::Peeks out from under giant rock:: Heeyyy, guys. Yes, this is happening.
I can't really apologize enough for dropping off the face of the fandom. I know that a lot of you won't remember this story at all, understandably, but I still get new alerts for it almost every day all these years later (I have no idea how people still come across it), here I am to see it through. Since my last update I started dating my high school sweetheart again, finished my degree, married, had a son that is now over 2-freaking-years old and a second on the way. I'm so sorry, truly. Every time I sat down to finish this tale there was some thing else that needed to be done. It was terrible, I felt terrible, the more time that went by the more I clammed up and didn't know how to reply to anyone or what to say.
Again, for many of you this update will come too late and I'm so sorry for that. But for the readers that need a resolution or just came across this story recently, it will be posted in its entirety, with regular updates, in a matter of months. If you'd like to wait until it is done and come back to read it as a finished piece, I totally understand and encourage you to do so. I don't recommend rereading the story to refresh your memory if you have already forgotten and came to terms with it having been abandoned for so long. I started writing it when I was really young and honestly, some of it is so amateurish I couldn't even stomach reading it through all the way. Thank you to everyone that was able to see passed all that and gave it a chance.
Please, feel free to message me with any thoughts, questions, or concerns. I am now actively checking my account and will be replying timely.
Nise didn't touch this chapter, the typos are all mine. She's a very important woman and is extremely busy. I can't ask her to pick this mess up 3 years later but please remember all the work she's put into the story so far. I did throw a little surprise in there for her, if she reads this.
Alright… Here we go.
"Did you have to wear that suit? Everyone's staring at us," Emmett muttered
through bared pearly whites in a grin that contradicted the petulant embarrassment in his tone. He strode with the practiced gate of a privileged senior and looked every bit as natural as the members of the crowd the two men wandered aimlessly through, "Who wears a suit on a college campus? Not even professors. You look like a fucking CIA agent."
Edward pulled at the loop of his impeccably laid tie but wouldn't admit that the countless eyes on him were responsible for the slight color in his cheeks. With as many years as it had been, one would think that the feelings of ostracism that had plagued the accomplished young adult would have faded, but there was something very familiar about moving through causally dressed twenty-somethings, too good looking and unusually well kempt to go unnoticed. Even in his own university years, he had never had the inclination to shuffle into class last second in slippers, pajamas bottoms and the previous day's shirt like his party drowsy peers.
Today though, his polished appearance had purpose and reason beyond self deprecatingly strong perfectionism.
"Where's the soccer field?" he demanded of his brother, stern enough to convey that he was watching Emmett's attention fade towards a group of chattering coeds.
The large male grinned, happily in his element, "We're already heading that way. Calm down a bit, brother. We got this."
Emmett had spent a fleeting semester on this campus years earlier and though he'd be at a total loss if asked to lead the way to any of the academic buildings, the sports arenas were entered firmly into memory—a testament to the eldest Cullen brother's priorities.
"You sure this is a good idea?"
"No," the redhead answered immediately.
"Cool. Just checkin'."
Edward had gone through a fair amount of trouble to facilitate what they'd come to do and hadn't been entirely sure of himself for a single movement of the process. The larger part of him very much wanted to do as Bella was content to and pretend the man in question didn't exist at all, but the smaller, logical side had presented a more compelling argument to his self preservation.
His attorney hadn't had too difficult of a time plugging in the holes of Bella's story in order to give Edward a name and probable location to search out Elizabeth's biological male contributor. A young man by the name of James Hunter whom had worked along side Bella in the town of Fork's small sporting goods store. Calls under careful false pretenses had granted him the information that Hunter was attending the University of Washington on a soccer scholarship, though the college itself was thriftier about protecting it's students and he'd been unsuccessful in getting a direct dorm number.
Edward had his grandmother's perfect ring, waiting as impatiently as an inanimate object was capable of being, to adorn the brunette's tiny finger, but he wanted something even more secure than her promise to him. His sweet girl simply didn't have the power to alleviate this particular concern.
Tender and immersed in the picture of his own family, he wanted the ability to protect and cherish the baby girl just as thoroughly as he would her beautiful mother. The walk felt like an eternity as they quested their way towards the one man who could shatter Edward's dream as inhumanly fast as Bella Swan had shaped it. His pulse raced as he began to fret over the possibility that the Hunter boy wouldn't be as easily intimidated by a power suit, abundant wealth, and a burly ex-football player as he had been hoping. A voice in a corner of his mind screamed that all he might accomplish is the desecration of Bella's anonymity.
"Hell... Looks like we got here at the perfect time!" Emmett thrilled, forcing him into the present.
Edward's emerald eyes darted up sharply, his heart pounding as though he'd recognize this boy, a face he'd never seen, the moment his green gaze landed on him. Instead, his features twisted with confusion and a dash of irritation.
"These are all female players," he scowled, looking across a field of girls with bulging caves that made even his well-exercised male equivalents feel inadequate.
"Fuck yeah they are," Emmett surged forward towards a small congregation who were nursing water bottles near a set of metal benches, "You have to be eighteen to go to college, don't you?" He wiggled his brows in a backwards glance.
His brother paced after him, not much of a match as he moved carefully with expensive loafers through disturbed grass and dirt. "We didn't come here to terrorize sorority sisters," he groaned mildly. "And, no, not necessarily."
Truth was, they both knew Emmett's interest was hollow and more jest than intent. Even while he made strides in improving his life, it was evident that the man held love lost toward his soon to be ex wife; something that secretly saddened his younger sibling.
"I'm sure these fine ladies will be able to point us in the right direction," Emmett voiced loudly. The girls turned and noticed the pair for the first time, the majority
turning wide eyed at the appearance of the exceptionally handsome brothers.
Their stares darted between Edward's stately form, closer to the models off magazine pages than most had ever seen, and the larger man's formidable build and classic American good looks. He wondered fleetingly if they'd get any words out of the gawking girls at all, but appreciated the reprieve from the some times brazen nature of women in his own age group.
One dark haired, muscle heavy girl looked at Edward with an innocent tinge of excitement. "Are you a scout?" she asked, hastily brushing clumps of dirt off her uniform in an attempt to make herself more presentable.
"Told you," Emmett snickered.
Edward cleared his throat uncomfortably, embarrassed, "I'm uh, looking for James Hunter. I don't know-"
"Ah...Men's league," an attractive but incredibly hard looking blonde cut him off with a disapproving grumble. She crossed alarmingly masculine arms over her chest and gave him a look that actually left him feeling chastised, "You know... There's plenty of talent in female soccer if you stuffed shirts could be bothered to give a rats ass..."
Several of the girls grunted in agreement and the group suddenly looked a great deal less welcoming.
"Undoubtedly," the accidental imposter attempted to back track, calling on his years of surviving Alice's teenage temper, "I didn't mean to imply- I just need-"
A young lady with flaming red hair that made Edward's trademark locks look down-right mild stepped forward, an expression of warmth that had left most of her team-mates. She had small, delicate features that reminded him very much of his Bella, though her eyes were a pale blue instead of brown and her light skin was doted by a star-scape of freckles.
"Don't mind them," she encouraged him with a fragile laugh, twisting her fingers shyly, "James is an amazing player, sir, one of best college players in the state..."
Edward's pulse and interest both peaked at the possible new lead, "So you know Mr. Hunter?" he hedged, happy to get any drop of information regarding the younger man's character before having to face him.
A few of the girls tittered at his question, much to his confusion, and the slight redhead's numerous freckles disappeared behind a Bella worthy blush.
"She Wishes," the same outspoken blonde laughed, giving her flushed-faced companion a hard bump with her shoulder. It was a testament to the smaller girl's deceptively athletic physique that the rough jab didn't send her toppling over, "Victoria worships James Hunter. But he doesn't know she exists-"
"He doesn't know anyone exists," the original brunette cut in, softening her teammates crass teasing. "Really quite guy, keeps to himself. He's just dedicated to the game," she insisted, giving the Victoria girl a reassuring smile, "That's why he's so good. He eats, breaths and sleeps his sport."
The determined man didn't care for that tidbit of gossip. He had hoped James would have a budding social life typical of his age group, a carefree existence of dating and parties he'd be happy to maintain for another few years. Maturity and dedication weren't part of the profile he wanted in a boy he was praying would go through with signing away his parental rights to his first child.
"Super weird guy, if you ask me," the blonde simpered, even though no one had, in fact, asked her anything.
Victoria found her voice again, "He's not weird, he's just introverted..."
"Code for weird but hot."
Deciding to end the subtle bully's reign of slights, Edward cut to his chase, now speaking directly to Victoria, "I have business to discuss with him. It's fairly urgent. Do you have any idea where I might be able to find him?"
She looked uncertain, though he wasn't sure if she was unable to help him or conflicted regarding his motives. For someone who didn't know Hunter personally, she appeared eager to aid or protect him from whatever the two visitors had planned.
"Men's evening practice was over forty five minutes ago. He might just be in his dorm?" She guessed. He opened his mouth but she seemed to anticipate his next question before it was out, "I've seen him walk towards McMahon. It's that way," she pointed vaguely to the left of them, "I don't know the floor or room- I'm sorry."
"He's definitely on the fourth floor," the blonde monopolized again with a sultry grin, "his room has a shared living area with my ex."
That information was as helpful and thorough as someone could possibly hope for when searching out one individual on a campus of over forty thousand.
Feeling his anxiety rising at making it another step closer to a confrontation he'd been planning for weeks, Edward excused himself and his brother quickly, giving a genuine thanks to a mostly disinterested audience.
Emmett glanced back at the group over his shoulder as the duo increased their distance. "Ok was it just me or was that blonde like a ten out of ten hot?"
The more sensible sibling shot him an exasperated side eye, "Em, you need to seriously revaluate your 'type'. Honestly."
Even with the narrowed search, finding James Hunter wasn't easy. The two Cullen's meandered their way through the huge facility, questioning several students that didn't look burdensomely busy in order to end up at the right set of dorms. Even then Emmett had to awkwardly shoulder them through the card-key locked doors behind a resident that actually belonged there in order to get them access to the dorm room areas. More questions, several blank looks and shrugs mixed with one very helpful young man— shirtless, strumming a guitar in the hallway and smelled like he bathed exclusively in marijuana—they finally had a room number.
By the time they were standing in front of door 4023, Edward was positive there was not a single ounce of blood left in his face. The usually grounded professional felt ashen and ill, suddenly regretting the expensive suit that was meant to impress but was now heavy and hot on his body, stripping his composure with a terrible bout of claustrophobia he had never before been prone to.
Emmett gave his brother's shoulder a supportive squeeze. "Hey, even if this all goes to shit, it won't be the end of the world," he comforted, "Bella's nuts about you. The worst that can happen is that you guys have to co-parent with this James kid."
Edward knew he wouldn't love Bella a single ounce less if the child she carried was unable to be claimed as exclusively theirs. There was a part of him though that just wanted to be selfish; a part that wanted to be the only father their daughter would turn to for love and support. He badly wanted their family to be whole and uncontested.
Further more, the thought of Bella having her small child court ordered from her side for regular intervals of paternal visitation haunted him; even as he accepted that such visits would be Hunter's right if he chose to be involved. He had seen the life-changing bond between his female patients and their new babies—a period bonding of time so essential to both that he and his colleagues often referred to it as the forth trimester—and couldn't imagine watching Bella experience the acute pain of having her new born away from her for hours, and eventually days, at a time. There were very few things that Edward wouldn't do to save Bella from such profound hurt.
"Yeah... I-" he let the sentence go unfinished, not able to stomach acting as though he agreed with Emmett's sentiment.
His brother gave him a weak, understanding smile and didn't press the subject any further. He turned quickly and gave the door a hard, jarring knock.
A half-strangled cry of alarm tumbled from Edward's throat, having lost precious seconds of mental preparation. Emmett shrugged at the other man's glare of minor betrayal. "Get this going. Like ripping off a band-aid..." He explained.
"You know, us in the medical field actually prefer to do that slowly and very carefully."
They stood there in tense silence for several seconds before Edward could no longer stand it and knocked again, tapping at the wood for a more persistent amount of time. Still, the door remained closed and no sounds could be heard from the other side.
Desperate, Edward leaned in to knock once more. Emmett barked out a laugh and slapped down his brother's outstretched arm. "Easy there, Princess. Believe it or not, this room is probably about as big as your closet. If he didn't hear us knock, he's not in there."
"Damnit," Edward hissed, his back thudding against the opposite wall. Unable to curb the nervous habit any longer, his fingers ran familiar pathways through his unruly hair. He desperately wanted relief from the pit of anxiety in his stomach and hated the idea of drawing this out for even a few extra days.
"It's fine," Emmett shrugged, leaning instead directly on the door in question; a show of buckling down for a long guard, "we can wait. I mean, he sleeps here so he has to be back eventually."
Edward pulled back his sleeve to glance at the time on his wrist before shaking his head, "I have to get back. Bella thinks I'm at work and is expecting me around five."
"Bella? ...Bella Swan?"
The Cullen's heads snapped sharply towards the sound of the quiet, careful voice.
Possessiveness curled up Edward's spine, straightening it, volatile and weary as he took in the newcomer who spoke his Bella's name so reverently. Neither had noticed the young man who had squandered his opportunity to dodge the strangers outside his door. Emmett's more intimidating frame went entirely ignored and he pinned only Edward with the brightest blue eyes he'd ever seen; eyes that seemed capable of hiding absolutely nothing as they broadcasted unrestrained hope and worry.
"Holy shit...Bella was impregnanted by that elf in Lord of the Rings."
Emmett's ludicrous whisper triggered Edward's further assessment. Still silent and waiting expectantly, the boy was above average height and as impossibly pale as the only other individual they'd known to come out of rainy Forks. His hair was styled uncommonly for a male, straight and long nearly to his shoulders but somehow in balance with features Edward knew, upsettingly, most any woman would describe as shockingly stunning.
"I mean, we've always thought you were pretty but he's..."
"Shut up, Emmett," Edward snapped.
Rarely one to be out scored in vanity, though perpetually claiming it meant little to him, Bella's present lover felt a wave of bitter envy at his youthful, attractive predecessor. This lean, angel-faced Olympian was hardly the goofy but well-meaning teen he'd been expecting based on his girlfriend's description.
Jaw tight, he tried to offer a smile that must have looked as fake as it felt because the assumed James took a barely noticeable half step backwards. "I'm Edward Cullen, this is my brother Emmett. We're looking for James Hunter."
The blonde nodded quickly. A strip of thick hair fell across his brow and he flung his head to the side slightly to displace it. Edward noticed his hands were full with a bottled water and a steaming ramen cup; hardly the kind of nutritional fuel one would expect from a hard working athlete, "That's me," he confirmed, "I heard you say- I've been waiting to hear from- Are you here for Bella?" his words tumbled over one another.
Edward offered a sharp, concise nod, giving away as little as possible before he was ready.
Hunter looked all at once overwhelmed with emotion—much to Edward's discomfort—electric eyes immediately wet at the confirmation. The boy looked up at the ceiling and took a shaky breath. For a few seconds, he said nothing at all. "No one's heard from her. She just disappeared. I never thought..." he paused, swallowing hard, "I've been so worried-"
"I can assure you, she's been very well cared for," Edward interrupted, his voice edged with not-quite warranted irritation towards the boy. He'd given Bella everything; would lay the world down at her tiny feet if it would please her. She didn't need socially awkward, uncomfortably good-looking soccer players out there 'worrying about her'.
Hunter gave him a careful look and straightened, perhaps deciding the conversation had taken a more professional turn, "I'm glad," he said evenly, and seemed to mean it. "Are you, like... her attorney or-?"
Emmett snickered loudly.
"I'm her fiancé," Edward bit, elevating his status while simultaneously blowing his plan of a fluid and even-keeled conversation.
The puzzled and entirely disbelieving look on Hunter's face brought Edward dangerously close to punching him. The younger man shook his head adamantly, no longer caring about the large locks of dark platinum that fell across his eyes. "I'm sorry I think I misunderstood. I thought you were talking about-"
"Exactly who I am talking about," Edward cut him off again, his volume low but his words lacking any trace of warmth, "Isabella Swan. Twenty years old. Nearly five months pregnant with a child you turned away. That's what I've come to discuss- if I could have a moment of your time."
James didn't bother to look around and see if the strong accusation had been over heard, legitimately uncaring about the opinion of his peers it seemed, but turned an ashen, sickly white. His gaze dropped to the floor but he took a few steps towards them until he was in front of Emmett and gesturing for access to the door to his room, "Lets go inside?"
Emmett was right about the size of the room. It was a small space to begin with but with two beds and a doublewide desk along the back of it, it seemed impossibly cramped once the three large men entered. James set his things down on the side of the room that was clean but very sparsely personalized and gestured across to the busier, more lived in area parallel to him.
"You can sit on my roommate's bed. His girlfriend lives off campus so he's never here…" he offered in near whisper as he lowered himself down on his own mattress, horrid dinner long forgotten.
The brothers exchanged apprehensive looks that mutually questioned the cleanliness of a college kid's bedding but said nothing on the subject as they took their seats on the thin, springy cot. A few moments of silence rolled by and they felt nearly as stifling as the tiny quarters.
James was slow to start the conversation and appeared mildly ill as the situation seemed to hit him. Edward finally noted the shy awkwardness that Bella had attributed to the boy.
"Where has Bella been? Can I talk to her?" He finally blurted, nerve ebbing as he watched Edward's entire body bristle at the idea.
"That would be up to Bella," he said carefully, but didn't add his thoughts about the legal team he would be retaining for that meeting to take place.
James gave him a clearly disappointed but understanding nod, "I'd imagine I'm not her favorite person right now. What did she send you here to tell me?" his pale brow furrowed, "the baby, it's alright? It's…healthy?"
Edward fought the urge to be petty, which took more restraint than he would have thought. The guy was either an amazing actor or genuinely concerned and that was not comforting to the Cullen male in any way. "The baby is healthy. She's perfect," He admitted, hiding none of his affection for the developing child.
Emmett quickly squirmed a little further towards the end of the bed, "If he pukes, I'm seriously out of here. I'll meet you in the car."
Edward turned and noted Hunter's drastic change in pallor with a bit of alarm. The blonde teetered precariously for a moment and looked as white as the basic, unembellished bedding he was sitting on.
"Do you, eh, need some water, or something," he asked the younger man, rubbing the back of his neck uneasily. He hadn't planned or dressed for vomit.
James put up a finger to indicate he needed a moment to compose himself and took several deep breaths before fixing Edward with watery eyes, "The baby's a girl? They know that already?"
The redhead was proud to say, "We've know that for some time now."
Hunter's head dropped, "I didn't want to be a dad," he said softly, his hands on his knees as if bracing himself, "but I never meant that I wanted her to do this on her own. When she asked- I thought she'd be around still, that I could help her with bills and-," James' blue eyes were pools of shame as they lifted and flitted between the two visitors, beseeching. "I never thought she'd just disappear."
"I mean, yeah, who could have guessed-" Emmett's mouth snapped closed at the scathing look he received from his sibling. He was a notoriously quick alley to an honest face and Edward suddenly regretted his choice in henchmen.
James shook his head at the unexpected validation, "I never should have let her believe she was in that alone. I understand why she left- I've been paying a lot of attention to her dad since she took off, trying to figure out if he'd heard anything, and I get it. I just-"
"What is it you get exactly?" Edward interrupted, curious at the conclusion the blonde had come to regarding Bella's relocation.
James looked slightly confused, "With Leah's mom marrying Bella's dad-"
"Leah, the girl that Bella's ex-fiancé cheated with?" Edward asked, taken aback.
"Yeah- Leah Clearwater. Her dad passed away a few months back and Bella's dad had been a close friend. I think it started off as him trying to make sure his buddy's wife was alright but they've been seriously dating for a few months now, openly just before Bella took off."
Edward took in the relevance of this information, "So with Bella's pregnancy progressing she'd either have to expose Leah and Jacob Black's involvement or accept responsibility for being unfaithful to her fiancé and let him look like the victim-"
The set of James' shoulders went slightly ridged at the mention of Bella's former partner. "Black didn't seem in a hurry to tell anyone else what he'd done. Went around that last month was in Forks, crying to anyone that would listen she, like he couldn't possibly imagine why she had stopped talking to him." He scoffed, "Jacob knew Bella was too selfless to make her dad pick between supporting her and friendships he's had for years while she was away with her mom."
"Yeah that sounds about right," Emmett chimed in regarding the tenderhearted brunette he'd been growing increasingly close to in recent weeks.
James glanced at the larger brother, taking him in, "I'm glad that Bella hasn't been alone… I've been," he covered his mouth with his hands to try to hide an unsteady breath, "thinking about her and the baby, everyday."
"Bella is more than capable of taking care of herself," Edward said what he knew was true, "but I would never let anything happen to her."
"Right…fiancé," Hunter's brows furrowed to express his confusion, "That must have been… recent. What about- her daughter?" he asked in an unnatural pitch that seemed tinged with hysteria.
Edward's body swam as he readied to breach the reason for the uncomfortable visit. He felt less sure of his success than ever before, realizing that the boy who had rejected Bella's pregnancy was actually a man teeming with genuine integrity who was deeply conflicted about the situation. He quickly reconsidered the business like formality he had been planning on using with Hunter. It no longer seemed appropriate.
He reached up and pulled at the loop of his tie, working it loose from a throat that felt choked. He looked at Elizabeth's biological father without pretense.
"Bella means the world to me," he stated thickly, ignoring the fact that the words felt inadequate, "and, to me, there is no loving her without also loving the child that is apart of her. I'd like to make both of them my family."
James compulsively twisted his long fingers with so much tangible anxiety that his knuckles were white like bone. "I don't know you," he said softly. "I know Bella. I feel like absolute scum for putting her in this position but I know she'll be a great mom. I don't think I'd do the baby justice but I can't just, write her off without knowing…"
Edward nodded, expecting as much and held his hand out to his brother who passed him a folder that had been prepared for the occasion. The redhead passed it over.
"This is me… my family history, my state and federal background check. My income and work history for the pervious five years. But you don't have to trust my paperwork; I'm willing to provide my social for any private search you'd like to pursue and pay any associated fees."
Hunter looked over the file, overwhelmed but trying hard to grasp the information in front of him. The papers shook lightly in his hands, "You're a doctor..." he read, surprised, after some tense silence.
"Obstetrics and gynecology…Its how I met Bella."
"But she's not your patient..."
"No, I only saw her in that capacity the first time. Treating her wouldn't be wise or ethical. She's seeing one of the best physicians I know, from my father's private practice."
James' forget-me-not gaze darted up from papers in his tenuous grasp, the first glimpse of genuine interest flitting across his features. "Your dad... He's a doctor too?"
The youngest Cullen son nodded, "He's a high-risk obstetrician, one of the best in the country."
"And he's…a good guy?" Hunter asked quietly.
Edward paused, sensing the importance of the question to the younger man, though he wasn't sure why. Before he could open his mouth, it was instead his slightly black-sheeped brother who voiced his exact sentiment.
"Carlisle Cullen is the very best man I know. We'd be nothing if it weren't for him," Emmett said in a voice that epitomized sincerity.
James nodded his head in acknowledgment but looked no less petrified as he went back to studying the papers in front of him. It would have been a small miracle if he was actually able to read any of the trembling words, the way his eyes swam with unshed tears. Edward recognized Hunter's overwhelmed, panicked farce as the teen desperately pretended to digest the information they'd offered.
His newly fortified moral compass—one of the many parts of him Bella's love had improved upon—pulled at him with unease. The scared boy in front of him had given him a gift he could never repay and it become increasingly upsetting to watch him flounder with impossible decisions.
"You should meet him," he heard himself suggesting without having fully decided he was going to voice the thought aloud. He knew instantly though, that it was unequivocally the right kindness to offer the blonde so he ignored Emmett's uncomfortable warning grunt. "You should meet our family."
James' head snapped up sharply, searching for signs of dishonesty or mockery. When he found neither, his pallor and posture relaxed like he'd finally remembered to breathe. "That would be… I'd really appreciate that."
Edward couldn't make any promises, "I'll need to speak with Bella," he lamented, "She's been-reluctant to address things, but I believe this needs to be resolved timely."
Bella didn't seem as averse to dealing with her child's father as she was about tackling the very uncomfortable relationship she left behind with her family and ex-fiancé. She didn't seem to be bothered or hurt with the way things were left with James, rather, naively believe that his one time dismissal of her child was enough to resolve his paternity. Edward deeply hoped she would be okay with his handling of the situation. He simple couldn't hold his daughter in his arms and pray that her "real father" didn't show up one day and rip her away.
Hunter nodded quickly, "Of course. I understand," he rose to his feet suddenly and for a moment, Edward thought they were being dismissed, but the tall boy turned to the bed he'd been sitting on and perplexingly lifted the mattress.
"I'm sorry, I just-" he offered a muffled apology while he tussled with the bedding. After a few seconds he pulled out a plain white envelope that had been hidden in a hole in the box spring and reclaimed his seat on the bed. He held the stashed package out to Edward. "I've been saving money, for her and the baby. I figured- hoped, really, that I would hear from her eventually. I just didn't know when."
Edward looked at the thick stack of cash that was stuffed tightly into the much-too-small paper covering.
"Dude, don't you have a bank account?" Emmett laughed at the odd composition of small and large bills.
"My credit is really bad. My parents opened up cards with my social when I was a kid and let them go to collections," James said quietly, to his shoes, "I do have a checking account with a small bank in back home but my dad empties it almost the second I deposit anything. I'm not going to let him blow Bella's money on-" he caught himself and stopped mid sentence, missing the pointed look the two brother's shared.
He focused back on Edward with an embarrassed pink hue to his face. "It's only sixteen-hundred. I'd been saving my tips since last year. I was going to by a lap top but, you know…and they have computer labs on campus so I don't really need one anyway."
The affluent son of a wealthy adopted family and an even wealthier birth line felt a hollow lurch in his gut at the less fortunate student, twenty years old and offering up every cent he had. They'd spent more on the area rug Alice had picked out to go under the nursery's custom crib and the thought humbled him to the point of nausea.
He looked over at James' ramen dinner with new, depressing perspective.
"We have plenty of money. Please, buy your computer," he tried to thrust the envelope back at it's owner but James' wouldn't take it.
The handsome blonde gave the older man an apologetic but firm refusal, "I truly," he stressed, "don't mean any disrespect, but that money isn't yours to turn away. I know it isn't much but it's all that I have to give," his eyes begged for empathy, "if Bella doesn't need it for the pregnancy, maybe an account for the baby? For when she's older?"
Edward heard the other man's pride stretching tenuously with every unsteady word and felt helpless as he pocketed the humble contribution. "I'll make sure they get this. Thank you."
James shot him a grateful smile but was still tense in aura and posture. "I know it's not any of my business," he started carefully, "But Bella still hasn't contacted her dad?"
Isabella's protective partner was back on the defensive almost instantly, used to protecting his girlfriend's choices regarding her family. "You're correct. It really isn't any of your business."
Hunter put his hands up in a sign of submission, "No, please… I'm not trying to imply that she should I'm just-" he sighed, looking unsure and tired in equal parts, "I'm just trying to warn you, and Bella, if you don't already know about what's going on over there."
Edward felt a surge of panic at the ominous statement, "Is Bella's father alright?" he asked tersely, not even wanting to begin to consider his pregnant mate's reaction to something untoward happening to her parent during her absence. She had her reasons to stay away but Bella was still too young to truly see her mother and father as beings capable of growing sick or dying. He himself had certainly believed his mother a perfect, invincible force when she was taken from him.
"Of course!" James went wide eyed, "Nothing like that. I just- Chief Swan and Jacob Black have really bonded over their loss, you know? And that kid- he's not right in the head…"
"Well, clearly," Edward snorted in a manner that was unlike him. He wasn't sure what kind of man cheated on an angel like Bella Swan but it certainly wasn't a sane one.
"Besides the obvious," James grinned, guessing the other man's thought process correctly, "He's at Bella's old house, all the time; sleeps there?" he said with uncertainty, "When Bella first left, Chief Swan had to go down to La Push because Black almost killed Leah Clearwater," the young man blurted with scandal.
Emmett leaned in, suddenly interested, "Bella's ex tried to off his side piece?"
The blonde nodded, "I don't know if he really meant to kill her but he roughed her up, bad, before her little brother intervened. His dad is the tribe's Chief though and they kept it all really quiet over there. I only know because mom works at the hospital. Lean needed stitches."
Edward was suddenly possessed by the impulse to go home to Bella, to hold her small body and kiss her perfect face; to know beyond doubt that she was safe. His gut twisted with agitation in hearing the kind of person she had come close to committing her life to. Though he could tell that James was being sincere, the Jacob Black he described didn't sound at all like the character Bella had claimed him to be.
He considered, for a moment, the possibility that loosing a woman like Isabella was actually a heartbreak that could drive a good man into madness.
He found he couldn't rule it out.
Edward wiped sweat from his palms on his suit pants as discreetly as possible, trying hard not to look rattled, "And Charlie still doesn't know what Jacob did? How is he engaged to Leah's mom while he's holed up with the girl's attacker?"
"Jacob's made of solid gold back home," James explained with a touch of irritation, "He used to be a good guy, normal at least. They made up some shit about Black being overcome with grief over Bella leaving and Leah antagonizing him. It wasn't a complete stretch. She's… abrasive," he chose politely. "Even her mom seemed to brush it off and side with Jake. She's also pretty cold, that one."
James looked Edward in the eye with bone chilling intensity, "Please, you need to understand this. Jacob Black is obsessed with Isabella. Do not let her walk back into Forks pregnant, or with the baby.
I genuinely feel that she wouldn't be safe if he saw her like that."
Edward slunk in through the back door like a teenager coming home after curfew. He had gotten more than a little caught up with the day's tasks, especially all James had to offer regarding the situation back in Bella's home town, and he didn't realize how quickly the time was flying by until he was several hours past when Bella had been expecting him.
As such, he did not come empty handed.
Like many teenagers daring to come home after their curfew, he was met quickly by a slightly disgruntled and concerned woman. He grinned handsomely and hoped it would soften her tiny wrath.
"Where have you been?" she asked instead of the usual greeting, lowering herself carefully from one of the high kitchen bar stools. "Your phone was off…it's not like you not to call. I was worried!"
He moved his brief case out of the way and exposed his gift in all of its distracting glory.
Bella let out a happy cry and ran across the kitchen, beaming, "Edward! A puppy?"
The small, dove grey bundle in his hand squirmed with a matching excitement, as though it had been waiting its whole, short life for the moment it would be placed in Bella's outstretched arms.
The two of them squeaked and whined at each other in a language that was neither human nor canine but something uniquely their own. The tiny thing licked every inch of her face it could reach as she held it to her chest and cooed sweetly to it.
Edward stood forgotten and slightly regretful. The dog most certainly hadn't greeted him like that when he had picked it from the litter. He had liked it because it was small—compared to his siblings—and sweet in disposition like the woman he'd chosen it for.
"I've always wanted a dog," his love hummed happily. She walked over and finally gave him the kiss he'd been waiting for. The puppy licked his neck from its perch against her chest and his nose curled just a little as he wiped the spot dry. "How did you know?"
"Who doesn't like dogs?" he shrugged with a smile. He hoped he wouldn't be eating his words because he was already feeling quite ousted by her furred companion. "I thought we could use some company and protection." He thought briefly of Tanya's visit.
"I love…" she held the pup up to see it's pink, bald underbelly, "him! He's the very best thing," she crooned to the delighted animal.
Edward frowned with light-hearted offense. "Hopefully not the very best thing."
She giggled and leaned her back against him, giving him the contact she knew he loved. He kissed her neck quickly to avoid another canine assault and rubbed his hands over her infinitely important belly.
"What kind of dog is it," she asked, taking in his short silver coat and giant paws.
"Uh, a Weimaraner," he reported, hoping he had pronounced the breed correctly. "I was thinking of something more like a lab or a golden retriever but my co-worker's wife shows these guys as a hobby and had a litter with a few still available. I've been reading up on them since he mention it. They are supposed to be great family dogs, if you raise them right. We still have some time before the baby comes to get him some basic training."
"He's perfect," Bella kissed the puppy's head and sat him own on the floor. The gangly pup went running off into the living room like he owned the place and had for years.
"We should follow him," Edward craned his neck to watch the dog disappear behind a couch. "I really like those carpets."
She must have thought he was joking because she laughed lightly and let the creature escape as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Bella stood on the tips of her toes to give him a thoroughly grateful kiss and he suddenly didn't care if the expensive mutt was lighting the place on fire.
"Thank you," she sighed against his heart, "I'd been worried but that was a great surprise."
Edward felt well-deserved guilt at having deceived his beloved counterpart. It drastically dulled the pleasure of giving her a gift she was clearly thrilled with. True to her nature, no material gift of any grandeur would have given the beautiful woman so much joy.
"Do you know where your brother is?" she broke him from his thoughts, "He was being… odd this morning."
The annoyed sibling rolled his eyes. He could count on Emmett to be about as discreet as a neon pink elephant when asked to help with something that was to be kept quiet. The large man's impeccable honesty was born mostly out of an inability to act with any semblance of normalcy when under pressure.
"He came in and I gave him breakfast but he wouldn't look at me and kept mumbling about secret promises?" she laughed, confused but clearly not offended, "I asked him what he had planned for the day and he ran out the door. Literally ran. Took the plate and everything."
"He's playing with your dog's litter mate in the back house," he gestured towards yard.
Bella grinned, "he got a puppy too?"
"I didn't have the heart to separate them. I swear, they saw each other from across the room and just… ran to each other," Edward shook his head in near disbelief at the memory; the only one that hadn't had a poetic, love-at-first-lick connect that day, "At any rate I think he can use the companionship right now and the dogs will have a play mate while he's staying here."
"Ah, so he was going with you to pick up my puppy," she surmised incorrectly but exactly as Edward had hoped, "that explains a lot."
It took about thirty seconds and another would-have-been perfect kiss before Edward's guilt overcame him entirely. This wonderful girl trusted him with all of her heart and he very much wanted to be a man worthy of that blind faith. The topic had to be breached and he'd prefer not add to her disappointment in him by tacking on a lie of omission.
He sighed, and slowly extracted himself from her embrace—a sin against nature in his opinion—not sure if she'd opt to give it so freely after a full disclosure.
Bella looked instantly weary. "What's wrong?"
Edward felt his nerves bubble up inside of him, even more powerfully after an already emotional day's events. He worked off his tie and the first few bottoms of his fitted dress shirt and motioned to a chair at the kitchen bistro. "Can you join me for a moment? I have something I need to talk to you about."
"You know… I'm pretty sure no pleasant conversation has ever started with that sentence," Bella joked without humor. Her bottom lip slipped straight between her teeth in its favorite position to report her discomfort.
He grimaced at being unable to deny her prophecy and felt the majority of his courage leave him. He sat across from the chair intended for her and waited until she followed his lead.
He was still unused to answering to anyone but himself—with occasional intrusions from Alice and Esme—and he wasn't prepared for the fear of anger or rejection. He was very rarely at a loss for words and often knew exactly how to spin a conversation to suit his agenda but he adored Bella and manipulation just wasn't on the table when speaking to her about something so important.
The thought that the night might end in any way that didn't involve Bella in their bed and in his arms was petrifying.
He must have been silent for longer than he'd meant to be because he startled when Bella reached out to give his hand a reassuring squeeze. She immediately attempted to pull it back to her side and it killed him that she was unsure in his acceptance of her touch. He was having none of it; he laced his fingers through hers and rubbed his thumb across her wrist tenderly. She calmed at his show affection, the anxiety in her brow smoothing over.
Edward dropped his eyes to the table between them. Desperate not to prolong her stress, his confession tumbled out of his mouth without extensive thought. "Bella, I went and spoke with James Hunter today."
Even with his gaze averted, he felt her shock in the sudden rigidness of her hand; the way her small fingers curled slightly like claws. His heartbeat thrummed so quickly that he began to feel dizzy and his racing mind tried its instinctive damage control.
"I know, I probably shouldn't have but this has been tearing me up. It's not safe to turn your back on live wires like that Bella, I needed to know that his involvement wouldn't be a problem for you down the line-"
"Edward-" she sighed softly. He peaked up at her and thought he could gage her expression as being somewhere between surprise and irritated acceptance. "You were one of those children that liked to ask for forgiveness instead of permission, weren't you?" She guessed dryly.
She had no idea how accurately that strategy shaped his modus operandi.
"Why didn't you tell me first?"
'Because you might have said no', didn't seem like the answer she wanted to hear but luckily that had been only one of his motives. "I didn't know how amenable he would be and I didn't want him to upset you if things didn't go well."
"Edward, I can handle a little friction. I'm not a child."
"I know that," he insisted, "But that doesn't negate my desire to protect you, especially while you're pregnant. The way I let Rosalie speak to you- Bella, there isn't a single part of me that could bare the guilt of subjecting you to a situation like that ever again."
She huffed—adorably—but didn't argue.
"Are you terribly angry with me?" he gave her his most innocent expression.
Bella looked at him with narrowed eyes, "I haven't decided yet. How did it go?"
"Very well, actually," Edward admitted, still a bit surprised himself. "He was worried about you but I think he just wants the two of you safe and provided for; something I'm eager to prove I'm capable of."
"Did you go to his campus?" she asked, shaking her head with a sigh of dismay, "I hope you were nice to him. I would really prefer to have left him out of things. He has a lot of his plate and doesn't need to be bothered with this-"
He squeezed her hand lovingly but his voice was firm, "Unfortunately he does need to be bothered with this, at least for now. He has just as much legal right to your daughter as you do, Bella. That's a lot of power for someone to have over our baby."
"James isn't like that."
"Probably not. But are you willing to bet your child's well being on it?"
She put a protective hand over her belly, her petite body moved by a shiver at the shocking perspective. "I'd never thought of it like that. I've always trusted him. When he said he didn't want to be involved, I took him at his word. James is a great guy-"
"I know, sweetheart," he agreed kindly. Edward shifted his chair around the corner of the table until it was next to hers, needing to be close. "He is, and after meeting with him today, I can certainly see how he's earned your respect and trust," he insisted, adding his large hand to hers and smoothing it over her rounded bump reverently.
Bella's brows rose in surprised that even her sweet friend's admirable character was enough to sway Edward's fierce protectiveness.
"But I looked into him, Bella. My attorney ran a background check on James Hunter and his father, by the same name. His dad is not a safe person, darling. Possession, theft, robbery, fraud, embezzlement... If there's a penal charge for it, he's incurred it," he looked her in the eyes, never wanting to stress her but needing her to understand, "What happens, even years from now if he finds out his son fathered a child—a child he still has unresolved legal rights to—with a woman that married into millions? A custody battle at best... This baby, our baby, is not a pawn or a bargaining chip. I'm going to protect you both with every connection, resource, and ounce of strength I have at my disposal because nothing is more important to me than the two of you."
Bella nodded, tears running from bright brown pools until Edward ran his thumbs gently across her cheeks to wipe away the evidence of her upset.
"But yes, love, we were kind to him," he promised, "His character invokes it."
She nodded tearfully, "He's very sweet. I don't want to make his life any harder than it already is. What do we need to do to let him move on?"
"I'm not sure he wants the clean break you had in mind, Bella," he confessed, hesitant. "The guy looked worried out of his mind about you."
Bella's skin bleached of color, "You mean he wants the baby?"
"No," Edward corrected immediately, "No I certainly don't think he wants to parent. But I do think he would appreciate more reassurance in your well being and updates about her… if you are agreeable."
"Are you?" Bella turned the question on him with surprise. Her months at his side had shown him to have a very strong possessive nature towards her, "That doesn't upset you?"
"I don't mind showing off to anyone how well I intend to provide and care for the two of you," he smiled warmly and kissed the tip of her nose, "I'd be honored to earn his blessing but it's ultimately up to you how you'd like to handle things.
"We can show him our family or we can show him the best family law attorney our money can afford us," he finished pragmatically, knowing exactly which option would appeal to her.
Her deep brown eyes went very large. "I think working with him amicably would the best route for everyone involved," she opted softly and predictably.
Edward nodded but noticed how tired the expecting mother looked after hours of worry and a troubling conversation; both entirely his fault. He took her hands in his and motioned to help her out of her seat, "Let's go to bed, darling, please. You need rest, I know I've upset you."
She utilized his help and signed, "Bed does sound great. We can finish talking about this tomorrow," she lifted a sharp brow at him, her voice as harsh as he'd ever heard it, "Because I do expect to be involved in every decision that involves me from here on out, Edward."
He swallowed hard, knowing he'd gotten off easy and would not be so lucky if further transgressions were made. "Of course."
She padded off towards the hall while he checked the locks on the doors and turned the kitchen lights off for the night.
His head flew up when he heard her sharp gasp. "Bella?"
Her small call answered him from somewhere in the living room, "Just how much do you like this carpet, exactly?"
Edward groaned and pulled at his hair for what seemed like the hundredth time that day, "It's okay. I can call someone to have it cleaned in the morning."
She was quiet for a suspiciously long moment.
"Call you also call someone to un-chew the leg of the coffee table?"
*The Lord of the Rings character that Emmett is comparing James to is Legolas as payed by Orlando Bloom. Long blonde hair, handsome but feminine. LOL One of my readers left a huge, fun review and wrote a paragraph thinking James looked like a Hobbit and the baby was going to get some funky feet haha She wasn't signed in so I couldn't reassure her. I thought I'd clarify in case any one else was confused.