Well, here it is: the last chapter of Boxing Out. I can't believe this is the end!
Without writingbabe and RandomCran, my amazing beta and prereader, this fic would probably be unreadable. Thank you both again for caring enough to help me find the best way to tell this story. More than anything, thank you for being two of the most wonderful friends I've been fortunate to have. I love you both.
And thank you, all my amazing readers, for sticking it out until this last chapter. You've all been very faithful and so patient. Thank you also for your lovely reviews. I've enjoyed hearing from all of you! If you liked reading Boxing Out even a fraction of how much I enjoyed writing it, then I've done my job. I hope it made you smile. I love all of you, too!
Special thanks to Laura M. O., who's been one of Boxing Out's best cheerleaders since the start and has now also become a good friend. I love when that happens! Isn't that the best part of Twilight fanfiction?
Five years later
The room was grey with only the faintest pre-dawn light. Over to one side, curtains were open so the emerging day could be seen by anyone who cared to notice.
Most of the room's inhabitants were otherwise occupied at the moment. The center was brightly lit; in the middle of the spotlight, Bella was hard at work.
Edward was by her side, where he'd been for the last six hours. Tenderly, he wiped her forehead with a washcloth soaked in cool water.
"You doing okay?" he asked, his voice hoarse.
"Yeah…for the moment." She grimaced and then groaned. "Here it comes again."
"Okay sweetheart, I got you." He supported her back as she worked through another contraction, her face contorted with effort. She'd been pushing for over an hour.
She fell back on the pillow as the contraction faded away, her body releasing its natural instinct to push. Bella felt like she'd done this a thousand times since she'd entered this last phase of labor.
"This kid does not want to come out," she said, panting.
"Well, who can blame him? Or her. I wouldn't want to, either. It's nice in there. I mean, from what I've seen."
The nurse who was taking care of Bella snorted, but it was good natured. Bella was grateful she had a caregiver who was capable and had a sense of humor, since this woman had spent more time between her legs than Edward had in the weeks before her due date.
"Hey, that's my job: to make jokes and take your mind off of everything."
"If you think you can take my mind off of anything right now, you're out of your mind." Bella lightly chucked him under the chin but her hand wandered, cupping his face and smoothing his hair. She never could resist touching him wherever, whenever she could.
Edward grinned, a ray of sunshine in itself. He tried to keep Bella encouraged and somewhat energized even though he was also feeling exhausted. But he remembered that however tired he was, Bella's role here was much, much more grueling. He remained silent on that point, because if he dared complain, she wouldn't hesitate to remind him of who was doing the real work.
"Do you want some ice chips?" He held up the spoon.
"Yeah…quick, I think it's coming on again."
Edward tipped the spoon into her mouth and dropped the bowl of ice on the table behind him. He held her up again and murmured what he hoped were the right words as she panted through the contraction.
"I see the baby's head!" the nurse called out cheerfully. "Now if this child would only go forward instead of sneaking back in…"
"When is this going to end?" Bella moaned. She started to cry in frustration and exhaustion.
"I wish I could tell you, sweetheart," the nurse said. She patted Bella's knee. "It takes however long it takes. But I don't think you'll have that much longer to wait. Every time you push, the baby peeks farther out."
"You're doing great," Edward murmured, kissing her forehead. He clasped her hands. "Just remember how much this is worth it."
"Easy for you to say," she snapped. "You're not pushing a live human being out of your crotch while your insides feel like they're being crushed in a vise."
"Good point," he said soothingly. He knew this was an argument he couldn't win. "No disrespect, baby."
Another contraction and more pushing, and another; finally, the doctor entered. "Looks like we're going to have a baby!" he said cheerfully.
Bella tried to smile as if she hadn't been laboring in a hospital bed for almost seven hours. She'd hoped that her regular obstetrician, a woman, would be on call when she went into labor, but there were two other doctors in the practice where she was a patient, and they were both male. Odds were that one of them would deliver the baby.
Edward and Bella had moved to Montclair, New Jersey about a year after they were married. Bella was appointed as a vice-president with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in North Brunswick. Edward was still working out of the FBI offices in Newark. It became clear that the sensible move, literally and figuratively, was to leave their beloved New York and become suburbanites.
Edward was resistant even though he admitted the logic in moving closer to their jobs. Bella argued that it would make it much easier when they started a family. The commute out of and back into Brooklyn was arduous on a good day. She couldn't imagine doing it when they had kids. They'd have to move anyway, she pointed out; there was no way their small Greenpoint apartment could accommodate another human being.
Edward did a complete turnaround the evening that Bella was mugged on her way home from the subway station. Both of them knew that crime was part of the landscape of living in the city, but he nearly went out of his mind at the thought that she could have been hurt, or worse. The next day, they began scouting new locations, and they found a pretty house in Montclair within six months.
They adjusted to life in the suburbs very quickly, especially once Bella became pregnant. So rather than give birth in a sophisticated Manhattan hospital, Bella found herself in a medical center in New Jersey. It was as soothing and comfortable as a maternity room could be; and there were no constant sounds of auto traffic to annoy her. That could only have made it worse; at this point, everything was irritating her.
Edward glanced at Bella out of the corner of his eye and she caught his look. He knew exactly what she was thinking, and he gave a short, subtle shake of his head. Now is not the time to talk back to the doctor who has two lives in his hands.
Bella just managed a weak hello. Another wave of pain and a powerful contraction started to crest through the entire middle of her body.
"A few more and you'll be there," the doctor said encouragingly.
A few more and Bella was crying on Edward's shoulder. "I'm so tired!" she sobbed.
"You're almost there, love. You're so brave!" He kissed the top of her head, wishing he could think of something more substantial to say or do. He'd never felt so powerless in his life, and he would have given anything to be able to share her pain and discomfort right now. As it was, all he could do was try to help her through it.
Her tears became cries of agony again as one more exhaustive contraction came upon her. "And some women like having orgasms when they're in labor? What the hell?" she spat out.
Edward looked at the doctor and nurse and shrugged. "She's not one to hide her opinions."
The doctor laughed and resumed his position like a baseball catcher at the foot of the bed. "Women say anything while they're in labor. Can't blame them. We never take it seriously."
He tilted his head up slightly so she could see him. Above the surgical mask, his eyes were kind now. Gone was the businesslike demeanor on display during office visits. "Bella, your husband is right. You're doing great. It won't be too much longer; I can see from the progress you and the baby are making. Just a bit more."
It took only another 15 minutes for his words to come true. Bella gave one last mighty push.
"Congratulations! You have a baby girl!"
Edward, still clutching Bella's hand, looked at the baby in amazement. All of a sudden, there's a whole new person in the room…A girl. A girl! We have a daughter!
"Oh my God, oh my God," Bella cried. "Is she okay?"
"She looks fine, Bella." The doctor handed the infant over to the nurse, who placed her in the isolette and began checking the Apgar scores to determine the baby's condition. Edward left Bella's side and went over to their daughter. Tentatively, and with love and wonder, he stroked her head. She had a thick shock of dark, wet hair.
A loud and vigorous yell erupted from her new lungs, and then another. It was harsh and ear piercing, and Edward and Bella thought they'd never heard anything so beautiful.
"Can I hold her?" Bella strained the upper half of her body until she was nearly of the bed, her lower half still being administered to by the doctor but her arms longing to hold the child who had finally decided to leave the warmth of her mother's womb. She watched, anxious without reason, as the nurse gently wiped their daughter with a washcloth.
"Just let me get her cleaned up a bit more." The nurse set aside the washcloth and motioned to Edward.
Carefully, slowly, he picked up the baby, all the while whispering encouraging words of love to her. He walked to the bed without even looking up and said, "Here is someone who's been waiting to meet you for a very long time." With a gentle kiss to the baby's forehead, he placed her in Bella's arms.
Their daughter fussed a little, her face scrunched up with annoyance over the indignities inflicted on her during the first ten minutes of her life.
"Hey sweetie," Bella cooed. "Hello, beautiful. I love you!"
The baby's head was turned away, but once she heard her mother's voice she stilled immediately, her expression now a look of recognition. She turned toward her mother, seeking the source of that familiar sound.
"She knows you, Bella." Edward watched as their newborn twisted in his wife's arms, moving her tiny body to face her mother. The tears came suddenly; the beauty of his family overwhelming. If he'd thought his life was complete before today, he was foolish. The room in his heart was so much bigger than he'd imagined possible, and now it was full.
"Have you told your parents yet?"
Edward pulled his phone out and sent a text to his mother: Come and meet your new grandchild. He took some photos of Bella and the baby, his wife adorned by smiles and tears.
Quick footsteps grew closer to the room. Esme stood in the doorway, her hands to her face.
"Oh! Oh, you two! No, I mean…you three. Look at you! " Her gaze swung wildly from Bella to her son and their new baby. Edward took the infant from Bella's arms and went to his mother, a smile on his face as wide as the Hudson River.
Behind her, Carlisle walked more quietly. His arms were full, and Edward carefully handed the little girl to Esme. The bundle his own father held began squirming awake.
"He woke up and was very excited when we left for the hospital, but he crashed again about a half-hour after we got here." Carlisle and Esme had been staying with Edward and Bella since a few days before Bella's due date.
A copper-haired toddler rubbed his eyes and cried in his grandfather's arms before he saw his father. "Daddy?" He whimpered a little, but calmed when Edward took him. He wrapped his arms around Edward's neck, thrilled to have his father back.
"Garrett, buddy! You have a new baby sister."
"Sister?" He looked around and spotted Bella. "Mommy!" He began squirming again, anxious to see his mother.
"Just a second, G. Here." Edward held his son up next to Esme, who was enchanted by the dark-haired tiny life in her arms. Carlisle was behind her, also beaming at his granddaughter. "This is your new sister, Grace Esme."
The little boy looked at the baby for a couple of moments. The thoughtfulness as he studied his new sister was astonishingly similar to the serious expression that Edward remembered from the very first time he'd seen Bella, alone and uncertain even in the middle of her friends.
"She's very little, so she can't talk, but she already loves you," Edward murmured. "You're gonna be the best big brother. You'll make her laugh and you'll make her feel better when she cries. You'll teach her everything she needs to know, and tell me everything I need to know about every wisecracker who tries to date her before she's 35."
Esme rolled her eyes. "Good luck with that, Daddy."
Garrett had already lost interest in the baby. He wanted Bella and was fighting to get away from his father. "Mommy!" He held out his arms, pleading.
"C'mere, Garrett." Bella patted the bed next to her, and Edward set down their son.
The toddler crawled into his mother's side and buried his head into her neck. "Hey, it's okay." She smoothed his thick, unruly hair. "We're all here, see? Mommy had to come to the hospital because it was time for Grace to be born. Daddy had to be here, too, so we could make sure she knew how much we love her already."
"Want you to come home," he whined.
"I'll be home before you know it," his mother promised. "And I'll bring Gracie with me so you can hold her and get to know her more. Grandma and Grandpa will be there for you and Daddy. Are you having fun with Grandpa?"
The first grandchild brought out a playfulness in Carlisle that even his wife and son couldn't have anticipated. Whenever Garrett disappeared during his grandparents' visit, his parents learned never to worry. He was almost always with Carlisle, reading or teaching his grandfather how to play with Legos or watching cartoons.
"Yes. But I miss you."
She hugged him. "I miss you, too. I won't be here very long. And hey! Now you have a little sister. You won't be alone anymore." She tried to sound encouraging, her experiences as an only child echoing in the background of her conversation with her first born. Edward knew what that was like too, and though his circumstances were different, they'd both known they wanted to have more than one child.
There was no question about the name of their first son once he arrived.
She realized she had lost track of her daughter. Craning her neck, she could see a bundle in Carlisle's arms. He was smiling at Grace with wonder and warmth, tucking her blanket around her head so it wouldn't cover her face.
Something about Carlisle's tenderness made Bella suddenly miss her mother and father very fiercely. They'd stayed with Bella and Edward when Garrett was born, but this time were only able to fly back after their second grandchild's birth, to stay for about a week. Bella wished Renee was there to help with Grace, too. Esme was wonderful, but Bella craved the comfort and understanding that came with her own flesh and blood.
Our children are surrounded by love. I don't know what I did right in this world to deserve this, but I'll thank God for it every day. Tears caught her by surprise, and she wiped them off quickly before Garrett noticed. He was already looking for his father again.
Edward picked him up and balanced the toddler on his hip. Garrett, who had had enough family joy for the moment, whispered to Edward. "I'm hungry."
"Me, too." And it was true; Edward finally realized he was famished. He had more than a second wind; he felt like he might never need to sleep again. The arrival of their second child had energized him in a way that only a miracle could.
"Can we go home for breakfast?" Garrett eagerly grabbed at the collar of his father's tee shirt.
"I think that's an excellent idea. What do you want?"
"Pancakes," Garrett whispered solemnly. He was a serious child most of the time; and so much like his mother that his father's heart nearly burst every time he held his little boy.
"We can do that." He brought Garrett over to Bella for a goodbye kiss. "I'll take him home and get him some breakfast. I'll be back later."
"We'll stay for a little while and then come home so you can get back here to stay with Bella and the baby," Esme called after him.
"Is Mommy gonna have breakfast?" His son stretched his hand out to Bella in distress.
"They'll give her something to eat here. Don't worry; she'll be home soon. The doctors want to make sure that Mommy and the baby get some rest here before they can leave the hospital."
"Will Grace eat?" Edward stopped, surprised and pleased that his son thought to ask about his sister already. But that concern was inherited from Bella, too.
"Mommy will feed her, don't worry," he replied, hoping there would be no more questions about how until Bella could help him explain the concept of breastfeeding.
He put his son down and held his hand as they walked to the elevator. "So, pancakes? With chocolate chips?"
"Yaaaay!" Garrett did a toddler dance of happiness. "What'll we do after we eat?"
"Let's shoot some hoops, little man."