Baby It's Cold Outside O/S Contest
Title: This is Love
Rating & Any Needed Warnings: Rated M for mild language and themes
Word Count: 4291
Summary: "Bella, the lights are only part of your present. See over there? Look down. In the snow." Their story, told through footprints in the snow. Joy, laughter and a love that transcends all obstacles.
Disclaimer: I do not own.
"Now Eddie, don't forget to say thank you for your Christmas gifts," a loving voice reminds him.
Green eyes look up. They are one dimensional, expressing only happiness; no fear, no pain, no worries, no stress. Once they find her brown ones, they shine even brighter.
"Thanks for my puzzles! I'm going to take them and tell my friends a...a...and have Miss Jessica help me with 'em. Miss Jessica?" he asks.
That same loving voice is right beside him, ready to answer with a "Yes, Eddie?" Miss Jessica knows not to leave him unattended too long, for he is quite inquisitive and has gotten lost more than once.
"Time is up, Eddie. Let's say goodbye."
"Bye! One more hug? Can I give you a hug for the puzzles? Please?" He jumps out of his chair and grins with excitement.
She wipes a tear away, "Of course. You know how much I love getting hugs from you. It's my favorite part of our visits. Well, that and when you tell me what you did during the week."
She smiles but it does not match the joy his holds. Her smile is forced, unnatural.
He hugs her as tightly as he possibly can. She lets him until it he squeezes the breath out of her.
She can't stop the tears that wash over her face. This is the highlight of her week and she just wants them to stay this way forever. For during these embraces, time is frozen and she is able to shut out the reality of it all and just bask in their love.
It is always Miss Jessica who interrupts their bubble. Always.
"Okay Eddie, why don't we go show your new puzzles to your friends?" Miss Jessica gestures toward the door and then passes the tissues.
"Thank you, Jessica. I thought this might get easier after five years, but..." She dabs the tears, being mindful of her make up.
A hand reaches up to comfort her. "Oh sweetie, it never does on anyone. I'm going to take him on down the hall. Why don't you spend a few minutes in here pulling yourself together? I put some of his new pictures on the wall if you want to look. He really likes to draw. His face just lights up when he's holding a pencil. And look," she points to a picture, "look at how good he's doing writing his name!"
She bites her lip to stop the tears from breaking through the flood gates. The throbbing pain helps her regain calm, steady breaths as she opens her eyes. As much as she wants to look at his drawings, she realizes that her heart has endured enough today.
Before closing the door behind her, she whispers to herself, "Goodbye, Edward. I love you so much. So much, baby."
She leaves footprints in the snow while making the journey to her car. Her eyes do not need to look for them.
Her heart knows they are there.
They are a reminder of what she has left behind.
"Stop it, Eddie! You throw too hard. Not fair!" An annoyed voice pleads with the boy pelting her with snowballs.
"Nuh uh, no way. You gotta work on your defense," his tone grows serious, "and for the thousandth time, my name's not Eddie. It's Edward. Stop messing with me."
"Seriously, stop being stupid. My gloves are wet now and I'm freezing. I'm done."
"Aww, you're no fun. Come on, Bella. It's a snow day. What else are we gonna do?" In typical ten year old boy fashion, he begins packing the snow into a new snowball. He aims it directly at her forehead.
"Ack! No, no, no! Swear to god, Edward. I will never speak to you again if you throw that at me!"
His wool-covered fingers place the snowball beside his foot, leaving it intact. He wants to be prepared in case this is all just a ploy. After five years of snowball fights, he knows that Bella isn't too proud to pull the helpless victim card to have the upper hand.
"Come on, you wanna grab some hot chocolate?" She shivers from the frigid December air.
He nods yes before shouting out a "race ya" in her direction.
He was secretly hoping that Bella would invite him over. Mrs. Swan is able to give him the attention that is lacking from his foster parents. She has become his surrogate mother and he craves the love that the Swan home holds.
They trek back to the yellow house with the white picket fence; it's huge maple tree being their beacon in the snow covered neighborhood.
Upon arriving at the doorstep, he glances back and sees only his footprints in the snow. His eyes dart down the street before he spies her.
Stretching her legs out as far as she can, she is walking in the path that he made.
Their two paths become one as her tiny feet step inside his.
"I hate him so much! I never want to see him again! Argh! Why do guys have to be such assholes?" She ends the call and grips the phone so tightly plastic cracks.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" she screams into the lavender pillow.
It is not their first fight, but it is the first time she has felt like she is not enough for him. She is a straight-A student who attends church every week and has grown up being doted upon by two loving parents.
Her life is vastly different from his and she is unprepared to handle the heartache.
Her cries are interrupted by a noise.
Tap. Tap. Tap. TAP. TAP. TAP.
Stones bounce off the window and she rushes over, pulling her lace curtains back.
Squinting into the darkness, she struggles to see.
"Hello?" she calls out, afraid.
She hears his shoes scraping the bark before he asks, "Bella, can we talk?"
The butterflies in her stomach come alive.
She wants to talk.
She wants to go back in time and change what happened.
She wants to forgive him.
Is he worth it?
"I don't know what there is to say, but come on in. Be quiet though, my parents are sleeping."
His long, awkward legs carry his body through her window. Their eyes meet; both are rimmed in red and are bloodshot.
Words are exchanged and apologies are made as they make their way to her rocking chair. He sits, ashamed with himself and desperate for her forgiveness.
She is the only good in his life and he needs it.
Nobody has given him good since his mom died years ago.
He confesses all this to her, pleading that she grant him reprieve, telling her he loves her and wants her and only her.
She cannot hold back any longer, for she knows his words speak the truth. Her legs straddle his waist in the chair as she chants, "No more tears, baby. No more tears. I love you. So much. It'll all be okay," over and over.
Tears are wiped across cheeks. Her fingers seek out the collar of his shirt and twist at the nape of his neck. His fingers reach inside her soft cotton shirt and tickle the warm, smooth skin.
Moist lips suck and breathe warm air on her neck, her collar bone, her...
Her pelvis grinds in rhythm with his and she begins to swirl her hips for added friction.
His mouth silences her moans of pleasure, knowing that two sets of ears are sleeping opposite the wall.
She doesn't need to ask if he will still pick her up before school the next day. For everything is now as it should be, and perhaps, they are stronger now than ever before.
One final kiss is shared before his long legs carry him out the way he came.
She watches as he disappears into the night, praying that snow will fall soon. For if not, Chief Swan will see a new set of footprints in the snow...connecting Bella's room to Edward's patio door.
"The meadow? Today? Edward, you've got to be kidding me."
"Bella, baby, come on. Don't make me beg. You know I will," he pleads.
"Jesus, Edward. It's what? Thirty degrees out there with five inches of snow?" She shudders. "Sorry, you know I love you, but not that much."
"Not that much?" He raises an amused eyebrow.
This is their style. They fight, they flirt, they forgive and they fuck. He is ready to get to the last two, particularly the final one.
"Seriously, I just want to cuddle with you on the couch tonight. I'll even let you pick the movie. Deal?" She nudges his leg with her toe before tossing the blanket over him.
His tone is serious, "We can do that after. Promise. I just...I, uh...it's just pretty important. Kind of an early Christmas present I wanted to show you, I guess?"
"Present? Well, why didn't you say that before? Lemme throw some warm stuff on. Give me...I don't know. Give me ten." The blanket gets tossed aside as she flies down the hallway.
She doesn't notice him send a quick text before retrieving something out of his laptop case.
As they travel across the icy road, he steals a glance at his lover. This is one of those moments he knows he will never forget till the day he dies. He is on the edge of a cliff, ready to jump. Only he isn't jumping into danger, he's jumping into safety, love, forever.
Another quick text gets sent as Bella bounces out of the truck. Snow falls off the door when she slams it shut.
"Okay, crazy. We're here. It's twilight, freezing and dangerous. Explain to me again what we're doing?"
He takes her mitten covered hand just as the trees come to life. They are glowing. Thousands of lights cover their barren branches. The meadow is awash in a soft glow.
He looks into her eyes which are wide in shock.
"Wha...wha...what in the world? Edward? What is this?" She struggles to put the words together.
"This is the present I was working on. Well, me and Em. You owe him some of your gingerbread cookies, by the way."
He snakes behind her, aligning his body perfectly with hers and wrapping his arms around her waist.
He rocks her back and forth as he begins to talk. A nervous habit. He's a notorious toe-tapper and leg-shaker under stressful situations.
"Bella, the lights are only part of your present," His voice is shaky as he points at something in the distance, "See over there? Look down. In the snow."
He holds his breath.
Her eyes squint as she finds the patch of ground he is pointing to. Footprints litter the snow. She is about to ask "What?" before she looks more closely.
There, hidden in the snow, are footprints. Footprints in a pattern. A pattern? No. They're words.
"Will...you...," she reads, her voice shaking.
"...marry me?" he asks in a hoarse whisper that tickles her ear.
Before she can turn to face him, she feels it. Her mitten is pulled off and a cold metal ring is placed on her finger.
She reaches over and caresses it with her right hand before looking at it.
She says "yes" before looking at it.
She loves it before looking at it.
It is from him.
It is love.
It is perfect.
Kisses and hugs and I love you's are shared before new footprints create a path back to the truck.
Edward looks back, realizing one set of footprints is that of a boyfriend and girlfriend; the other set of footprints is that of a husband and wife. He swears he will never forget this night. Never.
"Momma? Angela said that Santa won't come to our house 'cause we don't have a...a...a...what's that fireplace thingy?"
He chuckles before she is able to reply to the small child.
"Chimney. That's the fireplace thingy, Char. And I'll have you know that I lived in bunches of houses when I was a little boy..."
The husband and wife share a smile, a sad smile. She kisses his cheek in comfort.
He continues, "But you know what, baby? Santa found me every time. Some places had chimneys, some didn't. Some were apartments, some were houses like ours. Don't you worry."
"That's right, Charlotte. You just keep being a good little girl and you'll be on his list. Okay?" She says before he leans in to wrap his strong arms around both his girls. The family shares a loving embrace until the peace is interrupted by cries echoing down the hall.
"Baby Peter!" The proud sister announces.
She smiles and nods, "Edward, why don't you take Charlotte outside while I feed Peter? Before it gets too dark and cold."
"Yes, daddy! Yes!" Brown curls bounce along her back as she jumps with excitement.
"Anything for my princess. We'll be back after a bit, Bella."
Kisses are blown her way by father and daughter.
As she holds the bottle to Peter's mouth, she watches them assemble the wobbliest snowman she has ever seen. It is also the most perfect snowman she has ever seen, of this she is sure.
Surrounding the snowman are footprints in the snow, one set dwarfing the other. The patterns they make cause her heart to swell and she quickly surrenders to the bliss.
"You are beautiful. Will you marry me?" a little red-headed toddler asks.
"Oh, Peter. You'll have to talk to your daddy about that."
She gives herself one final glance in the mirror before swiping off some of her lipstick. As much as she likes holiday parties, she dislikes the makeup and hair and manicures and sparkles and stilettos that go along with them. The red lipstick is too garish, even for a black-tie event. She puts on lip gloss instead, the one she wears every day, and feels a little more like herself.
"Bella, we needed to leave ten minutes ago. Come on. Traffic is gonna be killer if you don't stop primping and get out the door."
Kisses are placed atop heads of red and brown. A babysitter is reminded of phone numbers and allergies and bedtimes and what to do in case of an emergency.
His SUV flies down the street.
"Edward, we won't be late. Slow down."
"Yeah, sorry. Didn't realize I was going so fast. Just impatient to get there."
"I know you are. This is a big deal. I'm so proud of you, baby," she reaches over and strokes his thigh. "Making senior partner at the firm is huge."
She doesn't need to look over to know he is grinning.
"It really came at the right time, with the baby and all," he places his hand on the barely-there bump she has.
Her hand leaves his thigh to rest alongside his on her belly. She smiles and thinks of the future.
"Hey, Bella? I was thinking...If we have a girl, we should..."
The sound of metal scraping metal ends their conversation.
Blue and red flashing lights illuminate the road as medics rush to the SUV. The snow is trampled with footprints splattered in red.
She remembers that first Christmas. She remembers the tears, the guilt and the pills.
Her parents came up after the accident, taking the reigns of the household. Being the parents that Peter and Charlotte needed. Giving them the eggnog and presents and love that they needed.
Not a word was said as she stayed in bed, refusing food and the comfort of others. The children were told that the doctor wanted her to rest alone until she got better. Her parents told them this lie every day for months, aware that she may never get better but unsure of what to do.
The pills kept her numb and let her sleep and dream of the way they once were.
There were no footprints in the snow that year. Her feet never left the confines of her room.
She blinks her eyes as she snaps out of her thoughts from months past, that is, what she remembers.
Upon entering the kitchen, she is greeted with the image of four little hands placing sprinkles atop sugar cookies.
They have his hands.
This makes her smile.
She's been smiling more. Not for her, for them. They didn't deserve this either and she has lived each day for them. If she didn't have them, she would have already swallowed the contents of every orange bottle she owned.
"Peter, I love that angel you made. Look at all the colors you used!" She is constantly amazed by his creativity.
He got that from his daddy.
The young boy's pride is apparent when he flashes a toothless grin.
"Mom, Peter's a mess. He's dripping the icing on all the cookies! You can't take his."
"Charlotte, yours looked exactly like that when you were his age. Trust me, they'll get eaten. Everyone will love them."
She scurries around the kitchen, scraping the icing off chairs and sweeping the sprinkles from the floor.
"Peter, Char! Coats on. Time to go!"
The van slowly maneuvers through the icy roads until she drops the children off at the sitter's.
"Thanks again, Alice. I won't be long."
"No worries, Bella. Take as long as you need," She holds her friend in a tight embrace.
She is, indeed, right. The cookies are devoured and Peter's masterpieces elicit the biggest smiles.
Her feet carry her back to her van seconds before the tears start.
It is then, while wiping the tears from her eyes, that she sees a familiar angel cookie. It is nestled in the white snow of one of her footprints, the sun reflecting off it's halo.
"Yes, ma'am, may I speak to a...a...um, a Mr. Edward Cullen?" She glances at the Caller ID, the number is unrecognizable.
"No, he's not home," She hangs up before being asked when to expect him home.
It is in these unexpected moments that she finds herself unable to remain the strong, happy woman she convinces others that she is. That she attempts to convince herself she is, but knows better. The flawless makeup, perfectly coiffed hair and classic wardrobe complete with pearls are the mask she wears.
She plays dress up and pretends to live someone else's life. If she keeps up the charade, nobody will know. They won't take the time to look beyond her polished exterior to see a crumbling, ruined interior.
Pretty, expensive, beautiful things make her easy to talk to; they give off the impression that she is happy and full of life. The settlement money has afforded her the luxury of being able to surround herself in the finest from Neiman Marcus. She hates that money.
She wants to wear his clothes instead.
She wants his scent left on them.
She wants him.
The phone is placed in its charger as her eyes drift to the twinkling lights shining from across the street. They are so intense that their radiance makes even her house glow. If it weren't for those lights, the Cullen home would disappear into the darkness of night.
Intrigued by the beauty of the holiday spirit, she peels back the heavy damask drapes.
Her eyes find footprints in the snow.
She doesn't know. It doesn't matter. They aren't his.
The drapes become her anchor as her body seizes and her throat burns from crying out in pain.
Six years have passed. The children are eight and eleven, full of life and happy. She can't believe how quickly six years have come and gone.
Has it really been six years?
She won't allow herself to think of what life could have been. Instead, she is thankful for what she once had. Up until that night, her life was better than anything she could have ever dreamt.
She prays for her children to find the love and comfort one day that she had with their father.
That she still has with their father.
She has accepted that her life will never be as full as it once was. Her heart is missing its other half, and his is the only half that will fit there perfectly to make it whole again. So, she puts her love into their children and is able to look toward the future with a smile. The future means college and weddings and grandchildren and finally, finally, she'll get to be with the man she fell in love with.
"Okay, guys, so remember what we talked about. It's okay if you don't say anything. It just means a lot for you to be there," She disguises her nervousness with a calm voice. "Are you sure you don't have any questions?"
She waits. She wants them to have questions so they are better prepared.
"Uh, yeah," Peter asks, "so he like...never gets old?"
"What? Peter, you're so stupid. Of course he gets old." Charlotte is not amused. She fidgets with her hair to hide the amount of discomfort she is feeling today.
"No, that's not a stupid question. Peter, I think I understand what you're saying," Her eyes meet his in the overhead visor mirror. "No, he's like a five year old. His body will get old, but his brain won't learn new things. It stays the same."
She takes a deep breath. She must stay strong for them. Today, especially.
"Baby, he doesn't understand anything about our family. The doctors didn't want to confuse him with explaining that he has a wife and children. He would understand the words, but not the meaning behind them."
"So...what are we? His visitors for the day?" Charlotte asks. Annoyed. Angry.
"Char, we're his family. He understands what a family is. I talk about you guys all the time, show him pictures. Give him a little credit. He might remember today..." Bella tries to convince herself.
This is why she hasn't brought them to the nursing home before. It is too much to understand. Too much to see and smile and pretend like everything's okay. She wanted to wait until they were older, when they would have the maturity to do all that. Her parents confronted her this year. Telling her it was unfair to them and to him. Telling her that it was cruel to tell them "Daddy's sick. He needs more time to get better before you can see him".
She wants them to have memories of Edward, not of Eddie.
Edward is dead.
She still remembers that day. The day he informed her his name was "Eddie."
She was admitted to the hospital for a panic attack.
"Peter, baby, when the car hit daddy, it hurt his brain. You can't give a brain stitches or put a band-aid on a brain when it gets hurt." Memories of that night flash through her head.
"Daddy had the best doctors and they said that staying with doctors and nurses is best for him. You know how old Miss Alice's little boy Jake is, right? He's five. Daddy's a lot like him. I would have to have a babysitter for him while I was at work."
Her voice stops as she hears Charlotte sniffling. She takes another calming breath.
"I want him home with us but that wouldn't be fair to him, baby. He has friends where he is and the nurses are so good with him. You want him to be happy, right?" She asks this, but is unsure herself if she made the right choice.
"Now, Charlotte, go ahead and grab the cookies. We're here."
The room is decorated from floor to ceiling with red and green. The patients are proud to show off the crafts they made. They also remember Bella and the cookies she brings.
Only this year, she has more than just cookies. This year, she brings two children. One with brown hair. One with red.
When Mr. Davis asks about the cookies, she looks at the girl, asking "Char? Didn't you get the cookies?"
Clearly, she did not. The family excuses themselves as they head back out to the car to retrieve the cookies.
As they open the door to go out, she sees a familiar face opening the door to go in.
"Bella!" His eyes dance with joy.
"Eddie? What are you doing out here?" Just as she asks the question, Miss Jessica's white clogs appear behind him.
"We played in the snow! I made snowballs until my fingers got cold!"
She smiles and reaches for their children. "You remember me talking about Peter and Charlotte, right?"
She holds her breath.
He nods enthusiastically, remembering what Bella has told him throughout the years. "Yeah! Peter likes to draw pictures, like me. And Charlotte...her nickname is Char."
Her arms go around their children as she nods and smiles.
She has an idea.
"Miss Jessica? We need to get the cookies from the car. Would it be okay if Eddie helped us? Since he's already bundled up and all?"
"Aw, that's a great idea, Bella," she nods with a smile.
Words and laughter and smiles are exchanged among the family as all four walk to the car with rosy cheeks.
He looks back.
"Look in the snow. We left footprints. Four of them. Two big and two small," he says excitedly.
His simple observation means so much and tears of joy flood her face as the four of them embrace one another.
This, she thinks.
This is love.