This story was written as part of the 'Help Mal and Leo Get Their HEA' fundraiser back in November. I'm pleased to say that Mal (Mostly a Lurker) raised more than enough funds to take the trip to retrieve her new guide dog, Leo. They'll be united very soon!
This story contains (mild) references to the September 11th attacks. Nothing graphic, so it shouldn't be too hard to read, but just be aware of that before you start.
~September 11, 2001~
"Oh, my God." I can't tear my eyes away from the television screen. Black smoke rises from one of the most prominent skyscrapers in the New York cityscape. The blue sky—normally a scene of serenity and happiness in early September—is suddenly daunting. I know what's coming next, because the television station has been playing it on repeat all morning. "There it is," I whisper, eyeing the second airplane, which I now know to be United Airlines flight 175. I watch with horror as the plane flies straight into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The shot switches back to the live view of the Twin Towers—what's left of them, anyway. I don't even hear the newscaster's voice anymore. What she's saying doesn't matter, not in the grand scheme of things.
"Maybe we should turn it off for a while," my husband murmurs. He's been sitting next to me all morning, neither of us able to peel our eyes away.
"Okay," I agree automatically.
Neither of us move, and the plane flies into the tower again. And again. And again.
~September 25, 2001~
Two lines. Two little pink lines. I don't know whether to be happy or not. Three months ago, I would have been ecstatic to see the positive pregnancy test. Now I'm not so sure. Edward and I had been trying to have a baby for six months, but after the terrorist attacks, we decided to take a break because he'd gotten deployment orders from his commanding officer. He's leaving for Afghanistan on the seventh of October and will be gone for a year—at least. And now I'm pregnant. I sink to the floor next to the bathtub and weep.
~October 7, 2001~
We're standing in the large gym of a Seattle high school. I'm not even sure which one; it doesn't matter. There are other couples all around us, all in the same situation, but I barely notice any of them.
"I don't want you to go. I get why you aregoing, but I want you to be here with me." I'm not whiny, just sad. I've never in my entire twenty-three years been as sad as I am now.
"I know, baby." Edward holds me close. "The timing couldn't be worse. You're the strongest woman I know, though. You'll survive."
"Yeah, I will." I look up at him with watery eyes. "I'm worried about your survival."
"I'll be okay."
I'm not sure I believe him.
"Soldiers!" a harsh voice hollers from the front of the gymnasium. Everyone in the large, echoing room looks up at General Garrett Daniels, the leader of Edward's unit. The soldiers all snap to attention while their spouses and partners stand next to them.
I hear that General Daniels is speaking, but not what he says. I spend these precious moments drinking in the sight of my husband, who I'm not going to get to see for the next twelve months. I memorize every line, every contour, of his face. It takes every ounce of self control in my small body not to reach up and stroke his face. I settle for clutching his arm and breathing in his scent, which has somehow become part of the uniform he wears.
"Let's go!" The general's voice is very commanding; it's not surprising that he's in charge—he's obviously very good at his job.
"Already?" Tears are streaking down my face, reminding me why I didn't wear makeup today. "You can't go." Sobs wrack my body.
"I have to, baby," Edward murmurs, and he looks just as heartbroken as I feel. "I'll write to you every week, though; I promise. All I want you to do is take care of yourself and our baby. And write back to me." One corner of his mouth pulls up in what could be his trademark smirk, but seems more to me in this moment like a smile he can't quite pull off.
I throw my arms around him, not wanting to let him go. "I love you," I whisper in his ear. "Please come back to me."
"I will. I promise," he whispers back. "I love you, Bella. More than my own life."
~November 9, 2001~
"Thanks for coming with me, Alice." It's the day of my first doctor's appointment since finding out about the pregnancy, and I couldn't bear the thought of going alone. If Edward couldn't come, his sister Alice is about as good a substitute as there is.
"It's no problem, Bella," she assures me. "I know that no one can ever take the place of Edward in your life, but I'm honored that you picked me to help you." She lets go of the steering wheel with one hand and reaches over to pat my shoulder.
Alice has been a lifesaver the past month. When all I wanted to do was lay in bed and cry, she came over and cooked me breakfast—and then made sure I ate it. When I threw up said breakfast ten minutes later thanks to an intense bout of morning sickness, she was there holding my hair back for me. And when day after day went by with no letter from Edward like he'd promised, Alice was there with a sympathetic shoulder.
At the doctor's office, I fill out all the obligatory paperwork; it's not long after that when my name is called. The medical assistant seems nice as she takes my vitals, and then tells me that the doctor will be in shortly. I sit silently on the paper-covered table, picking at the hem of my shirt. Alice watches me worriedly from her perch in the support person's chair. A moment later, there's a light knock on the door, and a large, friendly looking man enters. "Hi there, Mrs. Cullen," he greets me. "I'm Dr. Emmett McCarty. You can call me Dr. Emmett. I prefer keeping things casual." His smile lights up his eyes, and as I accept his proffered handshake, I notice that he has dimples in both cheeks.
"It's nice to meet you," I say, trying hard to focus on the doctor instead of on my heartache.
He turns to Alice. "Dr. Emmett," he says, shaking her hand, too.
"Alice Whitlock. Sister-in-law," she explains.
"Nice to meet you, Alice."
"So, Mrs. Cullen," he says, turning back to me, "a little birdie tells me that you're expecting a baby."
I want to tell him to call me by my given name, but I don't. I like the reassurance of being addressed by the surname I share with Edward. "According to the little white stick I peed on," I reply, trying not to let my anxiety seep too much further into my tone.
"Well, the first thing I have to say is congratulations." He grins at me, and I get the feeling that Dr. Emmett is the kind of doctor that truly cares about his patients. I can tell from his expression that he loves new babies, too. He looks truly excited for me.
"Thank you." I do my best to return his smile. It would be a lot easier if I'd heard from Edward since he left.
"I'm glad you've chosen me to be your care provider in this important step in your life. Now, when was the date of your last menstrual cycle? I'll use that and some measurements from the ultrasound we'll do today and try to get you a due date for your little peanut."
I can't stop from smiling this time. I couldn't have chosen a better doctor if I'd tried. He seems to be going out of his way to make me feel welcome, and I do. I really do. I can't wait to get home and write to Edward about this guy. He'll be glad to know that I'm being taken care of—as well as our 'little peanut.' "Thank you," I say to the doctor, then give him the date he asked for.
"Oh, so you're really early along then," he mutters, looking at what appears to be a color wheel, but without the colors. When he starts rotating the wheel, I realize that it's actually two pieces of round cardstock stacked up and held together in the center. He stops turning them and looks back at me. "Okay, let's go on down to the sonogram room." He offers me a hand, helping me down from the tall table and leads Alice and me down the hall to a dark room.
Half an hour later, I leave with a due date (May 24th), a video of my little peanut's heart pulsing (Dr. Emmett said it was too early to hear the heartbeat, but that I'd be able to at my next appointment), some still photos to send to Edward, and a good feeling about my doctor. When Alice and I get back to my house, I check the mail anxiously, just as I've done every single day for the past month. Underneath the electric bill and bank statement is a letter from Edward. My heart leaps in my chest. I clutch the envelope to my body as I open the door. Alice follows me inside.
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to be able to write to you. I've wanted to since the day I left, but there's literally been no time. Things are crazy around here. I know I've had a pretty charmed Army existence so far, but I still never thought actually being on the front lines would be so… I don't even know how to describe it.
How are you? I want to hear everything. Do you go to the doctor soon? I wish I could be there.
I love you… more than my own life.
His letter is short, but I don't care. At least I know that he's there and safe. I swallow a lump that's inexplicably formed in my throat as I read the letter over and over again.
"Everything okay?" Alice asks after several minutes.
I look up at her, blinking the tears away. I'm not even completely sure whether the tears are happy because I've finally heard from Edward or sad because he's not here. "Yeah," I reply, swallowing. "He's safe."
Alice smiles at me. "I'm glad that letter came today. The timing is perfect."
"Yes, it is." My mouth stretches into a smile despite the tears still rolling down my cheeks.
"Do you want to stay here tonight? Because you're welcome to stay with Jasper and me and the boys if you want to."
She's made the offer every day, and I've never taken it. With Edward's letter, I know that I can't spend the next year wallowing, though. I have to take charge of my life, take care of myself and our baby, and not allow things here to fall apart in Edward's absence. "Thank you, Alice. I'd love to come over tonight."
"Really?" She looks surprised.
"Yeah. I've been depressed long enough. Today was a good day; why not share it with my beautiful sister-in-law and her family?" I smile at her.
"Great! Let's go then."
"It's okay. You go. I've got a few things around here to do, so I'll drive myself over later."
"Are you sure? That's not just some excuse to back out again, is it?"
A pang of guilt tugs at my heart. Alice really has been fabulous to me, and I've been really… not fabulous to her. "No, it's not an excuse. I promise I'll be there. By driving myself, you don't have to worry about bringing me home tomorrow."
"Okay," she agrees, though she still looks skeptical.
"If I'm not there by dinnertime, I give you permission to come back and take me by force."
She laughs. "Fair enough. Dinner's at six."
"I'll be there."
I wave at her from the porch as she drives away, and when I'm alone, I find a piece of stationery from the desk in Edward's office. It's not as pretty as something I'd pick, but it's nicer than a sheet of notebook paper. Making a mental note to pick up some paper that's more my personality, I sit in his chair and begin my letter.
I miss you. So much. I'm glad I got your letter today; I went to the doctor earlier, and not having you there was really hard. To know that you're okay and thinking of me—us—was a bright spot in the day.
My doctor is so nice. His name is Emmett McCarty, and he likes to be called 'Dr. Emmett.' He seemed really excited about the promise of a new life.
Alice came with me, which was good. Not as good as you, but a close second.
Dr. Emmett made me an ultrasound video, which is pretty cool. It's a little hard to tell what's what, but he made sure I knew so that I could show you when you got home. Because I went to the military clinic, he was exceptionally understanding about our situation. He also printed out some stills from the ultrasound, which I'll include with this letter for you. He called the baby our 'little peanut.' I thought that was pretty cute—and once I saw the ultrasound, very apt. It really does look like a peanut on the screen and in the pictures.
I'm going over to Alice and Jasper's tonight. She's been inviting me often, but I haven't been yet. I'm actually rather looking forward to seeing Brandon and Jason. They don't know that they're going to have a little cousin yet, but I think I'm going to wait until after my next appointment before I tell anyone besides Alice. I've done a bit of reading, and apparently the risk of miscarriage goes down after the twelfth week, which is next month according to Dr. Emmett. Oh, he gave me a due date, too—May 24th. Which means our little peanut will be about five months old by the time you get home. I can't wait for you to see him or her.
As much as I'd love to write to you all night long, I have to go. I promised Alice I'd be there in time for dinner, and that if I wasn't, she could come pick me up herself. I don't want it to come to that!
I love you, too.
I sealed the letter with the sonogram printouts in an envelope that matched the paper and carefully printed Edward's unit's address on it, then made my way out to the car and over to Alice and Jasper's house.
~March 18, 2002~
"Thank you so much for helping me with this, Dad. I don't think I could've done it on my own." I stand back and look at the crib we've just built—well, that my dad's just built; I mostly watched. The crib is the last piece of the nursery to be finished, so as soon as we get the packaging garbage out of the room, it'll be ready. All we need now is a baby.
"Oh, it was nothing," he replies gruffly. "There's an awful lot of pink in here." He's looking at the pink and white striped wallpaper behind the crib, the pink dresser (with a pink monkey sitting on top, just waiting to be played with—or drooled on), and the white changing table with a pink pad on it.
"Well, she is a girl," I tell him, "and I've always liked pink. I think it looks nice."
"It does; it does. You did a nice job picking everything out." My father's quick to recant his criticism of the room. "It's just a bit… pink for my taste."
"That's because you're a boy, Dad." I laugh.
"A boy. Right," he mutters, chuckling. "Well, I should get going, Bells. I hate to build and run, but Sue's going to be up waiting for me."
"She could have come, you know." I cradle my protruding belly lovingly.
"Yeah, I know. She just worries that you're upset that she's somehow taken the place of your mom or something."
"What? No, that's silly. Dad, Mom died when I was two. I don't even remember her. I hate that I don't, but that's just the fact of the matter. I'm not upset with you and Sue for pursuing an adult relationship. You did a fabulous job raising me; now it's your turn to live again."
"You're wise beyond your years, Bella. You're going to make a great mom to that little girl."
I blush and look down at my stomach. "Thank you, Dad. That really means a lot to me to hear you say that."
"I mean it. I wouldn't say it if I didn't think it was true—even if you are my daughter." I lift my eyes to meet his again and see that his eyes are twinkling.
"I love you, Dad."
Now it's his turn to blush. I don't see that side of him often, but it does come out occasionally. "Yeah, yeah. Love you, too, Bells."
I take a step toward him and wrap my arms around him, feeling much more like a seven year old child than a twenty-three year old married woman. In the comfort of my father's arms, tears spring to my eyes. I just want my daughter to have this same feeling with her father one day. She will, I tell myself. Edward is coming home.
~April 2, 2002~
Your due date is getting close, right? I know I can't be there for any of the major milestones, but I desperately want to be as much a part of the process as I can, considering the distance. We haven't 'talked' about names yet. Do you have any ideas?
I miss you. I can't wait to get home to see you again and meet our daughter. We're nearly halfway done at this point!
I love you. More than my own life.
Like every other letter Edward sends, I read this one over and over again, folding and unfolding it until the paper's nearly torn. I always write back to him within an hour of receiving his letter, sending my letters the same day his arrive. He always signs his letters the same, and they're the most romantic five words in the English language. More than my own life. He loves me more than he loves his own life. It's humbling.
This time is no different; I scrawl out a response, replying to his question. I only hope that he receives my response and can get a letter back to me before the baby's born.
Yeah, the due date's coming up in about 7 weeks. It's amazing how quickly the time has flown while seeming slow at the same time. The pregnancy part of my life seems like it's only just begun, and yet is almost over, but the time without you is like a year for every day.
I want you to be a big part of the process, too. I was thinking maybe we could name the baby Renee, after my mom, if you don't have any objections to that. Is there a family name on your side you'd like to see for the middle name?
I miss you, too! I'm so glad the time is half over. I just pray that you don't have to go again—at least not for as long.
I love you,
~April 16, 2002~
I love the idea of naming her Renee for your mother. That's the most thoughtful name I can imagine. My mother's grandmother was named Elizabeth; I've always been partial to that name. What do you think? Renee Elizabeth Cullen? I think it has a nice ring to it.
I love you. More than my own life.
Renee Elizabeth… Renee Elizabeth… It's a beautiful name, and I can't wait to greet her.
~May 31, 2002~
"You're doing great, Bella," Alice encourages.
I don't feel like I'm doing great. I'm exhausted, cranky, and I've been pushing for what feels like days.
"Does it hurt?" Alice's voice breaks through my thoughts.
"Of course it hurts, Alice!" I snap. "I'm in the final stages of labor, and my epidural wore off about an hour ago." I have absolutely zero patience left for asinine questions. Who asks a woman in labor if it hurts?
"I'm sorry about that," Dr. Emmett offers. "I had to turn it off so you'd have enough sensation to push, though."
"It's okay," I mutter, not meaning it even one bit. As nice as he'd been six months ago, I'd really like to throttle him now.
"You are getting there, though, Bella," Dr. Emmett says. "Every time you push, she gets a little closer. I've seen her red hair. I'm confident that you'll bring her here with just a few more pushes." He looks over at my monitor. "Okay, you've got a contraction coming now. Push, Bella."
Dr. Emmett and Alice count together to ten—much too slowly for my taste. When they finish, I take a deep breath and peer into the doctor's eyes. "Red hair?" I ask. If she looks like her father, it'll be almost too good to be true.
"Yes." He smiles at me.
That confirmation is enough to give me a second wind.
I push through two more contractions, and during the third, there's a sudden relief.
"You did it, B!" Alice exclaims. "She's here!"
"She's here?" I whisper, unable to believe it. Thirty hours of labor and two hours of pushing, and she's finally here. The tears of pain and frustration from before turn to tears of joy as I hear my daughter's first cry. She sounds perfect.
~June 1, 2002~
You have a daughter! Our little Renee Elizabeth is here. She's gorgeous. Her hair and eyes are the same color as yours, but she has my nose and chin: a perfect combination of the two of us. I'm still in the hospital, but I didn't want to wait even one day longer than necessary to let you know about her. She made her appearance late last night; I wanted to write to you right away, but Alice made me get some rest. Renee has ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes, and she weighed seven pounds, ten ounces, and was twenty inches long. Alice took pictures as soon as Renee was cleaned up and is at the photo place now getting printouts made so I can include some for you. I know you'll want to see her.
I wish you could have been here. Alice did fine, but your sister is no substitution for you. I know that you're serving our country, though, and I love you for that. Well, I love you simply for being you, but I'm so proud of you for your service.
I love you, and I miss you. Stay safe, and come home to us as soon as you can.
Bella (and Renee)
I'm practically crying buckets by the time I finish the letter; the ink is smeared in several places, but I don't dare rewrite it. The smudges will be silent reminders within the letter, reminding him that he's my everything. I just miss him so much. What I've written is true—I'm incredibly proud of him for serving, but I'm also scared every single day. I panic a little every time the phone or doorbell rings, terrified that it's going to be someone from the government telling me that I'm a widow. Those thoughts have been in the forefront of my mind the past month, especially as I grew closer and closer to becoming a mother. Now that Renee's here, I suspect they'll just get stronger and stronger until I lay eyes on my husband again.
~June 16, 2002~
She's perfect, just like I knew she would be. I can't wait to get home to meet her. Thank you for sending photographs. Thank you for marrying me three years ago, and thank you for being the mother for my daughter.
I love you (both of you). More than my own life.
~October 20, 2002~
My breathing picks up the closer I get to Seattle. It's just Renee and me in the car, and I'm simultaneously nervous and excited. The day's finally come that Edward's home. I've booked a room at the Hilton for tonight so I don't have to drive the three hours home until tomorrow. Tonight, I just want to enjoy my husband's company. And I know he's going to want to spend quality time with Renee.
I pull into the parking lot of the same school where I said good-bye to him over a year ago. It seems like it's been a lifetime; so much has happened. Renee is awake and happy, so I take her out of the carrier rather than bringing the whole thing. There are several other excited looking wives, husbands, girlfriends, and boyfriends already here.
About ten minutes after I enter the gymnasium, the doors on the far side open, and the soldiers enter. I look for Edward; he's in the second wave of men. I make my way to the front of the crowd, yelling his name. He spots me and drops his Army-issue duffle, and runs toward me. He swoops me up in his arms, and I know there's no place in the entire world I'd rather be.
A sudden squeal separates us; we've sandwiched Renee, and she doesn't like it.
Edward steps back and looks at the tiny person in my arms. "This is her? Renee?" he murmurs.
"Yes," I tell him, offering our daughter to him.
He takes her, looking nervous, but relaxes quickly. He rests Renee on his forearm and gazes into her vibrant green eyes. It's amazing to me that she fits there, between his wrist and elbow; I haven't been able to hold her that way for three months. "Hi, Renee," he whispers.
She coos in response; she's come to recognize her name just in the past couple of weeks.
I take half a step back to allow Edward his moment with his daughter.
"You are the most beautiful little girl I've ever seen. Your mama was right when she told me you were perfect. Those pictures Aunt Alice took don't do you justice, though. You're so much prettier in real life."
Renee offers him a lopsided, toothless grin—yet another quality she inherited from Edward (the lopsided part, not the toothless).
His face lights up in response. He glances over at me, but can't keep his gaze away from Renee for long. I know the feeling; she demands attention. We're going to have our hands full when she's older.
I gaze at the two of them, mesmerized by the bonding of father and daughter. When he speaks the words I've seen written in his handwriting so many times over the past year, my heart melts.
"I love you, Renee Elizabeth Cullen. More than my own life."
Special thanks to my very best friends for helping to make this piece as good as possible:
Caz (caz12771 on FF, cazteamrobert on Twitter), for prereading and pushing me to excel
Babs (sparklybabs on FF and Twitter), for prereading and always having an encouraging word
Elaine (sparkledamnu on FF and Twitter), for prereading and cheering me on when I really need it
Sarita (SaritaDreaming on FF and Twitter), for betaing and simply being awesome
Additional thanks to Debra on Free Writers and Readers for the amazing banner (You can see it on my blog, www . wmr1601 . wordpress . com - click on 'banners' on the top)