Disclaimer: The storyline is mine. Anything recognizable belongs to the respective owners.
A/N: This chapter has been a long time coming. For the last two years, I've worked on this monster, deleting and restarting, reworking, and planning. I think it's finally exactly what I want it to be. I could put so much more in here, but I won't. I'll leave you to enjoy it. Oh, and it hasn't been betaed because, well, I wanted you to have it.
"Jamie, come on. We're going to be late," Ryan called from the front foyer. His baseball cap sat low on his forehead, his sun-bleached red hair poking out around the sides. He needed a haircut, but refused to get one until the season was officially over. University of Washington was in the play-offs and Ryan refused to do anything that might make them lose. Edward kept telling me I should be thankful he was still willing to change his underwear.
Jamie thundered down the stairs and reached his hands out for the bag that Ryan was patiently holding. "Sorry, sorry. I couldn't find my glove. I oiled it last night like you showed me."
Ryan grinned, shook his head, and ruffled his little brother's hair. "Fat lot of good that'll do you if you don't make it to the game. Go get in the car."
I rolled my eyes and suppressed my smile at their banter. "We'll meet you at the field," I told Ryan and stretched up to kiss him on the cheek. He blushed and gave me a one-armed hug.
"You might want to change that one," he suggested, pointing at Charlotte, his four year old little sister. "She spent the entire practice the other night playing in the dirt. Dad gave her a bath before you got home."
I glanced at my daughter and held in the laughter. She was wearing white tights, a white ruffled skirt, a bright pink t-shirt, black Chucks, and a red baseball cap pulled down over her curly red hair. Clearly, she'd dressed herself again and ignored the outfit I'd laid out. Charlotte, or Lottie as we all called her, was so independent, and she fancied herself a style maven like her Aunt Alice.
"Eh, it's just dirt." I shrugged. "She washes just like you did."
Some stupid coaches along the way had decided that white pants were perfect for a kids' baseball team—a sport played in the dirt. Esme and I had spent hours trying to get the red clay and grass stains out of them. I was thankful that the school had to launder Ryan's now.
Ryan chuckled, no doubt remembering, and reached for the door. "I've got to get him to the field. I told all the kids to be there an hour early, and it wouldn't be good for the assistant coach to be late."
I swung Lottie into my arms and stepped out on the porch to watch my two boys pull out of the driveway, Ryan driving Edward's old Volvo and Jamie in the backseat. They were so close now, but it hadn't been easy to get where we were.
The week following our first Christmas with Ryan was at once crazy busy and lonely. Edward and I both were working like mad to catch up on what we had missed in the weeks before the holiday and to get ready for our New Year's Eve out. When we came home, the once warm house was like an empty shell. There were reminders of our missing son everywhere. He'd left a Lego set on the end table and a football under the tree. Neither of us could bring ourselves to put them away, though. Ryan's nightly calls were the highlight of our days, and once we hung up, the almost overwhelming pall settled over us again.
By the time New Year's Eve arrived, I was beyond ready for a night out. Edward had thought ahead and rented us a room at the Sheraton where the ball was being held so we wouldn't have to worry about getting home afterward. Alice arrived at our house with the dresses she and I were going to wear about thirty minutes after I got home from a partial day of work. Two hours later, we were primped and pressed into gowns worthy of our men in uniform.
At least I thought we were, until I saw my husband standing at the base of the stairs. I hadn't had much of an opportunity to see Edward in his new full dress uniform. He looked so . . . official, standing straight with his cap under his arm.
I'd stopped at the foot of the stairs without realizing it. Alice nudged me to get to move forward, and it snapped me out of my stupor. Edward reached forward and took my hands, twirling me around.
"You look beautiful," he murmured, his love for me clear in his expression. All I could do was gaze back, drinking it in and returning his love with every fiber of my being.
Jasper cleared his throat, reminding us that we weren't alone. I blushed instantly and Edward cleared his throat.
"Shall we go?" Jasper asked with a smirk. He swept his hand in front of him, palm up, to motion us to go in front of him.
Edward bent his elbow and held it out for me formally. I smiled, tucked my hand into the crook of his arm, and accompanied him into the warming car.
Even though the ball was being held upstairs in one of the ballrooms, men and women of all ages in uniform, and their dates, filled the lobby of the Sheraton. It amazed me to see so many people in different uniforms—not just the different uniforms of the various branches, but differences within the branches encompassing decades of service. Several men in uniforms similar to Edward's and Jasper's saluted as we made our way to the elevator, where we squeezed in next to a elderly veteran in wheelchair. His date, an elegant older woman in a lovely gold dress, stood behind the chair with her hands on the handles. It was easy to see the pride in her bearing and expression at accompanying him to this event. Before I could speak to her, though, the elevator door slid open and the other patrons rushed off. Edward and I stood to the side as the older couple got off and then we followed them into the hallway.
Tables filled with auction items were positioned around the edges of the room and lines of people filed past, with the occasional stop to bid. Another table boasting military memorabilia sat at the end of the room and drew the eye with hanging swords, uniforms, and flags. I had no idea where to start or where to look first.
Alice didn't seem to have the same problem. As soon as someone caught the men's attention, she tugged me toward the first auction table and into the throng of people looking at items to bid on.
Over the course of the evening, the four of us bid on several different items, drank, ate, danced, and chatted with the other guests. There were veterans from every war from World War II to the current conflict. One older gentleman sitting at our table took notice of Edward's rank as we walked up. Unsure of what he needed, I was ready to go help him as he struggled to stand and watched in shock as he saluted my husband and stood at attention. His uniform was old, but well-kept, though now a bit ill-fitting. He was clearly proud of his service and the symbols thereof.
"At ease, Corporal," Edward said with some authority, but I heard the catch in his voice. I turned to look at him and his expression was a mix of respect, wonder, shock, and pride. He saluted the man in return and walked the short distance to shake the man's hand. A familiar patch rested on the man's shoulder—familiar because the same patch was sewn onto my husband's.
"Salerno?" I heard Edward ask, bending down so the older gentleman could sit. Edward gestured to the man's leg and the cane he gripped with his left hand.
"Nuremburg. Fierce fighting, it was. I fought all the way through France, sir, only to be taken out at the beginning of April by a stray bullet," he lamented, then chuckled.
The lady with him, his wife, if I had to guess, smiled indulgently and patted his arm. "Oh, don't sell yourself short, Cecil. Stray bullet! They don't give medals for stray bullets," she said.
My gaze drifted to the man's chest, as did Edward's. "The Bronze Star," Edward remarked, respect clear in his voice. "No, they don't award those for stray bullets."
After much cajoling on our part, Cecil relayed the story over dinner. Alice, Jasper, and Betty, Cecil's wife of 52 years, were just as transfixed as Edward and I were. Clearly, this wasn't a story that he'd told over and over, but he remembered it as if it was yesterday. I could see the pitted and ruined fields, smell the gunpowder and smoke in the air, and feel his pain as he watched his comrades fall around him.
Cecil patted Betty's hand and smiled at her. "Then, when they shipped me home, I married my girl straight away." Betty blushed lightly and I could see the hint of the schoolgirl she'd once been.
Edward's hand found mine under the table and squeezed. "Do you think that'll be us in fifty years?" he whispered into my ear before kissing my neck right underneath it.
"I hope so," I whispered back. I kissed him lightly and rested my forehead against his for a moment. I pulled back only when Edward stood.
"Dance with me?" he asked, holding out his hand.
There was no way I was going to refuse. We joined a few other couples on the floor and relished the feeling of being in each other's arms.
That's where I stayed the rest of the night—in Edward's arms. We danced for a few more songs, then said our goodbyes to both our oldest friends and our newest ones. In the lobby, I checked my phone and found a text from Esme. They had gone out to a function in Port Angeles for a few hours and my father had come over to stay with Ryan. It seemed that when they'd arrived home at 10:30, both Ryan and my father were passed out in the living room with movie credits running in the background.
We moved with the throng of people and waited through two full elevators until we got one that was blessedly empty. Once the door closed on the elevator, and we no longer needed to be concerned about propriety and image, Edward turned me around to face him and smashed his lips to mine. His kiss was hungry and full of desire.
With fistfuls of his starched uniform, I clutched him to me, throwing myself into our passion with no intent of resurfacing before the New Year. We tripped out of the elevator, lips still locked together, when we reached our floor. Distantly, I heard a couple of wolf whistles and a "Go get her, Major!" but getting my sexy soldier to our room and undressed was far more important to me.
"Fuck, I need you," Edward groaned as soon as the door closed behind him. His hands searched blindly for my zipper, then fumbled as they pulled it down. He groaned again as he pulled back and looked at my lingerie.
"Happy New Year?" I said playfully, grabbing his tie and pulling him along with me toward the bed.
"Happy New Year, indeed," he agreed.
We made quick work of his uniform, though we did take care not to wrinkle it too much. Alice might bitch about my dress in the morning, but listening to her definitely beat having to re-press all of his creases.
We didn't, however, have the same care for the hotel comforter. I crawled up toward the mound of pillows at the headboard and turned just in time to see Edward stalking toward me, a predatory look on his face.
He pressed me into the mattress with his body and his lips found mine, hungry and a little demanding. I wound one hand into his hair and raked my nails down his back. His answering growl told me just how much he liked my forcefulness.
Edward's hand snaked between us and between my legs where I was hot and wanting. I thrust my hips into his hand, then felt the sting as the scrap of lace covering me gave way. My grunts urged Edward on, and he took them as permission to continue. His fingers rubbed my wet skin, massaging my clit in the most delicious way. I could feel the pleasure building and moved with him, our mouths still connected, though our kisses had given way to panting together.
I heard my whine as he pulled his fingers away and felt the smirk on his lips. I wanted to punish him for stopping when I was so close and encourage him to continue all at the same time. Ultimately, I could only dig my fingers into his muscular back as he entered me with one swift thrust.
The ledge was so close and I wanted the free fall into bliss, but Edward's slow withdraw wasn't going to get me there.
"Please," I breathed, arching my back to get even closer to him as if that would help.
"Come on me, Bella. Come on my cock." His deep, gravelly voice, loud in the quiet room, sent me spiraling into oblivion. I cried out as my body seized and contracted, the waves of pleasure virtually paralyzing me with their strength.
Edward didn't slow as he usually did while I came down from my orgasm. If anything, he pounded harder and faster, filling me so completely that I was sure I would still be able to feel him in the morning.
"That's it, baby," he grunted. "Give it to me. Let me feel you again."
How he was still able to talk, I had no idea. I could barely form a coherent thought, much less vocalize it.
"Do you feel me, Bella? Is my cock making you feel good?"
His dirty words and suddenly erratic thrusts did it for me. My orgasm hit me out of the blue and blinded me with its force. Dimly, I registered the almost tortured sound coming from my love, but it wasn't until his arms gave out that I realized he had finished as well.
Edward's right side tensed as though he was trying to muster the energy to roll away when I stopped him.
"Don't," I whispered. "I like feeling you like this. It grounds me." And after our night together, I needed his weight to remind me that he was still here and to tie me to the Earth. I'd listened to Cecil tell us about his time in war, as well as a Marine that participated in the famous battle for Iwo Jima, two Vietnam vets that survived imprisonment, and a soldier that fought in the Gulf War and, most recently, in Afghanistan. All the while, my hand rested on Edward's knee and I was acutely aware that it was only by the grace of God that he had survived his battles and made his way back to me. His weight was a reassurance for me that he was still here, unlike so many others whose loved ones only had their memories to sustain them.
Before long, we could no longer ignore the scratchiness of the bedspread against my back, and the rapid cooling of our sweat. With a grimace, Edward sat up and ran his hand across his head. Despite the look of disgust that passed across his face as he glanced at the mess we'd made on the bed, his expression was tender when his eyes returned to my face. He held out his hand and helped me to my feet, so that we could clean up.
"Happy New Year?" he said playfully after glancing at the clock on the bedside table, as if he really thought it had been anything less than completely blissful to end the craziness of the past year in his arms.
I smacked his shoulder, and gave him a sly grin. "Eh, it could have been better," I answered with a shrug. I couldn't maintain the illusion, though. I laughed and skipped away from his fingers as he tried to tickle me in retaliation.
After a long shower that contained more groping than it had a right to, we burrowed under the sheets and curled up together, exhausted. Before I knew it, bright light filtered in through the curtains we'd forgotten to close. Just like that, a new year had begun with its own set of challenges.
Switching off weekends with Ryan wasn't the easiest feat, and as the first weeks of January passed, it became clear how hard it was going to be. There were school festivals, sleepovers, and birthday parties that couldn't be missed. It seemed like Edward and I spent more time on the road than we did at home sometimes.
It was on one of those trips that set the course of the new year for us. My phone rang with an unfamiliar Seattle number.
"This is Agent Alec Majors with the Seattle Bureau of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Is this Isabella Swan?" the voice on the other end said when I answered.
I cleared my throat around the lump that had formed. "This is Isabella Masen. How can I help you, Agent Majors?"
"Oh, that's right. Your dad told me you had gotten married. Sorry about that," Agent Majors responded, his tone instantly more friendly than the uber-official one that had greeted me.
I smiled wanly. "That's okay. Is everything all right?"
"Yes, I think so. I'm sorry we haven't really spoken before now. We have news about Robert Gerandy's trial; the prosecutor wanted to call you, but I thought it would be better coming from someone familiar." Before I could ask him why he was calling me, since I didn't know him at all, he continued. "I tried to get in touch with your dad, but he was out on a call, and it couldn't wait. Bob Gerandy's trial will start in the third week of January, on the 22nd."
"Oh." The single word escaped me as all of the thoughts running through my head fled. It didn't take long, mere seconds, for an entirely new set of concerns took their place. "That's very soon, isn't it? I mean, I've always heard that trials like this can take years," I rambled. A glance at Edward showed him looking at me in alarm. I mouthed "Gerandy's trial" to him while hitting the screen on my phone to put it on speaker.
"They usually do take longer, sometimes years, but his confession and his age gave us a little more leverage," Agent Majors explained.
"I thought that the plea agreement was off the table," Edward interjected, his confusion as evident as mine. "Sorry, Edward Masen here."
"The agreement is off the table, but he confessed to the crime and was willing to admit his guilt to the court in a plea deal before it was withdrawn. All statements he made pertaining to that plea agreement are permissible in court. The prosecutor Mr. Mancuso appointed is throwing the book at him, charging him with whatever she conceivably can," Alec explained.
"What is Gerandy hoping to gain?" Edward asked.
Alec snorted. "At his age, I don't know. Maybe he's hoping that the jury will decide to let him out of jail before his bones rot. The kidnapping charge could get him twenty years, and the human trafficking charge another five, in additional to fines that could range up to $10,000. The prosecuting attorney has a whole host of other minor charges as well. She's intent on making an example of him."
"Will we need to testify?" I asked, the pit in the bottom of my stomach growing. It wasn't that I was nervous about testifying in court. I hadn't faced Gerandy since this entire ordeal began and now, now I knew exactly what we'd missed out on. Now, I wasn't sure how well either of us would be able to contain our emotions.
"Yes," Alec responded firmly. "That's why it was so important for me to get in touch with you tonight. Miranda Appleton should be calling you in the morning. She's going to want to go over your testimony before putting you on the stand."
I wasn't sure what to say, or how to react. My mind was blank and I just blinked.
"Thank you for letting us know, Alec," Edward finally said, his voice devoid of emotion and his face tense. I noted absently that his knuckles were white around the steering wheel. Alec said something else that I didn't catch before hanging up. I only noticed because my phone screen flashed and returned to the dialing pad.
Thankfully, we weren't too far from home, because the remainder of the ride was silent. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't formulate any truly coherent thoughts. My mind was a mass of whirling emotions: confusion as to how to feel about the upcoming trial, uncertainty about seeing the man that stole my son again, and concern for the man struggling next to me.
My concern for him finally won out over the rest as we walked in the door. Edward practically threw our bag down and stalked into the kitchen, tugging at his hair.
I followed him into the room, quietly assessing, but without some direction, I wasn't sure how to help him. "Talk to me?" I requested softly.
Edward's head shot up in alarm and his eyes searched mine. I shoved my own anxiety to the back of my mind, and schooled my features as I often did with my patients. Edward sighed and sank into one of our kitchen chairs. His hands were buried in his hair with his elbows propped up on his thighs. I sat next to him, waiting for him to sort through his thoughts.
"I'm not sure I can do this, Bella," he finally admitted. "I don't know if I can relive it. As bad as it was for me, I know it was worse for you. You've finally started feeling more . . . secure. I don't want this to set you back." He sounded pained.
"There's a difference this time, Edward," I said softly, pulling his hand from his hair and threading my fingers through his. I waited to continue until he looked up at me. "This time, we have each other."
He stared at me for a long moment, and gave me a small smile. "Yes. Yes, we do."
Miranda did call us the next morning. Over the following two weeks, we met with her at least four times to go over our testimony. With one week left, Edward and I both took off work to accompany Miranda to Forks. I wasn't the least bit surprised to find both Esme and Carlisle at home with Ryan standing between them when we drove up. I was, however, shocked at Miranda's demeanor. With Edward and I, she'd been nothing but sympathetic and encouraging. She was stiff and formal to both of the Cullens, and I understood why she was considered a hard-nosed attorney.
"I need to speak with the Cullens for a moment," she said, immediately after the introductions were finished. "Edward, Bella, why don't you take Ryan into the living room, and I'll join you momentarily?"
Edward's brow furrowed, but he wrapped his arm around Ryan's shoulder and guided him out of the foyer. I picked up my purse from the floor and started after them, stopping just outside the doorway when I heard her start to speak again.
"The FBI has informed me that they found no evidence of your complicity in Ryan's kidnapping. That said, I want you to know that I am not happy with the decision not to prosecute. You bought a stolen baby. I want to see the original adoption documents, and we will discuss what further action will be taken."
I slipped away from the doorway and into the living room. Behind me, I could hear movement, and I knew that Carlisle would be going to his office for the paperwork she requested. My expression must have reflected my shock because Edward looked at me in alarm. I shook my head minutely, not wanting Ryan to know what Miranda has said. He was so sensitive to the feelings of both sets of parents that I feared it might impact his responses.
Ryan handed Edward a video game, pulling his attention away as Miranda strode into the room. She set her briefcase down on the coffee table and began removing her documents.
"Can I get you something to drink?" I asked, making my voice as pleasant as I could manage.
She didn't seem to notice anything amiss, or if she did, she gave no sign. "Sure. I'd love some water," she answered without looking up. I felt dismissed, but it was a complete relief.
Esme was leaning against the kitchen counter with her head down between her hands. Her shoulders were shaking and I could hear her breaths coming out in sharp pants. "Esme?" I whispered. I'd expected her to be slightly panicked, but not this.
"Oh, God, Bella," she gasped. Her eyes were wide and fearful. "They're going to take him away from us and throw us in jail. She thinks that we helped him."
"No one is going to put you in jail," I assured her, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt. Of course, I couldn't tell her that no one would take Ryan, because that was exactly what we were doing. We intended to keep them as a part of his life, but eventually, he would leave their home. Her breath was still coming in gasps as I rubbed her back.
Once she had calmed somewhat, I eased around her and filled six glasses with ice water. Esme saw what I was doing and took three from me. We walked back in the living room where everyone else had taken their places; Edward gave me a tight smile and patted the couch next to him.
For the next hour and a half, Melinda grilled Carlisle and Esme on their testimony. She asked about their difficulties conceiving, their failed attempts at medical intervention, and what finally led them to their decision to adopt.
"I want you to be prepared for these kinds of questions," Melinda retorted after Carlisle balked at the intrusive nature of her queries. "The defense isn't going to coddle you, Mrs. Cullen. Other than casting aspersion on someone else, they have no hope of acquitting their client. It's my job to make sure that you aren't shaken, that your testimony is rock-solid. I'm sorry if you find me offensive; I assure you, it will be much worse when someone else asks the same questions."
She was much gentler during her interrogation of Ryan.
"When did you learn that you were adopted?"
"What did the Cullens tell you about your birth parents?"
"Can you tell me what your life was like before last May?"
Then, Melinda turned her questions to his life since meeting us. I wondered if being in the room would color his answers, but reasoned that we would likely be in the courtroom should it be necessary to call him to the stand.
They went through the expected questions about how he felt about meeting us, what life was like in our home, why he hadn't chosen to move permanently, before probing into his relationships with the rest of our family and friends.
Ryan gushed about my dad, about how cool it was that Charlie was the Chief of Police, and how much they both love baseball. Edward's parents also had made quite an impression on our son. He described Elizabeth as the type of grandmother that baked and always smelled of cookies, and Ed as a storyteller. Since fishing was something Ryan did with my dad, Ed promised to take him on a museum tour when we came East to visit.
All in all, it painted a lovely picture of the family that Ryan was born into. Even though I knew that Edward's testimony would tarnish it, I saw just how damning Ryan's testimony would be. Dr. Gerandy was claiming that he stole Ryan to give him to a loving family that could provide for him, when all of the evidence pointed to the fact that he already had one.
"Why haven't you moved to Seattle to live with your birth parents, Ryan?" Melinda asked, slipping in the question when he least expected it. "After all, you've only lived in Forks for about eight months. Surely it wouldn't be too difficult to move again."
The four of us had been clear with Ryan that, for now, it was his choice. His eyes shifted to each face and his hands were twisting around each other in his lap.
Ever his protector, Esme interjected. "Is this really necessary? Ryan knows that it is his choice, and he's clearly uncomfortable. I don't see how this helps you anyway."
"It doesn't," Melinda answered smoothly. "And I'd never ask this. The defense council, however, will. It could be argued that Ryan's decision to remain in your home reflects how he feels about the situation—that his judgment is that the Cullens are providing a more stable, loving home."
"That's not it!" Ryan cried. "I'm all they have." Realizing what he had just revealed, Ryan smacked his hands over his mouth and looked panicked.
Melinda seemed to recognize the shift in the atmosphere and the tension that suddenly infused the group. "I'm going to use the restroom," she said quietly and excused herself.
Esme and I immediately took our places on either side of Ryan, while Carlisle and Edward sat on the coffee table facing him. "Sweetheart," Esme began, "is that really how you feel?"
Ryan stared at his lap and shrugged. When he answered, he didn't look up. If it was possible for him to curl in on himself even more, he did it right before our eyes. "Ma and Dad can have other children; they won't be alone. If I leave you, you won't have anyone."
Esme's gasp was a mixture of heartbreak and horror. My heart stuck in my throat. My son thought that we could replace him with another child. He was staying here instead of moving to Seattle so that Esme and Carlisle wouldn't be alone.
None of us really knew what to say. They looked as helpless as I felt.
"Ry, buddy, you know that all four of us will always love you, right? That, no matter what, we'll always be a part of your life?" Edward asked, trying to reassure him the only way he knew how.
Ryan shrugged again.
"Ryan, you can't do this to yourself," Carlisle declared. "Your mom and I love you, but we do still have each other. That will never change. And we'll always have you, even if you don't live here."
This seemed to pacify him some, but I knew this issue was far from settled. Melinda returned and finished her interrogation. Before she left, she reminded us when we needed to be at the courthouse, and promised to call if there were any changes. As soon as she pulled out, a beat up Jetta took her place in the driveway.
As he'd promised when I'd called, Jacob had dropped everything and come to help.
"I don't know what to do," I confessed as we all conferred in the kitchen. "We've left this decision up to him, so that he felt he had some control over the situation. It seems like that's backfired, though, and he feels pressured."
"He does feel some pressure, mostly from himself," Jacob agreed. "I believe it would be worse, though, to take away his choices. I've done a lot of research and talked with the therapists of other families in the same situation. The common denominator between all of those that have struggled the most was the court-ordered return to families they didn't know.
"You are doing the right thing," he reassured us. "Even if it isn't always easy."
"Is there anything we can do to help him?" Esme asked. "Do—do we need to move to Seattle?"
"No," Jacob said firmly. "Absolutely not. It's a good idea to give him the control over his decision, for now, but giving him the power over your lives as well won't be beneficial in the long run. Ryan's a good kid, but if you give into his every whim, he'll eventually start to use that. He also needs the stability, the routine. Let me talk to him, see where his head is tonight, but at this point, I think you are doing a good job under the circumstances."
Jacob rose to go up to Ryan's room, and Carlisle shifted as if to stand with him. Jacob smiled his easy smile, and patted Carlisle's shoulder, as if to signal him to stay put. Jacob's gait carried him swiftly from the room, and we could hear his footfalls on the stairs minutes later.
Jacob came downstairs fifteen minutes later and found us still in the kitchen, engaged in the sort of small talk one uses while waiting for something important.
"He's pretty rattled by the questions today," Jacob reported. "I think the trial has made him consider some things that he never really thought about and hasn't had time to process. Give him tonight to think things through. I know the trial starts on Monday, and Ryan needs to get his head clear if he's going to have to testify."
With heavy hearts, Edward and I retraced Jacob's steps to tell Ryan goodnight and goodbye. We had to get back to the city to prepare for the week ahead since we were planning to spend most of it at the courthouse. The tear tracks had dried on Ryan's face as he slept curled around his pillow. A worn blanket that I'd never seen, but that was obviously well loved, was clutched in his fist.
It was yet another reminder of what we'd never had. His beloved security blanket was purchased by someone else; washed by someone else; and lovingly resewed by someone else. My heart seized. Though I knew that Esme and Carlisle loved him and had raised him as their own, in my mind, Ryan was still my son.
But in that moment, it became clear to me that he wasn't. I may have given birth to him, but in all the ways that counted, Esme was his mother. Suddenly, I understood Ryan's reticence. Despite my mother's flakiness, leaving her to live with my father had been the most difficult choice I'd had to make and I'd been a teenager, not a ten-year-old boy having to decide to move in with people I barely knew.
After giving Ryan a quick kiss, I practically fled to the car. I wasn't sure that I could express what I was feeling and I was afraid to even try to speak. Fortunately, either Edward sensed my despondence and was letting me stew until I was ready to talk, or he was feeling the same overwhelming emotions that I was. Whatever it was, the ride home was quiet again.
Monday morning dawned grey and cold. The wintery weather matched my mood. Even though this should have been a step toward closing the worst chapter of my life, it felt to me that it was reopening the old wounds and taking me back ten years.
Edward was almost as tense as I was. The few times we did speak to each other were for things like passing the toothpaste, and it would probably have been better if we hadn't. The end result was nothing more than stress-enduced sniping.
"Did Miranda tell you the order of testimony today?" Edward asked, as we drove downtown toward the courthouse.
I shrugged, hesitating as I thought how best to answer since I didn't think I could handle another argument this morning. "No more than she told us over the weekend. They'll give opening statements this morning, and depending on how long-winded they get, we'll either break for lunch, or I'll go to the stand. I think Miranda is planning to put the two of us, followed by our parents, on the stand first. If we don't go on until after lunch, though, I'll be surprised if they get that far."
He looked lost in thought at my answer. "Do you think there will be a break in between for you to come out to me in the hall?"
"In the hall?" I asked, shocked. "Why will you be in the hall? There isn't an order of exclusion. Miranda said that the judge struck down the motion as we are all family."
He didn't answer immediately. I watched his face as he concentrated on pulling into the secured garage and shifted the car into park. He turned off the car, but made no move to get out. Instead, he sank back in his seat and stared out the windshield.
"I don't think I can can do it, Bella. I'm not sure I can listen to you repeat what you went through alone. It eats me alive every day, knowing that I should have been there. That I should have fought harder to be in that room with you while you gave birth to our son. I should have fought harder to stay with you after he was born, instead of running away and leaving you to deal with it all on your own. If I had done any of those things, we might not be here, doing this, today." The guilt coating his voice was so thick that I wasn't sure how it hadn't pulled him under.
"You're right. We might not be here, together. With the stress of having a child so young, we might not have survived as a couple. Had we believed we lost Ryan, and you stayed, I'm not sure we would have come out intact from that either. I was so lost in my grief, Edward. All we can do is revel in the fact that we found our way back to each other, and that our son didn't really die. You can't blame yourself. The only person to blame is that man on trial. If you have to leave the courtroom, I'll understand. I won't hold it against you, but it would mean a lot to me to have you there. I'm . . ." I trailed off in a whisper, the emotion choking me.
Edward's head whipped around and he wasted no time in gathering me to him as best as he could over the console. "There shouldn't be any question on that, Bella. If you need me there, I'll deal with it. I love you," he whispered soothingly.
I thought about arguing that he didn't have to, but the truth was that I needed him there. I made a mental note to get him to talk to someone when this was all over, but now wasn't the time to bring it up. We had enough hurdles to face over the next few weeks.
We broke apart a few minutes later. Time was running out, and we had only a few minutes before we had to be in the courtroom. Like the gentleman he was, Edward met me at my door and helped me from the car.
On Miranda's advice, Edward was in uniform. He looked every bit the officer and gentleman as he escorted me through the small throng of reporters crowding the courthouse steps. The reactions of everyone we passed made it clear why she'd been so insistent. Even if right and truth hadn't been on our side, Edward's presence as an Army officer gave us an unfair advantage.
Miranda, Ryan, and the Cullens were waiting for us outside the courtroom doors. She gave us a quick briefing, and admonition to hold our tongues, no matter what was claimed, and ushered us inside. Charlie, Elizabeth, Edward Sr, and much to my surprise, Renee and Phil, were seated in the second row. We only had time for quick hugs and hellos before the bailiff was bellowing, "All rise."
Miranda could have had a career as a journalist, if she hadn't chosen law. Word by word, she weaved our story, the threads wrapping around each juror in the box, capturing them in our pain and heartbreak. Once, when she forcefully said, "This man, Dr. Robert Gerandy, engineered their anguish," I saw one of the jurors glare at him. I had no idea how he was going to defend himself against the spell she'd woven.
Until his attorney stood and opened his mouth.
Lie after lie fell forth from his lips. Where Miranda had painted us as intelligent young people intent on making a life with our son, he smeared us as irresponsible teenagers, playing house and setting ourselves up for failure. He fed the jury a tale of two children that signed away their rights, and regretted it once we'd acheived our own successes. He claimed Gerandy's confession was coerced by my father. Robert Gerandy was a good man, he said, a doctor that had dedicated his entire life to the small town of Forks; a man that had done his best to help two kids in a bad situation that was paying for his generosity.
I wanted to vomit.
The opening statements drug on for so long that the judge called for lunch recess as soon as he finished. Between my nerves and his attorney's accusations, there was no way I could eat. The little bit of breakfast I'd managed to keep down was threatening to make a reappearance as it was. Edward tried to get me to eat some soup he ordered, but the smell of the cooked carrots reminded me of hospital food and harder, sadder times. I just pushed it away and picked at my roll.
Edward looked concerned, but considering he ate about as much as I did, he refrained from commenting. We were all quiet as we walked back to the courthouse. Knowing that I was up first, Edward stopped me outside the doors and folded me into his arms.
"No matter what, I want you to know that I love you. We both know that lawyer isn't going to be kind, but you and I both know the kind of woman you are. Ryan knows what kind of woman you are and he loves you, too." Edward kissed me, making sure that I felt every once of his love and support all the way down to my core.
Esme smiled at me and rested her hand on my arm, a silent show of strength. She, Ryan, and Carlisle wouldn't be going into the courtroom with us as they were set to testify later. I gave her a tight smile in return before walking through the doors.
Miranda called me to the stand as soon as the judge took her place on the bench. After swearing my oath to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me, God," I sat in the stiff wooden chair, took a deep breath, and stated my full name for the record.
"Dr. Masen, at the start of your senior year of high school, what were your plans following graduation?"
"I planned to attend college either in Seattle, near to my father in Forks, WA, or one of a few schools I'd applied to on the East Coast," I answered, just as we'd practiced.
"Did something happen to alter those plans?"
"In early October, my boyfriend, Edward Masen, and I discovered that I was expecting. Obviously, East Coast schools were out of the question, as we both wanted to remain near family."
"You intended to keep the baby then, as you were due before the end of the school year?" Miranda asked.
"Yes. Edward and I had discussed other options, before we told our families, and we wanted to keep the baby." I was firm. I wanted to make sure the jury understood that I hadn't waivered on this.
More than an hour passed as Miranda asked me about every part of my pregnancy, our parents' reactions, the other students' reactions, and Ryan's birth. We had given her the scrapbooks I'd made for evidence of my love for my child, and she showed them to the jury. She asked about the days and weeks following Ryan's birth, and my subsequent nightmares. Several of the jurors had tears in their eyes.
"Did you stay in touch with Edward Masen after he left Forks?" she asked.
"No," I answered simply.
"When did you meet again?"
I described the day we ran into each other in the grocery store, and gave the jury a brief synopsis of our relationship. When Miranda asked me about seeing Ryan when we went back to Forks, I choked as the memories of that day washed through me.
Thankfully, Miranda was patient as she guided me through the retelling of our last several months. There was more than one occasion when I had to stop because my emotions were too raw, too close to the surface. I'd used half of the box of provided tissues by the time she asked her last set of questions.
"Do you love your son?" Miranda asked.
"Absolutely," I responded with no hesitation.
"When did you start loving your son?" she clarified.
This was an easy answer for me. "The day I found out that Edward and I had created him."
"Did you ever consider that Ryan would have a better life with someone else?"
"Of course I considered it. Edward and I considered every option. We concluded, however, that no matter how difficult our lives were for a few years, he was worth it, and that no one would ever be able to love him as much as we did. That love would allow us to provide the best possible life for our son," I stated.
Miranda smiled at me and thanked me. I finally took a quick glance at the jury and found very few dry eyes in the box.
The defense attorney stood and buttoned his jacket.
"Dr. Masen, at seventeen years old, had you ever held more than a part time, minimum-wage job?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No. I worked part time at Newton's Outfitters for fun money, but my parents preferred me to focus on school."
"Had Mr. Masen ever held a position of permanence in the workforce?"
"Not to my knowledge. He worked over the summer to save some money, but nothing for more than a few months at a time." I wasn't sure where he was going with this, but I didn't like the sound of it.
"If neither of you had any marketable skills or experience in the workforce, how did you intend to provide for your child?" he asked slyly.
I hadn't been prepared for this line of questioning as well as I should have been, and I didn't know what his aim was. "Our plan was to help each other, and work together to support our son. We would have had two months after his birth to work and save money. Edward and I planned to go to UW in Seattle so that we could stay closer to home. We'd already gotten approved for family housing, which our scholarships would have covered. We each planned to get part time jobs and alternate our schedules so that one of us would be able to be home with Ryan until we could find someone to watch him."
"Based on my client's recollections, you indicated at one time that you and Edward planned to remain unmarried so that you could take advantage of the governmental assistance programs available. Was this part of your grand plan, to let the government support you?" he goaded.
He'd worded his accusation so carefully to incense the jury. I wasn't about to let that happen, though. "I probably did mention it once. I would have done anything possible to ensure that my child had enough to eat and a roof over his head. We hoped that it would not come to that, but if it did, we would have made sure we used every available option. Incidentally, Edward and I could have gotten married. Our limited incomes would have left us well below the federal and state poverty lines."
His questions all seemed to be one variation or another of the same theme. He asked about discussions we'd had regarding adoption. I remained adamant that we'd listened to the arguments, and steadfastly refused it as an option. Eventually, he gave up and let me down off the stand.
As it was after five, the judge dismissed us for the day. It had been grueling, and I was completely wiped out.
"Should we get some dinner?" Dad asked. He sounded hopeful. The rest of the family seemed to want to discuss the day, pick apart each and every sigh of the jurors.
Edward noticed that I wasn't in the right frame of mind. He looped his arm around my waist, pulling me close to his body. He held me up, absorbed my weight, and bolstered what little strength I had. "You go ahead," he said to the others. "I'm going to get Bella home. I think today has been a little much for her."
After saying goodbye to our families, we went home together. Other than a few words here and there, we said very little for the rest of the night. Instead, we held each other close and took comfort in each other's arms.
The next day was as brutal for Edward as the first day had been for me. Miranda led him through the questions we'd prepared. I was surprised when she brought his military service up, though. Edward didn't seem fazed by her exploration of what led to his being awarded the Silver Star. I'd heard the story before, but it was no less heart-wrenching the second time. He saved the majority of his unit and I'd come so close to losing him.
"Major, please describe the circumstances surrounding the award of your Distinguished Service Medal," Miranda asked, and Edward stiffened slightly. It made me curious instantly. He didn't talk about it as a separate instance, and I'd always assumed that the medals were both awarded for the same act of heroism.
Edward hesitated and looked at me as he answered, "During the action in Iraq, I uncovered some information about an impending insurgent attack near our position. As one of the officers assigned to Technical Services, I was in our forward command post while the rest of the unit was actively engaged with the enemy roughly three klicks away." He looked away toward the jury and Miranda. "The attack was imminent, and with the heavy fighting keeping the remainder of the local troops engaged, my patrol was unable to respond. I left the command post under the control of a junior officer and went to assist the Iraqi police protecting the local hospital."
Edward stopped and looked down. Miranda waited for him to continue and when he didn't, she led him on, "What was the nature of the threat against the hospital?"
His voice was flat as he answered. "The hospital was treating both Shia and Sunni Muslims injured in the fighting, though they were in different wards. A third ward at the back of the hospital was serving as a refugee center for women and children of both sects. Many of these women had been . . . victims of violence and were hiding from their families. The information I intercepted indicated that a cell of extremists were planning to bomb the ward where the women were staying. When I arrived, I witnessed three suspicious vehicles positioned at key points near the rear ward. The Iraqi officers assigned to guard duty were not present. I radioed in my position, and issued a warning to the matron in charge of the ward to evacuate. Then, I attempted to disable the three vehicles as they were advancing. The bombs in two of the three vehicles denoted prior to impact. The third vehicle did breach the outer wall of the hospital. From my position on the upper parapet, I was able to hold off the attackers until reinforcements arrived."
"It is my understanding that only one of the insurgents, out of more than twenty, was still actively engaged in the fighting when the reinforcements from your command force and the Iraqi military arrived. Is this correct?" Miranda asked.
"That is what the official report indicated, yes."
Miranda pressed further. "Were your actions standard protocol for this type of situation?"
"No," Edward replied. "Standard protocol indicated that if our forces were unavailable, the Iraqi military and police be notified."
"Why did you fail to follow protocol?"
Edward swallowed and the pain in his eyes was plainly visible for everyone to see. "Neither the military nor the Iraqi police would have been able to respond in time. If I could prevent it, no other mother would know the loss of her child."
The defense attorney kept his cross-examination short and sweet. It was obvious that attacking a military hero wasn't going to win him any points. We adjourned for a late lunch, before my father was called to the stand.
Day after day, we listened as our family members recounted their experiences. The cross-examination of the Cullens was just as brutal as Miranda had predicted. Time after time, he attempted to trick them into admitting that they had participated in Ryan's kidnapping, that they had been complicit in the planning. Miranda's grilling had prepared them well and they stuck to the truth.
In the end, Ryan's testimony hadn't been necessary, much to the relief of all of us. He'd been tense and withdrawn all week. When Miranda rested without calling him to the stand, it was as if a weight had been lifted from all of us, especially Ryan.
Gerandy tried to convince the jury that he'd acted in our best interests and gotten us to sign the legally required paperwork. Not one member of the jury believed him. They only remained in deliberation for an hour before returning to court and pronouncing him guilty on all accounts, except the charges relating to the ten thousand dollars he accepted on my behalf. Based on their recommendations, he would likely spend the rest of his natural life in federal prison.
It didn't, however, make me feel any better. Gerandy's conviction wouldn't factor in Judge Hill's decision on Ryan's physical custody and the throngs of reporters and on-lookers outside the courthouse might make it even more difficult. In fact, just looking out the window at all of the people waiting for us to leave made me physically ill. There was a bank of chairs in the hallway and I sunk into the closest one.
"Bella, are you okay?" Edward asked. "You're really pale."
"No, I don't think . . ." I started, but I was cut off as Miranda came out of the courtroom.
"All right, from what I hear, there are fifteen or so news outlets out there wanting to hear the families' reactions to the verdict. It would be best if you designated one member of the family to speak for the group. Discuss quickly what you want to say, and we will all go out together."
I wasn't aware of the discussion going on around me. My mother sat down next to me and rubbed my back while the rest of the family chose the spokesman. Once we stepped out the front doors of the courthouse, with Ryan safely ensconced between all of us, bedlam erupted. The entire scene was like a dream. Reporters screamed questions, and rushed toward us like a medieval mob after Frankenstein's monster. Only instead of pitchforks and torches, they carried cameras and microphones. Miranda gave a quick rundown of verdict for those not allowed in the courtroom. Edward spoke on behalf of all of us, but I never heard the words. I just couldn't focus; the entire scenario was just too overwhelming.
In hindsight, my distraction and illness made sense. The trial alone was enough to cause it, but when the exhaustion persisted, Edward became concerned and forced me to go to the doctor. As it turned out, I was grossly anemic . . . and eight weeks pregnant.
We struggled with how to tell Ryan the news. He'd already told us that he believed we could replace him, that another child could fill his place in our lives.
In the end, we waited until Ryan was at our house for weekend. "Ryan, there is something we wanted to talk to you about," Edward started as I plated our dinners.
"What's up?" he asked somewhat warily. "If this is about this summer, I was thinking we could do the same thing we did last year." He shoveled some mashed potatoes and green beans into his mouth.
Edward sat down heavily, his plate full and hesitated before he spoke. "Well, not exactly, but I think we'll be able to do that if you want. It's just . . . your mom and I have some news."
Ryan stopped chewing and looked at each one of us in turn.
"At the end of the summer, you're going to have a brother or sister," I told him, convinced that this would go better if we just bit the bullet and said it.
"Really? You mean it?" he asked, his eyes lit with excitement. "You're going to have a baby?"
"We are," I confirmed. My heart was light, and in my mind, I could see us all as one unit, one happy family. He jumped up and hugged us both, as glad a boy as I'd ever seen.
It didn't stay that way. Visit by visit, Ryan got clingier. Outwardly, he purported to be excited about the baby. He helped us with the nursery, came up with ever more outlandish names, and even helped us register for the baby shower my mother, Elizabeth, Esme, and Alice were insisting on throwing me. But in the quieter moments, he rarely left our sides.
I talked with both Zafrina and Jake about it, but they weren't concerned. He was behaving like any other child with a sibling on the way.
And when James Matthew Masen was born, Ryan was the proudest big brother in the hospital. He strutted up and down the hallway in front of the nursery telling anyone that would listen that his brother was the cute one with the blue hat.
A couple of months later, though, it all came to a head. The Cullens had been bringing Ryan to us for our visits, as the four hour drive was too much for a newborn. This time, Edward drove down on Friday morning to bring Ryan home. The Cullens were coming up the following Wednesday evening to celebrate Thanksgiving with us and Ryan was going to stay with us until then.
I had just laid Jamie down when my phone rang. It was early afternoon, and I was expecting my boys home for dinner. When I saw Edward's name on the phone, I expected it to be him, telling me that they were on their way.
"Hello," I chirped.
"NO! NO! I won't," someone screamed in the background.
"Edward? Edward, what's going on?" I asked urgently.
"Bella, we have a bit of a problem," Edward whispered. The screaming and crying continued in the background. "Ryan is refusing to come. He's been yelling ever since I showed up. I don't know what to do. He doesn't think we want him."
"He what? How can he think that?" I cried.
"I don't know. He said that we have Jamie now; we don't need him to be our son anymore. I don't know what to do, Bella." Edward's voice was anguished.
"Don't leave," I ordered. "I'm on my way."
I didn't wait to hear what Edward wanted me to do. My son needed me, and I was going to be there for him.
Fortunately, Jamie transferred into his car seat easily, and continued his nap without a fuss. Unfortunately, that nap didn't last nearly long enough. We weren't quite halfway to Forks when Jamie woke and realized that he was strapped in the car. The toys that we had attached didn't amuse him for long.
He wasn't hungry; I'd tried to feed him. He wasn't dirty; I'd stopped at a rest area to check. He was simply unhappy and wanted me to know it. There wasn't anything I could do about that, though. I was a mother to two sons, and the one that would remember this day needed me more than my baby needed to get out of his car seat.
By the time I pulled into the Cullens' driveway, I was at my wits' end. Jamie's screams had quieted some and were interspersed with sobbing hiccups, but more than two hours of that in a confined space had driven me to my own tears.
"Come on, little man," I cooed, as I lifted him from his seat. He cuddled against me, his entire body shaking with each breath.
Edward was stepping out the front door to help, and I could hear my other son still screaming and crying on the other side of it.
"That was fast," Edward commented, reaching for the diaper bag. "I didn't expect you for at least another 45 minutes."
"The louder the infant in the backseat screamed, the heavier my foot got," I admitted sheepishly. It hadn't been very responsible of me to drive so fast, but I couldn't help it.
Edward grimaced. "Goodie. Two boys in various stages of meltdown."
When I asked, Edward told me that while Ryan had quieted enough to admit that he felt replaced, it hadn't been for long. He wouldn't hear anything from anyone. Even Esme and Carlisle had tried to reason with him.
I took a deep breath and handed Jamie to Edward. Since talking had failed, I was going to attempt some good, old-fashioned parenting.
Summoning what little composure and strength I had left, I squared my shoulders and marched into the house.
"Ryan Parker Masen Cullen, get down here, right now!" I yelled over his tantrum. Instantly, the wailing from upstairs stopped, but Ryan's door didn't open.
I waited a few moments, counting to thirty to keep my now frazzled temper in check. "I said NOW, Ryan!" I hollered.
"Now, wait a minute, Bella," Carlisle said sternly, but quietly from my right. He didn't look happy.
I gave him a small smile to let him know that I wasn't really angry and he chuckled as he figured out my plan. Ryan picked that instant to poke his head out of his room.
"Ma?" he called tentatively.
"Ryan, what part of "get down here, right now," confused you? The 'down here,' or the 'right now?'" I retorted.
He didn't waste another second. In just a few bounds, he leapt down the stairs and skidded across the foyer floor to stand in front of me. "What are you doing here, Ma?"
"Apparently, you needed me to come pick you up and put you in the car. The better question, young man, is why I had to drive a second car all the way to Forks when your father was already here to pick you up?" I kept my tone stern, but my voice soft.
"I . . . I didn't think you . . . I mean, I thought with Jamie . . . and you have a son . . ." he stuttered.
"Correction, I have two sons. Two sons that I love very much. Believe me, I'd have to or I'd strangle you both right now." I pulled him into a hug and was relieved when he came without a fuss and melted into me, despite the fact that he was only a few inches shorter.
"You didn't have to come," Ryan said petulantly.
I leaned back and raised my eyebrow at him. "I didn't? You mean to tell me that you weren't refusing to get in the car because we didn't need you to be our son anymore? I just spent three and half hours in a car with a wailing baby for no reason?"
He had the good sense to look a little abashed.
"Ryan, listen to me," I said quietly, so no one else could hear. "You are my son, and no matter how many other children we have, no matter how old you get, you will always be my son. I have loved you since before you were born, and nothing is going to change that."
"But now you have Jamie to love," he argued.
Suddenly, I got it. It wasn't because of his strange situation that he'd completely lost it. Sure, it hadn't helped, but this was something altogether different. This was the normal reaction only children had when a new sibling entered the picture. I couldn't help it; I laughed. I steered him into the family room where everyone else was gathered. Edward was standing by the window, bouncing a still disgruntled Jamie, but his eyes never left us.
"Ryan, honey, the love a parent has for their child isn't like a pie. I don't have less if I give some to someone else. Love is special that way. The heart just expands and makes more. Just because we love Jamie, too, doesn't mean we love you any less. It just means we love both of you."
"So, so you don't like him better because he lives with you all the time?" he asked.
"No, bud," Edward reassured him. "We don't like him better; he does need more of our attention right now, because he's so small, but it has nothing to do with liking one of you more than other."
"Oh," Ryan said in a small voice.
We let him sit on that for a minute, but I didn't want to be driving at midnight. "Are you ready to go now?"
He nodded and walked upstairs to grab his bag.
I sighed. I wasn't looking forward to another trip in the car with the other kid, and I knew he was going to need to eat before we left. Hopefully, he'd sleep longer this time.
While I fed Jamie, Edward made arrangements with the Cullens to leave his car here. We agreed that for all of our sanity, it would be best if we only took one car home. Carlisle and Esme offered to bring it up with them when they came for Thanksgiving.
Not for the first time, and not for the last, I was grateful that Esme and Carlisle had been the ones to adopt Ryan and that they were willing to help us in being one family.
Starting that weekend, Ryan's relationship with Jamie really started to grow. He'd played with Ryan in the backseat for the ride home, and participated more with him when we were at home. Instead of being a visitor seeing the baby, he became a big brother that made the most of the time he had.
By the time Jamie turned one, he had Ryan wrapped around his little finger. Any time Ryan was at our house, which wasn't often enough as he slogged through middle school, he was playing something with Jamie. Even the "little bro", as Jamie was affectionately known, wasn't enough to keep him away from his friends, his ball team, and the little girls that lined the field to watch him play, though. Edward and I were spending most of our weekends with Ryan in Forks. It was like watching Edward grow up all over again. There were always a cluster of kids around, and most weekends were filled with sleepovers and parties.
Which was why we were so surprised when Ryan called one Friday night early in summer after finishing seventh grade. It was so unusual for him to be home, much less calling his parents to talk.
"What's really going on, Ryan?" Edward asked after we'd spent thirty minutes on small talk, the phone on speaker while I cleaned up around the kitchen.
"Um, well, I've been doing some research," Ryan said, hemming and hawing around the reason for his call.
"And?" I asked.
"And . . . and I want to move to Seattle. With you."
I dropped the plate I'd been holding and sank into the nearest chair in shock. In all of the time since we'd found him, he'd been adamant about staying in Forks with Carlisle and Esme.
"O-kay," Edward said carefully, after a moment. "You know we would love to have you here, but what brought this on?" He sat down in the chair next to me, all of his attention focused on the phone.
"It's just . . . there's a high school in Seattle with a special program. It's a Bio-Technology program that'll provide an extra focus on the sciences and technology," Ryan said in a rush.
"And you think that this high school will give you something in terms of your education that Forks High won't?" Edward asked. I was glad that he had the presence of mind to ask these questions; I was still stuck on 'I want to move to Seattle.'
"Yes. The program that I want to get into participates in energy competitions, and offers internships to bio-tech companies in Seattle for Juniors and Seniors," Ryan explained. "Mr. Banner knows someone at Ballard and said I had a better chance of getting in if I'm already enrolled in a Seattle middle school."
I didn't know what to think. It was such a grown-up decision, and I was so proud of him for making it, but at what cost?
"I think those are very good reasons to come to Seattle, Ryan, if bio-technology is what you are interested in. Are you okay with leaving all of your friends and starting over in eighth grade?" I asked. Middle school was such a turbulent time, and major changes tended to make it even harder.
"I'll miss seeing everyone here, but I'll still be coming here on the weekends to see Mom and Dad, right? Like I do with you all now, just in reverse?"
"Yes, I suppose you would," Edward mused. "Have you talked to the Cullens about this yet?"
Ryan was very quiet for a few moments, and was almost whispering when he responded, "Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first."
I smiled; I couldn't help it. "We appreciate that, Ryan. Why don't you talk to them tonight, and we will come down tomorrow afternoon to discuss it as a family? If you are going to move to Seattle, there are a few things that will need to be settled before that can happen."
He agreed to talk to them as soon as Carlisle got home from his shift at the hospital, and switched to telling us about his last week of school and his plans for the next few weeks.
As planned, we met with Esme, Carlisle, and Ryan the following day. While their pain at letting Ryan go, it was clear that they were as proud of his decision as we were. By the end of July, he was registered in school and had officially moved to our home in Seattle.
That first year wasn't easy. It took us all some time to adjust to the changes at home, and a few weeks for Ryan to adjust to his new teammates and his new classes. Jamie was accustomed to having all of his brother's attention when Ryan was at our home, so when Ryan started spending more time with friends, Jamie didn't take it well. He did anything he could to get Ryan's attention, including throwing his iPod down the stairs.
Edward had re-upped with the Reserves when his term finished; not only did he feel he was fulfilling his duty to his country, but his formal association with the military helped cut through some of the red tape involved with the company's contracts. Edward and I fought bitterly about his decision, but in the end, military deployments for the Reserves around the world were rare and his two weeks a year were something we could live with.
The near constant turmoil was taking its toll on all of us, so when I came home early one afternoon to find Edward frantically filling out paperwork and yelling at someone on the telephone, I thought he'd finally lost it.
"What is wrong with you?" I griped as I tried to calm Jamie down. He'd been asleep on my shoulder when an impressively loud string of, "Goddammit! Are you even listening to yourself? Because you sound like a fucking idiot! You've told me the same thing four times . . . and not once have you even coming remotely close to answering my fucking question!" rang through the entire downstairs of our house.
Edward's head snapped toward me as if he'd just realized I was there. How he managed to miss the screaming toddler in my arms, I had no idea, but I was on the verge of going deaf. "Bella? What are you doing home so early? What's wrong with Jamie?"
"You would know if you'd bothered to answer your phone," I snapped. I'd had to cancel three patients this afternoon because I hadn't been able to get in touch with Edward. "Day care called and said Jamie wasn't feeling well after lunch. I took him to Dr. Grabel who said he has a fever of 102.6 and a double ear infection. He was asleep when I . . ."
Edward's attention was drawn back to the phone call while I was still speaking. "Oh, so someone did know the answer. That's fucking great, Private Morrison. Thanks." He blew out a sharp breath and looked back at me. "And I woke him up. Fantastic. Sorry. Give him to me."
Jamie's wails were bad enough to drive Ryan from his room. He walked in the kitchen as I was setting some chicken on the cutting board. "What is wrong with everyone today? Dad's been pissed since he stormed in the door and now the kid's joined him."
"I don't know, Ryan," I answered, suddenly weary to the bone and in no mood to cook. "'The kid' has a double ear infection and feels miserable. He's probably going to be up half the night." I threw the chicken back in the fridge and grabbed the phone. "Order us some Chinese, please."
With Ryan on dinner, I trudged up the stairs. Edward had gotten Jamie to quiet back down and I used the moment's break to change into some sweatpants. Through the monitor on our dresser, I could hear Edward whispering to Jamie, but I couldn't quite make out what he was saying. I slipped on some flip-flops and tip-toed to Jamie's open door. To my surprise, Edward had tears streaming down his face.
"She's going to be so pissed at me, little man. And I'm going to have to tell her that she was right again. I don't know why I don't listen, because she's always fucking right. One day, you're going to meet and fall in love with a girl, and I'm going to remind you of this. No matter what, she's right. If she isn't now, she will be later, so you might as well pay attention."
"Sweetheart, what's wrong?" I asked quietly. I knew it had to be bad to have gotten this kind of reaction from my husband. The tears weren't slowing and the sadness and pain in his eyes was vivid.
"I got deployment orders today," he practically whispered. "They're sending me overseas with a special tactical unit."
I gasped. "For how long?"
He shrugged as well as he could with our son cradled in his arms. "No idea. I've tried to call everyone today for more info, but the only response I can get is that they'll send us home when we've completed the mission. It could be months, it could be a year; no one knows. So, you were right. I was wrong. I shouldn't have reenlisted."
I crossed the room and knelt in front of the chair, taking his free hand. "When do you leave?"
"Four days." His voice cracked and the tears started falling faster. "I don't know how to do this, Bella. I can't leave you and the boys."
As carefully as I could, I took Jamie from Edward's arms and laid him in his crib, fast asleep. I reached for Edward's hand and led him to our bedroom, where I sat on the bed and opened my arms for him. Without hesitation, he fell into them. Even though his head was nestled against my shoulder, I knew that his tears were coming faster.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I really never thought this would happen. They can't even tell me if we'll have outside contact all the time," he said.
My heart squeezed at his words and what they meant for us as a family. "Just keep yourself safe for us and come home. That's more important to me than a call from around the world."
I held him for a few more minutes while he composed himself, then we went back downstairs together to eat dinner and tell Ryan what was going on. Like most teenage boys would, he thought it was "cool!"
That night, between trips to Jamie's room to give him medicine and settle him down, Edward made love to me repeatedly.
"I want you to feel me inside you the entire time I'm gone," Edward grunted through his teeth during a series of particularly hard thrusts that were on the verge of sending me into orbit. "This body, this pussy, is mine, and you'll remember that." He used his thumb to press against my clit, and the orgasm that had been approaching blasted through me. It was all I could do not to scream.
The next morning, Edward encouraged me to go to work and Ryan to go to school. Jamie was still feverish, though, so Edward packed him up and took Jamie with him. Knowing that we only had a few more days together for an extended period of time, I spent the day rearranging the rest of my patients for the week. The time right before our wedding was the closest thing I'd ever come to experiencing a deployment, and Edward was at least able to come home most nights. I didn't know how I'd handle him being gone and out of contact. I couldn't fold in on myself as I had the two boys to think of. I had to be strong for them and Edward.
It was easier said than done. With only three days left until he deployed, Edward spent the day gathering information for me and insisted that we go over it after dinner that night. He had copies of all of his benefits with me listed as the primary beneficiary and both of our children as secondary beneficiaries. He went over contact information for the family liaison assigned to the unit he was deploying with.
"Because this isn't my normal unit and I'm being called in from the Reserves to serve with an active unit, the officer that would normally support you and provide you with what information he could isn't involved. I did talk to the Ombudsman out of Fort Carson, and he is willing to help you all he can. You should expect a call from him within a week after I leave. I've listed his contact information, though, in case you need it," Edward informed me. The stack of papers that he was sifting through and shoving my way was overwhelming.
I couldn't wrap my head around it all. There was even a page titled, "What To Expect If Your Soldier Dies In Combat."
"Edward, what if something happens to me while you are gone?" I asked, suddenly panic-stricken.
"They'll pull me out and bring me home, Bella," Edward answered in a grave tone. "Nothing's going to happen to you. I need you to be safe . . . for me and the boys."
The pressure on my chest didn't lessen. "That's not what I mean. If something happens to you, you know that I'll do my best with our children. But what if something happens to me? We've never talked about it. Carlisle and Esme still have joint custody of Ryan. He'd go live with them again. Who would take Jamie? My dad? Alice and Jasper? Your parents?" My voice was sounding more and more hysterical.
Edward blanched. "I don't . . . I don't know. Maybe Aron can squeeze us in tomorrow and give us some advice. I can't even . . ."
Other than the sound of Ryan's music upstairs and the Baby Einstein video that Jamie was glued to in the other room, we sat in silence, staring at the official forms and literature designed to help families in worst case scenarios. I hadn't thought I'd be in that position and struggled to wrap my mind around our new reality. I just couldn't comprehend it.
The next three days passed in a blur of appointments, preparations, and late night lovemaking. Before I was ready, we were walking into the airport with our soldier, still unready to see him off. Ryan helped Jamie wave his flag, as Ryan waved his own. We'd said our protracted goodbyes at home, so we smiled as Edward kissed each of us and walked through the security gate where we couldn't follow.
Weeks went by and the boys and I fell into a routine. Ryan took over getting Jamie ready for day care in the morning, and meals were planned or prepared in advance. Ryan spent more time at home, choosing to have his friends at our house instead of going to theirs. Each night, we all typed messages to Edward. Ryan's were mostly about his baseball team, or school, and Jamie's consisted of whichever keys his little hands could hit. Edward's return messages were sporadic, and in the occasional video message, he looked tired and worn, but Jamie cheered over each one and clapped to see his "Papa," as he had taken to calling Edward. Ryan sometimes sent along videos with our messages; we made sure to capture all the highlights—Ryan's first high school baseball game, Jamie saying his alphabet, Jamie's 3rd birthday party, and the boys dancing to some new popular song. We mailed packages filled with letters and "artwork" to the base where Edward was supposed to call home base.
Then one day, nine months after Edward walked through security away from us, we stood in the airport again, watching for him to walk through again, this time towards us.
Life following Edward's return was an experience in frustration and adjustment. Despite our joy in having him home, fitting Edward into our new routines didn't work well. He was endlessly frustrated and complained that he didn't have a place in our lives. His attitude was exacerbated by his lack of sleep. We would make love and I'd fall asleep in his arms, only to wake hours later to a cold and empty bed. When I bothered to get up and look, I'd find him either on his computer or in front of the television. We argued more and more often. Zafrina counseled that it was normal and urged me to make more of an effort. I was just frustrated with his apparent lack of effort in adjusting to the life his decisions made necessary.
One day, almost three months after Edward's return, my frustration boiled over. I didn't feel well, and in my mind, Edward was refusing to be helpful. He spent all day at work, or at home on his computer, and left all of the child care and household chores to me. It felt like he was punishing me for creating a routine without him. As normal, I picked Ryan up from practice after a long day of seeing patients, and we swung by Jamie's day care to get him. The director stopped me on the way in, adding more to my plate.
"Mrs. Masen, I need you to sign an incident report. Jamie was playing with the blocks and when another child tried to play with him, Jamie bit him."
"Are you kidding?" I asked, astonished. We'd made it through the prime biting years with no trouble at all!
"Unfortunately, no. The other child wasn't seriously hurt, but we do have to make you aware," she responded in what I'm sure she meant to be a soothing voice. "Jamie was given a time-out and we talked about biting and why we shouldn't use our teeth that way."
I sighed and signed the paper she held out to me. Ryan walked through the hallway, bouncing Jamie in his arms.
"Mommy!" Jamie called happily when he saw me standing near the office. "I bited Derek today. He stole my blocks."
He didn't sound the least bit sorry. The director laughed and shook her head, and I wanted to die a little inside.
Before Ryan could encourage him, I took Jamie and went back out to the car. After buckling Jamie in and sitting in the driver's seat, I slammed my door and banged my head against the steering wheel. Wisely, Ryan just got in the car and was quiet for the short drive home.
All I wanted when I walked in the door was a hot meal, one I didn't have to prepare first, and to put my feet up with a glass of wine. Edward's truck was in the driveway, and for one moment, my heart lifted in hope that today would be the day things changed. It only lasted an instant, though.
Edward was sitting on the couch with three other monitors spread around him. He was lost in his own little world. Dirty dishes littered the sink and an empty pizza box was open on the table, the half-eaten banana peppers visible. He didn't look up when we walked in or acknowledge us in any way.
I set Jamie on the floor and watched him toddle straight for his dad. Jamie tried to crawl into Edward's lap, but Edward shrugged him off and set him back on the floor. "Ryan, come get your brother, please," Edward said impatiently, without even looking up. Jamie tried again to get his dad's attention. "Now, Ryan!"
A glance at the only screen facing me, and the headset encircling his head told me that he wasn't working. I put my hand on Ryan's arm and shook my head, while glaring at my husband. "Go on upstairs, Ryan," I ordered calmly.
Ryan glanced at my face and scooped Jamie up on his way by. "Come on, little man. Let's go play with some blocks."
I waited until Ryan was up the stairs before I spoke again. "Have you started running missions from the comfort of our living room?" I was doing my best to keep my voice even, but my tone must have alerted Edward that I was not in a trifling mood.
He hit a few keys and the action on screen froze. "Um, what do you mean?"
"Has the American military advanced so much that you can guide and conduct military operations on foreign soil while sitting your camo pants and a t-shirt on my couch?" I asked again with my arms folded across my chest.
"No . . ." Edward shook his head, looking confused.
I took three steps towards him and lowered my voice even further. "Do you mean to tell me, then, that you spent MONTHS away from this family, fighting in a war, only to come home and ignore us in favor of a game that emulates the warzone you just left? Are you THAT desperate for action, for violence?"
Edward looked completely taken aback. "What? No!"
"Then explain to me why you sit here, ignoring your son, when he's doing his best to get your attention? Why you refuse to go to Ryan's practices? I've had it, Edward. Night after night, it's the same thing. I've tried to give you time to get reacclimated, but you refuse to be part of this family again. You leave it all up to me, and if you haven't noticed, I can't handle it all anymore." By the end of my tirade, I was practically shouting. I regretted it, because I didn't want Ryan to think he hadn't been a huge help to me. The truth was, though, that I was exhausted.
For the first time since the week he came home, Edward really looked at me. Having looked in the mirror at the office that afternoon, I knew exactly what he saw. Dark bags underlined my eyes, my cheeks were sunken from the weight I'd lost while he'd been gone, and I was worn out. The only positives I could find were that my hair looked full and shiny, and it appeared that I'd put back on a little weight so my suit didn't fall off.
He blinked twice, and blinked some more as realization dawned. Only it wasn't the realization I'd expected.
"Oh, my God. You're pregnant," he whispered.
"What? No! Where in the world did you come up with that?" I wanted him to realize that he'd been an unhelpful lump, not come up with wild conjecture as to the state of my uterus. Only . . .
Edward laughed, probably for the first time in months. "You are. And I've been a complete shit. You're right. I hated that I had to leave, and it killed me that you seemed to function just fine with me. If I'd been paying attention, I would have seen how wrong I was. I'm sorry. But now, put your feet up. I'll take care of dinner. If you don't believe me, go take one of those tests you keep under the sink." He kissed me as he leapt up and swung his arm to the side to indicate the place he'd just vacated. "I'll get that stuff out of the way as soon as I get dinner started."
I shouldn't have been surprised that Edward was right. He'd always paid attention to details where I was concerned, the past couple of months notwithstanding. Even though I'd protested, I knew he was right deep down, and the two pink lines on the stick agreed.
That night was the turn-around for our family. Edward began participating again, and was as doting to me as he'd always been. Jamie wasn't so excited to get a little sister, but Edward and Ryan were thrilled. They talked it up to him every chance they got. The three of them even redesigned the nursery together.
Edward had always been a wonderful father, and a loving partner, but the day Charlotte Elizabeth Masen was born changed him. Where he had been sharp before, he softened. Where he'd been strict, he relented. From the moment he held her for the first time, she melted him and it was the sweetest thing in the world to watch.
While the last four years had been chaotic at best, they were also four of the best years of my life. I'd gotten to watch the son I'd thought was lost to me forever walk across the stage and accept his high school diploma. Together, Edward and I had taken our middle child to school for his first day of kindergarten and cried as Jamie walked away. Through it all, Lottie had been such a character and bright spot that could make any day seem sunny—even in Washington!
Edward pulled in the driveway as I loaded Lottie into her car seat, and took the car keys from my hand as he passed.
"She dressed herself again, huh?" he said with a laugh.
"But of course," I said with bad, fake French accent. "I put a change of clothes in the bag."
Edward laughed again. "God knows she'll need it. You should have seen her the other night after 45 minutes of practice. I'm not sure she'd be recognizable by the end of the second game today."
Immediately after Jamie's Cal Ripken league game today, we were going over to the University to see Ryan play. They were the leaders in their region and got to play on their home field, so we were taking advantage and going to the game with our entire family. Even my mother and Phil were coming.
We pulled into the lot just in time to see the Cullens and my dad unload from their new minivan. Edward laughed as Esme pulled Maggie, their three-year-old, from her seat. "She did attend Ryan's games when he played as a kid, right? What the hell is that kid wearing?"
One night, three years before, a car accident on a logging road in Forks had taken the lives of both of Maggie's parents. Her mother had lived long enough to deliver a premature daughter, but not long enough to even name her. A diary found in their mangled car indicated that they had intended to name her Maggie, so the hospital staff did just that. Unfortunately, both parents had been in the foster care system and had no living relatives that would make suitable parents for the baby girl. Esme had been visiting Carlisle when EMS brought the couple in and had stayed with the new baby in the nursery whenever she was able. Eventually, after several conversations with us and Ryan, they adopted her. It was hard to find a more doted upon child. Currently, she was dressed in white and gold striped leggings and a purple Huskies infant jersey.
I snorted. Maggie loved playing with Lottie. She'd be as filthy as our kid long before we ever made it to Husky Ballpark.
We piled out of our SUV and hugged the people that had helped raise our oldest son, and had continued to be a huge part of our lives. Ryan waved to us, shouting that the game was about to start, and we walked together to the field. The Masens, my mother, and Phil were already there and had staked out two rows on the bleachers for us. Lottie ran to my mother, who had finally embraced grandmother-hood.
I smiled in appreciation. My dreams as a young mother may have been stolen, but in the end, what I got was a thousand times better than anything I could have ever imagined.
A/N: The end. There are so many people I want to thank. First—thank you. If you are still reading this, thank you for hanging in there with me and not giving up. I appreciate it more than you can imagine. One day, there might be outtakes, so if there is one you want to see, let me know. I'm not making promises, though. This one already took me long enough!