A/N Happy reading!


Chapter 31

Edward POV


~ August 28th, 2012 ~

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A petite nurse rounded the corner, her lips curving up in an encouraging smile when she saw me. "We're ready for you, Mr. Cullen."

I got up from my seat reluctantly, and Isabella did the same, reaching over to squeeze my hand comfortingly. "Everything's going to be alright. I promise. You'll do great."

"I love you." I sighed, kissing her lips softly. My free hand came to rest on her baby bump. "You too, little man. Be good for Mommy."

"We love you too, Daddy," she whispered, the tremor in her voice betraying her panic.

"Please take care of her," I addressed Alice who was sitting just a couple of feet away, watching our interaction. "Distract her. Make her forget I'm in there."

She smiled. "Will do. Don't worry; she'll be fine. You take care of yourself. Be strong."

I nodded, letting go of Isabella's hand and turning around to the waiting nurse. She motioned for me to follow after her, and I did, not daring to look back. They were all there: my father, my two brothers and their significant others and my pregnant fiancée.

We walked through a narrow hallway, bypassing medical staff and recovering patients at each step. We took a left turn and then another until we finally reached room D125. The nurse opened the door, gesturing for me to step in first.

"I'm going to ask you to change out of your street clothes," she said, her tone all business like, placing a neatly folded hospital gown onto the bed. "Underwear goes off too. Also, I'll need you to remove your watch, wallet and any other personal items like jewelry and contact lenses, if you're wearing any. Everything goes to this bag here, which will be handed to your wife. This will be your room for the remaining of your stay."

"Okay," I replied, toying nervously with one of my shirt's buttons. I could barely get out monosyllabic answers, let alone correct her statement about Isabella being my wife.

She must have sensed my distress because she cocked her head slightly to the right, her expression softening. "Don't worry, you'll be just fine."

All I could do was nod. She took a step towards the door, pausing to add one last thing.

"The anesthesiologist will be with you soon to perform a brief physical examination."

With that, she exited the room, leaving me alone to change. I started taking off my shirt, my heart beating a crazy rhythm inside my chest.

Last Saturday in Forks flashed through my mind...

...the pain...

...the panic...

...the call to Dr. Moore...

...the ER check-in at the UW Medical Center...

...the flight back to Chicago...

...the last minute appointment with Dr. Moore...

...and now this.

For the first time in my entire life, I was about to undergo surgery. The thoughts plaguing my mind were getting darker and more pessimistic with each passing second.

It wasn't that I didn't believe in the good doctor, because he was one of the best surgeons out there. Jasper himself had vouched for him, and I trusted my little brother more than anyone when it came to medical issues. But experience had taught me that life was not only ephemeral but extremely unpredictable. Everything I had achieved until that moment could crumble down in a second. And I knew my condition must have been deteriorating at an alarming pace for Dr. Moore to postpone his trip to Europe. The man had just cancelled his vacation for me, for Christ's sake!

I hated not knowing what the outcome would be. I despised feeling like I had no control over what was about to happen. I had only felt this way once before, and it had not ended well for me.

Add this to my newly developed phobia of sickness and death, and I was in for a rough few days.

To be completely honest, I was a mess both inside and out. Last night had been horribly restless. I hadn't been able to close an eye, the constant feeling of nausea assaulting my stomach keeping me awake and making me miserable.

The fact that I dreaded hospitals didn't help at all. I was used to them more than I cared to admit, although I hadn't personally needed one for more than a mere sprain since tenth grade. Tanya's fatal illness had me spending most of my time, be it day or night, in this same hospital for the best part of 2010. I hated the smell of disease and disinfectant lingering in the air. I hated the sickness surrounding me and the memories it evoked.

I just wanted to go home, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, all I wanted was to be as far away as possible from this horrendous place.

Just as I finished putting on the hideous gown, the door opened and a man in scrubs stepped in. He looked to be in his early forties, had copper-colored hair, much like mine, and a faint scar over his right eye.

"Mr. Cullen, my name is Doctor Nathaniel Clarke and I'll be your anesthesiologist. How are you feeling?"

I shrugged, choosing not to answer that question.

"I see." He chuckled. "I'm going to ask you a few questions then we'll head over to the pre-op holding area. Please, take a seat."

I sat down on the bed, and he pulled over a chair for himself so he could sit opposite of me. "First, I have to ask if you signed the informed consent form. Our clerk is quite new, and I want to make sure she followed the standard procedure."

"I did," I replied, watching as he jotted down my answer in the chart he was holding.

He nodded, not looking up. "Good. Did you refrain from eating or drinking for at least eight hours before surgery?"

"Yes."

"Did you ever receive general anesthesia before?"

"No."

"Are you suffering from any drug allergies?"

"Not that I know of."

"What medication have you been taking for the pain?"

"Percocet."

He shot off a few more questions before getting up, looking satisfied with my answers. "Everything seems fine here. Shall we?"

"What?" I said as if waking up from a trance. "Already?"

"You have nothing to be anxious about," he replied, gesturing to the door. "After you."

I let out a quivering breath, deciding to man up and get it over with. The sooner I lost consciousness, the better. I was too much of a nervous wreck for my own good.

Minutes later, as they started an IV in pre-op, I distracted myself by staring at the wall and thinking of Isabella. I imagined her pacing the waiting room, worried and anxious for news, and I hated myself for putting her in such distress. Pregnancy hadn't been easy on her, and the last thing she needed was to play Florence Nightingale for me. It made me feel like a burden. I should have been the one looking after her, not the other way around. At this point, I was pretty much a useless crippled old man, and she deserved better.

"All done," the anesthesiologist's voice cut through my reverie. I looked up in time to see him dispose of a syringe and reality came crashing down on me. This was it. Soon everything was going to be black.

I was handed a blue hair cap, which I put on.

"Let's get you to OR, Mr. Cullen."

I got up, following after him as the nurse helped me with my IV. As we stepped into the sterile room, it all started to look like a strange dream. There were too many people fussing about. The lights looming above the operating table were too bright, and I had to cover my eyes for a moment to let them adjust. Someone helped me up on the table, but I couldn't tell who it was. I was instructed to lie down on my front, and I did so obediently and a bit sluggishly.

"Good morning, Mr. Cullen," I heard the familiar voice of Dr. Moore. "How are we feeling this morning?"

"Like hell," I mumbled, glancing up at him, as he came to stand beside the table.

He chuckled, shaking his head. "There's no need to fret. You'll do just fine, I can guarantee it."

Yeah, everyone kept telling me that.

"How long will it take for me to regain consciousness after the surgery?" I asked, feeling like the more I spoke, the harder it was for me to get the words out.

"It's all up to you. Each person reacts differently to general anesthesia. It may be one hour or several."

I nodded, and he disappeared from sight. My whole body was slowly going numb. It was such a strange feeling.

"You're doing great," one of the nurses said softly. She kept speaking to me, but her voice started fading away.

I sighed, thinking that I wasn't supposed to have this operation for a couple more weeks. Dr. Moore had postponed his trip for me, and I couldn't have been more grateful, but that didn't mean I was prepared for this. I didn't think I was ever going to be, no matter the timing.

A couple more weeks would have been nice...

A couple more weeks of peace and tranquility...

...and worry...

...and pain...

...an-

~~ 0 ~~

...Someone was speaking... a woman...

Isabella?

...no, it wasn't her voice...

Where was I?

I tried to open my eyes but couldn't.

Why was I so confused?

"...Bella," I mumbled, desperate for her. I needed her; where was she?

"...all right, Mr. Cullen... just try to rest... back to your room…"

~~ 0 ~~

When I finally regained full consciousness, the petite nurse was doing something with my IV.

She smiled brightly. "Welcome back, Mr. Cullen."

I swallowed thickly, my throat parched. "How did it go?"

"The surgery went great. Dr. Moore is very pleased with the result. You're one step closer to making a full recovery."

I licked my lips, feeling just how dry they were. I needed water badly. "Can I see my fiancée?"

"Sure. I'll let everyone know you're awake." She turned on her heels, making an exit.

Minutes later, the door opened and Isabella's head poked in. "Hey," she said quietly, her smile infectious.

"Hey." I held out my hand, needing her close.

She closed the door and quickly made her way to the bed where she sat, placing her hand in mine. Leaning over, she placed a soft kiss on my lips.

"How are you feeling, honey?" she asked, the endearment taking me by surprise.

"A bit dizzy," I admitted, kissing her wrist in return. "I missed you."

"No more than I missed you," she murmured, her eyes voicing what she couldn't... the worry... the stress... the relief. "I thought you were never getting out of surgery. The waiting felt like an eternity. But Dr. Moore said you did great, like I knew you would. Did he come by?"

"Not yet. Who's still here?"

"Um, your dad and Emmett. Jasper's seeing some of his patients; Alice left for work about an hour ago, and Rosalie had to take Jess to her dance classes."

I frowned. I had almost forgotten about Rosalie. "I hope she hasn't said anything to you."

Isabella shrugged. "No, she pretty much ignored me. I have to say I'm surprised she came in the first place."

She might've been surprised by Rosalie showing up at the hospital the day of my surgery, but I had actually expected it. I knew my sister-in-law all too well; she couldn't turn her back on family, no matter what harsh words we might have thrown at each other.

"I said it before and I'll say it again; she's not a bad person. We used to get along really well before..." I trailed off abruptly, realizing my stupidity.

Isabella chuckled bitterly. "...before I came into your life."

"Well, yes. But she'll come around eventually; I'm certain. She's just hurt and maybe a little confused that she had to choose sides."

She shook her head, starting to look quite vexed. "No one forced her to choose a side, Edward."

"You have to understand that's what her conscience told her to do. She loves my mother too much for her own good."

We were about to start arguing about Rosalie, and that was the last thing I wanted, given the situation. Luckily for us, Dr. Moore decided to show up just then.

"Hello again," he said cheerfully as he stepped inside with his hands shoved into his coat's pockets.

"Hello, Doctor," Isabella replied in kind, getting up and smoothing down her long summer skirt. "Thank you for looking after him."

"My pleasure, my pleasure..." He smiled at her then turned to me. "You look great. How are you feeling?"

I was really starting to get tired of being asked the same question over and over again. "Aside from a bit of dizziness, I feel good."

"Great. We'll see how things go, and if you're still doing this good tomorrow, I might let you go."

I let out a sigh of relief. "You don't know how glad I am to hear that. I can't wait to get back home."

"I already spoke to your physical therapist and you'll be starting recovery sessions soon. Don't worry; you'll be in capable hands. Dorian is very good at what he does."

"Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate everything you did."

He nodded, already heading for the door. "Get some rest, and I'll see you later today."

"I can't imagine what it's like always being in a rush," Isabella commented as soon as he was gone.

"You get used to it in time," I said, admiring her from where she stood a few feet away. She looked so beautiful in a blue skirt paired with a white top. "Do you think I could have some water?"

"Oh, yeah, the nurse said I could give you water." She dug into her bag, procuring a small bottle and handing it over to me. "Here you go."

I took it gratefully, draining half of it in a single gulp. It was heavenly; best drink I'd ever had in my life. "What would I do without you, my Bella?"

"That's what I always ask myself," she joked, her eyes gleaming with mirth.

A knock on the door alerted us of another visitor before Emmett stepped in tentatively. "May I?"

"Sure," Isabella said, giving him her best smile. "Come on in."

I looked at her suspiciously. Since when did she smile at Emmett?

Emmett shifted his weight from one foot to another awkwardly. "The nurse said one person at a time, but I got a call from work and I have to leave soon."

"Oh." Isabella gathered her bag, starting for the door. "I'll go."

Emmett grabbed her elbow gently to prevent her from leaving. "No, there's no need for that. I just wanted to see how he's doing before I left. Please stay."

I gaped at their interaction in shock. What the hell had transpired between Isabella and my brother while I was out cold?

"Everything went better than I expected," I spoke, my eyes glued to Emmett's hand on Isabella. Was I dreaming? Was I still asleep?

He gave me a genuine smile, letting go of her arm. "I'm glad to hear that. You'll need to be in good shape to run after your little one. Small kids are tiring."

"Yeah," I said, still bewildered.

I'll be damned... he seemed quite taken with her all of a sudden. What in God's name had they been talking about? I made a mental note to ask her about it later.

"Man, I can't believe you're going to have a son," he went on. "I'm jealous. You get to play ball with him, go fishing, build a fort..."

I had to chuckle at that, despite my confusion towards his new attitude. "How many times have you built a fort for Jessica, Em?"

He grinned knowingly. "Many."

"And if I remember correctly, you even took her fishing a couple of times."

He waved me off dismissively. "But she won't play ball with me, man. And I can't watch sports with her either. I guess I'll just have to babysit my nephew from time to time."

My eyebrows shot up in surprise. Could this conversation get anymore peculiar?

"We decided to name him Matthew Anthony," Isabella chimed in, oblivious to my inquiring looks. "I just realized I forgot to tell you."

"Matthew Anthony Cullen," Emmett said slowly, stroking his chin with his thumb. "Well, that sounds about right."

"I'm glad you approve," I mumbled, watching him closely. Something was very different about his demeanor. He was being friendly. But why?

"I do. Anyway, I need to run. I'll talk to you later?"

I did my best to offer him a genuine smile. "Sure. Have a good day."

"Thanks." He grinned, leaning over and kissing Isabella on the cheek. "Bye, Bella. Take care of yourself."

"What the hell just happened?" I asked, completely bewildered, gesturing towards the door when it closed behind him with a loud click. "Am I starting to see things?"

Isabella laughed at my expression, shaking her head. "I don't know what's going on with him, but he's been awfully nice to me since this morning. We talked a lot. He kept me company the entire time." She sat down beside me on the bed once again, placing her bag on the floor. "He also told me that if I ever need help with anything, to give him a call. He's been really sweet, you know? It's like there's this hidden part of him I never knew existed."

I sighed. "I guess he's starting to see things differently. He's starting to think differently. He can be a jerk when he wants to, but he's my brother and I'd be lying to say I'm not glad to finally have his support."

She smiled, leaning in conspiratorially. "You know, I think he's just being a typical overprotective big brother. It's funny because you're as overprotective about Jasper as Emmett is about you."

I frowned at her. "I'm not overprotective," I said defensively. "You clearly must be imagining things."

"No, I'm not, and yes, you are. The only difference is that Jasper is a lot less hot-headed than you. He's much too calm to cause trouble."

"Are you calling me a troublemaker?" I asked, now amused.

"Well, not exactly, but even you have to admit you can sometimes be a real pain in the ass."

I huffed, astonished that she was actually defending Emmett and accusing me of being difficult. "You're lucky I can't take you over my knee and give you a good spanking for that comment."

She chuckled, her eyes turning devilish. "Mmmm, a spanking sounds... stimulating."

I groaned, shaking my head disapprovingly. "You can't say things like that to me right now. God knows when I'll be able to have sex with you again."

"I can be on top; you won't have to do a thing," she breathed, leaning in closer and closer until her lips brushed against mine softly.

"Baby..." I moaned, half frustrated, half aroused.

"Okay, okay, I'll stop." She pulled back, grinning. "It's fun messing with you, though."

"I'm glad you find my reactions amusing." I narrowed my eyes at her, grabbing her wrist and pulling her in for another kiss. "Come here."

~~0~~

I woke up in the middle of the night to the distinct feeling that someone was watching me. Looking around disoriented, I tried to locate the source of my discomfort.

There was nothing. The room was silent and almost completely dark, the only source of light coming from the slightly open window blinds.

I let out a sigh of relief, letting my head fall back into the stiff pillow. As I stared up at the ceiling, something moving in the corner caught my eye, and I jolted startled.

"Who's there?" I demanded, quickly reaching over to turn on the night lamp. A stab of pain hit my lower back as a result of the sudden movement, and I hissed; my eyes still trained on the moving form.

"Edward," a soft feminine voice said, just before my mother materialized from the dark at the foot of the bed.

"Mom?" I asked in disbelief, wondering if the damned general anesthesia was still fucking with my head. "Wha-... what are you doing here?"

"I came to see you," she replied, touching my left foot gently, the chill running from my toes to my brain, making me realize I was very much awake and alert.

I took her in. She was wearing clothes I had never seen on her before: dark flare dress pants and a plum blouse with ruffles made of questionable material. Her hair had been recently cut into a short bob, making her look significantly younger.

"But... you're... you're supposed to be at the clinic," I stammered, trying to comprehend what was happening. "Who brought you here?"

She smiled her brightest smile, rounding the bed and sitting down on it. She was so close, I could have touched her. "A friend and a wonderful person helped me get in undetected," she explained, avoiding giving me a straight answer. "They wanted to keep your surgery from me, but I found out. And now I came to see you. Aren't you happy that I'm here?"

"What friend are you talking about?" I asked, getting more alarmed with each passing second. "Mom, are you alright?"

"But of course I'm alright. I feel better than ever. Can't you tell?" She gestured to herself as if to prove her point.

"Mom..." I trailed off, the wheels in my head spinning rapidly. Whatever my next action was going to be, I needed to act promptly.

What to do, what to do?

"I should be mad at you for leaving me in that horrendous place," she scolded gently, her face still not showing any sign of distress. She smiled again, even more sweetly than before, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. "But I'm not. How are you feeling, darling?"

"Let me call Dad," I replied carefully, reaching for my phone.

Her expression morphed from lively to livid in an instant. She suddenly looked murderous, and it scared the crap out of me.

"No!" she cried, snatching the phone, before I could reach it, and clutching it to her chest. "Please don't. He hates me; he wants to hurt me. That's why he locked me away in that mental facility. I'm not insane. Edward, you know I'm not. You're the only one who loves me; you have to help me."

"Okay, okay, let's calm down," I rushed to appease her, holding out my hand. "Hand me the phone; I won't call him."

"No." She shook her head adamantly, jumping to her feet. Her face held a determined look.

"Mom..." I pleaded, silently asking her to cooperate.

"I have to go," she said abruptly, turning to the door and preparing her exit.

"Mom, wait!" I called, panicked.

Think, Edward, fucking think!

She looked at me over her shoulder expectantly. "Will you help me?"

"Yeah, I will," I answered, not missing a beat.

I was lying, and she knew it all too well. I wanted to help her but not the way she wanted to be helped. She knew I was going to call Dad as soon as I got the opportunity.

"You're lying," she stated, venom and disappointment laced in her voice. Gone was the sweet woman from earlier. With those last words hanging in the air, she stormed out the door, slamming it forcefully.

"Mom!" I yelled, desperate that I was unable to get up and run after her.

Turning to the nightstand, I grabbed the phone there, bringing the receiver to my ear. I was shocked when I got no dial tone. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the wire had been cut very close to the power outlet.

"Shit!" I cursed and furiously hit the nurse call button over and over again until a corpulent lady in pink scrubs rushed in.

She took me in, her face relaxing when she realized I wasn't in any immediate danger. "What happened?"

"Someone was here... my mother. She wasn't supposed to be here," I explained, aware of the fact that I wasn't making myself very clear.

She frowned, displeased, pointing to her watch. "Of course she wasn't; it's well after visiting hours."

"You don't understand..." I fisted my hair in frustration. "I have to call my father."

"Okay," she replied slowly, waiting for me to do just that.

I huffed, aggravated. "She took my phone and cut the wire to this one."

"Mr. Cullen, are you alright?" the nurse asked suspiciously, crossing her arms over her chest.

"Do I look like I'm alright?" I snapped, feeling my temper rise. "I need a phone now! It's urgent."

She finally sensed the seriousness in my voice, her black eyes widening at the realization that something must be really wrong for me to act like such a lunatic. Mumbling a short "be right back," she spun on her heels and took off in search of a phone.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" I muttered, wishing it was all just a bad dream.

I barely had time to put my thoughts in order before the nurse was back with a hot pink Nokia; probably her personal cell. I took it gratefully, dialing the only number I knew by heart.

"Isabella," I spoke, relieved that she'd picked up and guilty that I had awakened her at such a late hour. "It's me."

"Edward?" Her confusion was audible even through the phone.

"Isabella, listen, I need you to call Alice. Tell her my mother was here at the hospital. I think she ran away from the clinic and someone helped her, but I don't know who. She said it was a friend."

She gasped. "Oh, my God."

"Call her now," I urged. "Tell her to alert everyone and then call me back on this number."

I ended the call and closed my eyes, a hundred different scenarios running through my mind.

"Are you alright?" the nurse asked tentatively. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

I looked at her and tried a smile which only came off as a grimace. "No, but thank you; it's personal. Although, I would appreciate it if I could keep the phone for a while longer."

"Sure." She nodded, starting for the door. "Buzz me if you need anything."

"I will," I promised.

A few minutes later, the hideous thing in my hand started ringing.

"Yes?" I replied, recognizing Isabella's number.

"Edward, it's me. Jasper and your father are on their way to the hospital. Your father already knew."

"How… Who told him?"

She sighed heavily. "I have no idea. Do you want me to come over?"

"No, there's no need," I assured her. "I'm not even sure they'll let Dad in at this hour. You get some rest and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay. I love you."

"Love you, too," I murmured, hitting the end button.

Twenty minutes later, Jasper entered the room, closely followed by my father.

"Hey," Jasper greeted somberly.

I exhaled, relieved to have them there. "Hey. How did you guys get in?"

Jasper rolled his eyes at me, grabbing a chair from the small desk at the other side of the room. "I work here, remember?"

Dad sat on the couch, looking absolutely desperate. "What happened? Just moments before hearing from Alice, I got a call from the clinic saying Esme had run away."

"She showed up here saying she's not crazy and I had to help her. I tried to call you, but she took my phone and cut the wire to that one. " I nodded my head in that direction.

"Dear Lord," my father breathed incredulously.

"Someone helped her," I went on, trying to remember what she said. "She mentioned something about a friend."

My father's brow furrowed. "A friend? No one except the family knew she was there."

"I know. Something felt off about the way she said it; like she wanted to protect said friend's identity."

"I spoke to her doctor; you know he's a friend of mine," Jasper cut in, looking wary.

"And?" I prompted.

"He's not sure what the right diagnosis should be. Her symptoms match those of a person suffering from narcissistic personality disorder: a strong need for constant praise and admiration, the lack of empathy for others, trouble keeping healthy relationships, expecting others to go along with her ideas and plans, expressing disdain for those she feels are inferior, and the list could go on.

"But he feels there's more to her personality than she's letting on. She agreed to answer his questions, but was very evasive." He paused, looking like he was trying to choose his words carefully. "He thinks she's an extremely intelligent woman who knows how to manipulate any situation in her favor. To be honest with you, he actually sounded impressed, and dare I say, even a little excited at having to work with her."

"Great," I spat, getting more worked up with each word he spoke. It made me angry that I had been right. They had refused to listen to me, and now we were all paying the price.

Jasper saw my reaction and sighed, his voice taking a softer tonality. "Also, he planned on letting her go this week; we just never got the chance to tell her. He said he wanted to try out a new approach; meeting with her in the comfort of her own home. "

"Isn't she still a danger to herself?" Dad inquired, obviously having learned all of this just now.

Jasper shook his head. "He doesn't think she would truly harm herself. She's only trying to garner attention."

"How can you say that?" I said accusatorily. "Doesn't she mean anything to you?"

Anger flashed in his eyes. "Of course she means something to me. She's my mother too, for Christ's sake. But I'm not the one saying it; her psychiatrist is."

"Boys," Dad interfered gently, holding his hands up to stop an eventual fight. "What do we do? How do we find her?"

"I have no idea," Jasper murmured, running a hand through his overgrown hair. "Chicago is a big city; locating her is going to be difficult, if not impossible."

"That's assuming she's still in the city," I shot back insolently, and he threw me a dirty look.

Jesus... what the hell was I doing? I was on the verge of fighting with my younger brother, which I couldn't remember ever happening. I needed to calm the hell down before I said something stupid that I was later going to regret.

I took a deep breath in an attempt to get a grip on my temper. "We need to find out who's helping her."

"Yes, but how?" Dad asked, looking forlorn. He'd changed so much since the whole ordeal with my mother. He always looked so tired and beat down.

"We'll start by calling her closest friends."

~~ 0 ~~

Almost a week later, there was no news whatsoever regarding my mother's whereabouts. To say we were all frustrated,with the situation we found ourselves in, would be an understatement. No matter who we contacted, we couldn't get a lead on where or with whom she could be.

Emmett, being the ever practical man, took it upon himself to hire a private investigator. It might have seemed a little extreme, but it was the only logical thing to be done after the other failed attempts at finding her. Her condition was too delicate for us to just sit back and wait for her to decide it was time to return home. Given her now strained relationship with most of us, there was no guarantee she would ever want to come back in the first place.

All of us were upset with her running away, but Rosalie was having the hardest time. She couldn't cope with the fact that my mother had abandoned her just as easily as she had the rest of us. No goodbye note, no letter explaining her actions, no nothing. Maybe the real reason Rosalie was so devastated was the realization that Mother didn't love her remotely as much as Rosalie loved her. It was sad to see her so emotional about the whole thing, but maybe it was going to serve her as a reality check-up. My mother's number one priority was herself.

I, for one, was somewhere between resigned and angry. I was resigned because at the back of my mind, I had always known something like this was bound to happen for us to finally stick together and act as one. And I was angry because no one's given a flying fuck on my opinion when my opinion mattered. Maybe if we'd approached the situation differently, the outcome would have been a better one.

"Can I get you anything?" Isabella materialized in front of me wearing a green apron over her cut-offs and oversized t-shirt.

She was making lasagna, the smell of cooked meat, pasta and spices following her into the living room and reaching my nostrils. My lips parted, and I inhaled deeply, the aroma causing my stomach to rumble with hunger.

"A large plate of what you're currently making," I replied, eager for lunch.

She chuckled, squeezing between me and a decorative pillow on the couch. "Lunch won't be ready for another twenty minutes."

I sighed exaggeratedly,slowly angling my body towards hers and reaching behind her back to remove the apron. I tossed it to the floor, my hand sneaking under the oversized t-shirt to caress her baby bump. "How's my little Matthew?"

"Matthew, huh?" she grinned, pleased, running her palm up and down my upper arm.

"I like it," I said, returning the grin. The position was getting uncomfortable, and I shifted a little, trying to ease the tension gathering at the small of my back.

"More than Anthony?"

"Yes, more than Anthony," I admitted.

Her head cocked to the side as she looked at me under her lashes. "I don't know; I think I've gotten used to Anthony by now."

"We'll compromise," I offered.

"Okay."

"We'll call him Matthew."

She smacked me in the chest lightly. "Hey, that's not compromising!"

"It's not?" I feigned ignorance, too busy feeling her soft skin to care that I was sporting a shit-eating grin.

"No, it's not."

"What is it then?"

"It's you being a manipulative…" She stopped abruptly, her expression turning remorseful. She knew the appellative would remind me of my mother. "I'm sorry... I shouldn't have said that."

"It's okay," I assured, pulling my hand away and turning my attention back to the TV. My mood had suddenly turned sour.

"Any news yet?" she asked tentatively.

"No."

Isabella sighed next to me. "I don't like it when you get like this. You've been distant ever since Esme ran away from the clinic."

"I'm not distant; I'm upset," I said, giving her a sideways glance. "I feel useless sitting on this couch all day, unable to do anything to help find her."

"There's nothing more you could have done, Edward," she replied, getting a bit upset herself. "Even if you were able to run around the city all day long, where would you look for her? You won't find her unless she wants to be found. To be honest with you, I think sooner or later she'll come back on her own."

I chuckled humorlessly. "Why would she come back to a family she thinks is hell-bent on doing her harm? She's afraid of all of us; especially my father."

"Your father is a good man. He only did what he thought was best for her."

"I know, but locking her away was not the right thing to do. I told them, but they chose not to listen. Now she will never trust in any of us again. I don't think she's ever coming back. Not by her own free will anyway," I said, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of my stomach at the thought that she might never return. "I can't even begin to imagine how utterly alone she must feel."

"Edward…"

I fisted my hair with one hand, shaking my head in frustration. "I wonder who's helping her. She said it was a friend. I keep trying to figure out who it is but can't. None of her friends know anything about her whereabouts."

"Do you think it's someone you know?"

"I have no idea," I admitted, letting out a long breath. "I just wish she'd let us help her. I'm tired of family drama."

"I know exactly what you mean." She cupped my cheek, making me look her in the eye as her voice turned softer. "But hey, we're in this together. If there's anything I can do to help, will you let me know?"

"I will," I promised, turning my head to kiss her palm and wondering if I could ever love her any more than I already did.

She smiled, but it didn't quite reach her beautiful eyes. "When's Dorian coming over?"

Glancing at my watch, I saw it was half past noon. "He should be here any minute."

"Are you excited to be starting your recovery exercises?"

I nodded. "Yeah; I can't wait to get back on my feet."

"You're doing great so far." She pecked my lips once before getting up to head back to the kitchen. "I'm so proud of you."

"Thank you," I said, grabbing her wrist to stop her. "Baby?"

"Hmmm?"

"I have the contract ready."

The night before my surgery, she'd decided to sell the house in Forks; the task of writing the contract going to yours truly. Now, the lawyer in me wasn't exactly pleased with the sum they were willing to pay for it, but the other more empathetic side of me knew better. Sam and Emily were Isabella's friends. The house probably meant as much to them as it did to her. All Isabella cared was that her former home was being taken care of properly, and that was something I could respect.

Because of our rushed departure, she hadn't gotten a chance to give them an answer yet, and I got the distinct feeling she was subconsciously delaying doing it. My suspicions were confirmed when her eyes widened in surprise. She clearly hadn't expected that.

"So soon?" she asked meekly.

"I was getting bored these past few days and I thought I'd get it done. All you have to do is sign it and I'll have it sent to Forks."

She nodded, biting on her lower lip. She suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Okay."

"Baby, are you sure you want to do this?" I asked, not wanting her to later regret her decision.

"It's not my home anymore, Edward; it's theirs." She gestured around the living room. "This is my home now."

"About that… I was thinking we should start looking for houses. The condo will become pretty crowded once the baby is born."

She shook her head, her lips curving upwards in amusement. "Your condo is anything but crowded."

"It's our condo, and it might not seem like that now, but I'm pretty sure a house is much more suitable for raising a family. I'd like my son to have a spacious backyard to play in, just like I did. I'd also like for you to have a place where you can relax or study; maybe a gazebo. And I want a pool. I miss having a pool."

She chuckled, looking at me like I'd just told her a very good joke. "You are so low maintenance."

"I have expensive taste, so what? I can more than afford it," I replied, aware of how vain that sounded.

"Yes, you can, Richie Rich," she teased, rolling her eyes at me. "And yeah, looking for houses is a good idea. It'll serve us as a welcome distraction for a little while."

The intercom buzzed, and Isabella started moving in that direction. "It must be Dorian."

Minutes later, she was ushering a tall African-American man into the living room. He looked young, maybe in his early thirties, wore jeans, a slim fit polo t-shirt and bright yellow glasses.

"Mr. Cullen," he said and extended his hand in greeting, his messenger bag swinging from his shoulder. "I'm Dorian Lewis."

I shook his hand, noticing his athletic figure. "Please, call me Edward."

"Edward." He smiled, pleased that our conversation was starting on a less formal tone. He seemed like a laid-back guy, and I liked that.

"It's very nice to meet you," I said, gesturing to an armchair. "You have excellent recommendations."

He sat down, placing his bag behind his back. "Dr. Moore and I have been working together for about five years now. He's one of Chicago's best surgeons."

"He is," I agreed. "Also my brother, Jasper Cullen, seems to have only good things to say about you."

"Jasper Cullen?" he asked, sounding surprised. "I didn't make the connection before now."

"Can I get you something to drink?" Isabella asked, picking up the apron I had tossed on the floor earlier. She blushed, throwing me a scolding look.

"No thank you, ma'am," he replied, amused by her reaction.

"You've met my fiancée, Isabella," I said, smiling at her apologetically.

"Call me Bella." She started for the door. "If you'll excuse me, I need to check on the lasagna. Please feel free to join us for lunch later."

"I'm afraid I can't. I have a little girl waiting for me at the hospital."

Isabella nodded in understanding before making her exit. Dorian turned to me, clasping his hands in his lap.

"I understand the car accident injury resulted in a herniated disk at L5-S1 in the lumbar spine. You had the protruding part of the disc shaved, plus a small amount of the surrounding bone to give its nerve's roots more room. You were taking Percocet before the surgery and now you're back on it. Is that correct?"

"Yes, that's correct," I said, taken aback by how detailed his information concerning my condition was. No wonder everyone said he was so good at his job.

"I say within two or three weeks you'll be off all pain medication. How's the pain after surgery?"

"Significantly reduced. I was on a morphine drip the day of the surgery and I had a bit of pain in my lower back the day after, but I feel much better now. I felt such a relief immediately after the surgery."

"Undergoing surgery was the right decision. Postponing it would have only made your condition worse."

"Now I realize that."

"You do know you're not allowed to lift anything heavy?" he asked, glancing at me over the thick rim of his glasses. His dark skin contrasted strongly with the rim's electric yellow, giving his eyes a mischievous gleam.

I already liked him a lot, and I didn't even know him aside from the handful of words we had exchanged. Something told me he was both ambitious and hard-working, and for that reason, we were going to get along just fine.

I nodded. "Yes. It's common sense, I guess."

"Not to everyone." He chuckled, leaning back into his seat. "Also, try not to sit in a recliner; it puts too much strain on your back."

"Okay." I made mental notes with everything he was telling me.

He paused for a brief moment before continuing. "Hot showers might help, and you'll have to walk around as much as possible."

"Can I leave the house; go to work?" I asked, eager for a positive answer. I hated feeling like a prisoner in my own home.

"You can, but my suggestion is that you don't. Sitting in an office chair all day long won't do you any good. You need to allow your body time to heal. Just take it easy for a while. Ease back into it."

Okay, that wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, but I did my best not to look too disappointed. Admittedly, I was too much of a workaholic to enjoy sitting at home and practically doing nothing. Bringing some of my work at home could have kept me occupied for a while, but I didn't think it was going to be enough. I missed the meetings and the general buzz of a workday at the office. I missed interacting with my clients. Of course, getting to spend more time with Isabella was nice, but the truth was I was already starting to get bored out of my mind.

"So, what is our exercise plan?"

"That is what I was getting to." He smiled. "Recovery exercises include gentle aerobic exercise, back stretches, and abdominal and back strengthening exercises. I know you were an active person before, going to the gym regularly, and our sessions together will serve to help you heal, as well as ease you back into your old routine."

"I'm eager already." I chuckled, rubbing my palms over the tops of my thighs. "When do we start?"

"Sometime next week. We'll need to set a schedule that accommodates both of us."

"Great," I said, watching as he pulled out his phone to check his calendar. Next week couldn't come soon enough.

~~ 0 ~~

Later, as I was lying in bed, going through a medical brochure Dorian had left me, Isabella plopped down beside me.

"Look what I found lying around in a drawer." She handed me the picture she was holding.

My eyebrows shot up at the sight of it. "I forgot I even had this. I took it."

It was a picture of Tanya at our wedding, taken on the steps of the church. She was looking at the camera over her shoulder, her blond hair falling over her exposed back. The dress was simple, but so very her. It wrapped around her curves elegantly, the lace ruffles adorning the back giving it a unique cut that matched Tanya's personality perfectly.

"She was so beautiful," Isabella noted, placing her head on my chest. "I hope I'll look so pretty in my wedding dress."

I kissed the top of her head, doing my best to refrain from asking when that might be. "You will."

"I doubt I can ever compete with Tanya in the looks department," she replied wistfully. "She was drop dead gorgeous and classy; a pretty hard to beat combo. I have to say I'm a little jealous."

"You have nothing to be jealous about. You are both beautiful in your own way."

"If you say so," she said, unconvinced. "Where did you get married?"

"We got married in Moscow. She loved that city."

She traced the contour of the picture with her forefinger like she was mulling over something. "Sometimes I wish I could have met her, you know? In the pictures she seems so lovely and fun and full of life. I don't know, I just... I wish I got the chance to know her; the only other woman you ever loved."

I smiled down at her, just as she glanced up at me. "You would have liked her."

"Do you miss her?"

"Of course I do," I replied sincerely, stroking her hair. "She'll always be a part of my life. Her, and now you, too. No matter what happens to us, this is always going to be yours." I took her hand, placing it over my heart. "We may not be wed before God yet, but to me, you are my wife. Tanya remains just a beautiful memory."

Isabella started tearing up at my words, but she wiped her cheeks quickly, offering me a watery smile. "I'm just grateful you had her in your life. I'm also grateful she made you happy for such a long time. Now it's my time to make you happy."

I sighed, thinking about how much my life had changed since meeting Isabella. "You are such an amazing woman, do you know that? I'm sure that wherever she is, Tanya has given us her blessing. She would have loved you, if she ever got the chance to meet you. And you do make me so very happy."

She wrapped her arm around my torso, squeezing me to her lightly. "So, I have Tanya on my side... and Emmett... and Carlisle... Jasper and Alice... Jess..."

"...and Rosalie who will come around," I added, and she gave me a dubious look.

"You don't know that."

"Yes, I do. As for my mother... she's another story entirely."

She nodded in agreement. "That she is."

~~ 0 ~~

"What is this?" Isabella shoved the red box in my face, her voice almost hysterical.

It was a Thursday afternoon, almost three weeks after my surgery, and I'd just arrived home after a short three-hour day at the office. I raised my head from the newspaper I was reading, my eyes glued to her trembling hand.

Shit, shit, shit, shit!

She was holding the engagement ring I'd bought for her only days prior. Now, I didn't want to look like a pushy bastard, that being the main reason I hadn't given it to her just yet. I hadn't even planned on buying the damn thing in the first place. It just happened.

Last week I'd been browsing the net aimlessly when I stumbled upon a jewelry site. I'd clicked on it, thinking I could find a pair of earrings or a bracelet for her upcoming birthday. Plus, I'd wanted to show her my love and gratitude for taking care of me.

I'd looked through page after page and couldn't seem to find what I had in mind for her. And then, just as I was one click away from exiting the site, I saw it. It was perfect. In fact, it was so perfect I couldn't help but stare at it for minutes, imagining what it would look like on Isabella's finger.

A few days later, I was leaving their shop with two red jewelry bags and a $94,000 lighter Amex. The ring alone had cost me just above $50,000. Add the sapphire and diamonds bracelet, and I had spent a small fortune in just under an hour.

Maybe it was absurd to spend such an amount of money on a piece of jewelry, but no matter what I did, I couldn't take my mind off that ring. Besides, it wasn't an ordinary engagement ring. It had an exquisite 3.5 carat oval cut center stone set in a Platinum setting encrusted with smaller round cut diamonds. It was pricey, but Isabella was more than worthy of it. It was just flawless, and I could bet she was going to love it.

Well… after she got over the initial shock.

"How did you find it?" I asked, trying to sound calm, although I was anything but.

I hadn't wanted her to stumble upon it like that. It had been stupid of me to leave it in such a random place. I should have known better. I should have kept it in the safe.

Now my plans were ruined. I'd wanted to book tickets for Venice and ask her to marry me in a more appropriate setting. I'd wanted to be romantic and give her a memorable proposal. But more importantly, I'd wanted to give her more time. The last thing I needed was for her to feel pressured. I didn't want to rush things and give her the ring before she was ready to accept it.

And did I mention today was her birthday?

I hated to think that I'd just ruined her good mood and the surprise I had planned for later.

"I was about to do laundry and the box fell from your jacket's pocket when I moved it to get the shirt laying beneath it on the chair," she explained, her intense gaze trained on me. She looked like she was about to be sick.

"Idiot," I muttered under my breath, dropping the newspaper in my lap and gripping my hair in frustration.

"Edward..." she trailed off, seeming at a loss of words.

"I didn't plan on giving it to you right away," I rushed to explain, getting up from the couch. "I know what we talked and I'm not trying to pressure you. Just... forget you ever found it. I'll take it back tomorrow."

Her eyes widened as she placed a hand on my chest. "No."

"No?" I asked, unsure what she meant by it.

She shook her head. "You can't take it back," she said more softly, glancing down and opening the box. "I love the ring."

For a moment my heart stopped beating. "Please tell me I'm not imagining things," I begged, hoping I was getting her right. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"I..." She paused to take a deep breath like she was steeling herself. "I think so."

I dropped to my knee in an instant.

"No!" she exclaimed, panicked, reaching for me. "Don't get down on one knee; I don't want you hurting your back."

"I'm fine." I grinned, the sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through my body neutralizing any other sensation. I took her hand in mine, kissing its back over and over.

God, I loved her. This was what I'd been waiting for a long time. My heart seemed bent on ripping its way through my chest; it was such an intense feeling. I hadn't felt this kind of rush in many years.

I was starting to realize that the first time I proposed it hadn't felt quite so… big. I had been young and a bit naïve. This time around I was fully aware of the ring's significance. Engagement was the first step to linking our lives and implicitly our destinies. Once we got married, we would have to face the world together as a single unit. For better or for worse…

And in just a few months we were going to be parents. This thought alone was enough to make me deliriously happy. Everything I had dreamed of was about to become reality.

When I looked up at Isabella, she was already crying.

"This wasn't supposed to happen like this, but…" I swallowed thickly, searching for the right words. "Isabella, will you someday be my wife?"

"Yes," she answered without missing a beat. "Yes. I want this. I want you."

I slid the ring on her finger before rising to my feet to give her a proper kiss. "I love you," I murmured in her hair, holding her to me. "You mean everything to me. I'm so glad you said yes. I was afraid this was going to ruin your birthday."

"I love you, too," she exhaled, her brown eyes searching for mine as she pulled back a little. "I want to be your wife, Edward, I really do. I'm just scared of us rushing into this marriage because of the baby. I'm scared of things not working out between us. I don't think I'd have the strength to go through a divorce if they didn't."

"This marriage will work out. There's no reason for it not to. My family, and by my family I mean my mother, will never come between us. I'll never allow it."

"Promise me," she pleaded, and it stung that she sounded so insecure about our future together.

"I swear it to you," I said, cupping her cheek and peppering kisses all over her tear-stained face. "You can't even imagine how happy you've made me."

She smiled her softest smile, her arms wrapping around my neck. "You were already telling everyone I was your fiancée; we just made it official."

I stroked her hair, my expression becoming more serious. "It may not mean that much to you, but it means a lot to me."

"How can you say that?" She actually looked hurt. "Of course it means a lot to me, too. I'm ecstatic to be wearing this ring, but I can't help being afraid of what the future has in store for us."

"You have nothing to be afraid of. I'll always love you. I'll always take care of you and our baby. You're all that matters, Isabella."

"And you're the only family I have left," she said, caressing my cheek. "Please remember that."

"Don't say that," I comforted. "What about your aunt Kate? And what about Angela? She's more family to you than Emmett has ever been to me."

"I love them both dearly, but my future lies with you. And please don't talk like that about your brother."

"Well, it's the truth," I said stubbornly.

"I think Emmett is a good brother. He just worries about you, and in my book that means he loves you as only a big brother could."

I snorted unceremoniously, letting go of her and walking over to the windows. "Love in this situation is pretty far-fetched."

"You can be really obtuse, you know that?" she shot back, coming to stand beside me.

"I don't want to fight," I said, staring at the skyscrapers outside. "Not today."

"Neither do I, but you're really starting to piss me off. I have come to appreciate Emmett; why can't you?"

I sighed, stealing a sideways glance at her. "I didn't say I don't appreciate him, but..."

"But nothing. You're being mean and stubborn and ungrateful. Can't you see that he's come a long way since when I first met him? It must have been hard on him, but he kept an open mind and now he accepts me as family."

I frowned and turned to her. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

"Ours." She stated in a no nonsense tone, daring me to contradict her.

"Can we not talk about my brother anymore? You like him now. Fine; I'm glad."

She crossed her arms over her chest, her new ring shining in the afternoon light. "Are you?"

"Of course I am," I replied defensively. "I really am."

"If you say so." She sighed, her shoulders dropping. The ring caught her eye, and her face broke into a sly smile. "Who should we tell first? I mean, if you think now is a good time to tell them."

"Now is as good a time as any. Postponing the announcement won't make any difference."

She chewed her lip as she thought about it for a moment. "Can we tell them over the phone?"

I chuckled, reaching for her and pulling her back into my arms. "It wouldn't be right. Let's invite everyone over for dinner one of these days."

"I don't know about that, Edward..." She looked up at me, her palms running up and down my back in a very comforting manner.

"Don't worry; I won't feed you to the wolves this time. I promise." I kissed her, and she sighed, leaning into me.

"I trust you," she murmured, her eyes so full of love. "Now about that surprise you mentioned this morning…"

"Let's leave it a surprise until dinner, shall we?" I smiled, rubbing the sides of her prominent baby bump.

She grinned. "Is it nice?"

"You mean your present?"

"Yeah."

"I would certainly hope so," I teased.

"W-e-e-ell, can I have it now?" she drawled, continuing to grin up at me. I loved it when she was being playful.

"No."

She pouted in an exaggerated manner. "Why not?"

"Because."

"Because what?" she insisted, staring at me expectantly.

I refrained from rolling my eyes at her like a petulant child. "Because I made dinner reservations at Alinea."

Her eyes widened, her lips curving into that sexy smile she reserved only for me. "No way."

"Yes, way," I said playfully. "I take it you're pleased with my choice of location?"

"This birthday is getting better and better." She looked excited.

"You know I would do anything to make you happy."

"Anything?" she inquired mischievously, her stance so much more relaxed than earlier.

"Yes," I said a bit reluctant, knowing I probably wasn't going to like what she was about to ask of me.

"You can give me my present."

I sighed and shook my head. "Do you really want it now?"

"Yeah. I'm curious what it is."

"Fine," I relented easily. It was her birthday, after all. If she wanted her present now, I had no choice but to comply. "Wait here."

I left her standing in the living room while I headed to my study. Opening the desk drawer, I pulled out the Cirque du Soleil tickets, trying to imagine how excited Isabella was going to be at the opportunity to finally see their show Alegria.

The sapphire bracelet sat at the bottom of the drawer, and I stared at it, safely tucked away in its red box. It suddenly dawned on me how stupid I had been to separate it from the engagement ring. In my haste to hide them, I hadn't given the location as much thought as I should have. I should have realized that Isabella was more likely to stumble upon something I had hidden in my jacket rather than in my study.

Oh, well, I couldn't turn back time and undo what had so idiotically been done. I had ruined my own plans, but at least Isabella's reaction had been a positive one. I really had no idea what I would have done if she said no. I preferred not to dwell on that specific thought for too long.

A minute later, I was handing Isabella the envelope holding the two tickets. She made quick work of opening it, her giddy expression almost matching that of a five-year-old getting a toy.

"Oh, Edward, this is so nice of you," she said, grinning from ear to ear as she stared down at them. "This is a lovely present. Thank you."

"I know you've wanted to see this show for a long time," I said, unsure how she was going to react to the second part of her surprise. "And there's more."

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. "More?"

Without further ado, I dug into my back pocket, pulling out the long jewelry box. I gave it to her, and her expression turned incredulous.

"What are you doing? Is this…"

"I don't want to hear a single word of complaint," I warned, cutting her off. "I'm serious."

She opened the box and gasped. "Oh, my God. This is way way too much. I didn't want to say anything about the absurdly expensive engagement ring, but the bracelet, too? Edward, the both of them must have cost a fortune."

"Money's not an issue; you know that," I argued, having expected some degree of resistance from her. "I want you to have the best of everything. Besides, it pleases me to buy jewelry for my future wife. Please don't fight me on this."

She shook her head, the biting of her lower lip telling me it was taking all she had not to throw a fit about me spending so much money on her.

She had to get used to expensive presents if she was going to be my wife. I had always enjoyed buying things for Tanya, and I didn't plan on making an exception with Isabella. I mean, what was the point of having money if you weren't allowed to spend it on the people you loved?

After a moment, she drew in a deep breath, allowing a genuine smile on her lips. "I love it; I really do. I love everything about this day. And I love you. Thank you."

~~ 0 ~~

That Saturday we invited everyone over for dinner, including Kate and Angela with her boyfriend.

Isabella was a nervous wreck. She kept wringing her hands and toying with her engagement ring as we waited for the first guests to arrive. No one except Angela knew about the engagement, and she was also afraid of how they were going to react to the news.

I sat in an armchair, trying to concentrate on the TV show playing, but was distracted by Isabella relentlessly pacing the living room. She was wearing a simple black dress and silver high-heel sandals, her hair pulled up in a loose bun. I, for one, had opted for a more casual look: black jeans and a gray button down.

"The only thing that pacing is going to do is wear a hole in the floor." I followed her with my eyes, her nervousness starting to get to me. "Will you calm down already?"

She stopped abruptly, letting out a staggered breath. "I feel like I'm going to hyperventilate."

"Baby," I said more softly, holding out my hand. "Come here."

She sat on my lap, but almost immediately jumped back to her feet. "I don't want to hurt your back."

I rolled my eyes at her, pulling her back down. "You won't. Did I ever tell you, you worry too damn much?"

"I know," she said so softly; it was barely a whisper. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back as she drew in a few deep breaths.

I kissed the side of her neck, hoping my display of affection would help. I held her to me, and after a minute or two she seemed to have calmed down.

"Oh!" she exhaled all of a sudden. Her eyes flew open as her hand went to her baby bump. "I think I just felt the baby move."

"Really?" My eyebrows rose in surprise, and I placed my hand beside hers. "I can't feel anything."

She let out such a carefree laugh, it almost made me forget she had been so wound up only moments prior. "Oh, my God. It's like having butterflies in your stomach."

"First date like butterflies?" I asked curiously.

"No, more like nervous twitch butterflies or a tumbling motion."

I frowned, starting to rub circles around her bump. "I want to feel him, too."

"You scared him," she teased.

"I did not. I'm his father; he's not afraid of me. I'm the one reading him stories at night."

"Maybe you should try singing to him," she went on, tugging on my hair playfully.

I barely had time to open my mouth before the doorbell rang noisily, cutting through our banter like a chainsaw. I had already instructed Peter to let everyone up without announcing them first.

"I'll get it," I said, gently removing her from my lap, then getting up and kissing her cheek. "Everything's going to be alright."

She nodded but didn't look so convinced. As soon as I opened the front door, I was assaulted by a large bouquet of violets.

"Congrats!" Angela squeaked, her head appearing from behind the flowers. Then, without warning whatsoever, she jumped into my arms with such force she knocked the wind out of me.

"Shit!" The curse escaped me unintentionally as I stumbled back a couple of steps. I definitely hadn't expected that.

"Sorry," she said apologetically, pulling back with a sheepish grin. "I got a little overexcited. Where's the future bride?"

I rubbed my chest and motioned with my head towards the living room, momentarily unable to speak. She started in that direction, and I let Ben inside, his expression telling me we were in for a long night.

Almost forty minutes later, everyone was there except for Emmett, Rosalie and Jess. Isabella had tried to keep the ring out of sight until the right moment by turning the stone towards the interior of her palm. To her credit, she managed to look calm and collected as she entertained the family with stories about her childhood in Forks. Well, for the most part. Throwing fugitive glances at her, I could still see the way her eyes kept checking the clock every few minutes.

One last doorbell ring, and the audience was about to be completed. I walked over to the front door, praying that the evening was going to continue as smoothly as it had started.

Jessica was the first to greet me with a tight hug. She kissed me on the cheek before kicking her shoes to the side and running towards the living room where the others were gathered.

"Hi, Edward," Rosalie said quietly, looking somewhat uneasy to be there.

"Hey," I replied, trying to sound nonchalant. "I'm glad you came."

"I can't believe I've never been here," Emmett commented as he took in his surroundings curiously. He helped Rosalie out of her hot pink blazer, and she offered him a soft smile.

"Yeah, well, everyone is in the living room." I nodded my head, taking the blazer from Emmett and hanging it in the nearby closet. "After you."

All conversation ceased when we entered the room, each pair of eyes set on the newcomers. I could see Isabella stiffen from where she sat in the armchair, and gave her what I hoped to be an encouraging look.

"Good evening," Rosalie greeted, visibly taken aback by the numerous crowd and the unknown faces. I had intentionally let her believe this was a casual family dinner.

"Good, everyone is here," I said, and was about to suggest we move into the dining room when Rosalie turned to me with a murderous look.

"Not everyone."

"Rose..." Emmett warned, placing a hand on her hip.

"What's this about?" she hissed, her demeanor doing a one-eighty.

"I thought we could discuss it over dinner," I said cautiously, trying to avoid a fight.

"Discuss what over dinner?" Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as her piercing blue irises searched my face for an answer.

I stared back at her, doing my best to keep my expression neutral. Then, as if it suddenly dawned on her, her head snapped in Isabella's direction. It took her less than two seconds to figure out what was going on.

She looked at me incredulously. "Is that an engagement ring on her finger?"

"What?" I heard Alice gasp just as every head in the room turned towards Isabella who now looked petrified. Her left hand formed a tight fist as she tried to keep the ring hidden.

"I..." she trailed off, at a loss for words. She had just been put in the spotlight, but not the way we had planned.

"Is that why we're all here?" Rosalie asked, her tone getting sharper. Her ridiculously high stilettos dug into Isabella's favorite white carpet, no doubt leaving marks, and I cringed, knowing how upset she was going to be the next day.

"Yes," I cut in, starting to get annoyed with her attitude. "I proposed and she said yes. I wanted to make it right and let everyone know."

The look on Rosalie's face... I couldn't even describe it. There were so many mixed emotions.

"Make it right? This is not right! This is a disaster. I can't believe you, Edward. Your mother is God knows where, and all you care about is buying diamond rings and making plans for the future. Where does she fit into your bright little future?" One moment she was furious, and the next tears welled up in her eyes. She shook her head, looking like she was about to lose it.

The room turned so silent I could hear my own breath. Everyone was waiting for the proverbially shit to hit the fan.

I swallowed thickly, steeling myself for a shouting match. And then, out of the blue, Rosalie turned on her heels and stormed out of the room, without saying a word, leaving all of us dumbfounded.

"Rose!" I called, my feet starting to move of their own accord as I ran after her. I caught up to her just as she was entering the kitchen.

"It's not fair. It's not fair to her, Edward. She's so miserable," she said, her voice shaky, and I realized she was teetering on the verge of a breakdown. She ran a hand through her long hair, walking backwards until the back of her thighs hit the kitchen table. "Oh, God, I'm so scared for her."

Her face contorted, morphing into a pained expression.

I was beside her in two long strides. I wrapped my arms around her quickly, and that was all it took for her to start crying. "Shhh. It's okay."

"No, it's not," she wailed, covering her face. "She'll never be okay again and that makes me so angry. How could we let things get here?"

"It's no one's fault things turned out the way they did," I comforted while holding her. "Life can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. Some obviously handle it better than others."

"I know I've turned into such a bitch and this isn't me, but I can't seem to help it. I love her like my own mother. I can't stand to see her suffer."

"I know and I admire that about you. But you need to understand that I have the right to live my own life. I have the right to be happy again."

She sniffed, looking at me with bloodshot eyes. "I know that, too, Edward. Do you honestly think I don't want you to be happy?"

I sighed heavily. In a way I had always known it would come to this. Rose had such a strong personality; it was hard for her to admit she had been wrong. But I got the feeling this was exactly where our conversation was heading.

"Can you please accept Isabella?" I tried hopefully, seizing the opportunity to finally make peace with my sister-in-law. "Do it for me. Please."

She shook her head, but it wasn't a 'no'. It was more like an 'I don't know what the hell I'm doing anymore'. "I don't hate her. I just... it's so hard accepting her, the woman who has caused Esme so much pain."

"You know damn well that's not true," I said more firmly. "Isabella did nothing wrong, except maybe falling in love with me. Don't you see how much Jess loves her?"

I knew I'd hit a chord when she looked down at her hands, avoiding my intense scrutiny. "I do."

"She's so good to me," I pressed, wanting to make her understand how much Isabella meant to me. "She's given me my life back and soon she'll give me a son. I'm happier than I've been in a long time. Doesn't that count for anything?"

"Of course it does," she replied so softly I could barely hear her. "You know I care about you."

"Then please, I beg of you, give her a chance."

"Edward..." she whispered, sounding so broken.

"Please, Rose. Do it for me. Don't try to be someone you're not just to please my mother. She's sick and you should know better. Get to know Isabella first and then you can judge all you like."

She remained silent for a long moment, which to me seemed like an eternity. A few quiet sobs escaped her from time to time. I stood with my arms wrapped securely around her, tensely waiting for a reaction.

When her eyes finally met mine again, they were so grief-stricken and full of tears, I couldn't decide whether it was good or bad.

For once in my life, I wished I could read people's minds.


A/N What will her answer be? Next chapter we pick up where we left off, only in Bella's pov :)

For teasers concerning the upcoming chapters check TPB Facebook group (link is on my profile)

Thank you for reading and being patient :)

~ Andreea ~