Chapter 22: Snips 'n Snails
I had missed Alice. For someone who had only been in my home for about a month, I really didn't like the idea of her gone again. I told her this on Thursday morning as we were both getting ready to leave, and she gave me a small smile and promised that she would be there for me as long as I needed.
Thursday went much the same as Wednesday, though I noticed more glares from Jessica than I had in the past. Each time I walked by her desk, her eyes looked like she was trying to inflict me with bodily harm. Then, while I was in Mike's office, she would make a point to interrupt every two minutes and had a habit of leaving the door open behind her. When I told Mike that he'd better be careful because Jessica seemed to have some serious jealousy issues, he confessed that he had been trying to break things off with her for the past two weeks and he was having a difficult time getting rid of her. And, because of his history with sexual harassment, he was trying to be careful with exactly what he said to her and how he said it.
If I didn't know Mike and his playboy ways so well, I might have felt sorry for him.
Alice picked me up from work promptly at five, putting her foot down rather forcefully when I tried to tell her that I had an important meeting to prepare for and that I still needed to work. Of course, I refused to give her any details of what that meeting was about, so she had no idea that the fate of my job was hanging by a thread.
"Look at your feet, Bella," she said, pointing at my swollen appendages. "That right there should be your indicator of when you've done too much. I saw your ankles this morning, and they weren't anywhere near that large. Does Maggie know that they're getting that bad?"
"I saw her on Tuesday. I'm fine, Alice." What I didn't tell her was that the swelling hadn't really been that bad until Wednesday; I was attributing it to my diet and stress since Mike's impromptu marriage proposal.
Alice harrumphed, crossing her arms in front of her chest, but she said nothing further as I caved to her wishes and packed up my things so we could head home. Though I'd never tell her, I appreciated her bossy nature.
That evening, Jasper stopped by, and Alice attempted to wow us both with her cooking skills. After she managed to burn the steak and overcook the broccoli to soggy mush, Jasper ordered pizza while Alice and I tried to air out the apartment.
Which meant even more salt to ensure that my swelling wouldn't diminish any by the next day.
Edward called shortly before eight o'clock when he took his dinner break. I was once again filled with conflicting emotions. I was torn between simultaneously wanting to hang up on him to push him away and wanting nothing more than to go take him dinner just so I had an excuse to see him. I settled for small talk and inane pleasantries.
By Friday, I was finished compiling my reports for my meeting on Monday. I'd come to the conclusion that I'd done the best that I could do, but I still had a nagging feeling that I was missing something. Whatever it was, the answer wasn't coming to me while I leaned against the back of my chair, stared at my computer screen, and lightly tapped my fingers on my protruding stomach. Edward called when he got off of work, simply to tell me that he was home and intended to sleep until sometime the next morning. He ended the call by telling me that he'd see me at the shower.
That evening, all I wanted to do was to try to sleep off what was quickly becoming a never-ending headache. Alice managed to make a salad for dinner, though the fact that she didn't have to actually cook anything was definitely a factor leading to her success. After eating, I went to go lie down, and she left to go see Jasper and her family. Thankfully I was so exhausted that my mind was silent as I slept. There were no dreams that night.
"Who all is going to be there?" I asked Alice as she finished curling my hair.
"You helped Angela and Kate with the guest list."
"I know. I just—"
"You just don't like being the center of attention, especially in front of a bunch of people that you don't know. Honestly, Bella, I don't know how you manage to do your job."
But it was different when I was speaking to a boardroom full of executives. I felt almost like an actor portraying a role. Bella was quiet, meek, shy, and introverted, whereas, Bella Business Woman was confident, outspoken, determined, and stubborn. Okay, maybe both versions were stubborn, but the point was that I was a different person at work. Besides, lately I hadn't seemed to manage to do my job anyway.
I internally cringed while I tried to focus on my more immediate concern… a baby shower. I still wasn't sure why I needed one. Edward and Alice had already gone out and bought absolutely everything I could possibly need.
When I tried to argue that very point, Alice just laughed and shook her head. Five minutes later, she declared me perfect. I used the bathroom once more before we were set to go and took a last glance in the mirror. I couldn't help but smile at what I saw. I loved it when my hair was tamed from its typically limp strands to the light, wavy curls that Alice was able to coax it into. She'd pinned the sides of my hair back with a barrette and then asked me to apply just a touch of make-up. I liked the woman who looked at me from the mirror. And it struck me suddenly that she looked older, more mature than the woman I'd seen looking at me in my reflection just a year ago. I didn't think that I quite looked like a mother, but I no longer looked like I'd just graduated from college. I smiled at that thought. "You look fine," Alice shouted from the other side of the door.
One final glance and I conceded that she was right; even I had to admit that I liked the blue wrap-around long-sleeved shirt and the black pants that she'd given to me when I'd begun getting dressed earlier. And it was early enough in the day, and I'd spent enough time off of my feet, that I hadn't begun swelling too much yet, though there was definitely some puffiness in my cheeks. With a deep breath, I left the bathroom, and we made our way out to the car.
The longer we drove, the more nervous I became. Alice was right—I hated being the center of attention. When I slipped into that confident but impersonal skin for work it was easy, but that was the key… it was impersonal. This was anything but. I hated parties and getting gifts for the singular reason that it put all of the attention on me. I didn't want that attention. I'd never been popular, always preferring to lurk in the background. Having the spotlight shining solely on me meant that there was no lurking and no hiding. I had to suck it up and endure the next three-plus hours of hell.
I leaned my head against the back of my seat, closed my eyes, and groaned as I imagined all of the potential disasters that were to come. After all, the last time I'd gone to the Cullens' house had been Christmas, and though the end result had been good, the drama that leading up to it… well, I would have preferred to do without.
"Oh, relax, Bella. It's not going to be that bad."
"M'hm," I half-heartedly agreed. With a sigh, I turned my head and saw Alice's beaming smile. It was always difficult not to get caught up in Alice's excitement, and this was no exception. "I hate games."
"We're not playing any games," Alice said firmly. "I made them promise."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
As Alice pulled into the large circular drive, I caught sight of the lawn sign with balloons in the shape of a lion, a zebra, and an elephant tied to it. Even Alice groaned at that. "Come on," she said, as she opened the car door. "Let's see what other atrocities they've committed."
"So help me, Alice, if they have a cake in the shape of a pregnant woman's stomach in there, I'm coming right back out here and driving myself home."
Honestly, the look of pure panic on Alice's face as she bolted to the front door screaming for Angela and Kate was enough to make me endure almost anything. I couldn't hold back the laugh bubbling up from my chest as I continued to walk at a reasonable pace up to the porch.
Within moments, Esme was standing at the front door, holding it open for me. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek as she ushered me inside and took my coat.
Angela, Kate, and Ashley were in the living room, and Alice was flitting around fiddling with the decorations. She removed a ribbon from next to the stack of plates and added one to where the cutlery sat on the table, she adjusted the flower arrangements, and literally moved a balloon no more than three inches to the left. Anal much?
The cake, blessedly, was not in the shape of a pregnant belly. It was actually three cakes placed in a triangular pattern on the table with a cream colored frosting and animals all the way around them. In one of the back corners of the table was a plate with several chocolate cupcakes, each one was frosted only with the face of a jungle animal. Elephants, lions, zebras, tigers, monkeys. The other corner held two frames. One was the black and white photograph of my pregnant belly with Edward's hands around me. The other was poem written in calligraphy on what I was fairly certain was fine vellum. I picked up the framed poem and read:
I'm really glad that you could come to help celebrate with my mother.
Sit down, relax, enjoy yourself and chat with one another.
Sorry I can't be with you to share in mommy's shower….
But you see, I'm very busy, 'cause I'm growing more each hour.
Though I'm not here to thank you for the special gift you brought.
My family and I are grateful…. We appreciate the thought.
I'll be arriving shortly…. I'm as happy as can be!
So after I've been home awhile, please come and visit me.Love,Baby Swan-Cullen
As I wiped away a tear as it streamed down my cheek, I heard someone come up behind me. "You refused to give me a name," Alice said in a chiding tone.
I laughed. "And you're still not getting one, either."
She stuck her tongue out at me. "They did a nice job, didn't they?" she said after she examined the table for a few minutes.
However, I did notice that as soon as I soon as I placed the framed poem back on the table, Alice had to move it back in the exact spot that I'd found it.
"Hey, Bella! Glad you could make it!"
I whipped my head around quickly, Emmett's booming voice catching me by surprise. I smiled at him as he walked across the room and put his arm over my shoulder, being much gentler than he had been on Christmas when he pulled me into a hug.
"It's her party, you idiot," Alice chided, whacking him on the shoulder.
Emmett laughed. "Oh, yeah." When he released me, he put a hand on my stomach for a moment. "He's definitely going to play football," he said as the baby began to kick against his hand.
"Just the thought of that already makes me feel edgy," I said.
"I remember when Emmett began playing Pee Wee football. I was so afraid that he was going to wind up with a broken bone, a black eye, a sprain, or something that I hardly got any sleep the entire game season," Esme said as she walked over to join us.
"Yeah, tell her what happened, Mom," Emmett coaxed with a taunting chuckle, and I could hear that there was more to the story.
Why was is that the potential of anything even remotely dangerous, like playing football, had my heart thumping rapidly in my chest? I was beginning to term the sensation as "parental nerves," and I didn't think that I liked them very much.
"Of course, in the end, he was fine," Esme answered with a grin. I had a feeling that she could sense my nervous tension and wanted to quickly put me at ease.
Emmett snorted, apparently not pleased with the fact that his mother had attempted to cut the story short. "Yeah. See, Mom was a wreck all season long. Of course, she was at every practice and every game. She would stand behind the bench and constantly harass the coach, telling him when she thought we needed water breaks or if she thought one of the players was being too rough or if she thought he was working us too hard. She annoyed the hell out of him. He would constantly give her tasks to keep her busy and out of his way, like make her in charge of snacks after the games and the team party and shit, just to keep her busy and to try to get her to focus on something else. It didn't work."
I smiled at him. I enjoyed listening to Emmett speak. His blue eyes twinkled as he energetically talked, motioning with his hands to emphasize what he was saying. The portrait he was painting of Esme as the doting mother was very sweet and fit her to a tee. For a brief moment, I wondered if I would be that way as a mother, and I liked the vision that I saw.
"But like she said, she was certain that I was going to get hurt," Emmett continued, pulling me out of my thoughts. "She was especially tense during the games, and Dad had to keep tabs on her so she didn't get into it with the game officials. So, it was the morning of our playoffs, and she was more freaked out than normal, probably because there was a chance that we'd have to play more than one game that day. Mom kept trying to tell me that she'd prefer if I sat on the bench for the games that day, insisting that she just had a bad feeling that something was going to happen. Much to her dismay, I told her that wasn't going to be happening. So, we were all getting into the car to go down to the field, and Mom decides that she needs to bring a bigger first aid kit because she was certain that I was going to need it. She wanted to grab the one with the instant ice packs and that huge trauma pad. Well, she ran back inside the house, grabbed the kit, ran back out the front door, and missed the front step."
My eyes went wide at the unexpected direction of the story.
Emmett started laughing loudly and slapped his thigh. "Dad had to drive us down to the hospital where he called Tanya's mom to pick us kids up from there so I could go to my game. Best games of the season were that day. Coach said it was because he actually felt like he could let me play without fear that my mom would start chasing me down the field holding a handkerchief, wanting to wipe my nose."
I turned to Esme, slightly horrified. "What happened?"
"I lost my footing, fell off the step, dropped the first aid kit, and broke my wrist when I foolishly tried to break my fall."
"All because she insisted on getting more bandages," Emmett interjected. "Good thing she grabbed that instant ice pack seconds earlier."
"That must've been horrible," I said as I fought back my own giggles. Though I wasn't sure if it was the pain from the broken bone that I was referring to or the stress of worrying over her child for so many weeks.
Her smile grew. "I don't regret a single moment."
There was more behind those simple words, and I instantly sobered before I prompted her to continue with a simple, "Why?"
"Not only was my oldest son thrilled with the fact that his team won their games, but it was that day when my other son decided what he wanted to do. When Carlisle took me into the emergency department, Edward insisted on staying with me, even after Joanie came to pick up the children. He followed Carlisle around and watched everything that they did to me, from the x-rays to them giving me a shot of Demerol to putting on the splint. Even after we came home, he doted on me, constantly reminding me of the rules that I'd been given—keep it elevated, don't get the splint wet, lots of ice, rest. When we all finally sat down to dinner the next night, Emmett bragged about his games, how well he had played, and how many points his team scored. When he was finished, Edward sat at the table quietly contemplating for a few minutes. He looked up at Carlisle and then me, and he announced that he was going to be a doctor just like his father. Even though we can't always see it, there are reasons for everything. I think that's even truer as parents." Esme reached up and ruffled Emmett's hair. "That weekend, I had never been prouder of either of my sons. It was worth the pain and wearing a cast for six weeks."
Esme then put her arm around me to replace Emmett's. "Let's get you settled in a chair with those feet up—Alice says that they've been swelling. Your guests are about to arrive."
I turned to say one last thing to Emmett, but he was no longer there. A quick glance around the room and the few men that I'd seen earlier had disappeared. "Where are the guys?"
"Down in the basement. Emmett was setting up some epic Halo battle or something. They'll be up for lunch."
"Ah." I'd wondered about that. When I'd talked about the guest list with Angela and Kate, we'd not discussed whether there would be men present or not. I didn't really care either way, but I also knew that I'd see Edward today. He'd told me that he'd be here. If he was upstairs with me, then there would be less attention on just me. But then again, if he stayed downstairs with his brother, it would be a safer distance. Regardless, I couldn't stop myself from being a bit hurt that he'd not even bothered to greet me. Was he even here yet? And if not…. I glanced at my watch. What does it mean that he's not at the party ten minutes before it's scheduled to start?
I sat down in the wingback chair that Esme led me to and dutifully put my feet up on the ottoman as I tried to shove my worries aside. I felt a bit lazy that I wasn't standing around and mingling with the few people that were already at the party, but as Esme reminded me, I was the guest of honor, not the hostess. If people wanted to speak with me, they were welcome to come in and sit down.
"Are you all right?" I heard someone ask as they sat in the chair next to me, proving Esme's point.
I looked over and smiled at Angela. "I'm fine, Ang. How are you today?"
"I'm good. What do you think?" she asked gesturing around the room.
"I think that you and Kate did a lovely job. Where did you get that poem?" I asked, pointing to the cake table.
"It was at my mom's baby shower when she had the twins. The hostess had it printed up with the ultrasound picture of the boys and then gave it to each guest. We had to change the wording just a touch, but Kate thought it would be a nice thing to have for your shower, too. We made these little gift bags for each guest, and it's in there."
"That's very sweet. Thank you." I looked around the room again and bit my lower lip in thought for a moment before I asked the question that was settled heavily on my mind. "Where's Edward?"
Angela's smile grew impossibly wide. "He's out getting your surprise. He should be here soon, don't worry."
"My surprise?" What more could I possibly need?
She reached over and patted my hand. "Don't worry. You'll like this surprise." I heard the doorbell ring, and Angela stood up to go greet whomever it was that had just arrived.
"Aunt Bella! Aunt Bella!" a small voice called from across the room. Just then, Ashley came running into the room and slid across the floor in her tights, stopping right in front of me. I'd seen Ashley when I'd first arrived, but I'd lost sight of her not long after.
"Aunt Bella!" the child yelled again as she began to pull on my sleeve.
"What is it, Ashley?" I asked as I puzzled over why she was calling me "Aunt Bella." She'd never called me that before, only "Miss Bella."
"Did you see the cake?" she asked excitedly as more people began to file into the living room.
"Yes, I did. What do you think? Do you think that there's enough cake for everybody?"
Her eyes went to the cake table and then looked around the room at the guests who were now chatting in small groups. Then she nodded emphatically. "Yes. I think so."
"Is the cake what you're looking forward to the most?" I then asked.
Ashley's grin broadened even wider. "No."
"What do you want to do the most then?" From what little I knew of baby showers, I couldn't think of any activities that she would be particularly interested in. And the gifts would all be silly baby things that wouldn't interest her at all. The poor girl would probably be better off taking that plate of cupcakes and going downstairs to join the guys while they played video games.
"I get to play with my friend," Ashley announced.
"Oh, you have a friend coming? Who is it?" I asked as I started to think about the people that I knew. Aside from Kate and Tanya, the only guests that had children still living at home were a couple of women from the office, Monique and Crystal. If memory served, Monique's child was two and Crystal's was seventeen.
"I don't know. Mommy just said that I had a new friend coming."
I laughed at that, but before I could say anything else to her, Ashley ran off to go see someone else. People came over and started greeting me. I still felt stupid for remaining in my chair during that, but every time I moved to stand, someone would put their hand on my shoulder and insist that I sit back down. Angela introduced me to her mother, and despite the fact that she was a minister's wife—and the fact that I had been certain that she would look down on me for my obvious transgressions—she instantly put me at ease. Soon, she began telling me stories about her twin sons. I could tell where Angela got her kindness and compassion.
And the people kept coming. Most of them were women from my office who I knew only insomuch that I could name them. The majority of whom I had actually hired. I think I visibly cringed when Jessica walked into the room, but I quickly smoothed my face out into a polite welcome. She gave me a simpering smile and sat down two seats away from me. She had always rubbed me the wrong way, but now there was something about her that made me feel uneasy. I didn't trust her, but there was little that I could do about that now.
My dad's girlfriend arrived, and she appeared a little lost in the sea of people. "Oh, Bella, you look good," she said as she approached me.
"Hello, Sue," I greeted. I was trying to be warm and inviting, but I hardly knew this woman. "I wanted to thank you for the things that you sent up with my dad last weekend."
"Did he come up with you today?" The thought just occurred to me that if Charlie was in town, then perhaps I could use him as an excuse not to have to spend the evening alone with Edward.
"No," she said, dashing my hopes, "he stayed in town and went fishing with some men from the station."
I nodded, unsurprised by her answer. I was going to crumble, I just knew it. Already, I was feeling antsy and anxious. It had been four days since I'd seen Edward. Each time a new person walked into the room, I would look up, only to feel my heart sink back down into my stomach when the person had the wrong color hair, the wrong eyes, the wrong build… the wrong gender.
I hated feeling so dependent.
Looking around again, I watched as women sat in chairs and on the sofas that had been placed in a circle around the spacious living room. They were all talking to one another and occasionally asking me how I was feeling. I could hear Kate and Angela conversing behind me. They were trying to decide what to do because Edward hadn't arrived yet.
Again, I felt my heart sink. Maybe in the last four days he'd had some time to think about our kiss and had decided on his own that he didn't want anything more to do with me—even without hearing about my job situation. Listening to the hum of conversation going on around me, I squeezed my eyes shut for just a moment and tried to calm myself. Even I knew that my thoughts were irrational. After a deep breath, I opened my eyes and forced a smile back on my face. Hopefully, no one had noticed my brief bout of insecurity.
In hushed whispers, Kate and Angela decided what they wanted to do. As Angela began handing out disposable diapers to everyone, Kate went around, passing out pens. Alice, who was sitting in a chair next to me on my right, eyed them both dubiously, and I heard her whisper harshly, "I thought we agreed that we weren't doing games."
"Relax, Alice," Kate said, quietly. "I promise that we're not going to smear melted candy bars in the diapers and make people guess whether it's a Twix or an Almond Joy."
I bit my lip and held back a chuckle as Alice narrowed her eyes in warning. Another moment passed and Alice yanked the pen out of Kate's hand with a small huff. Kate laughed.
Angela then explained to everyone that they were to write inspirational messages on the diapers for when Edward and I have slept only ninety minutes in thirty-six hours. Some of the women had stacks of diapers that they began writing on; others only used one or two. It was the type of activity that I had been dreading for days because it started the horror stories. Sue began the torture by talking about when her oldest daughter had been about ten days old and her husband had come home from work to find her sitting in the rocking chair. Sue said that her husband had been ready to haul them both back to the hospital because it was a toss-up over who was crying harder, mom or baby. Many of the other women nodded in agreement, or said that they remembered similar incidents, while I sat there and tried to assure myself that newborns weren't always that hard. I felt Alice pat my leg as Esme launched into her own tales about her babies. I glanced at Tanya just as she was looking to me. As our eyes met, she gave me a reassuring smile and nodded slightly as if to tell me not to worry. However, the light bruising underneath her eyes from lack of sleep wasn't exactly reassuring..
Jessica was sitting on the other side of Alice, and I heard a constant stream of complaints coming from her direction. They were such soft, mumbled remarks that I only caught a few words. "Stupid." "Ridiculous." "Can't believe she managed to fool these people." They were comments that she was muttering to Lauren, a woman who worked in the accounting department at my office. Alice looked like she wanted to take the pen in her hand and stab Jessica in the heart, but one pleading look from me and a shake of my head, and Alice refrained. Jessica running to Jack on Monday morning before my meeting with him would not help my case any.
When they were finished, Angela collected all of the diapers and said that they'd pack them up for me. Ashley appeared back in the living room, and I heard her asking Kate where her friend was. Angela looked at a loss for what to do next. Alice looked from Jessica to me and then clenched her jaw. Jumping up, she announced that they were going to play a game.
"Traitor," I muttered as she asked Esme for some scissors and ribbon. Kate pulled Ashley into the room and sat her down on her lap as Alice went around the room, holding out ribbon and scissors and asking each person to cut it off in lengths. Now, I may not be well-versed on baby shower games—I mean, hearing about the melted candy bars and diapers mortified me—however, I wasn't stupid, and I knew exactly what they were planning with the ribbon. So, I sat back and prepared myself for humiliation as they all tried to predict how big around I was.
After everyone had snipped off their desired lengths, all of them eyeing me carefully before having done so, Alice looked around at the women and their strips of ribbon. She then got this evil glint in her eye as she saw the very long length that Jessica had in her hands. Jessica had clearly intended on trying to embarrass me. Alice winked at me. "Okay, now we're going to go around in a circle and each of you will take the ribbon and wrap it around your finger. For each time around, you need to say something nice about Bella or something that you know about her. Jessica, why don't you start?"
I had to take a sip of punch to hide the huge grin on my face at Jessica's expression. I almost felt sorry for her as she struggled to make her mouth move. Then, with a huff, she began. She spent most of her time describing me. But she had such a long piece of ribbon that after she spent three rotations describing my hair, she realized that she had to say something else to stave off further embarrassment. Each time she said something even remotely nice, she looked as if she were sucking on a lemon. I knew how uncomfortable it was to be the center of attention, especially amongst a group of people that I hardly knew; it almost made me feel sorry for her.
Of course, I also took a great amount of pleasure as Jessica said things like, "She's easy to work with," "She stays later than anyone else," and "She works well with everyone." I fought back a snort as I wished that Alice was taping this so I could take it with me on Monday. Jessica looked smug as she wrapped the ribbon around her finger one final time as she said, "And I'm sure that Bella will have no problem finding something new to do if she chooses."
The little bitch. She knew what was going on.
Angela was gritting her teeth at the last remark, but she said nothing. Alice appeared confused, but she ignored it and then turned to Lauren to let her know that she was next. Before she could begin, however, Ashley jumped off of Kate's lap and starting running towards the foyer, shouting, "My friend is here! My friend is here!"
Alice and Esme beamed at each other, while I looked on, puzzled.
"I think that Edward is here," Angela said, in an effort to make me understand.
"Edward is Ashley's new friend?" I asked, even more confused than I had been.
I heard a smattering of chuckles from the women in the room as Alice took my drink from me, set it on the table then helped me out of my chair. "Come on," she said leading me to the front door where Ashley was bouncing on the balls of her feet excitedly while she stared out the small window next to the door. Just then, the front door opened and Edward walked in. He was grinning from ear-to-ear, and all of my fears that he'd not wanted to be there whipped right back out the door that he'd just walked through. When his eyes found mine, I could almost swear that they sparkled, and I blushed at the intensity of his stare. Edward immediately moved toward me, leaned down, and kissed me lightly on the cheek. For the first time since Tuesday night, I felt like I could actually breathe again. Despite all of the things that I'd been convincing myself of since my nightmare a few nights earlier, I wanted nothing more than for him to kiss me again … and again and again … right then and there. I didn't care who was around to witness it.
"Hi," he said quietly, as if I were the only person in the room.
He and I simply smiled and stared for a moment until someone coughed, snapping us both out of our strange bubble. "Sorry," Edward said. "I brought you a surprise."
"What?" I asked. Edward stepped to the side so I could see what—or who, rather—was behind him.
"Bella!" came a familiar voice from the direction of the door.
My mother came practically running into the room, her arms opened wide and welcoming. "Mom, you came," I said as tears started to instantly well up in my eyes. Within moments, Renee's arms enveloped me.
"Of course, I came, baby."
"I'm glad that you're here."
She finally let go of me, both of us having to wipe away the happy tears that were streaming down our faces.
Renee, Phil, and Brett were all standing in the foyer. I laughed as I realized that my little sister was the "friend" that Ashley was so excited to see. Brett gave me a quick hug around my middle before Ashley dragged her off to her room to play. "Ashley has a bedroom here?" I asked Edward as the girls were running up the stairs.
He laughed. "Yes. Remind me before we leave, and I'll show you the room that Mom set up for this little guy." Edward put his hand on my stomach as he said the last words, and I closed my eyes for just a moment, enjoying the contact.
Introductions were made between my mom and step-dad and the Cullens who had gathered in the foyer. But soon after, Kate reminded us that there was still a roomful of guests, we decided to go back into the living room. Edward promised me that he would return shortly before he took Phil downstairs to join the rest of the guys.
Alice, blessedly, said to forget her ribbon game once we returned to join the rest of the women. Instead, Angela began opening up some packages while Kate set out a bunch of craft supplies on the tables. There were fabric markers and paints. She even set out a few needles and embroidery thread. Then Angela handed out white onesies to everyone.
I smiled when I realized that everyone there was going to decorate a shirt for the baby. Angela had bought several different sizes, ranging from newborn up to eighteen months so that he would have onesies to wear for quite a while.
Angela was explaining the activity just as Edward walked in and took the empty seat next to me. Renee had taken Alice's chair on the other side—I wasn't sure where Alice had run off to.
Even Edward took a t-shirt and then grabbed a couple tubes of fabric paint. The activity took a little over thirty minutes while people chatted with one another, and then Angela announced that our time was up and told people that they had to show off their creations.
The talent and creativity of some of the shirts amazed me. One woman had taken the embroidery thread and sewn three teddy bears on her shirt. Others had taken the fabric markers and drawn pictures of things ranging from footballs and baseballs to animals. A few had simply written, "Baby Swan-Cullen," like the poem had said. But it was Edward's onesie that brought a tear to my eye. In blue fabric paint he had written "Daddy's Little Boy." Then he'd decorated it with drawings of a baseball and bat and a piano using different colors. It was sweet and far outshone the t-shirt that I'd decorated that simply read "#1 Baby" and had several stars on it. Okay, so I'm not creative.
When we were finally finished, Kate took all of the t-shirts and set them in another room to dry. She then asked Esme where she could put all of the craft supplies so that the girls could decorate the remaining onesies later on. It was then time for lunch. The dining room table was soon covered with food as Alice, Kate, Angela, and Esme moved various dishes from the kitchen to the table to set up a buffet. It was all mouth-watering, and my stomach instantly growled. The guys came up from the basement then, too, so that everyone could eat at once.
The living room was full, and a few people stayed in the dining room to eat. Edward insisted that I stay seated while he went and filled a plate for me. Renee was soon back from getting her own food and told me that they were planning on staying for a week, and then she would be back for a couple of days when the baby was born.
"Are you sure, Mom?" I asked her, in shock. "It's the middle of the school year, and I know that it'll be hard for you to get the time off."
She shushed my worries quickly. "It'll be fine. Really, Bella, how many times do I get to become a grandmother?"
I grinned at her just before turning back to my food. Edward sat with me while we ate, but soon after, he excused himself to go talk with his dad and to make sure that Phil was comfortable with the group of guys. Over the next ten minutes women kept coming over to the vacant chair and would say a few kind words before getting up to talk with someone else. Renee met each person with polite interest, and I suddenly remembered that it was Edward who had brought her to the house and wondered how their initial meeting had gone. I made a mental note to ask her about it later on. I was sure that it couldn't have been too bad with Brett with her, but I knew that even since our last phone conversation, she wasn't completely sold on the notion that he had revised his original opinion of me and we'd worked through our differences.
Just as Tanya sat down in the vacant chair after Monique had gone to speak with Angela, Renee leaned over and whispered, "So, what's her problem?" She tilted her head to where she wanted me to look.
I turned and glanced to see Rosalie standing in the far corner doing little more than glaring at everyone. In truth, that'd been about all that she'd managed to do all day. "Um. I honestly don't know."
Tanya looked from Rosalie to my mother and me and sighed. "Rose is… well, you get used to her," she said apologetically. "If it helps any, she's not too fond of me right now, either." Then she held out her hand to my mother and introduced herself. I did notice that the perfectly manicured hand without a chip in the nail polish that I'd seen on Christmas was no longer present. Her nails were cut short, no polish, and I could've sworn that I saw a hangnail on her right index finger.
"Oh, I've heard about you. You're the one who just had a baby, right?" Renee said, and I suddenly wished that I could hide as I tried to remember exactly what I'd told my mom in my phone conversations over the last month.
Tanya nodded, seemingly oblivious to the idea that I might have said anything negative about her, and I said a silent prayer of thanks. She and Renee began talking. Tanya gladly pointed out Kirsten, who was currently being held by her father. Tanya then told me how much more difficult the last two weeks had been with the baby. "At first, it all seemed so easy," she said.
Renee commiserated with her, even going so far as to tell stories about when I'd first been born. However, unlike the countless other times that I'd heard the tales, this time I listened. It was suddenly all vitally important to me to hear how my mother coped with me. Young, lost, confused, mostly alone. I felt like I could mostly relate to that. Granted, I was older than Renee had been when I was born, but my lack of experience with children or anything remotely baby related certainly evened up the score there.
After several minutes of conversation, Renee excused herself as she went to go check on Brett.
I couldn't help it, and I took advantage of my mother's absence by asking the question that she had begun. "What is the deal with Rosalie?"
Tanya bit her lip as she glanced in Rosalie's direction and then back to me. After seeming to think about her words thoroughly, she finally said, "Well, most people know anyway, and it really isn't fair to you that she'd be this way with you when you really don't know her at all." She shook her head. "I really hate the idea of betraying confidences, but after the fiasco at Christmas, I really don't think that anyone should be keeping anything from you, Bella."
She took a quick breath and then continued, "Does the name Rosalie Hale ring a bell?"
I nodded my head. The name had sounded familiar the first time that I'd heard it at the wedding, but for the life of me, I couldn't place it.
"You didn't look it up?" Tanya asked.
"It was at the wedding. After that, I became a little distracted by other things."
"Ah. Yeah. That makes sense. Well, does the name Royce King sound familiar?"
I felt an instant sense of dread at the name as soon as Tanya uttered it, and I was finally able to recall the summer when the entire city of Seattle had been blanketed in fear—fear of Royce King. He'd been a serial rapist, attacking dozens of women before he'd been apprehended. In fact, if I recalled correctly, he had only been caught because his last victim had somehow managed to rip off his ski mask and escape, despite having been beaten to within an inch of her life with a baseball bat….
I looked to Tanya, horrified. "Rosalie?"
Tanya nodded sadly. "Rosalie."
"I can't imagine trying to recover from that sort of trauma," I whispered.
"The emotional recovery was horrible for her. I can only just imagine how awful it was. However, there was the physical, too. There had been a lot of internal damage."
I shuddered as I imagined the kind of bruising, bleeding, and broken bones that would come from repeatedly being hit with a baseball bat.
"Sorry. I know it's horrible," she apologized, "but there's more."
I took another breath and nodded. "Go on."
"They don't know if she can ever carry a pregnancy to term."
"But Edward told me that everyone was expecting them to return from their honeymoon pregnant."
"They started fertility treatments as soon as they were back. So, yeah, we've all been hoping. It's just very hard for her. She says that she's always wanted to have a child and to hear that it might not be possible was crushing for her. You can imagine how it is for her to be around Kirsten or you."
"Then why is she here?" I asked without thinking. But I truly wanted to know. If I desperately wanted a child and thought I couldn't conceive, I doubt that I could've forced myself to be around newborns or pregnant women.
"Bella, I know that you haven't been around us for very long, but how do you feel about this family?"
I thought about that for a moment. How did I feel about the Cullens? From Esme to Alice to Emmett to Kate and even Tanya, they were all welcoming. They were loving and caring, and I knew that when Edward decided that I was only using them all, it was going to kill me to be separated from them. I loved them. All of them. They felt like family.
"I love them," I admitted quietly.
Tanya smiled. "We all do. It's almost as if Esme and Carlisle collect children and pull them into their fold to love, care for, and nurture."
Yes, that's exactly what they were like, and I now had my answer about Rosalie. She would do anything for the family, including sitting through the torture of my baby shower… because that's what family did. I felt a twinge of guilt as I allowed that thought to carry forward a bit in my head. Family did anything for one another, they went to each other when they had a problem and they helped one another. A little voice in the back of my head pointed out that my work issue was just that sort of a problem, but I didn't know how they would react. Though, admittedly, I was more concerned about Edward's reaction than Esme's or Alice's. And an even quieter voice told me that I didn't need to be concerned about any of their reactions, but I couldn't allow myself to listen to it. My eyes found Edward's then, and I couldn't fight the smile that wanted to appear on my face.
"You really care for him," Tanya observed.
I wrung my hands as my eyes moved away from him to the floor. "I do."
She stopped and studied me for a minute. "Trust him. He's worth it. And he won't let you down."
"Thank you, Tanya." From the expression on her face and the look in her eyes, I knew that she understood that my gratitude was for everything that she'd done and said to me, not just for reassuring me about Edward or trusting me enough to tell me about Rosalie. She, like everyone else, was pulling me into the Cullen family and making me feel just as important as everyone else. She squeezed my shoulder as she stood up and went to go get her child from the arms of her fiancé.
Edward took her chair and quickly laced his fingers with mine. "You looked like you were having an intense conversation with Tanya."
"Is everything okay?" he asked, staring at me intently with concern as if I were the most important thing in his world.
"It's fine." I gave him a smile and squeezed his hand. I couldn't understand how I went from feeling so lost and confused about what to tell him and how he'd react to feeling as if everything was going to be okay just by being near him. Before I could think on it further, Angela announced that it was time for gifts.
It surprised me that everything we opened was actually something we needed, especially after the small fortune that Edward had spent on the baby already. Alice had made a diaper cake, which I had never heard of before, but I thought had to be one of the cleverest things I'd ever seen. Not to mention that it was adorable. It was four layers tall and made out of disposable diapers, a couple of receiving blankets, and a fleece blanket. Then it was decorated with rattles, pacifiers, booties, lotions, socks, ribbons, and topped with a stuffed giraffe. I was completely in awe of how it was made and even more amazed when Alice said that she'd done it herself.
Renee and Sue, along with Charlie, had bought a highchair, while Esme had given us a stroller. Most everything else was clothing, diaper bags, and diapers—lots of diapers—though Alice given us a baby book, as well. The very last gift we received was what appeared to be a scrapbook. However, upon opening. I found pages and pages of advice and stories of their experiences from most of the women present. Kate said that she'd given out the pages a couple of weeks ago and had been putting the book together since. She'd just added the final pages from my mom while everyone was eating. It was absolutely amazing. In thumbing through some of the pages, I found that Esme and my mom had filled out the most pages with Kate and, surprisingly, Tanya coming in closely behind. Words of wisdom from real people, written solely for me… I felt blessed.
After that, it was time for cake. By then, I'd had enough of the sitting down, and I walked around a bit, talking to a few people from work, and eventually going to sit down to eat some cake with my sister and Ashley. Immediately, the two girls got into a discussion about what to call me. Ashley was trying to insist that I be called "Aunt Bella" while Brett was adamant that it was just "Bella." As they were discussing it, Kate walked over and I mouthed, "Aunt Bella?"
She shrugged, leaned towards me, and whispered, "On Christmas when Edward said that you were both having the baby, she put two and two together and then started talking nonstop about having another cousin to play with. If it bothers you, I'll tell her to stop."
"No, it's fine. Really. I was just surprised."
Then Kate tried to explain to Ashley that yes, it really was possible for Brett to be my sister and that she wasn't supposed to call me "Aunt Bella."
Ashley nodded her head, but I don't think that she truly understood.
As people were finishing their cake, they began coming over and saying their goodbyes. It was almost strange to see my mother hug Sue before she left for her long drive home. I stood from the dining room chair I'd been sitting in and gathered up my empty plate—and the dirty dishes from the girls—and moved to take them into the kitchen. I gasped, nearly dropping the fine crystal dessert plates, when I felt two arms wrap themselves around me.
"How are you doing?" Edward said softly as he gently pulled me back against his chest.
"Good. A bit tired. Who knew that these things could be exhausting?" God, and here I'd thought that I'd be able to stay away from him? Nothing… nothing could make me feel as right as I did when he held me like that.
"I'll take you home shortly." I felt him kiss the top of my head.
"I need to spend some time with my mom and Phil."
"No, you don't. They're going to be here all week, and they understand. Besides, they already have plans this evening."
"They do?" I asked as I turned my head to the side and looked up towards him.
"If you haven't noticed, your sister and Ashley have hit it off well. They're going to go back to Kate's house—where I believe they will spend the evening decorating baby t-shirts—while my parents take your parents out to dinner. They'll all be fine, I promise. Besides, I haven't seen you in days, and I missed you."
My heart felt like it would pound out of my chest in that moment. I'd missed him, too, and I felt a wave of guilt knowing that one of the reasons that it had been since Tuesday was because I'd been trying to push him away. But if I didn't do that, how was he going to react if—no, when—I was unemployed come Monday. A small voice that sounded eerily similar to Tanya's whispered, "Trust him," in my ear, but I couldn't bring myself to say anything. I squeezed my eyes shut for just a moment in an effort to stop all the irrational thoughts that were running through my head. I forgot that I was still holding the dessert plates in my hand, and I forgot that I was worried about my job while I allowed myself to simply enjoy being held and comforted in Edward's arms.
He released his hold and gently turned me to face him. His hands gripped my arms, and I found my eyes locked in his gaze, before he leaned down and softly kissed my lips. And right then I knew that I never wanted to let him go. "I'll go get our coats, and you can go say goodbye to your mom so we can go," he said as he released me and stepped away. I tried not to whimper at the loss.
I moved toward the kitchen counter but almost instantly stopped again in my tracks when I heard two people move towards the other entrance. From their voices I could immediately discern that it was Jessica talking. As she neared the kitchen door, I could clearly hear her say, "No wonder Bella has been doing such a shitty job at work. She wants to get fired so she can mooch off of these people. I wish that I could find some rich doctor to take care of me. At least Ms. Bitch in Charge is going to get her wish."
I heard a sharp intake of breath behind me, and I turned to see that Edward was still at the threshold to the dinning room and had heard Jessica just as clearly as I had.
Just as Jessica walked into the room with Lauren on her heels, the crystal plates I'd been holding slipped out of my hands and shattered into thousands of pieces of the tile floor as I stared at Edward in fear.
Author's Note: What? Another chapter so soon? Meh, TLS made me do it. ;) Coming to Terms has been nominated for Fic of the Week at The Lemonade Stand. If you feel so inclined to go vote, you can find them at: www dot tehlemonadestand dot net
The poem was from a reader way back in the day. I had put out a call for baby shower games, ideas, etc, and I thought that was just the sweetest thing when the reviewer told me about it. So, there you go. :)
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