I wrote this story for xsecretxkeeperx in the Twilight Gift Exchange hosted by GinnyW31 and sshg316 on Live Journal. There are some great stories there, so go check them out: http://communitydotlivejournaldotcom/twi_exchange
I've borrowed these characters from Stephenie Meyer. They aren't mine.
We sat side by side on the bed, listening to the living room clock count down the seconds. Our knees touched as I gently held Bella's hand. The stress was evident on her face, and her hair was a knotted mess from sleep. But she was beautiful. If only I could take her stress away.
The living room clock seemed to grow louder with each tick. These five minutes were the longest and most dreaded part of this entire process for me. The world seemed to still and nothing was more important than that timer.
I asked Bella why we couldn't just watch the test as the time passed instead of sitting in this vacuum. She said the instructions were to wait five minutes and she was determined to follow every instruction to the letter. I considered pointing out that it didn't say anything in the instructions about peeking, but thought better of it.
I focused on Bella's nightstand and was almost crushed by our reality. It was littered with pill bottles, basal thermometers, her calendar, and a small plaque that read, 'Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them; but do not let them master you. Let them teach you patience, sweetness, insight.' I hated that damn plaque. We'd been doing this for a year now. Well actually, we'd been practicing our babymaking for many years, started trying in earnest two years ago, and then enlisted the help of a doctor one very long year ago. The tests. The hormones. The scheduling of our sex life. It had become so clinical and structured that I felt we were forgetting about the best part: expressing our love and creating another human being.
Sometimes I wondered if it would have been better to have lived in an earlier time, before modern medicine, when we would have mourned our inability to have children and moved on with our lives. As it was, we were stuck in some weird limbo, living a life of maybes.
But, on we pushed. When the hormones didn't work, the doctor did more testing and determined I had a low sperm count. This was my fault. The doctor suggested we try in vitro fertilization. They isolated my good sperm and fertilized Bella's eggs in a Petri dish. Then they placed a few of the eggs back into her and hoped her body would accept at least one and let it grow. We knew the success rates were low – our clinic boasted that 40% of their patients were evenutally successful in having a baby. Only 40%. But it was all we had. It was all I could give her and that fact tore at my heart every day.
This was our second go at IVF and we'd used all of our available embryos. At over $10K a pop, this was the last time we would try this before starting to save our money for adoption. Bella and I had a good life and we were financially comfortable, but two high school teacher salaries didn't leave a lot for fertility treatments and adoption. I'd chosen teaching over med school in large part to give myself more time to be a good husband to Bella. Instead, that decision had only denied us financial freedom during every step of this process.
These were the thoughts that weighed on my mind in these five minutes. It all made me feel so tired. And when thinking about my failures wasn't enough, I wondered why this was so important to her. Sure, I wanted to have kids, but I didn't have her level of obsession. Why did she want a child so badly? Was something missing in her life? Why wasn't it enough to live a full and happy life with me?
I hated these five minutes.
I looked up at Bella, but her eyes betrayed nothing. It was so difficult to gauge her thoughts. Was she hopeful? Was she scared? Was she resentful that my body's failings had put us in this situation? Even though we'd agreed this would be the last time we would try IVF, I secretly wondered if she'd be willing to stop.
"Do you want to look this time?" she asked hesitantly. I wasn't sure why she wanted me to look. Her expression gave away nothing.
"I will, if you don't want to." I'd do anything to make this easier for her, to atone. She nodded slightly.
I let go of her hand and opened the nightstand drawer, pulled out the box with the test and slowly removed the white stick from the box. One line. Always one line.
I shook my head slightly as I looked in her eyes. She sighed and stood, walking toward the bathroom to get ready for work.
"Bella?" She stopped but did not turn to face me.
"How many more-"
"Tomorrow," she interrupted, anticipating my question. "The doctor set my blood test for tomorrow for a reason. It's probably already taken too long to work." She shrugged. "I'll likely start my period sometime today, so we might not even need the test tomorrow." She continued to the bathroom. I could hear the defeat in her voice. The door shut with a thud and I heard the lock click. I wasn't invited in.
One more day. Our lives would change one way or another in just twenty-four hours. Either we'd be on the road to parenthood, or we'd give up our dream of creating a child.
The door unlocked, and Bella walked out of the bathroom with her hair wrapped up in a bright yellow towel. Every day I marveled at her beauty. It was simple and pure. Her big brown eyes were the focal point of her soft, kind face. Though her expression was pained, I could still spend all day just watching her. I was convinced that God made her just for me. And yet, I had let her down.
I stood as she approached. She leaned into me and tucked her forehead into my chest. I held her quietly for a few moments. Too soon, she backed away.
"All yours," she said with a forced smile.
I let go of her and went to start my day.
I peeked around the corner into the teachers' bullpen to see Bella had just entered with one of our colleagues. I knew she liked to spend her free period here, grading papers before she had to supervise lunch in the cafeteria. I loved to watch her when she didn't know I was around. She held her teaching materials close to her chest with her arms wrapped tightly around them. Despite her modesty, I could still see the curve of her neck peeking out from behind her blouse. I couldn't help but smile. Jessica seemed to be regaling her with stories from a recent blind date and while she was dutifully smiling and nodding along, I could tell her heart wasn't in it. Her mind was a million miles away.
Was she imagining herself on a playground full of kids, watching a small boy with unruly red hair? Was she picturing herself in the wee hours of the morning, rocking a beautiful girl to sleep? I couldn't decide if it was better or worse for her to have so much hope. If this didn't work, would her grief pull her under? Would she be able to accept adoption?
As Bella approached her desk, she immediately noticed the little token I had left for her. It wasn't much, just a few chocolate covered strawberries. But they were her favorite, and I wanted to do something nice for her today, something to remind her that I was still here and still loved her.
Her lips curved into a small but genuine smile. She looked around the room, spotting me immediately, and her eyes lit up. I tipped an imaginary hat in her direction and turned to go to my next class. I smiled when I heard her giggle. Mission accomplished.
When we met at the car after school, Bella put her arm around my waist and ducked her head into my shoulder in a half hug. I knew she was thanking me for her lunchtime surprise, but I also knew she wouldn't acknowledge her thanks out loud. To do that would acknowledge the reason why I felt she might need it. But that was okay.
Friends would ask occasionally whether I got sick of working at the same place with Bella. They wondered if sometimes I wanted some space. Never, I told them. I would spend every minute with her if I could. I could only hope she would continue to feel the same about me.
Today we were quiet in the car, letting the scenery flow by as we stayed lost in our own thoughts.
"Good day?" she asked as we neared our street.
"Not bad. Mike Newton smuggled a garter snake into class, so that kept things interesting."
"Never a dull day with that kid." She chuckled. "What do you think he'll do when he graduates?"
"Who knows? Maybe he'll go on to be a zookeeper."
"Nah, too tame," she said. "I was thinking more along the lines of crocodile hunter. We'll be watching him on the Discovery Channel in ten years."
"You think he'll last that long? I'm thinking a croc will take him down sometime before the ten year mark." She snorted.
I loved moments like this with Bella, times when we both relaxed and fell into our own perfect rhythm. I pulled into the garage and turned off the car, effectively breaking the moment. I thought I heard Bella sigh quietly as she opened her door.
I took a little extra time getting my bag out of the back to make sure Bella was the first to reach the door to the house. My little chocolate treat wasn't the only thing I'd planned for her today.
I followed her up the stairs from the garage and into our kitchen. Our three bedroom split-level was modest, but fit us well. The kitchen was my favorite because it was where Bella was most at home. The bright yellow walls and oak cabinets she'd picked out gave the room a positive glow and energy. It was definitely the heart of the house and the place where Bella felt most comfortable.
I watched her carefully as she walked in and flipped on the lights, putting her keys on the hook by the door and shrugging off her coat. When she paused with her coat halfway down her arm, I knew she'd seen her surprise. A small bouquet of blue irises sat in the middle of the table. The florist said they represented hope. I didn't know whether Bella would know that, but it didn't matter. I knew it.
She turned to me quietly as she threw her coat over the back of the chair. "They're beautiful, but you didn't have to do that, babe. "
"I know," I replied. And I did. She rarely asked for anything. It just made me want to give her more. "Go on, take a look."
She walked over and leaned in to give them a smell.
"Not as beautiful as you," I bantered as I walked up behind her and slipped my arms around her waist, putting my chin on her shoulder. She leaned back into my body and closed her eyes. "You are the most beautiful thing in this room."
"How did you do this?"
"I just stopped by quick during my free period. No big deal. Now, open the card."
She broke out of my embrace and turned to me, giving me a quizzical look.
"Just open it."
She leaned over the bouquet and plucked the small white card from inside the arrangement. She looked up at me expectantly, as if I would tell her what was in it before she opened it. As she pulled out the card a small, folded up piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. She picked it up, carefully unfolded it and read its contents.
"I made reservations for us at the little B&B you've always wanted to go to up on Lake Pleasant. I thought we could use a weekend away."
"But, this weekend? Why this weekend? We have so much going on right now." She looked confused.
I took a step toward her and pulled her close. She tilted her chin up to look into my eyes.
"Bella, we've gone through so much in the last year, and we both know that tomorrow is a big day. It's going to go a long way to deciding the course of our lives for the next few years, at least. I thought that maybe we should decide today, that regardless of what happens, we'll embrace the new direction tomorrow brings. And getting away from here to spend some time alone seemed to fit that goal. We should be finished at the doctor's office before lunch. That gives us plenty of time to pack and drive up in time for dinner."
"So we'll either be celebrating and spending time together before a baby takes over our lives, or we'll be drowning our sorrows?" She gave me a skeptical look, but I could tell there was a bit of anger just below the surface. I had to tread carefully.
"No. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I want to use this weekend to take a step back and remember why we're here. I want to focus on where all of this began. With us. I know we're on the precipice of something important, but tomorrow isn't a beginning or an ending. Tomorrow is just another step on the road of our life together. We keep going. I thought having this to look forward to would help us remember that."
"Do you think having a child isn't important anymore?" She asked softly, looking down at my chest.
"No. I think it's very important. I just don't think it is most important." I held my breath, hoping that this hadn't been the wrong time to say these things. I hadn't planned on my gift starting such an emotionally charged discussion. Bella lifted her chin again and gave me a small but sad smile.
"Okay," she agreed with a determined look. "This weekend will be for us, come rain or come shine." She tucked her head into my chest and let me hold her.
We stood like that in silence for several minutes before I spoke.
"Now," I said. "On to the really important decision. Are we making spinach manicotti, or do I have to take you out again?"
She looked up at me and smiled, and I felt like things just might turn out okay.
The lights were off as Bella and I laid in bed, side by side but not really touching. Sometimes when I laid like this in the dark, the weight of what was happening to us hit me full force. We might not ever be able to create children together. But with the number of children in the world praying every day to become part of a loving family, did it matter whether the children we raised shared our blood? I felt guilty because, here in the dark, I admitted to myself how much I longed to give Bella a child we made together.
I turned to look at Bella. I could just make out the shape of her face by the moonlight coming through the window. I reached out and stroked her cheek with the back of my hand. I could tell that she was still awake.
"Why don't you take the test now?" I asked. "We've waited all day."
"Edward, you know we have to use my first morning urine." Her voice sounded remarkably clinical, and I wondered for a moment why it was "urine" when we discussed her pregnancy tests; it was "pee" any other time.
"Okay, just a thought." The silence fell again. "So, how were you feeling today?" I asked. I knew this wasn't a discussion Bella wanted to have, but I felt like one of us needed to address the proverbial elephant in the room.
"I felt fine."
"You know what I mean. Did you feel different? Like you might be pregnant?"
She sighed. "I don't know, Edward. It's not like I wasn't thinking about it all day. I just can't tell."
She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. "But really, how could anyone tell?" She started. "I felt tired. Maybe I'm pregnant, or maybe it's because I didn't sleep well last night." She rolled on her side and propped herself up on her elbow. I could tell she was getting riled up.
"My boobs were sore. Maybe I'm pregnant, or maybe I'm about to start my period. I felt queasy. Maybe I'm pregnant, or maybe I ate a bad meatball. Maybe I'll have these symptoms if I'm pregnant. Maybe I won't." She let out an exasperated sigh as she collapsed back down onto the bed. "It's all one big maybe, Edward. We won't know until we know. So I try not to think about it."
I rolled over quickly and took her in my arms. "I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean to upset you." I didn't know what to say. "I guess it's just hard to know what to talk about right now, you know? I care and I worry, too."
"Yeah, I know," she admitted. "I felt like everything was upside down today, like I was walking around in a bubble, watching myself in slow motion. "
I squeezed her a bit tighter as I let my hand run up and down her arm. "You know I'm going to love you just as much tomorrow as I do right now, test result be damned, right? This doesn't have to change us."
Bella turned her head away from me and toward the window. "Of course this is going to change us, Edward. Tomorrow morning we'll go to the doctor and find out whether we're pregnant or whether we're the couple that couldn't have a baby. Everything we experience changes us. This will too."
I looked at her carefully, knowing the question I wanted to ask, that I needed to ask.
"If I can't give you your own child, will it change the way that you feel about me?"
I hated that I was so insecure, but I had to know.
She lifted her head to look at me then, and I saw tears gleaming in her eyes. "Edward, there are two things you need to know and understand and believe. First, I will always love you, children or no children." She lifted her eyebrows, silently asking for my acknowledgement.
"The second is even more important. This is not your fault. You didn't pick your genes and when we made our vows we agreed to tackle these things together. This isn't a fight that's been thrust upon me by you. It's a fight that was thrust upon us by fate, God, your ancestors, whomever. I don't know who or what is to blame, but it definitely isn't you."
"Bella," I whispered. "What have I done to deserve you? I love you so much."
With that she wrapped her arms around me, grabbing the back of my shirt with her fists. She kissed me suddenly and rolled herself up on top of me, straddling me. The desperation in her grasp made me realize she needed me right now as much as I needed her. As of late, things had been so cautious and distant for us. Had I been the one creating the distance with my guilt? I wasn't sure how to react to Bella now.
Her lips traveled down my neck as her hips started moving against mine. I wove my fingers through her hair and pulled her face back up to mine.
"I need you," she whispered against my lips. And with that simple admission, I lost the last of my control, flipping her onto her back, frantically pulling at our clothes. Our movements weren't slow or gentle, they were needy and wild. I needed a release after months of frustration and uncertainty. My hands roamed every inch of her body as if I were taking her in for the last time, as if I would never be able to get enough. We pulled and tugged and sucked, and as I started to bite down on her shoulder, she spoke into my ear.
"Edward. I love you. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."
Her words brought me back into the moment. I separated myself from her and lifted my head just enough to look into her eyes as I hovered over her. Our breathing was ragged and our eyes met and held. She always knew exactly what I needed to hear. I nodded slowly and lowered myself to her, letting my lips brush against hers gently. Her message was clear. We had our whole lives for this. My fears were unfounded. My infertility wasn't ruining us.
Our pace slowed as we drank each other in. We moved together in a way we hadn't in months. Bella's body responded to mine fully, and we danced in tandem to music we both knew by heart. No reservations. No unspoken worries. With each touch and caress I felt as though we were healing each other and reconnecting As I entered her we both gasped; the emotion was almost too much. We kept our movements slow and gentle, watching each other as the tension in our bodies grew and we finally found our release together.
"I love you," I whispered against her lips.
"Always," she sighed.
I woke slowly, not remembering when we had fallen asleep. Bella's hair was splayed across her bare back, which rose and fell in a steady rhythm with her breathing. So beautiful. I leaned over to place a gentle kiss on her shoulder and her eyes fluttered open.
"What time is it?" She asked. Her voice was thick with sleep as she turned her head to look at the clock on her nightstand. "I guess we fell asleep."
"Yeah, you wore me out," I joked.
"Never. You're insatiable." She smiled as her eyes closed and her hand reached out to rub my face. "Thank you."
"Yes. Yes, it was," she joked, opening her eyes and giving me a look so full of love that it stopped my heart.
"I think it's I who should be thanking you." She lifted her head from her pillow just enough to give me a quizzical look.
"Bella, through this whole process, I've felt like I was responsible for...for you hurting, for everything. I needed to fix it. I needed to make it better for you. And yet, once again, it's you who've made it all better for me. You make everything better. I don't know what I would do without you." I hung my head then because I didn't know if I could look her in the eyes and tell her how many times she'd saved me when I thought she was the one who deserved to be saved.
Bella leaned into me and put her face under mine so we were nose to nose. "Edward, I do love you. I don't blame you and I can't live without you."
She leaned back and a small smile started to grace her lips. "And now, I think it's time we started breaking some rules. What do you think?" She had a mischievous glint in her eye.
"Oh yeah? And, what rules might those be, my dear?" I had no idea where she was headed with this.
"Well, first of all, I think we should declare it morning."
I looked over at the clock. "We'll, technically it is morning, so I don't see how that's breaking any rules."
"I mean morning, morning," she said giving me a pointed look.
Just as the meaning of her words sunk in, she rolled out of bed and sashayed naked across the room, looking over her shoulder with a shy smile as she disappeared into the bathroom. I didn't know what had changed, but I felt like Bella had taken control and it lightened my mood and lessened my guilt. Despite the fact that we were only five minutes away possibly from finding out that Bella was pregnant, I couldn't help but believe we were in a better place.
My mouth felt dry and butterflies started up in my stomach. I sat up and turned on the light and adjusted the pillows, more for something to do than anything else. Bella returned from the bathroom with the box containing the test and put it in her nightstand drawer. She slipped on her nightshirt and threw my boxers across the bed to me.
"If we're about to start our stint as parents, we should probably do it with some clothes on, don't you think?"
I quickly complied and scooted across the bed to where she sat, leaning up against the pillow I'd propped against the headboard. If she was nervous, she didn't show it.
"Bella?" I looked at her cautiously. She turned to me, eyebrows raised, asking what I wanted. "You...you seem different this morning. Content. Are you okay? Are you ready for this?"
She chuckled. "Yes, Edward. I'm fine. More than fine."
"Can I ask you what changed?" I looked over at the clock as Bella set her egg timer for five minutes.
"Edward, when you asked me last night if I would still love you if we couldn't...well, you know, something snapped. I realized just how obsessive I had become about all of this and how much I had neglected your feelings. I suppose I'm still obsessed to a great extent. I still want a baby, and it's still very important to me. But it's not important enough to warrant letting things between us falter. I realize now how far this has gone, and I need to keep a better perspective."
"Is that your way of telling me we should have great sex more regularly?" I smiled, hoping this was the right time for a joke. She shoved my shoulder playfully.
"No, you goof. I just realized that I need to try to keep better track of my priorities." She looked over to the box on her nightstand. "You ready? Do you want to look or should I?"
"But it's only been two and a half minutes," I said, eyeing the timer.
"I told you it was time to break some rules. You take it out. We'll look together." She took the box out of her drawer and waggled it at me. "You game?"
This was it. I willed my hand not to shake as I took the box from Bella and carefully pulled out the test. We both leaned over the stick, searching for the telltale blue lines. There was one line pretty well formed, but not as dark as we would usually see after five minutes. And I thought I could see the hint of another line. I tilted the test toward the light. Was I starting to see second lines that weren't there?
"Do you see that?" Bella shrieked. "Is it a line? Hold it up to the light." Her eyes were wide and her expression was anxious.
I did as she suggested, turning the test back and forth to try to catch the light. "It looks like it might be a line, but I can't tell for sure."
"Oh, man." She threw her head back against the headboard. "See, this is why they say to wait five full minutes. How can we know if that's supposed to be a line?"
She was starting to sound a bit frantic, so I quickly put the test back in the box. "Maybe some rules are best left unbroken. We'll let it sit for another two minutes before we look again."
Time seemed to stand still and we were back, once again, listening to the living room clock.
"You open it, Edward." Finally, she sounded as nervous as I felt.
"Yes. Open it." Now she sounded irritated.
I pulled the test out of the box. We both looked at it again and there, sitting quietly beside that ubiquitous first line, was a second, faint, but definitely there, line. Neither of us said a word for several seconds. I looked up at Bella, and she had tears threatening to spill out of her eyes and onto her cheeks.
"I think we did it, Bella," I said as I felt a huge, cheesy grin spread across my face. Relief flooded my mind and Bella's eyes were alight. She held the same cheesy grin.
"Yeah, I think we did."
"Come here." I leaned back against the headboard of the bed and pulled her into my lap. I held her tightly, rubbing her arms and whispering to her how much she meant to me. The butterflies were still in my stomach, but now they were a result of the scenes flooding my mind: baseball games, diapers, school concerts, sleepless nights, joy.
I started rubbing slow circles on my wife's belly. "He or she is in there, Bella. I'm going to think of him as a "he" for now, by the way. More specifically, a "he" who'll pitch in the majors." I looked down at her and was glad to get a small chuckle as she shook her head.
"I know we're at the beginning of a long road and we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, but we know he's strong because he's made it this far. I think he's going to make it all the way. Your belly's going to swell with my child, and you will be the most beautiful pregnant woman on the planet."
Bella laughed. "And you, Edward, will be the best father on the planet."
We sat that way, content and happy, for a long time before the stress of the morning's events, and the early hour, pulled us back into sleep.
I woke before Bella and carefully extracted myself from her arms as I laid her back on the pillow and under the covers. She needed to sleep, and I wanted to do something special for her before we had to go in to see the doctor. It seemed that the impossible had happened this morning. I stopped at her nightstand again to look at the test. Yup. The second line was faint, but still there. My stomach flipped and I couldn't stop the smile that formed. For the first time, the other paraphernalia on her nightstand, and that damn plaque, didn't seem so depressing. We'd beaten the odds.
I left Bella a note and slipped out quietly to gather some supplies for a special breakfast.
Less than an hour later. I walked back into our room with a tray full of food. I set it on the floor beside the bed and crawled under the covers to wake her.
"Good morning, Mom," I whispered into her ear. "No more sleeping in."
"Ugh, Edward, I'm tired. Why are you waking me up?" She grunted into her pillow. "Wait, do I smell bacon?"
"Mmmm, yes, and coffee and hash browns and one egg over easy. Just like you like it." I placed a kiss on the side of her neck.
She lifted her head. "Edward, I shouldn't have coffee. Please don't tease me. The eggs and bacon, however, smell fantastic. How much did you make?"
"And thus it begins, the cravings of a pregnant Isabella Cullen."
She reached over and playfully slapped my arm as she hoisted herself into a sitting position. "Just bring me my bacon."
"As you wish."
The quote on Bella's nightstand is Helen Keller.
A big thank you to xsecretxkeeperx for providing the prompt for this story and to Profmom72 who listened to me go on and on about it one morning.
And, a huge thank you to jackbauer aka staceygirl and jennde who are two of mymost favorite people. They encourage me to write and then take the time to fix it all up and make it look pretty after I do. Any errors that remain are mine.