Twilight belongs to the ridiculously talented Stephenie Meyer.
A Father's Hope belongs to me.
Thanks to twimom817 for beta'ing and making this look pretty.
Please see my short A/N at the bottom.
The weeks following Chloe's homecoming were some of the busiest yet best of my life. The Saturday after her arrival we spent the morning at Home Depot looking at paint samples trying to find the perfect shade of princess pink for Chloe's new room – which she loved of course. Bella even let her pick out a paint color and accessories for the hall bathroom. I couldn't find it in me to complain; my girls were my life.
I dutifully painted both rooms; keeping Bella as far from the fumes as possible. Curtain rods were hung, bookcases were assembled and furniture was moved. My girls worked together to put the new bedding on the bed and decorated the walls with art and the shelves with knick knacks. Chloe loved it when we were done.
Mr. Christianson, my attorney was able to obtain Chloe's school records for me and I took a few days off to try and register her for school. I had discussed it with Mr. Christianson and he said it would look good to the social worker if I was attempting to establish stability for Chloe. Of course I had to explain to the school our situation and let them know that it was a possibility that Chloe wouldn't be attending at all, it depended on the custody hearing which was scheduled for September 2nd, just five days before school was supposed to start.
Bella was able to get in touch with one of the dance instructors that taught at the dance camp Chloe had been to the previous summer and arranged for Chloe to take lessons even though classes didn't officially start until September. Chloe also asked if she could register for Girl Scouts.
"My friends in California were in Girl Scouts and they said it was so much fun. Can I join too, Daddy?"
Bella looked at me with pleading eyes, and I knew in that moment it would be something that Bella would gladly help out with.
As promised, a court appointed social worker came by to check in on us. I gave her some private time with Chloe because I was sure she had some questions for Chloe and I didn't want my presence to influence her.
"Mr. Cullen, your daughter is doing extremely well. She's very excited about all the things that you've arranged for her such as her dance classes and Girl Scouts. I also understand that you've enrolled her in school?"
"Yes, ma'am. They understand that it's still a possibility that I won't have residential custody of her, but should the court decide to grant me that, she's all set. Our court date is Sept. 2nd and school starts on the 7th. I don't want her to be any more behind than she already is. She's going to have to repeat the second grade this year because her education suffered while she was in Bahrain and she can't pass the aptitude tests. My girlfriend, Bella and I will both work with her because we don't want her to get discouraged."
"You're very good for her, Mr. Cullen. She's happy here, and she really loves … Bella?"
"She does," I nodded.
September 2nd came way too fast for my liking, but my parents traveled with Chloe and me to California for the custody hearing. The judge contacted my attorney and specifically asked if I would bring Chloe. The judge asked if he could speak with her for a few minutes. It was the most frustrating twenty minutes of my life – not knowing what Chloe was telling him.
We were called into the courtroom by the bailiff and court was quickly called to order. My mom sat with Chloe outside the courtroom with a bag of things to entertain Chloe with while my dad and I sat in the courtroom waiting to see what the court decided.
"It is the belief of this court that a child is a blessing and not a chore. A child is a human being and needs to be treated as such. Ms. Denali, no child should ever be a second priority. I've read over the testimony of both parties as well as the deposition of the court appointed social worker. Not in any one point of your testimony, Ms. Denali did I ever feel that your actions reflected concern for your child. You've failed to provide a stable home for her. A child shouldn't have to share a room with four other children nor should they have to sleep on the floor or wonder when their mother is going to come home. When the going gets tough you should persevere, not hop on the first flight to the Middle East taking away your ex-husband's rights to see his child. Last but certainly not least, every child has a right to an education and it's your job as a parent to make sure your child gets the education they deserve and you've failed at that as well.
Mr. Cullen on the other hand has gone above and beyond securing that education for his daughter. She's enrolled for a school she's uncertain she'll attend until this court makes a decision. I have before me pictures of a beautifully decorated room his daughter calls her own and I'm told that if I let her stay with her father, she'll be allowed to register for Girl Scouts when school starts on Tuesday. It is my sincere belief that since she was removed from his care last summer, Mr. Cullen's first priority was the health and safety of his child as it should be. It has also come to my attention that there is a whole network of family support which I wholeheartedly believe to be important when raising a child.
"This court in the case of Cullen vs. Denali, finds in favor of Mr. Cullen. Mr. Cullen will have full and residential custody of one Chloe Renee Cullen for a period of one year at which time this court will review progress of all involved parties. Ms. Denali you are granted visitation with your daughter, however it will be at the discretion of Mr. Cullen and it must always be in the presence of Mr. Cullen, an appointed family member or a court appointed social worker. Since Mr. Cullen resides in the state of Washington, all visitations will take place in his home state and it is up to you to make your own travel arrangements. Court is adjourned."
My dad turned in his seat and pulled me into his arms. I couldn't stop the hot tears that ran down my cheeks. I could finally take Chloe home to stay. She could start school on Tuesday morning and live the life of a normal eight year old.
I called Bella and gave her the news as my dad called and tried to get us on a flight home that afternoon. Bella was in tears just like me – thankful that we could really begin to live our lives now that Chloe was going to be safe at home with us.
The first day of school, Bella and I both went into work late. We walked Chloe down to the bus stop and waited for the bus with her and waited until the tail lights were long gone. Bella had brought along her camera and taken a ton of pictures – acting like the proud mom on her daughter's first day of kindergarten. God, I loved her for it.
Between school, dance, Girl Scouts and soccer, Bella and I didn't have a whole lot of spare time but we ate up every minute of it. I'd come home from work to the sounds of my girls in the kitchen cooking dinner together and working on homework. Bella continued to read with Chloe and if my girls were quiet I knew they'd be curled up together reading somewhere.
I continued to walk Chloe to the bus stop every morning, and Bella changed her schedule at work so that she went to work early and was home by the time Chloe stepped off the bus. We fell into an easy but busy routine. Bella fit into our life flawlessly as I knew she would, but she stepped into the female role in Chloe's life with such grace it was amazing. She reassured Chloe that she'd never replace her mother but she was always there for her whenever she needed her.
For Chloe's 9th birthday, we took a group of giggly girls to the aquarium and spent the day wandering around before going to eat at a restaurant at Pike Place Market that Chloe loved. Chloe introduced Bella as her 'mom' for the first time that weekend. It meant more to Bella and me than we could ever have expressed.
Just before Thanksgiving, we found out that Bella was having a boy. We had to make the announcement that we were expecting because Bella was really starting to show and she was getting to the point where she couldn't wait any longer.
I proposed to her on Halloween. I'd filled a little box with candy and hid her ring in the midst of it insisting that she go through each and every piece. She was adorably irritated as she went through the box, but the look on her face when she found the ring was priceless.
"Will you marry me, Bella?"
I wiped the tears from her cheeks as she nodded fervently.
"Yes, yes of course I'll marry you, Edward!"
Along with telling our family and friends that we were expecting a boy, we told them that we were planning on getting married the following spring. I may have done things in the wrong order, but they couldn't have felt more right.
My son was born on a very rainy St. Patrick's Day. We named him Matthew Charles Cullen. Bella said he was God's way of wishing us good luck since Matthew means Gift from God. I wasn't about to argue with her. Our son was as close to perfection as you could get; just the right mix of Bella and me.
Chloe was the most amazing big sister. She loved to help Bella and me with Matthew whenever possible. She wished that she could feed him but Bella had chosen to breastfeed, so Chloe settled for reading to him softly as I burped him.
Bella and I were married later that spring at the same country club that Rosalie and Emmett were married at. The ceremony was simple yet beautiful. I stood at the front of the gazebo holding my son as Bella and her father walked down the aisle. She was absolutely breath taking in an ivory chiffon gown. I handed my son off to my dad as I took my place front and center with Bella.
We exchanged our vows and Bella turned to Chloe to give her a little locket vowing that she'd always be there for her no matter what.
"I love you, mommy," Chloe whispered.
Together, Bella, Chloe and I poured three colors of sand together symbolizing the unity of our family. Chloe argued at first saying there should be four colors because of Matthew but Bella explained that because Matthew was both a part of her and me that three colors would be just fine.
Later that evening, we sat on the couch; Bella curled up next to me with Chloe on her lap. One of my arms was wrapped around Bella and my son was sleeping peacefully in the other. Everything I ever wanted and needed was right there in my arms.
My hope as a father is for my children to grow up in a warm and loving home like my sister and I did. With Bella by my side, there is no doubt in my mind that together we can make that hope a reality.
A/N: "Chloe" just turned 10 and is still in her dad's custody. She's absolutely thriving and was looking forward to her brother's first Christmas. = ) To my knowledge, "Irina" has not visited her since losing custody.
Thanks for reading!