February 28th, 2012- 11:55 p.m.
After saying goodnight to my husband and daughter- I, Bella Cullen, shut the door to my bedroom. Reaching inside a drawer that housed my 'personal' collection, I pulled out a worn AD/DC t-shirt that had seen better days. I pulled it over my head loving the way it felt on my skin. Crawling under my ridiculously expensive blue silk duvet, for the first time in four years I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
At exactly 12:01 a.m. on February 29th, 2012, leap day, my eyes popped open. I threw off the quilt that had been handed down through three generation of Blacks off my body and looked over at warm bronzed man in the bed next to me, my Jacob. He was sleeping on his stomach, snoring slightly but his face was pointed in my direction, illuminated from the glow of the television.
Unable to control myself, I reached out to trace his face, noticing every feature like it would be the last time I saw it. And it would be, at least for four years.
Four years ago Edward gave me a choice. Leap Day is a magical day for vampires it seemed. They were allowed to live the life they were meant to for as long as their natural life would also have lasted. Once you made the decision to start it, there was no stopping it. Every four years you would be thrown into that life- aging, kids and anything else that was your natural path but only for that one day. Edward also warned me that this was both a blessing and a curse. I took his words to heart and decided I wanted to know.
That journey had taken me on an emotional roller coaster that ended in weeks of recovery from the shock of how much regret I now possessed. There was no time to dwell on that now. It was my magical day and I wanted to spend it with the man I now knew would have made me the happiest.
Bending over I kissed his exposed neck, hoping that would be enough to wake him but he didn't even budge. Though his mind might not be awake, it did appear that my kisses were waking other parts of his anatomy. This was the one day I could undo all the wrong decisions and I was not going to waste one moment.
My hand skimmed over his warm silken skin, down his chest and flat stomach. With no hesitation, I reached out causing him to moan out in pleasure.
"Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Black?" he whispered, still half asleep.
"Why are you whispering?" I asked.
"How easy you forget," he chuckled. "Jensen has super sensitive hearing and if you want to finally have some private time, we'd better both be quiet. Do you think you can manage that?" He reached out and took my neck in his large hand before nipping at it.
His supple lips on my pliable skin felt amazing. The sensations of the contact awakened other parts of my body too.
"Oh Jake, I've missed you," I called out a little too loud.
Our movements were halted by the distinctively piercing shrill sound of a baby crying. We both groaned in disappointment.
"Maybe tonight… maybe tonight. You'd better get Jensen before you start leaking again."
His answer confused me but then I felt the wetness seeping through my t-shirt. Shit, I was breastfeeding. How old was this baby? Turning to get out of the bed, I saw a dark wooden cradle obviously made by either Billy or Jacob. They were the only two I knew that possessed that kind of workmanship. I smiled to myself imagining Jacob toiling away for hours but never complaining as he made this cradle for his son.
Quickly I got up as Jensen's cries escalated in intensity. Peering over the side of the cradle, my heart melted when I gazed upon his little fierce face. His tiny hands were clenched into wavy fists of fury and his mouth was open wide as his lungs were being put to the test. He'd kicked off his covers and his legs moved wildly as if he were already trying to walk over to his momma. His momma… me I beamed with pride.
I went to pick him up but a small feeling of panic surged through me. Could I break him? He was so tiny. Nessie was never this small, at least not that I remembered and definitely never this fragile. Pushing that fear back I gently picked him up like the dolls I used to play with as a small girl. Those dolls didn't squirm though and I had to tighten my grip. He didn't seem to mind. Feeling more confident I carried him the few steps back to the bed and sat down. Lifting up my shirt I put him to my breast and was pleased when he latched on like a pro.
For a few moments I just looked at him in awe, gently stroking the side of his face. Now that he was calm I was able to tell his features easier. The mop of black hair was easy to recognize along with the golden tone to his skin. Though his eyes were closed, the shape was more like his fathers than mine. I searched for any sign of me but couldn't find any, not that it mattered. I loved that he was his father's son.
Lost in my own world I barely noticed that Jake had fallen back asleep. That would not do. I only had this one day, twenty-four hours and I couldn't waste a single moment.
"Wake up," I said nudging him with my elbow.
"Sleeping," he responded as he buried his head deeper in the pillow.
"I know but I want to share this with you so get up. You can sleep later." Honestly, I had no intentions of letting him sleep anytime soon.
He opened one eye partially before exhaled loudly, a sign he'd given up. Jake sat up in the bed and put his arm around me. I snuggled in, fitting there perfectly. Fighting back the tears I tried to remember everything about this moment from the feel of his muscles under the silken skin, the sound of his as well as my own heart beating echoing through my ears, and even the smell of the newborn, our newborn, as he drank greedily from my breast.
"I know it's been six weeks but every moment with him is still feels like a gift. After all he was the best twenty-second birthday present a man could ask for. Speaking of presents, I still haven't thanked you properly." There was a strong sexual undertone in his words that caused a tingle to race through my body.
Pulling myself away from those carnal thoughts it dawned on me, Jenson and Jacob shared the same birthday. How perfect! Jake had been so right those many years ago. Our life was meant to be as easy as breathing. Jensen here was the proof. If only for this one day I was going to be a real mom, unlike what I had been to Nessie.
After my first trip back and I'd seen how my love with Jake was real, I put up a barrier with my own daughter. The daughter that was now living the life I should have. Yes I admitted it, everyone knew it. I was jealous of my own child. But we kept up the perfect appearance of a family behind our stone façade. Nothing else would do because we were Cullens.
I shook my head, putting all those thoughts aside. I was here now and needed to savor every fleeting moment. Knowing a lot could change in four years, I needed to see what had happened. Starting a fishing expedition, I asked a simple question. "So what are your plans for later today, babe?"
"I have to deliver that new coffee table over to Charlie and Sue's. Are you sure you don't want to come with? I know you don't want to take Jensen out of the house yet but you know how much Charlie loves seeing his grandson."
"I think I will actually." I was jumping at the chance to see my dad with my son.
"Good. As much as you just want us to stay locked up in our own little cocoon, there is a big world outside these doors, Bells." He kissed the top on my head reassuringly.
"I know," I conceded.
"Looks like someone just wanted a snack. He's already asleep," Jake pointed out. He stood up, took him from my arms and put him gingerly down inside his cradle. Jake kissed the top of his son's head like he had kissed mine so many times over the year before turning to look at me with a hunger in his eyes.
"Looks like someone else wants a mid-night snack," I teased.
"Not a snack… I want a damn buffet. Six weeks is too long," he said as he crawled into the bed. Hovering over me, he put I finger up to his mouth in a shushing motion. "Do you think you can try to be quiet this time?"
I smiled back at him, eagerly nodded my head yes, while Jake's hands were already tugging at my shirt. Jake then spent the next hour reminding me why this was the only place in the world I wanted to be.
The warmth of his embrace coupled with the complete serenity of the moment was too much and I found myself drifting off…
I was sitting in Sue's house while she, Leah, Emily, Kim, and even my mother scurried around making me the center of attention. My dad knocked on the door and I knew it was time.
Suddenly I was holding onto my father's arm, taking huge steps down the runner placed on the beach. I was hurrying to get to Jake. I knew that I wanted forever to start right now. When my dad placed my hand in Jacob's, he smiled. Not a forced one or one hiding something but one full of pride. He was happy I was getting married. I looked around and everyone had that same smile on their faces, including me and Jake.
The next thing was dancing in the rec center that was decorated so heavily with tulle, lights and flowers, I hardly recognized it. That vision of the dance was followed by cutting the cake, of Embry and Quil giving speeches that made us laugh and one by Leah that made us cry, happy tears but tears none the less.
I was then whisked away in the red rabbit with old cans, banners, and blown up condoms all over it. Luckily we were only going down the road to a cabin at the resort…
I dreamed of nights filled with passion and days full of laughter, of first days at my job teaching at the La Push School and of Jake proudly displaying the sign on his workshop- BLACK CUSTOM FURNISHINGS.
I saw Jake carrying me over the threshold of the cabin he and the other pack members built for us, half a mile from Billy's place. Family dinners, pack gatherings, marriages of friends and births of children all rushed by.
It slowed down long enough for me to watch the expression on Jacob's face when, after months of trying, I came out of the bathroom, waving a pee stick, screaming that I was pregnant and the magical night that ensued.
A smile was plastered across my face when I woke up. I reached out for Jacob but he was gone. I looked around frantically until I saw him in the corner with Jensen, feeding him from a bottle.
"Hope you don't mind. Little Man here wouldn't wait so I used some of the milk you pumped. Bells, you just looked so peaceful, like you hadn't slept in years."
His innocent words triggered thoughts of my harsh reality but I pushed them aside. I wonder how long I'd slept. "What time is it?" I muttered.
"It's only six. Go back to sleep. I got this."
"I'm awake. How about I make us a huge breakfast? What do you want? Better yet, let me surprise you." I grabbed a discarded shirt of his from the floor and put it on. It still smelled like him I realized, relishing that fact.
Twenty minutes later, Jake sauntered in with a freshly dressed Jensen in his arm. "Damn baby, you outdid yourself," he commented as he saw the feast I had prepared. When a person hasn't eaten food in four years, everything sounds good.
Jake put our son in a vibrating chair set up near the table and sat down to eat. "What's the special occasion?"
"It's leap day. Don't you know that since this day doesn't really exist then any calories I eat don't count," I said, trying to make a joke before digging into the food.
Jake just laughed as we both shoveled in the food and ate in a comfortable silence.
The rumbled of Jake's black pick-up truck had lulled Jensen back to sleep. Between the vibrations of the ride and over an hour of being fussed over by both Charlie and Sue, he was more than ready for a nap.
"I'm glad we went with you. I really enjoyed seeing my dad and Sue, plus I know they loved seeing Jensen."
"I don't know who spoils him more, Sue, Charlie or my dad. Oh and we can't forget your mom. The two weeks she spent when he was born and now the weekly Skype sessions not to mention the boxes of gifts we get in the mail. I'm going out on a limb and naming your mom as the top spoiler," he joked.
"I can live with that." It made me smile to think of her so involved in my son's life, being there for all the moments denied her with my daughter. "Where are we headed?"
"Home… unless you needed something."
"The sun is out. How often is the sun out? Let's drive to the beach or something. We have plenty of blankets for Jensen and I don't know Jake. I guess I just don't want this day to end."
"Sure, sure. I guess you're feeling a little stir crazy. I don't think you've left the house more than a few times since he's been born. But you need to take advantage of it. Only four more weeks and you have to go back to work."
Hormones, emotions, everything came together in a moment of weakness and I started to cry. "I don't want to leave him, Jake. I can't, I just can't."
He pulled me over with one arm and let me cry into his chest. "Hun, you're the one that wanted to go back after he was born. If you're having second thoughts, it's fine. We'll figure it out."
Only I knew this had nothing to do with a maternity leave. I didn't want to leave him, my son, this life. I didn't want forever frozen in a stone wrapper. That said, I couldn't spend my time left wallowing in self-pity. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure it's nothing but hormones. We'll talk about this more later."
"Ooookay." He knew better than to mess with a post-partum mother and I used that to my advantage. We pulled into the parking lot of the beach. Jake pulled Jensen out in his carrier, making sure the blankets were secure while I waited patiently.
He took my hand in his and the carrier in the other as we walked down the beach where we'd first met up all those years ago. It was much nicer but I couldn't help but be taken back to that fateful day.
I didn't do much talking, he carried the conversation mostly. I just listened to his voice, felt the warmth of his skin on mine and enjoyed every single moment.
Our afternoon in the sun was cut short by a sudden cloudburst so typical of La Push. We rushed back to the truck and headed home…. Home.
The log cabin we lived in was perfect in every detail. It was more me than any place I could have ever dreamed. When someone knows you as well as Jake knew me, I guess it was easy to build my dream home. I tried hard to keep from glancing at the clock as I watched my time slipping away and my sadness threaten to break through again.
Jake ended up ordering pizza for us while I gave Jensen his bath. When I came out, he had the pizza and two warm sodas sitting on the coffee table along with two lit candles.
"I hope everything is satisfactory, Madame" he said with a fake French accent trying to act like a snooty waiter.
"Perfect," I replied. I put Jensen down in the bassinet. We sat on the floor and ate the pizza all the while laughing and talking about cute things Jensen had done throughout the day. When Jensen fussed, we brought him down onto the floor with us. Taking out time to make him happy and try to make him laugh.
After our dinner and evening with Jensen, Jake cleaned up while I fed and changed the baby before laying him in his cradle. I looked up at the clock and was sad to see it was already close to eleven.
'"I'm putting on a movie. What's your poison?" he asked.
"Your choice." It didn't matter to me. I would be looking at him more than the movie anyway. I went to his drawer and pulled out a Metallica t-shirt, put in on and got in the bed beside him.
"You're gonna regret saying that. I picked Blood Sucking Zombie Killers from Outer Space." He held out his arm and I snuggled in instinctively, clinging to him as if he was a life preserver, which he was.
I didn't have the strength to look at the clock again afraid it would announce my time was up. I was staring at Jake, watching him laugh at the gore that made weaker men vomit. I kissed him on the cheek which made him give me his attention.
Sensing my need for him he bent down to kiss me full on the lips, our love coming through loud and clear with each movement of his lips on mine.
Then, just as easily as I had slipped into the other realm, I was back. The same cold stone-like flesh, the non-existent heartbeat, the inability to cry and most of all a pain so deep and so intense that I was not sure I could endure it.
Not surprisingly Edward was nowhere to be seen. Why would he want to be here for this? To witness me mourn for a life and the love of another man. The very man who was still in our lives and in two weeks' time would be taking our daughter to prom.
I got out of bed and took off the Metallica t-shirt as now the smell was too much to bear. It was both nauseating and yet so linked to my memories that having it near me was too painful. I put it back in my drawer, knowing that I would still occasionally pull it out and put it on trying to remember. At least I would for the next four years until I was able to go back.
I put on my normal attire, not washing though. As much as the aroma was torture, it also brought a small piece of comfort with it. Jensen's baby smell still lingered on my skin, in my hair and I was not ready to give that up, not yet.
My studio was waiting for me as I knew it would be. I pulled out my charcoals and a new sketchpad writing the date and year on it so that I could remember the vivid details of this day. I'd spend hours of self-induced solitude reliving every moment with each stroke. No one bothered to come looking for me, not that I wanted them to.
Before I knew it, I'd worked through the night, the entire day and now late into the next evening with no break. There was a knock at that door and it was that distraction that finally pulled me out the trance I was in.
"Can I come in? Is it safe?" his familiar husky toned voice asked.
"You look like you've been at this for hours. Don't you think you need to take a break? After all, don't want you going all Van Gogh on us and cutting off an ear… if that's even possible," he teased.
I finally put the charcoal down along with my pad and looked up, forcing a half-smile. "There. Are you less worried?"
"Not really." Then what seemed like hours of silence. "So are you going to tell me?"
I knew I couldn't form the words. If I could cry, I already would have broken down. I simply handed the sketchpad to him and let him look at it, at our life together.
First was a sketch of us dancing at our wedding, then our perfect little house, next his shop and finally, the one I'd just finished, our son.
He took his time with each of the pictures, committing each detail to memory. With every image though, his eyes got glassier until tears rolled down as I watched him trace the face of his child.
"His name is Jensen William Black. He's six weeks old and was born on your twenty-second birthday."
"Cute kid but then again, I knew he would be. He's got your mouth by the way."
"You think so? When I looked at him all I saw was you." My words caused him to smile, not a full on smile but still a smile.
"No he definitely has your mouth." He sat silent staring at the picture a while longer. "Answer me this, and then we won't bring it up again, well until next leap day."
"If I make like a little wooden wolf or something, do you think it would go back with you? You know… if you had it in your hand."
"I could try…"
"I would just like for him to have something I gave him… I know I probably give him things all the time but not really... God, this is so fucked up. You know what I mean, Bells." He turned away from me completely and I could tell from the shake of his body that he was crying.
I put my hand on his shoulder, forgetting for a moment that my touch and his were now incompatible but his body's violent jerk at the feel of my skin was an instant reminder.
"I'm so sorry, Jake. You know if I could go back and change…"
"Stop right there. You can't and it does me no good to live in a fantasy that you could. I have to live with the decision you DID make. I don't get even one day of peace every four years." He walked towards the door then stopped. "Listen I'm sorry. I'm going to go wolf for a few days. Just give me time. Tell Nessie I'll be back before prom so no worries."
He was half out the door when I muttered, "I love you, Jake."
The last thing I heard before he disappeared out of my life again was "Love you, too."