This one-shot was written as part of compilation to benefit the "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" organization. It was an honor to be included among the authors who contributed their talents for this very moving and worthwhile nonprofit. Please consider donating to help grieving parents: .org/

I own enormous thanks to my two wonderful betas, Camilla10 and writingbabe, for their diligent editing. They genuinely cared about the story, and helped me make it the best it could be. Tinkermel contributed, too, but I can't tell you how because it'll give too much away. And as always, much love and gratitude to my husband for his indulgence.

All characters are owned by Stephenie Meyers. I've just given them yet another reincarnation.

My apologies to Neil Simon.

The Good Doctor

The parking lot was near capacity when Dr. Edward Cullen drove to the back of the building. He used the staff entrance to avoid everyone in the waiting room, because they would stop him with questions if he walked past them to his office.
Edward liked helping people but he disliked having to actually interact with them. If he could avoid them altogether, his life might be perfect.
The staff was used to this by now, and they knew what (and what not) to expect from him. Plus, his eccentricities were generally overshadowed by his talents. Edward was extremely good at what he did; as a testament to his skills, the waiting room of his office in the town of Ithaca was crowded as soon as the doors opened.
He tilted his head down in an effort to minimize eye contact with Mrs. Cope, his capable and maternal office manager, but she still fixed him with an unrelenting gaze. The doctor was a creature of habit, and his habits included arriving in the office at precisely 9:10 a.m. even though his daily appointments commenced ten minutes earlier.

Mrs. Cope knew he saw her out of the corner of his eye; she knew he intentionally took a sip of his coffee so he couldn't speak. Determined, she willed him to acknowledge her as she glared at him.
"Dr. Cullen," she finally said impatiently.
Great, he thought. Now I'll have to deal with whatever's in those papers she's got in her hand.
"Finger Lakes Labs called. They need you to update the information on your practice." "Thank you," he said graciously, for while he may have perfected the art of avoidance, he wasn't rude. "I promise I'll get to it as soon as I can."
"By Friday, Dr. Cullen." Today was Tuesday. For nearly any other person, that would be plenty of time. For Edward Cullen, a month of constant verbal reminders and fresh Post-It notes would not suffice. He cared for his patients thoroughly and with a heartfelt concern that couldn't be feigned, but paperwork never made it to his priority list.
"Yes, Mrs. Cope." His attention was already diverted; she could see it. She watched his tall figure lope down the hall and disappear, and then turned to the audience of patients in the waiting room.
"The doctor will be with you shortly," she said, trying to placate them before they grew too restless.
In the privacy of his office, Edward finished his coffee and slipped on the white doctor's coat with his nameplate fastened to the pocket. He palmed the sides of his hair in a futile attempt to tame it - it never occurred to him to hang a mirror in his office - and then popped a wintergreen Lifesaver in his mouth to abolish the coffee residue.
The first patient was waiting in Room 1, and he grabbed the chart to review the intake sheet. As he read, his assistant Mike Newton came straight at him, calling out, "Doc, I hate to get your day started like this..."

Edward looked up in dismay. "What is it, Mike?"
"A woman ran in and said she had an emergency. She's about in tears, and she ruffled Mrs. Cope but good. I put her in Room 2. Here," Mike said, extending a hand to take the chart Edward grasped to his chest like a shield. "Mrs. Mallory and Pete are in 1. I'll take Pete's vitals so you can handle the emergency."

Edward appreciated Mike's effort to help even as he knew his technician was looking out for his own self-interest. The less overwhelmed the doctor felt, the better off everyone was, and Mike would be a hero to the office.

"All right, Mike. Thanks." Edward read the hastily-assembled emergency paperwork before entering. The patient was young and likely terrified, with a probable fractured leg. Mike had already done preliminary blood work, and the results were not good.

Edward sighed. He was averse to starting off the day with sadness; in this, he was no different than most of the human population.

Without intending to, he swept into the exam room quite theatrically. The door swung freely and pulled him with it, and he had to broaden his already-long step so as not to fall over.

"Good morning-" he began, and then stopped. A shower of glossy brown hair was hanging over the examination table, seemingly suspended about two feet above it. At first Edward thought it was a hirsute if narrow animal, until he noticed shaking shoulders and heard soft sobbing.

"Hello?" Edward said, quietly and respectfully. The hair moved slightly, and a tearful countenance made him realize he'd been watching the top of a woman's head. She had a heart-shaped face – suitable, Edward thought, for her heartbreak was evident in her expression. Tears ran freely down her cheeks.

The woman's deep brown eyes were lovely even though they were tinged with red. Her eyes, her cheekbones, her lips – the uniform redness made him think of Valentine's Day. The spontaneous comparison was startling; his next thought even more so: Red is the color of passion. His mind drifted in the direction where passion leads, and he hastily drew it back.
"Well. I am Dr. Edward Cullen," he finally said. "What do we have here?" Without effort, he kept a kind and moderate tone to his voice. When she sniffled, he reached over to the counter by the sink for a tissue, which she accepted.

"Thank you. I'm Bella Swan," she said haltingly. "This is Madison." Edward blanched a bit at the trendy name but recovered quickly.

"Can you tell me what happened?"

Madison chose that moment to try to escape, and Edward and Bella quickly moved at the same time to contain her. Bella slightly tightened her grip while Edward, operating on instinct, clasped his hands over hers to keep Madison immobile. Bella's skin was deliciously warm; it sent a lively tingling out to his fingertips.

Though Madison was still panicking, Bella was immediately calmed by the doctor's touch. She looked at Edward closely, taking in his disorganized shock of bronze hair and the confident set of his jaw. And his eyes - they were as green as pine needles, and framed by long brown lashes. Slight wrinkles hugged their outside corners.

"I found her this way this morning." Bella was tearing up again so she was hard to understand, though that wasn't the only reason Edward stared at her mouth. "She was crying and she woke me up." He found this easy to believe, since the entire conversation was taking place over Madison's insistent howling.

"Okay. Why don't you let me take a look?"

Reluctantly, Bella slid her hands out from Edward's. He shifted his focus to the patient, and Bella saw his features soften with loving concern. As he lowered his head and examined Madison's leg over some vigorous protests, Bella watched his fingers probe expertly and carefully. Those hands are magical, she thought, and then blushed at her reaction.

"You. Are a very pretty girl. You are so sweet," he murmured in a soft, soothing cadence as he assessed Madison's condition. Then he asked, "How long have you had her?"
Because his head was still down, it took a moment for Bella to realize who he was speaking to. She laughed, and Edward looked at her quizzically.

"I thought you were asking her that question. Makes sense, because it's like she found me," Bella explained.

"Sounds like you've become very attached." His eyes darted quickly to Bella's as his fingers continued to move over Madison's hindquarters.

"Yes. She's already like my best friend. I've had her about a month, I think." Bella choked up again as Edward regarded her carefully. Her sadness kindled an urge to comfort her physically, which shocked him. Even stranger, it felt natural and uninhibited. But he understood completely how someone could think of an animal as a best friend. He'd felt that way his entire life.

The fact that Bella was among the prettiest women he'd ever seen may have factored in as well. Under his gaze, she felt self-conscious about her disheveled appearance, but Edward thought she was lovelier because she was crying. There was something about compassion which made its bearer more appealing, except possibly in the case of Mrs. Jantzen, whose features became downright frightening when her dog Sparky had to be put down.

Edward continued to try and manipulate Madison's left hind leg, but the cat would have none of it. He gave up without a fight; he already knew enough based on his cursory manual examination and the preliminary lab results.

"Was she a stray?"

"Yes, I found her in a storm drain outside my house. She was crying so loud, poor thing," Bella said as fondly as she scratched the cat's ears. Madison immediately quieted.

"That's really wonderful," Edward said supportively. "There are plenty of people who would have just left her there."

"Oh, I could never do that," she responded, smiling a little at Madison. She circled underneath the cat's jaw with her index finger.

The sense of touch can work miracles, and Edward respected those who understood its power. He watched as Bella tenderly stroked the cat, who purred despite its obvious pain.

Edward nearly started purring too, then quickly pulled himself out of his reverie.

"Do you have any other pets?" he inquired. There was a difficult task to be done - the kind Edward and all doctors dread - and he was determined to make it as easy as he could for Bella.

"No. I just moved here. I've only lived in town a few months," she explained. "I wasn't even planning on getting a pet until I could settle in some more, but I guess she had other ideas." Bella continued to regard Madison with obvious affection.

Edward stared at Bella a minute, taking in her skin and eyes. He wondered what they'd look like without their tint of sorrow.


"Bella," she immediately corrected him.

"Yes. Right. Bella." He shuffled his feet and stared at the floor for a bit. "I'm very sorry to tell you this, but the blood tests show Madison has feline leukemia. I'm afraid it's common in strays." Edward hesitated a moment to gauge Bella's stricken reaction. Normally, at this point he'd want to bolt from the room in anticipation of an impending meltdown. With Bella, he wanted to obey the strange new impulse to care for her as well as the cat in their hour of need.

"What does that mean?" she asked, frowning.

"It's a blood disorder that causes cancer in cats," he responded. "From what I can see of her test results, she was probably born with it. It's quite advanced. Her coat condition isn't good – that's one sign," Edward continued, stroking Madison's fur.

"I thought that was because she hadn't eaten well before I found her," Bella said, sounding confused.

"That's likely true anyway. I think the reason she fractured her leg is that her body is already weakened. A healthy young cat would probably not sustain that type of injury." Edward spoke carefully and kept his gaze on Bella. He saw despair creep over her features, and his own heart tightened from her pain.

Without thinking, he put his hand on her arm. "By taking her in, you gave her the best month of her life. You loved her, cared for her and fed her. That's probably much more than she's ever had before." Involuntarily, he squeezed Bella gently.

Edward had never acted this way with a patient before. It was as if the combined presence of Bella and Madison cast a weird spell over him, mixing up the love he had for animals with his aversion to people until surprisingly, he liked people better. Or, at least, one person, and if only for today.

Her voice trembling, Bella asked, "What do I do for her now?" The look on her face told Edward that she knew the answer.

"I'm sure her leg must be painful," he started gently. "Under normal circumstances, I could set it, but considering the leukemia, that doesn't make much sense." He took in a large breath and then blew it out. "The best thing, in my opinion, is to put her to sleep. It would be the most humane," he continued, watching her intently.

She sobbed again as she continued to stroke Madison's back. "You're saying there really is no alternative," she said, hiccupping through her words.

"I'm afraid that's right." He hoped his own sadness was visible. Usually, he could express what he thought was the appropriate amount of sympathy and regret. With Bella, it seemed woefully insufficient.

She nodded her understanding, and her face screwed up to fight off more tears. Edward's usual method was to back off and let the pet owner start the period of mourning. Now he stood rooted to the spot, wondering what he could possibly say that would make this less traumatic for her.

Bella glanced sidelong at the vet, her very real grief not completely overshadowing her self-consciousness at her own unkempt appearance. She saw genuine concern in his eyes, though she assumed it was for the cat. Squaring her shoulders, she inhaled deeply and did her best to meet his gaze without dissolving into watery anguish again.

"I don't want her to go through any more. I should just do what's best for her," she said, her voice breaking at the end.

"Okay," Edward said, nodding. "Please stay here with her and I'll be right back."

He left the exam room to find his other veterinary assistant, Lauren Mallory. Edward had immediately decided not to have Mike assist with the euthanasia. For one thing, Edward and Lauren were quite similar in their habits. They got along especially well and understood each other because neither of them liked to talk. Lauren seemed to intuit what he needed from her without asking.

He was also disinclined to have Mike around when patient care involved an attractive woman. It was bad enough that he'd already met Bella before Edward examined Madison. Mike was a notorious flirt, and Edward felt a distinct rumble in his stomach that was not from the coffee when he considered how Mike would act with Bella when she was vulnerable.

Lauren had recently returned from maternity leave, and Edward was grateful for the timing. He walked to the supply room and grabbed a number of flannel blankets and pads. He stuck his head around the corner and asked Mrs. Cope where he could find Lauren. She pointed toward the lab and said, "The next patient-"

"Have to go," he said abruptly. "Euthanasia. Can't wait." He was reluctant to say anything else because explanations always generated more questions from Mrs. Cope, and right now, he had even less patience for it.

At that moment, Lauren walked out of the lab with a tray of specimens.

"Put that down," Edward instructed her.

She immediately leaned over and put the tray on the floor.

"Not there. You can leave them in the lab fridge. I need your help putting a cat to sleep," he explained. "I'll grab the meds, you get the syringes and meet me in 2."

Edward returned to the examination room and found Bella again hunched protectively over Madison. Now that they had a plan, he was determined to move it along as quickly as possible. He knew that drawing it out was very painful for pet owners, and in truth, he wanted to get it over with for himself as well. Edward hated euthanizing animals even though circumstances called for it. There was a world of difference in knowing what had to be done and in being the person who ended a pet's life.

Lauren entered as Edward began talking to Bella. "I'm going to put these blankets around Madison, for her own comfort," he explained. His assistant shot him a confused look, as this was usually her task while Edward prepared the necessary chemicals for injection. He looked at Lauren sideways and shook his head almost imperceptibly. She shrugged her shoulders and grabbed some large absorbent pads to also put under the cat.

Bella watched Edward's every movement as he took the cat from her. He gently lifted Madison and put the blankets underneath her, tucking the edges so they surrounded her snugly. Carefully, he put a folded blanket near her head, and then scratched the cat's ears tenderly. Bella took in the worry lines creasing his forehead and the look of compassion in his eyes. She saw someone who had to make these life-and-death decisions far more often than he wanted. In that moment she hoped that he saved more lives than he ended, because she knew that otherwise he might not last in this line of work. And already, she knew with certainty that he excelled at it.

When Edward readied the syringes, Bella instinctively pulled Madison and the blankets closer to her. He saw the movement and his shoulders slumped slightly. Edward didn't want to hurt the cat, and he definitely didn't want to hurt its owner.

"Miss Swan – Bella," he said finally. "I know this is difficult for you, and I'm sorry. Does it help if I say again that this is the best thing for Madison?"

She nodded her head and then dropped chin to her chest, unwilling to show her tears this time.

"Too many people keep their pets alive well past the point that they should. It's selfish. They do it for themselves, not the poor animal. You're being very brave," he added, ducking his head to try and get her to look at him.

Her eyes were full of tears, but she loosened her hold on the cat. Edward's experienced hands quickly found the area he was looking for right above a paw, and he deftly slid the needle in.

It was over in less than ten minutes. Bella didn't cry; she held fast to the doctor's words and used them to hold the tears at bay. As Madison slowly slipped from the feline mortal coil, Bella petted her and talked to her. She wanted to commit the short time she had with this cat to her own memory.

Lauren stood a respectful distance away from the table while Edward did a final examination to make sure the drugs worked. He was next to Bella the whole time, and when he straightened up, he put his hand on her shoulder. Lauren blinked in surprise but said nothing.

"Would you like a few more minutes alone with her?" he asked quietly. This gesture, at least, was standard practice on Edward's part.

"Yes, please."

Edward turned to Lauren, who took her cue and immediately began placing the empty syringes and vials back on the silver tray. She stepped out after the doctor and watched him as he walked down the hall to his office, an expression of curiosity on her face.

After closing the door, Edward plopped loudly into his chair and set the timer on his watch for five minutes. Usually, that was enough time for the pet owner to spend with the animal. Any longer than that and it became too maudlin, and possibly more difficult for the owner to leave. He paused, his finger hovering near the timer button, when he realized that after today, he might never see Bella again.

Pet owners often adopted another animal when one dies, but the length of time it took for that varied. And it didn't mean she would return to his practice, even if she took in another cat or a dog or something with more longevity, like a parrot. There were other veterinarians in town.

Worrying about this didn't fit in very well with his frame of reference. He had no idea what to do. Edward knew more about how to safely approach a rabid canine than an attractive female.

The timer went off before he had the chance to ponder this further, so he returned to the exam room. Bella looked at him pleadingly, as if for some type of guidance, and Edward offered to see her out. Experience had also taught him that it was best for the owner to leave before seeing the deceased taken from the room.

"Come with me," he said with as much authority as he could muster.

They walked along the hall until Edward stopped her. "Wait – we forgot something," he said before dashing back into the exam room. When Bella saw that he came out with the empty cat carrier, she burst into vigorous tears.

"Oh…oh," Edward said, patting the pockets of his doctor's coat awkwardly.

Bella stood sobbing while he ran over to the reception area. He nearly flung himself over the counter to grab the tissues on Mrs. Cope's desk, until she pointed wordlessly to the box immediately on his left. Edward took the whole thing and offered it to Bella.

Sniffling, she let herself be led to the staff entrance by Edward. His arm drifted clumsily near her back, as if he wanted to put his hand there – and he did, he just wasn't sure it was a good idea, considering her very recent loss and their very recent acquaintance.

Mrs. Cope watched with the sharp eye of a mother hen who knew one of her brood was at a threshold. She'd never seen the doctor react this way to a patient, though she long hoped he would. Lauren walked a few feet behind them with a perplexed look that was at complete odds with her normal impassivity. At this moment, Mrs. Cope knew a seismic change had occurred.

Edward held the door open as Bella stepped out of the office. She turned her face up to him. "Dr. Cullen, thank you for everything. You've been very kind. I came here without even calling ahead, but you were so nice. You did everything you could-" Her voice broke again, and Edward waited respectfully. He took in her teary, soulful eyes and the way her nose was red and slightly swollen. Her cheeks were streaked and puffy; she was working hard to control the trembling of her mouth. He believed in that moment he'd never seen anyone so beautiful.

"Miss – Bella, I was very glad to help. I only wish the outcome had been better for Madison," Edward said sincerely.

Bella gave a slow nod and turned to go. She placed the carrier in the car trunk and slammed the lid shut. As she looked up, she saw Edward still at the door, watching. Weakly, she lifted her hand to wave goodbye again, and unlocked the door.

As she drove home, Bella replayed the events of the morning: waking up to the cat's pitiful cries, the horror and then sadness at seeing Madison in obvious pain, Googling "Veterinarians + Ithaca, NY" and finding "Dr. Edward Cullen" listed first. She wasn't overly impressed with the office staff, who indicated rather strongly that the doctor wasn't fond of emergency admissions. They seemed less concerned about her lack of history with his practice than with the disruption her cat would make to his schedule. It made her wonder what kind of animal doctor would turn away a pet that was sick and in pain. His less than coordinated entrance to the examination room did not inspire further confidence.

Once he turned to Madison, though, it was as if something had cracked – whatever shell he was wearing at first – and the real person emerged. She saw his gentle concern and the way he knew just what to look for. The sadness in his face when he gave her the bad news about Madison's condition was real. It made her feel as if they were in it together, to make the best decision about Madison. It helped her feel that she wasn't alone - even though she'd lived alone except for the cat – in facing the euthanasia.

Bella pulled into her driveway and got out her cell phone. She found the contact for Ithaca College, where she worked as a communications manager. She'd only started two months ago and had been very nervous about calling in sick over a cat, but fortunately, the director of the office was an animal lover and encouraged her to take care of Madison right away.

At least Madison wasn't in pain now. Bella let herself cry a little more, and then called work to let them know she would be on her way in 15 minutes.

Back at his office, Edward was endeavoring to continue his day. His appointments had to be adjusted to account for the time spent taking care of Madison and her owner. This was the reason he disliked emergencies: they screwed with his schedule, thus throwing off his equilibrium and causing people to ask why it took so long before their pets were seen. But today, he couldn't fault it. Starting off the day with Bella Swan both invigorated and frightened him. He'd been forced to step outside of his normal, airtight routine, but his own lack of annoyance over it was notable. When he thought about Bella, the fear in his gut also felt hopeful.

Edward wasn't a scientific genius, though he'd worked extremely hard in veterinary school at Cornell and graduated with honors. Textbook learning and research were not particular challenges for him, but neither did he excel at them. His gift was in understanding the animal and intuiting what was wrong and where to look for problems. This very strong non-verbal communication, as well as a general preference for animals over humans, made Edward a superior veterinarian. He was very, very good at figuring out what an animal needed in a short amount of time.

Thus he found himself, later the same day, somewhat hamstrung by this gift. After lunch, he stopped outside of Exam Room 3 and sighed when he saw the name on the chart. Jessica Stanley had brought her Yorkshire terrier to the office as she typically did once every two weeks. She'd complain that Priscilla seemed sick or wasn't eating properly, or exhausted herself from running too hard in the heat/cold/rain, or some other such nonsense. Edward knew exactly what the dog's problem was, and he was hard-pressed to explain it to Jessica without offending her.

He opened the door to find Jessica perched with the dog in her lap. She always sat on the examination table despite repeated entreaties to use the chair.

"Good afternoon, Miss Stanley," he said, unable to keep the depressed tone out of his voice. "Please step down."

Jessica held her hand out in an unappealing bid for help, and Edward was forced to clasp it while she slid slowly to the floor. She held the dog out to him coyly.

"Here. She just loves you so much, you can take her," Jessica said in her unnaturally high-pitched voice. When Priscilla's tail wagged, Edward swore the dog was begging him to comply.

He gently put the dog on the table and unwrapped his stethoscope from around his neck. Listening to Priscilla's heart was part of the charade he went through during most of her appointments.

"What seems to be the problem today, Miss Stanley?" he asked quietly.

"Jessica," she interrupted.

"Please just tell me what's going on with Priscilla right now, Miss Stanley." Edward ignored her gleaming smile, the way the ribbon in her hair bounced from her constant motion, and her snug angora sweater.

"Well," Jessica replied, miffed, "I got up this morning - and you know Prissy always sleeps with me. I have a large bed and she just loves to cuddle." She looked at Edward expectantly, but he never took the bait. He was fairly oblivious to such female clues, and it never occurred to him to think of Jessica in that manner anyway.

"Um. She wasn't on the bed with me, and I got so worried. I went into the living room and she was asleep on the couch. All by herself, Dr. Cullen! I can't understand it."

"Wanting some time alone isn't unheard of, even in the animal world," he replied. Each time Jessica brought the dog in, she had it dressed like a child, and it distracted him no end. Today, she'd put bows in the long hair near the dog's ears and at the spot where its tail met the hips. Priscilla also wore a coat and scarf in a shade of aquamarine that perfectly matched Jessica's sweater. This, Edward suspected with every ounce of his veterinarian training, was the source of the dog's ennui: she was deeply unhappy at having to wear clothing. Each office visit, Edward had to restrain himself from kidnapping Priscilla, yanking off the clothes and letting her run through the mud and leaves like a real dog.

"But she loves to be with me!" Jessica argued. "She always sleeps with me. And I couldn't help but notice that her nose seemed really warm, too. Doesn't that mean something bad?"

"Not always," Edward said, stepping back slightly to avoid Jessica's step forward. She looked at him with pleading blue eyes, and the contrast to the warm, sad gaze of Bella was enough to nearly knock him over. Jessica came in and wasted his time with ridiculous excuses for problems. This morning, he had to tell a really nice, normal woman that her pet had to die. Now he had to deal with someone whose biggest crisis came from imposing her fashion sense on her dog. He thought the world had upended itself overnight for the little sense this made.

Edward had his second burst of courage that day when he decided to tell Jessica the truth. "I believe I know what Priscilla's problem is," he said. "You need to stop dressing her up like this."

Jessica screwed her nose up in confusion. "What?"
"Every time you bring this dog in, she's got on some type of outfit that I wouldn't put on a doll. You have to take these clothes off of her and just let her be a dog. She'll be much happier, which means you won't have to bring her in here nearly as often, which means we'll all be better off."

Jessica appeared stunned, and Edward was grateful for at least the momentary silence. He didn't particularly care if she never returned to his practice, although he'd always worry about Priscilla's health. But he knew the most he could hope for was that Jessica would take his advice.

For good measure, Edward took the scarf off of the dog's neck and handed it to her owner. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some sick animals to attend to." He left the room and went immediately to his office.

Once he shut the door, he leaned against it and closed his eyes. Edward felt exhilarated. Between meeting Bella this morning and speaking his mind to Jessica the way he'd wanted to for months, he felt like an old layer of skin had been shed to reveal a sharp and shiny new being. He rarely treated snakes, but he knew he'd be better at understanding a reptile the next time one came to his office.

When the day ended, Edward felt physically tired but mentally charged. The new experiences cheered him and gave him something else to think about. As Bella ran through his thoughts for about the fiftieth time that day, he realized he had a way to find out where she lived. She had to be registered in his practice's database; Mrs. Cope would have seen to that. He could access the database from his home computer, and Mrs. Cope wouldn't see that at all.

He pulled into the driveway and heard his dogs barking as he turned off the engine. Before he'd do anything except change out of his work clothes, Edward would feed them, then let them run. His house in Trumansburg, just north of Ithaca, had a large yard with a wooded area behind it. He'd sometimes take the dogs to the park but they seemed to prefer staying near home, probably because there were lots more interesting and exciting small wild animals to sniff out in the woods.

Eight sets of canine nails clacked and ticked on the hardwood floor as the dogs anticipated his return. Dexter, a golden retriever/German shepherd mix he'd rescued several years ago, usually pushed his way to the front because he was quite large. Moebius (so named for his habit of chasing his tail in a perfect circle) was a small Icelandic sheepdog he'd found tied to his door the previous winter. They got along beautifully, with Edward and each other.

"Hey guys! How are you? Are you hungry?" Edward hung his coat on a hook by the door and roughhoused with them affectionately before getting their dinner. He pulled out a can from a cabinet, opened it and scraped the contents in their bowls. Once his cats heard the can opener, they also dashed into the kitchen, slowing down to maintain their cat cool once a human was in sight.

Tate, a male orange tabby, had a bad habit of jumping up on the counter. Edward constantly scolded him but knew it was useless. The cat hoisted himself up and had just targeted the opener when Edward set him back on the floor.

"Can't you teach him some manners? Seems to me you're older and smarter," Edward said to Mrs. Fairfax, his tuxedo cat. She ignored him and focused on the cat food he held in his hand.

"Congenial as always. All right, here you go." He spooned out the food and set the dishes on the floor, carefully guiding the dogs away from them so the cats could eat in peace. The dogs would gobble anything that smelled tasty to them.

After changing into an ancient pair of Levis and a flannel shirt, Edward walked back toward the kitchen entrance and saw the dogs waiting expectantly. The entire rear half of their bodies wagged excitedly. Edward knew how much they loved this part of the day. It was when they could really be dogs, running, sniffing and chasing things real and imagined through the woods. He hated having to keep them cooped up during office hours, but he would sooner live outdoors himself than leave them in the yard. He'd been known to report people who left their dogs out for hours in inclement weather.

Did Bella have a dog, he wondered? Did she even like dogs? He regretted not asking her. It might seem excessively inquisitive, but he could have used the pretense of giving her advice on how to care for strays and other pets, should she decide to take in another animal.

He hoped there would be another opportunity, because he wouldn't forget next time. In fact, he thought he might draw up a list of things to ask her. The more he thought about her, the more curious he grew about everything related to Bella Swan.

Edward debated the wisdom of this as he prepared a dinner of pasta and homemade marinara sauce. Normally, he armed himself with research and preparation when confronting an unfamiliar situation. This was a human, though, and not just any human. He wanted very much to somehow see Bella again, and when he did, he wanted to be ready.

Grabbing his plate, he set it down on the dining room table and fired up his laptop. Edward had convinced himself that as the doctor, it was perfectly acceptable for him to look through the listings of his patients. It was incidental that he only wanted to find one, a particularly warm and pretty woman who came into his life unexpectedly, like a gift.

Scrolling to the letter S, he found Swan, Isabella. She lived on Aurora Street, not far from his office. No wonder she wound up in his practice – she probably chose the closest vet she found online.

Edward ruminated for a moment on the providence of it all. Had she lived just a mile further, she would be right near a full-service animal hospital. Serendipity would only get him so far, he knew. He had to make the rest of it happen, although he hadn't any real idea how to do that. For the moment, he looked at her address again and committed it to memory.

As it happened, fate was on his side again the next week. Edward walked into the office close to 9:15 a.m. that Wednesday, trying to be subtle about glancing at the waiting room (less than half full) and then at Mrs. Cope (waiting to pounce). He accepted the inevitable and stopped in front of her desk, coffee in hand.

"Mike called in sick today, but fortunately, the patient load is light," she informed him. He nodded and turned toward his office, but she called after him.

"Oh, and Animal Control has already phoned. They have a litter of four kittens they'll need to bring over."

Edward halted in mid-step, looking back at Mrs. Cope. "We're getting kittens?"

She was a little startled at his expression. Was it anxiety or anticipation? She'd never seen his eyes that huge, so she wasn't sure. It was all out of proportion to the situation. The city's animal control officers dropped off strays all the time. Dr. Cullen would treat them and sometimes hold them for weeks until pet adoption organizations found homes for them.

"Yes. They should be here in about an hour. Should I have Lauren tend to them first?"

"Yes- No. Unless I'm with a patient, I'll take care of them." Edward resumed walking to his office, leaving Mrs. Cope to wonder again whether intelligence was inversely related to normalcy.

The kittens arrived at lunch time, and Edward used that hour to examine them and assess their health. They seemed to be in good condition; they were found in a barn where the mother had apparently abandoned them. The homeowner couldn't keep them but made them warm and fed them. Their ear mites were easily curable; they had no signs of any respiratory disorders, and best of all, their feline leukemia tests came back negative.

Edward settled them into a large cage as comfortably as he could, adding toys and tucking warm-water bottles under the blankets. He watched them for a few minutes, looking over each one carefully until his gaze settled on a female that seemed friendly and playful. She didn't look like Madison, who'd been a pearl-grey cat with blue eyes. This particular kitten was a black, grey and white tiger-stripe, but her markings were beautiful. Edward wasn't sure whether that would be preferable to Bella, but he would find out.

After everyone had left the office for the day, he took more blankets and packed them in one of the spare cat carriers they kept in the practice's small kennel. Edward gently lifted the kitten and stroked her reassuringly as he angled her into the carrier's opening. She protested vigorously, and he thought perhaps she was like Madison after all.

Edward carefully placed the carrier in the passenger seat of his Volvo SUV and wrapped the seat belt it around it, snapping the buckle. He drove off toward Aurora Street before remembering that he hadn't contacted Bella to let her know he was coming.

What if she wasn't home? What if she lived with someone – maybe a guy? What if she no longer wanted a cat?

These weren't the questions he wanted to consider. Edward decided to leave those matters to chance. Instead, he thought of other things he'd like to ask Bella – the important subjects he'd been composing as part of a list in his head since the day they'd met.

Do you like cats better than dogs?

Do you still have Madison's litter box or food dishes? Will it hurt to see them every day and use them for another kitten? If you want new cat supplies, do you have a way to get them? Would you like me to help?

There were all kinds of things he could offer for pet care. He wanted to be her vet. Actually, he wanted to be a lot more, but her cat's doctor would be a good start.

Have you always liked animals? Did you have pets when you were a child? Were you the one in your family who loved them the most?

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? What were your favorite subjects?

He wanted to tell her all about Cornell, and why he stayed in this area after he graduated instead of going back to Los Angeles.

What do you think of first when you open your eyes in the morning?

Edward wasn't sure where that came from, but he wanted to learn the answer first hand some day. He realized this with the same simplicity with which he understood animals. Finally, he was discerning his own feelings just as clearly.

He arrived at the house, an older, simple Victorian with a driveway along the side. Edward left the car there and took the cat carrier out, holding it still while walking the narrow path to her front door. She lived in the downstairs apartment, and he rang the bell.

Now that he was on her front stoop, he was nervous. Impulsiveness was not in his nature, and behaving out of character left him out of touch with even his minimal social skills. Edward thought of what he could say to her that would make any sense of this situation. She would know, surely, that he didn't show up with replacement pets for every person who'd had an animal euthanized.

The door opened suddenly and Bella stood before him. They were separated only by the screen door.

I was right, he thought triumphantly. She's even more beautiful when she's not crying.

"Dr. Cullen!" she said, her eyebrows raised in surprise. "What are – I mean, hello!"

"Edward," he corrected. "I'm sorry to intrude, and I know I should have called first, Miss Swan-"

"Bella," she interrupted him.

"Right. Bella." Edward relished the simplicity of her name and how it felt to say it. "We received some stray kittens in the office today. I thought you might want one. I know you were very upset about Madison, and perhaps another one will help."

He held his breath. She would either appreciate this gesture or completely reject him, perhaps even angrily.

Bella finally looked down at the carrier in his hands, and the confused look on her face broke open. "You have a cat in there! Oh, Dr. – Edward, come in, please!"

Edward exhaled and walked through the door she held open for him.

"She doesn't look exactly like Madison," he said apologetically, "but she seems to have a similar personality. She's very pretty." The moment he said that, he felt idiotic; like the cat was a used car he was trying to talk Bella into buying.

"Please – set her down over here," Bella said, gesturing into the living room that was off the entrance hall. Edward was encouraged that she looked happy, even excited.

He opened the carrier and gently extricated the kitten, which was curled up, terrified, at the back of the carrier. Though he wasn't even aware that he was reassuring the tiny animal, Bella heard him. She couldn't make out every word, but she knew what they meant. She was touched beyond measure (and flattered) that he brought another cat for her. Now, she watched him soothe the frightened kitten and saw how it relaxed in his hands, and her heart swelled with something beyond appreciation. Bella remembered how it felt when his warm, elegant fingers clamped over hers to restrain Madison that day in his office.

That's a lucky kitten, she thought.

Edward held out his gifted hands, and Bella gently took the cat in her own. Without even thinking, Bella brought it up to her face and nuzzled it against her cheek, crooning in a soft voice.

She looked up at Edward, who was beaming at the both of them.

"Thank you," Bella whispered, and his feelings ran deeper.

"I didn't name her," he said awkwardly, because he felt compelled to say something and anything else that came to mind would probably overwhelm her.

"Oh, that's okay. I'll see what her personality is like and then decide on a name. Could you hold her again for a second? I want to get a couple of things."

Bella left the room, giving Edward the chance to scan her apartment. It was comfortable and colorful without making him feel like he'd develop hives if he sat there too long. He was about to get a closer look at the titles on her bookshelf when Bella returned with a laundry basket that had a soft blanket in it.

"Do you think it would be okay if I put her here? I've got something cooking, and I'm really afraid that if we just put her down, she'll run off and get lost or hurt in the house."

Edward nodded in appreciation of her consideration. "I agree. She'll probably dislike it, but at least she won't get in trouble. I can pick her up again if she cries too much." Without thinking, he'd just offered to stay a little longer though he wasn't invited.

Bella held out the basket, and Edward carefully put the kitten among the folds of the blanket. She turned and walked ahead of him, calling out over her shoulder, "Would you like something to eat?"

"Uh, sure. That would be nice."

He'd completely forgotten, of course, that it was dinner time. Edward watched Bella's form as she led him to the kitchen, admiring the sweet small gathering of her waist under her tee shirt. He couldn't recall the last time he'd noticed anything like it.

She placed the basket on the floor at Edward's feet, then moved to the stove and stooped to pull out the broiler. Although he didn't want to, Edward gave in to his politer instincts and slid over about three feet. He'd noticed her jeans puckering at her lower back as she balanced her haunches on her heels.

"This steak is big enough for two, as long as you aren't starving."

It was here that reality and dreams intersected for Edward. Up until now Bella had assumed a mantle of near-perfection in his eyes. The newness of their acquaintanceship afforded him that fantasy. Edward almost resented her for ruining the image he'd constructed, but he had other things to consider at the moment. He had to decide whether Bella's carnivorous habits were a deal breaker.

"No, thank you. I'm a vegetarian." He waited; her reaction would be key.

She looked horrified. "Oh, my God! Oh, I'm sorry!" With her foot, she slammed the broiler draw back into the stove and quickly turned it off. "I should have realized. Of course you don't eat meat."

Edward was enormously relieved at her flustered embarrassment. If she'd shrugged her shoulders and set about consuming the steak, he would have had to excuse himself and say goodbye to Bella and this strange whimsy that had occupied his mind to such a degree. He'd probably have taken the kitten with him.

"Oh, it's all right. I mean, you didn't know, right?"

"No, I didn't. I just – I guess I never thought about it," Bella replied, still looking mortified. She appeared to have a difficult time figuring out what to do with her hands, until she pulled open the broiler again and yanked the offending steak out with a pair of tongs.

Using the foot pedal for the garbage, she tossed the steak in the trash and looked at Edward victoriously.

It was almost as good as a declaration of love, in his estimation.

"Well. Now we both need something to eat," he said, his eyes still meeting hers. "I'd be honored to take you out to dinner."

She smiled a beaming broad grin that transmitted her answer. "Where would you suggest?"

"How about the Moosewood? It's my favorite restaurant." She chuckled and nodded her head, as if to say, Of course it is.

"I've been to the Moosewood and I really liked it. They do wonderful vegetarian dishes," she said emphatically. "If you don't mind waiting a moment so I can change, I'd love to go with you." Then Bella hesitated and Edward's heart plummeted.

"What is it?"

"What about the kitten?"
"She's asleep now. I suggest putting her in a safe room where she can't get into any trouble and closing the door. Here," he said, and handed her a box of kitten chow he'd carried in. "I brought this in case you had none."

With a gentle motion, Bella took the food, thanking him with her eyes. She poured some in a small bowl, then filled another with water and left the kitchen.

It took only ten minutes for Bella to return. She wore a casual denim skirt and a pretty blouse of sapphire blue. It complimented the hue of her skin and somehow made her eyes appear wider.

Edward, who usually couldn't think of much to say to another person and had long ago stopped worrying about it, now battled to control the words that were fighting to spill out of his mouth. He remembered his manners again and opened the car door for Bella, even brushing months' worth of dog hair off the seat for her.

As he pushed the key in the ignition, he turned to Bella. "I noticed you had a photo of the Washington State coast in your living room. Have you been there?"

Their first conversation, about whales and animals native to the Olympic National Forest, lasted through the ride to the restaurant. Edward wondered if he'd need the rest of his list. There were things on it he wanted to know. But he needn't have worried. They covered some of it over dinner, and made plans to meet again the next night. There would be plenty of time.


The Moosewood Restaurant is very real and very wonderful. You don't have to be a vegetarian to love it. .com/ If you're too far away to make a reservation, check out the cookbooks. They're all excellent, and you won't find a better recipe for baba ghanouj anywhere.

Thank you for reading.