Written for Southern FanFiction Review's Christmas Lemon collection; should have posted there today, AFAIK. Big yule-log (*snort*) thanks to yellowglue for roping me into this, and to Mal & Naelany for preread/beta-ing. Also, Nae for providing me with prompts when I was stuck. I 3 U ALL.
Dear Ms. Masen,
I hope this letter finds you well. My name is Edward, and I believe I am your son. I was born June 20, 1983 in Chicago. I was adopted by a very loving couple, and we soon moved to Rochester, NY, where I grew up. I've always known that I was adopted, but only after the death of my mom, Esme, was I compelled to search for you. I'd like very much the opportunity to meet you, and hope you would like to meet me. I hold no ill will against you, but would simply like to know more about you.
I understand the holiday season can be a stressful and crazy time, but I genuinely hope you find it in your heart to contact me soon.
Through blurry eyes, I had torn open the letter addressed to "I. Masen." I assumed they just spelled my name wrong, even though I'd legally changed it back to Swan after my divorce was finalized two months ago.
Which might have been why I was finishing my second bottle of wine in as many days, holed up in my tiny, two-bedroom bungalow in Oak Park. It's not much, but I was relieved that I could manage to afford it despite the crap alimony payments I was awarded. That's what happens when you can't afford a decent lawyer.
Reading the letter several times, it finally dawned on me that this couldn't be intended for me. First, I was only twenty-six, so I was pretty sure that would rule out any illegitimate twenty-seven-year-old children on my part. Second, my mind cleared enough to double-check the name and notice the misspelling.
Still, I kept going back over the remarkably neat penmanship, running my fingers over the words, the tactile sensation distracting me, until something (that to a sober person, would have been glaringly obvious) struck me like a Mack truck:
Ilsbeth Masen. She'd been the woman who had lived here before me. I'd met her briefly, but dealt mainly with her daughter and son-in-law.
When I thought about the boy—well, man, who'd written the letter, I felt horrible thinking his plea may not be heard because of me. I devolved into a sobbing mess in front of my laptop, shooting off what I would later find to be a horrifyingly-close-to-illiterate email.
At least I had the wherewithal not to call him after 2AM. Or maybe that was just luck on my part.
RE: your letter to I Maesn
Dear Mistr Cullen,
I am sorry to told you this, but Ilsibeth Mason no longre resides here at 290 Grove in Oak Parker, iL. I'm sorry. Wait, did I says? Crap. Anyway, I bouhgt te house form her. Well, techniclly from Alice. She's verry nice, but talks a LoT! Um, I dont realy know what els to say, but you have any quetsions youj can call me at 482-1271. That's my phonenubmer.
I had to reread the email at least four times. Mostly because I was so confused by the simultaneous disappointment and urge to laugh my ass off. Looking at the time stamp, I saw the email had been sent around four in the morning, or rather, three, given this woman was in Chicago. Either she was tired, drunk, or just a really bad typist. Or seven years old.
In any case, I was still intent on trying to contact my birth mother, so I wrote down the number — hoping it was correct, given all the other typos. The information I could gather from the email gave rise to a myriad of questions. Who was Alice? Was she an aunt? My mother's life partner? It didn't really matter, but there was so much I wanted to know. The least of all being, "Why did you open a letter that wasn't addressed to you?"
After I finished breakfast, I went for a quick run to clear my head. The typical noises of New York were like static, and almost quiet as I considered the events that led me to search for my mother. After my mom, Esme, died of ovarian cancer the past year, it was nearly debilitating to think of life without her, and it set me off on an unfortunately long and existential train of thought. I'd known I was adopted, and never felt lost or unwanted, but like any adopted kid, I wondered where I got the brassy, reddish-brown hair-that-would-not-be-tamed that led to the nickname "Alfalfa" in kindergarten. Or which of my parents had green eyes like mine.
My dad understood, and though I sensed a little surprise when I initially broached the topic, I knew he supported me, and that he wasn't hurt. He didn't begrudge me the knowledge or the possible relationship it could bring. My childhood hadn't left me wanting (except maybe for a room of my own — my brother Emmett was a slob), but it had left me wondering.
I longed to know why I was given up. Not because I was angry — far from it. It was more of a burning curiosity, a desire to understand. I just wanted to know her. I wouldn't mind meeting my biological father, as well, but first things first.
My mind finally unwound enough, so I showered and dressed quickly, anxious to find out more. I checked the clock to make sure it wasn't too early on a Saturday to make the call. I tended to be an early-riser, and over the years had quickly learned (usually courtesy of Emmett) that not everyone was "up with the sun," as he said.
Grabbing my iPhone off the counter, I speedily dialed nine of the ten digits (after looking up the area code that she neglected to include), and hovered my index finger over the last. Instantly, my heart raced and my mouth went dry.
"Jesus, Bella," Rosalie laughed into the phone. I'd forwarded my ridonkumail to her the next morning, obviously intent on sharing my shame with the world. "Why the hell would you actually send this off? Why didn't you—"
"If I knew why, Rose," I snapped, stemming her insults, "I wouldn't have sent it to you, trying to make myself feel less like a flaming imbecile. I have a goddamn master's degree in education, specifically literature, and looking at that email makes me wonder if I should be allowed to drive a car, let alone shape young minds."
She snickered, and I knew she was trying to hide it, but not very hard. "Good lord, Bell. That poor guy just wants his mommy, and he gets a drooling toddler instead."
"I'm hanging up on you," I told her truthfully before doing just that. It wasn't the first time I'd done so, and it probably wouldn't be the last.
I wrapped my deliciously fluffy terrycloth robe tight and shuffled down the hall to the den to find the slip of paper with Alice's phone number on it. I figured I might as well pass on Edward's letter to her, as he would be her brother, if all turned out to be true.
My desk was a mess with papers and notebooks, my efforts at organizing after my move stunted. As I sifted, the cellphone in my pocket chimed, startling me. I answered without looking, soon to be glad there was a chair behind me.
"Miss ... Sawn?"
The voice on the other end of the line was magical. No, really. It HAD to be magical. My nipples immediately got hard when he asked, "Miss Sawn?" He mispronounced my name and I'm all a-titter! A-twitter ... whatever.
"Swan," I squeaked, like a thirteen-year-old idiot.
"I'm so sorry," the smooth timbre caressed me as Magic Man apologized. "I wasn't sure if that was a typo or not."
My face is aflame with shame. Yes, that rhymes; I'm a poet and I didn—. No, I will not finish that sentence.
"Oh, God," I moaned, realizing that my drunken keyboard-wizardry had garnered me this call. "I'm ... oh, shit. I'm sorry. I was, uh ... dammit, this is —"
I cut off my ramblings, held the phone away from me, cleared my throat and returned, hoping to salvage the illusion that I was a capable, non-spastic adult. "Mr. Cullen, I assume?"
"Yes." He sounded slightly amused, and his slightly hushed tone went straight to ... well, it shouldn't have gone there, let's just put it that way. "I got your ... email, and I was hoping you might tell me a little more."
"Um, yes! Sure. Of course," I stammered. Again. Literally facepalming, I tried to cleanse the conversational palate by begging for mercy. "First, let me apologize for that catastrophe of an email. I was ... um," I paused before throwing caution to the wind (lying would have been entirely too exhausting — I'm a terrible liar), "drunk. I'd thought the letter was for me, at first, but obviously ... not. I should have just handed the letter off to Alice, but ..."
"Excuse me, but who is Alice, by the way?" He asked softly, as if in apology for interrupting.
"Well, if Ms. Masen was your mother, I'm guessing Alice would be your sister."
"My sister?" My voice cracked on the last syllable. Any embarrassment I had would have been easy to forget if Miss Swan hadn't giggled after I'd heard it. Honestly, the thought had never occurred to me that I might have actual, biological siblings. It should have, but it just hadn't. "Wow."
The quiet exclamation pushed me back against the wall, halting my pacing of the kitchen floor.
"Edward, please," I insisted, an unexpected smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. Something about her flustered demeanor warmed me from the inside out. It was a little adorable. Of course, to think so made me feel all the more ridiculous — I don't know the woman from Eve.
"Edward," she relented easily, but with a touch of bashful. "I apologize again for the manner of the note. I just didn't want you to feel your letter had fallen on deaf ears, or for you not to get a response. It's none of my business, but given the, uh, emotional state I was in, I wanted to let you know as soon as possible."
I couldn't help but to chuckle. "Really, it's no problem. When I set off on this journey, of sorts, I didn't expect anything remarkable, but so far, it's been more than interesting. I can only thank you for contacting me."
"It was my pleasure."
My heart began to beat faster. I didn't know why, but I was tempted to check my blood pressure. And just like that, I didn't know what to say. It was incredibly awkward, as I had realized something about her voice was a bit of a turn-on, so I blurted out the first (thankfully non-mortifying) thing that came to mind.
"So why did you think the letter was for you?"
I heard a gasp. I hoped I hadn't offended her, as it could've sounded accusatory, but before I could find out, she spoke again. "Well, my married name was Isabella Mason, but with an 'o', not an 'e'. So, in my, um, compromised state," she paused to snort, and it made me smile, "I figured it was just misspelled. It wasn't until I read the letter that I realized it was for the previous owner of the house. I'd honestly never thought about the coincidence — mostly because I'd already changed my name back to Swan."
She continued, talking about meeting with Alice and her husband, Jasper, rather than my mother. It didn't occur to me to interject or ask questions, as I got lost in her voice. It was soothing and comforting, climbing out of the receiver and wrapping around me. It made me want to see what her lips looked like as they formed the words and perhaps, touch her face and neck to feel the sound resonate from her throat.
I snapped out of my fog, wondering if the holidays were making a bigger sap out of me than my mom had always tried to. "I'm sorry, yes?"
A warm laugh tickled the line. "I was just asking if you would like me to give Alice your information? I'm pretty sure she'd be okay with it if I gave her number to you, too, but ..."
I understood her hesitation, quickly assenting for her to pass along my letter to Alice. My sister.
As soon as I hung up, I missed Edward. The sound of him—his voice! Gah ... I couldn't figure out why, but he just ... stuck with me. Maybe it was my personal involvement in his story, the search for his mother, maybe not.
Did I actually say "It was my pleasure?" OH, GOD.
I was convinced I was having a psychotic break for a few minutes, as the papers shuffled around my hands until I snagged on a Post-It. "GOTCHA!" I exclaimed out loud, noting further evidence of said mental breakdown.
When I flip the crumpled, no-longer-sticky paper, I found last week's grocery list. Angrily smashing the paper into a ball, I pitched the wad into the bin under the desk and went back to sifting.
Perhaps it was a Christmas miracle, but within moments, the phone rang from my pocket yet again. Nerves skittered over my shoulders, leaving tingles all along my skin. I wonder if Edward is calling back. Maybe he—
I quickly squashed the crazy from growing too large and answered the unrecognizable number. "Hello?"
"OH, Alice, thank God! I couldn't find your number and I was going to call you ..." I sighed, relieved and ... disappointed. Note to self: make appointment with psychiatrist.
"Really? How funny! Jasper and I were just wondering — HEY! You put that up there again, you better leave it there!"
"Sorry, Ben keeps shoving things up his nose, and I have no idea why," she continued, sighing, but I can hear the amusement in her voice. "I swear he does it to hear me yell."
"How old is he?"
"Four," she answered brightly. "Looks just like his daddy, save the dark hair. Jasper's hoping for a girl this time."
"You're expecting?" I asked, my voice pitching high with surprise and excitement. Taking a deep breath, I felt a little shock at my involvement in this family's life, despite the fact I barely knew them. Like I said, PSYCHIATRIST.
"Yep! About sixteen weeks along." Her voice was back to the usual bounce and pep, the annoyance of her son and his penchant for nose-stuffing apparently forgotten. "We'd been talking about trying for another, but then I puked all over Jasper at a friend's birthday party. I never puke. It was hilarious because Jasper didn't even get mad, he just said, 'Are you pregnant?'"
I could feel the giggles bubbling up my throat, but Alice beat me to it. Cracking herself up, she finally stopped laughing, only to gasp.
"OMIGOD, pregnancy-brain is killing me. What did I call you for?" Her wheels were turning so hard, I swore I could hear the gears.
"Well, actually I was going to call you, Alice—" I began.
"OH! Yes, the Christmas party," she interrupted excitedly. "You must come! We do a huge soiree on Christmas Eve. You don't have plans, do you? Or are you going back to Forks, or to Jacksonville? Please say no. I would love for you to join us!"
Silence took over the line as I waited to make sure she was giving me room to speak. Laughing lightly, I answer. "Well, I can't really afford to fly anywhere this year, so my dad and his wife, Sue are flying in for New Year's. My mom and Phil, that's her husband, are traveling. She insisted they try the holidays in Borneo. Seriously."
"So you're free?" She might be bouncing. This is a little awkward.
I was almost afraid to say yes. It felt akin to setting off a bomb. "Yes?" I answered meekly.
"Sweet!" Phew! That wasn't as bad as I thought. "I'm really glad. You'll have fun, I promise. Jasper is a fantastic cook. I'm pretty good, too, but he is delicious."
Alice busted into another laughing fit, though this time it was brief. "Freudian slip," she amends with a snort. "His cooking is fantastic."
"Looking forward to it," I told her.
"Great! I'll see you then, okay?"
"Wait! I had something ... to tell you. Sort of." Must hang out with more friends besides those of the Merlot and Zinfandel variety.
"Sort of?" she asked, the smile evident in her voice.
"Well, I ... don't quite know how I should say this," I began, feeling eight shades of awkward. "A letter arrived for your mom, and ... well, I accidentally opened it — long story. It's from a man who says he might be her son."
Internally, I dropped to the floor, relieved to get the message out there. At the same time, though, I was panicking. Alice took a full minute before she responded.
"I'll be over in twenty minutes."
I was well aware that I sounded like an asshole walking around the city, just rolling the name around on my tongue repeatedly. This was New York, though, so people probably just considered me crazy, which was fine. I felt a little crazy that day. I wondered if she had a nickname. Bella? Izzie? I tried those out, too.
"It's okay, pal," the guy sitting next to me on the subway said, snapping me from my apparently all-consuming train of thought, "she can hear you. I talk to my wife all the time!"
I must have sounded distressed or upset—I didn't know, but I gave him a grateful nod anyway and decided shut the fuck up for the rest of the ride. My client meeting in midtown was a lesson in futility. I was lucky the client was a friend of Emmett's who just needed a little re-coding on his website. I tried desperately to focus, but kept spacing out.
After my client meetings, I was emerging from the train stop, heading toward my apartment when my phone buzzed in my pocket. Like a husband waiting on the "IT'S TIME!" call from his pregnant wife, I hastily dug for my phone, almost dropping it in the intersection as I crossed the street.
Silence. Isabella? Shit, I'm losing it.
"Hello?" I repeated, hearing slightly quick breaths.
"Hi," a voice said quietly. "Is this ... Edward Cullen?"
She sounded too young to be my mother, but I could have been mistaken. You can't always tell ... "Yes, it is. Who's this?"
A strangled sigh — I couldn't tell if it was sad or happy, but I was getting anxious.
"Oh, wow ... Hi, Edward," she said, sounding incredibly relieved, though her voice was a little shaky. "My name is Alice Whitlock. I'm ... well, I think I'm your sister."
It was my turn to pause, stunned and unable to speak. I froze in the middle of the street, only to be angrily honked at by a cab driver. Surely a slew of typical gestures followed me as I unevenly stepped onto the opposite curb. After a deep breath, my voice returned.
"Alice." I repeated, a slight smile curving my lips. "I'm sorry, I'm just a little ... Isabella—er, Miss Swan told me you might be ... I just—"
An amused chuckle interrupted my rambling. "I know. I visited with Bella last night and read your letter, and ... well, I had to process some things, sleep on it and talk to my husband. I can't say I didn't know about you, but nothing was clear. It's kind of a long story, but I want to tell you everything."
Every question came flooding forward, overloading my senses and threatening to shut down all brain function. I moved to the side of a building and leaned heavily on it for support. "I'll listen to whatever you will tell me," I managed softly. "I have so many things to ask, but I ..."
"Don't know where to start," she finished for me, and it made me smile wider. "Me neither. I wish I could just download it all directly to you, like a hard drive."
A loud laugh erupted, scaring the shit out of a pair of expensively-dressed chihuahuas prancing by leashed to their unkempt, hoodie-wearing owner. Fucking hipsters. I cleared my throat and turned, focusing my attention back on the phone. "Sorry, yeah, I know what you mean. It just struck me as funny because I'm a web developer, so it kinda fit."
"Are you? That's so cool. Jasper—that's my husband—engineers video games and digital graphics," she told me excitedly. "I bet you two will get along so well."
It occurred to me suddenly that I'd been in an insulated bubble this whole time, from the moment I'd decided to find my birth mother. Though I could imagine meeting her, reality had a strange sting to it.
Probably sensing my hesitation, she continued more slowly. "I'm sorry, I just assumed we would meet ... or something. I mean, I'd like to. I don't have any brothers or sisters — or I didn't think I did."
I felt guilty, she sounded embarrassed and awkward. "I honestly didn't think about any possible siblings — I mean, I have a brother," I admitted. "But, I was floored to find out I have one."
I managed to walk back to my apartment as Alice told me a little about her husband and son. I absorbed it all like a sponge, until she mentioned selling the house to Isabella. Bella. Suddenly, my ears perked, my heart fluttered, and I had the urge to stick my hands down my pants and make sure I still had my balls, and had not, in fact, been turned into a girl.
"You ... you know her very well? Or, uh ... are you friends?"
She giggled, and I felt like I was about to be teased with the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song. "Well, not really. I hadn't met her until she bought my mo—that is, our mother's house. She's a real sweetheart, though, and I have a feeling we will be great friends."
I nodded silently, unlocking my door and heading inside. "Oh, cool." I tried to sound nonchalant, but my voice cracked.
Alice full-on guffawed now. "You LIKE her!"
For a moment, it seemed as though we'd grown up together, and my annoying little sister was teasing me about a crush. It was incredibly comforting and yet foreign to feel that kind of connection. "I ... I don't — what?" I sputtered, completely ruining my calm, cool façade. As if you had one! "I don't even know her. We talked once!"
"Okay, this is what's gonna happen," she declared, steamrolling over me as though she hadn't heard a word. "YOU are gonna come to our Christmas Eve party. You can meet the fam, Jasper and Ben and some other extendeds, and ... Bella."
"You realize I live in New York, right?" I reminded her.
"Pfffft! Have you heard of airplanes? They can carry people from one place to another in a relatively short amount of time. It's miraculous."
Her heavy sarcasm cracked me up, but I wasn't sure how I felt about the invitation. "I don't know, Alice. Do you really think that's a good idea for a first meeting? I just—"
"IT'S CHRISTMAS, Edward! What better gift to give your sister than to introduce yourself to her? And your extended family? And ... Bella." Her voice got all mock-romantic and I swear, I blushed. Thank God, Emmett is not here to see that.
"Bring your brother! Or any of your family, I'd love to meet them!" There's some static and muffled speech. "Shit—SHOOT! I said, 'shoot,' Benny. I did not ... oh, hell. Listen, Edward, I have to go. Please please please consider coming. We have a guest room, but I'd understand if you wanted to get a hotel or something. Our treat! Really, just ... think about it, okay? Let me know?"
My head swam with a million possibilities, but one confused me, singling itself out repeatedly and increasing in intensity.
Alice called this afternoon. She told me she called Edward yesterday and spoke with him for a little while until Ben came running out of his room in nothing but a cowboy hat and toy hip-holsters. That wasn't necessarily the problem, it was his decision to pee in all the houseplants that set her off.
After she reiterated that I needed to come to her holiday party, she insinuated that Edward would be there. I refused to give in to her obvious meddling and ask specifically, though I couldn't deny the way my face seemed to heat up at the mention of him. This is insane. I have spoken to the man once. ONCE.
Of course, since I spoke with her, I couldn't get him out of my mind, or specifically, what I was going to wear to the holiday party. Not that I'm going.
Oh, who am I kidding? I'm totally going.
I decided to rope Rosalie into coming with me. She'd look for any excuse to avoid her parents' stuffy cocktail party they throw every Christmas Eve, and I'd be happy to have the support. Unfortunately for me, she totally picked up on my irrational obsession with Edward and proceeded to tease me about it until I hung up on her. I'm aware I have a habit of doing that. She's used to it, though, so no big whoop.
At that moment, the doorbell rang. I peeked through the window to see a deliveryman with a huge basket. Snicker ... huge basket ... AHEM.
Signing and lugging the package inside (yes, I'm internally giggling again), I searched for the card as I ogled the collection of coffees, teas, cookies, and the rest of the edible, holiday-themed treats, including a bottle of dessert wine.
I hope this isn't untoward, but I just wanted to thank you for your kindness.
Not many people would have bothered to contact me, intoxicated or otherwise. ;)
I just spoke with my sister, and I hope to meet my mother soon. I have you to thank for that.
So, thank you. And Merry Christmas!
"Holy Fuck." I stared at the card until I realized I'd retrieved my phone and had begun scrolling for his number. My emotions boomeranged back and forth between wanting to rub myself all over the basket like a cat, and sobbing hysterically.
He doesn't know. How could Alice not tell him?
Before I could think better of it, Edward's richly deep voice wrapped around me like silk.
"Bella?" He asked hesitantly—and, if I dare say, hopefully.
"Hello again ... Edward," I replied, feeling my face flame. OH. MY. GOD. Am I TWELVE?
He sighed, seeming relieved. Maybe I'm not the only nutjob on the line. "That's okay that I call you 'Bella,' right? Alice mentioned it, so I figured that was the nickname you preferred."
Oh, he's all proper and well-spoken. I'm screwed.
"Yeah, people usually call me Bella."
"Bella," he said it again, like he just wanted to hear it out loud. I think I just wet my pants. And I don't mean incontinence.
"Edward," I began, preparing to hate myself and to have him hate me, "thank you so much for the gift basket. It's completely unnecessary, but ... just amazing, thank you."
"Like I said," he said with a smile in his voice, "the gratitude is mine. I appreciate it more than you know."
"Did Alice not tell you about your mother?" My body felt a jarring shift as the last word fell from my lips.
"Um, a little, but oddly enough, the conversation never got there." He sounded a little confused.
I took a deep breath and braced myself. "She ... your mother died a few months ago, Edward," I told him, my voice as soft and sympathetic as I could make it. "I'm so sorry. I hoped she would have told you, but I can't stand—"
"Please," he interrupted, "don't ... don't apologize."
I could hear the struggle in his voice.
"Oh, God!" I lamented, feeling guilt shoot through my body like bullets. "Why did I have to be the one to tell you this? I'm so horrible!"
I wasn't asking him, so much, as myself. I truly considered walking head-first into a wall.
"Bella, no," he admonished, something genuine and warm in his tone. "It's not ... I mean, I considered so many possibilities when I started looking for her, so this? It's a surprise, but not shocking. I'm disappointed, sure, but really? It's just strange. My mom — my adoptive mother, that is — she died last year."
I nearly fell on the floor. "Oh, Edward ..." I practically cooed, tears forming on my lower lids.
He laughed quietly before he proceeded to make me feel better. Telling me all about his mom and his family, I got to know a lot about Edward. I began to see what an amazing heart this man had, how deeply he cared for his family. So much that he didn't say told me about who he was as a person. I thought I was hallucinating, but I felt so connected to him, in a way I'd never experienced with anyone before.
In turn, he learned a lot about me. I found myself dishing out stories about my own family, my split families, and even my brief, yet huge mistake of a marriage to James. And though I was sure I was babbling incoherently, tossing off f-bombs like shrapnel, he listened—and I know he listened because his responses were like that of your best friend, the one who knows you better than anyone in the world.
I am definitely en route to the nuthouse, because I am impossibly falling for this man I've never met.
When I'd spoken to Alice, there were a couple of things she'd said that mentioned our mother that now made sense. The way she'd spoken in past tense, it became clear. I didn't know if she thought I already knew she was gone, or just wanted to tell me in person? It didn't really matter. If nothing else, I gained a sister.
My conversation with Bella was, conversely, staggering. We talked for nearly three and a half hours, finally cutting ourselves off around midnight, my time. I was reeling from the news that my mother was already passed, but having never actually met her, it quickly settled into my heart as a regret I couldn't do anything about, the pieces from Alice settling into the grooves and smoothing it over like an flat, rosy scar.
I talked with my dad the next day, filling him in on the status of things. He was quiet for a moment before he asked me, "Edward, are you ... do you have an interest in Bella?"
Fully aware of my burgeoning attachment to her, I initially denied it. "What? No. No, of course not, I just ... she was very kind and I wanted to repay her for that, and ... No, no, it's just. She's very nice."
Dad waited a beat before laughing his ass off. "Jesus, boy, you sound like I did when I first met your mom! She had me so flustered, I showed up to my anatomy class when I had physics and my math class when I was supposed to be in lab."
I flashed back to my mom telling me stories of their "college courtship," as she used to say, and how, when they were a little tipsy, my parents would let a few details-your-kids-don't-ever-want-to-know slip. I'll never look at a library cubbie the same way again. Shudder.
"Dad," I reasoned. "I haven't even met the woman. How can you say I'm ... interested? Not to mention, she's in Chicago anyway."
"But you are going to see her." I hope so. Wait — ahh, dammit.
"Well, no, not her," I argued. "I'm going to meet my sister and family. I'd love it if you came with me, by the way. I told you Alice invited you and Emmett as well, didn't I?"
"Really?" He seemed surprised. "Have you spoken to Emmett yet?"
"No, but you know him: he'll fly across the country for a crack at free food."
"Fine, point taken," he conceded. "Yes, Edward. I'd be happy to go with you. It's still so hard to be home on Christmas without your mom here. She was the one who did all the decorating and cooking ..."
I listened to him trail off, his voice getting sad. "I know, Dad."
Plans and reservations made, I sent the info to Dad and Emmett, who predictably asked what the menu for the party was, and if Alice would mind if he wore his "Thanksgiving pants" like Joey's in Friends. I hung up on him.
With about a week to go, I caught Bella online and before I could talk myself out of it, I sent off a quick instant message.
CullenScript: Bella? You there?
ToKillASwan: Hi, Edward. Yeah, I'm here. How are you?
CullenScript: Fine. I just saw you online and thought I'd say ... Hi.
Nice one, dumbass. HI. Jesus...
ToKillASwan: LOL Hi. Do you mind if I ask what's with the handle? 'CullenScript'?
ToKillASwan: Ahhh. Yes, makes sense now.
CullenScript: I assume To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book?
ToKillASwan: YES. not too subtle am I?
CullenScript: Nope. :)
ToKillASwan: Thanks for disagreeing. Always the gentleman. ;)
ToKillASwan: Can I ... do you mind if I call you? I'd rather hear your voice...
My heart flipped. Quit freaking out, Cullen. Maybe her fingers are tired. OH GOD, the flood of dirty thoughts ... I had to fight myself not to type a joke about phone sex. I must have talked to my brother too often the past week.
CullenScript: Absolutely. Please do.
My palms began sweating, and I had to wipe them on my pants several times before gripping my phone. Why am I so nervous? This is like ... asking the most popular girl in school to prom or some shit. But more nerve-wracking. Grabbing my phone, I watched it as it rang, smiling reflexively when it lit up, "Bella Swan" appearing on the screen.
"Hi, Bella." Holy fuck, I just SIGHED her name.
"Hi, Edward." Wait, did she just sigh back?
"Hi." Oh, you are BRILLIANT. There's a reason programmers tend to be reclusive.
"So, Alice mentioned you might be coming at her Christmas party. TO. Coming to her ... Fuck me sideways," she cursed after her slip.
I couldn't help the snort that resulted, but I wouldn't want to ignore the fire her words lit in my stomach. Not the 'fuck me sideways,' though I ain't gonna pretend that wasn't hot. "Um, yes," I tried not to laugh when I responded. "I am ... going to be there. My dad and brother are ... joining me."
I just can't say "coming" right now. Mind is already too dirty.
She snickered. "I'm glad. I hope ... I mean, uh, it'll be nice to be with you—see you—meet ... Gahhhh!"
Nope. No holding back the laughter now.
"Bella," I said, smiling ear to ear. "I really can't wait to meet you, too."
I had to be dreaming. You know, one of those ridiculous, carnival-from-hell type dreams that leave you wondering if you did a slew of hard drugs before passing out? Yeah. That would be the only explanation for the feelings I was having for Edward.
He surprised me by messaging me online, but it just set off a swarm of butterflies-on-ecstasy in my stomach. I nearly slapped myself when I typed, "I need to hear your voice" or whatever. Once I got on the phone, I Freudian-vomited at every turn.
Gee, I wonder if he figured out I was thinking about sex. Hmmm. That's a HARD one.
But then, there was laughing, and ease, and ... we seemed to be on the same page. Nearly impossible to describe, and less so to explain, something happened to us over the phone. Again, caught in an hours-long conversation, I fell harder for him. Yeah, I know. I said HARD again. By the time we got off (Okay, stop. Really? Who's the filthy mind now?), I mean, HUNG UP (sicko), I could barely say goodbye without an oppressive pain in my chest. I also had to suppress the urge to say ... you know the three little words.
So, yeah, like I said: crack dream. Because there could be no way this was real.
Since I left James almost a year ago, I had been tempering myself against the idea of being alone. And not just for a while, but for good. I didn't want to be, I just didn't think I'd trust myself to fall for anyone again. I knew I'd been a naive twenty-one-year-old when I met James, and honestly? James was never a liar or mean ... he just wasn't husband material. If I hadn't gotten pregnant, we never would've gotten married, and saved each other a lot of grief. Despite the heartache, I was grateful that I miscarried, but we were already married at that point, and reasonably happy. But we weren't really in love, and soon enough, that became glaringly obvious and resentment took up residence.
Now that I was on my own for the first time in a long time, I had a hard time believing in a real second chance. What Edward seemed to make me feel was nothing short of miraculous, in my opinion. Because feelings like this could not possibly exist.
The next day, I called him. He didn't answer so I left a ridiculous message on his voicemail. Something along the lines of "Hi, this is Bella. I was looking for the Tourette's Support Group? NIPPLETWEAKERS. If you could give me a call back and let me know? FUCKITY HUMPERNICKEL. Thanks, Bye."
Two hours later, he called me back, wheezing from laughter. "I'm going to avoid answering your calls just to see what you'll leave on my voicemail," he'd said. I'd laughed casually while internally dancing a handicapped jig (I'm a sucky dancer) that he'd said "calls." Plural. More. Future.
We spoke every day. I kept my cellphone on me at all times, even during class. During my last final exam, my phone started buzzing in my pocket, bringing an unbound smile to my face. I heard a few snickers among my students, but the thrill of knowing Edward called (No, I didn't look, but I could ... feel it. Shut up.) was enough to let me enjoy it.
Besides, his message was worth it. "Just hoping to catch you before I went out for the Naked Marathon. Bit nipply out there, so they're letting us wear — what did you call them? Peen-cozies. Pray for me. Frostbite is a bitch when it's on your—"
Yeah, that was where the message cut off.
Fucking enamored of that man.
On my last day of work before Christmas, I left the office late. I was grading exams that were surely written by drunk, mentally-stunted circus animals, and once I could take no more, I decided I had wasted enough effort on the task and called it a night. When I got home, there was a Express Mail envelope in my door. A vaguely familiar handwriting addressed it, the script dashing out the letters of my name, making me feel like poetry.
I called him before I even opened it.
"Hi," he said simply, a smile lilting his voice like music. I was instantly warmed, the chill from the weather vanishing.
"Some dude I never met overnighted me something."
"Some dude, huh?"
"Yeah. I'm wondering if it's a Naked Marathon finish-line photo," I said, barely controlling a giggle.
"That would be something, wouldn't it?" he teased.
I tore open the envelope to find a close up picture of ... a smile. A small gasp escaped me as I examined the snapshot. Just a wide, lopsided grin exposing a bright set of perfect teeth between soft, full lips. What? They look soft!
"I want you to recognize me when I see you," he said, "because I can't imagine I won't be smiling."
Never before in my life had I arrived to the airport so early. I had two hours before my flight left and I was already at the gate. An hour later, Emmett and Dad came strolling up together with shit-eating grins on their faces.
"Did you sleep here, Edna?" Emmett asked like the smug bastard he was.
"Yes," I deadpanned. "My ass is killing me. Would you kiss it and make it better?"
"WHOA. Might cut myself on your sharp wits, there, bro."
He plopped his huge frame in the chair next to me, flexing a bicep in my face. "Really, Hans? Flexing. You know I'm not only your brother, but also not gay."
"Dick," he muttered.
"Boys," my dad almost whined, "come on. It's Christmas. This is an important—"
"Dad," Emmett interrupted, "this is how we show love."
"You must love each other a lot."
Staring at our dad for a minute, I remembered how lucky I was to have such a great family, and that family was about to expand a little bit. I stood and wrapped my arms around him, trying to show how grateful I was that he would come with me to Chicago. "Thanks, Dad."
He patted my back and moved to sit down between my and Emmett's seats. "Gotta separate you two, or you'll be wrestling on the filthy carpet like two idiot kids within minutes. And I'm not bailing you out today."
My brother and I snickered, remembering the only time either of us got arrested. Let's just say our brand of brotherly affection was not appreciated by MoMa.
It felt like hours before I arrived in Chicago, and days just to get off — ah, hell. You already know what I'm thinking. In any case, it took forever before they let us deplane or whatever the flight attendant kept babbling as we waited for them to open the door.
I was halfway down the aisle before Emmett even got his seatbelt undone. I may or may not have knocked over an old lady with a walker in my rush to hurry up the jet bridge. I would have apologized, but she flipped me off when I turned back.
Considering the cause lost, I swung my carry-on over my shoulder and tried to slow myself down. There'd be no hiding my eagerness, but I could try to chill it out just a little bit. I also had to remind myself that I was excited to meet my sister, and nephew, and brother-in-law.
But pretending that it wasn't Bella who I craved to see? Who I needed to wrap in my arms and feel her body beneath my fingers? I didn't even know what she looked like. Her only description was "brown hair, brown eyes. Boring." I wouldn't believe that, because it wouldn't matter. Whatever she looked like, I didn't care. Her voice, her spirit ... she was beautiful.
The nerves in my stomach were wicked. I hadn't been able to eat all morning, though Emmett shoved a double cheeseburger down my throat at the airport. He bought, like, eight of them or something, but shared one each with my dad and I. Generous guy, no?
I hustled through the airport, anxious to get to baggage claim where Alice said they'd be waiting. My muscles burned, but I pushed them, the heat flashing across my skin as I passed the gate. My eyes scanned the crowd, but there were so many people in such a rush, it was overwhelming.
My breath picked up, an element of panic seeping into my gut. What if she's not here? What if she changed her mind?
I felt like I aged a hundred years in a few minutes I scanned and searched, until finally ...
My eyes locked on a head of long, silky brown hair. My heart rate sped and the air left my lungs in a whoosh. It's her. It has to be her.
She turned and froze. The most soulful, wide eyes found mine, and I couldn't have fought the smile that took over my face if I'd wanted to. It almost hurt. Relief swept over my body as I saw the same emotion wash over her face, revealing her own beautiful smile. I couldn't move, just gape. I worked hard to breath as my heart stopped and started with that look.
It's her. I know it's her.
Like she'd heard the gunshot at the beginning of a race, she bounded toward me, unapologetically jumping luggage and hip-checking children. I dropped my bag and scooped her up in my arms.
"Edward," she breathed in my ear, clinging to me with her arms and legs.
Every cell in my body was alive. I felt like I couldn't get close enough, but could only hope I wasn't crushing her, because I could not let her go. "Bella."
Pulling back just enough to see her face, her nose trailed along my cheek and I heard her inhale. Her forehead leaned forward to touch mine as I ran my eyes around her face and settled on her mouth.
"God, Bella," I whispered again before I completely lost my mind in a kiss.
Soft. Warm. Inviting. Sexy As Fuck.
The moment our lips touched, the rest of the world disappeared. The thought was cliché, but undeniably true, as Bella in my arms commanded every one of my five senses.
Was I making out like a seventeen-year-old hornball with no regard for anyone but us? Yes. Did I care? Not a damn bit.
Lifetimes may have gone by, or it could have been minutes, before a throat-clearing broke through the fog.
"Um, guys? Bella? Edward? We are in public, and lots of people are staring," a female voice announced with a definitive giggle, punctuated with a snort. I was pretty sure it was Alice, but my face was still attached to Bella's, so I couldn't check.
"She's right, son," I heard my dad agree, undoubtedly more than amused, based on the way his voice shook with barely-restrained laughter.
"For real, dude," Emmett chimed in, characteristically loud. "I'ma projectile puke in holiday technicolor all over this place if you don't stop. You know I'll do it, man; I ate an entire one-pound bag of red and green M&M's on the plane. That will not be pretty."
"Thank you," I whispered against his lips.
"For what?" God, his voice sounds even better in person.
Tingles broke out over every inch of my skin — and I mean every inch.
"I'm not sure yet," I admitted, but I already felt like I've been given a gift I could never deign to deserve.
"I'll work on that." His lips curved into a smile. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it. Not just with my lips, but my body. Crime in Italy, I need to be alone with him.
It completely escaped me that he was there to meet his sister for the first time, and not to fuck me senseless. What? You try wrapping yourself around Edward Cullen and thinking about something else.
Okay, so maybe that's a little overboard, but trust me, it's not far off.
"Bella?" I heard Alice's annoyingly smug and/or amused voice calling me. "Um, would you mind unlatching from my brother for a sec? I'd kinda like to meet him. Officially, that is."
I pressed my lips to his one more time, reveling in the simple comfort coupled with the thrill that shot through me.
"I'll, um ... yeah," I mumbled brilliantly as I slid down his body, noticing that, uh, yeah, I wasn't the only one affected. FISTPUMP!
My feet hit the ground and the earth started to spin again; the axis was shifted, but the world was moving again. Edward's smile was beatific, better than the picture he'd sent. He turned away to greet Alice, but one hand clasped mine and would not let go, and I didn't want him to.
I listened as they hugged, murmuring their hellos and exclamations ... despite my selfish inclinations to focus on my own experience with Edward, I was struck by the emotion between them. It was an amazing thing to witness, really. The joy of a reunion, but the thrill of anticipated introductions. Alice's tears of happiness soon affected everyone. I noticed Jasper shift the squirming boy in his arms to swipe at his eyes, and Edward unabashedly wiped his face. Edward's brother, Emmett kept clearing his throat, but I knew he was trying to avoid crying. Their father wrapped an arm around him and smiled, albeit a little sadly. It wasn't until I felt the tickle of emotion on my own cheeks that I really understood how awesome the entire situation was.
"Okay, snotrockets!" Alice exclaimed, jumping up and down once or twice. "Let's get out of the airport and get you boys to your hotel so you can check-in. Then, we can grab some dinner or something?"
"Sure, yeah. Sounds great," Edward agreed, squeezing my hand and turning to me. "That okay with you?"
Squish. How can he be so perfect?
The entire meal, I couldn't stop staring at Bella. Her eyes, her skin ... everything about her, I had to soak it in. She was so beautiful. I didn't know what I expected, but I certainly didn't think I'd be so blown away. I had literally lost my breath as the awe had riddled my body.
I love her.
The feeling overwhelmed me, and took over. Maybe she felt it, because she turned to look at me and smiled. All I could do was kiss her, pressing our lips together, trying to tell her without words.
"God, Edward," she whispered. "I'm not gonna make it through dinner if you keep doing that."
"I..." I wanted to tell her, but it seemed wrong to say it right now. I settled for a look of stupid-happy and tried to rejoin the conversation. I knew I should be focusing on my sister a little more, but this woman had captivated me, moved into my heart and settled there. Permanently, I hoped. I never would have believed in anything close to love this fast, this intense, but there was no way to deny it, sitting here with Bella. The disbelief must've been painted all over my face, because I saw Emmett roll his eyes repeatedly, and Alice kept giggling whenever she caught my attention.
Despite my beautiful distraction, I was able to maintain some level of coherence—at least I thought I was. I got to find out a lot about my mother, and that she had left a letter for me, packed away in her things. Alice said she didn't understand what the letter was and that she hadn't been prepared to open it yet for fear of what she might find out. Now that I was here, she wouldn't have to open it. Her husband Jasper seemed like a good guy, and we did run away with the conversation talking tech stuff, but a minor outburst from Ben put a quick halt to that.
I was really happy to see Emmett and my dad get along with them very well, though Emmett, who sat next to Bella, seemed to want to steal her away from me. I couldn't blame him, exactly, but every time they spoke, she would almost unconsciously squeeze my hand, my knee or lean her entire body into my side.
I really need to get her alone.
Soon enough, we'd finished dessert and my dad was yawning, ready for a bed and some late night TV, no doubt. Alice offered to follow us in our rental car back to the hotel, but Emmett held up the GPS like a salute. "I rock this," he proclaimed.
Looking at Bella, I saw she looked a little disappointed. "I'll be over bright and early in the morning," I whispered, cupping her face with my hand.
She pouted. "I ... that's fine. I just," she bit her lip, stemming probable word vomit. "I don't want to let ... I mean, you should rest, right? Traveling is exhausting."
I wasn't sure what she was holding back saying, but I couldn't find the balls to just say what I wanted to. I kissed her gently, slowly moving together in a dangerously sexy kiss. "I'll call you. Talk you to sleep?"
She smiled, her eyes a little dazed, and I hoped that was from me. Nodding, she took my hand as we walked out to the car. Another quick goodbye and we were of back to the hotel. I barely heard a word my father said on the drive, and even less of Emmett's teases and taunts. Before they were even in their pajamas, I grabbed the keys from the table and mumbled some excuse about forgetting something.
I can't wait.
Thankfully, Emmett had left the GPS in the car, so I was easily able to program Bella's address. It was minutes away, but like everything leading up to seeing her today, it felt ten times as long.
Pulling up in the driveway, I could only hope I remembered to take the keys out, as the next thing I knew, I was tapping none too gently at her front door. The locks clicked open, one after another, and finally the door swung open ... to Bella in a thin cotton sleep shirt with "Bad Hare Day" and a cranky-looking rabbit printed on it. I chuckled, noting the way just seeing her, even in this goofy tee, made me happier than I'd ever been.
I wanted to give her a chance to invite me in, but my impatience had already reached its peak. My hands found her face and my lips, hers. I felt home again as our tongues mingled and danced, our mouths sucking and nibbling on one another's. We idly wandered backwards inside the door, even managing to close it behind me. In a funny twist, she backed me up against the door, pushing up on her tiptoes to kiss me back. Quickly, I remedied that situation, lifting her easily and groaning when she wrapped her legs around me. The feeling of her bare thighs beneath my hands ... Fuck me, I need to slow down. No ... no, don't want to.
"Bella," I grumbled between our kisses. "I ... I want to tell you ..."
"Anything, Edward," she promised, not slowing the feverish pace of her affections.
I kissed her once, hard, before holding her face in my hands once again. "I love you, Bella Swan. I don't quite understand how it's possible, but I love you."
Her movements slowed as she shifted her position to get a better look at me. Unfortunately for me, that was farther away and I began to get nervous. Her eyes were wide as she stared at me.
"Oh ..." Her voice was small and unsure. Panic thundered through my veins, each heartbeat echoing through the hollow seconds. "Edward, I ..."
Tears rolled over her lids before a smile broke through the ... shock?
"I love you, too!" she squealed, attacking me with increased zeal.
From that point on, I couldn't keep track of my heartbeat, my breathing, the groans and grunts of pleasure. Hands were everywhere, tugging at buttons and hems, caressing and stroking. We bumped into a few walls on our way to the bedroom, but she was able to direct us well enough that we found the bed relatively quickly, a trail of possibly-ruined clothes in our wake.
Clad only in my boxer-briefs, and she in a pair of reindeer-themed panties, I suddenly stilled, pulling back to look at her, really look at her.
"What? Edward, what is it?" she asked, breathless.
I couldn't help but smile, my cheeks pinching with disbelief and joy. I shook my head. "I just ... this is crazy," I said, bemused. "I didn't think this kind of feeling existed. Bella, ... I love you so much."
She laughed at me, even covering her mouth with her hand. "Oh, my Edward, I know exactly what you mean," she sighed, her palm resting against my cheek. Lifting her head, she kissed me sweetly. "I love you," she whispered. "Let me show you."
No more pauses, no more questioning. I was sure this had to be too soon, but there was no longer any doubt in the veracity of my feelings for her, and it was quite obvious that neither of us could wait. I felt like I'd known her my whole life.
Our hands and fingers made quick work of the remaining scraps of fabric, eliminating any further obstacles. Her nipples between my lips, her slick warmth beneath my fingers and around them ... every single thing was erotic and elicited a moan or some sort of grunt of approval. Soft fingers enclosing around me, groans and whimpers, kisses and tiny, gentle grasps of skin between teeth, our bodies exploring, but it was soon too much.
"Edward, please," she begged, panting. "I want you inside me. Now."
Her hands held me firmly, guiding me insistently. As I entered her, our lips met with a deep hum. My hand filled the space on her lower back as she arched to accept me, her head throwing back. "Oh, God..."
"Bella ..." She felt so good, I could only keep repeating her name to stop myself from cumming too soon.
Moving together, we twisted and shifted, adjusting easily to one another, our hands continuing to map every inch of our skin. Though we were alone, anything outside of us still managed to disappear, the woman before me completely devouring my every breath, touch, kiss, caress.
Rolling to one side, she moved to straddle me, maintaining our connection. She rocked faster against me, leaning down to bring herself closer. I started to dislike the smallest distance, so I pushed up, sitting so that my arms could surround her, keeping her body against mine in every possible way.
The angle sent me deeper, forcing a low, grumbling moan from me. She dug her nails into my back, gripping me fiercely with her thighs and arms as she called out. Soon, impatience took over and our movements began to quicken. My hands smoothed over her ass, pulling her against me harder, thrusting faster. Her volume increased with the pace, cries getting louder and shorter.
Our lips met, muffled proclamations passing unintelligibly between us as we frantically raced toward euphoria. Hands, lips, teeth, tongues ... it was nearly a blur, the peak of it all pulling us over the edge into our respective releases.
I fell, over and over again, it seemed, my eyes tightly shut, my lips parted but running against her neck and chin. She held me tighter as she came, her muscles tight and pulsing with every wave. Fingers entwined in my hair, her teeth at my ear, her breath on my skin ... I never wanted to leave this moment.
Our bodies rhythmically slowing, finally, we began to relax from the delicious tension as the ecstasy ebbed, leaving us gasping, sweating, sighing, kissing ... wordless.
Before the air could blanket our damp skin with a chill, I maneuvered us backward, to slip us under the covers. Laying back against the pillows with Bella in my arms, I sighed, never more content in my life.
"Best. Christmas present. Ever," Bella mumbled, her lips half-pressed to my chest.
A tired laugh rumbled up, shaking her slightly. "Couldn't agree more," I agreed, smiling and kissing her forehead.
"I'm a little disappointed, though," she admitted, sheepishly, but with a tiny giggle, saving my heart from failure.
"Oh?" I said, mock-indignant.
Looking up at me, her eyes unfocused and warm, she beamed. Love, contentment ... I could see it all. I hoped she saw the same as I gazed back at her. In all seriousness, she confessed, "I was really hoping you were wearing that Christmas-tree Peen Cozy you told me about."