True Love Way

Chapter 37

The phone was ringing. At least, I think it was. I hoped the buzz in my ears hadn't turned into an annoyingly loud ring. I reached for the coffee table where the phone had laid in front of me all night, then silent.

"Are you excited?"

Hardly.

I couldn't roll my eyes with my nonverbal response because my head hurt too much. And I couldn't say it aloud when my sister sounded so overjoyed. I mumbled something incoherent instead.

"I woke you? I did. Jesus, Edward! We have to open the doors in an hour!"

The clinic. Opening day. Right.

"You didn't wake me." My voice was monotone as a way of coercing her to calm the fuck down. Loud Rosalie was not good at a time like this.

After a brief pause, my sister's voice returned, much softer. "You have a headache, don't you?"

I mumbled in agreement.

"Did you sleep at all?"

"Nope."

"Shit. Honey… are you nervous because of the number of people invited?"

Truthfully, that was the last thing on my mind. I was nervous that I'd permanently screwed myself out of my fairy tale life. Twenty-four hours ago, things had been perfect.

"No. I'll be fine. Quick shower, maybe a heave or two, and I'll be good to go. Promise." I smiled for my sister's benefit. She couldn't see it, of course, but I figured I should start practicing.

"Is Bella ready? Please tell me you didn't both oversleep."

"Bella?" Fuck. I had no idea. I also had no idea if we'd be attending the function together or as bickering singles. Well, one bickering single and the other single groveling. I wasn't up for round two. I just wanted the previous night's events to go away. "Uh… she–"

She opened the door and swept through the living room right on cue. She left a trail of her own scent mixed with a different, underlying scent. She had showered at Bree's.

"Is that Rosalie?" She called out from the bedroom. "I want to talk to her."

What about me? my mind whined. It annoyed me. I would have to ask Aro if he had a trick to turning the mind off altogether. I could use some silence.

"Rose! Hey! Big day… do you need me to pick up the cake?"

I couldn't hear my sister's response, but I hung in the background just to hear Bella's voice. It didn't sound angry with Rose. It sounded excited and proud.

"I just have to get dressed and I'm good to go." Even as she spoke, she was stripping off yesterday's clothes. She pulled out a simple black dress from the closet. "Edward?" Her eyes finally glanced at me. "He's a mess right now but fixable. Don't worry, we won't be late."

I didn't take my usual enjoyment from watching Bella dress. I was too busy examining her face for any sign of how today would go – more importantly, tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. She had expertly covered the dark circles under her eyes. No one would guess she'd been crying, but I knew by sight that she'd had a rough night, just as I had.

The dress was on, and she backed up for me to zip it up, as we always did. I performed my duty, refraining from placing the tiny kiss at the nape of her neck that always completed our routine. If she noticed, it didn't show. She was already heading back to the closet.

"Is Emmett wearing a suit?" She was digging through my side of the closet. I was glad she was choosing my clothes for me, as I didn't give a shit. The thought of a suit didn't appeal in the least, but I would put it on and smile if I had to.

I mumbled something about going for a shower as I made my way out of the bedroom. The toilet got my attention first. I was still sitting on it, completely naked and shivering, but trying to cool my clammy forehead on the tiled wall beside me when Bella rapped on the door.

"You okay?" She sounded concerned. She sounded like my wife.

I choked on a grateful sob that turned into a heave. Luckily the trash can was right there. And then so was my wife. Her hands stroked my hair while my head was in the can. She left one hand on my shoulder while she wet a cloth with the other.

"Honey, has this been going on all night? You should've called me."

I swallowed several times, trying to get rid of the remaining saliva that was forming post-puke. Would she have come home if I'd asked? "No. No, this just hit. Then again, I didn't move much all night. If I had, I would have lost my dinner then."

"Migraine?" Her hand brushed the hair from my forehead while the other dabbed at my mouth with the cloth.

I nodded. "Tail end. I'll be fine."

Okay, that was a lie.

"No, actually. The truth is I'll pretend I'm fine, but I'm anything but. And it's not the migraine." I stared deeply into Bella's eyes and then burst out laughing. "I just remembered the first time you saw me yak."

"The beach," she acknowledged, still stroking my head tenderly.

"I was mortified. The one person I never wanted to see me that way… and there you were."

"And here I am."

The softness in her voice soothed me as much as her skilled fingertips. "Why?"

"Why?" She pulled away from me, dropping the cloth to hold onto my jaw with both hands. "Why? Because I love you, Edward."

"Still?"

"Of course!" Bella moved the trash can from between my legs and knelt in front of me. "We had an argument, that's all. I hate that it happened, but it was inevitable. Timing sucks, but we'll talk later on. Okay?"

"We're all right – you and I?"

Bella's eyes shone with adoration rather than shooting lightning bolts at me. My Bella was back. "I may have overreacted just a bit."

Twenty pounds of the bricks in my skull seemed to vanish. I could blink without pain. And I could smile – not a practiced smile and not one that came with maniacal laughter.

Bella smiled as well and then pressed her hands tightly against her face. "Oh my god, Edward. I can't stand this anymore." She plugged her nose with one hand and reached behind me to flush. "I love you, but you stink."

What would have been nervous laughter came out quite differently. It was my comfortable laugh. "Wanna kiss?"

Her face scrunched up as she pushed mine away. "Ugh! After you brush. I'm going to leave the bathroom now, if you're all right. Vomit is one thing, but I really don't need to see you wipe your ass." She did drop a kiss on my forehead as she stood. "Why do you have to be so lovable, even on the toilet?"

"It's a curse," I remarked with a smirk.

"Clean yourself up. Quickly. Your sister will kill you if we're late."

~ 0 ~

I cruised through the opening, greeting people with a courteous nod but not a handshake. I found that offering up a glass of sparkling water or champagne got me out of that awkward moment when a hand was extended towards me. The liquid in the glass was more desirable than my hand anyway. I didn't even find the suit Bella had dressed me in to be too constricting.

I knew most of the people – many were from the hospital and the fire station. My former colleagues from dispatch dropped by to offer their support as well. I caught Bella and Ben snickering over their first meeting in our apartment. If Bella was still upset with me at all, it didn't show. And if my family noticed any tension between us, they didn't comment. Even Aro seemed unaware. The one absence I was grateful for was Bree. I didn't know if Bella had told her about my blunder, and I didn't know how I'd react around her just yet.

When the gala at the clinic shut down, the family, joined by Aro, all headed to Lauren's restaurant to dine. She'd been one of the first drop-ins and had informed us that she had a section reserved for us. It goes without saying that Emmett was the most pleased about that. We stayed until closing and got to meet the new man in my ex's life. Tyler was an old friend of Lauren's from school. He confessed to me that he'd been too shy to ask her out back then, but when he ran into her at a gallery months earlier, he didn't waste any time kicking their old friendship up several notches. He was an art dealer, but not the snooty kind. More indie, if there was such a thing. He seemed very chill, very confident, and very much in love with Lauren. Her true love? I hoped so.

Bella and I bid goodnight to everyone at the restaurant, opting to walk the few blocks home and get some air. I carried my jacket, shirt sleeves now rolled up and my tie… somewhere. I'd lost it at some point during the evening. It was very warm for early fall and a perfect night to stroll. Tentatively, I reached for Bella's hand. She accepted it with a gentle squeeze, and we walked in silence for a bit, hand in hand.

"Feeling better?" The energetic voice I'd heard from her all day was gone. She was tired, no doubt, and back to being concerned.

"Much. I have this annoying tickle in my throat, though."

"Probably scratched from this morning's upheaval," she teased me lightly.

"Maybe." I hadn't had so much as a head cold since my round of pneumonia when Bella was still pregnant with Nathan. My longest streak of good health yet.

"Edward, I did a lot of thinking last night –"

Good. I was so relieved that she brought it up first. I was wondering how long we'd chit-chat and avoid it. I had so much to say, and the longer it was put off, the more shit I'd think of to add. "Me too. I'm really sorry I went off that way. I had no right to blame it on you – I know how I am, and I should have asked you to expand on your idea before I dreamt up an entirely different life for us."

"Mmm. We both should have known better. I'm sorry too. I do believe in you, you know. I do know who you are – at least my heart does, anyway. Sometimes my head has trouble getting around yours."

I snickered with her. "You and me both. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where in the hell all that stuff came from. I don't understand it. It's like a picture book opened up in my mind, and every happy scenario that could be imagined filled the pages."

"A baby would make you happy, then?" It was phrased as a question but asked in a manner that sounded more like a dreaded statement.

"I haven't lied to you about that, Bella. Honest to God, I have never pictured myself being a father. Never. Well… maybe a few thoughts here and there before you decided to have Rosalie and Emmett adopt Nathan. I knew I wasn't deserting you, so if you came with a baby, then so be it."

Bella smiled up at me sadly.

"But it all worked out perfectly. They got what they want. We have what we want."

"You're good with the babies," she remarked. "Emily adores you, and you still look so in awe of Nathan every time we see him."

"Doesn't mean I want to be their dad."

"True."

I hesitated before plunging into the next part. The making-up part of our first fight was working out so well, and I didn't want to risk blowing it again by saying the wrong thing.

"I hear the wheels clicking, Edward."

Chuckling, I gave her hand a squeeze.

"I want to know what you're thinking about. All of it. No matter how screwy it is." Bella tipped her head back to look at me. "Please tell me? I'm over the shock now. I swear I won't freak out on you this time."

Here goes… everything?

"Part of me always thought you didn't really want to give Nathan up. I made myself believe it was what you really wanted, because I was stuck in the middle. He made my sister so–" I stopped abruptly. I didn't know how to describe Rosalie's feelings. All I could do was make a comparison. "He completed her happy picture book, y'know? But then there was you and your feelings for him. You risked your own life for him, Bella. That was for him – not Gianna, not Marcus." I glanced at her from the corner of my eye. "And you're crying, so I think I hit a nerve. Am I right?"

She shrugged and wiped her cheeks. "I did the right thing. I would've messed up his life."

I grunted. "I see it differently. The person I know you to be has a huge capacity for love and nurturing. You couldn't have stuck by me if it wasn't in you naturally."

With a snort and eye roll, she gave me a little shove. "You're different."

"Clearly," I responded with a laugh.

"You're not a child. Even though I'm sure Esme would've loved to keep you a child forever."

Normally, this bit of playfulness would have ended our serious discussion. It was a signal to change topics, and I usually jumped at the chance. This, however, wasn't the time to tuck it away. "We're brushing this off, and I don't think we should be. I want to be honest with each other about this, and it's now or never."

The smile fell from her beautiful face. She stared at the ground ahead of us as we walked. "Honestly? If we had never reconnected – that is, if you hadn't been by my side after the crash – I most likely would have kept Nathan. I would have been alone, a complete wreck, raising a child that I felt in my heart was not mine to keep. I would have ruined his life."

That put a different spin on it for me. "That makes more sense, because I saw how you were with Tanya when she was little. You were great with her. I was there when you were freaking out because you couldn't supply Nathan with milk anymore. And I see how you interact with Emily. That could be really awkward for you, seeing as she's Jasper's little girl, but you have this way with her. You don't baby her, yet you somehow display this sense of security for her. She adores you. She knows you'll always be an attentive audience for her. None of that is the behaviour of someone who would suck as a mother."

Bella huffed at my last statement. "You don't know that."

"And you don't know that you may well be wrong about this."

"So, what…? You want to have a baby?"

"Bella, it's physically impossible for me to have a baby."

Her I'm-trying-very-hard-not-to-show-that-I'm-amused look put a stop to my teasing.

"Okay, truth?"

"Nothing but."

"Sometimes I like watching you with Nathan and Emily." I blurted out my statement and quickly closed my mouth.

"Yes…"

"Sometimes I like it a lot. It's just that you look really content in those moments, and I wonder if I haven't taken away a huge part of your life by not ever wanting children." There. I'd thought long and hard about it all night, and that was the simplest way to say how I felt.

"You'd have a baby with me… for me?"

Resisting the urge to jump back into my joke, I stopped and spun her around to face me. "I would do anything for you. Know that. Believe that."

She smiled for me but otherwise seemed miles away, lost in her own thoughts.

"Now," I urged, "your turn for the truth."

"I would have kept Nathan for you, if that's what you had wanted."

I felt something stir in my stomach. Regret? No, it was just surprise. "I absolutely vowed to my sister that you did not want to keep Nathan. How did I miss that?"

"Because sometimes, underneath all your perfect Edwardness, you're just a silly boy."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Well, firstly, you had a girlfriend…"

"Yeah, yeah. I resolved that situation fairly early on. Go on."

"By the time I began wondering if you could really want me and the baby, I'd already made up my mind to let him go where he belongs. But my god, Edward… seeing your face when you first saw him in the ultrasound image made me question my lifelong belief that people raised by a shitty parent should not ever try it themselves. In that moment, I wanted the little guy on the screen to be ours. Yours and mine."

It was easy to call up that day in my thoughts. It was the day I fell for Nathan, and the day I realized that Bella had made the right choice in opting to preserve his life. It was the day I knew that Bella would unconditionally love any baby of hers from day one on. That she would have that same fight for her child throughout its life, and it would be the luckiest child alive.

"Are you disappointed in me? If we're being completely honest here, I was disappointed in you yesterday. You managed to convince me over the past year that you really were okay with never having kids, even though I always thought you'd be a wonderful father. For a moment, I felt like I didn't really know you. Then I calmed down." She flashed a bashful grin at me. "I don't react well to shock. I'm really sorry. After I calmed myself, I was more disappointed in myself because I was right all along – you are father material, and I've kept you from that."

Several emotions flowed into one, resulting in confusion. During each flash phase, I attempted to verbalize what I was feeling but couldn't. In truth, I had no idea what I thought about us having a family. It was better to stay quiet than mumble a bunch of shit that could be misinterpreted.

"You haven't answered my question," she reminded me gently.

"Question? Was there one?"

"Are you disappointed? In the way I reacted yesterday… or that I didn't have the guts to tell you I've loved you since the day we met and that I wanted you to be Marcus and Gianna's baby's father? For just a little while I wanted that anyway. I really do believe he's in the right place. I'm afraid I put him before you, and that's probably the most selfish thing I've ever done."

I couldn't stay silence any longer. "That's precisely the reason I adore you, Bella. Listen to me… and believe what I'm saying. You do know me. You saw how I was with Emily. I truly had no interest. And even if I felt like I should be interested in her life, she scared me. What's more, my brother scared me. Seeing him transform into an idiot thriving on three hours sleep, but happily going on about Emily coming off the heart monitors, and then crying over the first time she spit up on him – as Mom would say, a good cry. He was ecstatic that she tossed her cookies on him."

Bella looked at me wistfully. "The first time he was able to feed her?"

I nodded. "I didn't get any of that. Of course, I was worried for her well-being when she was born so early, and I wanted to see her get healthier and go home, but I never understood how the most mundane things would thrill Jasper. He's a sarcastic scholar and a bonehead brother – that's how I knew him."

"His whole life changed with Emily –"

"I get that. Now I get it. I got it when I'd watch you staring at your belly, rubbing it. The glint in your eye every time he kicked you. You fought for his life, Bella, and he wasn't even yours. That's what's so precious about what you did. It goes beyond helping out friends and feeling obligated to see it through. It goes beyond wanting to help Rose and Em out. It's an innate sense of nurturing that goes beyond anything you even see in yourself. I guess that's why I rushed into the proposal of adopting Bree's baby. I thought… I hoped… you'd finally seen yourself as I do. Any child would be fortunate to have you as its mom. That's all."

When I finally shut up, I saw Bella frantically wiping the tears from her cheeks. "You can always make me feel so special," she whispered.

"What was your idea for Bree anyway?" I didn't want to keep making my wife cry. And I did want to know where I'd gone wrong with that topic.

She held up a finger, dug in her bag for a tissue and blew her nose loudly before responding. "I thought Bree could benefit from spending time with the most perfect parents in the world. The ones who raised the man I adore."

I smiled, shaking my head. It was so simple and clear now that I'd heard her idea. Of course she was thinking of asking my parents to help out Bree.

"They once took in another troubled young girl and look what came of it."

I had to admit, it was a great idea. I knew my mom, in particular, would love having Bree around and then a baby.

"I didn't come right out with it because I didn't know if you'd dream up some horrific ending for Bree and start thinking about Elizabeth's death again. You've come so far with that. I didn't want to set you back."

I let out a huff in jest. "Like I would ever dream up the worst. Seriously, I know she's not going to die in childbirth. That was a fluke. Bree will be fine. She's older, and there are more than enough medical professionals in the family to stay with her in the last trimester should she not make it to the hospital in time. Or we could get her a midwife. Then there's no chance of an accident on the way. She'll be fine."

Bella quirked an eyebrow, looking pleased. "My optimistic husband! Where did you come from?"

"My beautiful wife inspires me."

"We're getting corny."

"A couple of corn puffs."

"I might be a corn puff, but you're a cheese doodle."

"If you were any more cheesy, you'd be a cheesecake."

"Nah. Then you'd eat me."

I waggled my eyebrows with interest.

"And then get a tummy ache because you'd eat the whole thing."

"Nothing a good poop and the tread mill couldn't get rid of. It's worth it."

"Ugh." Bella made her you're disgusting! face, but she was laughing. "Is this any example to set for a child?"

Just like that, the wheels in my noggin started churning. I forgot about making her laugh and even about eating her up entirely. "Just so we're clear… you don't want to adopt Bree's baby, then?"

She didn't realize I wasn't still joking. She laughed and flicked her hand at my chest.

"Would you consider adopting someone else's baby?"

"Do you know a whole slew of pregnant women wanting to give up their babies, Edward?"

I shook my head.

Her smile faded.

I swallowed heavily.

She took a couple of steps back and wobbled.

I caught her.

"You're serious?" she asked, breathless.

I stared down into the deep brown pools. They looked surprised, yes, but they also looked hopeful. At least, I hoped it hope that I saw and not her thinking of where else she could crash, leaving me and my stupidity alone for another night.

"Are we seriously talking about this?"

I nodded.

She straightened herself up, kicking off her heels. She was several inches shorter with her shoes in her hand, and I kissed the top of her head.

"We don't have to decide right now. But the window is open."

That was kind of midway, right? Not too overexuberant but not saying I definitely never ever wanted a kid. Right?

She rested her head against my shoulder as we began to slowly walk the remaining block home.

"I say we just let it fall into place," I suggested softly. "We'll know the right situation when it comes up. It's not like we're desperate. We don't have to go put our name in at every adoption agency."

"You're thinking we find someone through Family First?"

I shrugged. "Maybe. It seems like that all came about so easily – like it was for a reason."

"It is. It's your sister's way of giving back. Of putting her heart and soul into something she knows so well from both sides – the infertility and being an adoptive parent."

"Yeah, but it could be our fate as well. You never know."

"I just never saw us harvesting a baby through our clients."

"What the…?" I snorted at her choice of words. "I never expected you of all people to look at it that way." My pace picked up while hers slowed. Oh no.

She was statue still when I turned to see if she was having problems keeping up in bare feet.

Fuck. Here we go again.

"I know you didn't mean it that way," I began. "It did sound rather harsh though."

"I did mean it. I don't want someone else having our baby."

"Well, it wouldn't be like Nathan. It's not like it would have our genetics. It would be a straight adoption."

Her chin tipped up defiantly. "What if I said I don't want to adopt, period?"

My head was spinning too fast for the wheels of imagination to keep up. I groaned in exasperation. "Jesus, Bella. I don't want to keep going around and around with this. Do we want to have kids or not?"

"Yes."

"And we want to adopt someone other than Bree's baby," I reiterated, just to be clear.

"No."

"Bella…" I pulled my hands down my face to try to eliminate my look of sheer frustration. "What do we want?"

"I want to have your babies."

All wheels stopped. Even the ones that told my lungs to function.

"Breathe, sweetie."

I could see her lips moving. Apparently the cogs holding the wheels also blocked my hearing.

No. I could hear. There was a river coursing through my head. White rapids pounding at my eardrums. An ocean was forming in my stomach. The tide was rolling in… and out.

In.

And out.

A tsunami was on the way, and I bent away from my wife just in time for it to flood the grass beside us. My hands held onto my knees as the waves lapped up and over the grass repeatedly. When it finally receded, Bella passed me a tissue to wipe my mouth.

"Better?"

"Christ. Twice in one day? I haven't been sick since Charlie and his fucking fish-o-rama in our apartment, and now you have to witness it twice in one fucking day?"

"It's fine."

"It's not fine!" I stood, determined to control the shaking that always followed an expulsion like that. "Look at me, Bella! Do I really look like the best candidate for sperm?"

She smiled at me crookedly. "Actually, you do. I'm more than hoping our baby would have your eyes."

I stormed away in a huff, half to get my thoughts clear before I went off but also to get away from my own stench I'd left on the lawn. Bella took a few steps away from the offensive pool and stopped, waiting for my pacing to slow down.

"I can't, Bella –"

"We don't have to decide now. But the window is open."

I glared at her for using my words against me. Then I mimed closing it.

"So that's it?" Her voice was no longer gentle or teasing. "You get to state what you want, but you won't even entertain what I want?"

"I did! I've been entertaining the fact that you didn't even want a kid, let alone one with my fucked up genes! Bella, get real!"

"Stop shouting at me."

"I don't mean to shout, but you're not getting it!" I didn't mean to shout, truly. But it was only getting louder and more forceful. "Think back, Bella! Go back to high school… think of the albums filled with pictures of the saddest excuse for a kid ever. Remember my low self-esteem? My anxiety attacks? Do you want a kid who hates himself? Think of my asthma attacks. Do you want your baby to struggle just to fucking breathing? Do you want him to be awkward at every damn thing he attempts to do and never feel right… anywhere? Is that what you want? Because I sure as hell would never put anyone through that!"

"You felt right somewhere, Edward. You felt right at home."

"And that's enough?" I chortled sarcastically. "You're willing to raise a social incompetent? Can you deal with that 24/7? Could your heart take that pain? Before you answer that, I suggest you have a good heart-to-heart with Esme and ask her how it feels from the other side. Ask her how much pain she felt whenever I was sick or fucking depressed. Or just angry at the world but mostly myself. I hate that I did that to her. I cannot… cannot… watch someone do that to you. Why do you think I gave you up so easily all those years ago? Jasper was fine. He'd moved on happily. He knew how I felt. Eventually, he would have been okay with it. But I couldn't put you through watching me hate myself. I can't stand the idea of someone else doing that to you. It makes me sick! Literally!"

We both peeked over at the remaining evidence and grimaced.

"We should get out of here. People are already coming out on their balconies to see who's yelling." That old sensation of feeling like everyone was watching me – ready to judge me, critique me – was poking up. I couldn't remember when the last time I gave a shit what anyone thought of me was…

Wait.

I knew exactly the moment.

Two, actually.

When I left Bella standing on the curb in Phoenix after attempting to kiss me, and when my brother thought I'd betrayed him by falling in love with his girl.

But neither of those had anything to do with my faulty DNA. Neither of those were my choice. I hadn't accepted Bella's kiss, and I had never acted on my love for her. They were just thoughts.

Thoughts.

"Edward? Sweetie? We really should go inside now. It feels like a storm is coming. Don Everly probably needs to go out before it hits. Can you walk now?"

The haze of years gone by lifted, and I was staring into the concerned eyes of Bella – my wife. I took stock of our surroundings. We were outside our building, but I was on the ground, my back pressed against rough concrete. The foundation of the building was not only unattractive but hard and cold.

My mouth felt like it was filled with jumbo cotton balls that I couldn't expel or even shift around. It brought to mind the Chubby Bunny incident on the beach, and I fought back another retch. The damned ocean was in my ears this time, filling my head. If only some of it would wash away the cotton balls.

"Come on, sweetie. I'll help you upstairs."

"You don't want this life, Bella. Trust me."

"We'll reopen the window when you're feeling better."

"I've already caulked it shut."

"We'll talk."

"Boarded it up."

"This won't last forever. You'll feel better soon."

"Bricked over the damned thing."

"You're being ridiculously extreme."

"And you're being stupidly blind. You have no idea what it would be like."

"I love you, Edward. Shut up now. Just let me love you."

Fuck. My wife was going to get two rounds of vomit, followed up with tears. I couldn't have constructed a shittier day for her. But she was in love with me. The strong me, as well as the loser me. That was the realization that allowed me to drift off to sleep with her holding me and stroking my hair. True love is fucking blind… and sometimes stupid.


A/N ~ Thanks for reading! XX