AN: I know, I suck, but I would never give up on any of my stories… Thanks for all the love and patience!

Happy Holidays!

Thank you´s are in order for my awesome DreamTeam of betas and pre-reader: jess2002, famaggiolo, and princess07890/RAH07890, jdonovan09, and TeamAllTwilight! Thanks ladies for keeping me on my toes! Love you all!


A Real Family of Her Own

Chapter 11

Baby Steps are Still Steps...

EPOV

Things were, well, things were good.

Better than good actually.

Fuck, compared to how they were, things were fucking great right now!

Bella and I were talking, we were really talking.

Like, two or three times a day.

But that wasn't the best part.

No, the best part was that we were talking about more than just the kids; we were talking about us.

We realized that, no matter what, our children were our number one priority. So, Bella and I had been spending most nights together, and, somewhere along the way, we fell into a comfortable routine.

Yeah, I could hardly believe it myself.

Every day, we shared in the responsibilities of our two kids, just like any normal married couple would. The only down side was that every night I went home, alone. It made my heart soar that Bella considered me to be Parker's father, and it was becoming harder and harder to leave my family to go back to an empty, cold, and lonely apartment. Until I was with my family permanently, my house would never be a home.

Several times a day, I wanted to ask the people I came in contact with to pinch me. Surely, this was a dream, and I was going to wake up any minute. I could only hope that would never happen.

Life was so much better now that I almost had my family back!

Siobhan had commented several times during our sessions about the changes she was seeing in me, and how much she liked them. Hell, even my colleagues and family were going on and on about how happy I was.

I guess my brooding all the time didn't go unnoticed.

In their defense, I had been a bit difficult to be around at times.

And that was putting it mildly.

Lost in my thoughts, I didn´t hear the person approach until they were already speaking. "Dr. Cullen," a nurse I recognized from the ER, called out to me.

"Yes," I hesitated when I couldn´t remember her name.

"Beth," she answered, understanding my dilemma.

"Sorry, it´s been a crazy day," I explained, running a hand through my hair. "What can I do for you, Beth?"

"Dr. McElroy wanted me to find you, to see if you would consult on a case that just came into the ER."

Closing the chart that I was updating, I extended my hand towards that elevator and said, "Lead the way." My mind could use the distraction. I was driving myself crazy with thoughts of Bella, and the over-analyzing of our relationship.

Relationship...

Could I even call it that?

At this point I was desperate, eager and willing to take whatever I could get.

Lucky for me, time for thinking was over, so I kicked into doctor mode, and left the rest for later. Beth brought me up to speed as we took the elevator down to the ER.

By the time my shift ended at six o'clock, I was running on empty.

Stopping at the Starbucks in the lobby of the hospital, I grabbed a venti cup of coffee with a double shot of espresso and headed to Bella's. My day was far from over, and, I needed a little pick me up.

It was Wednesday; my day for homework, and MyKynzie was waiting.

Ever the master negotiator, our little girl had made out a chart. You heard correctly, a chart. Said chart contained the specific days of the week that I was to help with homework, Parker, or prepare dinner.

Yeah, our girl was definitely in the running to be the next Johnny Cochran!

Both Bella and I had returned to work, so it was sometimes a struggle to adhere to the 'chart', but, so far, we´d been able to make it work. Neither one of us wanted to suffer the wrath of our little girl if we didn't follow her schedule.

Two-and-a-half months into it, and we were still going strong.

Of course, I will say that I do bend the rules just a wee bit. On the nights I´m assigned to kitchen duty, Esme usually prepares our meal during the day, leaving me with the task of heating it up, or I do take-out.

And before you condemn me, Esme does the exact same thing for Bella when she works late, so, technically, it's not really cheating.

~ARFoHO~

Thankfully, luck was on my side and there wasn't a lot of traffic. After zipping through the city, I pulled up to Bella's building twenty minutes after I left the hospital. Using the keycard Bella had given me; I drove into the underground parking garage and pulled into my designated spot.

Last week Bella surprised me by giving me my own key, access to her private elevator, and a parking stall, complete with my name and everything. To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. Bella tried to play it off by saying, "Everyone else has a key, Edward. Why shouldn't you? Please, just don't make me regret this." It was her last statement that reminded me that we still had a long way to go, but, we were making progress.

Despite Bella's reservations, I determined not to fuck this up.

She was giving me a second chance, and this time, I wasn't going to blow it!

The closer I got to my family, the more butterflies swirled in my stomach. I was always nervous the first few minutes after I arrived, not really knowing how to act around Bella. But, unlike me, my girl was always as cool as a cucumber.

I loved how comfortable she was being a mother around me. Now, she didn't even bother to hide the fact that our son was getting his nourishment from her body. Sitting quietly at night, watching Bella breastfeed our son was one of my favorite times of the day. And, at just a little over five months, our little guy could eat. It seemed like every time I turned around Parker was hanging off of Bella's tit—lucky little shit!

Jealous much, Cullen?

Damn straight I am!

You have no fucking idea.

~ARFoHO~

Unlike the elevator in the lobby, this one opened up directly into a hallway outside Bella's condo. The happy sounds of my family greeted me, as I stepped into the foyer.

"But, Mom," Mac whined, no doubt trying to convince Bella to go along with whatever crazy idea she'd come up with.

"No, Mac," Bella whined just as petulantly. "I am not leaving the house dressed like that." I could hear it in her voice, whatever it was, she was going to cave. I couldn't wait to see how this same conversation played out in, oh, say, six years from now. Bella was on the verge of caving like a house of cards.

We always do.

Even little Parker had mastered the famous Cullen pout.

Walking down the hallway, I followed the sound of their voices to Bella's home office. For a minute, I just held back outside in the hall and watched, awed that this was my family. And to think, I'd come so close to losing them, all of them, some more permanently than others.

How could I have been so stupid?

How could I have let my stubbornness almost ruin one of the best things that had ever happened to me?

What kind of man abandons his eight-year-old daughter for days, without as much as a phone call, then shows up and rips her away from the woman she considers to be her mother. A woman, who has done nothing but love her since the day she walked into our lives?

A woman that I then turn around and rip to shreds with my cruel, venom-laced words?

That day, I might as well had ripped Bella's heart out with my bare hands and stomped on it, because that's exactly what my words did. Remembering the look of her fragile, lifeless body as we waited for the paramedics to arrive still haunts me. I swear I could feel her slipping away for me. Her and Parker!

That day, I vowed to not only tell Bella, but also show her how much I loved her, everyday for the rest of our lives.

Finally, after months of dealing with my feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and shame, I was ready to accept the blame for what I'd done, and move on from what I had not.

Claire's decision to continue with the pregnancy after she was told by doctors and specialists of all the risks was not my fault. I tried, my family tried, even our friends tried to talk her out of it, but she was dead set on having another child.

The past had already robbed me of so much, and I'd be damned if I let it have another day!

Too bad, it took me almost losing Bella and Parker, and MyKynzie turning her back on me to realize just how badly I'd fucked up.

For years, I avoided the fact that I needed help. I was a shell of my former self, missing out on my daughter's life, keeping the people that loved and cared for me at arm's length. Sure, I was present physically, but emotionally, I'd checked out after Claire died.

Lost, and wallowing in my own grief, I was headed for destruction. Had my parents not stepped in when they did, I'm not sure I would still be here today, taking advantage of my second chance. I smiled wistfully at the sight of my family.

My family...I liked the sound of that.

I planned to work extra hard to make that dream a reality.

Shaking off the darkness that always enveloped me when my thoughts strayed to those terrible memories; I took a deep calming breath and stepped into the room.

Parker, who was busy chewing on a toy in his bouncer, was the first to see me. My little guy's eyes went wide and a drooling, toothy grin, a mile long, spread across his little cherub face. His arms and legs started flailing, and his squeals of pure delight pierced my soul.

My little man was so happy to see me!

Choking back the sudden influx of emotion, I quickly crossed the room, unbuckled the straps and scooped him up into my arms. "A yaya ya...yaya ya," Parker babbled as if he was telling me all about his day. "Ha ppp... ah ppp…" He showered my face with his excitement, but I couldn't find it in myself to care.

Hugging him closely to my body, I placed several kisses atop his soft unruly hair. Although we weren't biologically related, we shared a lot of the same traits.

For instance, now that he was older, his eyes had permanently turned the most mesmerizing shade of green, and in the sun, his hair had a reddish brown tint to it. Just the other day, we were out at the park and an elderly lady couldn't stop gushing about my little mini-me. My mouth was saying thank you, but my heart was screaming, I wish it were true.

I didn't give damn about DNA, Parker was my son!

"Daddy, daddy," Mac yelled, reminding me that someone else was in the room. "Please tell Mommy that these costumes are perfect for us!" Looking up at me with puppy dog eyes that got me every time, Mac whined. "You and Mommy said I could choose our costume, and this is what I want." My eyes followed her little out-stretched finger, and inwardly, I groaned.

Mac was pulling out all the stops. Not only did she have crocodile tears in her eyes, she also added lip quivering to the famous Cullen pout. As if the pout wasn´t bad enough, I could never stand the lip quiver; it broke my heart. Each and every time I saw it; I caved. Looking over at Bella for back-up, I could see her damn resolve had already crumbled. And, to add insult to injury, Parker took a look at his sister´s crumbling face, and his lip jutted out in the most adorably pitiful way you could imagine.

It was obvious to Bella and me that our children did not play fair; we were outnumbered and way out of our league. So, before any of this could get out of hand anymore than it already had, I pulled out my Amex card and told Bella to order the damn things.

Ten minutes, and several hundred dollars later, we were the proud owners of four monster costumes. That would have been fine and dandy if they were of the creepy variety.

Oh no!

Not even close!

Two days from now, I was going to be forced to parade around Seattle in a Sulley costume.

Monster´s Inc!

For real!

Jasper and Emmett were going to revoke my already probationary man-card!

I am such a fucking pushover when it comes to my kids.

...ARFoHO...

"Well, everybody's fast asleep," I said, coming into the kitchen where Bella was finishing up the dishes. "Guess I'll head on home." To my cold and lonely apartment, I wanted to say. Bella continued wiping down the counters with her back to me. I took that as my cue to leave. "I'm off tomorrow, so I'll be by to get Parker and take Mac to school in the morning." I turned to leave, but stopped when Bella started to speak.

"Do you want to stay? I mean, you can...if you want to..." She sounded so unsure of herself and I hated it.

Turning around slowly, I wasn't surprised to see that she was still facing away from me. Whatever happened in Bella's past had scarred her significantly. In a leap of faith, I walked over to where she was and loosely wrapped my arms around her. "God, Bella," I breathed into her hair. "You have no idea what it means to hear you say that, are you sure?" I knew I was setting myself up for her to change her mind, but I knew that once Pandora's Box was opened, there would be no going back.

Relaxing her stiff posture, Bella melted into my embrace. A silence fell over the room, and I swear you could hear a pin drop. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for her to answer, Bella spoke, barely above a whisper. "Just don´t hurt me again, Edward...please?" My only response was to hold on tighter while releasing a breath I didn't even realizing I was holding.

"I´m sorry, Bella, so, so very sorry for what I did to you and Parker." I pushed past the lump in my throat. "I promise to spend the rest of my life making it up to you—both of you."

Turning in my arms, Bella cupped my cheek. "You already have, Edward. The past is just that, the past. You´ve given Parker something I didn´t even know I wanted him to have, you´ve given him a father. Watching you with our son does something to me. I—I..." she trailed off as a lone tear fell from her left eye.

Catching it with my thumb, I responded simply, "Touché, Isabella, touché. When I watch you with our children, I know this is where I´m supposed to be. I belong here, with you and our children. Thank you for giving me a second chance, I promise not to fuck it up this time."

Bella´s deep whisky-colored eyes bore in to mine as if she was searching for the truth. I knew the exact moment she found what she was looking for, because she lifted on her toes and placed her lips softly against mine.

The kiss wasn't long, nor was it full of passion, but that didn't stop me from seeing stars and becoming lightheaded just from her proximity. Isabella Swan was a dangerous drug that I planned on becoming addicted to.

We snuggled into the sofa, me with a glass of wine, and Bella with bit of CranApple juice, to watch an episode of NCIS. Later that night, I crawled into bed with Bella at her insistence. She melted into my embrace and was out in no time. For a while, I just laid there, watching the rise and fall of her chest.

There´s no place like home was the last coherent thought I had before drifting off to sleep.


AN: Thanks for reading! I hope you guys are still around. Leave me some love! It may take me a while to get to them, but I always will, right up until the very end. Looks like B & E are finally trying to get their heads out of their asses! Lol…

Krazi

xoxo