True Love Way

Chapter 36

"They're going to kill us."

I smirked, cranking the wheel to take us off the interstate and into Forks. "Regretting marrying me already, are you?"

"Shut up. You know what I mean." I was relieved when she stopped chewing on her thumbnail long enough to smack me. "You haven't said anything? Not even a hint?"

"Nope."

"Maybe you should've said something to Emmett. We know he has a big mouth. He wouldn't be able to keep it from Rose. And Alice. And if he didn't tell your parents, then Alice would. And of course, your parents would tell my dad –"

"Stop worrying. We're adults. They have no say in how we choose to live our lives."

Don Everly bayed from the backseat. The wind was no longer whipping his ears around since I'd slowed down, and he wasn't happy about that.

"Riiiight, Mr. Cool and Collected. Who was muttering, 'don't be mad, pleeeease don't be mad' all night in his sleep?"

Another howl rang through the car. He was no longer a malnourished but energetic puppy. Full grown, he was a beast with a howl that could wake the dead. Luckily, he reserved it for the car so we hadn't been evicted… yet.

"It wasn't Don," I admitted. "Blow on his ears, would you? He's gonna deafen me."

Bella reached around and gave his ass a tap, warning him to back off me. He had his head pressed between my left shoulder and the window, seeing if there was a breeze coming from there. I rolled it down to make him happy even though there was barely any air movement with the extra one opened.

"They're going to hear us coming before we arrive," I grumbled. "Anyway, I don't have any regrets. I won't let them make me feel bad for doing something we both felt was right."

Bella chewed on that thought instead of her nail. "You're right. It was right for us. But they will be disappointed. Look how upset Esme was when she found out we were dating from Emmett."

"Because it didn't come from us," I asserted. "That's why we're going to tell them ourselves."

"True. But it's a little late, don't you think?"

Our first anniversary had come and gone. We'd been living a life of marital bliss – with a minister's blessing, if not the law's – for long enough. The public portrayal of the wholesome young lovers, soon to be wed, had been an amusing game to play for a while. In the privacy of our own home, however, it had been a year-long honeymoon. We did have twelve long years to make up for.

"I almost let it slip the other day when Rose and I were drafting the client information forms for the clinic. She had a limited selection for marital status: married, single, common-law. I said we needed an 'other.'"

I smiled crooked at her. "Which would be…?"

"That's what she said –"

"My god, Bella. A that's-what-she-said joke at a time like this? Be serious now, come on."

She rolled her eyes at me. "It's a good thing you're cute."

I snickered.

"And hung."

I whooped.

Don howled.

"Shut it!" we called out in unison.

"Anywaaaay… I covered by saying it was discriminatory against gays and lesbians."

"Not to mention those who've been covering up a secret ceremony, cohabitating and considering themselves as married as they need to be," I added.

"Exactly."

"Be honest… is Charlie gonna kill me?" Truthfully, I was more worried about him than my parents. Bella was everything to Charlie, whereas I had siblings who pleased our parents with their lavish celebrations.

"Are you kidding?" She huffed indignantly. "He freakin' loves you. He always liked you best, even in high school."

I smiled with a little bit of smugness. "Still, you said you wouldn't keep anything from him after the whole surrogacy thing."

"I know. I feel like a shit about that. I feel worse for Esme, though. She really wanted to see you get married."

I shrugged. "She'll understand."

"Are you going to tell her before you go to the cemetery?"

This was a day long coming. Mom and I had put off going to visit Elizabeth's grave even though we talked about it regularly. I'd finally made concrete plans to do it. While we were both here, we were going to come clean about our union, as well.

I exhaled, rubbing at my neck. Don Everly helped out by giving it a sloppy lick. "I was thinking about that. I think it's better to get that done first and then tell her the news. I think she's worried about me going there for the first time. She'll handle our deception better once she sees I'm all right with everything."

"Agreed. Then I'll visit with Dad while you're with your mom. And we'll tell him together."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. You expect me to break my mom's heart, deal with my dad, and then go face Charlie with you?"

"Okay, how about this – I'll visit Dad, meet up with you after your visit, and we can round everyone up and do it once."

"Together."

"Together. Deal."

We shook on it as I pulled into the Sherriff's parking lot. "You sure you want my dad watching Don Everly this afternoon? He'll spoil him." Dad wanted to let this be a mother/son event. He preferred to visit the grave on his own anyway. Watching Don Everly was his quiet way out.

"It's his right as a grandparent." Bella smiled slyly at me. "Be good for Carlisle, Don Everly. No chewing on his shoes."

"And no digging around in the dirty laundry. That would be traumatizing for me." The image of Don greeting me with my mother's panties in his mouth after an emotional time with my dead birth mother would send me over the edge.

Bella was laughing as she kissed me goodbye. When she got out of the car, she slipped her wedding band off, kissed it, and slid it in her pocket. We both had that ritual every time we stepped out in public. Well, sometimes Bella would simply move it to her right hand if she didn't have a secure place to stow it. Then it was just another piece of jewellery for the unknowing. We weren't the type to show off our gifts to each other, so anyone who noticed probably thought it was a Christmas gift or something. It would actually be a relief to not have to hide the rings or the marriage.

~ 0 ~

"She's been this close all this time, and I haven't been here," I stated morosely as Mom and I sat in the car at the small cemetery. "That's really pathetic."

"I should have asked you if you wanted to do this much, much sooner. I didn't know how you'd feel about it."

I shrugged. "I could have come on my own at any time over the years. I could've found out where she was buried." I knew my mistake when my mom flinched. "Sorry… where she was resting." In one of our dozens of talks about Elizabeth over the past year, I'd discovered that Mom hated the idea of her being underground. She'd said that Elizabeth hated feeling trapped, and being in a box under a pile of earth would certainly make her feel penned in. We decided it was much better to think of it as a resting place rather than being trapped underground for eternity.

"Honestly, Mom, you did everything right. I can't come up with a better way to have dealt with me and this whole situation. Can you?"

She cocked her head to one side. "Suppose not. If you'd even come down with the sniffles afterwards, I would have cursed myself."

I chuckled softly beside her. We'd come a long way together, confessing our deep-seeding feelings of guilt. I felt absolved of all guilt I'd harboured. I prayed Mom did as well. "Well? Should we go do this?"

As we met in front of the car and headed for the walkway, I saw Mom glance down at my hand. She was probably nervous. If it were Jasper or Rosalie, they would hold her hand. I knew Mom would never ask me to be uncomfortable in any way for her sake. She'd given me so much and never asked me for anything in return. I could do this – for her. As casually as I could, I reached over and tugged on her fingertips. It was impossible for her to disguise her shock, but she attempted to, giving my fingers the quickest of squeezes before she looped her arm around my waist. I looped my arm around her shoulder and pulled her against my side. This worked better for us.

"Thank you, Edward," she said quietly as we wove our way through the small cemetery. "Thank you for doing this with me. I'm proud of everything you've overcome. I don't know if I've ever told you that."

I smiled at her. "Every day, Mom. I feel it even when I don't hear the words. Is this her… it? Her headstone, I mean?" It had a small Celtic cross on it – not engraved – the stone itself was incredibly simple. This was a separate piece set on top of it.

"Carlisle." Mom gasped, clamping her hands over her mouth. "Your dad… he did this. I know it."

"It wouldn't have been her parents?"

She smiled tenderly, stroking my arm. "No, honey. Her parents made a final appearance at the funeral and gave Carlisle an envelope with five hundred dollars for their share of the funeral costs."

I frowned at the rather insulting offer. That would be nowhere near half of the costs.

"You know Dad. He's very difficult to rile, but when he lets loose…"

I gave a low whistle, grinning at the thought of my dad tearing into the poorest excuse for parents I'd ever known of. Well, maybe besides Renee.

"Enough about that." Mom dug into her shoulder bag and retrieved a framed photo, setting it beside the cross. "Sweetheart, I've brought someone with me today." Her words were directed at the photo and spoken with tenderness. "I know I've told you all about what he's been up to all these years, but I've brought our baby boy with me today. He's here, Elizabeth. He's here."

I stared at the photo of my birth mother. I grew inside her for nine months. I was with her when she passed on. She gave me life, but I'd never had the chance to know her. Aside from the things Mom had told me about her, she was a virtual stranger to me. Yet her eyes seemed to mirror mine. I was a stranger to her, as well.

"Isn't he handsome, Elizabeth? And he's a good man. A wonderful, caring man. He's got a smart mouth at times, but somehow, it adds to his charm." She smiled at me, tugging on my arm to come closer as she continued speaking to the photo. "As you can see, I've exaggerated nothing. He is just as I said, am I right?"

I stared at the ground. It was strange enough knowing that my mom had come here and spoke about me to a piece of granite and mossy-smelling air, but to join in the conversation was not something I could do. One look at my mother's glistening eyes and I proved myself wrong.

"Did she tell you how scrawny and breakable I was? She never spoke of you being clumsy, so I have to assume that was all my own doing. I hate saying 'she'. It seems rude when she's standing right here. There it is again."

"Would you like some time alone here, Edward? I could go back to the car –"

I held onto her elbow firmly. "No, I would not like you to go back to the car. You're right where I want you to be – unless you're looking to escape my runaway mouth, that is."

Mom snickered, shaking her head. "Say whatever's on your mind, honey. I know Elizabeth is enjoying hearing your voice."

I held back what was currently on my mind – my mom had cracked. Even if the dead were capable of hearing, it would be muted six feet under. I was talking more for Mom than Elizabeth.

"If you can hear me… can you hear me anywhere? Do I have to speak to you for you to listen? Or could you eavesdrop whenever you'd like?" That thought escaped me, and I addressed my questions to the rock. It would be weird if she could hear me when I was with Bella. Could she hear Bella, too? If she was me, that is. "I've never heard your voice. Mom told me you sang beautifully. Honest to God, you wouldn't want to hear me sing, but I wish I could hear you. It sounds like we're nothing alike – I'm awkward and tone-deaf, you were graceful and gifted. But I have your eyes. Even I can see that.

"Bella gave me this stone she found – when we were teenagers. It's the first thing she ever gave me. She was my best friend even then. Anyway, she said it reminded her of my eyes – our eyes – it even had the tiny specks of gold. I know I've never met anyone with the same eye colour as me, so if I'd ever met you on the street or something, I'd know you. It would be like looking at myself. I don't really look at myself too much, aside from my eyes. And there were years when I would avoid looking at them, too. They told me too much about myself. I wonder if you would have been able to read them as well as I could. You know, because you're the same.

"I was fat for a few years. Quite a few years, actually. Did you know that? I didn't like myself very much – scrawny or fat. It hurt too much to look at my own disgust. Did you like yourself, Elizabeth? Can I call you that? It would be strange to call you 'Mom', because my mom is right here. I hope it doesn't hurt you to hear me call her Mom. It's what you wanted, right? She's good to me, Elizabeth. Well, you know how she is – it's impossible not to feel loved by her. My whole family is amazing. I wonder what it would have been like to have you with us all this time. Sometimes I think about that. I wonder if you would have the same look of disgust in your eyes – if you would see me as I did, or see me as Mom did."

I'd almost forgotten she was there until I felt her arm slip around my waist.

"If you hadn't noticed, Mom thinks I'm pretty perfect." I paused my long-winded babble with a smartass remark, just for Mom. Then threw in a compliment for my other mom. "She thinks you are, too. She misses you. You were the best thing to ever walk into her life, you know. She loves you, and she misses you. Dad, too. But you know him, he doesn't talk about it much. He'll tell me about anything I want to know if I bring it up, but I think it hurts too much to think of everything all the time. He's different than Mom that way. She needs to think of you to keep you close. That's why I've been thinking of you so much lately, too, I suppose.

"I've had a lot happen the past couple of years. I actually feel grown up now. I feel like I can accomplish what I want in life. I took a big leap a few months ago – with encouragement from you-know-who. And Bella, of course. I gave up dispatching. I liked it – and I was good at it – but I think I grew too comfortable with it. Dispatching was a way of doing what I wanted to do without having to get close to anyone. Well, I'm super close now. Last week, I had my hand up a guy's a –"

Mom let out an exasperated yelp. "Of all the cases you could talk about, you choose that one?" The familiar look of reproachful love shone in her eyes. One corner of her mouth lifted into a reluctant grin. "He's done it, Elizabeth. I wanted him to be the one to tell you, but he's here so I can gush now. He's on a paramedic team, in the field."

"It's terrifying and exhilarating and I absolutely love it." I wore a proud smile – half for my own giant step in overcoming my anxieties, and half for the pride my mother felt in me.

I don't know how long we stood there talking to Elizabeth as though we were catching up over lunch in the park. We related funny stories and memories, told her all about Jasper and Rosalie, their spouses and children. It could have been minutes or hours – I truly had no concept of the time. All I knew was that Elizabeth and I likely shared more in common than our unique eye colour. I felt safe with her. I felt accepted and understood. I felt like we would have had a very special relationship if she'd survived. Probably similar to the one Bella shared with Kate. I felt at peace with her. She and I went through a horrible ordeal together, one meant to bond us in a very special way. I wasn't meant to feel guilty over her death, I was meant to feel thankful that she'd given me life. I also knew that I loved my birth mother. And I missed her.

Mom reached up and tenderly brushed a tear off my cheek that I hadn't even been aware of shedding. "We've got another visitor, sweetheart. Why don't you go bring her over?" She motioned towards our car. Parked beside it was Charlie's cruiser. Leaning on the cruiser was Bella – waving a little, smiling a lot. She leaned down and gave her dad a kiss on the cheek before he pulled away with a wave of his own.

"Hi," I said softly when I approached her.

"Hi." She repeated my mom's motion, wiping my cheeks dry, and then hugged me tightly.

"I'm okay," I assured her. "Actually, more than okay. I needed this. It's good. I'm really, really good."

"That's great because I have some news for you – Charlie knows."

"He's always known Elizabeth gave birth to me."

Bella chuckled, but her eyes held their adoration. "Oh, Edward. He knows about us. About what we did, and how there won't be a big ceremony and a gown and tuxedos. He knows, and he –"

"He wants to speak to me later. Man-to-man. Am I right?" A lump was forming midway between my chest and my throat. It was rapidly growing to the size of a softball.

"He's good with it, Edward. Really, really good."

"He's good?" I asked in shock. "Honestly?"

"And relieved that he won't have to get all dressed up and cry in front of a bunch of people."

I nodded my appreciation for that fact. "I can see that. He's not mad at you for keeping it from him? Or… pissed at me?"

Her head swayed side to side. "Nope. I have to say it feels great to not be hiding it from him anymore. He's beyond happy for us. And yes, he does want to see you later. For a celebration drink."

I grinned nervously. "Charlie's my father-in-law."

"Yep," Bella agreed with a wide smile. "I just wish my father-in-law was here right now. I just want to get it out – let everyone know. It would be great to share the news with all of your parents at once."

That remark choked me up a little. The tears I'd shed with Elizabeth hadn't been out of one specific emotion. They were more like a quiet cleansing of my conscience. When I thought of sharing our secret not only with Charlie, Esme, and Carlisle, but with Elizabeth as well, the intensity of the relief I'd gained by freeing myself of guilt hit me hard.

We stood by the car for several minutes, Bella holding me as I trembled against her. She positioned me with my back to Mom, knowing I wouldn't want her to see me this way. She'd misunderstand my emotions. Bella made it appear as though we were sharing an extra-long embrace and talking quietly while I got myself under control.

When my heart slowed to a normal pace and I felt steady, Bella cupped my face and gave me a kiss. "Now, can I please meet Elizabeth? I still have to thank her."

I rolled my eyes, but took the compliment to heart. It was the best feeling in the world to know that this woman appreciated my mere existence because she meant everything to me. Hand-in-hand, we crossed over the grounds to where my mothers waited. The living one grabbed Bella into a tight hug as soon as we were close enough.

"Edward, dear, why don't you introduce your wife?"

I barely heard Bella's gasp over the pounding of my own pulse in my ears. How the…? Charlie? No, couldn't be. Even if he would tell his daughter's secret, he couldn't have so quickly.

"Oh, don't stand there trying to think of a way to cover it up. Wouldn't you rather just have everything out in the open?"

"Esme, we're not trying to be deceptive," Bella stated. She didn't seem rattled at all, but her hand was trembling in mine.

"And we're not trying to think of a cover. Personally, I'm trying to figure out how the hell you knew."

Mom smiled at us – that slightly patronizing look all parents possess when they think their grown children are being naïve or extremely dense. "Oh, let's see… the mysterious rings that disappear partway through a visit sometimes. The way you've both managed to put off any talk of setting a date. You've waited so long to be together, there is no rational reason to have a prolonged engagement. And if you think you're being discreet with your coy little looks at each other anytime marriage is mentioned, you're both being ridiculous. It's just so obvious. Do I really need to go on?"

"You're not upset with us?" Bella asked cautiously.

"Were Carlisle and I the only ones not invited?"

"No, of course not," I rushed to respond. "It wasn't like that, Mom. It was just us. On a whim. Honestly. Please don't think we'd intentionally leave you out of anything."

"Please understand, Esme. Edward and I aren't into a big show of things. We always wanted something quiet. Something that was right for us."

"And was it?"

When I faced my mother after gazing at my wife, I saw complete understanding and acceptance. "It was," I said quietly.

Mom nodded with a bright smile. "That's what matters. You'll tell me all about it later on? And put your rings on, for goodness' sake, before they're lost!"

It was that simple. Thirty years to finally believe that my family truly understood what I was about. Surprisingly, the one who took the news the hardest was Emmett. He did soften when I told him he would have been one of my two best men if we'd gone the traditional route. I would never be able to choose between him and Jasper – they were both my brothers.

~ 0 ~

"It's about time you started living your true life." Aro was never one to mince words when it came to my relationship with Bella. "Didn't I tell you that your families would accept your decision to wed as you did?"

My smile came easily. "Of course you did. And one day, I will learn to just accept that you are always right, oh wise one. Wait until you taste Bella's peach cobbler. I swear I could live on it."

Aro joined us for a quiet dinner at home. We wanted to fill him in on the marriage so he wouldn't be out of the loop when he joined us to celebrate the opening of Family First, the clinic made possible through Bella's inheritance. We now considered him family as well as dear friend, taking on the role of Bella's surrogate grandfather.

"Such a change," he mused. "I recall the first time we met, and you considered your weight to be your biggest concern. Amazing what happy living will do, isn't it?"

"Yes, wise one," I agreed with a chuckle. "You were right to focus on my anxiety then as well. Did Bella mention a friend of ours is going to join us this evening?"

"She did. Bree, is it?"

Indeed it was. Bree had become a regular visitor since her roommate moved out, and I'd begun to think of her as a little sister. It worried me that she couldn't seem to climb out of the funk she'd fallen into since she'd been on her own. It worried me a lot. "I'm wondering if you could maybe talk to her," I replied quietly.

"Are you insinuating I'm a bad conversationalist?"

I knew Aro was teasing me, so I didn't respond.

"You mean, in a professional capacity?"

"If she's game. We'll pay for her sessions. She's been quiet lately. Too quiet. Bella and I can only do so much – we've been trying to draw her out of her shell but I think this is beyond us."

Aro nodded his understanding. "We'll see what we can do for your young friend."

"She reminds me of Elizabeth," I blurted. I'd come to that realization the day Bree told us of her eviction from her parents' home. "At least, what I know of Elizabeth. What I imagine she was like. Bree is older, of course, but I can't help but think she's just as lost as my mother was. I'm afraid for her."

"Afraid…?"

"Not that she'll die," I assured him. "Just that she'll do something desperate or hole up in her apartment and become a recluse. I don't know. She's got this boyfriend on and off. Seems like a dick. Definitely not good enough for her –"

Aro chuckled.

"What?"

"Ah, Edward. Always so protective of your loved ones. No one is quite good enough for the ladies in your life, right?"

I shook my head. "That's completely untrue. I couldn't have chosen a better husband for my sister. Emmett is everything she needs and more. Bella probably could have done better…" I followed my joke up with a smirk. "Bree doesn't have much luck picking winners, though. I should just let her talk to you about it all so you don't have my prejudice going in. He is a dick though. Just remember that when she's talking him up."

~ 0 ~

Aro made it an early evening, claiming the festivities of the next day's opening would tire him out too much. Of course, this was after he had a quiet chat with Bree out on the balcony. I took Don Everly for his last walk of the day when Bella took Aro's place at Bree's side.

The apartment appeared deserted when we returned, but Don sniffed out Bella right away. I followed him into our bedroom where I found her sitting by the White Ghost, her eyes closed as if in prayer.

"Everything okay?" I asked softly so I wouldn't startle her. Don Everly wasn't so subtle. He jumped on her, covering her face with wet dog kisses. He only stopped when she gave him his usual enthusiastic greeting and hug. I got a sad smile.

"So I found out what's been up with Bree recently – why she's been so forlorn."

I took a seat on the edge of the bed near Bella to listen.

"She's pregnant."

It didn't surprise me really. Another similarity to Elizabeth's life, but something we could work with. At least this was a temporary thing. A pregnancy had a beginning and an end, unlike depression. Bree was such a sweet girl and quite charismatic before her life had been turned upside down with her roommate leaving and this dickhead jerking her around. It was painful to see her in a constant funk.

"She's about four months along. James took off. Cleared out his apartment, cut off his cell service. She has no idea how to get in touch with him."

Bella had given me a moment to digest the news and let my mind drift, as she knew it would. The fact that her charming boyfriend had bailed on her altogether was hardly a surprise to me either.

"She wants to be our first client."

Frowning, I rubbed at my neck. "For family counselling?" Surely she wasn't looking to abort the baby. I didn't have much to do with Family First, but I didn't want an abortion to be the first service it performed.

Bella shrugged, her frown matched mine. "I don't know what she wants. She doesn't know what she wants."

"All the more reason for her to be counselled. She shouldn't make any rash decisions right now." Again, Elizabeth was foremost on my mind. If she had acted rashly, I wouldn't be here.

"Aro counselled her to talk to us," Bella replied with a smirk.

"Nice." I let out a snort. "Like we know how to handle this."

"I think I do," Bella announced in a whisper.

A page turned in my mind – several pages in fact. Elizabeth was gone, as were my thoughts of Aro and the clinic. My mind was now on the future, and it saw us in the house we'd looked at just the previous week. We were waiting to see if our bid was accepted. I saw us settled in the house. Saw myself rolling around with Don Everly on the spacious grassed area behind the house. My mind's eye looked up and saw Bella on the second floor terrace in her blue nightie. She had a baby on her hip and a smile on her lips. When she caught me staring at her, she waved the baby's hand at us. It was a girl. Bree's little girl – now ours.

"Me too," I whispered back in amazement. "I'll call our agent tomorrow and push a rush on the house. We'll up our offer. Anything to get it underway. Do you want Bree to live with us until the baby's born?"

Bella's face went white. Her mouth fell open and then clamped shut. Her eyes looked panicked.

"I know we have a lot to talk about and even more legal issues to process, but we'll do this together. I swear I'm not going to expect you to handle it all. I can take a leave from my unit if you need me to. I'd rather not since I'm still the new guy on the team, but I will. Or I can wait and take paternity leave. You might need me more then. Or you might want rid of me for twelve hours at a time then," I said with a nervous chuckle. The fact that she hadn't so much as blinked was freaking me out.

"It won't be like you'll be on your own when I'm at work anyway. We both know Alice will be over there every chance she gets. Mom, too."

Her mouth opened again, but nothing came out.

"I can talk to them for you if it gets to be too much. I know they tend to just jump in with both feet. They're only trying to help, but Christ, it can get annoying real fast. How do you feel about doing this through Family First? Would you rather do it privately? I could talk to Bree, see how –"

"Edward –"

"Sorry. I'm monopolizing the conversation." I stopped to smile at her, hoping to bring some colour back into her cheeks.

She remained ghost-like, and also silent.

"Bella, just tell me to shut the fuck up when I go on this way. Tell me what you're thinking."

Silence. A disbelieving stare.

"Bella?"

Pounding heart. Sweaty palms.

That was me, not her. While her body seemed to have shut down, mine was going into overdrive.

"Bella, I'm going to be honest here… you're scaring the shit out of me."

"I'm scaring you?"

Okay. Stone Bella was awakened. She was rapidly turning blood red, and the best description for her first full response to me was a shriek. It may have been intended as a hiss – that's the impression her fiery eyes gave me. The fact that she was nearly hyperventilating after not taking a breath for so long led me to think it was more than anger. She was truly scared.

I wanted to console her, take back whatever it was I had done to frighten her. I wanted to be the man she needed, but at the moment it took every ounce of energy just struggling to breathe. I felt firm in my sentiment that I was more terrified than she was.

Proof in fact – she was frantically pacing in front of the window. Don Everly tried his best to keep up, but after being unintentionally booted a few times, he retreated to the safety of his crate. Lucky dog. How I wished Emmett had purchased one large enough for the both of us. I was tempted to run and squeeze my ass in the crate no matter how tight a fit it would be when she stopped pacing. She was stone again. Icy stone. A red-faced block of ice, somehow managing to shoot fire from her eyes.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Her first screeched words startled me. What was I talking about? How the hell would I know? I just talk–

Wait…

Bree. Pregnant Bree. Surrogate Bree?

"Too soon?" I muttered the innocent query and darted the new streaks of flames. "We should give her time to decide what she wants?"

"Seriously? You think you're rushing Bree?"

"And… you?" I asked tentatively. I wanted to spare any unnecessary words. The more I said, the more likely I would be to utter something stupid.

She shook her head at me incredulously. "That's not rushing, Edward. You just pushed me off a cliff. You want us to take Bree's baby?"

My eyes widened. "Not take her… I would never abduct someone's baby–"

"Edward!" Bella's plea for me to shut up had never been clearer.

"I'm sorry."

"For what? What are you sorry for? For making me believe you wanted the same thing I did? I believed you, Edward. I honestly believed that you never wanted a family."

"I didn't," I protested. "I wasn't lying to you. You've seen how I am around kids."

She nodded, tears now streaming down her crimson cheeks. The fire in her eyes was doused, only sadness remained. That scared me even more than an angry wife. "I have. And I've always – always – thought you'd be a great father."

My mind jumped back to detention in high school. My first detention, and the only one shared with Bella. Was that the first time we'd discussed children? We'd talked about it many times, then and now.

"–made me believe you were sure about that."

She was talking again – screaming, really. I blinked rapidly to bring my focus to present time and situation. Presently, we were talking about whether or not we should adopt Bree's baby.

No.

We were talking about when I'd changed my mind about having kids.

No!

We were talking about a solution for Bree, and the logical thing would be for us to help her. Bella had been the one to bring it up. I was merely showing my support.

And enthusiasm.

And… intense desire to actually do this?

What. The. Fuck?

I clamped my hands over my face, frantically trying to rub away my confusion. "Bella, you said you knew what we should do. I thought this was what you meant. I thought–"

"Did you think?" She spewed out the words, angrily halting my explanation. "Actually, I suppose you have been thinking about it for some time. It just would have been nice if you could have clued me in a bit sooner. You know, actually let me in!"

"I do let you in!" I protested in a voice I wasn't familiar with. Either I was on the verge of my first panic attack in years, or a twelve-year-old girl was speaking for me. "I do." Repeating it only appeared to be an attempt to make myself believe that statement when in fact it was the absolute truth. I held nothing back from her.

"I feel like I'm here with a stranger."

Her remark allowed me to find my voice, and it was angry. "A stranger? Are you fucking kidding me? You are the only person outside of my family that I've always been myself with! You know me!"

"Then what was all of that?"

"Like I said, you know me. And you should have known that being subtle isn't your best bet with me. You should have known that my mind would go off on its own and my mouth would blindly follow! You know that I say stupid things. Why didn't you just say what you had in mind to begin with? That would have stopped my erratic thoughts before they even began."

We stared each other down in relative silence. There was heavy breathing and some wheezing filling the void of angry words.

I didn't want to appear weak, so I refrained from reaching for my inhaler despite the whistle in my windpipe. I pinched my eyes shut and took a slow breath, as deep as I could. In a much calmer voice, I asked, "What did you have in mind to begin with?"

She let out a sad little huff. "It doesn't even matter." Her voice was quiet. Defeated. "Suddenly, Bree's situation isn't the biggest problem in my life."

"That would be me?" I asked stubbornly. I didn't want to continue arguing, but being referred to as the biggest problem in her life irked me.

"No, Edward. It would be me. And me and you. And how we're ever going to get past this."

Panic on the way…

I pinched my nose roughly to force myself to breathe deeply through my mouth. I was already seeing dark spots in my eyes, followed by little lightning sperm shooting through my vision. The onset of a migraine. The faint feeling was nearing. My knees were already weak. How could I have fucked this up?

"We just forget what I said," I suggested. I hoped she heard me, because I wasn't even sure if any sound had escaped my lips.

"I can't do that."

Ah. She heard.

"I need… I think we both need some space. I'm going to go check on Bree." She brushed past me heading for the exit from our bedroom. "Don't wait up. I'll probably stay the night with her."

I followed her out of the room in silence, surprised that my legs carried me as far as they did.

She turned to look at me before leaving. "Don't panic, Edward," she said softly. "Just think. Really think about what it is you truly want."

She left our apartment – and first argument – with that request, quietly closing the door before I could respond.

"You," I said to the door. "It's only you I've ever wanted."


A/N ~ *waves* Hi! Remember me? Remember the story? ;) In truth, I had to go re-read the previous chapter myself to recall the events leading up to this. So sorry. Next chapter is in my inbox (thank you Shug! XX) so barring the event that this flu I've had actually takes me down for good this week, it will be posted on time next Monday.

Thanks for coming back to read, and a special thanks to those who've messaged or emailed. The messages put a smile on my sallow, puffy face. That's an image, huh? lol Much love. XX ~ SR