At Any Moment

A/N: I have two of the most amazing betas, folks. It's true. THEsnapcrakklepop and fmneff rocked this on short notice and with lightning speed. Of course, I'm partial, but I feel like the luckiest author in the fandom. Damn straight!

This O/S was written for the 'Our Season of Discontentment' contest. An angst-ridden, tear-jerking, Kleenex-needing cry fest of amazing stories that blew me away. This one didn't place, so obviously didn't blow anyone away (no pun intended, as you'll see when you read), but meh, I figured I'd share it with those that are interested in something different anyway.

Tornadoes have been a fixture in my nightmares for many, many years. Living in the Midwest, it's an almost constant threat throughout spring, summer and sometimes fall. I've seen what these monsters of nature can do, and lived through them. One in particular when I was a child, and I'll never forget it. Luckily, I've never, nor has anyone I loved ever suffered an injury or worse because of a tornado (knock on wood). But as the saying goes…never say never. The city I've used in this O/S is a mere 30 minutes from my home. There have been countless tornadoes and nasty storms in this area. One particularly nasty tornado hit in May of 2008, but this story is purely fiction. I would, however, like to dedicate it to the wonderful people of Joplin, Missouri (my home state), who were literally devastated by a massive, horrifying, mile-wide tornado just this past May. They've rebuilt a lot, but much of the damage was irreparable.

I hope you enjoy this figment of my nightmare. Grab a box of tissues, you might need them, and I truly hope you feel the intensity I felt as I wrote this.

Here's the link for the picture prompt I used and incorporated into the story below. http:/i1006 . photobucket . com/albums/af182/WickedCurveBall-RMEA/PicforAAM . jpg (just delete the spaces!)

~*aMa*~

"Flowers grow out of dark moments. Therefore, each moment is vital. It affects the whole. Life is a succession of these moments, and to live each is to succeed." ~ Corta Kent

I love listening to the rain. It reminds me of home. I love the sound it makes, the smell…fresh and clean. When I close my eyes, I see the green lush forests of my home in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not miserable being here in Kansas City, Missouri…my new home of a couple years now. I've learned to adapt, learned to make a new life and to actually enjoy it.

As a matter of fact, when Edward nervously broached the subject with me, which now seems like a lifetime ago, he didn't have to do much arm-twisting to convince me that a change of scenery wasn't such a bad idea. At the time, I was tired of the constant rain…tired of the constant reminders of my dad, whom I missed and still miss dearly, and I wanted to start something new and fresh with the one and only man I would ever love. We were going to be together forever; it didn't matter where in the world we ended up, as long as we had each other. So that's just what we did. It's been two years and we're still here, only…our lives are so different now.

A flash of lighting through the kitchen window startles me a little, followed by a violent rumble of thunder that shakes the very foundation of the house, drowning out the crackling sound of the bacon on the stove. It's early afternoon, mid-May, but you'd never know it by looking outside. The sky has gotten so dark with the approaching storm that it resembles early evening. It's a bit unnerving, but still, I revel in the sound of the splattering rain drops. The entire week has been abnormally hot for this time of year, high-eighties, so the storm is bringing a slight, but welcome drop in temperature. With the window open and the cool breeze fluttering through, the house is finally bearable. I've been too cheap to turn on the air so far this year.

"Momma!" I hear the pitter patter of little feet before I hear the squeal of my three-year-old son, Connor, and I turn. He's not normally afraid of storms, but that was loud even for what we've gotten used to. He hits the slick floor and slides toward me in his little sock-clad feet. I catch him in my arms and lift him to my hip with a slight grunt. As young and lanky as he is, he's solid as a rock, and comes to just under my waist.

"It's okay, little bean," I murmur softly, brushing his bronze locks back away from his face. His huge, hazel eyes stare back at me, a beautiful mixture of his dad's green and my brown. He looks so much like his dad, even more so as he grows, that it almost hurts to gaze at him for too long.

"Did you hear da funder, Momma?" he says with a slightly shaky little voice. I nod and smile at my boy.

"Yes, I did, but remember what Me-Me says about it?" Internally, I roll my eyes, but only because I miss Edward's mom a lot. She's the sweetest woman on the planet and apart from my own mother, I love her dearly. We started out calling her Grandma Esme until Connor began to talk, and after that, "Me-Me" was all he could get out – and she's been Me-Me ever since.

My son nods in response to my question. "God's pwaying basebaw. He just hit a homewun. You fink so, Momma?" I nod and giggle. Me-Me tells him that on the phone every time he brings up the "funder" and "wightning". I've been working with him on his pronunciation, but old habits die hard and the doctor says for a three-year-old, he speaks very well. In all actuality, he only turned three last month. April fifteenth to be exact. Tax day. I'll be glad for preschool to start in the fall so that he can work more solidly on his phonics, but part of me wants to hold onto his baby-talk as long as possible.

It's really too bad my mother just started a three-month long cruise around the world with her new, ex-baseball player, husband, Phil. I would love to hear her take on the whole thunderstorm as explained to a three-year-old. Renee would probably have to get out her astrological charts…see what position the stars are in or some shit like that. My mom's a total freak, but I love her anyway.

Connor seems to calm a little bit with the comforting logic of his Me-Me, and lifts his nose to the air, sniffing a couple times.

"Momma, I'm hungwy," he says with a slight growl that makes me laugh a little harder. At the same time, it makes my heart ache… Edward used to growl playfully at Connor and chase him around on his hands and knees. Connor would squeal and wobble around in his diaper trying to outrun his daddy. I wonder briefly if they still play that game when he sees him on the weekends. It shouldn't matter to me; it was my choice to…end things.

But it doesn't make it hurt any less.

I've never been supportive of Edward's job. I should be, if for no other reason than I love him. That's what you're supposed to do when you love someone, but I could never get past the worry no matter how hard I tried, no matter how irrational he thought my fears were. He was always so incredibly smart in high school; I used to tease him that he was making me look bad with his straight A's. Good grades came easy for him, but for me, it was more of a struggle. Going through school with a flighty mother and no father – he died when I was just starting high school – made me easily distractible, and I would often think of what my dad would've said to me regarding my distractions. That really only made it worse. Edward was the only one that gave me the confidence to get through school and beyond. He always told me I was worth more than I allowed myself to think, smarter than I allowed myself to be. I always saw the truth in his deep green eyes.

Still do.

God, he could've been anything…something safe like a business man, a scientist, a doctor even, but that wasn't what he wanted.

I remember the conversation, the almost break-up that ensued when Edward told me about his career choice soon after we graduated high school. He was my best friend… even then I loved him, more than my own life, but I was devastated when he told me he wanted to be a police officer.

~*aMa*~

"Are you fucking joking, Edward? Please tell me you're joking because I can't believe you would do this to me!"

"I'm not joking, baby; it's what I want to do. It's not a big deal. I mean, besides, I want to do something I can be proud of. I…I want to help people, Bella."

"Not a big deal? Not a big…" I sigh. "Edward, why don't you understand? You know that my father was a cop. You know that he was killed. Killed, Edward, in the line of duty. You can't see why I don't want the man I love to strap on a gun and go out and put himself in harm's way? It's not like the movies, Edward. Cops get killed. Every. Single. Day! I should know." He puts his arms around me and holds me close, kissing my temple, then pulls away to wipe the tumultuous tears off my cheeks.

"Please don't do that, baby, it'll be okay. I won't ever leave you. I promise I'll be safe. I'll always come home to you." His green eyes captivate mine…he could always get to me with those amazing orbs of his…and at that point, I know the argument is over.

~*aMa*~

It didn't take long for me to relent to him. It never did. I couldn't say no to him. At the time, I thought we would be together forever and I didn't want to lose him over my fears. But my fears were so incredibly real, based on what happened to my dad and what the future held for Edward, that it was almost crippling to me. So we stayed together, in love. I saw him through his graduation from the police academy in Seattle, and he saw me through my nursing degree from the local community college in Port Angeles.

Soon after, we had a small, albeit an extravagant – thanks to Edward's mom and half-sister, Alice – wedding ceremony at his mom and step-dad Carlisle's home…a large, colonial-style, sprawling estate about an hour away from Port Angeles. Edward's real dad, the rich Chicago Alderman, Ed Masen, Sr. – Tony Masen to his family and close friends – was there as well with his twenty-something wife, Liz. She's a nice enough girl, but Edward has always been more or less disgusted by the whole thing. I think if his real dad were to ever die, he'd probably take Carlisle's last name as his own. Carlisle's been more of a father to him than Tony ever was, but since Edward and Tony do have somewhat of a relationship, I guess he feels obligated to keep his real last name.

It had been so hot and humid that July evening, but Edward had looked intoxicatingly gorgeous in his formal police uniform he had forgone the traditional tux for. His best friend, Emmett, who had moved to the Midwest not long before, as well as his other close friend, Jasper – both new firefighters – looked almost as handsome in their formal uniforms.

Of course, Edward made me feel beautiful, as he always did, doting over me in my form-fitting, simple but elegant mermaid-style gown. I had Alice to thank, once again, for helping me pick out the dress. The boys' tongues were almost literally wagging over my girlfriends – my close college friend, Angela, as well as Alice, who were breathtaking in their simple, floor-length baby blue satin gowns.

Too bad for Emmett that Angela was already taken. He was threatening to kidnap her and take her back to the "show-me state" as he put it, so he could "show her" some things. That boy always had caveman tendencies. Good thing his current fiancée, Rosalie, whom he met here in Kansas City, has seemed to tame the wild beast in him. Rose is a mechanic, looks like a Victoria's Secret runway model, and has a mean right hook, which I've witnessed and Emmett has felt on the back of his head on several occasions when his mouth has gotten away from him, or his eyes have wandered away from her. I chuckle to myself thinking about it. The boy has met his match.

Despite the beautiful décor and lively celebration that ensued after our wedding, Edward and I were counting down the minutes to be alone with each other. We were officially Mr. and Mrs. Edward Anthony Masen, and we were eager to make some other things official as well. Things such as officially removing each other's attire and officially consummating our marriage – on several occasions that night. In fact, we were so eager for the latter, all logical thought of being careful was thrown out the window. Our initial shock was replaced with utter astonishment and unadulterated joy when nine months later, we welcomed our baby boy, Connor Charles Cullen Masen – all seven pounds, two ounces, twenty-one inches of him, including his wisps of reddish-brown hair and overwhelmingly large eyes. Yes his name is a mouthful, but we wanted him to carry my father's name, and Edward wanted to name him after Carlisle in some way.

He was the most beautiful thing either of us had ever seen.

I knew something was up when Edward started talking to Emmett on the phone constantly. It turned out that Emmett was acting as a friendly recruiter for his buddies at the KCPD. He successfully recruited Edward, who convinced me that it was a great idea, and soon after Connor's first birthday, we said goodbye to Edward's parents, my mom and our friends, and moved halfway across the country to the "Show-Me State." We initially moved to North Kansas City, which is separated from south Kansas City by the Missouri river, and lived comfortably…obliviously…up until seven months ago, when the unthinkable happened. After that, Connor and I moved to a slightly smaller community close to the big city…Gladstone.

Another violent rumble of thunder and a strong gust of wind from the window blow my hair into my face, tearing me from my reverie before I can think of that horrible night. I tighten my grip on my son out of sheer instinct and he groans, bouncing himself on my hip.

"Momma, why is da funder so woud?" he asks as his little hands work to push my hair back over my shoulders.

"I don't know, baby…it must be a really good baseball game up there, huh?" I reply, nuzzling his chunky little cheek. He giggles and squirms some more.

"Whatcha making me for wunch, Momma?"

"I'm making your favorite, honey. BLT's with…"

"…a swice of cheese!" he interrupts me eagerly. I laugh as his little voice overwhelms mine easily.

I hear a very distinct whine at that moment and it's only then that I notice the giant ball of fur sitting a couple feet from us, eyeing our every move. Jack. I set Connor down on his feet and reach over, smoothing out the fur between Jack's ears. He's such a beautiful dog and my son's best friend at this point. Good Lord, those two can keep each other occupied for hours on end. I start to feel left out at times.

"What are you whining about, mister?" I coo at him, stroking his fur. His dark brown eyes widen a bit and his tail, fluffy and curled up over his back, begins to sway side to side a little faster. Jack's our one-and-a-half year old Akita, a breed known for loving children and being very protective – and he is just that. He's beautiful as well, chocolate colored fur along his head and back, fading into white on his sides and belly, stretching onto his long legs and gigantic paws. At a hundred and fifty pounds, he's huge! Connor rides him like a horse constantly and Jack takes it in stride. He's such a good dog, obedient and loving to my little boy and so patient with him. Any other dog probably would've tried to take a chunk out of him by now for all the tugging and squeezing Connor puts him through.

We adopted him a few months after moving here and Edward fell in love with him. It was hard on him to leave Jack here, but he was concerned for our safety and thought it best to let him stay.

A lump forms in my throat as I recall the day Edward left the house, torn between anger and sadness. It was six months ago, weeks after I received the most horrific phone call I could ever receive. Edward had been on a routine traffic stop, somewhere deep in the city, which I hated in the first place. The asshole junkie he pulled over didn't even wait for Edward to get to the driver's window before he pulled out an illegal handgun and started shooting. Edward's partner, Royce, called me to the hospital. I was…I was out of my mind with worry and dread. Thankfully, he'd been wearing his vest. The bullet apparently hit the top part of it and grazed the flesh under his arm. It was superficial, but enough to rock my entire world.

The night he left the house, he held Connor on his hip, whispering reassurance in his ear that he would see him soon, as he hunched down and petted Jack for what felt like hours. After a few moments, it was too painful for me to watch. I chickened out and left the room. I was fine until he came in to say goodbye to me.

~*aMa*~

"You don't have to do this, baby," he says, walking toward me. His eyes are red-rimmed and his voice shaking with emotion. It's too much for me.

"Edward, please just…don't." I put my hand up to stop him. His brow is furrowed, his jaw clenched, hurt and angry.

"Why? Bella, why?" he pleads with me. Tears splash over my eyelids onto my cheeks and I hold my breath, trying not to break down completely. "I'm fine, baby, I'm okay. You're overreacting. Look at me!" I can't. "Bella, please…" his voice cracks and my head snaps in his direction. My husband does not cry. He's a police officer and a tough one at that. Even though he isn't as seasoned as some, he exhibits all the hard-ass-cop characteristics. When I look at him, I can't stop the sob from erupting out of me. "I told you I would never leave you…not like that. It was nothing. I'm…fine. Any one of us could die in a car accident tomorrow, I…y—you're…fuck. This is so ridiculous!"

"Edward," I choke on my words. "It wasn't nothing. You got…you got shot. I c—can't, I just can't do it anymore. I can't be at home and see that unmarked car pull up to the house. Y—you know, the one that comes to tell me when you're dead!" I clench my own jaw, trying not to scream. I'm nauseous. I can't believe I'm really doing what I'm doing, but again, my fear is all-consuming. The next words I speak are like a knife to my chest, and to his as well. I tell him I can't be with him anymore, I can't love him anymore…and I don't mean any of it.

~*aMa*~

I'm sure there were more words spoken, more pleading on his part, more crying on mine, but I can't really remember it all. It's like my brain's blocked some of that day out. Still, I remember enough to make me sick to my stomach. I remember his large, gentle hands cupping my jaw; I remember him kissing my forehead and telling me that he loved me. I remember him wiping his eyes quickly, trying not to let me see him do it before he left.

I shake the thoughts away as Jack licks my nose, his long, wet tongue leaving my nose damp. I cringe and giggle. His tail is now wagging rapidly and he's on all fours again. Standing, begging…he smells the bacon.

"Oh, no you don't," I scold him softly. "No bacon for you today. Go on." I motion toward the hallway and Jack whines once more, pulling at my heart strings. It's his usual last ditch effort to get what he wants, but I won't budge. "Connor, take Jack and go play for a while, honey. I'll call you when lunch is ready, okay?" Connor nods and orders his best friend to follow him, which Jack does obediently. I shake my head and chuckle as they disappear down the hallway. As I turn the bacon over in the pan, it crackles and one of the pieces pops, splashing scalding hot grease onto my forefinger.

"Ow, damn it!" I growl under my breath and stumble to the sink to run cool water over it.

I steal a glance out the window and notice the rain has slowed down a bit. The clouds look ominous, though, and it's a little unnerving. I'm in awe of the colors – some are a deep, angry purple and some have a strange green hue. Something I've never seen before. I think to myself briefly that I should probably turn the radio on, or the TV. I haven't paid attention at all to the weather reports today and, although we've never had a storm severe enough to cause any significant damage, this part of the country…as I've learned, unfortunately…is notorious.

Tornado Alley, they call it. I've heard of tornadoes before, but never experienced one. Based on what I've heard, I hope it stays that way. Before we moved here, I couldn't have even described what a tornado was, but over the past couple years, I've experienced hail, thunderstorms that put the ones in the Pacific Northwest to shame, and microbursts – which are just fucking bizarre to me. These storms used to freak me out completely. In fact, Edward would laugh at me and shake his head when I jumped three feet in the air after a rumble of thunder like today's, but I've become indifferent to them…there's something soothing about them now. Especially with the rain… Like I said, it reminds me of my old home and my dad, Charlie, the tough police chief, dancing with his little girl in the rain. Jesus, could my thoughts depress me any more today?

There was a tornado this time last year, somewhere in Kansas…Wichita, I think…that destroyed entire neighborhoods. Granted it was hundreds of miles from here, but close enough. Mother Nature can be a vengeful bitch at times, and though I had never seen a news report such as that back home, it struck a nerve with me.

The next flash of lighting causes the lights to flicker and I groan, hoping the bacon gets done before the electricity goes out – something that seems to happen every damn time there's a thunderstorm around here. At least a few pieces are done, so I carefully – trying not to sear my skin again – remove them and place them on a plate. The grease drips onto the folded paper towel cradling the bacon and my stomach rolls a little. I'm definitely not a huge fan of bacon, but somehow the mayo, lettuce and tomato make it edible…and besides, it's my baby's favorite, although I do opt out of the swice of cheese as he puts it, because to me…yeah it's just gross.

It's quieted down a little outside and Connor and Jack seem to be playing silently, so I'm reveling in the peace for the moment when the phone rings loudly, startling me. I'm fairly certain the thunder has gotten me jumpy and I'll be glad when the storm passes. It would be nice if once in a while, this time of year, it would just rain and leave out the thunder and lightning. I smile when I look at the caller ID and recognize the number as my friend, Jacob Black's.

"Hey Jake!" I chirp. My greeting tells him I'm happy to hear from him. He's always a ray of sunshine in the storm.

"What's up, beautiful? You gonna be home a little later?"

"Yes I am. Just me and my boys. Why do you ask?"

He hesitates before questioning me warily. "Uh, b—boys?"

I laugh, knowing he thinks I'm including Edward as one of the boys.

"Yeah, Connor and Jack, silly."

"Oh good." I hear relief in his tone. He and Edward aren't on the best of terms, I guess you could say. Even though I've tried to explain to Edward countless times that Jake and I are just friends, and even though I've rejected Jake's advances more times than I care to admit. Neither one of them seem to get it. "So, no Officer Asswipe today?" he continues.

"Jake…" I warn, to which he chuckles.

"Sorry, Bells. Just glad I don't have to deal with the wrath of a jealous cop today, that's all."

I groan in response, rolling my eyes. "Well, he doesn't have anything to be jealous of, Jacob," I deadpan. I hate to cut him short, but like I said, he reads a little too much into our relationship. I love him. I really do, just not like that.

"Sure he doesn't…now…but I'm hoping to change that. I mean, if he's gonna be jealous, might as well give him a reason, eh, beautiful?"

"Jake, stop calling me that."

"Why? You are…beautiful."

"Jake, ugh, you've got a lot of confidence there, grease monkey," I tease, but I'm starting to get a little annoyed.

"Oh, excuse me for not being a brooding, emo cop from Washington," he retorts sardonically. I roll my eyes yet again.

"Jacob Black! You're pushing your luck today." He seems to catch the hint and changes the subject.

"So, anyway, I'm closing up the shop here in a few and I thought I might stop by."

"Okay, that sounds good! We'll be here, eating BLT's and anxiously awaiting your arrival." I reply cheerfully, excited about the fact that I might get to have an adult conversation today. It's not like I don't know anyone else. It's just that I have more acquaintances than really good friends, mainly from my job at North Kansas City Hospital, but my shifts are long and usually leave me exhausted. Sometimes working in the ER, it's impossible to just leave when your shift is over.

"Sure, sure…save some for me, huh?" he laughs. "I let Rose go early, so it's just me here. It'll take me a little bit of time to get everything shut down and then I'll be on my way. Bye, beautiful."

I hang up the phone grinning like an idiot. He brings it out in me, I can't help it. Our friendship was almost instantaneous upon meeting. My piece of shit nineteen sixty something or other truck, which I can't seem to let go of for some ungodly reason, (yeah, I know the reason…my dad gave me that truck) was leaking a substance that I came to realize was, in fact, oil. Edward offered to take a look at it for me, of course…actually, he begged me to get rid of it and let him buy me a new car…but I was offended and besides that, wanted to exert my independence.

I called Rosalie, Emmett's fiancée, and made her swear not to tell Emmett I was bringing my poor clunker in for her to look at. Rose and I weren't necessarily close, but I had known her long enough to consider her a friend of sorts. I had gotten used to her sarcasm and general bitchy aura, and it barely fazed me anymore. The day I took the truck to the shop was the day I met Jacob Black.

~*aMa*~

He's absolutely filthy, covered in grime from head to boots, but when Rose introduces us, his infectious smile reveals a mouth full of perfectly straight, white-as-snow teeth. I have to chuckle as I think about it, because it kind of reminds me of those chewing gum commercials. I think it's Orbit or something; where the people are covered in mud or whatever and they smile, showing sparkling white teeth.

"Bella, huh?" I nod and timidly extend my hand as he wipes his on an equally filthy rag hanging from his belt. "You know what that means, right?" He doesn't give me a chance to reply before he continues. "It means 'beautiful' in Italian." I smirk at his proud grin, his head cocked to the side. I can tell he's flirting with me and decide to let him. Under all the dirt and grime, I can see that he's easy on the eyes. His skin is a beautiful shade of russet brown and he's pretty much ripped. I can see the muscles bulging underneath his snug black t-shirt and grungy jeans.

"Impressive," I retort sardonically, grinning back at him.

"Yeah? Well, I'm smart like that." He taps his temple and winks. I catch Rosalie rolling her eyes out of the corner of mine.

"Oh please, don't feed his ego any more than necessary, Bella," she states with a snort. Jacob shoots her a playful glare.

"Watch it, blondie. Don't you need to go on break or something?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Rose shoots back. "You better watch yourself too, mutt…she's married to a cop." Jacob gasps dramatically, covering his mouth with a greasy hand before he rolls his eyes with an equal amount of sarcasm. He seems to be a little bit of a tool, but I like him for some odd reason. Rosalie turns her attention to me.

"So sorry, Bella, to leave you with this…" she curls her lip up in a mocking sneer, "dirty dog, but it's my break time. He'll take good care of you, or he'll have me to deal with. I'll talk to you later, okay?" I nod. I know I can handle this 'dirty dog' as Rosalie affectionately refers to him. Something about that goofy smile of his tells me he's harmless. He, in return, affectionately flips Rosalie the double bird. I can't help but giggle, and a beautiful friendship is born.

"So…married, huh?" he asks when Rose is out of sight, seeming genuinely curious. "Bummer." An internal debate is sparked inside my skull. The truth or little white lie…I decide to go with truth. There's no harm in starting out a possible friendship with honesty, is there? At least that's what I think in the beginning. I tell him I'm separated, and I can swear I see a spark in those dark chocolate eyes of his. The smile on his face threatens to split his head. It's awkward to say the least, but thankfully, he goes to work on my truck without further conversation…until he's finished, that is.

"Well, I'm not sure who the yay-hoo was that changed your oil for you last time, but they didn't get the O-ring on tight enough around the oil filter. It was an easy fix," he states in his cocky tone. I nod, but the explosion of crimson heat I feel all over my face gives away my embarrassment. I know exactly what 'yay-hoo' he's referring to, and I'm a little annoyed by that. My husband is a lot of things, but a 'yay-hoo', he is not.

"Uh-oh," he blurts, eyeing my face with an amused smirk. "You didn't change the oil yourself, did you?"

"Um, definitely not," I mumble in response. Although I make a mental note to possibly learn that particular trade at a later date.

"Oh, don't tell me," he laughs a little too loudly. "The cop? The cop changed your oil?" I glare.

"His name is Edward and yes, but he had to do it quickly and well, I was rushing him and….wait, why am I explaining this to you?"

"Whoa, his name is Edward? What is he, like eighty or something?" he quips. My nostrils flare, but this only seems to fuel him as he continues with a grin. "Well, tell him not to quit his…public servant job any time soon. The man doesn't know how to change a damn oil filter." He shakes his head, chuckling. "What a tool." Funny he said that out loud when I'm thinking the same thing about the man standing in front of me.

"I'll show you a tool!" I take a swing at his arm and he ducks, proceeding to bob and weave all around me with his tongue half hanging out of his mouth. I can't help but burst into laughter at the sight of him.

"Come on." He stops and pats his very large triceps. "Give me your best shot, beautiful." I hold my fists up, like some moronic cartoon character, and aimed, before throwing my weight into it and slamming my fist onto his ridiculously hard, ridiculously huge brick wall of an arm. It doesn't feel good.

"Ooooooww!" I whine, shaking my hand out. He, in turn, grabs his arm dramatically and stumbles around moaning and groaning mockingly.

"Nice right hook, Bells." He stops to smile at me and wink. My stomach drops. "Is it okay if I call you that…Bells…or would you prefer Beautiful?"

"Uh, y—yeah, my…my dad used to call me that," I stammer, at a loss for words. What are the odds?

"Well, it's fate that you met me today then, huh?" There's the giant goofy grin again.

He won't let me pay for the minor fix of my "old beater", which he affectionately names 'Ed' as he explains it is the perfect name for something ancient, and for which I try to hit him again. He ducks. I don't want to accept that, protesting and shoving my wallet toward him, so instead, he makes a deal with me. He says if I take him out for ice cream after his shift, it will more than make up for the easy fix. He really is a giant five-year-old, I've decided. When he calls my truck 'Ed' again, I threaten to pour my double chocolate fudge sundae all over his head. He decides to stick with "old beater" after that.

~*aMa*~

Needless to say, when I reluctantly explained to Edward what was actually wrong with the truck, he apologized profusely and proceeded to ask, while chuckling, how much shit he was going to catch from Rose for it. I couldn't lie to him so, like an idiot, I explained that it was Jacob Black who took care of it. He was pissed, but I could tell that he tried to hide it. When he asked me how much it cost so he could put the money back into my account, I tried to act annoyed and told him not to worry about it. The man could read me like a book and, upon questioning me further, I broke down and told him about the ice cream pay-back.

I should've known an all-out pissing contest would ensue, one of which I wanted no part in. It started with Edward running a full background check on Jacob, followed by him showing up at the shop in his squad car, introducing himself and pretending to thank him for taking care of his mistake. Yeah, right. Apparently, Jacob followed that up with a cocky-as-hell reply of how it was no big deal. How an untrained monkey could've fixed it, or better yet, could've gotten the O-ring, or whatever, on straight the first time. Yeah, I got a call from Rose, who was laughing her ass off about the entire exchange afterward, and it hasn't been pretty since.

Oh, I ripped Edward a new asshole after he had the audacity to call me and give me a lecture about how, 'for all he knew this guy could be a serial killer…a social deviant, and I needed to be careful of who I hung around with.' Right, because Rose would work for a serial killer, sociopath…and because the background check my husband – who I was separated from and who was acting more like my father than my husband – just had to run, came out completely clean. What it came down to was that he was green and I'm not talking about his eye color. He was jealous as hell and I called him on it. For Christ's sake, we had only been separated for a month or two when I met Jake. I wasn't jumping in bed with anyone and, for the fucking record, I was still madly in love with Edward.

I still am madly in love with my husband and I don't expect that to change any time soon. I just wish it was enough.

Edward's still jealous and Jake's still a tool who feeds off of it, but I've resigned myself to the fact that boys will be boys…grown-up or not.

I turn the bacon again, a little more carefully this time and it seems to be about done, so I start to get the tomatoes, lettuce and mayo out of the refrigerator. I'll leave the cheese for last. I hear a small ping and pay little attention to it, until I hear it again and again, averting my attention to the window. As I walk over to it, I'm startled by what sounds like a rock hit it and bounces off. All of a sudden, it sounds like a hundred men are hammering on the roof of the house. I pull back the curtain of the sliding glass doors to see a million little ice pellets hitting the deck like bullets being shot from a gun.

Hail.

"Shit," I whisper to myself. Like my old clunker needs anymore body damage. I guess I should be thankful I don't have that new car Edward begged me to let him buy. Who knows what it would've looked like after this beating.

"Momma!" Conner screeches, and I hear Jack's bellowing bark following after him as he runs, sliding into the kitchen for the second time this afternoon. "What's that sound?" He's a little panicked now and my racing heartbeat no longer matters. I'm in full-on protective mommy mode and I have to calm my little boy. I squat down as his little body collides into mine, followed by Jack's nose as he tries to push himself onto my lap as well. Yeah, some guard-dog he's turned out to be.

"It's okay, little bean, it's just ice. It's called hail," I say as I smooth my hand over his back.

"Haiw?" he responds. Okay, inappropriate phonics lesson time.

"No, hail, with an 'L'," I try to explain. "Hail-la-la-la," I elaborate.

"Oh." He nods. "Haiw-wa-wa-la," he tries to repeat me. I'm excited that he got one 'la.' My efforts are working. I chuckle and kiss his little cheek. "What makes da ice, Momma?" I swear, three is definitely the age of 'whys' and 'what's.' I begin to rack my brain, because although we've got thunderstorms covered – by God playing baseball, of course – we've yet to cover the whole 'ice falling from the sky when it's not cold' thing. It's rare and I'm not even sure Connor's experienced it before.

"Um…" I scratch my head. "I think…I think maybe God's hot from playing all that baseball today, and…and he's getting a drink out of the cooler…and, and I think he spilled the ice," I stammer through my lame as hell explanation, hoping it's enough for my inquisitive three-year-old. Apparently it is because he nods his head and smiles.

"I fink so too, Momma." He cups my cheeks and I swear, I just want to wrap him up and not let him get any older. I want to keep him a baby forever and ever. Even though he's not really a baby, he is to me. "Come on, Jack! Wet's go pway before it's time for wunch!" He hollers out and I shake my head, giggling as he disappears again down the hallway.

The hail stops almost as quickly as it came and I stand up to tend to the remainder of the sizzling bacon. A long, slow rumble of thunder sounds outside again but this time, it's eerie and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It sounds like a growl…an ominous, menacing growl from an angry monster. Seriously, I need to get a grip on myself today. It's just a fricking thunderstorm, Bella, Jesus.

The phone rings for the second time, and for the second time, it makes me jump. I shake my head at myself as I grab the phone and check the caller ID. My stomach flutters when I realize it's Edward and I mentally scold myself. How pathetic am I that he still makes me feel like this. I answer breathlessly, for more reasons than I care to go into.

"Hey, ba…uh, Bella," he replies, stammering as he catches himself. My heart skips a beat. He doesn't call me that anymore, but if he only knew how much I wanted him to slip up, just once, and call me baby. I miss it so much. "Are you okay? You sound winded."

"No, I'm fine. Just…this storm has kinda got me a little jumpy. How are you? You on duty now?" I ask, trying to avert the attention from my ridiculous emotional state, most of which is brought on by the man I'm speaking to.

"Yeah, it's getting pretty nasty out here. The goddamned wind knocked down two utility poles. Live wires all over the road, so we've got some stranded motorists right now. We've got the road closed, and we're trying to redirect traffic. It's a treat, but we've got it under control." His voice is a little strained, though. I know that tone. It's the one he always uses when he doesn't want me to know just how hairy the situation is. "Hey, listen, I'm thinking when I'm done here, I'll stop by and check on you guys. That okay?" he asks. I can hear his teeth clench at the fact that he's asking permission to come by. He doesn't like it, I know.

I don't respond right away.

"Bella?"

"Um…" I sigh into the phone. I don't want to deal with this today. His jealousy toward my friendship with Jake is completely irrational, but since I can't deny him access to his son…nor to me, for that matter…I have to warn him that we might have company. Finally, I relent, knowing full well what his response will be. "Well, Jake said he might come by."

Silence. And then a long, irritated sigh.

"Oh," he says flatly. "Well maybe I'll just wait until this weekend, huh?"

"Edward…" I begin, knowing he's pissed and not wanting him to be. He has no reason to be, does he?

"Don't, Bella," he barks. "I wouldn't want to intrude. I mean, it's been, what? Six months, right? I guess I should just let it go…let you go…"

I don't want you to. My thoughts defy me.

"I mean, heaven forbid I want to come by and see my son," he huffs.

"Edward, please just stop. Don't act like that. You know you can come by here and see him anytime you want. Connor would love to see you today and you know it." I already feel exhaustion coming on from this brief conversation.

"What about you, Bella?" The tone in his voice has shifted. Instead of anger, I hear pain, and it drives a knife into my chest again. I don't answer right away because I can't. I can't get the chords in my throat to work together. They're held hostage by the giant lump that's formed. Finally, I hear another sigh through the handset. "I'm…Bella, I'm sorry. I just…miss you." His voice is a mere whisper now and I grip the phone, trying not to let myself go. I can't let myself feel this. I can't say what I want to say in return.

I miss you too.

"Look, I gotta go. I'll – by—okay?" There's interference in the connection all of a sudden and I can't hear him. It sounds like he's standing in a wind tunnel.

"What? Edward?" I shake the phone, like an idiot. Because, yeah, that's going to make the wind go away. Dumbass.

"I sai—I'll – later – Bell—can you – me? I think you need to—cover –really – bad – here!

"Edward? Edward!" Now I'm yelling because I can't understand a damned thing he's saying and the wind is picking up just outside my own window. Gusts that sound like the trees are ripping from their roots.

"Take Connor and – down – need – cover! Give – kiss – me! Love – both!"

"Edward!" The line goes dead and I stare at the phone as a sudden gust of wind blows through the window, catching my hair and whipping it in my face. "Shit!" I whisper. As I turn, with the phone still in my hand, I notice the rain has started pouring through the window, and can hear the pings of the hail returning. Once it starts in hard, I know Connor's going to be running in here in a panic once again, so I call to him to let him know lunch is about ready. I can hear Jack barking playfully and my little boy is squealing so I know I'm going to have to go in there and get him because he'll be oblivious to my calls at this rate. As I shut the window, I catch a glimpse of something through the pounding rain that can't possibly be real.

A cloud.

At least I think it's a cloud. But clouds aren't supposed to touch the ground, are they? It has to be a thick shaft of rain, right? But it's too thick…it's— What's that sound? A siren? It's faint, but—

"Connor!" I holler again over my shoulder and, just as I turn to go get him, the lights flicker and yep, electricity's out. Fantastic. He's about to freak the hell out.

"Momma! Da wights!" I hear him squeal and start toward the hallway to meet him halfway because I know he's bound to be flying. It isn't pitch black in here, of course, but with the dark clouds making it appear as evening outside, it's darker than in should be this time of day.

Suddenly, there's an explosion…and a whistling so loud at my back that I can't hear myself think. I can't hear Connor anymore, and I can barely hear Jack barking. I turn quickly to see what's happening behind me in the kitchen, but I'm knocked off my feet. I can hear glass shattering and…my God, it sounds like a freight train barreling down on us.

"Connor!" I scream. I start to crawl toward where I last heard him, but the wind is so strong, I can barely move…I can barely see. "Connor!"Where is my son? Where is Jack? I can't see anything…I can't hear anything but the howl of the freight train as it bears down on my back.

Oh God, what's happening? I've never experienced anything like this before, but I'm cognitive enough to think of only one thing. The only thing that sends me careening into an all…out…panic.

Tornado.

Oh no…no, no. No! We have to get to the basement! It's right on top of us, I realize, but we have to…we have to go…we have to make it!

The earsplitting whistle lets up only fractionally, and I can barely make out a sound. It's very faint, but it sends my neurons into a frenzy of complete and utter horror. My little boy is screaming. He's terrified, and I have to get to him.

"Connor!" I try to yell, but I can't seem to get my voice to work. "Baby! Mommy's…Mommy's coming!" Please God, let me get to him. Please keep him safe so I can get to him. Please. Now I'm praying, silently in my head. This can't be happening. This has to be a dream. Let this be a dream. I feel my body being lifted; the freight train sound is back again…full force, and I'm weightless…as if the hand of God himself has reached down and plucked me off the earth.

"The bathroom, baby!" I try to scream again, but it feels like I'm whispering. "Get in the bathtub. Connor! The athtub—" And my body is slammed into…something. I don't know if it's the floor; I don't know if it's the wall; I don't know if something has flown through the air and slammed into me. I just don't know. All I know is that suddenly…everything goes mute. Blackness encompasses me, and I feel like I'm floating. It's not the feeling I had seconds ago, the feeling of being plucked violently off my feet. No, this is a peaceful feeling. Floating on a cloud feeling, and I'm suddenly calm…paralyzed, but eerily calm. Somehow, I realize I still need to get to my baby, but something in my head tells me it's okay. You'll get there, the voice tells me. Just relax. It's time to rest now. I listen to the voice, though I don't know why.

My mind springs back to me momentarily and I feel the bubble of panic make its way up through my chest.

Connor. My little boy; my baby. I have to get to him, find him.

Where is he? And Jack, his best friend. The giant, goofy fur-ball; always happy; always full of love…so protective. He'll protect Connor if I can't get to him, right? He wouldn't let anything bad happen to my little boy. I know it. But as quickly as it comes, the panic subsides, as if my endorphins are firing left and right. He's fine, don't worry. He's safe…he'll be okay, the voice assures me. I'm so consumed by blackness that I feel like my eyes are already closed, but I close them just the same, and I begin to drift. Ever so slowly I drift, and as I drift, I dream.

~*aMa*~

I'm in the hospital, leaning back on a pillow in a putrid green and white floral hospital gown. I can feel the sweat still on the back of my neck as I look down at the fruit of my labor sleeping soundly in my arms.

"Oh, baby, he's beautiful. Look at him. He looks just like me." Edward laughs quietly as his forefinger softly caresses Connor's puffy little cheek, then he leans down and kisses mine. I shake my head at my very handsome, but very conceited husband and smile. He's right, though, our little boy looks just like him.

"Edward, you probably shouldn't call him 'beautiful.' I don't think he'll appreciate that when he's older," I tease.

"You're right," he whispers, smirking. "He's quite the little handsome man, isn't he?" Edward leans down and rests his forehead on mine, breathing out a sigh of relief, it seems. "And you're amazing. You did such a good job, my wife. Thank you for this…for him." His eyes burn into mine. A brilliant green. "I love you so much, Bella."

I have to catch my breath before I can respond. "You know what? You got it right the first time. He is beautiful. He's the most beautiful thing in the world…just like you."

I'm struggling in the darkness again. I can't see anything…feel anything, but a sense of love surrounds me. So strange. And then another flash of light and I'm somewhere else.

Standing in the living room of our old house, I can hear the rain outside. It's a torrential downpour, per the usual…sleepy weather, but you'd never know it from the commotion happening inside. There are boxes all around. We're set to move to the Midwest in just a few weeks. Naturally, I'm feeling nervous.

"Bella, catch him! Shit, he's fast!" Edward hollers down the hall to me. I turn to see what's going on. Connor's barely started walking, but it seems he's taken to it remarkably well. He's literally running down the hallway, arms outstretched, chubby legs working quickly…wobbly and a little off kilter, but quickly just the same. He's completely naked from the waist down, his 'My daddy's got a big gun' shirt riding up over his pot-belly, and he's cackling…high pitched and ear-splitting. The kind that makes your chest bubble with laughter no matter the mood you're in.

I bend down just in time to catch him and scoop him up into my arms. I pull him close to me and laugh as he squeals, my forearm cradling his bare little bottom. "What's going on here?" I chuckle, narrowing my eyes playfully at my frazzled husband as he fists the bane of Connor's existence.

The diaper.

Oh, how my boy likes to go commando.

"Jesus, that kid's got some wrestling moves. I think we should look into that."

"Don't get ahead of yourself, officer." I smirk at him before murmuring to my son with a mocking sigh, "Daddy's such an amateur." I glance over to see Edward narrowing his eyes at me in challenge. "Come on, little bean, let's show Daddy how it's done. Just don't pee on me, 'kay? You can pee on Daddy, but not me."

"Dadda," Conner mutters and points at my beaming husband.

"Yes, Dadda…pee on Dadda."I laugh. Then he points his chubby little finger at me.

"Momma."

I kiss his outstretched finger. "Yes, Momma…no peeing on Momma."

"Alright, that's enough." Edward stalks over and plucks Connor out of my arms, leaning in and brushing my nose with his. "I've got this, beautiful." Then he kisses me lightly on the lips and smirks. I smile. He turns to walk away, but stops abruptly and turns his head to glare at me. "And after we get that diaper on you, Daddy's gonna need a new shirt."

All I can do is burst into a fit of laughter as I watch Edward walk down the hall holding Connor out from him awkwardly. Connor's huge hazel eyes gleam back at me.

In yet another flash, the scene changes.

I'm standing at one of the local animal shelters in Kansas City. We haven't been here very long, still settling in, really, but here we are, looking for a puppy to add to our family.

I feel sad as I scan all the desolate eyes of the animals staring back at me…each one begging me to take them home. "There are so many," I murmur under my breath as Connor squirms on my hip and reaches his little arms toward the crisscrossed wires.

Edward is quiet, contemplating, studying the poor, pathetic dogs as he walks along in front of us. We've already argued about what we should get. I would prefer a cuddly little lap-dog, but he, of course being the big tough man has decided only one that will grow into a proper guard dog will do. I decide, with Edward being gone at night sometimes due to his shifts, it's not such a bad idea. Of course, I worry about Connor. I'll kill the thing if it ever tries to take a bite out of my baby. Connor squirms relentlessly, causing me to stop and readjust him.

"Dat…" he points. "Dat one…goggie! Momma, goggie…dat one!" he squeals. I look down at a ball of brown and white fluff, and somehow, I just know he's the one.

The pictures are coming quicker now. As if it's a book and the pages are flipping faster and faster. I feel like my head's going into a tailspin.

Edward and Connor…chasing Jack around the house, and vice versa.

Flash-

Connor…riding on Jack's back, holding onto his ears while Edward laughs.

Flash-

Edward…cuddling a newborn Connor, cooing to him softly.

Flash-

Edward's face, his eyes piercing mine and his mouth murmuring sweet, loving words.

Flash-

Connor's face, smiling…his little arms reaching toward me; 'Momma,' he mouths.

Flash-

Our wedding day; I look down to see Edward's hands gripping mine tightly, nervously.

Flash-

Edward's face as he leaves me standing in the bedroom…anguish, sadness…my heart clenches in my chest.

~*aMa*~

As I realize these are pictures of my life…life with my son, my family, the man I'll love for eternity, I begin to panic again, wondering what this could mean. The worry in my heart is overwhelming, and I cry out. Suddenly, the darkness is back and I feel…something…some kind of pressure. Pressure on my back, on my legs; I can't move. My senses are starting to come alive, slowly…slowly. Something feels wet…drip…drip on the back of my body, on my legs. What is that? Faint sounds are coming to me.

Creaking. Is that wood? A quiet whirring sound; it seems to be getting louder; a quiet siren maybe. Clapping sounds. Crunching. Voi—voices? Do I hear voices? My head feels like it's inside of a fish bowl. I can't make heads or tails of what's going on around me. The crunching and clapping is getting closer. There's a voice again. It's getting closer and louder, I think. I recognize that voice, don't I? Maybe I could move if I tried, but my body doesn't comply. What the hell is on me? I try out a yell, but it seems my voice box has taken a vacation, so it comes out a moan. And with that, my senses rage to life. I blink my eyes and notice light…light creeping in between my lids. And…oh God, pain…I'm in pain.

I remember, oh Jesus, I remember what happened. The storm, talking to Edward on the phone, going to get Connor for lunch…

Connor!

Where is my baby? I try to cry out again, but again, it's just a moan. And it's painful, but I guess that's good, right? Pain means I'm alive. But where is my little boy? Is he alive? Dear God, please let him be alive. I have to get to him…have to, but I can't move.

More voices. Men. Shouting? The one I recognize is closer, calling my name. And when his voice is right on top of me, I realize I know him. It's Emmett, and sweet lord, am I glad to hear it.

"Bella!" There's a muffled curse, and he shouts again. "Boys, I got her!" The crunching, I now realize are his boots coming closer. "Oh Jesus." Now, it's a whisper. "Belly-bean? I gotcha. Can you hear me?" I moan again in response. "Okay, little sis, just hold on. I'm gonna get this debris off you, and then I'm gonna get you outta here." His voice is steady, but concerned. I know that tone…I've used it many times before at the hospital.

A moment passes; there's a grunting sound, and then cool air on my back. The pain eases some, but doesn't fade completely. I'm turned over excruciatingly slowly and then the light floods my face. His face is shadowed by the huge firefighter's helmet on his head, but I know it's him…know it's my husband's best friend.

"E—Emmett?"

"Yeah, Belly-bean, it's me. Don't you worry, we're gonna get you outta here. Newton! Bring me the stretcher!"

"C—Connor," I fumbled through my thoughts and words. "C—Connor…okay?" He hesitates only a second, but it's enough to send me careening into panic again. I begin to cry, my warm tears soaking the hair at my temples. "P—please…need…my…baby…and J—Jack?"

"Shh, Bella, it's okay. We're getting them right now. Don't worry, Belly-bean. We got 'em…we got 'em. Newton, tell those guys to get the stretcher and get in here, now!"

I'm in and out as I'm lifted, strapped and secured on the hard board. I recognize the two voices strapping me in…muttering words of comfort, the standard 'you're gonna be alright' and 'open your eyes for me' as Seth and Leah…paramedics I've worked with at the hospital. I can tell when they carry me outside to the awaiting ambulance because I can smell the rain, feel the sunshine on my face; I can hear the engine running and smell the diesel fuel. I open my eyes finally and see…

Devastation. The roof of my house is just…gone. Splintered wood is everywhere. Furniture that should be inside, was inside only a moment ago, is strewn about on the lawn, and Mrs. Cope, the sweet old lady next door's house is…God, it's leveled. I pray she's alright. I close my eyes and shudder. When I open them again, I'm in the metal cocoon of the ambulance.

I hear them talking about a gash on my leg and a possible concussion. I can feel them wrapping my calf, but this is all wrong. Too much time has passed and I haven't heard my son's voice; I haven't heard Jack's familiar whine or bark. Too much time… Where are they? I awaken full force and begin to scream, thrashing around and begging for someone to get my Connor for me. I'm screaming for Emmett to get him, but there's no response. He must be in the house.

"Please!" I yell at one of the EMT's…I think it's Seth, but I can't be sure. My vision is blurry from the unshed tears pooled in my eyes. "He h—has to g—get my little boy…my…my…Connor," I stutter uncontrollably. Just then I hear an engine revving, tires squeal…a door slams…and hard-soled shoes smack against the pavement.

"Jesus…Christ! Bella? Bella!"

"Officer Masen, she's over here," I hear Leah call out to him. I sit myself up a little as he tears around the corner. His body sags as he looks me over, and a relieved sigh slips through his lips. He jumps in the ambulance with me and immediately cradles my head in his palms. His face is grief-stricken, but comforted; the worry lines are a prominent feature on his forehead.

"Bella," he breathes. "Are you okay?" I just stare at him, struck dumb and trying to get my head to stop swimming.

"Deep laceration on her calf, possible concussion," Seth states clinically.

Suddenly Edwards head snaps from side to side. "Oh thank God you're okay. Where's…where's Connor?" I start to shake my head obsessively as tears fill my eyes and spill over.

"I don't…I don't…" I sputter, unable to form the right words. His face turns from relief to absolute horror in less than a second.

"Bella? Baby, where's our son?" He asks softly, methodically, and then his voice begins to rise. "Where is Connor? Where is he?"'

"I tried…I t—tried to get to him…but…" I choke the words out despondently.

He squeezes his eyes shut tight; his jaw clenches and I can hear his teeth grind together. "Oh fuck! God, no…no!" He springs from the ambulance in an instant and I can no longer see him, but I can hear him…running…toward the ruins that used to be my house.

"Whoa! Where are you going, Masen?" Emmetts voice rings out.

"My son's in there! I'm going to get him!"

"Hold on a second, it's too dangerous! Newton's in there searching, and I –"

"Then what the fuck are you doing out here, Emmett? You should be in there looking too!" There's a scuffling sound…grunting…and then Edward's words are growled out. "Get the fuck OUT of my way, McCarty. My son is in there, and I'm going the fuck in whether you want me to or not!"

"Just…wait a minute…goddamn it, Edward! I'm going in too…it's not a bank robbery…you can't just— Damn it! Stubborn ass!"

I hear fast footsteps, boards slamming together again, and I wait. I wait and I wait; panic bubbles in my chest again and I want to go in there too. I can't even find the words in my brain to describe the feelings I have as I think about my baby and his best friend…trapped, helpless in the rubble…or worse.

I want to go in there, but my body is useless right now. I'm useless. It's my job to protect my child and I failed. All I'm left with are prayers that the dog, for Christ's sake, has found a way to protect him.

Finally…finally, I hear something. More yelling. It's Emmett.

"In here!"

Edward's frantic voice cuts him off. "Got him! I said I've got him, Mike, move out of the fucking way. Now!"

Thank God…just…thank God, I repeat in my head…until I catch a glimpse of my baby's limp body dangling in his father's arms. My world comes to an end.

No…no…no…no!

"Oh, Jesus, Emmett, I don't think he's breathing. Connor? Connor, it's Daddy," he croaks, then his tone is merely an agonized whisper. "Please wake up for Daddy…please."

"Let me see!" I scream, throwing myself forward and leaning dangerously far. Seth and Leah leap for me, but relent and end up holding my arms only to steady me. My breath catches as I watch Edward dip his ear down to Connor's mouth and then shake his head frantically. "Pulse!" I scream again. Edward stares at me, his eyes round as saucers, liquid green as he grips our baby relentlessly. Emmett runs over, taking control for Edward, who's obviously in shock, and presses his fingers to Connor's Carotid.

"Shit! There's a pulse! It's faint, but it's there."

That's when Edward's legs buckle…and I hear a voice crying out in relief. Moments later, I realize it's my own. Emmett catches both Edward and Connor, and drags them to the ambulance.

~*aMa*~

You'd think the ride to the hospital would be loud. Sirens blasting…horns blaring…tires squealing as we take turn after turn. But it's not to me. To me, it's too quiet. I'm stuck in this eerie vortex of silence between my tiny, helpless son and myself. It's too quiet because he's too quiet. He's not whimpering, or moaning, or crying in pain. He's just…quiet. I reach over with a trembling hand and stroke his little arm gently.

"Little bean," I choke on my whisper. "Please don't die. Mommy won't make it if you leave me, okay?"

It's chaos again at the hospital. I ultimately go ballistic when I'm separated from Connor. People are talking to me, asking questions. People I recognize; people I know, but can't place. It's at this point that I realize I've lost my mind.

I'm rushed to CAT scan, poked, prodded, leg stitched and wrapped, and the whole time, the only thing I can manage to get out of my mouth is…

"My baby."

And I say over and over again.

The next thing I know, there's a needle in my hand…and I'm floating again.

I'm dreaming. I know I'm dreaming because cognitively my brain realizes that my son is stuck on a hospital gurney somewhere close to me – but not close enough – helpless and hanging on by a thread. I know this, but yet here he stands in front of me…in a field about a mile from our house, where we've played before…even in the snow last winter. He's laughing and waving at me. Positively glowing as he runs laps around a large, lone, oak tree smack in the middle of the field, atop a gentle slope.

Suddenly, he stops. He points toward the tree.

"Momma wook!" he says musically with a toothy grin, his huge eyes gleaming in the sunlight.

"What, baby?" I coo.

"See da twee?"

I nod.

"I fink that's where we should buwy him…over dere, under da twee."

I'm confused. "Did you say bury?" My little boy nods. "Who, little bean? Bury who?"

He just looks at me, head cocked to one side as if I should know what he's talking about. "Da twee will pwotect him. You fink so, Momma?"

This time, it's me who just stares at him, completely miffed. I look at the tree. It's huge and regal in its beauty. I shake my head. "Who?" I whisper. As I look back, my son is gone.

Vanished.

"Connor?"

"Connor!" I wake with a start, sitting straight up in a very uncomfortable bed. My head screams in protest and I moan, reaching my hands up to stop the pounding instinctually and pulling with it, the clear tube of the IV that's imbedded into the top of my hand. I lean back into my pillow slowly, defeated by my aching brain.

"Bella!" I hear footsteps and then feel a slight pressure on the right side of the bed. As I turn my head and blink, familiar green eyes are peering back at me, tired but glistening. "Hey," he whispers.

"Where is he? W—where's my baby?" I can't even respond to my husband. I can't even smile at him and say 'hey' back. I want to, but the need to know the fate of my little boy overrides anything else at this moment. Albeit, I'm terrified…afraid of what his expression might tell me before his mouth gets the chance to. In fact, I can't look at him, so I cover my face with my hands, muffling my whimpers. "Please tell me he's okay. Please tell me he made it…" I feel Edward's warm hands on mine, gently prying them from my face.

"Bella, look at me," he says softly. I do, despite myself. His gaze is still warm, watery, and I can see the unreleased tears as his lids squint into a proud grin. "He's okay. Our tough boy…he made it through the surgery just fine."

"Surgery! Wha…what…" I stammer. Oh God, to even think he had to endure surgery. I'm fighting the bubbling panic again.

"They removed his spleen. Had to. It was damaged and he could've…" he cringes, and I can see how hard this is for him to talk about. I suddenly realize I'm not alone here. "Bled to death internally. And he has a broken arm. Other than that, he's good. Just some bumps and bruises. The doc said he's very lucky…and so are you."

I can do nothing but shake my head and curse myself for not getting to my son and protecting him. "I can't believe this," I mutter. "I was making BLT's! I can't…I have to get to him. Where is he?" I rip the covering off of me and rise up despite my throbbing head.

"Baby, calm down." Edward places his hands on my shoulders to stop me. I look at him incredulously. Both for his slip-up, and the fact that he's trying to keep me from my son. He drops his gaze instantly and shakes his head.

"I'm sorry, I…" As he looks back at me, I see the hurt, the anguish in his eyes. Instinctively, I reach out to him, palming his cheek softly. He leans into my hand and sighs. "I'm…I'm just so happy to still have you both. I should've been there, I—"

"It's okay," I whisper, holding myself back from saying what's playing on repeat in my aching head.

I love you.

"I just, I have to see him, Edward."

He nods and smiles. "You want to see him, huh?" I raise my eyebrows in a 'you-can't-seriously-be-messing-with-me' stare and he chuckles. He stands up and pulls the curtain partition back, revealing another bed with a little person lying in it. I recognize the tuffs of dark bronze hair immediately and I burst into tears. Edward helps me out of bed and pulls a chair around next to the one he'd been sitting in between our beds, keeping vigil. He'd been keeping vigil over both of us. That simple fact makes me cry even harder. Although my right calf is throbbing along with my head, I can't make myself sit down. I pull the IV pole close enough so that I can lean over and kiss my son. I start with his forehead, kissing the dime-sized bruises I see there. I kiss his closed eyelids, his little nose, both his chunky little cheeks…one of which has a smattering of more small bruises. When I kiss his little lips, he puckers them and I laugh through my tears. I kiss his left arm, casted in bright green, and then pull the covers back to check him out. I gasp at the bruises and little cuts I see along his legs, and pull his gown up to check his tummy. The incision spot is bandaged up tightly, but I have confidence in my colleagues.

Edward comes over and puts his arm around me. "He's okay. The staff loves you around here, by the way. They didn't question me once when I asked them to put you in here with him," he whispers in my ear, and then kisses my cheek softly. I sag into him, missing him so much and wishing things were different…knowing they aren't. He's still a cop, and I still have to worry about him being where Connor is every single day. "I promise you he's okay, Bella."

"This is all my fault," I whisper in return. Sobs take over me and I can't control them. "If…I'd…only…paid…paid attention. If—if I'd only t—turned on the radio, or…or the TV, I… I t—tried to get to him…I c—couldn't f—find him, Edward. I c—couldn't g—get to him!"

He holds me tightly, shushing me softly, but allowing me to let go. "It's not your fault, honey; it's not your fault." He kisses my cheek again, brushing away stray tears with his soft lips. I know I shouldn't let him, but I can't help it. "You didn't have enough time, Bella. By the time the sirens went off, the tornado was on top of you."

"You…you saved his life." I look up at Edward, seeing him as a wavy apparition through my tears. "If you hadn't gotten to him when you did…" I trail off with a shudder.

"I got to him just in time, true, but I didn't save his life." He clenches his jaw and clears his throat. Emotions seeming to take hold of him now. "Jack…he's the one who saved him. He…covered him with his body." I just stare at Edward and, as realization hits me, I shake my head.

"No," I whisper. "Where did you find them?"

He takes an unsteady breath, reliving an image in his mind that I'm sure disturbs him as he tells me Connor and Jack were found in the bathtub…that had collapsed through the floor to the basement level of the house.

"That's where I told him to go," I murmur absently.

"So, see? He listened to you. You saved him too." His voice cracks and I know why. I don't want it confirmed, but I ask anyway.

"Jack…?" I whisper my question, not needing to elaborate as Edward shakes his head and cringes. This is painful for him, for me too. Jesus, I can only imagine what it's going to do to my…our son.

"He was…uh…fuck…" He clears his throat, fighting against his own breakdown, I can tell, and this time, I wrap my arm around his waist and squeeze. "He…he was crushed by the debris that came down on them. Had a couple bad cuts on him. He didn't…" Another clearing of his throat, and I look up to see a stray tear trailing a jagged line down his stubbled cheek. "He didn't make it. He…goddamn it…" He has to clear his throat a third time, swallowing thickly as I rub small circles on his back. "If he hadn't been there, I just…I couldn't handle finding my boy like that…you know?" He shrugs and looks down at me. The tears streaming down my tough-cop husband's face, staining his dark blue uniform shirt catch me off guard and I gasp, reaching up to smooth them away. They don't look right on his face. They don't belong there. The pain doesn't belong on his beautiful face either.

"He was such a good dog," he breathes as he closes his eyes and leans into my hands. I nod, unable to speak. "He protected Connor until his last breath."

"Like I should have," I whisper. Edward takes my hands and clasps them in his, mindful of the IV, and sighs.

"And you would have, if you'd gotten to him. Don't you get it, Bella? If you'd have gotten to him…and covered him with your body to protect him, I'd be planning a funeral right now! I can't…I just can't…" His chest begins to heave, his anxiety palpable, and I just want to take it away. I pull my hands free and reach them up to cup his cheeks again. Pulling his face toward mine, I stifle his fears as my lips press into his. I both hear and feel his gasp, then he settles into me…and I'm home. I'm the first to pull away abruptly when we hear a slight whimpering from the bed next to us.

"I'm sorry," we both say at the same time to each other.

"You are?" we both ask each other, wondering…hoping, maybe.

"Momma…" Conner's voice is groggy…scratchy, no doubt from the intubation tube they used during surgery. Thank God they took it out before I woke up, because nurse or no nurse, to see my son like that would've killed me. His lashes flutter before revealing his huge, amazing but tired hazel eyes.

"Hi, baby," I manage to squeak out the words, trying to keep the tears at bay. Edward's arm never leaves my side.

"Daddy?"

"Hey there, little man," Edward responds in a quivering tone.

"I gotta gween awrm," he says sleepily.

"Yes you do…" I laugh. "That's your favorite color, right?"

He nods. "Why's my awrm so fat…and gween?"

I look at Edward and draw strength from his nod. "You took a tumble, little bean…and cracked your arm bone. So, now you get to wear that cool cast for a while."

"Oh." He yawns. "My tummy hoots too."

"I know, baby." I run my fingers through his soft hair, clenching my jaw to keep from sobbing all over him. Edward's thumb brushing across my back helps. "I'm so sorry your tummy hurts." He sees my IV before I'm able to hide it from him, and reaches a little finger over to it.

"Momma, you gotta boo-boo too?"

I nod. "Yes, little bean, but I'm okay…so is Daddy, see?" He looks at Edward and smiles.

"No boo-boos on you, Daddy."

Edward shakes his head. "Nope, I'm good, little man."

Connor sighs, yawns again, and then his little eyes light up. "We weft Jack at home in da storm, Momma. Did he get a boo-boo too? Do we need to take him to da doggie doctor?"

I was stunned stupid for a moment, opening and closing my mouth like a fish out of water.

"Hey little man…" I silently thank God that Edward has the courage to speak up. "What'ya say you get some more sleep, huh? I promise we'll talk all about this later when you rest some more. And we'll talk about Jack." He barely whispers the name.

Connor nods. "Pwomise?"

"Cross my heart, buddy."

Once Connor's back to sleep, Edward and I both let out deep sighs, our bodies visibly drooping with exhaustion…mental, mainly. Jessica, the bubbly pediatric nurse comes in to check him over and, thankfully, makes an effort to keep quiet when we both hold our forefingers up to our mouths. Once she leaves, I stare at my beautiful miracle, sleeping peacefully.

"Oh God, how are we going to tell him?" I murmur, thinking aloud. All I hear is silence until finally, he sighs.

"I don't know."

I turn to him after a few moments of awkward silence. "Listen, Edward, about…about earlier. I…shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."

"I'm not." His eyes flash before his face contorts into a mask of pain. "I'm not sorry you did that. I…wish you'd do it again. Please, baby."

"Edward, I ca—"

"And I want you and Connor to come back home with me, where you belong. I miss you…both…I miss you so much, Bella." His tone is cautious…longing…hopeful…and it's killing me.

"I…can't do this right now," I blurt out and turn away from him. I don't know why I can't just be honest with him. I feel the exact…same…way. I'm just so afraid.

He sighs again. "Bella, is this about…Jake?" He says his name with a petulant snarl and I whip around, ready to lay into him about his jealousy, when I remember…

"Oh my God, Jake!" I exclaim. Edward scrubs his face with the heels of his hands, irritated. "I forgot to…shit, I have to call him! He must be worried sick! What if he showed up at the house…the…rubble…and…I have to call him!" I march toward my purse to get my phone, but Edward beats me there and snatches it. I narrow my eyes at him. "Give that to me. Now."

"You need to rest. I'll call him." He says this in his authoritative 'cop' tone. I'm unimpressed.

"You can't call him, Edward. He won't even talk to you because you both are so damn immature!"

"I promise you I'll be calm, or mature…" he rolls his eyes. Real convincing. "And I won't act jealous. Now rest." He points to the bed I'd been out of for a while and I pout at him before complying. I really am tired. "I need to make a few more phone calls anyway. We have about a million messages…from everyone."

I groaned as I crawled back onto the poor excuse for a bed. "Just…be nice!" I yawn as I watch his retreating form.

Edward's gone for what feels like a year. I pass the time by messing with the tape on my IV, staring at the eggshell ceiling tiles with little black crackles in fine lines, listening to Connor's heart monitor. I get up a few times and stare at my son. Finally, I lie back down and hold my eyelids open until I just can't anymore and sleep consumes me.

I wake to warm, familiar fingers lightly caressing my brows, my cheeks, nose and my lips. I can't help the pleasant smile it provokes, thinking that this is what he always does…or did…used to do…when he'd wake up before me. My eyes flutter open and he's looking down at me with an expression of calm compassion. I clear my throat and push myself up a little.

"Hi," he whispers.

"Hi. Did you get ahold of…everyone?"

He nods. "I talked to my mom and Carlisle…Alice. They were relieved, and Esme said she'd get a hold of your mom…she didn't answer her cell when I called it." I nod and let out a breath before my next question.

"Did you…did you get a hold of Jake?"

He looks at me for a moment, his expression blank, and then shakes his head. Something's wrong.

"What is it?" I ask, suddenly nervous. I don't think he's telling me the truth and I'm afraid they've argued unnecessarily. "Edward?" His eyes cut to the ceiling and then back to me.

"Bella, I need to tell you something. I need you to listen to me, okay?" I furrow my brow, confused. "I talked to Royce. He was called to a scene out on I-29…some cars hit by the tornado."

"What are you saying?"

"Please, let me get this out." He sighs. "Bella, Jake's car was one of them hit. He couldn't get away from it fast enough, and it hit him."

I stop breathing. Although I can hear what he's saying to me, my brain can't seem to process it. Suddenly, I feel hot, my face is on fire and I begin to shake my head. I'm not sure what's coming out of my mouth, but I think I'm questioning him. Right. I'm saying "What?" over and over.

"Baby, they found him…about fifty yards from his car. He was…baby, he didn't…" He cringes, and that's when I lose every ounce of control.

"No!" I kick my legs over the side of the bed and grab the IV stand. Stumbling over to my purse, I grab my cell phone and hit Jake's number on speed dial.

"Hello?"

"Jake!" His name leaves my lips on an exhale. "Oh, thank God, I thought—"

"Ha ha! I gotcha! Yep, I'm not here right now, so leave a message and if you're lucky, I'll call ya back!"

Oh God…Oh my God, no. No, no, no, no, no.

I dial again…and again…and again. Finally, I look up at Edward as my breath leaves me in a rush. He's standing there, facing toward me, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, head down.

This. Can't. Be. Happening.

"He's…not picking up. Why won't he answer his phone? Why? Edward…he's not answering his phone!" He lifts his head, his painful stare pierces me. I dial again. This time, I leave a voice mail…one that he'll never hear. "Jake! Please be okay! I need you, please!"

"Bella, he's…"

"NO!" I point my phone at Edward. I'm trembling; I'm frantic; I'm…out of my mind. I know why he won't answer, but it can't be true. "Don't say it! Don't you dare say it, Edward." He walks toward me slowly. "Don't tell me he's dead, because I'll hate you. Do you hear me? I will hate you!" I start to collapse. My body fractures and I feel him scoop me up. He's cradling me. He walks us over to my hospital bed and he sits on it, rocking me back and forth as I sob into his chest.

"He's gone, baby," he murmurs. "I'm so, so sorry, but he's…gone."

I don't know how long I cry, but I feel like I'm never going to stop. I'm never going to stop because I'm never going to see Jake's mischievous grin, his pearly white teeth, and his honest brown eyes. Never going to feel him hug me and tell me I'm beautiful.

I'm never going to see my friend again.

I'm almost numb now…the exhaustion in me an antiseptic to the pain. My mind flickers back to Jack, to Connor and I understand, now, how he's going to feel.

"He's going to want to bury him under the big oak tree in that field," I murmur absently.

"What, honey?" Edward asks cautiously.

"Jack…we need to bury him under the old oak tree."

"Okay." He kisses the top of my head. I sigh and lean into him. Reveling, and for once, feeling a stab of something…hope.

~*aMa*~

In the next couple days, Connor's released from the hospital. I agree to take him back to Edward's house, and that's where we stay…for a while at least. It's hard to let go of my fears. When we tell Connor about Jack, he's sad, of course, and he cries as we do, but he's so strong…calls Jack his "He-wo in Heaven."

A few weeks go by and I find myself relenting to my feelings for my husband…pushing my fears farther and farther away. We've made love a couple times since I…sort of…moved back in and it's as amazing and beautiful and all-consuming as it always was, but I wonder. Is it enough? Despite my feelings, I find myself looking through ads for rental houses – at least until the insurance comes through on my house. Each time Edward finds me looking in the paper or online, his eyes reflect the kind of pain that shatters my heart. Finally, one day, he sits down next to me and covers the Kansas City Star I'm looking at with his hand.

"Bella, did you love him?" he asks. His expression is excruciating.

"Jake?"

He nods. I pause; a few moments pass before I can answer, but when I do, I've never been clearer.

"Edward, I've never loved another man besides you in my entire life. Jacob and I…we were friends. I cared for him deeply, but I could never have loved him like I love you. I'll never love anyone like I love you."

His smile is sad, but overwhelming…and in that moment, my search for a rental is over.

~*aMa*~

It's a beautiful August morning as I put together the items for our picnic. Connor's bouncing around, back to his three-year-old self. His cast is gone…arm good as new and you'd never know from the looks of him that he endured a major, emergency surgery in his short little life.

"Connor, come on!" I yell down the hall. "It's time to go! Daddy's back from the flower store."

"I'm weady!" he replies, his little feet pounding the carpet. When he reaches me, I scoop him up and hug him tightly. Edward comes through the door, blanket and bouquet of daisies in hand. He looks at me and raises his brow in question. I nod at him.

"Let's go, little bean."

There's a slight breeze blowing through my hair as we walk up the easy slope. It feels good. When the large wooden cross comes into view next to the strong oak, I smile. It's been a long time since we've been back, but we all needed to heal.

"You did a great job on that, babe. It's holding up really well." I squeeze Edward's hand. He smiles down at me proudly. Connor catches sight of it, and he's off like a bullet.

"Dere he is!" he squeals as he runs toward the cross. "Hi, Jack! I missed you, boy!" The puppy in his arms squirms and whines until he lets it down. It bounces behind Connor, a ball of fluff carried on barely coordinated legs. Funny, it looks almost identical to Jack, colors and all, but this time, it's a little girl. Edward spreads the blanket out and I set the basket down before we walk together over to the cross.

"Hope…" (Yes, we helped with her name.) "…dis is your big brudder, Jack. He lives wif God now, but he's gonna watch over us, so you better be a good dog." Edward and I laugh at Connor's lecture, and then my baby looks at me.

"Momma, you fink God wikes pwaying wif Jack?"

I swallow the lump in my throat and nod.

"Is your fwiend Jake up dere too?"

I smile as my eyes fill up with tears and I nod. Edward tightens his hold on me…just in case.

"Yes, little bean, he is."

Connor looks up into the cloudless sky, his expression curious.

"You fink Jake is pwaying wif Jack too?"

"I sure hope so," I manage to choke out the words.

Connor smiles. It's a brilliant, knowing smile. "I fink he is. He misses you, Momma, but Jack's gonna take care of him."

"Come here, you," I whisper, holding my arms out. Edward and I pick him up together and I kiss his chunky little cheek.

"I love you so much, little bean."

"I wuv you too, Momma," he says as he kisses my cheek, then Edward's, squirming until we put him down. I lean into Edward, wrapping myself in his strong arms. I love him…have always loved him, and my son is off to play without a care in the world…just the way it should be.

I smile to myself knowing that, at any moment, something could happen that could change my life forever. Even realizing that I won't always enjoy every moment, I will appreciate them…and cherish them.

Every moment is ours, but the best ones will always be with my precious family.

~*aMa*~

*Chapter end notes: Thank you so much for reading! Reviews make the tears stop, people. ;-P