Disclaimer - I own nothing….
As Edward stands up again, both kids reach for his hands. Now, I've never had any particular desire for children of my own but watching Edward interact with these two, I realize I have ovaries. They are literally crying out for this man.
I can't help but smile, and then he looks at me.
"Hi, Bella." His voice is soft.
I know it should be awkward. I know I should be mad. I know I should be cold, hard, and barely acknowledge him, but I don't.
"Hi, Edward." Before I can say another word he is dragged away by the gruesome twosome toward the ticket office.
He has a great ass. There's no denying it. Priest or not, that is one sweet ass. I've been enjoying the view because he's been walking in front of me for the last twenty minutes. We haven't really spoken apart from saying hello, and I don't know how to start a conversation with him. I'm tongue tied.
Alice has more energy than any child I have ever seen. She and Jasper are dragging Emmett and Edward around like dogs on leashes, and if this is what Emmet's genes do to a child, then I can only wish Emmett and Rose luck with their own kid.
Every so often Rose catches me staring at the object of my desire and smirks. She's finding the whole situation annoyingly amusing.
Note to self: I must get some sort of revenge. As I watch Alice drag Edward to look at yet another monkey and demand to be lifted up, I realize that if her child turns out anything like that little bundle of trouble, then that's revenge enough for me.
I stop to read one of the information boards next to the marmoset enclosure. A warm little hand slips into mine, and looking down I see Jasper smiling sweetly at me. Such a calm and cute little boy. I've never felt any maternal instinct around children, but I'm drawn to him. I'm not the only one. You can see people cooing at him everywhere he goes. Squeezing his hand I smile back.
Alice reaches over from Edward's shoulders towards Emmett, demanding that he play horsy all the way to the Zebra paddock. Laughing, I watch as the big lug does it gladly. Cantering away, he adds in the odd neigh and buck for good measure. He'll make a fantastic dad.
Edward, suddenly finding himself without a child to entertain, looks around for Jasper. His eyes fall on us walking hand in hand, a ghost of a smile crosses his face. Green eyes fix on mine for a thrillingly long time, and desire sweeps through me.
Walking towards him I'm so filled with longing that it feels as though my shoelaces are tied together; I may trip at any moment. If I did would he catch me? For a moment I luxuriate in the fantasy of the safety of his strong arms around me, saving me, and holding me tight.
Jasper grasps Edward's hand in his free one as we draw level with him, looking up at us both with his big blue eyes.
"Swing me?" he asks with the cutest grin. Who could say no to that face? It would take a stronger girl than me, and it seems a stronger man than Edward.
"Sure thing, Kiddo," he replies winking at him, and giving me a questioning smile to make sure that I'm okay with it. Smiling back, I shrug my shoulders, and so without a word we walk along, swinging the little boy up into the air every time he counts to three.
Clinging to Japer's hand, my heart batters my ribs as I slide sidelong glances at Edward's handsome profile. Every so often he looks my way and our eyes catch—my stomach trembles.
For a long time neither one of us speaks, but then we both talk at once.
"How have you been?"
"How are you?"
We catch each other's eyes and laugh nervously.
"Fine," we both reply.
Laughing together, we carry on swinging Jasper into the air without any conscious effort. All the awkwardness between us has slipped away; like pulling off a dust sheet to reveal something shiny and new underneath. Conversation becomes easy.
No longer do I see the animals in the cages surrounding me—there's only Edward. There's no sound but us. Everything and everyone has vanished; how considerate of them. We exist in our own private bubble. The only sound I register is Jasper's cries of joy every time we swing him into the air.
Edward is full of questions. He seems to want to know everything and anything I've ever done.
"What were you like at school?" he asks as we arrive at the tigers.
Jasper drops our hands now as he finds something more interesting than swinging to do. He insists that Emmett picks him up too so he can see the white tiger. Glancing at it sleeping in the sunshine I try to buy a little time. Eventually I blurt out the cringe-worthy truth.
"I was a total geek," I say. He smiles at that.
"Me, too," he replies.
"Not as big a geek as me I bet. I had glasses, bad hair, and a book permanently attached to my nose." I grimace at the memory, but I left that awkward girl behind in Forks. There is no need to dwell on it now.
Edward reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of reading glasses before placing them on his nose.
"Like I said, me, too."
He looks geeky hot in glasses. I wonder momentarily if there is anything he wouldn't look hot in. Then I start to think about how hot he would look wearing nothing. It takes me a moment to drag my mind back out of the gutter, and I find him looking at me quizzically.
"Sorry, I was somewhere else for a moment," I mutter apologetically.
"Somewhere hot I hope," he says.
You have no idea…
We look at a few more animals before the gruesome twosome demand to be fed. We make our way to the picnic area.
Once there Rose goes super-mom on our asses by producing the best picnic I've ever seen. Emmett lifts the picnic basket he's been carrying around and puts it on the table. Rose begins pulling out about a hundred pieces of Tupper wear. Full of every fruit known to man, sandwiches with five different fillings, and to top it off…home made cookies and cupcakes.
Alice and Jasper dive in, followed closely by Emmett, who has a small mountain of food on his plate. Looking through the sandwiches, I methodically search for the ones I know Rose will have made especially for me.
"Here, is this what you're after?" Rose asks and throws me a tub. Inside I find my sandwiches filled with only jelly. No peanut butter and no spread, just the way I like them.
Edward watches as I check the insides.
"You don't like peanut butter?" he asks.
"Not in sandwiches," I reply taking a seat opposite Jasper and Alice. Rose and Emmett hem them in, on either side of the table, like bookends, to stop them making a break for it.
"Everyone likes peanut butter," Edward says with raised eyebrows, and takes a seat next to me. We have a lot of room on our side of the table but he leaves only a hair's breadth between us.
"I didn't say I didn't like peanut butter. I just said that I don't like it in sandwiches," I clarify as I start pulling the crusts off the bread. I can't believe Rose didn't cut them off. She knows I can't stand them.
"So how do you eat it then? On toast? On crackers?" Edward asks, whilst placing sandwiches on his plate.
"On a spoon," I reply. "Or on a knife, or my fingers. Whichever, I'm not fussy. As long as it's just peanut butter I'm happy," I answer, waving my now crust-less jelly only sandwich around as I speak.
Edward gives me a funny look and shakes his head. "If you say so."
It takes me a while to reply, thanks to a mouthful of food. If I spit crumbs all over him. I don't think he would be very impressed somehow.
"What do you mean, if you say so? You mean you don't have any funny food habits?" I ask, having safely swallowed. "Everyone has some strange habit—even if it seems perfectly normal to them it's odd to someone else."
"No, not me, or at least none that I'm aware of. I eat three meals a day, every day, nothing more," he replies, taking a bite of his own sandwich.
"That's a funny food habit," I say, and laugh as I put my half eaten sandwich down. My appetite is nonexistent around him thanks to all the butterflies in my stomach.
"How is it?" he asks leaving his own half eaten sandwich, mirroring my actions.
"No one I know only eats three meals a day. Don't you ever grab a bagel and coffee at eleven, or eat ice cream in bed?"
"No, I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That's it," he says looking quite offended and examines his plate—a sandwich and an apple. His hand hovers over one of Rose's delicious looking cup cakes.
"Go on, I dare you," I say poking him in the arm. Picking it up he places it on his plate, and grins at me impishly.
Tipping my chin up and running my tongue over my teeth, I challenge him "Now eat it before your sandwich."
He cocks an eyebrow and picks up the cup cake again. Holding it for a moment and never letting his eyes leave mine, he raises it to his lips, but before it gets there his face breaks into an eye creasing smile and he puts it back on his plate.
"Let's take one step at a time, shall we?" he says shaking his head, and then picks up his sandwich. Rolling my eyes, I smirk at him but don't push the issue.
Sitting at the picnic table eating our lunch, the questions continue in earnest. So wrapped up am I in all things Edward that it takes me a while to realize we are being watched. Two sets of eyes, one brown and one blue, are watching us with great interest.
Alice and Jasper are sitting in identical positions—chubby little hands propping up their chins and their elbows on the table.
"Are you married?" asks Jasper.
"No, we're not," I reply mimicking their position, shifting my elbows a little wider apart than theirs so that eye contact is easier.
"You're going to get married one day, I can tell…and I'm going to be your bridesmaid," Alice says, with a grin.
"We can't. He's not allowed to." Raising my eyebrows slightly, I incline my head towards Edward.
"Well that's a bit silly. Everyone can get married." She looks at Edward. "Don't you want to get married? If you can't get married then how will you have babies?" Alice asks, biting her lower lip and looking confused. Which is nothing compared to the look on Edward's face.
"I'm a priest, Alice. I can never get married, so I will never have babies."
"My mom's not married and she still has me," Jasper says.
Alice looks at us both, screwing her little face up as she concentrates. After thirty seconds deliberating this piece of information, she turns to Jasper.
"Did your mom and dad love each other?" she asks. I feel like I'm no longer part of this conversation, so I pull my chin off my hands and sit up, but still listen to the children with interest.
"I don't know, I never met him," says Jasper looking down at the table.
"I guess they didn't then. That's why they didn't get married." Alice lowers her head and looks at Jasper out of the side of her eyes.
"I guess," he replies, smiling as Alice's hand touches his across the table.
"If you love each other, then you get married," Alice says with a simplicity I envy.
"Do you think you will get married?" Jasper asks Alice. He looks so sweet and hopeful, staring at the girl that seems to have captured his heart at the tender age of four.
"One day." She grins at Jasper. "When you ask me." With that she bounds from the table too quickly for anyone to grab her. "Let's go find some crocodiles," she says in a sing song voice, skipping away, and leaving us all trying to clear up and catch up in her wake.
Stifling the laugh that I can feel trying to bubble its way up from the back of my throat, I turn to look at Edward. He seems to be struggling to do the same thing.
After lunch we continue around the zoo. We get to feed the elephants and the giraffes, making both the children squeal with delight. Emmett and Edward have a child astride their shoulders, both looking like doting dads. It's not until they turn around and you get a flash of a crisp white collar that you realize one will always be a Father but never a daddy. My heart aches over the loss of the possibility.
We find ourselves in a little theatre for a bug show. A very brave and slightly eccentric-looking British woman brings out bug after bug, from hissing cockroaches to tarantulas. She holds them all and tells us interesting facts about them.
Now I'm an animal lover through and through but bugs…they just make my skin crawl. The kids predictably love them and want to sit in the front row, touching every bug as it's offered round to their eager little hands. I decline each time with a vigorous shake of my head and a shudder that creeps up my spine and over my shoulders. Yet Edward takes every one and passes it along to the kids without even a shiver.
I'm not sure if I'm impressed or grossed out that he can touch them without flinching, but the British woman whose name tag says "Natalie" is definitely impressed. So much so that after her little show is over, she grabs Edward's arm to tell him more about the gross little insects she seems to find so interesting.
Now I'm not jealous exactly, just a little peeved that I've lost his attention. It's like I've been standing under the heat of his gaze, letting it warm me with its spot light, and suddenly it is switched off, and I'm left feeling the chill.
You know what's almost worse than losing his attention to this annoying—and I have to begrudgingly admit—pretty British woman? That everyone is hanging on her every word. Both the kids and Emmett and even Rose. Can't they see that she is blatantly flirting with Edward? Is he flirting back?
I can feel the angry tension in my face as I clench my teeth, and I flex my fingers in and out of fists.
"Well, I suppose you must love all of God's creatures," Natalie simpers at Edward, flicking her hair and touching his arm with one hand, while placing a grasshopper in his hand.
Well, I suppose you must love all of God's creatures.My inner-six-year old wants to mimic.
"Yes, I love them all," Edward replies, looking directly at me he dazzles me with his smile. Just like that, I feel much better.
As the day continues, I answer a million more questions from Edward, and I joke with him about being worse than the Spanish Inquisition. This comment leads us both to confess to a mutual love of Monty Python.
"A priest can't have watched The life of Brian?" I ask. That's got to be like…blasphemy.
"Well, we all do things we shouldn't when we are young," he answers with a quirk of an eyebrow and a lop-sided grin. And there, just for a brief second, is a flash of the Edward beneath the collar. Remembering all too vividly, I blush.
As the colour rises in my cheeks, he seems to realize what he's said, and the playful smile leaves his lips. He turns from me momentarily. When he turns back he changes the subject swiftly.
Making our way to the cars with two very tired children, I am thoroughly bored of talking about myself, and tell him so.
"Really? It's the most interesting conversation I've ever had," he replies with a sad look. He opens the car door for me.
"Oh, it's not that I didn't love talking with you, the opposite in fact," I say, blundering over my words in an effort to show that he wasn't boring me. "I just wish we had talked about you a little more."
"Maybe we could meet for coffee…as friends…sometime?" he asks shifting from foot to foot and not catching my eye.
"That would be great," I reply, trying and failing not to grin like an idiot.
"Are you free Saturday morning?"
My head is telling me to play it cool, and that I should tell him I will check my dairy and let him know. However, my head is no longer in charge as I blurt out. "That sounds perfect. There's a Starbucks two blocks east of my apartment. Do you know it?"
"Yes. Shall we say eight in the morning?"
"Definitely. See you then." Waving goodbye I climb into the car before exploding with happiness.
The more I get to know her the more perfect she seems. I can't wait to meet her for coffee.
The car pulls away, and I wave as it pulls out of the parking lot and out of sight. Finally letting my hand fall to my side, I turn around, and find myself staring into a pair of deep set brown eyes which are oddly familiar to me. It takes me a moment, but eventually I recognize them.
"Hello, Jacob," I say, unable to hide the shock in my voice.
"Father," he replies curtly. "You seemed to have fun today."
"Yes I did, thank you. Were you at the zoo too?" I ask, taking a slight step backwards. The boy is invading my personal space.
"Yes, I saw you several times," he says, and I can't help but think of the phrase, "If looks could kill."
"You should have come over and said hello. Anyway…goodbye, Jacob. It was nice to see you again," I reply, walking swiftly away. The boy makes me uncomfortable.
"And you, Father…and you."
As I move away, I feel his eyes boring into my back. I try to ignore the sense of foreboding that sweeps over me.
A/N. I am very sorry about the wait and the fact that I didn't reply to a single review in the last chapter. There are reasons and you will find them on my profile. Thank you to all of you that read and review I really do appreciate it. Even if I forget to tell you sometimes.
As for my lovely beta's Leanne and Isabel —you're the best!