Chapter 30 (Alternative Ending)
Three years ago, I imprinted on Edward Cullen.
Today, I was marrying Edward Cullen.
Alice fussed around me, straightening my veil. She had designed the dress that I was now wearing, a very simple white dress. Without me even having to ask, she'd designed the perfect dress, no poofy bits, no massive skirts, nothing that would get in my way. Just a simple dress. Charlie beamed at me, looking handsome in his tuxedo. Rosalie and baby Henry sat in a chair, watching me with big smiles. Henry, two and a half now, squealed excitedly at nothing in particular and I smiled at him.
"What's up, Henry?"
"Ba ba." He tried to talk around his thumb.
"Tell me about it." I said seriously and Rosalie rolled her eyes, pulling Henry's thumb out of his mouth.
"Bella, it's time." Esme's head appeared around the door and I nodded. Alice and Rosalie moved ahead, ready to enter before me, Henry taking the lead. Charlie took my arm and kissed my forehead.
"Yeah." I breathed and he smiled.
"This is all I ever wanted for you, Bella. Just to be happy, whichever way you chose to be."
I loved my dad.
The wedding was brief. Edward was handsome and I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time. Jasper and Emmett were the best men, along with little Henry, who spent most of the ceremony playing with toy trucks.
The reception was small. There weren't a lot of people to invite really, our families and a few close friends. Angela and Ben came, Angela now sporting her own pregnant stomach. I spent the evening with the most important people in my life and the night with Edward.
I couldn't ask for more.
Five years ago, I imprinted on Edward Cullen.
Two months ago, Edward and I qualified to become foster parents. Although both of us had reserved the right to change our minds about having children, neither of us had. A selfish part of me didn't want to pass on the gene but an even more selfish part of me wanted to have children in our home.
Today, a Thursday in April, we were meeting two children that were going to be living with us.
I'd read and reread their files a million times, but I found myself glancing over them as Edward drove us to the office of the social worker handling their case.
Katrina Nettle, 15 years old, potential flight risk. Low attendance for school, had spent most of her life so far either in foster homes or being sent back to her mother, a drug-user who had overdosed 18 months previously.
Sasha Nettle, 4 years old. Not yet started school, had been taken from her mother upon birth, as said mother had been too high to realise that she'd been giving birth in the first place. They had attempted to keep mother and child together, but most of these attempts had been unsuccessful.
Reading the files made me so grateful for Edward, a constant in my life.
The reason that the social worker, Tanya, had called us was that very few people were willing to take Katrina. Sasha, an adorable young child, had plenty of offers, but Tanya wanted the girls together. She was convinced that if they were homed together, Katrina might not run away.
Since I had read the file, it had taken me all of thirty seconds to tell Edward that we were bringing them home.
"We have room for two. They need to stay together." We had moved out of the apartment shortly before the wedding and into a house a few streets away from Rosalie and Emmett. With five bedrooms and three bathrooms, we'd bought it with the intent of filling it, if not with our own children, than with foster children. Edward had simply smiled and told me that he'd already contacted Tanya.
We parked outside Tanya's office and Edward looked across at me with a smile.
"Yes." I was certain. This was what was right for us.
We met the girls in the 'family room'. There was a small play area with some toys, a television blaring some obnoxious kids show and a couch and coffee table. Tanya led us in and I saw a small, blonde-haired girl sat cross-legged in front of the television. She wasn't watching it though, her hands fumbling with some crayons as she coloured in a picture that she had drawn. On the couch, her knees drawn up to her chest, was a teenage girl. Her colouring was vastly different from her little sisters. Her hair was almost ebony and her eyes were dark. My first thought was that she looked too thin. It made me want to run out to McDonalds and buy her one of everything on the menu.
"Katrina, Sasha," Tanya called their names, beaming, "This is Mr and Mrs Cullen, your new foster parents."
Sasha looked up at us curiously. Her eyes were startlingly blue but nervous. She clutched her crayons tightly as Edward and I sat down on the couch opposite the one that Tanya and Katrina were now occupying. Katrina's eyes flickered over us before going back to Sasha.
"I'll give you a few minutes to get acquainted. Would you like tea or coffee?" Edward and I both shook our heads and she vanished. I noticed Katrina's look of disgust in her direction. I could kind of understand it. Tanya was kind of over-cheerful. She annoyed me too.
"It's good to meet you both. We've been looking forward to it." Edward said warmly and Sasha looked up at him uncertainly. Katrina ignored him, watching her sister like a hawk. Edward looked at me before turning back to the girls.
"I guess there's a lot to talk about. Here isn't really the place to do it. Maybe we could get home and settled before we start any deep, meaningful conversations."
Katrina shrugged and Sasha looked at her crayons. It occurred to me that this might have been the first time she'd ever been able to play with crayons. I moved past Edward and sat on the floor near her, taking a spare crayon and a piece of paper. Sasha watched curiously as I drew a (poor) cat. I wasn't particularly artistic and the cat had some of a teapot shape to it.
"Do you like my cat?" I asked Sasha and she smiled but didn't say anything, "It's not very good. I can't draw. Edward can though. Is drawing your favourite thing?"
Sasha nodded, squeezing the crayons tightly. I pointed at them.
"Edward and I bought some crayons for your new bedroom. We didn't know what toys you wanted, so we bought some different things. But you can keep your old toys too, if you want."
"She doesn't have any toys." Katrina's voice was low and quiet. I looked over at her and nodded.
"Then Sasha will have to help me with the crayons we have at home."
Sasha looked thoughtful and then nodded before pulling my cat over to her and colouring over it.
The car ride home was silent for the most part. The radio was on, but turned down low so that if either girl wanted to talk to us, they could.
When the girls came inside the house, Sasha being carried in Katrina's arms, they looked even smaller than before. Frail. Fragile. There was a single backpack beside them that held all of their things.
That backpack made me so angry. They should have had more than that. Katrina was fifteen years old, she should have so many things.
"Bella, why don't you take the girls up to their rooms while I get some dinner?" Edward suggested, "We were going to order in a pizza. Normally we cook, but we thought tonight might require comfort food."
"Any particular toppings?" Edward asked.
"Pepperoni." Katrina said, "Sasha just likes plain cheese."
I led the girls upstairs. At the top of the stairs, I turned right. There were two bedrooms next to each other and opposite, one large guestroom and a small study. The two bedrooms were for the girls. The first was Sasha's, decorated in buttercup yellow. There was a low bed and shelves filled with books. There was a toy chest and a little vanity with a mirror. A stack of colouring books and crayons were on it. Sasha looked at the room blankly and Katrina took the lead, carrying her over to the bed.
"This is your new bedroom, Sash. Isn't it pretty?"
Sasha nodded, her eyes flickering from one item to the next, overloaded. Katrina looked at me.
"She wets the bed."
"There's plastic on it."
"She usually wakes up just after six."
"Edward runs in the mornings, he'll be up."
"She hardly talks."
I wondered what Katrina's game was. Was she trying to her and her sister out of here? It made me wonder about the state of her previous foster homes. It seemed a little like she was testing my reactions.
Sasha didn't seem to understand that this was hers, refusing to touch anything. Eventually Katrina leaned over and picked up a small fluffy toy dog. Sasha patted it before gathering it into her arms, her thumb in her mouth.
"Would you like to see your room?" I asked and Katrina shrugged. Sasha walked beside us, her arms still around the dog.
Katrina's room was decorated in varying shades of purple. It was almost the mirror image of Sasha's, only with a larger desk and fewer toys. The main difference was the empty bookshelves.
"I didn't want to buy you books. You should choose them for yourself." I explained. Sasha was clambering onto Katrina's bed but Katrina stood by the desk, looking uncertain.
"I'm not much of a reader." She said quietly. "I mean… I can read… a little."
Oh. I nodded.
"I'll find out what we can do about that."
"I'm not stupid." Katrina spat, "I know a lot of stuff."
"We'll talk later, Katrina."
"We'll talk later, Kate." I said, looking at Sasha, who was listening intently.
We went back downstairs. Edward was in the kitchen, whistling to himself and Sasha's eyes widened at the noise. Edward smiled at her.
"Did you like your room? I see you found your dog."
Sasha clutched the toy to her chest, almost afraid that someone was going to take it away from her. Edward led us into the sitting room and pointed to the couch.
"Why don't you and your dog sit over here and we'll find something to watch? I bought this DVD but Bella won't watch it with me." He held up Finding Nemo and Sasha smiled.
An hour later, we were all watching Marlin hunt for his son, while eating pizza.
Kate helped Edward put Sasha to bed while I loaded the dishwasher. When they came back downstairs, Kate looked at me.
"If she's not in her bed in the morning, she'll be in mine. She gets scared in the middle of the night."
"No problem." I said, "Do you want a drink?"
We sat down at the large kitchen table and Kate fixed her eyes on her glass of soda. Edward's knee pressed against mine under the table before he spoke to Katrina.
"Obviously Bella and I were given your file, but that doesn't really tell us much."
"What do you want to know?" Her tone was bored but her eyes flicked uncertainly between us before returning to her drink.
"School. Your attendance is low at the moment."
"That's going to have to change. I'd like to bring in a tutor to assess you first." Edward said and Kate looked startled.
"Why? I'm not stupid!"
"I don't think you are. I think you've got some big gaps in your education though. Once we know what they are, we can enrol you in school and be sure that you're not going to fall through the cracks." Edward said simply, "Your education is important."
Kate did not look convinced and gave another shrug. Edward continued.
"What do you like to do for fun?"
"Nothing. I've spent the last four years of my life trying to feed my sister and everything before that trying to feed myself." Kate said stonily. I refused to let myself become annoyed by her tone.
"You don't need to do that anymore. If there's anything you'd like to do, just ask and we'll see if it's possible." I said.
"You'll receive allowance as well. Forty dollars a week. The same amount will be put into savings accounts for yourself and Sasha for you to access when you turn eighteen. You'll be expected to buy anything you want out of your allowance but Bella will take both of you shopping to fill your wardrobes."
Alice would probably come too. And Rosalie.
"Other than that, the only thing Bella and I ask is that you follow basic house rules." Edward said calmly, "Let us know if you're going out, who with and when you'll be back. If you use something, put it away. And if you want to leave our home, for whatever reason, talk to us about it first."
Kate stared at him and Edward slid a cell phone across the table to her.
"Both of our numbers are in that, as well as the house line. There's also the number for my parent's house and for our friends, Rosalie and Emmett, who you'll probably meet in the next couple of days. They live two streets over. And here," He gave her a key, "is a key to the front door. This isn't a prison, Kate, it's your home."
"How do you know that I won't just steal all your shit and run?"
"There wouldn't be much point. You couldn't take Sasha with you and stay on the streets. You'd end up back in the system at some point and I know that you've fought for a long time to be homed with your sister." Edward said frankly. "If there's anything that you genuinely need enough that you'd need to sell our things, you'd just need to ask for it and if it was acceptable, Bella and I would try to find our way to providing it for you anyway."
Kate stared at us and it was plain that she didn't believe us. Edward smiled warmly, wrapping his fingers around mine on the table.
"Why don't we spend tomorrow settling in here and then you and Bella could go shopping on Saturday? You'll need some clothes and shoes, I imagine. And maybe a laptop for when you start school."
Kate nodded and then excused herself, heading upstairs. Edward and I moved to the couch, where I lay with my head in his lap. We were both exhausted, emotionally and physically. Edward played with my hair.
"How are you feeling?" He asked and I gave a soft sigh.
"Tired. But… hopeful, I guess."
"Me too. Hopeful."
We went upstairs and Edward went into the bathroom. I threw my clothes in the hamper and went to the drawer, pulling out some pyjamas. I turned back to the bed when Edward reappeared. He scanned my body, only wearing my bra and panties now and he smiled. I arched an eyebrow at him.
"Really? I thought you were tired."
"Not that tired."
He pulled me onto the bed and I lost myself in hard kisses and soft hands.
Afterwards, I lay with my head on Edward's chest, listening to the beat of his heart and feeling the happy thrum of the imprint.
"This is going to be hard work." He mused, playing with my hair.
"Harder than having a baby?" I asked. Edward gave a sigh, my head rising and falling with his chest.
"I don't know."
"Would you rather have a baby?" My voice was quiet and Edward's arms tightened around me.
"No. I'm glad we brought them here. They need this and so do we. But… I want you to have my baby one day."
We'd here'd and there'd on the subject for a long time before deciding to become foster parents. Edward had never given me a definitive answer. Now it seemed like he had one. I twisted around so that I could see his face.
"One day." I promised him, "Not yet, it wouldn't be fair. But one day."
Six months ago, Edward and I fostered Kate and Sasha.
Today, Sasha started kindergarten.
I'd given Kate permission to miss her first class so that she could come with us. I'd reduced my hours at the publishing house since becoming a foster parent and Edward spent more time working from home. Now Edward would be returning to the office full time.
Sasha's hand was wrapped around my leg as we stood in the kindergarten classroom. She had started talking more since coming to our home, but was still very quiet. There was only one person that she really opened up to.
She turned and beamed as Henry rushed in, Rosalie and Emmett behind him. Immediately the two children began to chatter and exploring the classroom with the other children. Rosalie smiled at the three of us. She was pregnant again and desperate for a girl this time.
"How was Sasha this morning?"
"Nervous, I think. She brought Pup." The originally named dog was clutched in Sasha's hand as she and Henry examined the rows of crayons on the tables.
"Henry barely slept, he was so excited." Emmett said as more parents and children came into the classroom.
The parents didn't stay long. Once the children had settled down, we slipped out. Kate was chewing the cuff of her sweater and I tapped her shoulder.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. Just weird… I guess I still think of her as a toddler, not as being old enough to start school." She admitted and I nodded.
Edward left us outside the school, rushing away to get to a meeting and with the promise that he would pick up Chinese food for dinner. I turned to Kate.
"Want to grab some coffee? You don't have to be at school for a little while yet."
We found a Starbucks near her school. On the advice of her tutor, Siobhan, Kate had been home-schooled for four weeks prior to starting school. Her reading level had been horrifically low, practically grade school level but Kate had been right about one thing – she was smart. She soaked up knowledge easily and since starting at school, she'd picked things up right along with her peers. She had had to work a lot harder because she'd missed so many basic things, but every time she brought home her work, I could feel the pride in my chest.
I sipped my coffee as Kate told me about her favourite classes. She had just started as a sophomore in high school and I asked her if she was thinking about college yet.
"I don't know," She mused, "It's really expensive. I don't even know what I'd want to do yet."
"You could shadow each of us in our jobs, if you wanted. See what happens in different professions on a day to day basis."
"I definitely don't want to be an editor or an architect." Kate grinned, "But maybe Rosalie would let me?"
"She would. It's worth asking."
We talked a little longer before Kate looked at me uncertainly.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Sure." I said, checking the time on my phone.
"Can you and Edward not have kids?" Her question surprised me and I shook my head.
"We can. But… what I'm telling you isn't something to spread around, OK?"
"OK." She leaned forward, curiosity etched into her face. I took a deep breath.
"Edward and I both have the imprinting gene. We imprinted on each other. Because we're both carriers, it's a certainty that if we have children, they will be imprinters too."
"But isn't imprinting, like, the best thing ever? I mean, you and Edward are totally loved up. And kids with the imprint gene are supposed to be super-healthy and attractive and smart, right?" Kate pointed out and I laughed.
"Well, yeah, we are. But we had a lot of problems in the beginning, all stemming from the imprint. Some of it was self-inflicted, some of it wasn't. Edward and I know that we want to have children at some point."
"Oh." Kate's guard went up and I shook my head.
"We'd never even consider asking you and Sasha to be rehomed. And it's definitely not that I don't want Edward's children. I used to think that the imprint was everything and that it defined who I was but I know better now. You can only make an imprint work if you want it to."
"So why not have your genetic-super-babies? Why bother with foster kids in the first place?" Kate demanded. This seemed to have been weighing heavily on her mind.
"Did you know that Esme isn't Edward's birthmother? But you've seen how much she loves him. A child doesn't have to come out of you for you to love it. I don't know… part of me didn't see the point of bringing another child into the world when there are others that need homes, ones like Edward who didn't have both parents."
I paused, trying to collect my thoughts in a way that I could explain to her.
"The imprint… it brought me to Edward. And I'm so glad that it did. And I know that I will want to have his baby one day, whatever my feelings about carrying on the gene. I guess I understand how my dad felt now, watching me grow up with the gene, watching the mistakes that I made with the imprint. It's pretty selfish, but I think I'm just defending myself against the heartache for a little while longer."
"I guess I'm selfish too because I'm glad you did." Kate said quietly and I felt a warmth in the pit of my stomach.
Kate had never been rude or disrespectful to Edward or I. Her manners were good and she kept to the house rules. But before now, she had never showed any sign of getting close to us. Maybe it was because she had been bounced around so much before, it had taken her a while to settle in to life with us.
I dropped her off at school and as she said goodbye, she offered me a smile. I returned it, feeling genuine happiness in my chest.
Seven years ago, I imprinted on Edward Cullen.
Today, our daughter graduated from high school.
Sasha, now six years old, wriggled on my lap excitedly.
"Momma, when is it Kate's turn?" She whispered loudly and I smiled, kissing her head.
"Pretty soon. Make sure that you cheer nice and loud, OK?"
Edward's hand found mine and squeezed, smiling over at me.
As Kate walked across the stage, the cheering from our section drew attention. Emmett and Esme whooped loudly, Henry and Sasha cheering and waving their hands in the air. Even from our distant seats, I saw Kate's face go red as she hurried down the steps and back to her seat.
We found her afterwards and took turns hugging her, Emmett swinging her around.
"We knew our girl would make it." He grinned at Edward and I, "Check her out! Nurse Cullen is on her way."
"I think you actually have to complete the course before you can call yourself nurse." Kate told him dryly. She was going to Seattle University to become a nurse. After shadowing both Carlisle and Rosalie in hospital settings, she'd decided that it was the right route for her.
Rosalie, with one-and-a-half year old Vera on her hip, was scolding Henry and Sasha for messing up their clothing and Kate scooped her sister up.
"You'll come over tonight for dinner?" Edward asked the family and they all nodded. We'd wanted to take Kate out to celebrate but she'd asked for a family night in instead. Maybe missing out on those growing up made her want them more now.
Kate and I started preparing dinner as soon as we got in. Charlie (who had come for graduation too) and Sasha played in the living room while Edward made a massive vat of chilli con carne. A song began to play on the radio and Edward caught me by the hand, dancing us around the kitchen. I rolled my eyes, smiling as he dipped me.
"Edward, there's so much to do." I protested weakly and Kate laughed.
"You two are such cheeseballs."
"It's all him, kid, don't pin this on me." I objected.
"You encourage it by laughing at his jokes."
"Don't start on the jokes, young lady. They're comedy gold." Edward waggled a finger at her, before releasing me and seizing Kate and dancing with her instead.
Sasha appeared in the doorway and giggled delightedly, running towards Edward.
"My turn, Daddy!"
"Your wish is my command." She hopped onto his toes and I sat on a kitchen bar stool, watching as Kate laughed at their antics.
The tug in my chest buzzed with happiness and Edward looked up as the same emotion flooded his chest. He smiled and I smiled back. As he passed Sasha on to Kate, who waltzed her around the kitchen, he crossed to me, pulling me against his chest. I felt the hum of the imprint and closed my eyes, inhaling his familiar scent and wondering how I had possibly come all this way. From a cynical, rather bitter woman who had no faith in love to this – a family, two beautiful daughters, the best possible husband.
I think it came down to choices.
I had faced a lot of choices. I had chosen Edward. I had chosen Kate and Sasha. I had chosen to follow my imprint. Three months ago, I had chosen to stop taking my pill. Tonight I would choose to tell Edward that I had missed my last two periods.
It came down to choices and I had made the right ones, even when it took me a little while to make them.
A/N: So, this was the first ending that I wrote, when I was set on Edward and Bella fostering/adopting rather than having their own kid. I finished it and then read it back and it felt like the start to a different story altogether instead of a conclusion, so I wrote the ending that is in the story now.