This is My Wish
Chapter Thirty-Seven – Halo
About Three Years Later
From the balcony, I could see her silhouette against the setting sun disappearing into the ocean. Her hair was long and wild, moving like a banner behind her as she watched. I could see the flutter of her dress around her knees and the way her arms wrapped along her abdomen protectively.
She hadn't woken me from my nap, knowing I needed it after a long week of shooting my current project. I wiped the sleepiness from my eyes as I descended the stairs until my bare feet sunk into the soft sand. The tilt of her head indicated that she heard my approach and the smile that graced her lips was just as telling.
"You're supposed to be sleeping," she whispered, the breeze carrying her words through me.
"And miss this?" I murmured as I wrapped my arms around her from behind.
"We have thirty sunsets coming to us on this vacation, so missing one isn't that big of a deal." I laughed and kissed her exposed neck before resting my chin on her shoulder. She sighed contently. "But I'm really glad you're not missing this one."
"I don't want to miss anything if it involves beaches, water and the sun," I replied and nuzzled her ear. My hands roamed gently over her sides and the curve of her hips, earning a sweet laugh from her. "And you."
After a few minutes, she finally said what had been bothering her. "We can't keep hiding every time some asshole pap does something like this."
I sighed, squeezing her tighter. "I know, but we've been under enough stress already. We both needed to get away from that place."
"You shouldn't have sunken to his level, either," she murmured.
I nodded. I knew that, too. Everyday life had been hard since we lost our son, more so under the scrutiny of Hollywood and the public. We'd gone out to dinner with my parents almost seven months after and we were attacked outside the restaurant.
It was one thing to deal with a few fans that asked for an autograph inside and gave their condolences, but it was completely uncalled for when some punk came up to Bella when we tried to leave. He just kept shoving his camera in her face, asking how she was dealing with her loss.
But he really needed a thorough beating after asking if we were planning on having more children anytime soon. He hit a nerve. I nearly lost my shit right then, and if it hadn't been for Dad and Bella, I probably would've been facing a lawsuit.
The pictures he'd taken, the anger I showed and Bella's devastated face that night seemed to make three times as many paparazzi show up whenever we went anywhere. They wanted to capture that vulnerability, the heartbreak on her face and my protective side that almost always ended up with my desire to meet someone's face with my fist.
It wasn't until the month before while after leaving a spa with Rosalie that I finally retaliated. Though my wife, on occasion, was accompanied by a bodyguard, he'd gone to lunch after she excused him while she was inside the spa. Normally, he would've stayed with her but Bella hadn't wanted someone watching over her as she tried to relax.
I didn't blame her a bit; they could be intimidating.
In the end, her bodyguard had been set up in an altercation with someone at a restaurant down the street, keeping him from getting to Bella at the required time. She had gone outside to look and call for him, only to be harassed by the asshole pap from that night at dinner, named Felix Dominguez.
He cornered Bella in the spa's entrance in between two large sculptures, clicking away with his camera and provoking her until she lashed out and swung at him. That only made him happier, since it would guarantee pictures that were money shots.
If it hadn't been for Rosalie, and eventually, her bodyguard, there was no telling what Bella would've done. It wasn't until when she arrived home soon after that I realized the extent of her anger. She was in tears, red-faced rage and nearly spitting out every curse word in the books. The asshole had accused her of substituting Riley with another child, with pregnancy rumors running rampant since our last outing.
I used what resources I had and gathered plenty of friends, knowing that what I was doing was wrong. But I hadn't cared. He fucked with my wife, and no one did that shit and got away with it.
A dozen of my friends— famous ones, too— gathered outside Felix's home and showed him how it felt to be one of us. At first, he'd been shocked, then arrogant, pretending it didn't bother him in the least. And it wasn't until we followed him everywhere, including his girlfriend's house— both of them—that he started to show that he was ticked.
For three days, we made his life pretty damn hard. Adding our own paparazzi and fans following us around, too— well, it had become a nightmare. By the final day, when he lost his shit, there were at least a hundred cameras outside his house, office, girlfriends' houses, and car.
I knew we pushed his buttons, pretty much ruined his life, but at the time, my only concern was my wife. It wasn't until a few days earlier that I learned that no one would take pictures off his hands anymore. Any magazine, newspaper or website that had used him, noticed a sharp decline in sales and website visits because of a boycott some rabid fans that organized.
I hadn't meant for it to go that far. All that led to our house being swamped by reporters and a much needed vacation. Despite all that shit, Bella still forgave me and followed me to the ocean.
"I love it here," she whispered, pulling me from my thoughts. The sun had long set, the breeze whipped around us but I felt warm with her in my arms.
I was thankful that she hadn't found it hard to be at the beach house since we lost Riley. In fact, she found it peaceful; perhaps because it had been his favorite place to be before he had left us. In the three years he'd been gone, we visited frequently. And had spent three months after his passing there, in each other's company and provided the comfort we both desperately needed.
Some days were harder than others, holidays being the worst of them. However, when we visited there at his favorite place, we found it easier to let go of our stressful lives and just be together.
"Let's go inside," I murmured, pressing small kisses along her shoulder. The thin strap shifted easily with a simple touch of my finger, as I explored a trio of freckles on her sun-dappled skin. She hummed and her arms tightened around mine.
Before her dress could expose her right breast, she turned in my embrace, wrapping herself around me. I helped her up with a simple tap on her backside, earning a cute smirk and laugh. With her legs secured around me, she smiled wider.
"You know you won't be able to do this much longer," she said sweetly, pressing herself against me tightly. I groaned at the feel of her so fucking close and kissed her with the same passion she always seemed to have close to the surface.
Panting, as our foreheads pressed together, I asked, "And why is that?"
Her smile grew as she fingered a few of my chest hairs. "Soon there will be something big and round between us."
I stilled as her words only brought one thing to my mind— well, two things, because I was a man and knew breasts get fuller during pregnancy.
"Yeah?" I asked stupidly. "We're…really?"
"Really," she answered simply. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. After we lost the last one, I wanted to be farther along before I said anything."
I nodded in understanding. We had miscarried when she had gotten pregnant several months after Riley was passed. We had known that, due to her childhood accident, there was a chance it would be hard to get pregnant, even harder to carry the child to full term. We had discussed surrogacy, but in the end, decided that if we couldn't on our own, we'd adopt.
Instead, she beat the odds and we got pregnant, but for some reason or another, we had lost the baby in her eleventh week. It was one devastating blow on top of another, but we got through it. We sought out help after that and found a doctor willing to help Bella with a surgical procedure to undo some of the damage from the accident.
"How far along?"
"Almost four months," she whispered, looking up from my chest to meet my eyes. "When we get back, we can find out what we're having."
I smiled. "We're going to have a baby." Those words sounded so fucking perfect to me.
She wrapped her arms around my neck tightly. "Yes, we are. You're not mad for waiting to tell you?"
I shook my head. "We've been under a lot of shit lately, baby. I know why you kept it from me, but you had to have been scared, and I would've wanted to know to help you through it."
She sighed. "How about I promise to tell you next time?"
"You promise?" At her nod, I kissed her again. It was soft and sweet brushes over her lips until she deepened it with a tug of my hair, nearly growling as I laughed. I guessed what Emmett said about pregnancy hormones were true.
With a quick peck on her mouth, I trudged through the sand toward the house. I exaggerated my breathing, stiffened my steps and exhaled sharply several times. She smacked my shoulder. "I'm not that heavy yet!"
She giggled wildly as I ran across the deck and inside the house, instantly pressing her against the wall.
"Now, what were you saying about something big and round between us?" I playfully ogled her chest, licking my lips. She laughed and tightened her legs around my waist. "Maybe we should take advantage while we still can."
She moaned as I pressed against her, titling her head enough for me to explore her collarbone and revisit the fallen strap of her dress.
I hadn't felt that happy in such a long time.
One month later
"Edward! Edward! Mr. Cullen! Over here!" They called for my attention in every direction, but I kept my eyes on my wife as I helped her from the back of the limo. She gave me a soft, nervous smile as she stepped out, taking my hand.
Bella hadn't had much exposure to events such as a movie premiere in a while, so I understood her anxiety. And it was also the first public outing we'd had since the media meltdown after my retaliation against them.
With my eyes still on Bella, we stood near the edge of the red carpet, holding her close to my side. My hand curled around her hip, my fingers rubbing a soothing circle to let her know we were together and could get through it.
I waved, smiling genuinely when her hand squeezed my waist once. Hearing a soft sigh, I looked down at her, to find her grinning brightly, waving at someone in the crowd. Turning to the source, I could see several kids behind some rope, along with their parents. Taking Bella's hand in mine, we walked over, ignoring the cameras as Devon and Jon flanked us.
"Hi, guys!" I said, high-fiving little Jason, who'd been cleared by his doctors last month. It looked like several people from support group had made it out to see us.
"Edward! Edward! Miss Bella!" several kids called out. Bella shook several hands, kissed a few cheeks, a fucking natural in everything she did. "Can we have your autographs?" a few others asked. They bombarded us with questions, asking about the upcoming charity baseball game that most of them were attending the following week.
"Yeah," I said, looking down. It was a little with boy big blue eyes and matching cheeky grin, who had pulled on my jacket to get my attention. He couldn't have been more than five, not even reaching my waist. I bent down enough to be more his height, taking his baseball hat and the silver pen in his hands. "Did you want me to sign it?" He nodded, biting his lip as he adjusted the one he wore atop his head. Once I was done, he swapped it for the one he was wearing, giving me a glimpse of the lack of hair beneath. "You coming to the game next week, buddy?"
He nodded again as his dad offered the answer, too, "William and I go every year, and this year is one we wouldn't want to miss." I laughed, nodding as I stood up and shaking his hand.
Bella had helped organize an event before the game, one that allowed people to see and hear about some of the charities that the game benefited, and perhaps give a little more, too. A lot of the stars that would be in attendance for the game were helping with the booths, including a dunk tank.
I was first up for that, thanks to my wife.
"Come by and see us at our foundation booth," I said to the William's father.
"Will do," he answered, his little boy echoing him.
Bella started to say goodbyes. Most of the kids were more familiar with her since she had made the arrangements for them to come out for the premiere and attended more of the meetings than I had.
Missing them wasn't intentional, at first; more like something I had done subconsciously. I made excuses on why I couldn't attend each time; a night shoot, a meeting with Jane, and filming. Most of them could've been worked around, but I never tried to reschedule.
Bella didn't start attending them until months after our son was gone, and I understood her reasons. It was too hard, each of the kids and families reminded her about our loss. I had felt the same way. It wasn't until we miscarried that she mentioned that we should go. She had gone for the first time on her own, since I had a meeting with a director. And from then on, I hadn't joined her.
She called me on my shit soon after, though, pointing out that I somehow always scheduled things on support group days. We had our first big fight when I continued my excuses, and all the while, I had come to realize what I'd done and why. I was once again hiding my feelings, being strong and I knew I wouldn't have been able to hold myself together around other parents like us.
That night ended with us in tears, holding each other close and agreeing that not only would we attend the meetings, but also seek grief counseling together. It took time for us to be able to get through a day where a thought about our Riley wouldn't bring tears to our eyes or put one of us into a near catatonic state.
However, there was only so much I could take. I felt her hand clutching tightly to mine, tugging enough to get my attention. I bent to listen as she said, "Are you all right?" With my smile still in place, I shook my head slightly. She squeezed my hand, and whispered, "Can you get through the line?"
My jaw clenched as my chest tightened. "I'm not sure," I choked.
"I know that reminded you of…of when you met Riley," she said softly. "Try to think about something else, baby." I wasn't sure she was even aware of what she was doing, but she'd taken my hand and rubbed it over her belly.
I smiled for real then, fucking thankful that she knew me so well that she picked up the subtlest of clues to my moods and helped pull me from the edge of the abyss.
Brushing my lips along her cheek, I replied, "Smile, Bella. You just told the world we're having a baby." The dress she wore, in a gorgeous green fit her perfectly and hid the small baby bump she had, but at that moment, it stretched tightly over her belly.
She grinned, winking. "I know."
"Jane is going to kill us."
"Do you care?"
"Should we tell them what we're having?"
I remembered the day we found out we were having a girl. Nervous would be an understatement about how I felt that day. But the news that everything seemed to be fine and progressing normally was a welcome relief.
Devon grabbed my attention, pointing at a very irritated Jane at the end of the carpet. She pointed at her wrist, letting me know I had to get a move on quickly. I winked, smirking. It wasn't like she could come and grab me. Bella offered Jane a look of pure innocence and a small wave.
"Whatever you want," I said after a moment, kissing her cheek as we continued down to take photos. "All I'm hoping for is that she looks like you."
Bella smiled as the other co-stars of the film surrounded us, embracing my wife before we posed for pictures. The media screamed for our attention, and for once in a long time, I offered them a real smile.
Little Lizzy Rivers looked up at Bella then me. "I thought she just played your wife in the movie," she said, confusion curling her little lips. She had portrayed my daughter in the film. She'd been five when we filmed, so it was understandable that she was confused.
"Nope, Bella is really my wife."
"Oh," she whispered. "That's why you were always kissing her when the cameras were off?"
I laughed, Bella giggled, trying to keep a straight face. "Yes, that's the reason why."
Lizzy sighed and whispered, "That's good, then. Cuz I told EW by accident that you were kissing all the time."
Bella continued to smile, the nervousness gone as her hand stroked her stomach gently. "I'm so glad we did this together."
The premiere was for a film we worked on called The Way We Were. Something Bella had cooked up in college and had me look at while I was in between projects. I had known she wrote short stories, even a few screenplays in college, but I hadn't even considered that it would be something she wanted to try.
Within a few weeks, I had a director, producers and a studio lined up. It was that good. After that, she had submitted the original manuscript she'd written, that was the screenplay was based on, to a publishing house as an accompanying novel.
She wasn't interested in filming, even though she was damn good at it, but I convinced her easily to play the leading female role. It was sort of therapeutic and allowed us more time together. After we filmed, she really was against becoming an actress and said she'd stick to screenplays and books. Anywhere from twelve to eighteen hour days would do that to a lot of people.
I'd convince her to work with me again.
Then again, where the woman found time, I had no clue. Between keeping me on schedule, joining me more often than not and the foundation, I wasn't sure how she managed to write.
After only a few minutes, Jane had Devon and Jon moving us inside, avoiding the media. That should've warned me about how mad she was for that stunt Bella pulled on the red carpet.
"You two drive me insane," she said, pacing near the entrance. "I thought you didn't want anyone to know until you're further along."
Bella shrugged. "I'm growing every damn day. It wouldn't have been that much longer until they figured out anyway. And besides, the tabloids said I was pregnant last week, so it's technically old news."
God, I loved her. She didn't tell Jane that I had been close to losing my shit on the red carpet. She'd only done it to bring me back to her. Not that I was ashamed of showing emotions anymore, just not in public. And a breakdown or something like that would take months, perhaps even years, for the media to forget, if Bella hadn't been by my side.
Jane sighed, tossing her hair back. "Don't come crying to me if this backfires," she said. "I swear if my goddaughter gets a Twitter before she's three, I'll kidnap her."
She probably would, but Bella and I had no intension of exposing her to the media in such a way. It didn't matter much anyway, since I was starting to work mostly behind the camera. Soon, I'd be old news and I was perfectly all right with that.
I waved at my parents, who stood nearby, the first premiere of mine that they were attending. I realized something; I no longer needed the light to shine on me to make me who I was. The only thing that mattered was the love and support of my wife and family.
I shook my wet hair over Bella, earning a high-pitched scream. She laughed, pushing me away as several onlookers took a few pictures. Taking another towel from her, I started to dry my hair.
"You're so mean for making me do that," I grumbled, sitting down under the shade of the canopy overhead. "I managed to get dunked twenty-three times in an hour."
Bella smiled and handed something to someone in front of the Riley's Angel Foundation booth. "Yes, and every successful dunk and attempt raised money. Let's see," she looked down at a clipboard that someone brought over to her. "In your hour, you raised six thousand dollars."
I grinned. "Thanks to Mike," I said, curling the towel and slapping her hip. She yelped, rubbing the tender spot. "But he didn't get to dunk me!"
She rolled her eyes. "You're still mad because I managed to," she sang. Handing me a bottle of much needed water to drink, she said I could go change before my shift in the booth. I nodded and took her face in my hands. She raised an eyebrow in question.
"Did I tell you today that you look beautiful?"
She looked thoughtful for a second. "Nope, it was gorgeous that you used earlier."
I growled and kissed her, humming when I pulled away a few moments later. "I'll be right back."
I walked out from under the booth, posing for a few fans, even though I was drenched from the dunk tank. They seemed to find it rather funny…or hot, not sure which. A few of the other stars waved and called to me from their own charity booths that they sponsored.
"Are you going back to the dunk tank?" Jacob Black, an up and coming actor who I worked with the previous year, asked.
"Sorry, buddy," I teased. "You missed your chance."
He laughed and introduced me to his wife, Emily. I directed them to the foundation booth where Bella was expecting them. Jacob was next in line after Mike for the dunk tank. I was determined to send him in the water.
I looked up at the giant screen, remembering another day. The day Bella and Riley were larger than life on it, as I confessed to them and the world that I loved them. I rubbed at the ache in my chest, something that was always there and probably would always be.
It was sort of a reminder that he was with us in some way, and that I would never forget my son. As I approached the locker room, I swore I saw Jasper, who had disappeared soon after the funeral.
I jogged ahead and lost him around the corner. What the hell? Shaking my head in confusion, I made my way back to the showers, greeting a few other guys, who were playing later in the game. I asked a few of them, but no one had seen anyone that matched Jasper's description.
After a quick shower and a change of clothes, including a jersey that basically advertised the foundation, I went back out to Bella. Except that she wasn't at the booth. I swore the woman could never remain still, even at five months pregnant.
I passed the booth and walked toward the dunk tank, wrapping my arms around her—still could, too—from behind. "Can I ask how you learned to pitch a ball so well?"
"Only child," she said with a shrug as Jacob taunted her from the platform over the water. "Dad signed me up for t-ball and softball growing up, and I was basically a dad for the six years of Riley's life."
Even almost four years later, here was something new I learned about her life before I came into it, and no just hers, but Riley's, too. I had been too overcome with emotion the day of the funeral to question why there was a baseball mitt in the coffin.
I shuddered, still unable to handle thinking about that. Shaking those thoughts away, I laughed as Jacob started to make side bets with some of the people watching Bella attempt to dunk his ass.
"You're distracting me," Bella said when she missed her second ball. She elbowed me in the gut, the brat.
"Keep making excuses," Jacob teased. "Just admit it, you throw like a girl…Like Cullen."
She raised an eyebrow as everyone laughed and held up cameras, recording. "That's right, I do." She bit her lip, after asking me to step back. Once I had, she let it rip and bam!
Bull's-eye! Perfect hit!
Except, it didn't work!
The people working the dunk tank raised to their feet, looking that the mechanism while Jacob continued to tease Bella. "See, there was no power behind that throw. It wasn't hard enough."
Bella pouted, but narrowed her eyes. She walked toward the big target and smashed her palms against it as hard as she could.
Jacob gasped, "What the –" Someone luckily turned up the music— there were kids present.
Bella did a little victory dance, walking over to the tank to offer Jacob a pat on the top of his head, and then pushed him back under water. I sighed. Perhaps it was time to get her out of the sun; she'd obviously been in it too long. Besides, I had somebody paying us a surprise visit soon.
"Come on, baby," I said, leading her back toward the booth. We stopped at few booths, talking to friends and discussing another event happening soon before we settled beneath the canopy again.
Bella was immediately embraced by Jessica and Mike the moment we reached the booth. They had left California shortly after we lost Brittney and Riley, spending time with the rest of their family, grieving and mourning the loss.
We hadn't seen them for a few months and each encounter was special, as was the sweet child that barely reached Mike's knee.
"Hello, Amy," I murmured to the little girl in blonde pig tails that reminded me so much of her big sister, Brittney.
"Hi," she said, looking left and right to see if anyone was listening. "Come here." She wasn't even four yet and cute as could be. I couldn't wait until I had the chance to hold my baby girl, or have a conversation with her. She held up a piggy bank with a bright smile, showing off the dimple in her left cheek.
"What's this?" I asked as Bella stepped toward us.
"Can I be a Riley Angel, too?"
I touched the little face before me, nodding. "You're donating your savings?" She nodded, her little curls moving with her.
"Mommy said I can help kids like them." She touched the button pinned to her shirt, one of Riley and Brittney together in a hospital bed. One that closely matched the ones Bella and I wore on our baseball caps.
Bella attempted to bend down enough, but shook her head, sitting instead in a chair nearby. "Let me see what you got, Amy."
The little girl with big, light blue eyes skipped toward Bella, holding up the small pink piggy at her. "Seven dollars and um," she tapped her chin, squinting her eyes as she tried to remember, "Forty-three cents."
"Are you sure you want to give all this money?" my wife asked, twirling a curl of Amy's curls. I knew she was thinking of Brittney, too.
Amy nodded enthusiastically, wobbling a bit on her feet. Bella helped her gain her balance as Amy giggled. It was such a sweet sound and something I sorely missed – a child's laughter.
"Yep," she said. "I want to be a Riley's Angel."
Bella smiled at her as one of the volunteer's handed her a small pin. For every person that donated more than a dollar, they received a pin, making them a Riley's Angel. The type of pin depended on the level of donation or amount of volunteer time given, which was just as important.
"You need your badge first," Bella said, getting approval from Jessica, who stood nearby, with a simple nod. "May I put it on you?"
Amy fisted her tiny hands on her hips, nodding, thrusting her shoulder toward Bella and earning several laughs. I could hear the familiar click of cameras and winced. It was the one downfall to the game; it needed the publicity that the media and paparazzi provided to get more people in the seats. Though we almost doubled the attendance from the year before, we hoped that once we opened the doors, we'd fill the seats.
"Yes, pwease," Amy whispered, watching as Bella gently pinned the winged pendant on Amy's pink shirt. We took a few pictures with her, talking with Mike and Jessica about her little brother that was due any day.
It was moments like that, sitting amongst friends, discussing children and work that made me realize that life does go on, no matter how much you wish it didn't at times. I wouldn't lie, not even to myself. There was a time that I didn't think I could move on, even with Bella beside me.
Weeks after we lost Riley, the pain had been so intense that I spent it mostly in bed. I had felt so numb from it all that I closed down. Bella was the one that pulled me back like I had done on several occasions for her since.
Even years later, the acute loss was felt down the core. A person never got over losing a child and that was something I learned. I kept wondering when it would stop hurting.
It never would. Once I realized that, I felt a little lighter. Day to day, he was never from my thoughts and with Bella's support, the pain lessened. We focused on the good and not the bad that usually overcame a person's memory. We simply didn't let them.
We'd always have good days and bad ones, too.
"I need to find a bathroom," Bella grumbled, using my shoulder to rise to her feet. "Again." Though she sounded a little upset, she smiled. For her, being pregnant was a wish come true, and promise kept.
"Hurry back," I said, grinning. "I have a surprise for you." She looked confused, but since I didn't elaborate, she only shrugged. Normally, she would've worked on getting a confession out of me, but she looked a little desperate. Even at that stage in her pregnancy, I watched the sway of her hips as she made her way to the interior of the ballpark. She was beautiful.
The booths were all placed in the front in the parking area, though we would've loved to have held it on the field, it wasn't logical since it would have taken too much to break down before the game. I sat back and watched several of our "angels" as we called our volunteers take donations that trickled in as more and more fans started to arrive.
The nearby radio station booth blasted out some music, calling for volunteers to come sing some karaoke, announcing the event citywide. I spoke to a few fans as Mike, Jessica and Amy left to check out the other booths, before Mike had to work at the dunk tank.
I exchanged a donation of a hundred dollars from a sweet, little old woman named Maggie that not only earned her angel badge, but much more. My wife was super smart— her hidden heart beanies always sold out on the website weekly. Proceeds from those sales went to the research aspect of the foundation. The silver haired woman waved over a gaggle of her friends, all clamoring for a picture with me. It was the Beanie Brigade that volunteered their time every week, knitting the beanies for the foundation.
"Ladies," I nearly purred, pouring all my charm into a real smile for them. They posed for several photographs, laughing all the while. Several of them asked for Bella. "She should be here shortly."
After fifteen minutes, I started to worry about Bella. Even if the bathrooms were a ways away, she should've been back. Jane, dressed in a way I'd never seen before, a fucking dress, walked over to the booth.
"Where's Bella?' she asked immediately. The look in her eyes was calculated and I knew something was wrong. Fuck, not today. I didn't want anything to mar our perfect day already; it was hard enough to be at the ballpark, where we hadn't been back to since the last game Riley attended.
"Heidi is back in town," she said bitterly, her hands clenched into tight fists.
I shook my head. "She knows better than to make appearance. We made it clear that I would report her despite the consequences to me if she made a move toward either me or Bella."
"Doesn't mean she'd stay away," she replied through gritted teeth. It was pit bull Jane.
Damn it. Not today.
I told Melissa, a volunteer that I was expecting someone to arrive and to have them wait nearby until we returned. Jane and I made our way toward the building, needing to find Bella.
It was shortly after that first charity baseball game we attended together that we found out the truth about the video that ruined my career. The other woman in the video, after Jane tracked her down, confessed that my drink had been laced with something and that I hadn't slept with either of them. After several minutes of confusion with them, enough to make a convincing video with clever editing, I had told them to get the hell out, passing out shortly after.
Bella, Jane and I had decided to keep the information to ourselves, since coming out with that could have turned my world upside more than it already had and reopened up old wounds. Not to mention, it could have reached Riley's ears. However, Jane suggested we used the truth to ensure that Heidi kept her distance, though she handled that confrontation on her own. Embarrassed and scared, Heidi had run back to New York and stayed there, until recently.
Luck seemed to be on our side, because we saw Bella emerge from the bathroom with a smile still in place. From the corner of my eye, I swore I'd seen a flash of auburn hair, Heidi. Fists clenched at my sides, I tipped my head for Jane to see.
"Alice?" Jane said curiously, looking in Heidi's direction. I turned to see, and sure enough, it was the tiny woman we'd met shortly after I returned to Bella's and Riley's life years earlier. But before either of us could call out to her, she and Heidi disappeared around the corner.
"I'll check it out," Jane whispered. "You grin and make sure your wife doesn't know. She doesn't need that bitch causing her stress."
I nodded and met Bella halfway as she walked toward me, thankfully having missed Heidi completely. "I don't need as escort, you know," she grumbled, taking the hand I offered her.
I wiggled my eyebrows and smiled down at her. "I missed you." The corners of her mouth slipped into a smile as she snuggled against my side. We walked back toward our booth but stopped as a crowd of people surrounded the radio station booth.
Recognizing the familiar beat, we went to check out the singer. A rich, but young voice came through loud and clear, "Everywhere I'm looking now, I'm surrounded by your embrace. Baby, I can see your halo, you know you're my saving grace."
The crowd started to move to the beat, clapping along, some singing. As we made our way to the front, a gasp came from Bella, "Leah."
Standing front and center of the little stage the radio station provided, she sang her heart out, swaying to the music, her little cousin, Seth, and the rest of the family standing nearby, clapping.
"You did this, didn't you?" Bella asked, her hand tightening around mine.
Leah and her family had left for Washington, where her aunt was originally from. She finished her treatments there, shortly after attending Riley's funeral. We hadn't seen her since, but we'd spoken with her a few times a month. She never forgot Riley. She was a friend to our son and always would be.
At fourteen, she was beautiful. Her blue-black hair hung thick and shiny to her shoulders. The bruises and paleness of her illness gone, and in their place was flushed, warm colored skin.
"Yes," I replied softly, watching as tears fell down Bella's eyes. I knew seeing Leah again would affect her, especially after we heard that she was in remission. "I invited them, send them tickets and they'll all be staying at the house while they're here for the next week."
She smiled up at me, tears trapped in the length of her lashes. Taking my face in her hands, she tiptoed to kiss me softly, her thumbs wiping beneath my eyes. Overcome with the same emotions as she was, I took her in my arms, signing softly in her ear. "Hit me like a ray of sun, burning through my darkest night."
I curled around her, my head fell on her sweet shoulder and her hands surrounding my neck, fingers playing with my hair. I loved her so much. By the time the song came to an end, hundreds of people were singing along, broadcast throughout the parking lot.
They asked for an encore, which Leah shyly accepted, having everyone join her. Dark eyes finally found me and Bella as she sang. Her gratitude was in voice, gaze and breathtaking smile. Soon, her aunt and uncle greeted us, sharing more tears and hugs.
It was an emotional scene, but a good one. Though there were soft sobs from both women, I knew it was because they were happy, at least some of them were. As the song once again came to an end, Leah ran into Bella's arms, she was taller than my wife! She'd grown so much in three years. It was another clear example of life moving on.
And I knew it was what Riley would've wanted. For all of us.
We returned to the booth to find all of our volunteers up and ready, buses and cars full of people joining the hundreds of fans already there. The game was going to start in two hours and most of the people were fans of the twenty or so celebrity players.
I caught Jane's eye as I handed an autographed photo to a fan. She shrugged and joined me, whispering, "They both disappeared. I swore it was Alice, though."
"Not sure, if it had been her, she would've come over," I replied, smiling as someone asked a question. I answered and directed her to another volunteer to donate some money. "I thought I saw Jasper earlier, too." She shrugged and decided that we shouldn't worry about it. Hopefully their disappearance meant that Heidi wouldn't make an appearance.
Minutes later, Mike, who was helping in the booth, was craning his neck trying to look through the crowd. "Are you expecting someone, Mike?" I asked. I could see him shake his head as I handed another autograph.
"I thought I saw someone," he said, shaking his head again. "But it couldn't be." I looked out the crowd, not seeing anyone recognizable. He smiled and rolled his eyes. "It's my imagination. I swore I saw my brother, you know, only older." Laughing nervously, he went back to what he was doing. I was confused because I was positive he'd lost his big brother to cancer over twenty years before. "I know it's stupid, but before we lost Brittney, I swore I'd see a glimpse of him, enough for me to do a double take. But when I look again, he's gone."
I patted his shoulder. "Those we lost, no matter how long it's been, are always with us in some way."
"Yeah, maybe I see him because it would've been his thirty-fifth birthday today," he said, smiling. "I have to admit, though, it makes me feel better knowing he's up there with my baby girl. She's not alone, you know?"
I nodded; it was the best I could do. There was nothing to say to that, since I felt the same way about Riley and the family he shared heaven with.
"Jasper would've loved being here," Mike continued. "He loved baseball."
Jasper? I looked at the crowd and there, near a white sedan, was Alice and Jasper, waving. A couple passed in front of my vision and when I looked for them again, they were gone.
I couldn't be, could it?
Bella stood near the front of the booth, signing autographs, getting names for those interested in donating time along with Leah, who couldn't seem to leave her side. Little Seth was a bit taller and about seven, a talkative and dimpled little cutie that seemed to make all the ladies in the booth pinch his cheeks. And Emmett and Rosalie's son, Eric, seemed to look up to him.
As my parents carried another two boxes filled with pins and beanies, lines of cars started to form. It was getting closer to game time. Bella and I walked over to the radio booth where DJ Mark asked her to make an announcement to be broadcast on air.
"I'd like to thank all of those here," Bella said, smiling as she took the mike from the DJ. "That not only donated time and money, but their hearts. This hasn't been an easy road for many of us. Cancer affects us all in some way, young or old, girl or boy. It doesn't discriminate. Thanks to all the game tickets already sold, those that donated at each of the booths, we've raised over two hundred thousand dollars."
And that number didn't include the matching donation, dollar for dollar, from the rest of the players. That was a surprise I would tell Bella about later.
The crowd roared and clapped, calling out names of those lost and those that have survived.
"And we have over one thousand volunteers lending a helping hand every month. Every dollar counts, as does every minute that is donated to all of the charities that are here today for this amazing event for the children's hospital. Just as every breath counts in the life a child. Please, take the time to drive on over, come see us at the booths, and stay for the game. And this event is for all the kids out there and their families that are affected by cancer. And for my late son, Riley Biers-Cullen." She looked at me, pressing her forehead against mine, as we both said, "We love you, Riley."
A few minutes later, we returned to our foundation booth to find a line had formed in front of them. People of all ages stood and waited to become a Riley's Angel. Child after child handed in their savings or birthday money, and receiving their pins.
"Look, I'm a Riley's Angel," William, the little boy from the premiere, no older than five, said to his dad.
"I'm so proud of you, buddy," he whispered to him, taking him in his arms and hoisting him onto his shoulders, a beanie proudly displayed on his head.
I looked over to Bella, finding tears in her eyes again. She was overwhelmed; we hadn't expected so many to come the first year we held the event. "I don't understand," she said. "We barely got through the red tape for the foundation, how did so many hear about it?"
I shrugged. "Never underestimate the power of radio, the internet…or Twitter." I held out my phone, smiling as I took her hand. "I've been tweeting for the last hour on our verified account. And I got the rest of the players today to do the same."
"You're amazing," she whispered, stepping into my arms and resting her head on my chest. "I love you so much."
"Love you, too. Always."
March 13, 2016
Brianna Rose Cullen was born two days before her mother's birthday at a whopping nine pounds six ounces. Bella tried to give me the silent treatment after, since I had forgotten to tell her that I was a big baby as well, at almost ten pounds.
But when Brianna was placed in my arms, she melted and her eyes glazed with tears. There had been fear in them that morning, too, matching the depth of mine. The future was uncertain, but we refused to be afraid of it, to stop us from moving forward. We couldn't let the fear of illness overcoming our daughter consume us and shelter her from the world. It wouldn't be fair to her.
At the moment, she smiled up at me as I changed her dirty diaper. Her bright hazel eyes were the perfect mixture of Bella's whiskey colored ones, blended with my own green. She had Bella's nose and perfect little lips that seemed to be an in perpetual pout. Her hair color matched mine, as did the unruliness that drove Bella crazy. No matter what we put in her mass of baby fine hair, it stood straight up.
It was freaking adorable.
She giggled as I finished with her diaper, pulling up a pair of shorts over it. Her chubby little hands reached for mine, forcing her to squirm. She had a ticklish tummy. "Brianna," I sang, kissing her sweet dimpled cheek. "You're supposed to be quiet. Mommy's still asleep."
The night before, we had attended the premiere of my first film of being behind the camera as director. We also made an appearance at the after party. It was a smashing success and it humbled me that I seemed to be accepted by critics for the change of direction my career had taken.
"Ma!" Brianna cooed softly, waving her little fists in my face. At seven months, she was smart, could crawl all over the place, and wave to everyone she met.
"That's right, ma's sleepy."
I pulled her in my arms, discarding the diaper in the trash. We stopped near the door, beside the large picture of Riley on the wall. His smile shone brightly, his big brown eyes filled with amusement as he showed off the fake tattoo on his arm.
Brianna reached out for the picture as she had been doing for the past few weeks. She touched his face, looking at me in question. From the very beginning, Bella and I had been actively making sure Brianna knew of her brother. Watching videos together, sharing pictures, but one day she had her mother stop at the picture on the wall to touch it. Since then, it was something she did often.
We had no idea where it had come from, but we loved that she could already recognize him.
After a quick trip to the bathroom to wash my hands, I walked toward the kitchen. Brianna started to protest, expressing her anger. She was hungry, her little hand closing out the cookie quickly. She whimpered softly as she took it her mouth, but smiled up at me.
"Can you bring one of those for Lindsey?" Rosalie asked from the kitchen table, where she had her baby girl perched on her lap. She and Emmett and their two kids had spent the night to babysit.
I nodded, pulling out a second cookie, only to have Brianna reach for it, too. "No. This is for Lindsey." Her eyes started to water, her bottom lip quivering.
"She needs to learn to share," Bella grumbled as she walked into the kitchen. "Come on, baby." She held out her hands for our daughter, who immediately leaned toward her. "You're still making breakfast. My feet are still killing me."
"I told you to change your shoes," I said with a roll of my eyes.
She bumped my hip as she passed me, still grumbling at the hour. Bypassing the coffee maker, she went to sit by Rosalie instead.
"Did you do it?" I asked, looking at my wife.
Bella nodded as Rosalie looked up at the random question. Her eyes went to the lack of coffee cup in Bella's hand, and her eyebrow rose in amusement. "You couldn't wait a while longer?" she asked, shaking her head. She suddenly yelped as Bella kicked her under the table. "No coffee and you become a bear."
"Who's a bear without coffee?" Emmett said, coming into the kitchen with Eric on his shoulder. "I know Rosalie can be without her chocolate." She leveled him a glare as I helped their son off his father's back.
Eric's big blue eyes and dark curls looked up at me. "Can I have a cookie, too?"
"Give him one," Rosalie answered my unspoken question. "And you might as well pass one to Emmett, too."
"Go ahead," I told Emmett as I turned to the fridge to start breakfast.
After a great and entertaining meal with everyone, Rosalie finally pulled back from chair. "Do I have to go upstairs and have a look for myself?"
Bella shrugged. "I'll check in a while."
"What?" Emmett asked confused.
I grinned and helped with clearing the table as my parents walked in, bearing gifts. "Morning everyone," Mom said, handing Brianna a new colorful teething ring. At the silence from all the adults in the room, she looked at me in concern. "Did you need us to take her this morning?"
I shook my head. "Bella and I decided to take her with us today." She nodded, closing her arms around me. It had been four years since we lost him and it would be the first time we would be taking Brianna to the cemetery.
Emmett disappeared with Eric to the bathroom while Rosalie and Bella spoke in whispers at the table. Dad walked over to the private bubble Mom and I had created in the kitchen. "Is something wrong? I saw the news and reviews this morning. You should be proud."
And I was. The movie was another of Bella's screenplays that was much darker and full of angst, something that made me aware that her darkest places were deeply embedded in her, triggered by all the loss in her life. She said that the screenplays and writing were often draining, but also therapeutic in a way. I'd never been prouder than I was to bring something she worked hard on to life on the big screen.
"It's nothing," I said, not wanting to say anything until we were sure. "But we are taking Brianna with us today."
"We've already been there," Mom whispered, resting her head on Dad's shoulder. "There were already flowers there, along with Brittney's, as well." I knew that already; Mike and Jessica were back in town for the next few weeks.
"Shit!" We heard Emmett call up from upstairs. "Who's pregnant?"
I looked over at Bella, our eyes meeting, smiles pulling at our lips.
Well, so much for keeping that a secret.
The excitement of the morning had quieted as I drove to the cemetery a couple of hours later. Bella sat in the backseat, carefully watching our daughter, touching her as if she was the most precious thing in the world.
And she was really.
Brianna was used to that type of attention, cooing at her mother, making her smile. I loved watching them together and I knew she did, too, whenever I shared such moments with Brianna.
The gates ahead, opened but somber, beckoned us inside. After Riley was gone, I had a hard time visiting his grave, much more than Bella had. And the first time I had gone with her, weeks after we'd lost him, I broke down in front of it. Thankfully, I had her sitting there beside me, allowing me to fall into the comfort of her arms, her heart and soul.
No, it wasn't easy after losing a child.
Hand and hand, Bella and I walked toward his gravestone, stopping in front of Brittney's, surrounded by flowers and had a small bunch balloons anchored to one of the vases. We laid our wrapped bouquet of tea roses and baby's breath amongst them, trying to stop Brianna from reaching for the arrangements.
After a few minutes, we walked over to Riley's and I stood back as Bella went to work. She pulled out special wipes to clean his headstone, humming his favorite song. We had decided not to add a picture, finding it too hard to watch it degrading over time under the elements.
I whispered to Brianna what it said.
May 15, 2002 – March 13, 2012
In loving memory of our son, friend to many, and crusader with the biggest heart of all.
My daughter, unusually quiet, looked from me to the stone angel that stood overhead. She whimpered softly in my hold, turning to nuzzle my cheek, unknowingly – but perhaps, more perceptive than most – providing me some comfort.
She turned to watch Bella, who continued to hum and arrange the flowers we brought, along with the white balloons that danced in the light wind. After another minute, she stood up and took my hand again with a soft sigh.
"Four years," she whispered. "Sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago, and other moments, like it was yesterday." I nodded in agreement, her words expressing my own feelings and thoughts. Taking Brianna from my arms, she knelt on the soft grass.
She didn't say anything for a while, allowing our daughter to play with the necklace she wore around her neck. The same one I'd given her years previously, only it had two small pendants with Riley and Brianna's birthstones, nestling the locket in between them.
"This is a place," she said softly, taking Brianna's hand in hers. "That we can come and talk to your brother." As tears started to fall gently down her cheek, I sat down behind her, letting her rest against my chest. My arms surrounded them both, and once again, I was in awe of our little girl, who was silent as her mother started a story about our boy.
For almost thirty minutes, we simply sat there, whispering softly about Riley and Brittney, Brianna absorbing it all. As a breeze started to chill her skin, she snuggled against Bella's chest. It had been cloudy all day, with the threat of a light shower of rain.
"Should I go get her jacket?" I asked Bella. She shook her head, tapping my thigh, letting me know that it was time to leave. I helped her up, taking Brianna from her. She smiled at me, kissing my lips softly. Her eyes still glazed with the tears that dried minutes earlier, expressed everything she was feeling.
But she was happy. There was no doubt about that as she smiled at me. It was what mattered. It was what I wanted for her, for us and what Riley would've wanted, too.
I kissed her forehead gently, closing my eyes as the wind picked up again, swirling around us. It was surprisingly warm as Brianna giggled sweetly. She patted my cheek, calling for attention.
"Ma!" she cried out, reaching for one of the balloons.
Bella took her little hand, kissing her palm and shook her head. "Brianna," she sang softly, making our daughter smile at her. "Let's go home." Brianna shook her head from side to side, pursing her lips in protest, but giggled wildly as Bella tickled her tummy.
I led the way to the car, adjusting Brianna so that her head could rest against my shoulder. She continued to laugh, reaching for something behind me. Bella laughed and squeezed my hand, but as a whirlwind of a warm breeze danced around us, we both froze.
A strange peace moved through me, and by the tensing of her fingers, I knew she felt it, too.
Brianna giggled again, pulling on her earlobe twice, crying out suddenly. Bella and I turned to look over our shoulders in time to see that a balloon had come loose, hovering for a few seconds near the angel's wing before it floated slowly up.
Our daughter lit up, but her eyes were on the angel instead. I felt Bella's hand clench tightly in mine, as she whispered, "Love you, Riley." Instead of tears in her eyes again, she smiled, tipping her head up to the sun's rays that broke through the clouds, bathing us in sunlight, warmth and peace.
We arrived home after some lunch at a quite café that gladly provided a private room. The house stood before us, big and welcoming as I led my family inside. Soon after Riley was gone, we had to move to the big house because it provided the privacy we desperately needed.
Bella had had me cut out Riley's handprint with our fingerprint heart from the wall, something that had been framed and hung over the fireplace mantel.
"What's that?" Bella asked, pointing toward the kitchen counter. It was a white and gold envelope with our names written on it in a beautiful script that caught her attention.
"The question is, how did it get inside?" I said as I walked over to pick it up. The paper was smooth to the touch, but warm, too.
"Maria was supposed to come in while were gone," Bella said, looking at the spotless kitchen. Maria was our housekeeper that came in three days a week. With our busy schedules, she was a godsend. "She probably left it herself or it came in with yesterday's mail since I had asked her to pick it up. I'm going to put Brianna down in her crib.
I nodded and pulled out a bottle of water, checking the answering machine for messages. As I listened to Jane praise me and Bella about the reviews– a miracle – my attention went back to the envelope.
Bella walked in, messing up her hair since it had been in a pony tail earlier. "I really need to work on my back muscles and biceps. Brianna is getting harder to carry up the stairs."
I chuckled and wrapped my arms around her, as hers wound around my neck. Quietly, we stood there, holding each other close, allowing the emotions of the day to run through us. It was something we did every time we returned from a visit to see Riley's grave.
After several minutes, she pulled away with a sigh and picked up the letter on the counter. "I recognize the handwriting, but can't place it."
I shrugged, because I had no idea who's writing it was. "The only way we'll find out is if we open it."
She slipped her finger beneath the flap and she pulled out the contents of a single page letter. Her brow furrowed with confusion as her eyes fell on the words written in an unmistakable child's penmanship.
Her hand shook as fresh tears started to gather at the corners of her eyes.
"What is it?"
"Brothers," she whispered as her eyes continued to move over the page. I stood behind her to see, and I understood why she'd said brothers. A gasp froze in my throat as I silently read the words written by our son over her shoulder.
After the words started to blur, I felt Bella fall back against me, crying softly. I held her tightly and closed my eyes, overcome with the love for our son. The generosity of his heart was still so powerful even after he was gone, the proof of it fluttering onto the counter. The words seared into my mind.
Dear Wishes for You,
My name is Riley Biers and I'm nine years old. Soon, very soon I'll leave behind my mom because I have terminal cancer. I write to you today and this is my wish.
How can I make one wish when I want so bad to help everyone? But I know by helping Mom, with her big heart, her love would reach others.
I wish for my parents, Edward and Bella Cullen, along with my sister and brothers, to help as many families like ours as they can, providing the support they need, like they have given me, so that they could move forward when facing an illness like mine.
I guess it's my turn to share them with the world. My mom has it in her to help, and with Edward beside her, together, they could do anything.
As Bella and I quietly laughed, understanding coming to us both at the same time, as our hands touched her stomach. For along the bottom were the words stamped in a shimmering gold letters –
Song: Halo by Beyoncé
Thanks to kyla713 for all the hand-holding and helping with this story. Thanks to Vanessa_ventura and chartwilightmom for asking me to write this. After careful consideration, lots of back and forth, even tears, I decided that there will be no out-takes or future-takes. If there are questions that you feel still need answers, please send me a message, I'll be happy to reply.
Thanks to everyone that chose to brave this story, I know it hasn't been easy, but I hope that you find that it still brought some warmth to your day.