her tiny body in the protection of his capable hands.
Her soft coos and squeals were a beautiful sound. She's had her share of ups and downs since her birth, but Edward assured me she was on stable ground. Sitting around all day waiting for our baby to come gave me plenty of idle time to obsess over all the things that could go wrong with a newborn.
Rose had shared her little angel's story with us and it scared the hell out of me.
The couple who had given baby Hope life never imagined their fertility efforts would turn out as they had.
Numerous failed fertility attempts had culminated with the twin pregnancy. The attempt at IVF they'd deemed their last ditch effort resulted in a multiple birth that brought with it both their lifelong dream as a couple and their greatest fear- all in one gut wrenching package.
They were crushed by guilt over the happiness of taking one healthy baby home from the hospital while the other clung to life in the NICU. Fate had dealt them a cruel hand, for every newborn milestone their little boy achieved; it seemed another heartache arose for their little girl.
Shortly after open heart surgery to repair a heart valve defect, the tiny baby had become septic from a bacterial infection in her colon. To save her, Rose explained, an emergency surgery was conducted to remove a substantial portion of her large intestine which had become necrotic. Instead of starting to get better, it seemed the tiny girl continued to get sicker and sicker.
Her birth parents, were in emotional turmoil over the moral decision they'd made to continue the little girl's gestation after they learned she would be born with Downs. They had consciously made the choice to bring an infant who turned out to be gravely ill into the world against the advice of their obstetrician and their genetic counselor. How could they justify their happiness over the perfect baby they'd longed for their entire marriage, while wondering if they hadn't made a terrible mistake?
Stricken with guilt and fearing that they'd made the decision to spare her for selfish reasons, they met with their clergy for guidance. While she was nearing the end of her childbearing years, neither of them had considered themselves too old to rear a child, but the fear of committing the rest of their lives to a child whose prognosis was so dire seemed incomprehensible.
After much soul searching, they decided they weren't capable of providing the level of care their infant daughter would require and hired Opal to assist them in finding suitable parents for their daughter through an independent adoption. While it was perfectly legal for them to notify any hospital employee that they could not care for her and simply walk away without incrimination under the safe haven surrender laws, they wanted to know that the little girl they'd brought into the world would find a home with a couple who would love her and provide the things they feared they could not.
While I could tell it angered Edward beyond words that they had walked away from their baby at a time when she needed them most, it was impossible to argue that being adopted by Emmett and Rose wasn't the best possible outcome her parents could have hoped for.
In the near future, she was scheduled to undergo a surgical procedure to close the ostomy, and in a few years, she would require more surgery to repair her heart defect. So many complicated things for such a little girl to go through. But if anyone could get her through it, it would be Em and Rose.
After months of working with an occupational therapist to improve sucking and swallowing, she was taking in a few ounces of formula at a time by mouth. When her weight was within her target range, her doctor planned to remove the Mickey Button that allowed her to be fed with a feeding tube. It was exciting to see her blossoming under their loving care. While still exceptionally tiny, she seemed so much bigger than she had when they brought her home from the hospital.
Because her parents had signed away their rights within days of her birth, Emmett and Rose were able to adopt her in a very short amount of time.
I was pulled away from my heavy thoughts when Guy explained that he took his role as big brother very seriously, as long as it didn't involve diaper changing.
Carlisle choked on his coffee when Guy said, "You get poop with your baby. Hope poops in a bag. Emmy doesn't like the poop. Pulls his shirt up like this." Guy pulled the neckline of his shirt up over his nose like a mask. "And he says Achhk! Achhk! Achhk! Sometimes he spits up too."
Carlisle was wiping his eyes and I had my lips pulled tightly together trying not to laugh. But when Edward rolled in next to my chair, I completely lost it. He wore a crisp white tee that had the words, The Impregnator, boldly stamped across his chest. Hershey trotted in and sat at my feet wearing a bandana that said Big Brother across parked next to me and dropped a gift bag into my lap. "If you think this one's funny, you'll get a laugh out of the rest."
Sue read over my shoulder as I pulled them out, one by one, and laid them across my belly.
"Got one past the goalie!"
I lifted the second one out of the bag; the graphic design was of a heavily pregnant woman. Edward beamed when she read the caption out loud.
"Look what I did!"
Never was there a man prouder to have gotten his wife knocked up than mine was.
The last one read, "You don't scare me, my wife is pregnant!" Everyone laughed when she read that one. Leave it to Emmett to provide the comic relief in any situation.
I could hear Alec and Jane talking quietly to someone in the kitchen, and it was a nice surprise to see Demetri come in, accompanied by a pretty young girl. I'd heard about her, but we'd yet to meet. She had been that unattainable crush Demetri had pined over through high school, but lost track of until a basketball game one weekend brought them together at the concession stand.
Her name was Kennedy and she seemed to fit right in with our little group, even if she was a little shy. I had no doubt our rowdy bunch of friends would bring her out of her shell if she stuck around for long. I watched her interact with Demetri, and I noticed little things she did with him that were so important to Edward; speaking to him and not over him, not rushing in to intervene unless he seemed to need assistance. It appeared she was versed in Disability Etiquette 101. Carlisle engaged her in conversation about her college plans but the conversation was cut short when everyone began to congregate in the living room.
Edward and I exchanged a confused look when Alice booted up her laptop. A few seconds later, a surprise greeted us via webcam from a tiny office in Cambodia.
Edward leaned forward and reached towards the screen. When Maggie reached out towards him, I almost expected something magical to happen.
"Mags." He breathed. "What a wonderful surprise."
"Where else would I be? I'm so happy for you both. Congratulations."
He leaned forward in his seat, studying the screen as if it held some great mystery. "How is this even possible? I didn't think you had internet capability."
"You can thank Alice and Liam for this, sweetie. Lord knows I don't have a tech savvy bone in my body."
Liam explained a little bit about where they were staying. "We we're stationed in a remote post, it's a very low resource setting and electronic communication is substandard at best. There's cell service and internet in the larger cities, but we're in a whole other world."
"Email us when you have that baby and we'll call you. We're about an hour away, but this is where all our mail and supplies are delivered. Someone makes the trip a few times a week, we'll get the message, but it won't be immediate."
"What you're saying is, our visit today is as much for business as it is for pleasure?" I asked.
Liam leaned in close to the web cam so we could see his face. "We're helping to build a well for the orphanage next week and came in to town for supplies."
"So essentially you planned your well around my baby shower?"
"No," he laughed, "I think Alice planned your shower around our well."
They talked a little more about the children in the orphanage. It was difficult to comprehend that a number of the orphans actually had both parents living, but had been left there because the family was unable to provide for their needs. Everyone got a little teary when they explained that many of the children they cared for had been maimed due to unexploded ordinance left behind from war.
Liam raked his hands through his short hair. "The mortality rate in children here is very high, over twenty percent."
A number of the children had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and many had contracted the virus through mother-to-child transmission. I'd heard that shortly after they arrived, they'd taken in a little boy who had lost both his parents to the disease. Carlisle suspected they'd try to finalize his adoption before they returned to the states. Liam had just promised to email some pictures if he could. Then the video began to lag and buffer and the audio was delayed several times, but it was a wonderful feeling to be able to visit with them.
Fearing we'd become disconnected, Esme handed me their gift so they could watch us open it.
Edward held it up and Maggie explained. "It's called a Sit Seat. It was originally designed for travelers to secure their baby to their lap for air travel."
"But I can slip my seat belt through the loop and secure her to my waist in the wheelchair?"
"Absolutely. The little harness has a wonderful safety rating."
"Oh, what a thoughtful gift." I exclaimed.
I reached into the bag and found a few baby toys and several packages of little straps.
Liam said, "I picked those out, Ed. I know people use them to secure toys and bottles to their strollers, but the thing I've learned since we started treating the kids here at the orphanage is that all babies like to play fetch. They find great joy in throwing things on the floor so you'll retrieve them."
A few people laughed, and agreed with him, but I was marveling over how much thought our insightful friends put into their gifts. Something as simple as picking a bottle from the floor would be difficult for Edward without using a reacher. With a lap full of baby, who knew if he'd be able to attempt those feats of perseverance safely? Thanks to Maggie and Liam, Edward could, quite literally, strap the child to his lap belt and go about his day.
Just as they began to tell us a little bit more about the place where they were working, our connection was lost. Alice tried several times to re-establish the connection to no avail.
Edward was in another world and I nudged him to get his attention. "Penny for your thoughts?"
He shook his head, "It's nothing. I was just thinking how thin they look. Liam is so gaunt."
Carlisle pulled a folding chair over close to where we were sitting. He squeezed Edward's knee. "You worry too much. They get a lot of exercise and live in a community where meat is scarce. Many people in Cambodia are vegetarians. They probably eat healthier than you and I."
"You're probably right."
"Almost everyone in this room could stand to use a few pounds. It would do us good to do most of our travel by foot and eat a little lighter. They're living a healthy lifestyle."
Edward nodded. "Still, I'll be glad when they come home."
"Me too son. Me too."
The party continued with games and gifts, and it seemed many of our gifts were geared towards Edward, which was funny, since baby showers were such an important feminine rite of passage.
Emmett bounced around like an anxious kid awaiting the moment that he could share the gift he held. He explained that it was something he couldn't live without and he couldn't wait to see us open it.
Little Hope was just over four months old and everyone was absolutely smitten with her. Parenthood really suited Emmett and Rose. She looked so tiny in Emmett's huge hands; he handled her like she was made of the finest porcelain, but changed her diapers with the precision and expertise of a seasoned pit crew mechanic. He credited his ease in baby wrangling to the newest product in assistive technology for daddies, and then he handed the large gift bag to Edward.
It really couldn't have been a more perfect gift. Emmett assured us that he'd given it a ten out of ten during his market analysis of the product. Edward laughed a deep belly laugh when he pulled the Dad Jacket out of the bag. Akin to a superhero's utility belt, my man would be prepared for any situation wearing it.
I'd seen Emmett wearing a similar jacket, but I hadn't realized that it was anything special. It was weather proof, and fashioned out of dark blue fleece and nylon. Alice admonished Emmett when she saw the 2XL on the label, but as soon as he explained, it made perfect sense. He'd gotten it big enough that Edward could wear a baby pack on his chest underneath it and zip the baby inside. He wanted to be sure there would be room for daddy and baby, without having to worry about a blanket.
The jacket was a thing of wonder for Edward and he tinkered with it for hours after everyone went home. It was full of zippers and pockets. The side of the chest had pockets for baby wipes and another for his cell phone and keys. Another pocket on each side was large enough to hold an eight ounce baby bottle- Emmett referred to those as holsters. The two pockets on the bottom front each held three diapers and when he leaned ahead and reached into the back pocket there was a thin changing pad for the baby to lay on. The jacket was warm, windproof and water repellant. Best of all, the entire thing was machine washable. It was quite literally a wearable diaper bag. In warmer weather, the sleeves zipped off, allowing him to wear it as a vest. I couldn't imagine a more versatile gift.
Emmett plopped a second gift bag down on my lap with a chuckle. "You didn't think I'd forget the guest of honor did you, little mama?" I reached inside to find a bunch of maternity shirts. I loved his uncanny ability to find the most unique gifts. Like Edwards, they each had a humorous caption.
If you didn't put it in here, don't touch it!
Hormonal? You haven't seen hormonal!
All I wanted was a foot rub.
But the funniest gift of all was a teeny tiny, bright orange, prison jumpsuit that had a line-up placard printed on the front. It read I just did nine months on the inside. Everyone died laughing.
We got all sorts of wonderful gifts, from a pair of toddler squeaker sneakers that made a noise every time baby took a step to a sling that either one of us could use to carry the baby around.
After all the other gifts had been opened, Edward handed me a bag with several small packages inside. "What's this? You're not supposed to buy gifts for your own shower, Babe."
"It's just something I saw, and I had to buy it."
When I pulled it out, it made perfect sense. "I didn't know they made anything like this."
"There have been a few times when someone has used a wipe on me and hit a spot where I had sensation. Those things are like ice." He smiled sheepishly and said, "I think they'd feel kinda nice if they were warm."
"Point taken. Should we get one for our bathroom as well?"
He hung his head. Was he embarrassed? "I already got one; it's out in the garage, hidden inside a box of medical text books. I didn't want to spoil your surprise."
"We'll get it out after everyone goes."
"There's something else in the bag."
"What is it baby?"
"Check it out."
I pulled out a funny looking contraption that Edward explained was a pacifier cleaner. Filled with antibacterial mouthwash, it was a safe way to disinfect dropped bottles or pacifier nipples.
Another small box held a travel wipes warmer and there was a travel bottle warmer that held a reusable heat pack that could be reactivated in boiling water.
Emmett was mesmerized, taking the gadgets from my hands and inspecting each one as I opened them. "Those are some pretty high-tech baby gadgets there, Ed. Here I thought I was the one cornering the market on cool baby gear."
"I got them right here in town. There are a handful of baby stores that carry this product line." He proceeded to tell him about a high-end baby boutique that he'd visited with Alice. When they started talking about how to possibly rig a stroller so he could push it from his wheelchair, I leaned back into my seat and closed my eyes.
"I think you have one more gift, sweetheart," Esme whispered. She took my hand and helped me out of the chair. Sue reached under my elbow from the other side. "Sounds like you've lost his attention to another daddy. Let's go take a look at your nursery."
Tears streamed down my face when I took in the captivating artwork for the first time. It was like stepping inside a storybook world. Esme and I had ordered the baby furniture right after the holidays, but she asked me to trust her and not peek in the nursery until it was finished.
My rocker sat in a corner under a vividly painted tree with sprawling branches. A toy hammock hung above it, filled to the brim with numerous story tale friends. My book shelves, which had been partially filled with my private collection of children's literature had been gifted with Liz' collection as well. The upper shelves were scattered with vintage toys; several antique pull toys and a tin top were treasures I recognized from Charlie's childhood.
"I haven't seen those in years!"
Sue smiled. "They're from your..."
"Grandma Swan's house." I spent hours playing with them. "I used to love those old toys. They don't make things like that anymore."
"He thought you'd like to have them."
My gaze lingered on a few items I didn't recognize. An older, but well loved teddy bear, a small riding toy and several clusters of antique blocks someone had stacked into the words Baby Cullen. A wooden rocking horse sat next to an antique toy box.
Esme rested her hand on my shoulder. "Some of those things were Edward's when he was a boy; some belonged to Liz and Ed. The rocking horse belonged to Carlisle when he was a little boy." She looked around the room. "I hope you like it."
I collected myself before I answered. "Of course. It's perfect."
I picked up something I remembered from my own childhood with a smile. It was a Little Red Riding Hood doll. If flipped over her bonnet, she was Grandma. Turn her upside down and flip her skirt and cape over and she was the Big Bad Wolf. I put the treasure through her paces, pleased to see she was still in such good condition.
"Renee sent her up, Sweetheart," Sue explained. "When I told her how you were decorating the nursery, she said she had the perfect thing."
"She did. This..." I stopped, looking around the room. "This is all wonderful. It's exactly what I'd hoped for, but so much more. Thank you."
Sue wrapped her arm around my shoulders and gave me a reassuring squeeze. "Your daddy wanted to be here. He's sorry he had to work."
"It's okay, Sue, I understand. It's just a shower."
"You call him when it's time. He'll be here to greet his grandbaby."
Esme gestured to the coordinating bedding and nursery items. "Your dad and Sue got the nursery ensemble."
I let my fingers drift over the soft pastel bedding, before slipping into my old rocker. Everything coordinated, from the soft cushion I was sitting on right down to the curtains and the cushions on the window seat.
It looked like everything we'd purchased for the baby had been opened and arranged. "Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you both."
"I hope it's okay that we got everything washed and set up. Edward said..."
"Yes," I interrupted, "it's great. He asked me if it would be okay. I'm so grateful that you did this. I've been so tired lately."
"If you don't like anything, just tell me. I'll spend an afternoon with you getting everything just the way you want it."
"No. It's perfect. Absolutely perfect."
Our friends and family continued to be a constant presence in our lives. It felt good to know that if we needed something, all we had to do was make a phone call and someone had our back.
I'd always tried to be self-sufficient, and for years I had been. I still struggled with asking for assistance, but it was the enthusiastic manner in which they always agreed that showed me our loved ones didn't really mind.
A perfect example was Emmett, back in March, the day before I became a father.
I suspected Bella was in labor that morning. The way she repeatedly put her hands on her hips and stretched should have clued me in on her impending labor, but she swore she was just stiff and I reluctantly went to work, even though I had reservations.
The day before had been a bad day, and I didn't want to put her in a sour mood before I left her alone for hours.
I called her mid-morning to check on her and she assured me she was resting. I told her I'd call later in the afternoon when I took my lunch so she could have an uninterrupted nap. Due to security regulations, I wasn't permitted to carry my phone while I was working inside lab.
When she called a half hour later to say that she was in labor and Dr. Carder wanted her to come in to the hospital to be examined and monitored, I was in the middle of a teleconference with a Swedish researcher who had made a breakthrough discovery in remyelination of spinal cord lesions in white mice.
Unlike us, other countries moved very quickly from animal to human subjects. Their first candidate was a little girl with MS and everyone I worked with knew how excited I was to discuss his findings.
With the knowledge that I was on an international call, the receptionist explained to Bella that I was unavailable and never patched the call through to me. In her defense, Bella didn't say it was an emergency. Several hours later, it was an anxious Carlisle who physically came to the lab to collect me. Because he wasn't one of our research docs and he lacked proper clearance credentials, my dismissal was further delayed until security made a phone call to verify his identity before sending someone into the lab to retrieve me.
He was pacing the floor when I found him in the atrium.
"We've gotta go. Bella's at the hospital," he said and then turned and headed to parking so he could whisk me off to labor and delivery. I fumbled with the keys when I handed them to him. There was no way I could have gotten myself there in one piece. Thankfully, Bella was at a facility that was just a few blocks away.
Carlisle explained as he drove that no one had been accessible by phone, when she was at her most vulnerable. It was Emmett who came through in the clutch and saved the day.
I looked down at my phone and sure enough, there were a number of missed calls from Bella.
My buddy was frantically pacing the L&D waiting room, with a sleeping baby Hope on his shoulder, when we arrived.
"Man, I'm so glad to see you. I don't know how guys do this. She was crying and holding her gut and I was terrified she was going to pop that baby out, right there in the car. All I could think of was my ma and Kenny."
I clapped him on the back. "She'll be fine, Em."
I didn't have time for chitchat, and while I was grateful that he'd gotten her to the hospital, I needed to get to my wife.
"I have to get in there. I'm not too late am I?"
"I don't think so, she begged me to go back with her but," he gave a relieved look at the little bundle nuzzling his chest, "we couldn't both go."
Just then one of the floor nurses recognized me. "Oh, Dr. Cullen, so glad to see they located you. Your wife has been asking for you."
My heart pounded in my chest. This was it. "I didn't miss it, did I? Is she alright? Where is she?"
"If you would follow me I can take you to her room."
I looked down at what I was wearing. "I need to change." While our hospital no longer required expectant fathers to change into scrubs unless a C-section was imminent, I'd come straight from a lab where I'd been handling rodents less than an hour before.
"Let's get you into some scrubs, do you need help changing?"
"Uh." Suddenly I couldn't form a coherent thought, thankfully Carlisle stepped in.
"We'll only be a few minutes, may we change in the locker room?"
"Absolutely. Just come to the desk when you're ready to go back."
She squeezed my arm. "You've got plenty of time, doctor. Don't worry, you won't miss the big event."
I looked at my watch. It had been six hours since I'd seen Bella last and she'd been complaining of being stiff and sore for several hours before I left the house. My wife was in labor and she needed me. I had a job to do. With that thought, I found my voice.
"Come on Dad, we're having a baby."
I didn't need a lot of help, but it certainly saved time having someone else to get my shoes off and get the pants over my feet. When I was all changed, Carlisle pulled an empty grocery bag from my pack and stowed my clothing.
"I'll take these with me and I'll be back in a while with your mother. Someone will take Hershey home."
"If you call Jane, she and Alec have volunteered to watch him until we get home. I'm sure she'd pick him up."
"I'll do that, you go take care my lovely daughter-in-law and we'll be in the waiting room if you need anything. Good luck, son."
Bella was talking with her nurse when I entered her room, but she pushed herself up with her elbows when she saw me come in.
I leaned over her bed rail and stretched to give her a smooch. She grabbed the front of my scrub shirt and pulled me down until she could whisper in my ear.
"Do you have any idea how sexy you look dressed like that?"
Her body stiffened and she let go. Her hand went to her belly and rubbed in circles while she took slow, calming breaths. When she relaxed back into the bed she said, "Okay, that smarted. Forget I asked that, it's your darned good looks that got me into this situation to begin with."
Her nurse was watching the monitor and after the contraction passed I asked how we were progressing.
The baby's heartbeat was strong and Bella had been at four centimeters when she was checked just before I'd arrived.
At her last few appointments, Bella had fought Dr. Carder tooth and nail on the argument of whether or not she was having an epidural, Bella feared the after effects of the anesthesia would be similar to the spinal headache she sustained after her myelogram to diagnose her MS. Dr. Carder wanted her to be well rested and remain comfortable. We both explained that while it was possible, it wasn't probable that it would happen again. The smaller atraumatic needle anesthesia used for her epidural was much different than the larger gauge needle used for her lumbar puncture and was less prone to cause postdural puncture headaches.
By the time her labor had progressed to a five, she was having trouble managing the pain of her contractions through natural means. Even though I'd tried to convince her that the epidural was safe, it wasn't until she had a visit from Jeff that she relented. He assured her that not only did he recommend epidural anesthesia for his MS patients who were expecting, but he promised it would help her to manage her labor and allow her to have a more positive birth experience.
My biggest concern for her was fatigue, and the epidural brought with it the ability for her to rest.
I stepped out to relieve my bladder and get a bottle of water. Carlisle stopped me in the corridor.
"How's she doing?"
"Alright, she's resting right now. I've delivered a few babies, but I was never present for the whole process." I inhaled deeply and blew it out slowly. "This waiting is horrible."
"Want to go down to the cafeteria and get some dinner? You've been here a long time." The sky outside the solarium window was murky and gray; a stark contrast to the bright afternoon sun from when we'd arrived. I rubbed my finger over the face of my watch. If I didn't know better, I'd think the hands had been spinning in double time. Bella had been in labor at least twelve hours, but it sounded like it would be some time until our little bundle arrived.
I looked towards L & D. "I should get back in there. What if she needs something?"
"Someone will get it for her."
"But it should be me."
He smiled and gave me a reassuring pat on the back. "Son, women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time. Yours will be fine for a few minutes. Trust me, it'll be a long night. While she's sleeping is the perfect time for you to refuel as well. As she progresses and things pick up, you won't want to miss one single minute, and she won't want you to leave her."
I followed along and he began chuckling softly. "Unless you do something to tick her off and she kicks you out."
I let go of the joy stick and came to an abrupt stop. "She wouldn't," I whispered.
"No, probably not." He smiled. "But it's been known to happen. The most trivial things set off women in labor. I think I've heard it all. Come on, let's go grab a sandwich before the grand finale."
When I slipped back into her room. Esme was standing by her bed stroking her hair.
"Did you get something to eat?"
"Did you put him up to that?"
"He's been waiting out there for you to come out. He didn't want to intrude, but we figured you wouldn't leave to take care of yourself."
"It wouldn't have been an intrusion. He could have come in; I've seen entire families in birthing suites during labor."
"So has he, and this is something private and will no doubt be one of the most incredible moments of your lives. You don't want a bunch of people parading through here, and neither does she. It's more appropriate for them to come and go after the baby arrives and you're settled in."
"Thanks for being here."
"It hasn't been that long. She didn't even know you were gone. I'm going to go out with your father. Let us know if you need anything."
"You should go home. We'll be alright."
"We want to be here for you, the same way you want to be here for her."
I nodded. "I understand. Thanks Mom, I love you."
"I love you, too. Have you been taking care of yourself? Did you take care of your bladder? Get a drink?"
I flushed. I wasn't five, yet we still argued over my bodily functions and the fact that I was more than capable of managing them independently.
I was firm but not rude. "Intake and output are fine, Mom."
She dropped her gaze to the floor, wringing her hands nervously. "I'm sorry. I worry that you don't take care of yourself. You can't take proper care of someone you love if you don't first take care of yourself."
I reached out and grasped her wrist, her eyes met mine. "I understand, but I'm good. Really."
"I'll be outside if you need anything. I love you, son."
After the door closed, Bella drew in a long breath and stretched. "You're back."
"Carlisle snatched me when I went to the restroom. He thought I should get something to eat."
"I'm glad you went. How long was your mom here?"
"I imagine the entire time I was gone."
"I think I was dreaming. I thought she was Liz," she whispered, her eyes wide. "She was rubbing my back and telling me how much she loved me, how happy she was that we found each other. I love Esme, but I wish it could have been your mom."
"I do too, Baby, but she's not coming back. I've come to believe that she's lived on through Esme all these years. They left me in the best possible hands, Esme is the only person who could have dreamed of filling my mother's shoes, and she's done so splendidly. Carlisle has been an exemplary father figure. "
She rubbed her tummy and sighed, looking over at the monitor.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, it's mostly just pressure now. It's a weird sensation. I can feel, but I can't. It's almost as if parts of my body are detached or something, like they have a mind of their own. Does that make sense?"
I looked down at my legs and rubbed my hands over my thighs, down over the zone that went from sorta feel to no feel. "Trust me, I can relate."
"It reminds me a lot of the episode that precipitated my diagnosis, when I could only feel half of my body," she added with a frown.
I wanted to be encouraging, remind her that the two situations were entirely different. Even though I knew she made the distinction between the two, I didn't want her to compare something that had initially caused her such uncertainty and sadness with an event that would lead to immeasurable joy.
Just then Bella's nurse came in to help her roll and get situated, and the moment was lost. I moved out to the waiting room so I wasn't underfoot.
While pleasant, some of the nurses almost acted like they had to be on their best behavior, like they were under scrutiny. That couldn't have been farther from the truth. They were here to do things for her that I wasn't physically able to do myself, things that would result in her comfort and well-being. I was in their debt for caring for my wife in a way that I could not.
Emmett and Alice were both sprawled out in the waiting room watching TV. Rose had come hours before to collect the baby and Jasper was home sleeping so he could work the graveyard shift. Carlisle and Esme sat at a table in the corner putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
Everyone wanted to know how Bella was doing. Had the baby come yet? How far along was she?
I shared what I knew and after about ten minutes, figured it was safe to go back.
"Why don't you all go home and get some sleep. I'll call when there is news to share."
I heard Emmett say something about driving Alice home. I got the distinct impression that Carlisle and Esme were there for the long haul.
"I'm heading back to Bella."
"Tell her we love her and we'll see her tomorrow." Alice gave me a big hug and Emmett slapped me on the back.
"Just call if you need us, Bro."
"Thanks a lot. Good night everyone."
Thankfully, the hospital had recently renovated the maternity department and the birthing suites were large enough for me to navigate my way to both sides of the bed. Before they'd renovated, I'd have only been able to access one side of her bed, backing in and sitting next to it and unable to move my chair until I pulled out of the room.
I poked my head inside and Bella's nurse had gone, the lights were turned down, jazz music played quietly from Bella's iHome.
I pulled up to the bed quietly, not wanting to disturb her if she was sleeping.
Brown eyes met mine.
I trailed my fingers down over her cheek. She looked tired. She had a lot of work ahead of her, all I need do was be present and wait. Labor and delivery was very one sided. It seemed rather unfair all of a sudden. Was I selfish for wanting this with her, when she was giving so much and I was doing so little? "Everything alright? Are you comfortable?"
"As comfortable as I can be, I suppose."
"Do you need anything?"
She reached her hand out between the rails. "Just you, can you put this down so I can see your face?"
I'd just lowered the bed rail when Bella's eyes got big and she began to feel around with her hands under the blanket. "Um, Edward? You better push the call bell."
"Baby? What's wrong?"
"I think I peed the bed."
After her membranes ruptured, things clipped along fairly quickly and a few hours later we were almost ready for her to push. During the very short space between contractions, Bella shared a hushed conversation with Dr. Carder. I had turned to put something in our bag and the next thing I knew, she was asking one of the nurses to please get my mother.
I jerked my chair around and looked from Bella to Dr. Carder. I didn't understand. Carlisle had warned me, but he was teasing. Had I done something to upset her? Was she going to ask me to leave?
It was Dr. Carder who approached me, holding her hands up like she was trying to talk someone down from a ledge.
"Edward, I know how special this day is for both of you. Bella and I discussed this earlier and I have no qualms with her request. You're more than qualified. Would you like to deliver your baby?"
I looked into Bella's watery eyes trying to comprehend what they were asking me.
Over the hours since we'd arrived she'd needed my support for so many things, sips of water and back rubs, cool cloths and a pitiful attempt at braiding her hair. I'd offered soft words of encouragement and enthusiastic cheers. How could I be here to help her cross the finish line if I was down there at the receiving end?
"Mom will help us." Bella panted out between contractions.
"I'll be right here beside you, Edward." Dr. Carder reassured me. "You have a little time to get ready if you'd like the honors."
I couldn't contain my goofy grin or the way my head seemed to nod enthusiastically on its own.
Suddenly there was a whirlwind of activity. I was quickly scrubbed in, my chair and lap were draped.
There was just enough room to drive my chair in between the stirrups of the birthing room bed, my footrest slid smoothly under the basin and I was ready.
I thought my heart would explode when I looked down into the angelic face of my child for the first time as Dr. Carder helped suction her mouth and nose. I could hear my mother coaxing, encouraging, telling Bella she was doing a wonderful job and it would soon be over.
I reached out and ran my gloved fingers over the baby's wavy ginger colored hair. Excited that in a matter of minutes I'd be holding her for the first time.
"Come on Bella, just a couple more pushes and you can hold our baby."
Once the shoulders were delivered, she slipped right into my waiting hands and it felt like I was the one who had run the marathon. My heart was pounding out of my chest and my hands were sweating inside my gloves. I could barely see for the droplets of sweat that had gotten into my eyes.
Dr. Carder clamped the cord and I cut it. Our baby was pink and loud and her healthy cries were victorious. Just before they whisked her out of my hands to put her on Bella's chest so she'd stay warm, I took a quick peek to make sure she had ten fingers and toes and I was shocked at the deformity that I saw.
Testicles. Huge, huge testicles.
Our baby girl has... testicles?
Bella's doctor laughed loud and heartily. "No, Dr. Cullen, your son has testicles!"
A little boy.
I had a son.
It was a fact that the accuracy rate of predicting gender through ultrasound wasn't one hundred percent, but apparently Carlisle and I had both been outwitted by the little bugger.
Bella reached out and Esme stepped to the other side of the bed so I could take my place next to my wife. Just as I leaned in for a kiss, Brahms lullaby began to play over the PA system.
"There's your blessing, Dr. Cullen. I love you," she whispered softly.
I held her as close as I could and sobbed into her neck. "Thank you, Baby. I love you so much. Thank you."
I backed up to make room, but never took my eyes off the baby as he was placed on his mommy's bare skin and assessed. I loved that our hospital adhered to the practice of scoring the infant and taking his vitals while he rested in the warmth of his mother's arms during the first moments of life. Skin to skin contact was preferential to a warming crib whenever possible and in a matter of minutes Bella's nurse was encouraging Bella to direct our little guy to his mother's breast.
"Oh, just look how perfect he is." Esme said, in awe.
Bella snickered when all he wanted to do was nuzzle and lick her nipple.
"Like father, like son," she said.
Everyone laughed when Esme made a mock gagging noise, and offered to go share the news with the others.
My heart grew ten sizes as I watched Bella lovingly press him to her breast so that he could be nourished.
Two hours later, Bella had been attended to and was resting, the little fellow had his first meal and was in the nursery to be bathed and examined thoroughly by our pediatrician.
When she returned the baby to our room, Bella's nurse checked my girl over before accompanying her to the restroom and settled her back into bed. She offered her congratulations and bid us goodbye before leaving us to bask in the afterglow of such an amazing event.
Despite looking like she was utterly exhausted, Bella couldn't get comfortable. Because she was nursing, she didn't want medication.
"I'm so restless. My body wants to crash, but my mind is on this high. I feel like I can't sit still."
She eased herself closer to the edge of the bed. "I hate how these rails block my sight of you. Can you put it down so I can see your face? I feel like I'm talking to a wall. I need your touch."
She'd had such a long labor and I knew just the way to lull her to sleep. After the bed rail was out of the way, I parked as close I could, perpendicular to her bed and slid one arm under the mattress protector behind her knees and the other behind her back.
"Help me scoot you over here baby."
I carefully guided her, pad and all, onto my lap.
She whimpered as her bottom made contact, and I felt a twinge of guilt knowing I had been a party to causing her that pain. But the euphoria of the day was something I'd never felt before and I couldn't contain my happiness.
Suddenly I understood the hype of being a daddy. I wanted to pound my chest with my fists and shout it from the roof top. But since he was next to us and sound asleep, I'd have to settle for snuggling quietly with my glorious wife.
We'd both need our energy when the little guy came home, although I couldn't wait for midnight feedings and one on one time with the baby. I knew I could share the load with Bella and I was overjoyed to be able to pull my weight.
She melted into my chest with a contented sigh, nuzzling my neck with her face. "Tilt the chair back, please, I just want to snuggle with you for a while before everyone bombards us."
I pulled her close to my chest and tipped us back. With soothing movements I rubbed my hand up and down the expanse of her back, careful to avoid the site where her epidural had been.
We still hadn't named the baby. "What will we call him?" I whispered, unable to take my eyes off our little miracle.
She reached up and laid her hand on my cheek, pulling me down for a kiss. While we'd been conservative and bought things that would be suitable for either gender, a large supply of miniature dresses graced the antique armoire that sat in the corner of the nursery. Bella and I had decided to name the baby Lizzie. Cleary we had a problem.
"Masen." She said it with clarity and conviction like she had planned it all along.
"What?" I sputtered.
"You said once that Carlisle hoped you'd one day have a baby boy because technically, you were the last Cullen to bear the family name. I remember in the same conversation you were sad that if you ever did conceive a child, that the baby wouldn't carry your family name. Because you had been the last Masen child. This way, well, he can be both. I think it's the perfect way to honor both of your families. Masen Cullen. Would it be okay to name him Masen?"
I was shocked, almost as dumb-struck as I was the day I'd found out she was pregnant.
"I didn't think it was possible to love you any more than I already do, but you just keep doing things to make me love you even more. I'd be honored to name him Masen. Baby, you're incredible. Have I told lately you how much I love you?"
Bella covered her mouth and stifled a yawn. "Um, yeah, about every five minutes since you found me in L & D."
Her labor was long, at least it seemed to me like it had taken forever. We settled in on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday's sunrise had just begun to peek through Bella's window.
"It sounds like you've put a lot of thought into this; once we saw the ultrasound we stopped discussing boy names."
"I wanted to have a contingency plan and I thought it might be a nice surprise."
"Baby, can I make a suggestion about his name?"
She picked her head up from my chest and yawned again. "Don't you like Masen?"
"Yes, baby, I love it. I thought perhaps you'd like to name him Masen Charles."
"Masen Charles Cullen? I like that." She snuggled in a little closer and soon I could hear her soft snores against my chest. I tilted a little further back and distributed her weight a little more evenly then reached over and pulled the afghan Esme had brought from home across both of us. After she was all tucked in, I let my hand drift to the little bundle, asleep in the bassinet that sat against my armrest. Satisfied that my family was safely settled in for a nap, I closed my eyes.
There was nothing... nothing... in this world that felt so good.
It wasn't long and I heard someone quietly enter the room.
The bed creaked as he sat on the foot of it.
"That was some surprise."
I snickered softly. "Yeah, it was, he stumped us both."
"So rumor has it that you were the one to do the honors."
I picked my head up and looked into his excited eyes. "It was the most incredible thing I've ever experienced. Talk about an adrenaline rush!"
For a moment he grew somber and said, "I can't imagine a greater joy."
I looked down into the bassinet at the baby and I felt like he'd been cheated. "I'm sorry you were never able to experience this."
"But I have son. It doesn't matter when, or how you become a parent. It is still the most wonderful feeling in the world."
"I just meant, I'm sure my situation wasn't what you imagined when you hoped to one day have children."
"From the day your parents brought you home from the hospital I was in awe of you. You were the most incredible little human being, and as you grew and took an interest in the things that meant so much to me, I thought that if ever I was to have a child of my own; to be blessed with a child, no matter how it happened, I'd wish for someone like you. So, yes, you were exactly what I pictured when I hoped for a child of my own."
He'd said it with such resolve and determination and sitting there next to my own child I understood. The expression my father wore was the same look of pride on Emmett's face each time Guy spoke to him or Hope squealed in response to his voice.
"I've never regretted one moment, I can only hope I was father enough. I had some mighty big shoes to fill." I felt the truth in his words, there was no way anyone could question his sincerity.
"I've never regretted it either, Dad."
The room grew quiet, each of us lost in his thoughts. Carlisle broke the silence. "I've got quite the handsome grandson."
"Bella says she's gonna have to chase the girls off with a stick."
He laughed softly.
"Would you like to hold him?"
He looked over Bella's sleeping form and smiled.
"He may fuss if I wake him. I don't want to disturb Bella. I'll stop back later in the day once you've rested. Is there anything you need before I go?"
"I've got everything I need right here."
"Thanks, Dad. I love you."
"Love you, too."
I'd just drifted off when the door opened again and someone gasped. Annoyed, I opened one eye and looked in the direction of the noise. Lauren Mallory... I had forgotten she worked in OB. "Dr. Cullen! You know she should be in bed." She gestured to Bella's form on my lap. "I can't ensure my patient's safety if she's sitting there like that."
"Bella is not only safe, but she's finally comfortable and she's sleeping. She needs to rest. Is there something you need?"
"I came to do vitals."
I gently grasped my wife's wrist and watched her chest. "Pulse is eighty-five, respirations are twenty. She was to the restroom a short while ago. Her nurse checked her pad and felt her fundus. Do you have other patients to see?" I asked quietly.
She nodded as I attempted to disarm her with my most charming smile. "Could you come back after you see your other patients? She's been awake for a very long time, and with her MS, I'm concerned that she'll become too exhausted. I don't want her to suffer a setback. This is the first uninterrupted sleep she's had in several days, surely you understand."
With that her demeanor softened. "Of course, Doctor. Would you like me to take the little one back to the nursery for a few hours so you can get some rest?"
I yawned and nodded.
When she pulled the door open I said, "Lauren? It's Masen. His name is Masen, M-a-s-e-n."
"I'll let them know." Lauren left, turning off the overhead light as she made her way out the door.
The entire clan descended on us a few hours later and I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. I'd only had a few hours of disjointed sleep. Periodic checks on Bella's well-being were not conducive to getting any meaningful rest.
When I came back to the room from getting a coffee and sandwich from the sub shop around the corner, I heard Charlie and Bella talking.
"I can't tell you how much it means to me that you gave him my name. I'm really honored, Kiddo."
"I can't take any credit for that one, Dad. It's all Edward. We were going to name him Lizzie, we were kind of ill-prepared. I gave him his first name. Edward gave him his middle."
"Good man, that Edward. His parents would be proud of him. I don't think I could have hand-picked a better husband for you."
"I don't think you could have either. I love him more than anything, Dad."
Doctors Carder and Jeffries managed to keep Bella three days postpartum, even though uncomplicated deliveries were being discharged here the day after birth.
My mother who had dubbed herself as Meme, because she was too young and too cool to be called Grandma, literally moved into the house back then, and she stayed nights until Bella was back to her pre-pregnancy neurological state. She slept on the futon we bought for the baby's room and awoke nearly every night for at least one feeding.
On nights when I had the next morning off, I stayed up late or awoke super early to take a shift or two so Bella could get the rest her body needed.
I was proud of my girl, she readily accepted help and didn't try to push Esme away when I knew she felt like we were taking advantage of my mother's generosity. I think she understood that there was no place where Esme would rather be and truly, it was a blessing having her with us through those crazy first weeks of parenthood.
Bella nursed for a few weeks, but with the sudden occurrence of a postpartum relapse, we went to formula so Bella could resume immunosuppressant treatment.
I was frustrated. As doctors, we adhered to the belief that breast feeding was best, for both mother and child. Not only did it provide unparalleled antibody protection for the infant, but it fostered bonding between mother and child. I didn't want her to have to give up nursing the baby, but Jeff felt it was the only way that was one hundred percent safe for the baby.
In France, there was a double blind clinical trial being conducted using two pregnancy hormones to prevent postpartum MS relapses. I pulled Jeff and Dr. Carder into a meeting a few weeks prior to delivery and begged them to consider it, but because the study was ongoing and it was still considered experimental, neither was willing to pump my wife full of hormones, not knowing the outcome.
I understood their reluctance, but at the same time, I had a mind to whisk her off to France and beg them to admit her into the study. I wanted to give her every advantage possible. Didn't every woman dream of vacationing in Paris?
Neurologically, Bella had her ups and downs. Pregnancy hormones were a blessing and a curse. They'd held many of the MS symptoms at bay, but oh what an onslaught of emotion. However, after the baby was born they quickly came to a screeching halt and the MS hit Bella with a vengeance.
Within weeks of delivery Bella was hit with profound episodes of fatigue. In a non-MS patient, this might have been indicative of post partum depression, but combined with a marked numbness in her arms and hands and increased incoordination, I knew that wasn't the case. The day she dropped the baby was the day we resumed her Copaxone therapy.
The Friday morning she awoke with an excruciating headache and impaired vision, I carried her to the car in my lap and delivered her to my old home away from home. Jeff's diagnosis was as I suspected it would be, so I called off work and we settled in for the weekend with the Sol-U-Medrol ball in hopes of warding off the optic neuritis that had presented itself.
Masen stayed with my parents. Thankfully the rollercoaster ride wasn't quite as dramatic as it had been the first time Bella had been on the steroids for a flare, but after having had that bad experience, we both agreed the last thing we needed was to throw a cranky baby into the mix. Once Bella got through the highs and lows of the medication, her symptoms leveled out fairly quickly and the Copaxone therapy continued to help her maintain her gait and balance.
Renee had flown out to see the baby for a weekend, but Bella felt the need to wait on her the entire time she visited. By the time she left, Bella was a mess. Renee was the last out of town visitor we'd had stay at the house.
Charlie and Sue had the good manners to try and book a hotel when they came in, but Esme insisted they stay with her and Carlisle instead. It was comforting to know that they were someplace homey and welcoming, but that Bella didn't have to fuss over them when she didn't have the energy.
When it was time for Bella's return to work, Meme did everything in her power to convince us that she was the ideal childcare solution, even though the center had the onsite facility. In the end, we split the difference, with Bella utilizing the daycare half the week, and my mom on the days when she needed to stay late for peer counseling, various committee meetings, or days when she would be out of the office. Carlisle expressed his pleasure with the arrangement as well, those late dismissals for Bella meant that he could run home and play grandpa for a few hours after work. He was as smitten as the rest of us.
The arrival of our baby brought with it moments of utter chaos, and I'd be lying if I said I came home to a spotless home or a meal on the table every single day after Esme moved back home.
The act of balancing her job, housework and childcare was tough for Bella in the early days and I'd often come home to laundry that needed to be folded, or dishes that begged to be washed, but I couldn't have been happier. That was how normal families worked, and it felt good to pitch in and help her, even if I was tired or it had been a long day.
She was a wonderful mother and continued to be a fierce advocate and my love for her grew every single day, however, it took a reduction in hours for her to be able to balance work and home life in a manner that didn't compromise her health.
Part time hours allowed her to rest longer and begin their day later. I think it was a relief for her to be able to spend a few unhurried hours getting herself and our little one ready for their day and after several months of the modified schedule, we decided as a couple that she would request a permanent part time position.
Friday was her late day; she started at two and it ran late into the evening but the biggest perk was her availability over lunch time.
Autumn was my favorite season of the year and the one short hour, when I got to venture outside had become my favorite part of the day.
The opportunities afforded me by my research grant had already been too numerous to mention. My former partner and mentor had been right when he said following my dreams would open so many doors for my career. The experience I'd gleaned and the recognition I'd already achieved were the elements that would pave the way for a lifelong vocation.
While the work was stimulating and the knowledge that my job had the potential to radically change so many lives was extremely gratifying, it didn't come without a huge personal sacrifice.
I was earning more than I ever had, and because I'd spent all those months before I moved to research full-time whittling down the hours of my service obligation, the first thing we did was satisfy the debt of my schooling. With the discovery of Masen's imminent arrival, Carlisle convinced me that my student loans were clinging to me like a ball and chain. Moments lost could never be replaced, and I didn't want to waste any of that precious time- definitely not an additional twenty hours per week. Being able to spend that time with my family was priceless.
Hershey turned around in a circle and lay at my feet in the grass below my chair. I tipped my chair back, feeling the crisp autumn breeze swirl around me. They'd meet me soon, and until they did, I relished the solitude. This had always been one of my favorite places. I'd brought Bella here for some of our most memorable dates, and over the months and years since I'd first spilled my deepest secrets and my greatest fears to her, my love of this spot had only intensified.
I thought back to the days of my recovery, where I wanted to escape the noise of a busy hospital wing, the clinical smell of antiseptic and cleaner... even something so miniscule as the buzzing of the fluorescent lights.
Those things still grated on my nerves, and to step away from that, even if for only a few moments...
It was ironic, I hadn't really escaped the clinical setting, not going from patient to doctor nor from healer to scientist. It was all still there taunting me.
The warmth of the afternoon sun on my face caused a smile to break forth. Approximately sixty hours of my week was spent inside an environmentally controlled concrete and steel fortress. Twenty-four hours a day those fluorescents buzzed. It was easy to lose track of time with no daylight or darkness for a reference point and many of us got lost in our work.
Every Friday at noon, I had a standing date with two of the most important people in my life, and to ensure that I didn't let those walls close in on me, and that I didn't get so caught up in my work that I'd stand her up, my watch chimed the weekly alarm she'd set and I'd make my way to our spot.
Winter was coming and the rooftop regulars were taking advantage of the uncommonly warm and sunny weather before the days turned cold and dreary. Ours was a spot away from where the doctors and nurses took lunch at the small grouping of tables, a quiet little corner where no one usually ever bothered our solitude. The garden had been busy since I'd opened the door and I felt fortunate to secure Bella's favorite spot in the shade under the ivy covered arbor.
I took a deep breath and let the peace wash over me, relishing our little piece of heaven on earth in the midst of a busy hospital setting- the splashing of the water overflowing into the bowl of the fountain, the wind rustling the leaves of the Contorted Filbert tree that grew next to where I sat.
I almost didn't hear him speak.
"Do you mind if I sit here? I won't be a bother, I promise."
I turned towards the voice and cracked one eye open. He stood wearing dark blue sweats that emphasized the pallor of his skin. He looked like he'd fall over if he didn't sit.
"Be my guest, you're not bothering me, although be forewarned, my family will be here to visit shortly and I can't promise peace and quiet if that's what you're craving."
"That's okay most of the other seats were taken. Thanks."
He took hold of the arm of the wooden bench and lowered himself gingerly onto the seat.
As much as I craved my own solitude, I couldn't be rude. I sat myself up, gazing off into the mountains that were shrouded in clouds.
He coughed quietly and I turned to look at him.
"Doctor?" He asked, motioning to my lab coat.
I nodded. "Doctor slash scientist."
"Which do you like better?"
"In my heart, I'll always be a neurologist, but I've moved on to research. I really miss the patient interaction, but I have to believe that by working in the lab, I'm impacting their lives in a more positive way. I love research."
"You have the potential to save more lives in the lab."
"I guess you're right."
I noticed what he was wearing, confirming my suspicion that he was a patient. People found reassurance in talking with those in my profession, he wanted to know if I was a doctor, there must have been something on his mind so I turned the conversation back around to him.
I backed my wheelchair under the arbor and turned my attention to him.
"Patient?" I asked, motioning to the screen printed tee that peeped out of the unzippered opening of his hoodie. Cancer Sucks!
He nodded. "Prostate. Stage two."
"Oh, that does kinda suck, but it hasn't spread, that's really good."
He wiped under his eyes before giving me a watery smile. "I had my last treatment today."
I reached my hand out towards him. "Congratulations."
I jerked my head, motioning towards the treatment center. "You do all your treatment here? I hear they're great to work with."
"I had my prostatectomy at Sloan. The wife has really had a rough time accepting my illness. She never liked it out East so we moved back here to be closer to her family after my surgery. I thought it would be easier for her to deal if she had a support system. I've done all my post surgery radiation treatments here. I've been told they have a more sophisticated system here."
"I don't know about Sloan, but I do know Harborview uses the new 3-D targeting system. It's supposed to hit the tumor more precisely while sparing healthy tissue."
"That's good to know. My dad had prostate cancer. He lost all function as a result of the treatment back then and it spread anyway. He died in his early forties. I've been getting tested for a few years. My last PSA was thirty eight, so they did a biopsy. I went through radiation and a second biopsy showed the cancer hadn't been eliminated. A week later I had my surgery."
"I hear they have a great support group here for guys with prostate cancer and their partners. There's a Women's Only group too. It might be beneficial for you both if you had the opportunity to interact with couples who have been through what you're facing."
A radical prostatectomy, even a nerve sparing technique without complications, could leave a man both impotent and incontinent of urine for months, years, even indefinitely. Radiation had similar consequences. Depending on the partner, a situation like that would either make or break a relationship.
In a group of his peers, he'd find the understanding and fellowship he needed to accept that change in himself, hopefully his spouse would as well.
"They had an excellent group at Sloan. I went to that till we moved. It left me feeling hopeful that my shortcomings wouldn't last indefinitely. I finally managed to talk my wife into going with me to the intimacy support group this afternoon. She's wasn't real receptive to the idea. I think she's embarrassed to admit we have a problem, that I have a problem. I'm confident we can get through this, these docs really are a great group of professionals."
I nodded. I always felt a sense of pride when someone said something positive about my hospital. "That group was started by an urologist and a sex therapist. I know the urologist, Dr. Reilly, he moderates that group. He's committed to helping couples find a way to successfully renew intimacy, I'm sure the therapist is as well."
I owed Reilly so much. If he could get through to me, he could help anyone find their way.
The sliding door opened and we both looked towards the entrance.
And there they were, my everything.
When she saw my companion, she hesitated, but I motioned her over.
I stood my chair and moved to greet her, pulling her to me, and kissing her soundly before flipping the sun canopy back on the stroller. He smiled up at me, kicking his feet and waving his arms. I pulled them under the shade of the arbor out of the sun.
I lowered my chair and lifted him onto my lap. "Hey there little buddy. Come see your daddy."
Hershey's tail thump, thump, thumped against my chair as he peered over my armrest at his little brother. He took his duty to protect the little man quite seriously, often sleeping on the floor next to the baby's crib and woofing quietly when anyone entered the room at night.
"I'm sorry we're late."
"It's okay, Baby. I was just talking to..." I looked towards the bench. Had she not arrived when she did, I would have shared my story, and my family would have shown him living proof that everything is possible. I was saddened to see the gentleman walking away, but Bella and I didn't have a lot of time left until I had to return to work. I gave my family my full attention.
"His check-up ran over."
"How's he doing?"
"Dr. Andreasson says he's doing great. She's happy with the benchmarks he's reaching and his length and weight are wonderful." She emphasized with air quotes. Then she cringed. "He got three shots. I think I was more upset than he was."
I smiled to myself. Of course she was. She was a wonderful mother, and if he was hurting she was as well. Ten fold.
"Give him some baby Tylenol when you get home."
I squeezed her hand. "Good girl. Has he been fussy at all?"
"No, not so far."
I cradled his behind in the crook of my arm and tilted my chair back just enough that his little body leaned into my chest and she handed me his bottle. I lived for this, our shared lunch time on Fridays.
His little hands greedily pulled the bottle to his mouth and I chuckled. I'd longed to feed him in the early weeks while Bella was nursing him, but I didn't want him confused by the artificial nipple. When he went on the bottle, however, I seized every opportunity I could to feed him.
I ran my nose over the downy fuzz of his head, relishing in his wonderful scent. I placed gentle kisses all over him until she cleared her throat.
"If you want your lunch mister, we need to get busy."
I'd scurried all morning, there was so much to do and so little time. While I adored her, and she had so readily filled the void my own mother had left in my life, there were times like that morning, when Esme was a little frustrating- knowing I had to be someplace and stopping by to visit anyway. I was still learning how to juggle the responsibilities of motherhood with my responsibilities to Edward and the requirements of my job. Throw my MS into the mix and some days it was a recipe for disaster.
Since I'd gone to part-time though, it had gotten easier and mornings were my special time with Masen.
On a normal day, Esme arrived around lunch time, but with a mid-morning appointment followed by lunch plans with my dear husband, she knew I'd be jumping through hoops to get out the door on time. For a change I was making great time that morning and I felt a little smug when she arrived and we were nearly ready to go.
In the end, I was glad she stopped.
At the very last possible moment before we walked out the door, the little guy chucked his breakfast all down the front of my sweater and all over his little outfit, and I'd have never left on time had she not offered to change him while I re-dressed myself.
She'd become quite proficient in her baby handling skills between Hope and Masen. Three days a week she came to our house and spent her afternoon with Masen. There was talk of Carlisle passing the torch and going strictly into private practice, he'd scaled back his hours at the hospital and on Thursdays he joined the two of them. There was nothing more refreshing than walking in from work to the sounds of baby squeals and hearty laughs just before the room reverberated with the sloppy and very unsophisticated sound of Carlisle blowing raspberries on my baby's tummy.
As we hurried out the door that morning Esme asked if I had made lunch plans for Edward, and when I told her I'd likely stop for takeout, she handed me a zippered lunch bag. "I hope I wasn't too presumptuous, I made dumplings this morning. There are several in there, along with plastic ware and napkins. I knew it would be a busy day for you."
I gave her a quick hug. "Thanks Esme. Thanks for everything."
"You're welcome Sweetheart. Good luck at the appointment. Call me later?"
"I'll talk to you then. Go on now, before you're late. I'll lock up."
While I dreaded the appointment, he'd been so cranky after the last one, it went relatively quickly.
Even though Masen's pediatrician was in another part of the same building, it took forever to get to our roof top. It felt like every time I took a step, the corridor grew longer.
When I burst out through the door pushing Masen, I dreaded the sad look of disappointment I was certain I'd see on Edward's face. We were late and a large portion of his lunch hour had passed. He looked forward to our Friday lunches on the roof, even on days it was pouring down rain and we were forced to sit in the solarium looking out.
He was cooped up in that bright white clinical environment day in and day out and he lived to come out into the fresh air and natural sunlight to spend bonding time with his baby while Masen was actually awake to interact with his daddy.
Edward was deep in conversation with someone, a man who was slightly older, a patient perhaps. He didn't look sick, but he didn't really appear well either. The fatigue was evident in the way he held his body, as if sitting there talking was an effort. I'd had days like that.
I felt guilty intruding.
But, while Edward was turned, smiling and motioning for us to join him, the man walked away.
Edward kissed me like he was parched and I was life sustaining water. I giggled when he released me.
My hubby greedily scooped the baby into his lap, he frowned when he saw the man had left, but eagerly took the bottle when I handed it to him. While little Mase chugged away on his bottle, we talked about his progress and enjoyed a quiet lunch.
With the baby tucked into my chest and a bottle in my hand, Bella tucked a receiving blanket around our little guy and began to feed me the decadence that was my mother's baking.
I smelled it as soon as she pulled it from the bag. The enticing aroma of freshly baked goodies full of cinnamon and ginger and apple assaulted my senses. When the flaky crust of Esme's apple dumplings hit my tongue, it was like a celebration inside my mouth. I moaned and rolled my eyes at the first bite.
Bella alternated bites between herself and my own. Just as she was scooping the last bite out of the little pan, I teased her about dropping food on the baby. I couldn't resist pulling her in for a kiss when she wiped a smear of sticky syrup from the corner of my mouth. I heard the whoosh of the automatic door behind us. The man I'd been conversing with stood and began walking towards it with purpose. When I turned towards the footsteps headed in our direction, my grasp on the baby stiffened as I wrapped my arms around them protectively.
It tugged at my heart to watch him interact with our little guy. As Mase nursed from the bottle, his tiny fingers rubbed over the buttons on his daddy's shirt and then his little hand drifted down to clutch the sleeve of the arm that was supporting his little body.
His fuzzy red head rested just below Edward's chin and I couldn't help but smile each time my hubby stole a kiss as if he thought I wasn't watching.
Edward had grown so much over the years. I watched, mesmerized, as he bonded with our little miracle. He'd been so ready to give up on himself; on this. Yet I couldn't imagine him excelling at any role the way he had with fatherhood. I watched him with pride, that man of mine.
Like Carlisle, he was an attractive man, with timeless good looks that got better with age. He was starting to show just a little gray at his temples and he had tiny crow's feet at the corners of his eyes that crinkled in the sexiest way when he smiled. Don't even get me started on the glasses. He was so deliciously handsome.
He'd taken to life at the lab, and while his days were long, the frazzled guy who scurried between a private neurology practice and the lab, in an attempt to eliminate his student loans, was gone. With the burden of those notes lifted from his shoulders, he was able to truly enjoy the work that stimulated his mind.
I loved the days when he excitedly shared the tale of some exciting breakthrough his team had made. With scientists like Edward working relentlessly, I had every confidence that one day MS would be another one of those diseases that was eradicated from the human race. He and Carlisle had shared stories of scientists who made putting the pieces together on just one scientific puzzle their life's work. If Edward were to only ever discover the building blocks of one disease process so that it could come to an end, I knew that disease would be MS. The thought of even one child with MS was unacceptable to him.
After I'd shared Masen's appointment with him, our remaining conversation was spent in the depths of the reprogramming of nerve cells so he could manipulate them into doing something I didn't understand.
I teased Edward with a bite of dumpling, he moaned seductively when the pastry hit his tongue and growled when I stole a bite. My fingers trembled with my next attempt to feed him and crumbs showered down on the baby.
Brushing him off, Edward laughed. "Bella, we're gonna have to cover the baby if you don't stop trying to feed him my lunch!"
He looked down with wonder at the little red headed bundle on his lap. I understood that look. I was certain I wore it quite often as well. Parenting was amazing. I took the empty bottle while Edward shifted the baby up onto his shoulder and rubbed his back coaxing a burp from his sleepy body.
Our playful banter continued even after the last gooey bite of dumpling
was gone. I reached out to wipe a smear of cinnamon sugar from the corner of his mouth and he playfully grabbed my wrist. I scooted closer and melted into him as our lips met, I lost track of time and place until Edward stiffened and pulled away.
A look of fear crossed his face and he clutched Masen's little body tightly into his own.
Frantically, I raked my eyes over the little guy's form. Was there something wrong with him? Had the doctor missed something?
But he wasn't looking at the baby and I followed his gaze, confused, as he glared angrily at the woman walking determinedly in our direction.
Edward stood the chair, taking a protective stance, shielding us from some perceived threat.
I could feel the adrenalin radiating off of Edward. It made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle and my stomach clench in an uncomfortable way. A ridge of hair went up on Hershey's back, but like a good dog, he didn't move. He could feel his master's tension too. Something was terribly wrong.
I reached for him. "Baby?"
When the woman first entered the garden, a man stood and began walking towards the door, the same man Edward had been talking with when I arrived. I thought she was there for him, but the confident manner in which she strode straight for us told a different story.
He pulled me securely under his arm.
I looked her over from head to toe. She was pretty, but not more than average. A petite girl with blonde hair that hung partway down her back, she was dressed in a manner that suggested she liked to indulge herself in the finer things, but it was her expression that took me by surprise- one of familiarity, determination, perhaps even longing?
Did he know her?
When she got closer I heard the frightening rumble in his chest, saw the angry set of his jaw.
"Edward, Edward Masen."
She stood in front of him, staring, from me then to Edward who continued to rub Masen's back whispering soothing words to him.
When it became obvious that she wasn't getting a reaction out of my man, she pushed her hand towards me. "Hello, I'm Tanya Denali-Hess, an old friend of Edward's, and you are?"
Internally, I scoffed. Old friend? He hadn't even acknowledged her.
There were so many things I wanted to say, so many ways I wanted to berate her. Where did she get the nerve approaching us after she'd treated him the way that she had? Her actions could have destroyed him, her negligence could have taken his life.
But there he stood, proud and tall, his free hand gripping mine. I smiled up at him and winked.
Don't worry, Baby, I've got this. I extended the opposite hand.
You're the bigger woman here, Bella.
Don't say something that will embarrass your husband.
I refused to acknowledge who she was or how she'd impacted our lives. There was no way I'd allow her to feel that sort of power over him.
I put a smile on my face and thrust out my hand confidently. "I'm Bella Cullen, Edward's wife. Funny, I don't remember him mentioning you."
At the word wife, she stiffened, ignoring me, and turned her attention back to my man. She gazed inquisitively at the bundle he held tightly to his chest, tilting her head from one side to the other. "So, Eddie, who's your little friend?"
He nuzzled his face in the hair that was unmistakably like his own and took a deep breath, centering himself. I watched him puff up his chest, swelling with pride. "This is our son, Masen."
It was impossible to miss the resemblance between my boys, to misjudge Masen's parentage. She looked from Edward, to our clasped hands, and back to Masen. The blush creeping up her neck onto her cheeks in embarrassment was priceless. She looked at the ground and stammered. "But... I thought you couldn't... I mean... we couldn't... I'm sorry... I have to go..." As quickly as she'd appeared, she turned and hurried down the path, almost slamming into the man who stood waiting.
He was close to the door when she took his arm and hurried him through the entrance to the cancer center.
I looked at Edward, "Wow, Edward. Tanya?"
He laughed, uncomfortably. "Um, yeah, that was her."
I just shook my head. "Transparent much? She summed up all the issues that ended your relationship with her in one broken sentence."
"Looking back, I suppose she was always like that. I just didn't see it. At seventeen, having a pretty cheerleader on the sideline screaming your name at every football game, having her attend every party with you, having her take care of all your hormone flooded teenage needs- at the time, she seemed perfect. You know what I mean?"
"I suppose so."
"I feel bad for her husband. She doesn't seem to have changed much. I doubt she's handling his illness very well."
"He didn't really look well."
"We talked for a while. With the support of his family, he should be okay."
"Do you know him? Is he a patient of yours?"
"Nope, he came out here to wait for her, looking for some sort of solace as he waited. He initiated the conversation and sensing that he needed to talk, I let him lead. It's a small world, isn't it?"
He looked down at his watch, frowning. He lowered his chair and settled the baby back into his stroller. "I'm sorry, Baby. I've got to get back to work."
I grasped his wrist and he stopped, looking up at me. "Are you okay?"
"I'd be an idiot to allow a two minute interaction with an insignificant ghost from my past ruin this lovely lunch break I've shared with you and our son." He pulled my face to his and kissed me again, long and hard.
When he released me he added, "I love you baby, you fill my heart with love and my life with happiness. Now, I have to go back to work. I'll see you at home."
"Love you, too." I mean, really, how could I top a declaration like that, and why would I want to?
I stood in front of the vanity mirror preparing for bed while my family squealed and giggled in the bathtub behind me. That was the sort of stuff that made life worth living.
It had been a crazy day. Never in a million years did I expect to encounter Tanya Denali in a place that I had always considered my haven.
I'd been rattled after I went back to the lab, there would have been a time when seeing her again would have made me feel vulnerable, but I had trouble now remembering why I'd ever allowed Tanya's words, uttered in a moment of frustration and disappointment to carry so much weight.
Looking back on it with the blinders removed, I knew Alice was right, I was an utter fool if I ever envisioned a long-term future with Tanya.
She had been young and immature at the time and my entire future was uncertain. Even though she had been the same age as Jane was when she met Alec, the contrast between the two girls couldn't have been any more drastic.
Tanya had always been a little immature and a lot self centered. At the time my accident happened, I could have never given her anything near the life she was accustomed to.
My body was broken, my future was uncertain, and my family was struggling financially just to keep a roof over our heads. Even with the knowledge that I was paralyzed she keep asking when I'd get better. She had been in denial and it wasn't until she was alone with me that weekend that reality slapped her in the face. It made perfect sense that she'd want to leave and never look back.
Still, I'd allowed her words and actions to adversely impact so much of my early adult life and how I interacted with others. She might have been the one to leave me in a compromising position, but I should have been able to get myself out of one before I was ever left alone for a weekend.
I vowed then and there to become an active participant in my care, depending on someone else made me vulnerable. In a sense, I owed my level of independence to Tanya.
Her words caused me to devalue my worth as a lover. I'd allowed that to influence the manner in which I approached relationships with members of the opposite sex.
I was confident now that I could keep the woman who had become my wife and lover both happy and satisfied, so those words that I'd allowed to dictate the path of my personal life for so long, were a non-issue.
It felt good to know that I'd broken free of my self-imposed shackles.
The thing that weighed heavily on my mind all day and caused me so much discontent was her husband. I felt a kinship with the man.
Unfortunately, the bread crumbs he'd dropped for me led me to believe that Tanya wasn't much different than she'd been the day she left me alone in that bedroom.
The doctor in me wanted to do something. Had the situation been different, had he been anyone else, I'd have shared our story with them and suggested ways that they could help one another get through such an overwhelming time in his life.
I washed my face and when I pulled the towel away Bella was standing next to me holding a squirming, towel-wrapped baby burrito. "I'm going to get him dried off and into a sleeper, you need anything?"
"I'll be right there to help tuck him in."
She reached over and planted a kiss on my lips, and I watched her walk away.
I gathered the damp towels and hung them, wiped down the counter and put everything away.
I snuck across the hall and watched as Bella zippered him into a one piece fleece contraption. She turned with a smile and placed the little guy in my lap.
"I'll just go grab a bottle."
"Come on Mase, let's snuggle for a bit while Mommy's gone."
I tilted the chair and closed my eyes, relishing the tiny fingers that wiggled against my chest in a rhythmic pattern. I woke with a start when Bella lifted him from my arms.
"I've got this one, Baby, if you'd like to go get situated."
She dipped his face down in front of me so I could smother him in sleepy kisses.
"Okay, I'll get him in the morning before I shower." There was nothing that compared to peeking over the edge of the crib first thing in the morning. That wide toothless grin was enough motivation to keep me going all day. I knew a lot of guys who shirked their responsibilities and let the majority of the childcare fall on their wives, but I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to miss out on something so precious. I cherished those private moments with my son.
Bella had just closed his bedroom door as I transferred into bed, I flipped the blankets back and she spooned back into me.
She pulled my arm down around her waist and covered my hand with her own. "You were quiet earlier. Everything okay?" She asked softly into the darkness.
"Yeah. I'm alright."
"You want to talk about it?"
"Are you alright? After seeing her like that?"
"There was a time not all that long ago when seeing her would have made me feel very insignificant. The irony of what they're going through right now isn't lost on me. Knowing what I know about her husband certainly puts things in perspective. He needs a spouse who will support and encourage him. Hopefully she's grown, because if she's not, she has the power to break him."
"I hope she has too."
She linked her fingers through my own, her thumb rubbing soothing circles into the skin between my thumb and index finger.
I drew in a deep breath and let it out.
"I wish there was more that I could do to help him, but it would be both unethical and uncomfortable to get involved. He mentioned a support group Reilly is involved with. I think I'm going to drop his last name tomorrow. Reilly has always been one to act on instinct. If someone is in need, he'll find a way to take him under his wing."
She pulled out of my arms and rolled so we were facing one another, she gave me a little nudge and gravity pulled me onto my back. I grabbed my girl and took her with me. Her hands swept through my hair, then she drew them down until my face was cradled between her hands, she kissed me softly, and smiled.
"I'm so proud of you. I think that's a great idea."
"It was falling for you that pulled me out of my funk. Had it not been for you, I'd have jumped through the hoops to fix my body, but I'd have gone back to being asexual Dr. Cullen, the attractive but aloof doctor all the women swooned over but not someone they'd want to take the time to get to know."
In the glow from the nightlight she smiled. It looked like she was going to argue, so I put my finger to her lips, silently begging her to let me finish.
"Baby, you loved me, and you encouraged me, but not once did you try to change me. That gave me the incentive to do whatever I had to so all my wounds could heal. For the first time in my life, I didn't care if anyone else could see the real me. It was the first time I fully engaged in counseling sessions with other people who were dealing with the aftermath of their disabilities. I never thought I needed that.
"You held me when I needed comfort, and cheered me on when I needed encouragement. You've always seen the real me, yet you've never treated me like I was broken. You accept me for whom and what I am and you love me because of that, not in spite of it."
She sat up Indian style and shifted her hips so she was facing me.
"I don't want accolades for loving you and believing in you. It's no different than everything you've done for me." She took my hand in her lap and played with my wedding band.
"We've had a hand in each other's healing. You showed me that disability didn't mean my life had come to an end, and then you backed your promise up with things you never intended for me to see. From behind the scenes you followed up on my tests, secured expedient consultations with several specialists and set me up with the tools I needed to begin adapting to a new and overwhelming life. You introduced me to your support group, and put me in the hands of the person you knew would be the best suited to help me find my way. I don't know where I'd be right now if you hadn't gotten the hospital social worker involved in my case. Without attendant care, I'd have been forced to go live with one of my parents. My life could have turned out very differently without your intervention."
"I didn't think you knew."
Her lip trembled like she was going to cry. "I've never thanked you."
"Knowing that you were receiving some of the supports you needed to live independently was thanks enough. I was afraid you'd let your disability imprison you. Even if I never saw you again, I wanted you to see that with the right supports, you could do anything you set your mind to, and you have."
She crawled over me and straddled my thighs, with her lips against my own she whispered, "No baby, we have."
And then she showed me.
The inspiration for Impact stems from a lifelong career in nursing, rehabilitation, and disability rights advocacy. This story would have never been birthed had it not been for some inspiring individuals in my life and I'd be remiss to not mention them, even if they never read this.
To my mother, an individual who has lived life with a disability with style, grace, and a smile on her face- every single day of my life. If only we could all be like you, the world would be a better place.
J- No one talked about advocacy when we met, there was no ADA, we didn't have curb cuts, or ramps on buildings, no one had ever heard of an accessible restroom or a lift on a bus… and then there was you. Grassroots advocacy and breaking down barriers in our community began with you, and I'm so glad to have been a part of it. So honored to call you my friend.
C, B, S, W, D & D- You guys and gals are some kick ass advocates. When I grow up, I wanna be just like you!
To Robin and Kodi for the guest appearances and comic relief. I love ya girlfriend! The kick ass advocacy comment applies to you too. ;-)
Guy- you've been a bright and shining star in my universe for as long as I can remember. I smile every time I think of you.
To my son- the boy they said couldn't, or wouldn't, but oh, you have. You can do anything you want in life and I know you will. Thanks for letting me be your squeaky wheel.
In memory of Jim F.- Your story reminds me of the one I crafted for my main character and you became my Edward personified, there have been so many times I've thought of you and wished we could have met. Thanks for inspiring me. Wish you were here.
You've all taught me in your own way that disability is something to be proud of, that there is no such thing as normal and that the squeaky wheel gets oiled. If it doesn't, you make it squeak louder and louder until somebody listens.
This story is dedicated to you.
Thank you, all of you, for showing me the way.
In expressing my thanks to my fandom family:
I don't even know where to begin. It's true what they say, an author can write a story, but it's the readers who truly determine its success. I could have never made this journey without the love, support and guidance of each and every one of you.
I've had some reviewers who have been here through every chapter since January of 2010. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your endless patience while I picked my way through the minefield that is real life. I treasure the friendships we've fostered and cherish every one of your kind words.
To those of you who have jumped on my crazy train recently and read all 700,000+ words in a few days. Thank you, I know it was quite the undertaking. I'm not always able to respond to review replies, but please know I read and appreciate every one.
No matter if you've come, read and you haven't left your footprint for whatever reason, or if you've reviewed every single chapter, your presence here means the world to me.
Missing Jackson McCoy, who began this journey with me, but was taken from us before we could finish. Blessings. You're missed in the fandom.
I have the most incredible team. Team Impact rocks! We've had people come and go, but they've all contributed in one way or another.
Bronze, Leon, Rachel, Jeanne, Debbie P, Debbie S, Alexa, Sherry, Amy, Betty, Sandy and my lovely girls, Patti and Alicia… The endless list of pre-readers… You've all been an integral part of my team. My humble thanks for your hard work and dedication.
Way back in November of 2010, this *cough* little story had been up for nearly a year. There were only forty-four reviews, I was having beta troubles, and I was more than discouraged. Just when I needed them most, three of the most amazing people came into my life.
AlexaET wrote a review for TwiFic Promotions that truly put Impact on the map. The reviews began coming in by leaps and bounds. (I promise you, your Daddyward is forthcoming BB.)
Around the same time, I met my, then, future beta Jeanne- not4got10 and a woman who has become my partner in crime and one of my nearest and dearest real life friends, Debbie- Deleepowman.
Had it not been for the three of you, I'd have thrown in the towel and this would have been over a long time ago. You girls built me up and made me believe in my vision and you helped me make this story what it's turned out to be. I can never thank you in a million lifetimes for the gift of friendship we've shared.
Debbie, this story is as much yours as it is mine. Take a bow, because I truly could have never done this without you. You have become a sister to me, your words of wisdom are something I value greatly. I know how stubborn I can be- and you do too. ;-) I might not always take your advice, but I do always listen. Thank you for welcoming me into your life and your home. You're one in a million. I love ya, BB.
Sherry, my beta extraodinaire, I can never thank you enough for your encouragement, dedication or attention to detail. Thank you for your assistance and for the gift of your friendship.
Kyle, an honorary member of my team. Thank you for enduring our presence all those months, for cooking our meals just right and entertaining us with your smiles and charismatic personality. Thanks for understanding that I AM a tea snob, and for making it just exactly how I like it, even though there was an entire pot that would have been perfect for anyone else. It's been a delight getting to know you, and while you are sorely missed and my favorite book store will never be the same without you, I'm so proud of you for spreading your wings and following your dreams. I wish you all the happiness in the world.
My sincere thanks to the ladies who posted such heartfelt reviews:
TwiGirlsNextDoor- vbfb1, Princess Kris, Dandigoose.
Cullen Sister for Wayward Pushers.
ms_ambrosia recc'd Impact on Twi Fic Pics and made me a beautiful banner.
Shirley007, featured me on The Evil Twins Surprise Sunday (I miss you baby, it's been way too long since we've visited.)
BettiGefecht- how do I begin to thank you? Your reviews, your reccs, your artwork, the priceless gift of your friendship. I can only say that I adore you and all the wonderful you've brought into my life.
There is a long list of people who have added Impact to your C-2s. Thank you for your show of support.
A special thank you to MTK and SR for your support and kindness through a very tough time in my life.
Deb, you've grown to be such a special friend. You are, without a doubt, one of a kind. If I want a smile, all I need do is go to your twitter. Nuff said. ;-)
SR, I don't think I've ever encountered a more compassionate or generous soul. Your kind words have meant so much to me. Your use of social media to promote goodness have made you a sterling example of what's right in this fandom.
I wish both of you continued success with your writing endeavors. Thanks for being you.
And finally, there were several people who felt it was necessary to attempt to alter the course of this story whether it was from behind the safety of an anonymous review or in a private message to leave some, not so friendly at times, comments about how you felt I was destroying a story you liked because of one event or another.
I may have never responded, and to some of you I couldn't, but know that your words made me even more determined to stay the course that I was on. I've always known how this story would end and what it would take to get it there. So, thank you for your words, because you reminded me how important it was to be true to myself and my story.
There will be Impact outtakes forthcoming. The completion of Sweetbriar is my next endeavor. I have several ideas rattling around in my head. Add me to your author alerts, if it pleases you.
I wish you a joyous Easter if you observe. If not, may you have a joyous weekend.
Thanks for reading and for your support.
Till next time…