Chapter 18: Beautifully Blissful Bellies

Friday dawned with a kink in my neck and a back that was aching quite a bit more than usual. Apparently sleeping on the couch with someone else wasn't anywhere near as comfortable as it was to sleep alone. However, being sore and achy didn't negate the fact that I'd also managed to sleep through the night.

I groaned as I sat up, disengaging myself from Edward's arms. I had no idea how he'd been able to sleep.

"This was comfortable compared to some of the places I've had to sleep," he said as he stood up. Though I found myself doubting his words as he stretched his back, popped his neck, and immediately asked where I kept the Advil.

"You didn't have to stay."

Edward smiled. "I believe you've said that before."

I sighed as I stood up and decided that I might as well go get ready for the day. "Have you seen Alice?" I asked.

"Didn't you hear her leave?"

"Huh?"

"She just left a few minutes ago... and she wasn't quiet about her departure."

It seemed possible that Alice leaving was what had actually awoken me. "You were awake when she left?"

He nodded.

"How long?"

"What?" Edward's forehead creased in confusion.

"How long were you awake?" I asked as a sense of guilt began to set in.

His head shifted slightly to the side as his eyes narrowed further. "About an hour."

"You should've woken me."

The creases on his face began to diminish, and his crooked smile reappeared. "You were sleeping too peacefully to even consider that."

I sighed and shook my head. "You were obviously uncomfortable, Edward."

He shrugged. "Yes, but if you would've been awake when Alice left, she would've tried to drag you out shopping with her this morning. She is a sucker for sales."

I couldn't fight back the shudder at the image of fighting though the crowds at the Day After Christmas Sales with Alice.

"That's what I thought," Edward said with a chuckled before he turned around, and disappeared into the kitchen.

In turn, I went off to go get showered and dressed for the day.

By the time I emerged from the bathroom, Edward was sitting at the table, sipping on a cup of coffee while he talked on his cell phone. As I walked in, he smiled at me and pointed to the stove. Opening it, I found a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. I picked up the warm plate, turned the oven off, grabbed a fork, and went to go join Edward at the table. I looked at his cup of coffee enviously before spotting the glass of orange juice on the table in front of an empty chair.

Edward was engaged in his conversation and didn't seem to notice my longing glances at his mug. The only thing that I'd been able to take consolation in was the fact that I knew the only coffee in my cupboards was several months old. I'd not had any since I'd learned of my pregnancy, and Alice chose to pick-up her daily caffeine infusion from the coffee shop down the street. So, instead I'd been drinking various herbal teas and pretending they contained the caffeine jolt that I craved. I took one more wistful look as Edward lifted his cup and sipped on his drink.

"Yes, I'll ask her," he said into the phone, his eyes flicking to meet mine for a fraction of a second. I quickly moved my gaze to look down at my plate, embarrassed at being caught staring, and began eating my breakfast. I tried to tune out his conversation as I pulled out my Blackberry and scrolled through my emails. While I was reading I heard Edward clear his throat, and I looked up at him to see him grinning at me. His phone was sitting on the table in front of him, so he was clearly done with his conversation.

"What?" I asked, putting my phone down.

"That was my mom," he said, and I was glad that I knew him well enough to know that it was Esme he was referring to and not his birth mother. "She wanted to know if we would meet her and Dad for lunch today."

I cringed as I thought about how I'd left the Cullens' house the evening before. "Sure, that sounds good," I said with a nod.

Edward's grin widened to a smile. "Good."

"When do you have to work next?" I asked suddenly. It was Friday and I was already aware that he'd been lucky to have Christmas off.

"I go in tomorrow morning." Then he tilted his head toward the table. "I don't want to interrupt. Go ahead and finish what you were doing."

"No, I'm fine. I was just looking through my emails. It hurts my eyes to read them on there, and I'm supposed to be on vacation. Angela will call me if there is something important going on." I grabbed my glass of juice and took a drink just to give my hands something more to do than fidget.

"How did you manage to find someone like Angela?" he asked.

"Just luck. After I found out I would be moving up here, Mike and I created some job postings for the office here, and hers was one of the first résumés I received. A phone interview later and I had her go into a temp agency to do the hiring paperwork. We did that with most of our applicants."

Edward nodded, but I could tell from the small crease between his eyes that he was confused. He was cute.

Not long after, Edward stood from his chair. He grabbed his phone and slipped it into his pocket before picking up his mug. After drinking the last dregs of his coffee, he went and rinsed his cup in the sink before turning back towards me. "I'm going to run home and get showered and changed for the day." He glanced at the clock on the stove. "I'll be back in about an hour. Is that okay?"

"Umm, yeah. That sounds good." I stood and followed him to the door, glancing at the clock as I walked by. Even in an hour, it seemed kind of early to have lunch. "What time are we meeting your parents?"

"Noon. We're meeting them at a place over near their house, so it'll take a bit to get out there," he said. Before I could respond, he repeated, "I'll be back in an hour," and left.

After clearing my plate and glass off of the table, I went back into the living room, grabbed a book off of the bookshelf, and settled onto the couch to read while I waited.

~X~

It felt like another date. Edward was sweet and attentive. He insisted on opening doors for me, and the smile never left his face. His warm hand rested on the small of my back as he led me into the restaurant to meet his parents. A week ago, I would have felt awkward, but for some reason, it didn't bother me. It felt… nice.

There was a change about him. His jaw was more relaxed, there was a faint crinkle in the corners of his eyes when he smiled, and the way he simply carried himself was that of a man who had just had a huge weight lifted off of his shoulders. He was so much more like the man who I'd met back in May. And despite my fear and reservations, that thought made me smile.

When we approached his parents' table, he pulled out a chair for me as Esme stood up and quickly pulled me into a hug.

"Oh, Bella, I'm so glad to see you," she whispered in my ear. "I was so worried."

"I'm sorry about yesterday."

She pulled back and looked at me. Bringing her hand up to brush my cheek, Esme wiped away a tear that I hadn't even noticed had fallen. "Oh no, sweetheart. Don't think on it again. It was completely understandable."

Esme held me another beat longer before she patted my cheek lightly and dropped her arms. After greeting Carlisle, the four of us sat down to the table.

After the pleasantries were exchanged, it didn't take long for the discussion to turn to the events from the night before. Edward confessed to his parents how he'd been in contact with Elizabeth through the years. I felt a small amount of pleasure when Carlisle reprimanded his son for keeping all of that to himself and carrying the stress and burden for so long by himself. It was oddly comfortable being part of the discussion, and for once I didn't have the feeling that people were keeping secrets from me.

The only time I had a feeling things weren't going well was when I excused myself to the restroom as everyone was preparing to leave. When I returned, Edward and Esme were standing near the front of the restaurant leaning close to one another as they conversed. I watched curiously as Esme handed Edward something, but the angle of their bodies kept me from seeing what it was. He had just finished placing the mystery item into the inside pocket of his leather jacket when they spotted me, and Edward's grin swiftly returned to his face. I kept my curiosity to myself, however.

Esme had the foresight to bring along our gifts from the day before, and Edward transferred our things from her trunk to his car. With another hug from Esme, and Carlisle saying that he'd see us soon, Edward and I left.

"You can relax now," Edward said as he pulled the car out onto the busy street.

I took a breath and exhaled on reflex. "I hadn't even realized I was nervous."

"Why were you?"

Taking another breath, I rested my head back against the seat and closed my eyes. "I don't really know. I guess I'm still expecting this to all blow up in my face again."

I opened my eyes again and turned my head to look at him. The smile was gone from his face, and I felt guilty for that. "You realize that's half your problem, right? If you weren't always expecting the worst, then you wouldn't have run out of the house yesterday."

I glared at him until the tense lines disappeared from around his eyes. "I know, it's partially my fault, too," he admitted.

"I'm sorry." And I truly was. "I'm trying here. It's just… I figured that as soon as you started talking about everything again, I was sure it would bring up all the emotions again and I…." My voice trailed off and I took a breath.

Edward kept his eyes on the road but nodded his head in acknowledgement of my words.

"You need to give me some time."

With a quick glance towards me, he gave yet another nod before turning his attention back to the slush covered street. "It's the very least I can do for you." His voice was quiet, and I didn't know if he'd meant to reassure me or if it was almost a reprimand to himself.

Almost thirty minutes later, he pulled up to my apartment, and he rushed out of his seat to help me out of the car. Then he grabbed my things from the backseat and walked me upstairs.

After helping to drop off my things in my bedroom, Edward left. He said that Alice would be back soon, and he predicted that she would want to talk my ear off while rehashing everything. He was certain that it would all go much quicker and smoother if he wasn't there. Before he left, he reminded me that he'd be working all weekend, but if I needed anything to call him. Then he asked me if I would have dinner with him on Monday.

He actually asked, giving me the option to say no if I chose.

I was so stunned by the simple gesture that I couldn't even find the words, so I nodded dumbly. Edward flashed me his familiar crooked smile and left.

I went in to take a nap and found that I was so tired that I was asleep within moments of lying down.

While I was sleeping, I felt as if I were being pulled out of slumber by an annoying beeping sound. It was infrequent and soft enough that it wasn't jarring, like my alarm clock could be, but it was loud enough that somewhere in my subconscious, I knew it was there. But just as the sound would begin to awaken me, I'd become conscious enough to listen… hear nothing… and slip back into sleep… only to be pulled back out of my dreams by the same noise. The process continued to repeat until I actually woke up enough to recognize that it hadn't all been a strange dream.

I continued to lie in bed, staring at the ceiling for several more minutes as my brain slowly woke up. When I finally decided that I couldn't stay in bed any longer, I got up to go investigate the strange noise. Whatever it was, the sound was coming from the other room. My first guess was that Alice had bought something and had it stashed in the baby's room. But one look in the room told me that I really didn't want to attempt to search for anything in there. It was still a mess, though I could clearly see that she'd actually managed to organize one part of the room… hopefully that meant that the rest of the room would follow soon after.

I shut the door and went out into the living room just as I heard the sound again.

Beep

Now that it wasn't so muffled by closed doors and distance, it sounded familiar. I walked directly to the kitchen table and grabbed my phone. Until that very moment, I'd thought that my phone had been sitting in my purse and that I'd taken it with me to the restaurant.

10 missed calls

I groaned as I walked into the living room and sat down on the couch.

Every call was from Angela and a knot of pure dread began to form in the pit of my stomach.

I felt an instant wave of nausea as soon as I heard the first message. "Bella, it's Angela. Where are you? I'm down here at The Met for our lunch meeting today with Bill McIntyre. I'm not seeing you anywhere. Call me."

Shit.

~X~

Angela came to my apartment after she finished work on Friday, and we went over what all had happened at the lunch meeting that I'd forgotten about. She and I talked well into the night, leaving me little time to talk with Alice.

Alice seemed more than a little bit put out at the fact that I was spending my evening working with Angela instead of telling her about everything that had happened after she and Jasper had left her parents' house on Christmas. I didn't dare tell Alice why it was imperative that I work with Angela, but she eventually got the point and wound up going into the spare bedroom with her laptop and a credit card. It seemed that those two little items were all she would ever need to be happy.

On Saturday, one of Alice's employees called in sick, so she had to go into her shop, leaving me with a full day to myself. Needing to get out of the apartment for a bit, I went to the bookstore and used one of the gift cards that I'd received for Christmas to get some much needed books on childbirth, parenting, and most importantly, names. It was high time that I actually looked to what my future now held. When I got home, I made myself comfortable on the couch as I read all about the joys of childbirth.

Both my mother and Charlie called in the afternoon. I felt more than a little guilty for not having spoken with either of them since Christmas morning. With each phone call, I gave my parents a brief overview of my holiday… just leaving out the part where I'd run out right before dinner because my baby's father had mommy issues and then I'd had a major heart-to-heart with Carlisle and then Edward. When I ended the call with Renee, she reminded me to call her after my next doctor's appointment and told me that she loved me. And before I hung up with Charlie, he asked if I would have lunch with him the following Saturday. I acquiesced and knew that it would be my opportunity to fully try to put aside my daddy issues and hopefully begin our father-daughter relationship with a clean slate.

Edward called a total of five times throughout the day to check in with me when he was in between patients or sitting down with a stack of charts, a cup of coffee, and a sandwich. It was almost enough to make me want to take him something a little more substantial—or at least a bit better tasting—than hospital food, but I convinced myself that it wasn't my place to do anything of the sort.

Saturday soon rolled into Sunday, and with it came another snow storm. Alice kept insisting that it wasn't typical Seattle winter weather, but it was the fourth major snow fall in just two weeks.

"I just hope that it's not snowing on Thursday," Alice whined as we worked together to take down the Christmas tree.

"I thought that you were psychic. Shouldn't you know if the airport is going to be shutdown due to bad weather?" I challenged with a grin.

"Haven't you heard of something called chaos theory? No one can accurately predict the weather. Even if she is psychic. Just because I don't think we'll be snowed in on Thursday doesn't mean that something small and seemingly insignificant won't cause the currents to shift slightly," Alice said before sticking out her tongue.

I rolled my eyes at her.

Our day carried on in a similar manner. We jibed and teased each other while we cleaned, and every so often, I would answer one of her questions about what had happened on Christmas. It was a much more relaxed setting and easier for me to confide in her that way.

Normally, I liked to keep the Christmas decorations up until New Year's Day. However, there was so much stuff adorning my living room, that it would've been a lot for one person to do on their own, Alice would be leaving with Jasper on Thursday for a two-week vacation to Milan. It was her Christmas present from him. "But don't worry—we'll be back just in time for your baby shower," Alice assured me.

It was the first that I'd heard about a baby shower. Apparently, Kate and Angela were throwing it for me since Alice was going to be out of the country. The party was going to be at Esme and Carlisle's house.

She also confided in me that she was nervous about leaving me alone for so long, especially so close to my due date. "I almost told Jazz that I couldn't go, but Edward assured me that he would be around. Are you okay with that?"

"I'll be fine, Alice." I was certain that I wouldn't be alone. There was Kate, Angela, Esme, and just as she'd said, even Edward would be around to keep me company. Hell, just on Sunday he'd called no less than four times by two o'clock in the afternoon.

On Monday, I made it to my meetings without any problems. Angela sat with me with poise and grace. The wheels in my head began spinning as I began to fully see her potential. I'd have to do some thinking on the best way to utilize her and see where things went once I got back to the office and met up again with Laurent, but it was information that I would definitely keep with me. I tried to reschedule my meeting with McIntyre but didn't have any luck on that front. The only shining star on that point was that they were still locked into a contract with us.

That evening, after he woke up, Edward came over with pizza and salad, but the evening was spent mostly in silence while I continued to fret over work, and eventually, he fell asleep while watching TV.

~X~

"Hurry up, Bella!" Alice shouted as she pounded on the bathroom door.

"Give me another minute!"

For a day off, it was way too early in the morning to be dragged out of bed and shoved into the shower. I could hardly wait for the annoying woman to leave on her vacation. I was looking forward to what could only be two blessedly peaceful weeks. Yesterday had been the most relaxing of my so-called vacation so far. I'd only had a short doctor's appointment, followed by a lunch meeting. The rest of the day had been spent reading and relaxing.

"We're going to be late!" Alice's yelling pulled me out of my thoughts and back into my harsh reality. I had a feeling that the day I was going to have would be anything but blissful.

"You said that our appointment wasn't until nine," I called through the door as I dried my hair with the towel.

I heard a bit of rattling with the doorknob before Alice yanked it open.

"You never told me you were an expert at picking locks."

Alice snorted. "You don't know the half of my talents, Swan. Now, come on."

"I haven't even brushed my hair yet."

She rolled her eyes at me, then grabbed my hairbrush out of my hand and quickly attacked my tangles. "We needed to leave five minutes ago."

"I thought you said our appointment was for nine o'clock."

"Have you ever heard of something called 'rush hour?' It's 7:30 on a Wednesday morning, Bella, and we have to drive all of the way up to Kirkland," Alice said in a condescending tone. She quickly brushed out my hair and pulled it up into a sloppy bun. "We'll fix it before your pictures," she mumbled as she dragged me out of the bathroom, tossed my coat at me, and then hurried me down to the car so we could make it to our appointment on time.

I'd had no idea what to expect of our spa trip, but I felt as if I were completely transported into another world the moment we walked through the doors. The place was busy. I knew that based on the sheer number of cars in the parking lot, but no one would know by looking inside. The walls were a smooth dark wood with sparse paintings on the walls. There were a few chairs against the far wall next to a waterfall. The sound of the running water was the only noise in the room. Alice and I approached the reception desk and waited for the redheaded receptionist to finish whatever it was she was doing and greet us.

"Alice Cullen and Bella Swan," Alice told the woman without any preamble.

"Yes, of course." The receptionist smiled as she stood up, looked at both of us, and pulled out a folder, handing one to Alice. "Ms. Cullen, you are scheduled for a massage, body wrap, facial, manicure, and pedicure." Then she looked at me and pulled out another small folder. "For you, Ms. Swan, we have our Pampered & Pregnant Package, which includes a prenatal massage, facial, and our exclusive Beautifully Blissful Belly treatment. Then you added a pedicure and a manicure."

I wanted to deny what she'd said. I hadn't added anything of the sort, but a sharp glare from Alice told me to hold my tongue. Though I did have to bite it rather firmly to prevent myself from asking what in the world a "beautifully blissful belly" was. There was absolutely nothing blissful or beautiful about the itching skin that was stretched taut over my ever-growing uterus with the red marks and that damn brown line down the front. Just thinking about it made me move my hand over the skin to scratch. I was just plain uncomfortable.

Instead of voicing any of that, I gave the receptionist a tight smile and nodded.

"She also needs to have her hair done," Alice chimed in.

"Alice," I hissed as I shook my head.

"Oh, hush. Edward is picking you up from here at three. I've got your make-up, but I didn't bring anything to style your hair, and it's time you had it trimmed up anyway."

I groaned, but when I started to protest again, Alice covered my mouth with her hand. A glance at the receptionist told me that she was highly amused by our disagreement.

"Please, Bella, this is important to my brother," Alice said in a soft, pleading tone after she removed her hand from my mouth.

I sighed in defeat. "Fine."

After we were signed in and I'd filled out some paperwork they'd requested of me, both Alice and I were escorted to private dressing rooms and given robes. Alice chatted aimlessly about anything and everything while we changed, and soon after, we were escorted to a room with two tables. One was a classic flat massage table, the other was had pillows on it, including a large body pillow. Just looking at it made a few of the tenser muscles in my neck and shoulders start to relax.

With the help of the attendant, I was soon comfortably lying down on my side with a large fluffy towel covering me, facing Alice. The masseuses both entered the room, and not long after I was feeling the knots being eased in my neck and shoulders. I was putting trust in the fact that these women knew what they were doing when it came to massaging a pregnant woman. I'd heard that it was dangerous and could cause contractions, but the fact that they'd asked for a bit of my medical history, any complications with my pregnancy, and for me to mark any current complaints about my body, all told me that they were aware of the issues with gravid woman. But the more she worked my sore and aching muscles, the more I felt myself relaxing, and not long after, I was being gently awoken and led off to the next treatment.

Alice and I split up when she was ushered for her body wrap, and I was taken for the belly thing.

Okay, it wasn't that bad.

Honestly, it was pretty damn good. It was a moisturizing mask that the technician applied to my swollen belly and then a crème that she gently rubbed into the skin, doing something that she called effleurage. The entire thing took only about thirty minutes, and by the time she was done, my skin felt smooth and soft. Most importantly, it wasn't itching nearly like it usually did. It was almost more relaxing then the massage, even though I hadn't fallen asleep during it. Next, I was off for my facial, which was okay, but not nearly as nice as the massage or the belly treatment.

I met up with Alice for our light lunch, and then we both went in for our manicures and pedicures. Personally, I was ready for a nap, but when I said as much, the nail technician said that the type of manicures she did would help wake me up. They were meant to be revitalizing.

"Which color would you like?" the manicurist asked.

"Clear. Just a French manicure."

I turned my head to gape at Alice. I had been certain that she would say something asinine… like Candy Apple Red. She grinned and shrugged her shoulders. "The point of the photos is a natural beauty kind of thing. Besides, I've noticed that you bite your nails when you're nervous, and red nails only look good if they're long. And I do know you well enough to know that you don't want tips."

"I don't bite my nails."

In response, the manicurist lifted my right hand and tapped my index finger. Oh. Maybe I did bite them. It was shockingly something that I'd never even realized that I did.

"So, Bella, what is going on between you and Edward?" Alice asked a few minutes later while our hands were soaking.

"Nothing is going on." I mumbled, attempting to suppress a yawn. Sometimes Alice didn't make any sense at all.

"Oh, please. He's doting on you, or haven't you noticed?"

I gave her a perplexed look. Really, I hadn't noticed. "He's called a few times and brought dinner over on Monday, but I don't think that counts as doting."

Alice rolled her eyes. "Bella, he has called over twenty times in the last five days."

"It hasn't been that often."

She raised an eyebrow as if to challenge my statement.

"Fine. Even if it has been… that's four times a day. A little much, but he's just concerned."

"Do you really like sailing along on that river?"

"What?"

My manicurist removed my right hand, patted it dry, and began massaging it with lotion.

"De Nile… it's not just a river in Egypt."

It was my turn to roll my eyes.

"You don't know my brother as well as I do," she continued. "He doesn't call anyone more than once in a day, and he never… I repeat… never calls anyone unless it's an emergency while he's on one of his shifts at the hospital."

"Never?"

"Never."

"Oh."

Alice nodded. "Exactly. How many times did you hear from him over the weekend?"

I knew the number without even having to think about it. And I knew because I had been trying to discern why it mattered to me to even count to begin with. "Eleven."

Alice beamed. "So, let me try asking this again: What is going on between you and Edward?"

"I don't really know," I admitted with a sigh. "He's being very sweet, but I can't stop myself from wondering how much longer it can really last. Reality is bound to rear its lovely head sooner or later, and then what's going to happen?"

"He really likes you," she said simply in response.

"What?" I asked, jerking my hand so that the stuff that my left one had been sitting in sloshed over the table and the nail technician gripped my right hand firmly. I hadn't even realized that she was working on my cuticles yet.

"He does."

"The only thing he's concerned about is the baby."

"No, Bella, if that were the case then he would've left you alone while he was working. He would've trusted that I'd call him if there was something going on, or he would've waited for you to call him."

I felt my left hand being patted dry, and I tried to focus on that. The last thing that I wanted to think about was Edward developing any feelings for me beyond caring for his son.

"And you like him."

My stomach churned at her declaration. "No, I really don't." The response was automatic, and even I could hear the insincere tone, but Alice didn't press me any further. Telling me that she is far wiser than I give her credit for.

Silence filled the room for quite some time after that. I didn't know what consumed Alice's thoughts, but my mind was focused on trying to deny everything she'd said. It was while our feet were resting in the paraffin wax when Alice finally spoke again. "Please just promise me that you'll give him a little bit of credit. Despite what you believe now, he won't suddenly cast you aside like he did before. Edward learns from his mistakes… he won't make the same one again."

"Okay, Alice," I conceded. Thankfully, that was the end of that conversation.

~X~

We were finished at exactly three o'clock. I hadn't realized earlier, but Alice had brought clothes for me, and she insisted that I change into them for the trip to the photographers.

"There are two more shirts in here that you can change into during the session," Alice said, holding up a shopping bag.

"Why aren't you coming along?"

"I have to go make sure that everything is ready at the boutique."

I nodded. We were going to Alice's shop that evening to help with her year-end inventory so that she had time to get the paperwork done before she and Jasper went to the airport.

We walked out of the salon and just pulling up front was Edward. He smiled as he jumped out of the front seat and went around to open the passenger side door for me. "Hello," he greeted.

I smiled in return as Alice and I walked towards his car. She handed the shopping bag over to him, and after giving her a quick hug and thanking her for the day, I got in the car. Edward shut the door, said something that sounded like a thanks to Alice, and then got back in the car.

"Well, did you have fun?" he asked once he got the car started up again.

"It was fun, yeah. But not something that I'd want to do very often." I shuddered when I thought about the bill we'd racked up by the time Alice and I had finished. I had caught a brief glance at the pricing sheet earlier in the day, but once my mind calculated that the day was finishing somewhere in the vicinity of four figures for only two women, I'd forced myself to stop thinking about it.

Edward glanced at me. "Your hair looks really nice," he said.

"Thanks." I felt my cheeks burn at the compliment, and I cursed myself for reacting that way. I liked what the hair stylist had done with my hair. She'd trimmed it up and curled it before pulling the sides back. When she had shown me in the mirror, I'd loved how it all fell in soft waves behind my back. That coupled with the light amount of make-up that Alice had insisted on applying, I actually felt pretty for the first time in years.

We arrived at the photo studio fairly quickly, and Edward came over and helped me out of the car. I tried to leave the shopping bag with the extra shirts on the floor, but Edward reached over and grabbed it, telling me that Alice had made him promise that it would go in with us.

Once inside, we were led back to the studio. Bright lights, backdrops, props… it was all there.

"I'm Cameron," the photographer said, shaking first Edward's and then my hand.

I had to work very hard to hold back the laughter that wanted out after hearing his name.

"You have very expressive eyes," he then said to me. "It's okay, you can laugh. My mother was a photographer, too, and she thought she'd be making a statement with that name." He clapped his hands together. "Okay, let's get started then. First baby, right?"

"Yes," we answered together.

"Okay. Let's start with you over here," Cameron began as he led me over to stand in front of the backdrops.

The first several shots and poses were of me. He had me simply stand with my hands on my stomach or holding a rose and looking down. In one pose, he had me pull my shirt up so that my stomach was bare and my hands rested above and below, almost cradling my abdomen.

Partway through the session, Edward made me change my shirt into something tighter that hugged my shape more than the loose clothes I tended to wear. Cameron seemed amused that it only took one word for me to concede. Alice.

Several of the photos were done again with the new shirt. Just when I thought that we were done, Cameron tossed something to Edward and then told him to join me. Edward walked over, and when he opened up his hand to see what he'd caught, he chuckled.

"Just use that," Cameron instructed.

I felt like I was missing out on a joke until Edward kneeled down in front of me, reached around my middle, and wrapped the cloth measuring tape around my stomach. He was smiling widely, as my mouth hung open in horror.

Click, click, click

I heard the camera shutter continue to go off as I tried to shove Edward away.

"I don't want anyone to ever know how big around I got!"

"Bella," Edward said in a soothing tone, "you still have several weeks to go. Your stomach will be larger than this."

Instead of merely shoving his shoulder, I smacked him hard against his chest.

"Ow!"

"No more jokes about my size."

He flashed me another of his infamous crooked grins. "Scout's honor."

I was fairly certain that we'd already established that he'd never been a Boy Scout. I rolled my eyes for what had to be the thirtieth time that day and shook my head.

Then Edward dropped the tape measure to floor, looked up at me, and kissed my stomach. "I'm sorry I teased you," he whispered.

All through our interaction there was still the continuous, Click, click, click.

Edward pulled up my shirt and kissed my bare abdomen one more time before he stood to his feet, while I blushed and I tried to catch my breath at such an intimate act. He's performing for the camera, I told myself firmly. Then he smiled at me before he turned his head and actually started slightly when he saw Cameron a few feet away from us. I swallowed hard when Edward's cheeks flushed, and a very loud voice began screaming in my head that Edward had been sincere. It made the last several minutes even that much more intimate to realize that and my cheeks burned even hotter.

The posed photos with Edward felt more comfortable than the ones of me alone. Whether that was because I simply hated being in the spotlight or because I was suddenly feeling more at ease around Edward, I didn't know. My favorite pose was when Cameron had Edward stand behind me, wrap his arms around me, and form a heart over my belly with his hands. There were several variations, both over the top of my shirt and against my bare skin. Sometimes my hands covered Edward's, and sometimes I wrapped them across my chest or simply kept them out of the way of the photograph. I tried to ignore how comfortable and complete I felt with Edward's arms wrapped around me and focused on the fact that these were all poses for pictures. But my mind kept reminding me of how it felt to have Edward's hands skimming along my naked flesh, making it very difficult to remember exactly where we were and why were doing… what we were doing.

It really didn't help my overactive hormones when Edward whispered, "Thank you for doing this for me, Bella."

"I thought that this was a Christmas present for me."

"It was the only way that I could think of to get you to agree to do it."

I leaned my head to the side so I could try to see his face. "Why is this so important to you?"

"Because I want you to know that this is important to me. And I want our son to know that he was loved and wanted before he was born," he said seriously. "Besides, didn't we just have this conversation? It's time that we were both more excited about this." Then he kissed my temple.

It was my turn to be surprised when I noticed the bright lights and the photographer.

Not long after that, we were finished. While Edward went and worked out the details of when the pictures would be ready, I went and used the bathroom. Then we were on our way to the car, dinner, andhopefully a short evening with Alice and Jasper.

~X~

It was still dark when I heard my alarm go off. I groaned and turned my face into the pillow before taking a deep breath and slowly sitting up.

It was just after five, and Jasper was going to be by soon to pick up Alice. We'd all stayed up way too late the night before. Doing inventory had taken far longer than I would've thought. Though I really think that it was because of the number of people. Four people probably could've gotten the job done in an hour or two… on the other hand, ten people had taken much longer. Not the sort of New Year's Eve party that I would've thought that I'd attend, but it was also a nice, informal way to spend time with the Cullens. Edward, Alice, Jasper, Esme, Carlisle, Emmett, Rosalie, Kate, and Garrett were all there. Tanya had stayed home with Ashley and Kirsten. We'd talked, snacked, talked some more, wrote down numbers, and talked even more. The only person I hadn't really interacted with was Rosalie, but after Christmas, I didn't really care. As long as no one else was shooting me nasty glares, it didn't matter. Edward had brought me home shortly before eleven. After a kiss on the forehead, he'd said that he needed to get home so he could get some sleep before his next shift.

I'd barely heard Alice as she stumbled through the door a little bit after one.

Now, Alice was dragging her suitcases towards the front door. She looked bubbly, perky, and hyper with the way that she was bouncing around with a huge grin plastered on her face.

"Good morning," she sang when she saw me.

No one should look that good on less than four hours of sleep. She was dressed and showered. Even her hair and make-up was done. It was sickening.

"Morning," I mumbled groggily.

She put her last suitcase down and came over to me. "I'm going to miss you," she said.

"I'll miss you, too. I hope that you have a lot of fun."

Alice cocked her head to the side and looked thoughtful for a moment. "Will you be okay here by yourself?"

My face broke out into a smile as I laughed lightly. "I'm 28 years old, Alice. I think I'll be fine by myself."

"Bella, have you and Edward discussed what's going to happen after the baby is born yet?" she asked seriously.

"Not yet. I know that we need to, but…"

Alice sighed. "Please talk to him while I'm gone."

My eyes narrowed as I looked at her curiously for a moment.

"Please, just talk to him."

She was right; it was something that Edward and I needed to discuss and time was running out. "Of course, Alice. I'd planned on it anyway."

Then she bent down towards my stomach and shook her finger at it. "And you need to promise that you'll be nice to your momma while Auntie Alice is away. You're not allowed to come out until after I get back. Do you hear me?"

Alice's voice was so stern that I wanted to laugh again. "I think he heard you."

"Good. Oh, and I saw all of those books that you bought the other day, and you and Edward need to try to come up with a name for him before I get back."

"You certainly are a demanding little thing this morning."

Alice's smile grew. "That's something that'll never change." There was a knock on the door, and Alice leaned up and kissed my cheek. "Be good. Mom, Kate, and Angela will all check in on you. And I would be shocked if Edward left your side for anything other than work or you tossing him out on his ear. I'll be back in time for your shower."

"Sounds good," I said with a small chuckle. Then I hugged her quickly before opening the door.

As Jasper gathered up Alice's bags, she gave me one more hug before leaving.

I stood in the doorway for several minutes after they'd finally gone with a peculiar sensation that I couldn't shake. My instincts told me that there was something more behind Alice's words than just a simple goodbye, but I couldn't put my finger on what exactly it was.

Finally pulling myself out of my thoughts, I closed the front door, and crawled back into bed. It was my last day off, and I wasn't going to waste it by staying up all day when I could be blissfully sleeping. I might as well take advantage of that small wonder while I still could.