Chapter 23: Little Fall Rain

The sound of thousands of small shards of glass dancing on the floor was the only sound heard in the room as I stared at Edward's face, watching as it slowly shifted from surprise to anger. As he took several steps towards me, I slowly backed away, our shoes crunching the remnants of Esme's crystal. When my backside bumped into the marble counter, I felt my rising panic reach its peak. Through the now rushing sounds in my ears, the only other thing I could hear was a muffled "Mom!" that seemed to have come out of Edward's mouth. His steps were cautious and measured as his lips moved, but I couldn't hear any other sounds. In my periphery, I could still see Lauren and Jessica standing and staring at whatever scene was now playing before them, smug and satisfied looks on their faces.

It took everything in me to keep my breathing steady. I felt my eyes sting, but I wouldn't allow the tears to fall—I couldn't. Several other people burst into the kitchen just before I felt myself being pulled into Edward's arms. His touch was tentative, though, and he didn't hold me as tightly as he had just moments earlier. Edward's chest rumbled and hummed as he spoke but nothing was discernable to my ears. Then, I was led out of the kitchen and through an unfamiliar door.

He released me, and I felt something draped over my shoulders as I heard more murmurings.

Against my will, a strangled sob escape.

Another pair of arms engulfed me. My senses were assaulted with the scent of laundry detergent and sage, with the faint smell of incense that clung to the blouse, and I fought the urge to bury my face into my mother's shoulder. Her hand smoothed my hair and stroked my back while she gently rocked my stiff form back and forth.

Everything was coming to a head and all I could think was that I needed to stay in control. I had to stay rational. I couldn't fall apart. Not now. Edward hated me. To me, that was a fact as certain as the rising and setting sun. Apollo was drawing his carriage across the sky and here I was, about to be immersed in darkness. After everything, the tentative world I'd slowly been constructing over the last few weeks was shattering around me, exactly like the crystal dessert plates that now littered the Spanish tile in the kitchen.

"Oh, baby, everything will be okay. Everything is going to be all right, baby," my mother cooed in my ear, but I couldn't allow myself to believe her words—I just couldn't.

Feeling another hand on my back, I pulled back from Renee's shoulder, and she loosened her grasp. I had been on the verge of a breakdown in the middle of Esme's kitchen during my baby shower. Hell, I was still hovering on the precipice.

Looking around the room, I realized I was in a small laundry room with my mom, Edward, and Angela.

"I'm sorry," I muttered to the people standing in the room.

"No, baby. It's all right. You're under so much pressure," my mother reassured, rubbing my back again.

I just shook my head. That wasn't what I'd meant. "No," I said, shaking my head. "I just need to get out of here."

"We're leaving," Edward said to me as his hand brushed my arm.

All I could do was nod in response.

I swallowed thickly and felt the tears prick at the corners of my eyes again. Another deep breath and I was able to hold myself together by the finest of threads. It was then that I realized that my coat was hanging over my shoulders, and I pulled my arms through the sleeves.

Moving towards the door we'd come through, I placed my hand on the knob, my stomach churning with embarrassment at the thought of facing all of the people on the other side.

"We're going out through the garage," Edward said, placing his hands on my arms and gently leading me to another door at the other end of the room.

As we passed Renee, I gave her a kiss on the cheek. And as we moved towards the door, I stopped to give Angela a hug.

"I'm sorry," I said into her ear so only she could hear me.

"It's okay, Bella. We'll deal with it on Monday, I promise."

I pulled back from her and nodded my head. "Thank you. And tell Kate and Esme and Alice, please."

"Of course. Go home and get some rest. I'll see you Monday."

"Ready?" Edward asked.

I gave Angela a tight smile. "Yes," I answered, without looking at Edward. Already I knew that seeing him would be my undoing. I had over thirty minutes in the car with him as he drove me home, and I prayed that would be enough time to compose myself for the conversation he and I were bound to have.

This time, Edward put his arm around my back and led me through the door he'd opened for me. It was when we crossed the threshold into the garage that I realized I felt like a dead man—or woman, rather—walking to her execution. My heart was hammering out of my chest, and I was fighting to remain calm. I didn't even have time to appreciate the vastness of the Cullens' garage or the vintage automobiles that were on the far side. I did notice Edward's car was sitting there, and when he opened the door for me, I saw the key was sitting in the ignition.

"Is home okay? Or do we need to stop by the hospital?" he asked.

That pulled me up short, and I took a deep breath in an effort to relax. It was only marginally helpful. I took a second breath and mumbled, "Home," as I got into the car.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward nod his head just before shutting my door.

"You parked outside," I said dumbly as way of greeting when Edward sat in the driver's seat.

"Rosalie pulled the car into the garage for us."

"Oh." I sat back further in the seat and closed my eyes, but the engine remained silent. When the car was still sitting stationary and the only audible sound was that of breathing, I opened my eyes and turned them back to Edward.

He was staring at me, pain and anguish etched on his features. I caught the briefest of glances at his eyes, and I had to turn away before I lost my carefully crafted composure. It made my heart hurt even worse. His pain equated to disappointment.

"I want to go home, Edward," I said to break the silence.

Turning his attention to the car, he mumbled, "Put your seatbelt on." I heard the garage door open as he started the engine, and we were on our way.

Just as I did most times during the same drive, I rested my head against the cold window and closed my eyes. This time, it was an attempt to order my thoughts. The discussion I'd been avoiding for days was now going to happen in my living room. But each time I got too specific with my thoughts, I felt my heart instantly accelerate.

The baby started to squirm in my stomach, and I opened my eyes and slowly began to rub the spot he was currently using as his punching bag.

I had to stay calm. I had to relax. And I had to get through the next hour or so with a minimum amount of stress….

Because I had to take care of him—of my baby. He had to be my first priority.

"Are you okay?" Edward asked, glancing from my face to the hand on my stomach and then back to the road.

"I'm fine."

He gave me another quick appraising look. It was clear he didn't believe my answer when he said, "I need to know if I should take you directly to the hospital or if you've finally calmed down enough that we can attempt to have this conversation at home."

As I took in the slow, deep breaths, I thought about how I dealt with imbeciles like Jack during meetings at work. Cold, detached. That was how I needed to stay. I rubbed my stomach in small circles and focused all of my attention on the life that was growing inside of it. "I already told you that I want to go home," I bit out in a harsh whisper.

Edward said nothing in response, and I leaned my head back against the window and stared without seeing out the window at the passing scenery. It was quite obvious to me; the only thing that he cared about was the baby.

So lost in my own head full of anxiety, stress, and dread, I didn't notice anything until the car finally came to stop and Edward rolled down his window. The blast of cold air that blew through the open window from the frigid winds outside pulled me from my own private hell.

"Where are we?" I asked, somewhat disoriented.

"Home," was the only answer Edward gave as he closed his window and drove into the parking garage.

Blinking three times more in quick succession, I allowed my overly worked brain to process where we were. Then it suddenly clicked, we were at Edward's place. I groaned.

"What?" he asked at my sound of discontent.

"I thought that…." I allowed my voice to trail off and bit my lower lip.

Edward didn't say another word as he pulled his car into the parking space and got out. All I could do was stay where I was. The discussion we were about to have was going to end in a fight, I knew that. I had no way to leave, and the likelihood of Edward storming out of his own apartment in the middle of an argument was pretty damn slim. There was no escape for me.

The rushing sound began to cloud my ears again, and I rubbed my stomach in soothing circles. Another deep breath and I felt ready to deal with whatever Edward was going to throw at me. Just as I unbuckled my seatbelt, Edward opened my car door and helped me out. Then, with his hand on the small of my back, he led me to the elevator and eventually upstairs to his place.

The moment we crossed the threshold, he helped me out of my shoes, and then he brushed his hand along the leg of my pants, saying that he wanted to make sure there weren't any stray glass shards that could hurt me. He asked if I had any cuts, and all I could do was shake my head. The broken crystal was the last thing on my mind.

Edward's condo was just as nice as I remembered. Just as clean. Just as beautiful. And I quickly noted that I could smell a scent that was inherently Edward permeating throughout the rooms.

It almost felt comfortable. Shaking my head, I reminded myself that I couldn't afford to feel that way. I needed to go home. To my home. Where I would be safe and secure. That was where I needed to be. I fought back the tears from the hopelessness I was already feeling.

Stay calm, Bella, I said to myself.

My arms were crossed tightly over my chest, and I fought to hold myself together. It was only through gentle prodding that Edward managed to help me out of my coat. He then took my hand and led me to the sofa and quietly encouraged me to sit. Then he sat on the loveseat and leaned forward, giving me my space while, at the same time, telling me that he was ready to begin our discussion.

I swallowed thickly as my gaze wandered around the room, finally falling on the end table with the framed ultrasound images. The tears began forming again when I thought about the last time I'd been in his apartment. The dam that was holding back my emotions creaked… loudly.

All I could do was sit there and wonder how my life could have fallen apart so quickly. How could four days change everything? The irony that only a single night had been what had originally sent my life into a tailspin was not lost on me, but I had dealt with that. I had coped. This was… this was….

I couldn't complete my thoughts because that was when it happened. My eyes went to Edward, who was staring at me from the loveseat, and for the first time since Jessica's remarks, I allowed myself to meet his gaze. The emotion behind those green pools was my undoing. I could no longer keep the tears at bay, and I felt the dam finally give way to the flood of emotions I'd been trying to contain for so very long.

The tears were the first to come. Edward moved to get up, but I shook my head vigorously.

My head was flooded with too many questions to be able to think clearly. Just this last week I'd been slowly starting to imagine more than just having a father to my baby—I had been imagining a family.

Now, I all I could do was mourn that loss.

A noisy sob erupted from my chest, and then nothing could stop my crying. I didn't even want anything to. This was the culmination of everything I'd gone through over the last several months. For me, crying had always been emotionally cleansing, washing away the gray clouds. Like a spring rain fall.

The rain was what makes the flowers grow.

In that moment, however, I only felt as if I were in the darkest and coldest part of winter.

Edward, Edward, Edward…

Baby, baby, baby…

Everything was collapsing around me, and I feared that I was going to get dragged down into the abyss.

I felt more than heard Edward moving around the room, though he still said nothing.

Moments later, a box of Kleenex was placed next to me on the couch, but Edward was now pacing the living room. I grabbed several of the tissues in my hands, but I couldn't get my tears to slow. I couldn't make myself calm down enough to be able to think things through rationally. And the more he paced—the more he moved—the more hitched my breathing became. The irritation was rolling off of him in waves as he ran his fingers through his hair several times in quick succession. But I didn't know the cause of his frustration; whether it was simply having to deal with an emotional woman or because that same emotional woman was a failure at life, I didn't know.

Finally, he stopped at the far corner of room and whipped around, stared directly into my eyes, grimaced, and just shook his head.

It was as if a switch went off in my head, and I took the few moments to stand. "What? What do you want me to say? I don't know what to tell you! I already know what you're going to say—what you'regoing to do!" I screamed through my tears. Then I took two steps forward and unsuccessfully choked down several sobs.

"Don't presume to know what I'm going to do or say. You won't talk to me. Now, tell me, what do you want, Bella?" his words were measured and careful, but he didn't move from where he was standing next to the piano.

"I want it all! I want everything for my child that I never had! I want a home and a family! I want my son to feel loved and wanted and cared for! I want to feel loved and cared for and cherished! I don't want to feel like a burden!"

I was angry. Angry with him because he wasn't behaving how I'd anticipated. Angry with myself because I had this irrational urge to defend myself and to speak every thought that passed through my mind.

Making fists with my hands while holding the balled up tissues tightly in them, I brought them up to press against my eyes for a moment. "This has been going on for so long," I said with a sob. Dropping my hands from my face, I folded my arms across my chest and tried to measure my breathing. "I'm scared."

Edward took several steps towards me but still gave me my space. "What are you afraid of?"

"Everything!" I wailed, waving one arm around the room. "I don't know what to do anymore. My own childhood was so screwed up that I don't know how to do any of this. I don't know how to have a relationship with someone that involves actually talking to another person. Because of everything that happened with my father and what turned out to be his non-existent rejection of me, I don't know how to trust anyone else. And I'm going to be a mother any day now, and I don't know what in the hell I'm supposed to do!"

"You're not alone in this," he said soothingly.

I wanted to believe him, but I couldn't allow myself to do that. Not now. Not anymore. "You can't say that. You don't know that! By this time on Monday, I won't have a job anymore! And the moment you actually start to think about things and understand that, you are going to decide that I'm just as much of a burden as mommy dearest was, and you're going to throw me out that door!" I cried while forcing myself to ignore his wince at my accusation.

I tried to calm my breathing just a bit more, but it was to no avail. My pain and distress wouldn't lessen. And then every thought that had been running through my head suddenly found their way to my mouth and, in no particular order, began falling from my lips in between my noisy sobs. "I'm scared and alone, and I don't know what to do anymore. My mother fucked me up so badly, I don't know how a real mother is supposed to behave. And my father fucked me up, and I can't figure out how to trust anyone else. And even worse than feeling like a failure at my job, I'm scared out of my mind that I'm going to do something to screw up this baby even worse than I am. He is the most important thing in my world, and I know I do a good job at keeping my feelings to myself, but I love him more than anything, more than I ever thought that I could love another human being. And I want him. And I don't want to fuck this up. None of it. And, right now, it seems like that is exactly where things are headed."

I saw Edward move closer to me, his eyes holding almost as much pain as I was feeling inside of me. But I couldn't allow him to get close. Not yet. I needed to say everything that was on my mind, whether he wanted to hear it or not. There was too much, too many things that I was carrying around inside of me that I needed to get out and let go of. Taking a step backwards, I shook my head, and he stopped where he was. I dabbed at some of the wetness on my cheeks with the balled up tissue that was still held tightly in my hand and took a breath. But just as I managed to calm myself a bit, I felt new tears pricking away and stinging the corner of my eyes.

"And the worst part," I began as another sob wracked my frame before I managed to control it, "the very worst thing is, I'm terrified of these feelings you've brought out in me." I couldn't even bring myself to look at him as I wrapped my arms around myself even tighter. "Ever since Christmas, we came to an understanding. You've been sweet and wonderful and caring. And without even fully comprehending it, I found myself falling for you so hard and so fast that it makes my head spin. I don't want to do this alone, but more than that, I want to do this with you! I only realized it when Mike proposed to me the other night. Even though he was actually serious and he's my friend, I couldn't bring myself to accept, because he wasn't you! Don't you see what you've done to me? I don't know what I'm going to do when you leave and—"

I couldn't finish my statement, because at that moment, I felt his hands on my cheeks, and Edward lifted my head up to meet his eyes. He brushed his thumbs under my eyes and continued to stare at me intently. In the green depths of his gaze, I found the one thing that I'd been desperately searching for over the last hour—security.

Without even thinking, my arms relinquished their hold from my chest and wrapped around him. With just his eyes he was pulling me to safety, and there was no way I was letting go. I gave another whimper, but instead of it being a result of pain and heartache, this time it was from the overwhelming sense of relief I was feeling.

We stared at each other, our eyes locked, until Edward leaned his head down towards me. He stopped when his lips were only centimeters away from mine, and he whispered, "I'm not going anywhere, Bella. And neither are you." Then he lightly brushed his lips across mine before kissing me more firmly. His kiss spoke louder than my shouting and held more comfort than words ever could. When he moved back, he gazed at me a moment longer before resting his forehead against mine. I felt myself calm even more as my breathing fell into sync with his.

"I don't want to be some pathetic woman you think you need to save from her pathetic little life."

"I don't think that. I could never—"

"Yes, you could. For months you thought I was after you for your money," I reminded him.

"Did you know that memory was the very furthest thing from my mind? I know you're not like that. I trust you. I believe you. All I want right now is to be here for you. To help you. To be whatever it is thatyou need from me," he said in a firm but soft voice. "That is how a relationship works, you know—any kind of relationship. It doesn't make you dependent or weak."

His thumb brushed my cheek again, and after a deep breath, he pulled back and dropped his hands from my face. He then put one arm around my back and led me back to the sofa. Edward sat down first, leaning his back against the arm. Then he gently pulled me down to sit between his legs, my back resting against his chest.

I understood the purpose of the way that he'd sat us both down. Edward's arms were wrapped around me, his hands resting on my belly. It was comforting but without the distraction of the emotions swimming behind his eyes. In the safety and security of his arms, I could finally relax enough so that I could unravel my thoughts into slightly more coherent threads.

"I'm sorry," I whispered.

"Don't be." He brought a hand back up to cheek and tucked a stray bit of hair that had escaped from the barrette and was matted to my face from the tears. Then, he traced the back of his fingers along my throat.

"This wasn't how it was supposed to be." I stared at my hands, which were now fidgeting with a tissue.

"I know." Edward's voice was calm, but even in those few words, I could hear the undertones laced with sadness.

My gaze moved from the now twisted and torn tissue to the ceiling as I laid my head back against his chest. He wasn't pushing me away. Instead, he was holding me tighter than I'd dare to hope after Jessica's remark.

"Tell me everything, Bella," he pled.

I thought about his request. I'd already blathered on about more things than I should have—about more that I normally would. Instead of rejecting me and pushing me aside, however, he was holding me close and trying to soothe me with his words… with his actions… with his whole demeanor. How could I not start to trust him on some level? He wasn't behaving how I'd anticipated. I was still unsure whether or not the soap bubble would pop as it had seemed to before, but I also knew that I was slowly beginning to trust him more than I ever thought I could.

"By Monday, I probably won't have my job anymore."

"So, what that woman said in the kitchen was true?"

I could almost hear Jessica in my head say, "She wants to get fired so she can mooch off of these people."

For a moment, I thought I was going to vomit from recalling the venom-laced words. And I knew that was what Edward was getting at. Was he still preparing to believe the worst about me? There was nothing I could do about that.

"Just because I'm probably going to be fired doesn't mean that I did it intentionally."

"I didn't say that it did." I could feel him as he shook his head briefly, as if his thoughts were as muddied as mine and he was trying to clear them. "I just meant that your position was as precarious as she implied."

I sighed. "By Monday afternoon, I'm going to be unemployed and no longer able to support myself."

"What happened?"

"What hasn't? This has been going on since…" My voice trailed off as I thought about that for a moment. "… a few weeks before your brother's wedding."

"Emmett's wedding?"

"It all comes down to that, doesn't it? But yes, since then. My boss was in town a few weeks before, and that was when I remembered that you had all been at the Hilton that night to book their wedding. So, I began to spend my free time there." I was getting sidetracked. "Anyway, when I saw my boss, he made some snide comments about my pregnancy. He made it clear that he was certain I couldn't perform my job."

"That's discrimination," he stated firmly.

I couldn't hold back a snort at Edward sounding as if he was going to come to my defense. The conversation wasn't playing out at all how I'd imagined it. "I know that. It wasn't quite like that. Maybe it was. I don't know," I rambled, my thoughts again becoming muddled. "I didn't perform as well as I'd hoped… as well as I maybe should have. But I also know that I'm doing the job of two people. And when Jack finally decided that he had to take action, he sent someone up here who began strutting around my office and acting like he was going to steal my job away from me."

"And that still sounds like harassment."

"I lost a major client."

"When?"

"Last week." I shook my head. "They found a loophole in the contract. I don't know how our lawyers missed it, and I don't know how the other company found it. It's like… I don't know. It still isn't making any sense to me."

"Were they not happy? How is it your fault? Did you do anything to cause the client to leave?"

"Things were fine. I landed the contract when I was here last May, and that was actually one of the driving reasons the company chose to open an office in Seattle versus Olympia or Portland. Laurent arrived right after I went back to work after being discharged from the hospital. Jack—he's the owner of the company, Mike's dad—had heard there was a client in Portland who was upset and blamed it on my hospitalization. Jack decided he needed another set of eyes here. Because of all of that, I thought I should cover my bases a bit better, and the week of my vacation, I set up meetings with some of our major clients. I just wanted to make sure they were happy."

"You worked during your vacation?"

"Some." I shrugged. "But one of them… the one we lost… I was supposed to have lunch with him the day after Christmas."

I waited for Edward to put that together. Though, admittedly, it had been a few weeks, and it was possible he wouldn't remember. So when he said nothing, I explained further. "The day we went to lunch with your parents."

"You missed your meeting," he surmised.

"Yeah. I got home and went to take a nap. It was some time later that I actually heard the beeping of my cell phone telling me I had messages. I'd forgotten my phone and left it at home."

He sighed again and one of his hands left my stomach to rake through his hair.

"You need a lawyer," he mumbled. Before I could tell him that I didn't want that, he said, "I want to know about this proposal."

I took a deep breath, then swallowed thickly and readied myself for his reaction. "Right after I left here on Tuesday, Mike called. He asked me to marry him."

"And you told him no?" he asked in a tight, barely restrained voice.

"I told him no."

"Why?"

"Why did I tell him no? Or why did he propose?"

It was another moment before he responded, and I could feel the tension radiating from him again, immediately setting me on edge, too. "Both."

"I told him no because, while I considered his request, I finally understood something that had been plaguing me for a couple of weeks."

"Which was?"

Even though I'd already said it to him in my hysterical rant, I was scared of telling Edward about my growing feelings for him. But I also knew that I could no longer hold anything back. "I'd been uncertain about how I was feeling… about you. I'd …" I paused for a moment and swallowed down my nervousness. "I had been wondering if my feelings for you were some inherent, programmed reaction to being single and pregnant or if it was actually because of you." I sighed and focused my eyes more intently on the huge window across the room from us. "I'm not saying this right. I just wondered where my feelings for you were coming from. I figured if it was just an underlying desire to have a man around to take care of me or help me, then Mike's proposition would've been more appealing. But it wasn't. You came into the equation within the first few seconds of even thinking about it, and I knew immediately…."

"You knew what, Bella?" he prompted when my words trailed off.

Another breath and I forced myself to say the one thing I'd been trying to avoid even thinking about but was getting harder and harder to ignore. "I knew that I cared for you far too much to even consider trying to be with anyone else."

He didn't say anything and after a long beat, I angled my head back so that I could see his face. Noticing my movement, he looked down at me and smiled. "I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that," he said. "Because I am falling in love with you, Bella Swan."

A stunned silence fell over me before a happy grin broke out on my face, too. The air was lighter, and I felt like I could finally breathe again. I relaxed back against him and felt him kiss my temple. His words from before, how this was how relationships worked, ran through my head, and my heart stuttered.

"You didn't answer my other question," he said a bit later.

So, I told him about my conversation with Mike the other night, about his version of events and his interpretation of his father's actions. Edward scoffed when I told him that Mike had been sent an engagement ring for Christmas.

"You can fight it," he said when I'd finally finished telling him all the finer details of both my talk with Mike and the happenings at work.

I nodded. I knew that, but was it really worth it? I didn't voice the fact that fighting it would entail getting a lawyer involved, and I wasn't keen on that idea—partly because I was the sort of person who liked to fight her own battles and partly because I didn't want to make things any messier than they already were.

"I need you to be honest with me. How badly do you want to keep your position?"

"I don't have much choice in the matter."

He gently tilted my head up towards him. "Yes, you really do. Do you want to work after he's born?"

I thought about that for a moment. It wasn't something I'd ever considered. Did I really have a choice in the matter? What would I do if I didn't work? I had some money saved, but not enough to get me through anything more than a few months. If I truly had a choice, I knew I didn't want to stay home and idle forever. I wanted to work. I enjoyed it, and I liked my independence. But I also knew how much I liked the idea of staying home with my baby. Not forever, but maybe for a couple of months. I had seen how tired Tanya was, even several weeks after her baby's birth, and her warning at Christmas rang clearly through my head. "Bella, even an easy-to-care-for baby is a huge undertaking."

"I don't want to sit around doing nothing."

"You wouldn't be. I'm not saying that you should consider quitting your job and never going back. I'm saying that if you want to take a few months off and get used to the changes, then you can do that."

I shook my head. "It's just not feasible right now. I have my apart—"

"Bella," he sighed in frustration, "you're not hearing me. If you didn't have to worry about work or money or apartments or anything else, would you want to stay home?"

"Well, yeah, I suppose. For a little bit, anyway."

"How long?"

"What?"

"How long would you want to stay home?"

"I don't know. Six months maybe? But really, that's all moot. I have money set aside for about three months. I could stretch it out longer if I'm careful."

"Move in here," he said simply.

My entire body stiffened at his words. He said it so casually. I couldn't help but be taken aback by his words. Sure, I thought with a snort, I'm the sort of woman who just moves in with any random guy. My heart began to pound faster in my chest. I shuddered slightly and moved to sit up and gain some space from him, but he wrapped his arms around me tighter and held me in place.

"Bella, hear me out, please."

I took a breath, and as I did, his grasp loosened slightly.

"Will you listen without getting into a panic now?"

Hearing him out was the least I could do. I would just spend the time carefully planning my arguments because his idea…. There was no way we were ready for that. "Okay."

The fingers of Edward's right hand began to lightly trace designs on my stomach as he mulled over his words. "I was trying to wait until I thought you were ready, but…. I don't want to push you into anything that you're not ready for—anything that we're not ready for. It's just… I don't like the thought of you being even just a few blocks away while I'm here. I want to be there for everything, from the late night feedings to his first smile. I don't want to miss anything because we can't figure our shit out. I don't know what it would mean for us either." I angled my head towards him again, and he ran his fingers through his hair; I appreciated that he was just as flustered and nervous by this as I was. "I'm sure that I could easily start to campout on your couch, but I have a feeling that neither one of us would be getting much sleep that way." He took a shaky breath. "I'm not asking you to sleep with me or anything. You can have the spare bedroom—it's right next to the nursery. And this way you can cancel the painters Alice hired for next week, and you won't have to worry about anything else," he rambled.

I couldn't help but crack a small grin at his apparent anxiety. But as I thought about it, his words slowly began to sink into my mind, and I found myself considering what he'd said far more seriously than I'd thought I would. The one thing that struck me the most was his insistence that he wanted to be present for everything, whether it was minor or a milestone.

But I also thought about what he'd said not long before, too. Edward had said that he was falling in love with me, just as I'd felt myself falling for him. I couldn't move in with him. Not with those sorts of confessions dangling between us. Because, more than anything else, what was scaring me was how much I wanted to.

"I can't, Edward," I finally forced myself to say, sitting myself up so I could turn and face him better. "I can't allow you to pay my way. Not to mention there is Alice to consider. Oh, and my lease won't be up until July. There are already two empty places in my building—the likelihood that they'll be able to find someone else is slim."

He snorted. "You know, usually it's the man who is the commitment-phobe."

"What?" I was surprised by his accusation. Was that really my issue? I didn't think it was, but I couldn't deny that I felt almost as if I were warring with myself over what my heart wanted and what my brain was telling me to do.

"I told you, this is all at your pace. The last thing I want is to pressure you." His hand slipped from my stomach and into my hands.

"Fine. Let's say that is my issue. You can't tell me that you possibly think that it would be a good idea to move in with you before we've had a chance to get to know one another." I looked down at the floor as I was speaking, uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation.

"Hmm. Yeah. That probably means we shouldn't have sex until our third official date. Oh, wait, we already did that."

"Smart ass," I mumbled.

He squeezed my hand a bit tighter, and I looked back up to meet his gaze to see his eyes twinkling with mirth. I had to smile back. "Bella, this is as much for me as it is for you. Please, move in here."

"What about what I said? Those aren't trivial issues to me."

"Well, you were already going to be getting child support from me. Maybe we can consider that your room and board."

I started to protest, but he put his finger on my lips.

"I own the condo. It's not like I pay rent every month. If you and the baby aren't here, those rooms are just going to be sitting empty."

Try as I might, I couldn't find any objection there. And they are beautifully decorated rooms, I thought to myself. "What about Alice?"

"What about her? Have you spoken to her about her plans?"

"No. Not really. She just said that she'd be around as long as I needed her. And she's said how much more convenient it is being close to her boutique. I just figured she'd stay for another few months, at least."

"You do know that she would do just about anything for you," he said.

It struck me again how integrated into the Cullen family I was becoming. I liked the sense of security and warmth that came from that thought.

"Alice doesn't want me to tell you this, Bella. When she came home from Italy, well, I think she was hoping that we'd have settled all of this already, but when she found out we hadn't, she wanted to make sure you had a choice."

"What are you talking about?"

"Alice and Jasper got married."

"What?" I asked in shock.

"They eloped… didn't tell any of us until they came home. I guess they were married in Florence—"

"At a private villa," I finished as I remembered the dreams I'd had the night that Alice had returned.

"She told you?" he asked, confused.

"I thought I dreamt it, so I can only guess that she was still talking." I sighed. "I should've known."

Edward shook his head. "She might've told you, but I'm sure she knew you were sleeping. She didn't want you to feel like you were abandoned."

"So, what? She was just going to stay with me until I told her I didn't need her anymore?" I was growing irritated now.

"Don't be mad at her."

I narrowed my eyes at him. But, in the end, I knew he was right. Really, all Alice had been trying to do was help. Granted, there were probably better ways for her to do it, but she'd been trying to be supportive. Edward gently pulled me back so I was resting against him again, and I slowly felt myself relax.

"And what, pray tell, is your simple solution regarding the issue of my lease?"

"There are two options, really. One, you can just pay off the remainder of the rent. Since you won't be paying to be live here—"

"I can't afford to do that for very long. You said that one of the reasons for moving in here would be so that I didn't have to work for a while," I interrupted.

"You didn't let me finish. I really do think that you have a discrimination suit on your hands and, at the very least, if you lose your job, then you should be able to get some monetary settlement out of the deal. You could use that." I opened my mouth to contest his words, but Edward continued on, "Or, two, Alice and Jasper can take over the lease. I happen to know for a fact that he rents his apartment on a month-to-month basis, and he wants to move into something a bit larger. And, as you said, Alice likes being closer to her boutique."

"My apartment is larger?" I asked, doubtful.

Edward laughed. "Yes, it really is."

"And why wouldn't they just buy a place?" I glanced around the room. "Obviously money isn't an issue."

"It is and it isn't. Mom and Dad would let them have the money, but since Alice went off on her own in college, she's wanted to do most things on her own. And she doesn't gain control of her trust fund for another year."

I didn't even pretend to understand how all of that worked, so I just nodded my head in agreement.

I stared at the ceiling a bit longer after that, allowing my imagination to takeover so that I was seeing shapes and designs in the texture. I was still considering Edward's solution, and I had to admit, it made sense. And, just as before, I knew that I wanted to take him up on his offer. I wanted my child to have two parents who were around and available whenever he needed them. I wanted to have someone else around in the middle of the night when I was running on twenty minutes of sleep and on the verge of insanity. Edward was offering me everything I'd ever wanted. But did getting my happily ever after mean that he saw me as nothing more than a damsel in distress, someone who was dependent on him and he had no choice but to coddle and care for? Because, even though I wanted to go riding off happily into the sunset, I wanted to be on my own horse.

"If Alice and Jasper will take the apartment…." I sighed. "There would have to be ground rules."

"What? Like no walking around the house naked?"

I snorted. The idea of walking around the house naked with my breasts already bursting out of my bra, and the flab that was sure to be on my stomach after having the baby was enough to make me think that I wouldn't want my body to be seen by anyone for quite some time. "And no leaving dirty socks on the floor," I added. Then I took a breath. "And I would have to pay you rent."

I could almost swear I heard Edward grumbling, and I could definitely feel it. Words like "ridiculous" and "stubborn," made their way to my ears.

"Fine," he said at last. "If that's the way you're going to be." He shifted on the couch, and one of his hands reached underneath me. I was surprised as his hand touched my backside, and I tried to shift out of his way, but moments later his hand was in front of my face holding a folded piece of paper. "Here," he said.

Confused, I took it from him and unfolded it. The minute I recognized it for what it was, I swallowed down my burgeoning nerves.

"If you're going to be bullheaded about it, this will cover your first three months."

My hands were holding the check I'd put in his Christmas card to cover the cost of the items he'd bought for the baby. I squeezed my eyes shut and didn't even flinch when I felt him snatch the check back out of my hands.

"I couldn't believe you actually did that," he said into my ear several minutes later.

"You shouldn't have to buy things for me. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

"Has it ever once occurred to you that I want to provide things for my son? Not everything is about you, Bella. No one thinks that you're incapable. In fact, my family is amazed by absolutely everything about you. Or haven't you noticed?" One of his hands smoothed my hair, almost instantly calming me.

"And if I move in here, what does that mean for us?"

"Whatever you want it to. I promised that I wasn't going to pressure you."

"But you said that you were falling in love with me."

"And before that, you said that you cared deeply for me."

That was true, but I hadn't said the "L" word. I didn't even think that I could. Not for a long time. Edward was right in his assessment of me—I was a commitment-phobe. Because I knew that even though I hadn't known him for very long or under the best of circumstances, the feelings I was developing for Edward were unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. Even with the other long-term relationships I'd had before, nothing could quite compare to what I felt when Edward was holding me.

When I didn't respond, Edward said, "I think we'll both have our hands full with the baby to worry too much about anything else for a while."

I nodded but couldn't help feeling saddened at hearing his words. Why did all of it have to be so confusing? When I took a deep breath in an attempt to tap down the emotions, I noticed how shaky my breathing was.

"I know it's been a long day. It's okay, Bella. We'll figure it out. I promise. We don't have to decide anything today," Edward then said into my ear.

Somehow I managed to utter a soft, "Okay."

"Okay," he repeated in a reassuring tone.

I shook my head. "No. I mean, okay, I'll move in here."

And despite the butterflies that were currently fluttering my stomach at a pace to outmatch my currently squirming baby, I finally felt as if I'd made the right choice and that things were finally on the right track. We were all going to be all right.

All of us.


A/N: Sorry about the delay. I've been swamped with family and work. I'm hoping this summer will see things lightening up, though. :)

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