A/N: When we found out about the FandomForPreemies going on, we both knew we had to join in, since it's (the MarchofDimes, that is) a cause near and dear to our hearts.
This future take of EveryDay, Foreveris written in honor of naelany's godson, Jamie, and SorceressCirce's niece, Maddy.
We hope you enjoy it, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your donation to such a worthy cause.
As ever, we don't own Twilight; we simply enjoy playing with the characters.
Emmett placed a cup of tea on the corner of my desk before putting his hand on my shoulder and murmuring, "Here, babe..."
He kissed below my ear, and I hummed, closing my eyes and letting my hands rest on the pad in front of me, my fingers still poised for their work. Turning my head, I kissed him lightly on the lips, thanking him.
He smiled, tilting his head to the drawing I'd been working on. "How's it coming along?"
Sitting back, I stretched my arms over my head, a soft grunt escaping me as I did. I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed. "Okay, I guess. I can't seem to get it right..."
Emmett rubbed my neck lightly, his eyes moving carefully over the picture of Ellie and Blue - the book version of our Lizzie and her favorite stuffed toy, her blue dragon, affectionately named "Blue." It showed them marching along, Blue in front with Ellie following closely behind as they walked through the woods. Something was missing, though, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
The idea for Ellie and Blue had come from watching our daughter Lizzie struggle over the years, beginning the moment she was born. Blue had been a gift from Gram, who said that he would watch over her and protect her. The dragon had become her favorite toy over the years, and it was hardly ever far from her sight.
I leaned into Emmett's side, sighing with a melancholy smile as my thoughts drifted back through Ellie's life.
Emmett and I had been married for only eight months when Bella told us about Nettie, a friend of hers from school. Nettie had made a stupid mistake - her own words, not ours - and gotten herself knocked up by the guy she liked and wanted to impress. She wasn't prepared to have a baby in any way, but she also refused to have an abortion. She wasn't sure what to do, and her father wouldn't help her or allow her to keep the child. The boy in question was no help, either.
As soon as Emmett and I heard about it, something shifted for us. I'd never considered having children. I'd never felt truly comfortable around them, especially when they were in a group. I envied Emmett's ease with kids and thought he would make a great dad someday - it just wasn't something I'd ever connected with me. Sure, I'd tutored kids here and there to supplement my income when I first got out of college, but that was strictly in a one-on-one setting for brief periods of time. Having a child of my own was something completely different.
Still, we couldn't stop talking about Nettie and the situation she was in. We both felt bad for the girl, not even seventeen and pregnant, with no help from either her family or the guy that had gotten her that way. We felt helpless, and both of us wondered about Bella - what would happen if, God forbid, she ended up in that sort of situation?
Our discussions morphed into the topic of having kids of our own. Emmett knew very well how I felt about children in general, since it had come up a few times. Hell, it was easy to see whenever I was around all of our nieces and nephews. After our talk the night he'd proposed, though, we had both learned not to make assumptions about how the other felt about things like that.
Beyond that, the desire to help Nettie also played a part in things. Neither of us felt right about her going through this alone. After many hours of talking things through, we decided to meet with her to see whether she would be willing to give her baby up for adoption to a very specific - and unconventional - couple. As it turned out, she was very open to it, and she had been very thankful that we'd wanted to help at all.
It took awhile before things were figured out from a legal standpoint, but we remained hopeful - and began looking forward to meeting our new son or daughter. We'd decided we didn't want to know the gender up front. Just the fact that we were getting a baby was something that brought us joy. Boy or girl, we'd love our baby just the same. We kept in touch with Nettie, who was more than happy to give us updates on how she was doing.
Her pregnancy seemed to be going fine, with no real complications aside from a serious case of morning sickness that lasted her entire first trimester and caused her to lose quite a bit of weight in the beginning. It wasn't something that concerned the doctors much, and since we'd seen this happen to the various women in Emmett's family, we knew it wasn't a big deal.
Everything was fine, until we got a phone call in the middle of the night from Bella.
Emmett grabbed for the phone without raising his head, grunting when he kept missing it. He rolled over onto his back as he finally picked it up and groaned, "'Lo?"
I stretched, lifting my head to watch Emmett with bleary eyes, instantly becoming alert when I saw him frown and sit up.
"Bella? What's wrong?"
Emmett tensed, his eyes darting to mine when I sat up next to him, the covers falling to my waist as I put my hand on his thigh. For some reason, I felt anxiety creeping up in me. I knew Bella was staying the weekend with Nettie, and the nighttime call had to mean something was wrong.
Sure enough, my fears were confirmed when Emmett said, "Stay calm, Bells. We're on our way. Just...wait for us, okay? And call Dad. I don't want you alone there, alright?"
As soon as he hung up the phone, he scrubbed his face and blinked at me. The worry etched in his features left me feeling cold. "Em?"
He sighed, taking my hand in his. "Babe, Nettie's water broke. Bella called an ambulance, and they're on their way to the hospital now."
"But she's not due..."
He squeezed my hand, his voice breaking as he said, "I know, baby. Come on. I told Bells we'd meet her there."
We were at the hospital not half an hour later. Bella met us at the door, her face streaked with tears as she told us everything that had happened. She kept whispering that she was sorry, though for the life of me I couldn't understand why. I wrapped my arms around her as she cried against my chest; for once, neither of us felt embarrassed about the contact.
Emmett went to check on Nettie's status, but they refused to tell us much, since we weren't family.
Wade and Ava showed up a little while later, and we filled them in as best we could. Wade said he called Nettie's father, who was out of town on a business trip. "He's flying in on the next available flight, but the earliest he'll be able to get here is tomorrow morning."
I nodded, clutching Emmett's hand tightly in mine. The not knowing was the worst, followed closely by the waiting.
It was hours later, after Nettie's father had arrived, that we finally got news. Nettie had given birth to a little girl. Nettie was fine, but tired. The baby, however, had been rushed to NICU - the neo natal intensive care unit. She'd been born seven weeks early - much too soon to be fully developed.
Even I knew that much.
When we finally were allowed to meet our daughter, we could only go in one at a time at first. It broke my heart to see her tied to so many tubes and machines, stuck inside that small incubator. Her eyes were covered with gauze to keep out the light, which was always on. She looked so tiny, so fragile. I wanted to hold her so badly, to whisper into her hair - what little there was of it - to be strong, to let her know she was loved and that we'd do anything for her.
From the moment we laid eyes on her, both Emmett and I knew that she was ours.
Our little girl.
We stood watching outside the NICU window as the nurses bustled around. Emmett pulled me to him, and I rested my head against his shoulder with a sigh. He kissed my forehead lightly, murmuring, "Congratulations, Papa."
I chuckled softly, still amazed that we'd gotten to this point. I lifted my head to kiss him. "Congratulations to you, too, Daddy. Can you believe it?"
He tightened his arms around me, humming contentedly. "I can...but I'll feel a hell of a lot better once I can hold her."
I sighed. "Yeah, I know..." I reached my arm around his waist. My eyes were on her, though. I murmured, my voice filled with awe, "Elizabeth Anne McCarty..."
She spent the first two months of her life in the NICU, fighting. She'd been born before her nursing reflexes had formed, so they had to teach her that. So many things were wrong with her; some were 'normal' for a premature baby, while others baffled the hospital staff. She didn't have an immune system yet either, so her tiny body was covered in blisters as it tried to fight off things a normal person would have no issue with.
Things, in truth, I had never considered.
Her body wasn't creating its own red blood cells yet, so she had to have blood transfusions because of her anemic condition. She reacted adversely to the transfusions every time - in part due to her extremely high intolerance for iron. Every little thing that happened was followed by some complication or seemingly minor problem that had to be treated...and in turn caused its own problems.
It was horrible to watch, but what could we do? The only way to save our little girl and give her a shot at surviving was by putting her through all of that. As much as it pained me - pained us both - there was no other option.
In the end, she stabilized on her own enough that they allowed her to come home, though we had several more trips to the hospital within the first year of her life, including a stay at PICU. It was harder - much harder - than we'd ever anticipated when we decided to adopt a child, mostly because neither of us had counted on any of this happening the way it did. We had, as most parents would, assumed that everything would go well with the pregnancy and birth itself.
Elizabeth coming into the world almost a full two months before she was supposed to had thrown a wrench into the dreams we'd had for her. They hadn't been destroyed, by any means, but they were irrevocably changed.
I'd always liked the fact that Emmett and I were able to work from home. It was something that had worked well for us over the years, since we were able to create our own schedule. This was something I became infinitely grateful for once Elizabeth came home with us. We were able to take care of her in shifts, and though this meant that we saw a little less of each other, it was what we needed to do - for her.
She refused to sleep, was constantly crying for weeks, stopping only when someone held her close and moved around. She appeared to be in pain whenever we put her down, and it pierced my heart to see and hear it. I knew it was the same for Emmett, too. We both felt helpless, clueless as to how to make our little girl feel better.
I was thankful that I had already finished the latest book not long before Lizzie was born, so there was less for me to worry about. I was able to focus more on her. My agent, Les, and publisher, Carmen, were both very understanding and didn't pressure me for more - it definitely helped that we knew both of them socially, so they were well aware of everything that was going on.
Emmett, for his part, scaled back his workload further. He'd already hired someone to help, and his brother Peter also helped out for a few months. We both did as much research as we could, working to educate ourselves so Lizzie would have the best care possible.
Emmett's hand squeezing my shoulder brought my attention back to the here and now, as he pointed to Ellie's hand and said, "Maybe she needs a sword?"
I blinked, looking from the drawing to Emmett in surprise. He straightened up, scratching the back of his neck as he grinned. "Well, the idea is to show her story, right? And Blue's protecting her and all...helping her out and stuff?"
"Well..." He chewed on his upper lip for a bit, then said, "Her carrying a sword...it fits, you know? Showing she can help herself, show her strength?"
He watched me as I gaped at him. What he said made perfect sense, and I could see it in my mind's eye, that thatwas exactly what was missing. "When did you get into symbolism, Em?"
He rolled his eyes and huffed. "What? You telling me that I'm wrong?"
I grinned, pulling him down to kiss him firmly on the lips. "Not at all, babe. It's perfect. Thank you."
"You're welcome," he murmured.
Ellie and Blue was one of the few projects I'd talked about openly with Emmett. He knew how protective I was of all my plots, but this was different. This was based on our daughter's struggles and was meant to show her that being different was not a bad thing. Her differences were part of what made her so strong - a trait that we had watched develop over the past five years.
I groaned softly, muttering, "God, five years..." I glanced up at Emmett. "Has it really been that long?"
It felt kind of strange to think about it, especially considering that the doctor who'd initially treated Lizzie had blatantly told us, "Don't get attached to her. You cannot expect her to survive." Thinking back on those words - and the way he'd said them - I could feel the anger boiling up again.
Emmett rubbed my arm soothingly, as if he knew where my thoughts had headed, and nodded. "Yeah, it has. Crazy, isn't it?"
I nodded, then rested my head against his chest and sighed. "Just a little."
He hugged me and smiled. "She'll be home soon...about half an hour, I think."
Glancing at the clock, I grinned. "Yeah, I'd better get this finished before then. Shouldn't take me long now, though. Then we can pick her up from the bus?"
Emmett leaned down, kissing me. "Sounds like a plan to me. I'll leave you to it."
As soon as he left, I took a long drink of the tea he'd made me before settling in to finish the drawing. Since it was a pencil sketch, it didn't take me long at all before I got the sword right, and I was pleased with the end result. I couldn't wait to show her the book. I wanted to wait until it was a book, though, so she'd be the first to read it.
I carefully put the drawing away in my portfolio, my mind going over the other things I wanted to draw for the book. I was sure that I'd get more inspiration while watching Lizzie play - I usually did.
When I went to look for him, Emmett was putting together a snack for her, so it'd be ready as soon as she got home. I wrapped my arms around his waist from behind, kissing his neck. "Just about that time, babe. You ready?"
He patted my hand, turning his face to press his lips to mine gently. "Yep, let's go get our girl."
We walked to Lizzie's bus stop at the corner of the road. The weather was nice, the sun shining brightly, and I could feel the way my mood lifted just from that and knowing my baby'd be home in a few minutes. It was still kind of strange to me how I'd taken to being a dad. Hurdles aside, I'd loved every minute of it. Being a father was something I definitely wouldn't change for anything in the world. Had anyone told me I'd feel that way years ago, I'd have rolled my eyes and called them insane.
We had to wait a little bit for the bus to arrive, so Emmett leaned against the lamppost and pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me. I smiled at him and did the same. These few quiet moments together were something I relished, especially now that it wasn't just the two of us anymore. Emmett grinned at me, then murmured, "Hey..."
My lips twitched into a grin of my own as I rubbed my nose against his. "Hey..."
He hummed softly, tilting his head slightly and kissing me languidly. All too soon, he pulled away, brushing my cheek as he murmured, "I love you, Ed."
Leaning into his hand, I closed my eyes and smiled. "I love you, too."
Right then, the bus turned the corner, and with a small squeeze of his arms, he let me go, winking. As always, I felt my heart beat a little faster as I wondered how Lizzie's day had been. I knew nothing bad had happened, as we hadn't received any calls from her school, but still. I'd felt anxious since she'd started school a few weeks ago.
It had been a struggle to get her the aid she needed over the years and finally into the school system. I never could understand why there was so much red tape and so many so-called experts to figure out what a child needed, especially since some of the people who were supposed to know what they were doing really didn't.
Both Emmett and I knew Lizzie; we knew how she reacted to most things, which scenarios were more likely to set her off, what she could and couldn't do. Some of the evaluators, though, and even the therapists, didn't listen at all to our input. It was frustrating to no end.
It had been fairly obvious very early on that Lizzie had developmental issues. Unsurprising, really, given the way her life had started. After the first two years, she had finally caught up physically to where she was supposed to be, if we went by her original due date. She wouldn't have gotten that far without a supplement we'd started to give her, since one of the many difficulties she had revolved around food. She still had trouble eating, refusing to try certain things or to eat if her fingers were sticky - silly things, for other kids, but if you pushed her, it could result in a meltdown.
The hard part had been trying to work out what, exactly, was going on as far as her development was concerned. She was very smart and generally a very happy kid. She was affectionate and always needed to be doing something. It was nearly impossible to really get her to sit still for any length of time. She craved noise in the background, so there was usually a video going at home. Even if she didn't watch it, it had to be on. We figured that particular quirk developed because for the first months of her life, there had been constant noise from the machines and doctors and nurses. For us, it was a little annoying at times, but we learned to deal with it.
Clever as she was, though, she had trouble processing things, which put her behind her peers in some areas. She'd failed several tests because of that; though she had known the answers, she just hadn't been able to get to them in the manner or time allotted.
My thoughts were interrupted by a shrill, "Papa! Daddy!"
Lizzie came running full-tilt from the bus, a smile so bright on her face that my worry melted away. I knelt down, opening my arms to her, and she jumped at me, hugging me tight before planting a big wet kiss on my cheek. Emmett laughed, ruffling her hair as he said, "Hey, kiddo! Did you have fun today?"
Picking her up, I got back to my feet. Emmett hugged both of us a little awkwardly, thanks to Lizzie's backpack, and then we headed home. Lizzie was talking excitedly about class, telling us how the other kids were learning to sound out their letters and that they were working on the letter "I." My lips twitched as I tried to keep myself from grinning, shooting a look at Emmett. Lizzie had been sounding out words and reading for a while now.
When we got home, Lizzie went straight to the table and sat down, while Emmett went to grab her snack. I sat down kitty-corner from Lizzie and watched her, smiling softly as I took in her bright blue eyes, button nose, and wide grin as she fidgeted in her seat. Emmett joined us, putting the small bowl of fortified pudding in front of her and handing her a kid's spoon with an image of Pooh stamped on it. She'd finally managed to use it on her own, but it always had to be that particular spoon. She flat out threw a fit if you tried to give her another one, so Pooh it was.
Snack time was always a drawn out affair because we used the time to discuss how her day had gone, rather than get annoyed over the fact that she'd continually stall on her eating and do something else in between bites. By talking through her day, we were able to connect as a family, and it became a time both Emmett and I cherished and looked forward to.
Once she was done, she very carefully placed her spoon just so in the bowl and turned to look at me with wide eyes. "Papa? Wead wif me?"
I smiled, nodding. "Of course, pumpkin. Go pick out a book and take a seat, I'll be right there."
Lizzie loved reading and loved being read to even more. We had cultivated her love of words from the very start, and it pleased me to no end that she'd taken to it as well as she had. I gave her some time, sitting at the table and smiling as I remembered Emmett coming home one day with a bag full of books and DVDs.
Emmett placed a bag on the table with a wide grin, dropping his suitcase on the floor. I'd just put Lizzie in bed after too many hours of her fighting bedtime and melting down because of it, and I was more than a little tired. He frowned as he took in my - no doubt haggard - expression, and walked up to me, folding me in his arms. He'd been out of town on business for the past two days - a trip he hadn't been able to get out of - and it felt so good to be held by him again, to have him home and know I wasn't dealing with everything alone anymore.
Technically I knew I never really was, and that all I had to do was pick up the phone and any number of family members would be here to help me, but that wasn't the same as having my husband with me.
He kissed my forehead with a soft sigh, murmuring, "I'm sorry I wasn't able to be here, baby. Has she been giving you a hard time?"
I shrugged, trying to keep my emotions in check. I knew she couldn't help herself and that I was just overwhelmed by the myriad things that made her Lizzie. He rubbed my back soothingly before dragging me to the table to see what he'd gotten. He pulled out the different books and DVDs, and I frowned when I noticed that they all matched up. Every book had a DVD with it. I looked up at him in confusion.
"Em, baby, don't you think we have plenty of DVDs for her already?"
He grinned, tapping the cover of one of them. "These aren't normal movies, sweetheart. They took the books and put them on film just like they are on paper so she can follow along. Mark told me about them, said his sister uses them with her kid - you remember me telling you about her son, right? He's got the same kind of problems as our Lizzie."
I nodded, and he continued, "Well, he said they really helped with his reading and shit. Thought it might be worth a shot for her, so I stopped by the store to pick a few of them up. She loves hearing you read to her, so I just figured..."
He trailed off with a shrug. I smiled, cupping his cheek, and murmured, "Emmett McCartty, you are a very smart man and a great dad. I love you."
He chuckled, turning his face to kiss the palm of my hand. "I love you, too."
She'd loved those books, and the DVDs had helped tremendously, just like he'd hoped. We'd made some headway on her reading skills before, but she seemed to absorb things like a sponge after watching those movies.
Realizing she was probably ready, I picked up her empty bowl and headed to the kitchen to grab her sippy cup and a bottle of water for me. When I got to the living room, I chuckled at seeing Emmett waiting almost as eagerly as Lizzie. I settled down on the couch next to him, and Lizzie wedged herself between us and handed me her book of choice: The Tale of Brer the Brave. It was her favorite book by far, and she loved knowing that I'd written it for her cousin Maria.
Kissing the top of her head, I cleared my throat and opened the book to the first page.
"No, Papa!" She scolded, leaning over and flipping back to the dedication page. "Fwom the start, pwease."
Emmett chuckled, winking at me.
I grinned. "Alright, pumpkin, from the start." I paused a moment, then began, "For Maria, a very special little girl, and Brer Rabbit, a very special bunny."
Lizzie nodded solemnly, and I flipped the page.
"It was covered in layers of dirt and dust, and the tip was a little bent, but Brer the Brave knew a treasure when he saw it..."
I smiled when I felt Emmett's thumb brush my neck, and I knew he was remembering the day I'd come up with that particular story. My eyes flickered briefly to his to find him smiling tenderly at me. He gave a small nod, then turned his attention back to our little girl, who sat listening and reading along with rapt attention.
With a flourish, I finished the story, "...and they all lived happily ever after. The End," and closed the book. Elizabeth beamed up at me, then threw her arms around me as far as she could reach and said softly, "Thank you, Papa."
"You're welcome, sweetheart. Now why don't you put your book back on the shelf and go play?"
She turned to hug Emmett, then rushed off to do as she'd been told, deviating just long enough to find a movie she wanted to have on while playing. Emmett took it from her, rolling his eyes a little as he murmured too low for her to hear, "Ugh, Beauty and the Beast...again."
I chuckled and got to my feet. He followed suit, but before he could put the movie on, I wrapped my arm around his waist and whispered in his ear, "I don't know what you're complaining about. You're going to hide in your office until dinner time, anyway. I'll be the one enduring another round of 'Be Our Guest.'"
He smirked, turning his head to kiss me briefly. "True."
We both watched Lizzie as she attempted to pile her stuffed toys high, almost as if she were trying to bring "The Town Musicians of Bremen" to life. Emmett sighed, running his fingers through his hair, and then gave me another peck on the lips. "I really do need to get some work done, though."
I nodded, smiling. "I know. We'll be fine. Just remember that it's your turn to cook tonight."
The rest of the night was spent as usual, with Lizzie and me playing - and learning along the way; then it was time for dinner. Unfortunately, we couldn't have dinner as a family anymore because one of Lizzie's latest issues included being around other people eating foods she herself wasn't ready to process. Whenever she saw someone eat something she couldn't handle, she'd gag as if she herself was forced to eat it. So that meant that Lizzie had her dinner first, and Emmett and I would eat after she'd gone to bed.
It saddened me a little to lose out on family mealtime, but it was something that we were working on both at home and at school. I felt confident that, in time, things would settle down to where we'd all be able to have dinner together again. For now, this would just have to do. There were only so many issues we were willing and able to tackle at the same time, so we chose our battles as best we could.
After she finished her dinner, it was time to get ready for bed. Whereas story time was something between Lizzie and me, bath time was for Emmett. I was always there, but like Emmett during story time, I was more on the sidelines - except, of course, for those days when Emmett wasn't at home or the few occasions when Lizzie demanded I do it, instead. This balance worked well for us, as it gave us both a special moment with our little girl.
Eventually, she was all cleaned and tucked into bed, leaving the two of us tired but smiling. Emmett cooked dinner while I put on soft music, and we ate together quietly, relishing the time we kept sacred. Dinner and the few hours before bedtime were just for us - no work, no Lizzie, just two men in love...and lust, of course. I could always tell when Emmett was feeling amorous, and I grinned inwardly when I saw the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
Sure enough, as soon as the dishes were cleared away, his teasing began. Roaming, playful hands gave way to heated kisses, and we found ourselves escaping to our room, where we fell onto the bed in a tangle of limbs and need. We gave in to our passion, spending long moments in thrusting hips and writhing bodies before we collapsed, sated and exhausted, in each other's arms.
A couple of months passed since the day Emmett came up with the idea of Ellie carrying a sword, and with his help, things progressed very quickly. I had hoped to have at least a mock-up ready for Lizzie's birthday, to present her with her very own book as our gift to her, and I was happy to see that wish come true.
Lizzie's book arrived by special courier, courtesy of Carmen, who knew how special this particular book was to me. Lizzie was thankfully still in school when it came, so I searched out Emmett in his office, holding the package. For some reason, I didn't feel right opening it alone, like I normally did when I got that first printing of a new book. It was something sacred to me, to see it, touch it, for the first time without anyone else there. Of course, I always showed Emmett right after I'd leafed through it myself, but I still coveted those first moments alone.
This time, I couldn't do it.
This time, I needed Emmett to be there.
I knocked on his door, waiting for him to acknowledge me before walking in, even though the door was open. He looked up from his screen with wide eyes and a grin. "Is that it?"
Nodding, I walked over to him, placing the nondescript package on his desk in front of him. For some reason, I felt more anxious than I'd ever felt with any book prior to this. I bit my lip, shoving my hands into my back pockets with a sigh. Emmett glanced up at me, putting his hand on the small of my back and rubbing it gently. "You okay?"
I nodded again, frowning slightly. "Yeah, I just..." I paused, my teeth returning to my lip as my eyes found his. "You open it?"
He searched my face for a moment. "Are you sure, Ed?"
He nodded and, with one final brush of his fingers against my back, turned his attention to the package. He opened it carefully, reverently pulling the book out of the casing before putting it on his desk. His fingers traced the color rendition of Ellie and Blue, marching along into the forest - the very same picture I'd been working on when he'd made the suggestion about the sword.
He whispered, "That's beautiful, Edward."
He looked up at me in awe, as though the reality of all the work we'd put into this project hit him only now. I smiled sheepishly, nodding toward the book again. "Read the dedication."
Emmett gently opened the book, careful not to crack the cover, and read:
To my beautiful princess, Elizabeth Anne.
You are a true inspiration in my life.
I hope some day all your hopes and dreams come true.
Happy Birthday, sweetheart.
I love you.
To my beautiful husband, Emmett.
Thank you for all your love and support.
For always being there.
I love you.
Emmett's voice cracked. "Ed...I-I don't know what to say..." He closed the book with trembling fingers and turned to me. He reached for my arms, extracting my hands from my back pockets as he drew me into his lap. His eyes were bright with emotion as he whispered, "Thank you. I love you, too. So much."
Putting my arms around his neck, I smiled. "Thank you. I don't think I could have done this without you." I glanced down at the cover, the weight of everything we'd been through washing over me. "I know I couldn't have."
I didn't mean just writing this book, either, and he knew it. I meant everything. I was happier now than I'd ever dreamed possible, and it was all because of him - him and Lizzie. His hands wandered up and down my back as he gazed into my eyes. "Think Lizzie'll like it?" I asked anxiously.
He rolled his eyes, chuckling. "Baby, Lizzie will love it. You know how much she adores your stories, and she loves knowing you have gotten some of them published - even if she may not fully understand what that means."
He wrapped his arms around me, hugging me tight as he kissed my neck. We sat like that for a few minutes until he insisted on leafing through the book to see how it had turned out. He shifted me a little, refusing to let me go, and together we went page by page - Emmett commenting along the way on how great the drawings were, making me blush.
When he was satisfied, he patted my thigh and told me to grab the wrapping paper, so it could be a proper present for Lizzie's birthday the next day. Emmett had to make sure it was safely put away, so I wasn't tempted to give it to her as soon as she was home. He knew me well enough to know that I'd have a difficult time keeping it to myself now that it was here, so he insisted on picking Lizzie up himself, leaving me to wrap up the last things we'd need for tomorrow's birthday party.
He kept her entertained for much of the rest of the night, which meant I was left meticulously checking our lists to make sure everything was in place. Part of me was grateful for the distraction while another part was loathe to wait. In all, it worked out, and before too long Lizzie was in bed asleep.
The next day started off much like every day did. Lizzie came running into our room and bounced on top of Emmett, her shrill voice the first sound of the day. "Morning, Daddy!"
Emmett pretended to be surprised for a moment, causing Lizzie to giggle. Her giggles soon erupted into shrieks of laughter as he began to tickle her. Her long hair was in disarray, and I ran my fingers through it as Emmett gave her a bearhug and a big wet kiss on her cheek. He grinned at Lizzie and said, "Happy Birthday, sweetheart."
He loosened his hold on her, and she began to bounce again, Emmett's "Oof!" only encouraging her. Deciding to rescue him before she accidentally landed somewhere that'd effectively end all fun and games for a while, I scooped her off of him and into a hug of my own. "Happy Birthday, pumpkin. Is there anything you want for breakfast?"
She settled into my arms, resting her head on my shoulder as she thought about my question. Her finger tapped her lips as she'd seen Wade do when he was lost in thought. The idea made me smile.
"Aminals?" she asked at last, lifting her head with a beaming smile.
I grinned and repeated, "Animals."
She frowned, trying again. "A-mi-nals."
For some reason, she always stumbled over this word, even though she could spell it out. I asked her to do so and was rewarded with, "A-n-i-m-a-l-s. Aminals!"
Emmett chuckled, ruffling her hair as he kissed her forehead. I tried again, "A-ni-mals," but got the same result.
I decided to let it go and told her to go with Daddy, so I could get her crackers. Most people would have scoffed at her choice of food, but I was only too grateful that she even wanted something solid again. I prayed that her food issues would be overcome soon, but for now, I'd take what I could get.
Lizzie crawled off of our bed and bounced on the balls of her feet, waiting impatiently for Emmett to get up. He made a great show of standing very slowly - groaning and stretching along the way. Finally Lizzie huffed, "Daddy!" and put her hands on her hips.
I laughed, shaking my head as I got up and followed after them. I veered off into the kitchen, pouring her customary juice into her sippy cup and her favorite animal crackers into her bowl. When I got to the table, I grinned at Emmett as he made faces at Lizzie.
Ever the clown.
Putting her things down in front of her, I took my seat and watched her eat. She talked about Blue and the adventure she'd been on. Her imaginary play had increased a lot over the past few months, and it thrilled me immensely. It was such a small thing for some kids, but such a big step for her.
Amazingly, she worked her way through a good portion of the crackers before deeming herself "full" and going to pick out another movie. This time, she chose The Jungle Book. We let her play for a little while, knowing that if we didn't, she wouldn't make it through the day without at least one meltdown. It also allowed us to get the final things ready before people started coming over in the afternoon.
Ava would be bringing the cake, so that was something we didn't need to worry about, and Rosalie, Charlotte, and Alice had offered to bring food enough for everyone. It would "only" be Emmett's immediate family and my parents coming to the party, but that would still leave a house full of people. Being around so many people didn't always go well, but she was mostly used to special occasions like this. She was able to deal with them relatively well, as long as she had a good day to begin with.
Once everything was finished, as far as our part went, Emmett went to grab the presents, and I sat down in front of the couch with Lizzie. On her birthday and Christmas, we always made sure that this part was just for us, so that she'd at least have some manner of calm but still have the celebration. It worked well, for the most part.
Lizzie was dancing in her place to "Bear Necessities" and singing along as best she could when Emmett sat down beside us. I grinned at him, and he winked. He put his hand on the small of her back and said, "You ready for some presents, sweetheart?"
Her eyes widened, and she nodded, instantly still - or as still as she was capable of being. Aside from the book, she had three presents we gave her to open first. She clapped her hands in delight as she unwrapped the movies we'd gotten her: The Rescuers, The Lady and the Tramp, and The Muppet Movie.
Emmett shot me a look as he gave her the last present. I leaned forward and helped her carefully unwrap it, and she gasped softly when she saw the cover. "Dat's me and Bwue!"
I grinned, "Yes, baby, that's you and Blue. This is your book, princess. I wrote it just for you."
She held it gingerly in her hands, turning it this way and that. Then she put it on the coffee table and sat on her heels as she spelled out the title for herself, as well as my name. I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed her temple, murmuring, "Very good, pumpkin. Do you want to read it?"
She gazed up at me with wide eyes and nodded. She climbed into my lap, settling against my chest. Emmett handed me the book and sat down next to us, his arm around my shoulders as he read along. Lizzie sounded out the dedication all on her own, then read it again quietly before turning around to look at me. She whispered, "I love you, too, Papa," and kissed me quickly, then turned around to read the dedication again.
Emmett gave me a squeeze, and when Lizzie was satisfied, she very carefully turned the page. The first time through, she insisted on hearing me read it, and when I was done, she turned the book back to the first page and read for herself. We had to help her a few times, but for the most part, she did great.
By the time she was finally satisfied, my legs and ass had fallen asleep, and Emmett had gone off to start making coffee. The family would be arriving soon enough. He walked back just in time to see her climb out of my lap and kneel beside me, wrapping her arms around my neck. My own arms wound around her, and she hugged me tightly for a long moment. My eyes clouded over as she whispered, "Thank you, Papa."