Disclaimer still applies.
Many thanks to jbeaucage for all her help!
Note the Time Jump**
*Christmas- Eight years later
"This will go a lot faster if we split up," Bella informed Edward as she placed her purse in the cart and perused the grocery list in her hand. "Clara, you stay and help Mommy; Edward, you take Lottie and Charlie with you to get the chips and drinks, and…" Bella froze as she glanced past where her husband and the girls were standing to the empty space where, but a moment before, their three year old son had been. "Where's Charlie?" She demanded, her eyes growing wide with panic as they began to dart frantically around the store.
"Oh shit," Edward muttered before taking off down a side aisle in search of their precocious son.
"Daddy, you said a bad word," Clara chastised as she and Lottie trailed after him.
Less than a minute later, Shelly Cope cringed at the sound of merchandise crashing to the floor. She had no doubt that little Charlie Cullen was the one responsible.
"Charlie!" Edward bellowed as he spotted his son sitting on the floor surrounded by several packages of cookies which, he surmised, had landed there at approximately the same moment as Charlie's bottom.
"I sorry Daddy, I just want da chockit ones," he explained, his little lip quivering.
Shelly positioned herself so that she could see the exchange between father and son. She smiled easily as Edward scooped up his little boy and held him close. "You were climbing, weren't you?"
Charlie nodded his head, but avoided looking his father in the eye.
"Buddy, what did Daddy say about climbing?"
He looked up then, "I gonna get hurt?"
Edward nodded. "And what just happened?"
"I hurt my butt."
Shelly continued to watch as Edward bit the inside of his cheek, no doubt in an attempt to keep from smiling.
"Now you need to help Daddy pick up all the cookies you knocked down."
"Okay," Charlie agreed with a little sigh as Edward placed him on his feet.
Shelly continued to watch as Edward handed three of the packages to Lottie. "Here Sissy, we'll need to pay for these broken ones. Take them to Mommy please."
Lottie took the cookies while Clara clicked her tongue and glared at her little brother, "Charlie, why do you have to be so bad all the time?"
Her words caused Charlie's chin to jut out in a defensive manner as he glared right back at her, "Leave me 'lone!"
"Clara, let Daddy handle this," Edward reminded gently.
Clara's frowned deepened, but she obeyed her father and silently turned away in search of Bella.
Never in her wildest dreams did Bella imagine herself the mother of such a large brood. Granted, she'd only given birth to four of them but still…
Even though he wasn't her biological child, she shared a special bond with that young man; similar to the one that Edward shared with Marie.
Truth be told, if it wasn't for Anthony and the way he had of handling little Charlie, Bella was convinced that she'd have lost her mind by this time.
She smiled and shook her head as she thought about her youngest.
Edward and Bella had known from early on that little Charlie was going to be a handful. The four children who preceded him were quick to listen and obey most of the time; unfortunately, that was not the case for Charlie Swan's namesake.
"Okay, let's try this again," Bella directed once everyone was reassembled; Edward now carrying their son in his arms.
Bella handed Edward part of her list just before she and Clara headed toward the frozen foods. "Sorry about the ruckus, Mrs. Cope." She apologized as she passed Shelly.
"It's not a problem, honey." Shelly answered with a shrug. "I always enjoy your visits, keeps me on my toes."
Bella laughed easily.
"But aren't you missing two? Where are Anthony and Marie?"
"Anthony has track practice and Marie opted to stay home and study. Can't say I blame her," Bella rolled her eyes, "A visit to the store with this crew is always an adventure. I honestly don't know where Charlie gets his energy. He never seems to slow down." She blew out a frustrated breath, seemingly at a loss as to how to handle her youngest. "I'm getting too old for this."
Shelly laughed loudly. "Bella, you're only in your thirties."
Bella winced. "Sometimes, I feel a lot older."
Shelly chuckled. "When you're my age, you'll miss those thirties, forties, and even the fifties…" she trailed off and shook her head, losing the smile.
"Oh Mrs. Cope, you haven't aged a day since I was a little girl."
"Sweet of you to say, but my joints would have to argue that point." They both chuckled softly before Bella grew quiet and studied Shelly with slightly narrowed eyes.
"I hope you'll be able to make it to the Christmas party…"
Shelly's face lit up then. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
For the rest of the shopping visit, Mrs. Cope was too distracted by the antics of Charlie Cullen to notice the smug smile on Bella's face whenever she glanced Shelly's way.
"You look like you're up to something, Mrs. Cullen." Edward said in a whisper as he placed two liters of Diet Coke in the cart. Bella had acquired a taste for it a few years before, switching from her former favorite.
Although, to be honest, their fridge was amply stocked with containers of juice, milk and bottled water, all of which were much preferred over soft drinks.
When her husband turned thirty-five, Bella made a conscious decision to change the family's eating habits for the better. Little by little, she introduced smarter, healthier, food choices to their growing clan. These days, instead of reaching for a bag of greasy corn chips on the grocery shelf, Edward opted for popcorn or baked potato chips. And even though little Charlie loved cookies, carrot sticks were his second favorite snack.
"I don't know what you mean," Bella feigned innocence.
Edward narrowed his eyes, keeping the smile, but not buying her denial for an instant.
She was definitely up to something, but he could be patient…
Little did he know that on the night of the Christmas party, his patience was to be rewarded.
The small coffee shop that Bella and Edward built soon after Bella got her degree was to be the location of their long-planned party.
The building was situated on the main road in front of the cottages.
Heaven knows Edward and Bella didn't need the income provided by the small facility; however, working there fulfilled the desire for them to keep busy, especially during those winter months when the cottages were closed.
The coffee shop was open six days a week, from 7am to 2pm year round, barring holidays. It had proved to be quite popular, not only with cottage guests, but with the local population as well. So much so that, after the first few weeks, Bella and Edward felt the need to hire two full-time employees.
Bella insisted that the popularity of the shop was due to Edward's special coffee blends, whereas Edward swore that it was Bella's homemade apple crumb cake that drew the customers.
In the end, they agreed that it was probably a little of both.
It was no surprise that the most loyal of the local customers was Charlie Swan. He tended to favor the establishment so much, in fact, that he had a stool at the counter specifically designated as his.
Woe to the misguided fool who was mistakenly seated there any time the Chief made an appearance. Charlie could be quite intimidating, and the locals got a kick out of watching the out-of-towners squirm.
The evening of the party, the coffee shop was buzzing with activity as Bella and the girls set out a spread of food. Renee tended to the eggnog; and Anthony and Edward finished up the last of the decorating.
Charlie Swan had been appointed what was arguably the most important task of all: keeping little Charlie occupied in the corner booth with a Christmas coloring book.
"Okay, we'll see you in a bit," Edward ended the call that had interrupted his work before turning to his wife with a smile. "Mom and Dad's plane finally landed. They're on their way."
As the children cheered, Bella felt herself relax at the news. A snowstorm overnight had delayed Esme and Carlisle's flight out of New York to the point that Edward and Bella worried they wouldn't arrive in time for the party.
That would have put a definite crimp in Bella's plans.
A short time later, just as the last of the party preparations were completed, the bell above the entrance chimed signaling the arrival of the first guests. Edward rushed to greet Shelly Cope and her grandson, Bobby.
Shelly smiled at the cozy gathering as she shook the snow from her boots.
Soon, she found herself seated at a table with a glass of eggnog and a slice of gingerbread in front of her. All the preparations complete, Renee and Bella took seats on either side of Shelly and waited for the rest of the guests to arrive.
"I haven't seen Bobby in ages, he sure has grown up to be a nice looking young man," Renee remarked as she watched Shelly's grandson cross the room, stopping when he reached Marie and Anthony.
Shelly seemed to be the only one who took notice of the way Bobby smiled at Bella's eldest daughter.
She narrowed her eyes as she studied the boy. "He is handsome, but more than that, he's a good boy." She sighed, "When I asked if he could bring me here tonight, there wasn't a moment's hesitation before he agreed. He even arrived almost an hour early to pick me up." She chuckled. "He's sixteen. He shouldn't be so eager to spend a Saturday night with an old woman. But now that I'm here, I do believe his behavior may have been influenced less by the need to do something nice for his Granny and more by the prospect of seeing Marie."
Renee's and Bella's eyes opened wide in surprise, before both their heads whipped around to where fifteen year old Marie stood, basking in the attention being shown her by the older boy. The young woman was literally hanging on his every word.
"Well I'll be…" Renee said in a low voice.
After a moment of watching the youngsters interact, a broad smile crossed Bella's face. Bobby Cope was exactly the type of boyfriend she'd wish for her daughter.
The complete opposite of Bella's own first boyfriend, Will Peterson
Ugh. Just thinking the name made Bella wince. Less so now than in years past, but Will still managed to be a thorn in her side.
Even though Marie had the blessing of the court when she petitioned that she not be required to see him anymore, Will had a knack for showing up unexpectedly. He was usually intoxicated, and his behavior always caused his daughter distress.
So many times over the years, poor Marie had had to witness Will cursing at Bella or Edward. Sometimes even Marie herself was on the receiving end of his vile temper. He accused everyone of keeping her from him, when in all actuality Will had no one to blame but himself.
Almost as if she could read Bella's thoughts, Shelly spoke in a whisper. "When's the last time you saw Will?"
Bella blew out a frustrated breath. "He showed up, uninvited, at my cousin's wedding reception in Bar Harbor last month."
"Oh, no..." Shelly frowned.
"He was sober so my cousin Alex, not wanting to make a scene, allowed him to stay. Unfortunately, he wasn't sober for long." Bella continued.
"Charlie and my brother ended up tossing him out when he got belligerent," Renee interjected.
Shelly shook her head. "When is that man going to learn?"
"Never," Bella was quick to respond.
Sadly, her assessment was probably correct. Will Peterson's vices had been given free reign since the death of his mother a few years before, to the point that now he was unable to hold down a job, or maintain a serious relationship.
It hadn't taken him long to squander the money he'd received from the sale of Mrs. Peterson's home.
Last Bella had heard, Will was homeless, all his possessions stowed in his car, and spending his nights camped out on a friend's sofa.
Bella's heart couldn't help but ache at the way Will had wasted his opportunities, especially the chance to have a real relationship with his daughter.
"We're just grateful that Anthony's mother has not been the problem that Marie's father has."
Shelly nodded sagely, having heard all about Edward's ex-wife from Renee.
During the past eight years, Jackie hadn't always been as cooperative as they'd hoped. There was a period of time, just after Ian's cancer treatments had ended, that she would phone and become downright insistent that Anthony come to visit them in New York.
Neither Bella nor Edward was comfortable with the idea of sending him there alone, but they wanted it to be Anthony's decision. When he refused to go, Jackie got angry and shouted that Edward should 'find his balls' and force the child to 'visit his mother'.
The conversation became more heated, with Edward reminding her of exactly what kind of 'mother' she had been. In frustration, Jackie hung up on him.
After that, Edward refused her calls for almost a month.
When he finally did speak with her again, Jackie was sincere in her apology, and things improved.
Edward tried his best to be understanding of Jackie's situation, considering that she and Ian's attempts at having a baby hadn't worked out as they'd hoped.
After four years of trying and failing to conceive their own biological child, they looked into other options, ultimately deciding on adoption. The day they brought three year old Wesley home was coincidentally the same day that Jackie experienced her first bout of morning sickness.
She and Ian were over the moon when they were able to give little Wesley a baby sister eight months later.
As Anthony got older, he found that he enjoyed spending time with Jackie, Ian and their family. He developed a good relationship with Jackie, although it would never compare to the one he had with Bella, the woman he would always consider his 'real' mom.
"What in the world?!" Shelly Cope exclaimed, her surprised eyes focused on the three weary travelers making their way through the entrance of the coffee shop.
Renee and Bella grinned conspiratorially as they rose to greet Esme, Carlisle, and the third member of the group, Peter Logan.
Shelly had first met Peter when he rented a cottage from Bella and Edward during the previous summer. He was an old friend of Carlisle and Esme's, having been Carlisle's mentor of sorts, in the early days of his career.
Retired now, Peter had listened for years as Carlisle had regaled the virtues of Winter Harbor: the beauty, the slower pace, the sense of community… As a matter of fact, Esme and Carlisle had grown to adore it so much that they'd taken to spending their summers there surrounded by their grandchildren.
Finally, Peter couldn't resist going to see the place for himself.
He fell in love with it almost immediately, and after meeting Shelly Cope had to admit, if only to himself, that he was quite smitten by the lovely widow with the ready smile and the twinkle in her eye.
Spending time with Shelly made him happier than he'd felt during all the years since his Sarah had passed away.
He'd been alone too long.
The following autumn, Peter wasn't his usual jovial self during his visits with Esme and Carlisle. Esme suspected the cause, that he was missing Shelly, and shared those thoughts with Bella during a phone conversation about a month before Christmas.
Bella in turn shared this knowledge with Renee, who had also noticed a certain wistful sadness in Shelly's demeanor.
And so the three women conspired to bring Peter to Winter Harbor for the holidays.
It didn't take much to convince him; in fact, he jumped at the chance. Further proof that their suspicions were correct.
Renee and Bella didn't share the plot with their husbands as they worked secretly to prepare Peter's cottage for his visit.
Just before the party, unbeknownst to Edward, Bella had done one last check, making sure to crank up the setting on the gas fireplace so the little cottage would be warm and welcoming for their guest.
Edward sidled up to his wife, wrapping an arm around her waist while allowing his fingertips to softly graze her hip. "I can't wait to hear the part you played in this, Angel." He whispered as they watched Peter and Shelly greet one another.
Bella answered with a giggle. "Well," she paused, "Esme, Mom and I decided that it was time our local matchmaker got a little help with her own love life."
Edward's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Wait a minute, you and our mothers set this up?"
Bella nodded, grinning widely.
"But I'm confused. How is Shelly a matchmaker?"
Bella giggled again. "Oh Edward, over the years, Shelly has manipulated many a circumstance which brought couples in this town together. My own parents admit she had a hand in coaxing my Dad to finally 'pop the question' to Mom. The funny thing is Shelly has no idea that we're all wise to her."
Edward frowned before glancing over at Shelly, his eyes suddenly seeing her in a different light.
"Who knows how long you would have waited to ask me out if it hadn't been for Shelly's meddling."
"What?" Edward asked, speaking a little louder than he intended. Some of the guests and family members glanced over, but after a few seconds turned back to what they were doing. "Spill, Angel. This I've got to hear." He whispered.
"Remember the day we met?"
"Of course, how could I forget?"
"Well," she hesitated before continuing, "That bottle of vanilla extract that Mrs. Cope asked you to deliver was never in my cart." Bella admitted with a sheepish smile.
Bella nodded. "I immediately reasoned out what Shelly was up to, but was so thrilled to see you at my door that I put it out of my mind until later. Then we started dating…" Bella shrugged. "Our lives were rather hectic and I just never thought to tell you about it."
Edward chuckled. "So Shelly is responsible for all this," he said as he gestured toward where their children were scattered throughout the room.
Bella smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his. "Hey, you're the one who wants another one."
"Of course I do. We need another boy. We are outnumbered by you females," He informed with a wink as he wrapped his arms around his wife.
At that moment, someone fired up the jukebox and "White Christmas" by Otis Redding sounded through the speakers. Before she knew what was happening, Edward had pulled her close and began to sway their bodies in time to the music.
"We're not being very good hosts," Bella reminded, although not really wanting to stop.
Edward glanced around. "S'okay, our parents have it covered."
Bella glanced as well, only to find that he was right. Their parents, along with Anthony, were mingling and chatting with the guests, allowing Edward and Bella a little time to themselves.
As the song drew to a close, Bella felt Edward's body stiffen. "I can't say that I'm a fan of that situation," He frowned as he nodded toward where Bobby and Marie were talking in a secluded corner.
Bella smiled and gently patted her husband's chest. "Oh Edward, give Marie some credit. She's a smart girl. Take it from someone who knows all about falling for the wrong boy in high school. Bobby is someone even Chief Swan would approve of."
Edward relaxed a bit, but didn't lose the frown. "I don't like it. We've never discussed this, but I think it's a good time to establish a dating age for our girls."
Bella kept her eyes on his as he continued in a serious tone.
"I was thinking thirty seemed appropriate."
So taken by surprise was Bella that she snorted out a laugh at his suggestion. "Edward, you can't be serious."
He scowled in response. "Dead serious."
Bella took a deep breath. "Honey, Marie is almost sixteen. Next year she'll have her ring dance and junior prom…"
Edward nodded, "I know, and Anthony will have all the senior activities." He shook his head. "I get that they're growing up, but I don't have to be happy about it; especially my daughter. What's so great about that kid anyway?"
Bella placed her hand soothingly on his cheek. "Poor Daddy." She murmured.
Edward looked at her pleadingly. "Why can't she stay our little girl for a while longer?" He whispered. "Why does she need some stupid boy?"
"Edward, it's okay to feel like this. It's actually quite normal." She attempted to calm him. "You'll always be her daddy, you're not being replaced."
"Feels that way."
He turned suddenly, the sprig of fake mistletoe hanging a few feet from where Marie and Bobby were talking having caught his eye. His booming voice managed to startle Bella, and garner the attention of everyone around them. "That right there," he exclaimed while pointing to the plastic green twig. "Is only for the use of adults over the age of twenty-one." He made sure to glare at Bobby while he spoke.
"Daddy!" Marie whisper-yelled, the blush rising in her cheeks; while at the same moment, the room around them erupted into laughter.
"I'm sorry, Marie, but if you insist on spending time with a boy, we need some ground rules."
"Oh my God!" Marie exclaimed before turning away and fleeing in the direction of the kitchen.
He watched his daughter disappear before looking back toward his wife, disapproval evident in her expression. "Edward, what has gotten into you?" she snapped before trailing after Marie.
He glanced around; the eyes of everyone in the room were fixed on him. Some of the faces, like those of his parents and Bella's mother, held looks of sympathy. Others seemed merely curious. However, one person in particular couldn't mask their disappointment at his behavior.
Anthony himself was very protective of his sisters, and if Anthony thought Edward had crossed the line... well… it must be bad.
It took exactly 3.7 seconds for Edward to realize that he had behaved like a complete and utter jackass.
"Oh son," he turned to find his father-in-law standing behind him, smiling widely. The Chief placed a firm hand on Edward's shoulder. "Welcome to the next stage of parenting. You thought you didn't get any sleep when they were babies?" Charlie laughed, "When they start dating, it's a hell of a lot worse; especially when you have girls."
Edward groaned and palmed his face.
"But, I'll say this much, and you know I don't give compliments easily," Charlie continued, "You and Bella are good parents." He leaned in closer and spoke in a low voice. "You got this."
Even though there was a good chance that Marie would probably push him away, he knew he needed to go to her.
But what could he say?
He didn't have long to contemplate his next move before his youngest child suddenly appeared before him. "I gotta go tinkle!" little Charlie Cullen shouted at the top of his lungs as he grabbed at his crotch; his expression pained.
Edward immediately sprang into action. After months of attempting to potty train their son, this was the first indication that Charlie was receptive to the idea of graduating from pull-ups to underwear.
Edward grabbed Charlie's little hand, but his father-in-law stopped him. "I'll take him. I think you need to go apologize to Marie," he said while giving Edward a meaningful look.
Edward stood, frozen in place. Waiting.
Waiting for what?
He had no idea.
As the restroom door closed behind Chief Swan and his namesake, Edward stood there. Knowing he'd have to face the inevitable sooner or later, he finally drew in a deep breath and crossed the short distance to the kitchen.
He found Marie standing by the sink. Her mother had an arm around her shoulders in an effort to comfort her.
When she saw her husband, Bella gave him a small smile. "Daddy's here now."
Marie's eyes darted to where Edward stood near the door.
His heart clenched in his chest when he saw the evidence of her tears.
"I'll let you two talk," Bella told Marie in a quiet voice. "Remember what I said."
Marie looked at her mom and nodded before letting her gaze drop to the floor.
"Hey baby girl," Edward said softly as soon as Bella was gone.
Marie wouldn't look at him. "Hey." She answered; her voice barely a whisper.
"Still mad at me?"
"Marie," the repentant father began, "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you. It was a gut reaction. I certainly didn't think any of that through before I spoke…"
She looked up then and interrupted him. "Seriously, Daddy? I am way beyond embarrassed. You humiliated me in front of everyone. I can never show my face in public again. The only reason I'm not hiding in my room right now is because Mom stopped me."
Edward frowned. The whole episode hadn't seemed that big a deal to him.
However, he'd forgotten that fifteen year old girls were highly emotional creatures. The memory of what he'd done would most likely take her years to overcome.
"Baby, it wasn't intentional. I guess I'm an overprotective ass sometimes."
Marie just rolled her eyes, not answering.
"Come on, Ree, I'm truly sorry. I don't know what got into me…"
Marie looked up at him then. "Yeah, Mom said that you can't help yourself. Dads see everyone as a threat, especially to their daughters."
"It doesn't make it hurt any less, Daddy."
Edward sighed. "Please baby, what can I do to make it up to you?"
"No Dad, just… stop." She answered in a whisper.
Edward crossed an arm over his chest and rubbed at his shoulder. The worried expression on his face was what finally helped Marie's anger to dissipate.
She thought back over the years since her mother had married Edward. All the times he'd helped her with homework, attended school plays, dance recitals and soccer games; held her hand in the hospital as she waited to have her tonsils removed; kissed away her tears when they said goodbye to their cat, Hermoine.
Most of all, she remembered the way he'd protected her, time and again, from a drunken, foul-mouthed Will Peterson.
Then she thought about what her mother had told her.
"Mom said you did it because you love me."
"I do, Ree. So much," he answered, his voice pleading.
Marie nodded. "I love you too, Daddy. But, can you do something for me?"
"Bobby is the first boy I've ever really liked and I'm going to need you to back off." She glanced toward the door then, her voice falling to a whisper. "That is, if he ever speaks to me again after what happened…"
"He's still out there. I assume he's waiting for you."
"He is?" She looked up at her father hopefully.
Edward nodded and then swallowed hard. "Baby, I guess where you're concerned, I worry more. You've been through so much…"
Marie touched his arm. "That's what Mom said. I get it, but you need to give Bobby a chance, Daddy. Trust me, he's not Will Peterson."
Edward frowned. Was he doing that? Was he laying the sins of Will Peterson on Bobby Cope's shoulders? Bobby had done nothing wrong, and Edward had treated that boy unfairly because of Marie's father.
"Shit," He muttered. "I owe Bobby an apology as well."
Marie smiled and moved closer to her dad. "I love you Daddy, even when you act like a jerk."
Edward laughed and pulled her into a hug. "Okay, I guess I deserved that. I love you, even though I sometimes have an odd way of showing it."
Marie glanced nervously toward the door. "I think I'll make a trip to the restroom and fix my hair before I, um …"
"You do that, and I'll go speak with Bobby." Edward informed with a wink.
That night before falling asleep, Edward confessed the conversation he'd had with their daughter to Bella.
"Angel, I can't promise to always remain calm and rational about this 'dating' thing."
"Edward, you had to know this was coming. Anthony's almost seventeen, for heaven's sake."
Edward sighed. "I think I was in denial. I was comfortable there… what with the Jacuzzi I've installed and the multi-purpose gym." He smirked in the dark as he pulled her closer.
Bella couldn't help but giggle, but she knew her husband well enough to realize that he was masking his worry with humor.
"It's going to be okay," Bella soothed.
"I know. I realize that I can't stop them from growing up; I just need to keep myself from fucking things up royally, especially with Marie."
"How about if I let you know when your reactions are a little 'over the top'?"
"Please," Edward whispered as he turned his head and left a soft kiss on Bella's hair.
After tonight, he knew that things would never be the same. He was venturing into unknown territory, a place where he was the father to 'almost grown' children.
He sighed and pulled Bella closer…
Bella wasn't sure what woke her from a dead sleep. Maybe it was the feel of cold sheets against her hand when she reached for Edward, finding his side of the bed empty.
It was a fact that she always slept better when he was beside her.
She glanced at the clock while slipping into her robe. Although it was after six, it was still quite dark. Even so, she knew Samwise would be begging to go outside soon. Bella padded softly down the hall towards the kitchen. As she got closer, she could hear the muted voices of Edward and at least one of their children.
"Luna likes your finger, Daddy." Clara giggled, as Bella peered around the corner to find her husband and daughter playing on the floor. The new kitten was lying in Clara's lap, biting and clawing at Edward's finger.
"Silly little furball," Edward laughed as the kitten continued to attack him.
When she tired of that, Luna stretched and yawned before curling up, most likely in preparation for a nap. Clara sighed. "She's so sweet," she murmured while stroking the kitten's soft fur. "I wish she could stay little forever."
Edward smiled at his daughter and ran his hand through her bronze locks. "I know, baby girl. But that wouldn't be fair to Luna. She needs to grow up and do all the things big cats get to do."
"And besides, grown up cats are cool. You don't remember Hermoine very well, but Anthony and your sisters can tell you how much fun she was."
Clara nodded, staring at her daddy with wide eyes. "Lottie says she was the best cat ever."
"There you go." Edward answered with a wide smile. "And even when she's grown up, Luna will still act like a silly kitten sometimes."
Edward nodded. "Yep."
Clara smiled and then the smile morphed into a yawn.
"Hey, I think maybe you and Luna could both use a couple more hours sleep."
Clara yawned again and followed it up with a nod.
Bella slipped back into the hallway, not alerting them to her presence as Edward ushered their daughter back upstairs to her bedroom.
As she predicted, Sam came loping up to her then and licked her hand.
"Hey boy," Bella whispered as she rubbed his neck.
By the time she was bundled up against the cold, Edward had returned.
"Taking Sam out?" he asked.
Bella nodded as she slipped on a pair of boots.
"Hang on a sec and I'll go with you."
Before long, Edward and Bella were trekking over the frozen ground together, while their canine friend searched for a suitable place to relieve his bladder.
"When I woke up, you weren't there," Bella whispered.
Edward reached his arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him as they walked. "Clara had a bad dream."
"Yeah. I'm not surprised you didn't hear her come into our room. You were sleeping very soundly."
Bella shook her head. "I was exhausted after the party."
Edward pulled her even closer then and rubbed her upper arm in an effort to ward off the morning chill.
"What was her dream about?"
Edward chuckled then. "She dreamt that her kitten grew up and then kept growing and growing until she became a tiger and tried to eat everyone."
Bella giggled. "That girl; I wonder what she's been watching on television…"
"Well, she and Charlie have been on a dinosaur kick lately."
Bella nodded. "You know Edward, some of those Land Before Time movies can be quite unsettling. I don't think we should let them watch them anymore."
Edward laughed. "Angel, somehow I don't think the adventures of Littlefoot are giving our daughter nightmares."
Bella didn't look convinced.
He chuckled again before placing a sweet kiss on her forehead.
"I have a confession to make," Bella suddenly blurted.
Edward's eyebrows lifted in curiosity as he held her against him.
"I may have overhead part of your conversation with Clara."
"About not wanting the kitten to grow up."
Edward gave her a sheepish grin. "Yeah." He shrugged his shoulders. "Funny thing about that. In the process of explaining how that wasn't desirable, much less possible, I may have learned something as well."
"And what's that?"
"Just that I need to enjoy my children at every stage of their life; and that, as much as I'd like for them to stay small and be dependent on their old man, they can't stay that way forever."
Bella wrapped her arms around his waist. "They will always need you, Edward. I mean, look at us. We still need our parents, only not the same way we did when we were small. The trick now is allowing our children to grow and learn, even though sometimes that also means making mistakes."
Edward frowned. "I worry about them getting hurt…"
"And if that happens, we'll be there to help them heal." Bella explained softly. "You know what?"
"Hmm?" Edward asked as he nuzzled into her hair.
"We've both made mistakes, but I don't regret them. I even like to call them 'learning experiences'." She smiled. "They helped us find one another."
Edward leaned back and looked into Bella's eyes, "That they did." he agreed. "I love you, Angel."
"As I love you."
At that moment, Bella's attention was suddenly drawn toward the water where the sun was just beginning to peek over the distant horizon. "Oh, Edward," she gasped, "look, the sunrise. It's beautiful."
"Yes, it certainly is." He whispered; however, Edward wasn't looking at the sunrise. He couldn't seem to tear his gaze away from the source of his joy, his beautiful wife.
Whether it was Shelly Cope's meddling or divine providence that had brought them together all those years before, he would probably never know.
It didn't matter.
What mattered, what was most important, was the lovely woman he held in his arms. Because of her, his life today was better than he'd dreamed it could ever be.
Whatever the future held, he knew he'd see it through as long as Bella was by his side.
"Let's go check on the kids, and maybe go back to bed for a couple of hours," he murmured in her ear.
Bella smiled sweetly. "Mmm. Sounds wonderful."
And so they turned, Sam following dutifully behind; and walked hand in hand back toward their home where their five precious children lay sleeping peacefully.
A/N And that's all she wrote. I have enjoyed this little trip to the coast of Maine…even when the snow was knee deep. (If you're curious as to what the future holds for the Cullen family, ask me on FB. I have some info in my notes and will gladly pass it along. No sequel though…just a few glimpses.)
Many, many thanks once again to Jessica aka Jbeaucage for her beta assistance and to Coleen561 for the lovely banner. I can't say it enough, you ladies are the best!
Thanks to all my readers! I love all your messages and reviews. I read and appreciate every single one and am gratified that my little stories can brighten your day.
Housekeeping: My Facebook name has changed to Annie M Deacon. Not my real name, however if I ever decide to publish an original story, I intend to use the penname A M Deacon, so I've gone ahead and made the switch on FB.
Join us on Facebook in the group Emmamama's Stories.
My Blog: Emmamamas-stories dot blogspot dot com.
I'm Emmamama88 on Twitter.
Love, love, love you all. Until we meet again… take care. I'm going to go drink some hot cocoa with the Cullens now, and maybe warm my feet. :D