Hi. You know I love them. Thanks to killerlashes, and thank you for reading (if you do!) ;).
A Full House
My son grinned over at me. "So, is this where you got arrested?"
I shook my head and shoved his shoulder. Never again would I confide in him. "You're acting just like your mother," I muttered.
He laughed. "I'm just curious, Dad!"
"No," I answered. "That's on the other side of campus. I'll show you where the man pressed me face-down into the concrete and handcuffed me, if you like."
"I'm really enjoying this bonding experience."
I rolled my eyes, ruffling his hair and wrapping my arm around his shoulders. "Just think, in a few months you could be hanging out here."
"Yeah, right. Mom will have a heart attack if I move halfway across the country to go to school. Besides, what about Asbury? Don't you want me to follow in yours- and Jesus'- footsteps?"
That time I laughed. "You can do whatever you want, kid. I just want you to explore all your options, and the music program is great here."
"And if I like it…you'll talk to Mom?"
I pretended to think for a moment, enjoying the nervous expression on my eldest son's face.
"Dad!" he whined.
"I'll talk to Mom about it," I laughed, putting him out of his misery. Daniel let out a relieved whoosh of breath and stepped away from me to read some of the posters on the wall of the building we were in. I stood back a few feet to watch him, a little enthralled at the sight of my almost-adult son and picturing him at college very soon.
"Edward?" I heard my name and turned, feeling my eyes widen as I did. "Edward Cullen?"
With a smile, I stepped forward to the person who called me and held my hand out. She took it, shaking it gently and smiling.
"Bella Dwyer?" I asked and she nodded.
"It's Whitlock now, actually," she said, and I swear she blushed.
"Oh, I heard that. How are you? What are you doing here?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing!" Bella said with a laugh. "I teach English, and you're in my building."
"Am I?" I looked around and laughed when I caught the glare my son was giving me. "I'm here with my son doing a little research on schools." I beckoned Daniel over and he came quickly, shaking Bella's hand and smiling politely. Underneath his sweet smile was totally his mother's attitude, though.
"You graduate this year?"
He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
"What are you studying?" she asked.
"Music," Daniel answered, and Bella turned back to me.
"Just like your dad, huh?"
"Well, kind of. I mean, Dad's still pretty good with music, but he's super busy with his church and all of us." He shrugged and cast a glance at me.
Bella raised her eyebrow at me and waited for an explanation.
"I'm a pastor now. I have my own church in Tacoma," I explained.
"Really?" She looked skeptical and I chuckled quietly.
I grinned. "I know. It's crazy. Why don't we go get a cup of coffee and maybe you can tell Daniel about the school? If you don't mind."
"That'd be great," she agreed, so we made our way to the courtyard and bought coffee from a little cart. Bella talked a little about the school and classes, until eventually the conversation turned personal.
"How are your kids?" I asked, and she smiled.
"Good. My oldest just had a baby, and my youngest is getting ready to graduate from NYU. It's still hard to think of myself as a grandmother!"
Daniel snorted into his coffee and I aimed a glare at him. Probably because of the fact that I could be a grandfather…only my youngest kid was ten months old.
"Do you have any other children?"
"Yeah, you could say that," Daniel muttered. I rolled my eyes.
Bella looked between us, bemused.
"There are six of us," my son explained.
"Yep. Six. Dad wants to change our last name to Camden or something," he said with a grin.
"What'd I tell you about the 7th Heaven jokes?" I raised an eyebrow at him.
"Only tell them when Mom is around?"
I smiled and winked at him. "You're a good boy."
"Seriously, Edward. Tell me about your six children."
I took a deep breath. "Daniel's the oldest, Mara and Abi are thirteen, Matthew is eight, Hannah's adopted from Haiti and just turned five, James was adopted at six weeks old and will be one in a couple of months."
"You're telling me, lady. And my mom is wondering why I want to come all the way out here for school."
"I'm a grandmother and you have a one-year-old!" She laughed and shook her head. "That's nuts!"
"Trust me, Bella. I know," I said with a smile. "Our house is crazy." As if on cue, my phone buzzed in my pocket. "Hey," I answered it and held up a hand to Bella.
"That's how you greet the mother of your six children? Hey? How rude," Leah's voice was tinged with annoyance. I laughed.
"Did we slip back into the early nineties, Stephanie?"
"Now is not the time for Full House jokes, Edward!" she cried.
"What's wrong?" I frowned and glanced from Daniel to Bella before stepping away.
"You've been gone for two days," my wife whispered quietly, and I sighed.
"I know, pretty girl. We'll be home soon."
"Tell Daniel I love him," she said.
"I will," I promised.
"I know." I smiled.
"Call us tonight, okay?"
"Okay." I hung up and turned around. "Mommy loves you," I said to my son, who simply nodded, doing me the favor of not rolling his eyes.
"I have a lecture now, but why don't we meet up for dinner later and we can catch up some more," Bella suggested. "That little pub we used to go to is still over on Tenth Street…"
"Sounds good," I answered. "Around eight?"
She agreed and we parted ways, my son frowning as we walked back to the rental car.
"She likes you," he said once we were in the car.
"Water under the bridge, kid," I muttered and started the car, trying not to let his words get to me.
It was a few hours later when I was walking into a little pub that I'd frequented many nights in my days at school. Many nights that I couldn't even remember. The place was different, as was I. It was brighter and more modern than it had once been. Not the dingy little place that used to serve underage patrons.
I found Bella in a corner booth and she quickly stood and pulled me into a hug.
"I don't know what you like anymore, so I just ordered for myself," she explained and gestured to the half-empty wineglass in front of her.
"Um, I don't drink anymore, actually," I confessed.
"Oh…is that a religious thing?" she asked skeptically.
I chuckled quietly. "No. After everything that happened with my parents and you know…getting arrested, I had to do some AA meetings. I've been sober ever since."
"I had no idea, I'm sorry," Bella said quietly.
"It was the best thing for me. And for my sister."
"What happened after you left? It was like you disappeared."
I took a deep breath and went through the first few years of my life after my parents' deaths. Bella listened sympathetically and even squeezed my hand in an effort to give comfort, but I didn't need it. Everything that had happened had led me to exactly where I needed to be.
"And your wife? Where did you meet her?" she asked after a waiter refilled her wineglass.
"Leah was actually assigned to do community service at the church I was working at, so it all worked out," I laughed. "How about you? How's Jasper?"
"He's…Jasper. Probably just like you remember." I watched as she fingered the stem of her glass and sighed. "We're separated."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." I frowned.
"After our youngest graduated high school, things started to unravel. I just don't know how to put it back together," her voice shook as she spoke.
"Well, marriage isn't easy," I said as I patted her hand gently. "But if you love him then you should do all you can to make it work."
"How? How do you keep it together? I mean, you've got six kids for Christ's sake!"
I laughed. "I love my wife, Bella. It's that simple for us. Sure, she's stubborn and a complete pain in the ass almost all of the time, but she's what I want. She's the mother of my kids and the best thing that ever happened to me. If you want it to work, you'll make it happen. I know you will."
"Are you sure?"
"Trust me, Bella. I've married a ton of people of people. Most of them are still together…okay, some of them." I grinned and she gave me a weak smile.
"This is not what I expected to talk about tonight," she confessed.
"Yeah. I have that effect on people."
I watched for a moment before waking her, wanting to enjoy the beauty she held while she slept. The calmness and youth of her face that brought back memories of our first few years together, and I smiled.
"Hey," my wife whispered thickly and reached her hand up to touch my shoulder. Her hand trailed down my arm and her fingers laced through mine.
"Hey, pretty girl," I whispered back and bent down to kiss her.
"Did you just get in?"
"Yeah, just walked in the door."
"Where's Daniel?" she asked as she reached over and turned on her bedside lamp.
"He went to bed, he had a lot on his mind," I explained and brushed her hair from her face.
"He likes it a lot, huh?"
I sighed. "He does."
"It's so far."
"Don't worry," I said as I leaned down to kiss her again. "We have five more heathens to take his place."
Leah laughed and pushed me away, just as I heard James on the monitor beside our bed.
"Speaking of…go get 'em, Daddy." She grinned and rolled over, so I patted her on the ass and went to check on my son.
I picked him up out of his crib and carried him downstairs, hoping he'd take a bottle and go back to sleep. An hour later we were playing with toys in the middle of the living room, and quiet footsteps caused me to look up and smile.
"Hi, Daddy," Mara greeted me and joined us on the floor. She leaned against my side and I pressed a kiss to her hair.
"I missed you," she yawned.
"I missed you more," her twin replied from the bottom of the stairs. Mara stuck her tongue out at Abi and soon I was surrounded by my girls.
"Can we watch TV?" Mara asked. I cast a quick glance at James, who wasn't planning on sleeping anytime soon, and nodded.
A few moments later Matthew trudged down the stairs followed by Hannah and eventually they were all sprawled out over the living room. I wasn't surprised when Daniel joined us.
"What are we watching?" He asked as he took a spot between the twins.
"The Princess Bride," Abi yawned, and Daniel nodded appreciatively.
"So. Daddy comes home and all the rules disappear, huh?" Leah's voice caused us all to turn and I paused the movie quickly.
"We missed him," Hannah said with a little shrug.
"And it's a school night," Leah said, sticking her hands on her hips.
"Can't we stay home tomorrow?" Mara asked. "Please?" She glanced at me and I raised an eyebrow to my wife in silent communication.
She huffed out a little sigh before lifting Hannah into her lap and joining the kids on the couch.
"Hit play, Preacher Boy." She smiled at me over Hannah's head and I felt warmth spread through my chest.
I smiled. "As you wish, pretty girl."