A/N: I am blown away that this was the winner in the SWW pick a pic prompt contest! Truly I am in shock that my fellow writers would give me this kind of honor! I hope you all enjoy it, also for those that are following my other stories you may recognize a couple of characters. I will be posting my banner by the wonderful JA Mash on my photobucket and put the link i my profile tomorrow! 3 hope you all enjoy!
Pen Name: Tattedheart
Prompt: pic #7
Word count: 7,768
Summary: After Demetri rushes off to his homeland in a moment of rage, Edward must convince him to return - for what proves to be a life-altering event.
Coming home was suppose to make things hurt less. Distance was going to help me to forget about the lies and cheating. My own language spoken all around me was suppose to drown out his sweet voice in my head. None of it worked. Almost six thousand miles and a half a days flight away and nothing hurt less, nothing dimmed the pain. Weeks have passed and I have come to the conclusion that nothing was ever going to help.
The phone rings again and I let it go to voice mail. I just can't . . . I can't hear his voice - the desperate pleading, the sadness, the begging. I made the mistake of listening to the voice mails he left when I first landed in Moscow. I had to literally hold myself together so I didn't break right there in the airport. I spent the first four days here in bed, barely eating, drifting in and out of sleep. I had no idea if it was day or night most of the time. A month later, I still find myself replaying everything in my head until I think I will go mad.
Entering the apartment, I toss the mail on the table. The lights are dim, telling me that Edward is already in bed. Work had been long and grueling and all I could think about was crawling in behind him and sleeping a good ten hours or so. Finding the bed empty, I hear the shower running. His phone is on the nightstand and his clothes are stretched from the bed to the bathroom. I pick up his clothes and head to join him. Before dropping his things in the hamper, I check his pockets out of habit. Pulling out receipts and a handful of change, I dump it in his dish on the dresser. That is when I stop dead in my tracks with a chill running through my body. In amongst the nickels and quarters is the band of platinum that I placed on his finger two years ago. He has never taken it off - not since the day I put it on him and he put a matching one on mine.
I sit on the edge of the bed rolling it between my fingers and wait for him to finish in the shower.
He startles when he sees me there. He looks to my hand and runs his fingers through his hair.
"It's not what you think."
"How can it not be? I come home finding you in the shower and your wedding ring in your pocket. What the hell could I possibly be thinking but what I know it is?"
"Dem, honestly, it means nothing. I just . . ." I paid him no attention as I cross the room and grab his cell phone. "Dem, what are you doing?" I hear the panic and guilt in his voice. I should heed the warning, but I look anyway.
I scroll through the texts first and I feel the bile start to rise. I tell myself not to look at the pictures, but I don't listen. He doesn't try to stop me. He knows what I am seeing. He sinks down to the bed and puts his head in his hands.
Texts of meeting places and times and missing yous - I feel the bile rise in my throat. Against my better judgment, I open the first one I see with a picture attached. I start to shake. There is my beautiful ginger-haired man with his arms wrapped around a beautiful dark-eyed dark-haired woman I know all too well. Throwing his phone at him, I grab a bag and start throwing things in it. He grabs my arm to stop me.
"Don't!" I scream at him.
"Dem, just listen. It's not what you think . . ." he pleads.
"Not what I think? How could it be anything else, Edward?" I hear my accent get thicker, like it usually does when I am upset. "You in the arms of your former lover, your ring gone, you showering off the smell of her after meeting her? It isn't hard to guess." I never slow in my packing and I grab my wallet and passport. He reaches for my arm again as I move to leave our bedroom, but I slip past him.
As my hand reaches the front door, he blurts out.
"She had my child - my daughter - and she wants us to be a family."
I feel my heart shatter into a million pieces.
He was still only in a towel, so I had enough of a headway to get to the airport and boarded before he could follow. But he called. He called a lot. I don't know if he knew where I went and I think that it is for the best. Time will heal this, as soon as I can get the image of him and Leah and their child living a happy life out of my head.
We had all met in college at the University of Alaska. They had been dating since sophomore year. I transferred there beginning of my junior year. They were so beautiful together - her dark native skin and deep chocolate eyes and him with his pale porcelain skin and unruly coppery hair that made his green eyes pop. Together they were perfection - light and dark in balance. But I found after a few months of knowing them, my eyes would always drift to just him. It was always him.
After a few months of my watching him, I noticed him watching me. Leah saw it too. She never said anything and we never acted on anything we were feeling. That is until he came back single senior year and she didn't. He sought me out the first week back and when he found me, he said nothing. He just knocked on my door and when I answered, he grabbed my face and kissed me hard pushing me inside, kicking the door closed behind him. We made love a week later. He moved into my apartment a month later, and the fall after graduation, we were married.
Life was wonderful with Edward. He was moving up in his job in computers - designing cars and bikes and small planes. I was busy making a name for myself and my gallery. We were happy. I thought we were. Now thinking about it, his hours got longer and there were a few weekend 'work' trips. I never questioned him. Our love was never in question. He was still affectionate. We still made love a lot and went on dates.
If I hadn't seen his ring, I wonder how long it would have gone on with me in the dark. Probably until the day he walked out the door to be with his family.
Sick of being in my room and in my head, I stuff my feet into my flip-flops. I grab my key and head out. I find myself wandering towards Red Square. It is beautiful in the summer with the full green trees making the reds and golds of the buildings pop. Tourists are thick, taking pictures and pointing out buildings in awe. Having been here all my life, I am surprised sometimes that I can still see the beauty in it all. Wandering the marketplace, I think back to bringing Edward here on our honeymoon. His eyes were huge, taking it all in. Wandering the marketplace with him had me laughing most of the time as he was turned off by some of the local cuisine. But every time he heard me speak in Russian, he would get handsy and start kissing up my neck. We made more than one dash back to the hotel.
Shaking myself from my thoughts, I concentrated on things that are around me, drowning myself in the sights and sounds. For hours I walk, wandering the streets and markets. In the museum I can feel him all around me. I ruined my homeland - my escape - by bringing him here. The sense of him all around me here had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
I feel him in every step I take back to my uncle's where I have been staying. Turning down the street, I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of copper in my peripheral view. The feeling intensifies as I slow my walking. Turning quickly, there is no one behind me.
"Чья там" I speak to the empty space behind me. No one answers, but I know that someone is. "Показать себя или прекратить за мной"
It is then I hear the moan and I know who is there. "Как давно вы здесь Эдвард?"
"You know my Russian is limited, love. All I understood was my name." He steps out of the shadowy doorway. He looks like I feel - tired, lost, hurt. Since we have been married, he had put on at least 20 pounds of muscle, but even that seems to be fading away.
"How long have you been here, Edward? Why are you lurking in the shadows?"
Running his fingers through his hair a few times, he pulls at it to the point where it looks painful.
"I got here two days ago. I waited and watched, trying to find the right time to approach you." He takes a step forward. I take a step back.
"You're stalking me?" I'm not sure if I should feel flattered or creeped out.
"It's not stalking, Demetri. You're my husband." He takes another step forward, but I hold my ground this time.
I scoff at him. "Husband! That's rich! Me being your husband didn't matter much when you were planning a family life with Leah, did it?" He rightfully looks ashamed. I turn and walk the last hundred yards to my uncle's door. As I am putting the key in the door, I feel his hand on my shoulder.
"Dem, she's dying. Leah is dying." My blood runs cold and I turn, seeing pain in his eyes.
Opening the door, I motion for him to enter.
I am shaking when I hear him speak in his native language. It always did things to me - usually it turns me on. Today, it restarts my heart, which had stopped beating the day he walked out the door and didn't come back.
I tried to go after him, but by the time I threw on pants and made it down to the street, he was long gone. I had no idea he would go all the way home to Moscow. I figured he would go stay with one of our friends or a hotel. By the next afternoon, when he didn't answer and no one had seen him, I remembered the gps in our phones. I found where he was, but could do nothing about it - until two days ago. I know it was creepy to follow him like I did, but there was never a right moment to approach him. Now, sitting across from him in his uncle's apartment, I don't know where to start. The truth seems like a good place.
"Leah never told me about Charlie. Shortly after we went home that last summer, I told her about how I was feeling about you." I had never really talked about the break-up, just left it as "We ended it," nothing more. "She said she could tell something was there on both our sides. I didn't want to hurt her, but I knew I was falling in love with you. I told her that - that I loved you and I wanted to make a go at it, physically."
"How did she take it?" He was staring a hole in the floor and twisting his fingers together over and over again - a nervous habit I have seen a hundred times.
"She was sad, but honestly, I didn't really see her again. She told me she went back home to the reservation and a month later, she found out she was pregnant. She said she thought about telling me, but she didn't want to ruin my future - being stuck in a life I hadn't planned or wanted. She finished her degree in Seattle with the help of her cousin. She is a nurse now. Charlie was born early and she spent months in the NICU. She saw how much those nurses were needed and she switched her specialty from obstetrics to NICU."
I see a million questions dancing in his eyes. But he jumps to the one I knew he would, "Why now?"
"Leah was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago. She has been through every treatment she can, but it is in her bones now. There isn't much time left for her." Demetri is up and pacing in front of the windows. When I speak again, he stops and stares out them. I can catch his reflection mirrored back. It is a tight face, giving me nothing. "She wants Charlie with a parent. She wants her to know me well before she starts to go downhill. Leah's mom passed a few years ago and her sister is now in the military being stationed for a year or more at a time. Charlie needs to know me. She needs her family."
He whips around and pins me with his cool blue eyes. "I'm your family, Edward. I am your husband. I should have been told about this before you rip my world out from under me to go play house with a woman that was callous enough to not even tell you about your own child. You have a what 3-, 4-year-old daughter?"
"She'll be four Christmas day. She was 10 weeks early." I get what he is saying. "I'm not saying what Leah did was right, and I told her when she first called me. I was furious."
"When? When did she call you? How long has this been going on?" I know it won't help my case, but I promised all truths.
"About six weeks before you left." I walk over to stand near him, but I am smart enough to give him space. I lean against the wall across from him. "We have met up a few times a week. The weekend you left, I spent that weekend in LaPush." I saw it coming. I knew I could dodge it, but I took it. His fist flew and my head snapped back from the force of his fist connecting with my jaw, then again across my nose.
"So the work trip was bullshit. I was planning a welcome home for you, thinking how hard you work. The whole while, your ring is in your pocket and you are playing happy family in LaPush."
"No! Goddamn it!" I yell at the top of my lungs. Stripping my shirt off, I use it to stop the blood from dripping on the floor. "Would you just fucking listen to me? Jesus Christ! Always so quick to jump! Fuck!"
He is breathing heavy, but calming some. I see his hand unclench and notice the blood pooling across his split knuckles. He takes his own T-shirt off and wraps his hand. Sitting in the chair, he glares at me and signals me to go on.
"You have it wrong. She doesn't want me back. She doesn't have the time left or the energy - and she knows I'm married." He looks very confused and I would be too. "She knows I would never, EVER leave you. I took my ring off because when I met Charlie because I didn't want to confuse her. Evidently she has a lot in common with you. She is obsessed with weddings and marriage. Ever since she went to her cousin's wedding, she is always talking about rings and being married. I didn't want her to think just because I was her daddy that I was married to her mommy." Demetri looks skeptical, but also like he might be believing me.
"She knows I'm her daddy, and now that I have met her, I love her so much. She has brought something into my life I never thought I needed, but everything I have always wanted." His eyes flash with hurt. "Love, trust me. I love you. You are my life, but she is my life now, too."
"So I sit back and watch you play family and what?" I see the tears that he is refusing to let spill.
"No, Dem. Leah wants us - you and me - to be her family. She wants us to be Charlie's parents. She has maybe a few months left. She wants her to meet you. She wants us to all work together in the transition, and she wants us to be comfortable enough in our roles so Charlie can say goodbye before Leah is completely out of it in pain."
I know it was a lot for him to process, but I didn't have a lot of time here, every day that passed was a missed day in making the bond I needed with my little girl. Every day was another day closer to the end of Leah's life - so I had to lay it out there and bring my husband home to hopefully meet our daughter.
He rose and paced a bit. I had no idea what was going through his mind as he paced closer and closer to the stairs. On the third pass, his foot hit the bottom step. His sad eyes met mine and my heart fell.
"I need some time. It's . . . it's a lot to take in." I watch as he disappears up the stairs. I let the tears fall and I quietly made my way out the door with my head hung low. The hope was gone. I will love Charlie with all my heart, but there will still be a part that belongs to my beloved husband. I will forever wear the ring that is now back on my left hand and I will forever carry his name attached to mine.
Making my way down the street, I pay no attention to the stares of people taking in my shirtless body and my bloodied and bruised face. I keep my eyes forward, letting the tears flow as I reach Red Square. My heart is shattered.
Then faintly, I hear it - a yelling. But with the distance and language, I have no idea what it is saying. I turn and look - and my heart starts to pull back together.
It was a lot to take in. Yes, once again, I let my hot head and jealous nature rule me, but I was not totally unjustified in my leaving. He never should have kept a secret from me, especially one like this. I tell myself I could always just walk away, but I know that is a lie. There is no way I ever could again. This man is my whole world. I pace and think. A child - a baby - really? Could I do this? We would be replacing her mother - her dying mother. Our lives will never be the same.
I never really thought about having children. I like kids, but never thought of having my own. I pace to the stairs and back. The grief that this child and Edward will go through. I pace from the hall to the stairs, pausing at the bottom of the stairs to look back to Edward's sad worried face. His bare chest - his heart is beating so fast. I can see it in the pulse in his neck. Making up my mind right then and there, I race up the stairs to grab some fresh shirts for us. When I hit the landing, I hear the door close and see out the window as Edward walks towards the square.
"Nyet, shit, глупый человек." He is as quick to jump as I am. Forgetting the shirts, I take off out the door calling to him.
"Эдвард дурак остановиться, подождать!" I yell out to him, ignoring the looks I get, He is moving at a fast pace and by the time I get closer, he has made it to the center of Red Square. "Edward, stop please!" Thank god he does and as he turns to face me, his face is streaked with tears. I practically knock him over as I slam into him and wrap my arms around him. His arms immediately go around me and I bury my head in his neck. "What were you thinking, you foolish man?"
"I thought when your foot hit that step that you had chosen to walk away." He cries into my neck and I feel the tears on my hot skin.
"I was going to get us some clean shirts, so we could get some dinner and talk over our trip home. When I looked at you standing there, I realized there is no walking away." I kiss him hard and he moans, but when I switch sides, I bump his nose and he hisses. "Shit, I am so sorry, драгоценные любви. I forgot about the nose."
"It's fine, love. It's not broken." His eyes are so much happier now and he pecks my lips. "So you're really going to be with me. It's really going to happen." His smile is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.
"What is a family without two parents? Edward, I said 'for better or worse.' We have just been through bad. It will get much worse, but then it will get better." I am no fool to think that we will have it easy - really, what did I know about little girls? - but I won't lose my husband and I think I might make a good father.
"Let's go back before we attract any more attention." I nod and take his hand and lead the way.
Curled up in bed that night, I asked about Leah's health - how she has been, what treatments she has tried. In the end, he was right. She had little time left. I knew the cycle, having lost my own mother years earlier to breast cancer. I try to set aside my anger for her keeping this from Edward all this time. There is no time to be angry. There is only time to move on, learn and say good-bye.
"Tell me about Charlie. I want to have somewhere to start with her. I mean, you know, if I know some of her likes and dislikes . . ."
"Let me show you first." He shifts around and grabs his laptop. Booting it up and entering his password, I see his wallpaper, it is a collage of pictures. Our wedding photo was in the center and branching off it friends and family. One new face repeats throughout - an angelic face.
"That's her. She looks so much like you." I trace the image on the screen for a few minutes then look to him. He isn't looking at the picture though. He is watching me as I look at Charlie for the first time.
"I have more." With a few clicks, I am seeing a slideshow of the time he has spent with her. There is a sting in knowing he kept her from me, but the joy I see in both their faces as he holds her makes it hurt a bit less. For hours, we lay there and he tells me about all he knows and about Leah's quickly deteriorating condition. She was getting sicker faster than anyone thought she would and had been afraid to even make the trip here.
"There isn't much time. We are hopeful for a few months, but it doesn't look good." There is a sadness in his voice that has me pulling him closer.
"We can be on a flight by tomorrow night." I wipe the tears from his cheeks. "I'm sorry. I know you loved her once."
"I did. It was never the same as it is with you, but . . ." I put a finger to his lips.
"Love is love and you did love Leah. It's okay for you to grieve too." I kiss his temple "Probably best you do it now here so we can be strong for Charlie."
I hold him until he stops trembling with sobs, and then I make love to him until the early morning light starts to fill the room. It was slow and tender. Our eyes never left each others' - not as I entered him and picked a slow torturous pace, not as he cried out his release, not as I found my own release. It was unspoken, but we both new we wanted there to be no doubt that we were solid.
It wasn't too hard to get a flight home. We would be getting back home early morning and had talked of what needed to be done. All the plans were loose, depending on Leah's health. I was never one to play it by ear. I was more the plan-out-everything-type person. Edward always made fun of my lists and notes, but he never complained when I saved his ass from missing an appointment or forgetting a birthday.
"I feel lost without a real plan." He chuckles quietly and kisses my head.
"I know, Dem. Once we find out what is going on back home, you can start going OCD again."
We slept most of the flight, and the sun was rising as we landed. As soon as we landed, Edward was on the phone. All we had was a small bag each, so we headed for parking as he talked.
"How is she, pain wise? . . . uh huh. . . Yeah, he came back with me . . . Yes . . ." I'm not sure who he is talking to so I wait. "And Charlie? . . . Okay then, we will go to the hospital first and pick her up later. Thank you so much, Emmett."
There is a deep line creasing Edward's forehead. It is the stress line that tells me when something is really not good.
"What is it, Edward?"
"Leah was taken in this morning." He is looking pale as he slides behind the wheel and grips it hard. I know what this means. I was there with my mother. He looks at me, pleading for answers. "She's not coming out, is she, Demetri?"
I peel his hand from the steering wheel and hold it against my chest, my other hand laying across the unbruised side of his face.
"I'm so sorry, my love, but I don't think so. If she does, it will be to go to a hospice where they will keep her comfortable." I wipe a tear away with my thumb and kiss his lips gently. "Where's Charlie?"
Pulling himself together, he starts the engine. "Emmett and Riley have her. They said she is having breakfast with the twins and we can leave her there for the day."
Emmett and Riley are good friends that live down the hall from us. We met them the day we moved in. They each had a baby in their arms and were pacing the halls. Both of them looked haggard and wiped out, but they also looked so happy when they would pass each other and kiss. We were all extremely happy when the twins out grew the colic. Now at two and a half though, we are all dealing with the terrible twos.
I am hit with a twinge of sadness for Edward - having missed those moments with his daughter. He reaches over and squeezes my leg, "It's OK. There will be many more firsts we will be there for."
"It's scary when you read my mind like that." He laughs softly at me.
The ride to the hospital was quiet. We were both very somber as we walked the halls and I was extremely nervous as Edward tapped on the door to Leah's room and we entered it.
"My god, I'm not dead yet, guys. Crack a smile - it might do me some good." We both manage something between a smile and a grimace. Leah laughs and coughs a bit. I rush over to get her a sip of water. Once the coughing subsides, she grabs me into a tight hug.
"I'm so glad he found you." I hold on to my old friend, trying to ignore how frail she feels. That is hard when every bump of her spine and every rib can be felt through the light hospital gown.
Edward comes over to sit on her other side. "How bad is it, Leah? Truth."
She adjusts her oxygen on her face and lays back. "It's . . ." She looks down at all our hands linked. "It's really bad. I blacked out while I was giving Charlie a bath. Thank god, the nurse was there. I hate to think if . . ." Edward stiffens and the tears sit just on the edge of his lashes.
"It didn't happen though," I pat Leah's leg. "You were smart enough to have someone there. Charlie is fine and I am sure she doesn't even know what was going on. Now, where are we in the medical course of action?"
I didn't want to blow over what could have been a fatal incident, but Leah didn't need the guilt and neither did Edward. I know he is feeling it for leaving them and coming after me there. I will deal with that guilt later. For now, I will do what I do best. I will take control and plan.
After some talk of meds and hospice care, it was clear Leah needed her sleep. I have seen the look. I can sense the end and I know she is trying to hide it from Edward. He kisses her cheek and stands. "Edward, can I have a minute with Demetri, alone?"
He gives us both a sad smile but nods. As the door closes, Leah grabs my hands tighter than I would think she would have the strength to.
"What I said before - about I am happy he found you?" I nod at her. "I didn't just mean when you went to Moscow. I mean in life. Edward and I loved each other. I was head over heels in love with him, but I always knew I wasn't his great love. Somehow I knew though that you were. From the moment we met you in the commons, I saw how he lit up. Every time you two were around each other, you could just feel that it was two halves becoming a whole. When we went home for summer break, I knew what was coming. I was hurt and I knew I could have kept him, but I couldn't be that selfish. I had a piece of him and that was enough for me."
"Leah." It was all I could manage. I felt grief and guilt. I had taken Edward's heart and now his child from her.
"Don't, Demetri! Don't you even think that way! I know you are feeling the guilt. You have always been so easy to read." She reaches up and touches my face. "I am not telling you this because I want you to feel bad. I am telling you this because I want you to understand why I am so easily accepting what is." I see movement out of the corner of my eye and glance over to see her pushing her pain meds button. She gives me a small smile. "I know that you will raise our daughter with all the love you can give, because she may not be your own blood but she is Edward's. I know you will love Charlie like I do. I know it will be hard for Edward to tell her about me, but you will be able to because you understand what it is like to lose your mother."
I choke back a sob. "I will, Leah. I will love her and will not let her forget you."
"Thank you for loving him and opening your heart to her." I wipe the tears from my eyes and watch as she drifts to sleep. I stand over her for a few moments, saying a prayer that when she passes it is without pain.
I stood just outside Leah's door, I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I caught most of the conversation. I dried my face on my sleeve and tried to get it together before Demetri came out. He looked completely drained as I took him in my arms and guiding his head to rest against my neck.
"I feel like I am the one taking her life away. It's not fair! How can one person lose so much because of a stupid fucking disease?" I felt his tears soak through my shirt as I stood there and held him, letting him get it all out. Finally he lifted his head and dried his face.
"Come on, let's go pick up, Charlie. I think you need to meet her."
I saw Demetri get more nervous with every passing street. His leg was bouncing a mile a minute by the time we were parking outside our building. The whole ride up to our flood, he gripped my hand until there was no blood flow left to the tips of my fingers. By the time I raise my hand to knock on Emmett and Riley's door, he was positively green.
"I think I'm gonna be sick." He was wiping sweat off his brow.
"It'll be fine. She is a harmless 3-year-old little girl." I give him a reassuring hug.
"That I am trusted to raise and mold and protect. Do you realize the magnitude of that? If she turns out messed up, that's on us." I had thought I thought this all through, but now it hits me - he's right.
"Shit." Demetri puts his hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eyes.
"Sorry to freak you out there." His fingers squeeze my shoulders. "We are in it together. We can do this." With a peck on the lips, I raise my hand and knock on the door.
Riley opens the door to us and gives us each a kiss on the cheek.
"Where is she?" Looking around, I can hear children's laughter but don't see them.
"They are all in the bedroom, climbing on Mount Emmett." He laughs.
"How was she? She didn't cause any trouble, did she?" Riley shakes his head in response.
"No, she was an angel. Her and the twins had a blast all morning and then she spent nap time coloring and drawing. She is really good for her age." His smile lands on Demetri. I knew she was showing early promise and hoped it was a bond that she and Dem could share.
"Ready for this, love?" Demetri takes a calming breath. I can still see the nerves in his beautiful dark eyes but he seems ready. He nods at me that he is.
"You guys have a seat. I will go get her and tell Em to keep our monsters occupied for now."
I put my hand on his leg to stop it from bouncing. "Relax, Dem. Remember - relaxed and calm."
We hear the bubbling chatter of her voice, talking a mile a minute. One thing I have learn about her is she is very advanced for her age and very inquisitive, always asking questions and looking for how everything worked. When they enter the room, she stops talking when she spots me.
"Daddy!" Running across the room, she hopped on my lap. "Daddy, mommy gots sick in the morning and I had to come play here. She went to the hospiple. Can I go see her,? Is she going to heaven now? . . ." She stopped when she noticed Demetri sitting next to me. Looking him up and down, she whispers to me and I nod. Slipping from my lap, she goes to stand in front of him and cocks her head - like she is sizing him up. Demetri looks to me for a brief moment, but then starts taking her in too. He leans forward with his arms resting on his knees. After a few minutes of the standoff, she breaks into a smile and holds out her little hand. "Hi Papa, I'm Charlie."
I am beaming with pride over how mature she is. I had spent much of my time with her telling her all about Demetri. Her mother had also. She still doesn't completely understand and had her sad moments, but not right now. Now I see the gleam of curiosity in her eyes. Dem is about to get grilled.
He takes her little hand and shakes it. "Well hello there Charlie it is a blessing to meet you."
Her giggle has us both smiling, "You talk funny, Papa." We all laugh along with her.
We thanked Riley and Emmett and promised a playdate with the twins soon and made our way down to our own apartment.
Charlie - the open and carefree child she is - puts her arms up for Demetri to pick her up. He has a brief look of panic and looks to me. I just smile, pick up her backpack and open the door. He picks her up and I feel my heart flop around. We never planned on children but right now, seeing him with her in his arms, I am kicking myself for never having thought about it.
His eyes sparkle as she tells him all about herself. No subject is left untouched. The whole night she spends glued to Dem's side. He seemed to relax as she snuggled into his side and showed signs she was sleepy.
"I like you, Papa," she mumbled before she drifted off, holding tight to Demetri's shirt.
Raising from the chair, I move to lift her but he raises a hand to stop me and picks up her little fragile body.
"Where are we putting her?" he whispers to me.
"Spare room, I made up a bed on the floor for her." After laying her down, he comes to me in the doorway and slips his arms around my waist. We stand there watching her as she sleeps curled on her side, clutching a soft pink blanket.
"I think we can do this." He nuzzles into my neck.
"Ya, I think we can too. You were amazing with her." Pulling back, I look into his beautiful face. "Thank you."
He briefly closes his eyes and nods.
The weeks that follow were rough. We moved Charlie in with us and our world turned upside down. If someone told me six months ago that the biggest turn-on in the world would be my man playing Barbies and coloring with a 3-year-old on his lap, I would have laughed at them. But it was - every time I watched them, I fell more in love. There were good times, but there were also daily visits to the hospital to see Leah for a couple more weeks. Then the day came when we got the call to prepare Charlie for her last goodbye. Demetri knew as soon as I slid the phone back into my pocket.
We have had time to talk everything over. We have had time to grieve and time to heal. We tried our best to prepare Charlie but, at her age, it was hard for her to comprehend. She knows she is saying goodbye to Mommy, but really doesn't understand she will never see her again. We will do what we can, but she still has her nights that she cries for Leah. We do our best to soothe her. Some mornings after, she is quiet, but most mornings, she is her bubbly self again.
We knew the call was coming even before the phone rang. Charlie woke with one of the worst nightmares yet. She cried out with blood-chilling screams. We both bolt out of bed and run for her room just as my phone rings.
We buried Leah four days later.
Charlie stayed with Emmett and Riley. We couldn't bear the thought of her seeing Leah go in the ground, when in her head, she was going to play with the angels.
We endured many nights of screams of night-terrors from down the hall. Then one night, I heard a cry, then nothing. We always went to Charlie together. But tonight - when I realized I had heard the cry and then silence - I panicked, racing down the hall. I was glad for my sock covered feet padding the sounds of the slapping on hardwood. When I got to her door, I could hear the soft rhythm of Demetri singing softly in Russian to Charlie. I knew the melody well, even though the words weren't familiar. Peeking through the crack in the door brought a tear to my eye. I saw a picture of absolute perfection. I saw our beautiful daughter - mine, Leah's and Demetri's daughter - tucked in tight against her Papa's neck as one hand runs through her raven curls. His eyes meet mine as he continues to sing to her. A tear slips out of his eye to match mine.
I bow my head and put a fist to my chest over my heart before looking back up to him. He mouths his 'I love you' and I return it before closing the door.
"There was a time when I was unsure. There was a time when frankly I was scared shitless and ran. I misunderstood. But even in my stupidity, I was able to listen and from that I was blessed with the greatest gift of all." I look at my love with an apologetic smile and he brings his glass to his chest. Then I look to our daughter - her beauty matched by none, in her white lace lovingly laying her head on her grooms shoulder. "My wish for you - sweet, sweet baby girl - is for you to always listen, always be open to change, and never, ever have a hot head like your Papa. Because if your daddy hadn't been the brave one - the strong one - I never would have been here on this day to see you marry this wonderful man." Raising my glass first to the bride and groom, then to our fellow in-laws Riley and Emmett, I turn to the love of my life - my husband of 24 years - and pull him up to my side. We kiss and raise our glasses to our new family, our future. "To family! Be it by blood or love."
I let Edward have his moment and share his dance with our baby girl. True to his nature, Billy has no issue with asking me for the dance.
"Thank you for giving me your daughter to love and cherish, Papa. I promise to be the best husband and father I can be." I look over to our sweet Charlie as Edward places a hand on her barely showing belly. They didn't need to get married for us to except them, but they knew that they were it for each other. Edward and I and Emm and Riley knew from about the time they turned 10. This was a forever thing. They were drawn together by some unseen force. There was no other that could break the earth's force that pulled them together.
A tear or two might have fallen. Billy may be a young husband, but I am sure that he will be just what he says - a good and loving husband. He will be a good father and everything I could have wanted for my baby girl.
"Just don't ever let your head speak above your heart." I grip his shoulders hard. "Because if she doesn't fight harder than your hot head, you could miss out on the greatest moments of your life."
Finally I get my turn on the floor with Charlie. I take my sweet girl in my arms. I am forever amazed at the perfect blend of her mother and father. Her raven hair and russet skin offset with her plump lips and emerald eyes. The white of her gown and veil only serve to play up the beautiful contrasts. The beautiful balance of light and dark.
"Thank you, Papa." She hugs me close as we sway.
"There is no thanks needed. It is every Papa's dream to give his little girl a big wedding." I kiss her forehead.
"No, Papa. I mean thank you for coming back with daddy. I could never imagine a life without you in it." She hugs me tighter and I feel the wetness stream down my cheeks. "I don't really remember mama, really - and I wish I did - but every great memory I have from my life, you are in it. Thank you for choosing me."
I squeeze her probably too tight and feel arms wrap around me from behind and Charlie releases me and turns me. I find myself in the arms of the most gorgeous, kind and loving man I ever knew. He holds me tight and whispers in my ear.
"Thank you for choosing us." We sway gently with the music and I look to our daughter, then back to my love's face.
"Charlie and you talk of choosing. There was no choosing anything. You became a part of me the moment I laid eyes on you. I could never last being apart from you. I know that even if you hadn't come for me, I would have made my way back to you." Our lips meet and time stands still. The wind brushes against my skin and I could have sworn I heard Leah's voice whisper in it - "Thank you."