Pieces of this were originally intended to be the epilogue. And then I changed my mind, told Stratan to hold off beta'ing it, and wrote the BPOV epi. Eventually, I added to it, and it became an extremely fluffy outtake instead. Because sometimes, we just need some fluff in our lives.
It takes place six years after chapter 25 takes place.
"Stop it, baby." Bella giggled and pushed at my chest. "We have to get up. The kids are supposed to be going to the church with your sister later."
"Five minutes," I murmured. I kissed the inside of her thigh, hands crept up under the oversized t-shirt she'd worn to bed to the swell of her stomach. "I just need five minutes with ya."
"I believe that's what got us in our current predicament," she quipped. "I mean, I know I always joked about having a lot of kids, but being due right after Grace's first birthday wasn't exactly what I had in mind."
"Yeah, well... I make it count," I murmured playfully against her skin.
"Edward," she sighed, fisting the sheets when I put my mouth on her. She flexed, groaned. "God... No. Inside me... Please. Before someone gets up."
On cue, our daughter's cry lit up the baby monitor on the bedside table.
When Grace didn't stir anymore, Bella clawed at my arms, tried to pull me up, but that belly of hers made it nearly impossible.
Chuckling, I broke away and lifted myself up. Hovering, watching.
"Take off your shirt," I instructed lowly.
She wiggled beneath me, puffing out an exasperated breath when she could only get the shirt so far.
"Help. He's huge. I can't..."
More laughter from me. I gently lifted the shirt up over her head, came down, holding myself up with one hand while tossing it to the floor.
And simply stared.
I shook my head, unable to explain the way she looked beneath me, hair messy and splayed out on the pillow; the look in her eyes.
The way I felt in quiet of the house in the Valley, when the kids were asleep and it was just the two of us.
She inhaled deeply, settling her hands over the baby.
My hand came up over hers, momentarily distracted. "We still haven't come up with a name for him."
A knock sounded at the door, followed by a whining, "Mama? Why's the door locked?"
"That's why we haven't. They don't give us time to think about it," she laughed. She rolled away, clambered out of the king-sized with a much needed boost from me. "Coming, Wy! Give me a sec."
She threw on her shirt and underwear, dug out a pair of shorts from the dresser drawer. Wyatt knocked again, more demanding this time, and she slanted a look at me.
"Your son," she said with a shake of her head, and hurried to open the door.
I watched my wife crouch down to our five year old's level, heart bursting with how perfect she was as a mother.
"My tummy hurts."
"It does?" Bella reached up to smooth his dark hair down. "Come here."
Using the door molding to brace herself, she picked him up, and I nearly shot off the bed to stop her.
"Damn it, Iz," I muttered, gearing up to fight her for him.
She was too stubborn for her own good sometimes.
Wyatt blinked sleepy green eyes over her shoulder at me. He smiled, revealing the dimple on his left cheek.
I went over to them and held out my arms. "Let me hold ya, bub. Mama needs to rest."
"Mama's fine," Bella argued.
But surprisingly, she gave him up anyway.
He curled up against me, still warm from the bed. "Ya say your tummy hurts?"
There was a thump against the wall, and I could see Annie peering just outside the door at us, curly, dark red hair wild atop her head.
"Think maybe ya need to eat a little somethin'?"
He nodded again.
Annie realized she'd been spotted and suddenly came charging through the door.
Keeping my grip on Wyatt, I scooped her up with my other arm and pressed a kiss to her nose, making her giggle happily.
"Hey, there, sunshine. Ya sleep okay?"
Wyatt made an annoyed sound and shoved at her.
"Annie touched me," he complained.
"She's three. How much can she really do to you?"
"I don't like it."
I rolled my eyes and took them down to the kitchen, sneaking a glance at Bella on our way by. She had her hand on her stomach pushing down, trying to get the baby out of from under her ribs again. Something happened and she sucked in a breath.
"Better pack a bag when we get back home," I called out knowingly. No way was she making it to her due date. Not when she was already trying to make space in her body for things like air.
"He's not coming yet," she yelled back. "I've got three more weeks left!"
The warble in her voice said she thought otherwise.
I sat the kids down on a barstool each and handed them a toy so I could fix their breakfast.
Cereal and milk poured, I passed their little, plastic bowls off to them. I stuck a spoon down into the mixture and asked, "Seen sis yet?"
"No," they answered in unison.
"Ella Marie!" I shouted.
I groaned and ran my hands through my hair when I saw the time. "Don't make a mess," I warned before taking off upstairs to Ella's room.
I expected to find her still in bed, covers up over her head like they usually were when she had to get up early. Instead, I found her fully dressed, hair back in the braid Bella'd taught her to do a few weeks ago, in the center of the bright pink rug on her floor. Her legs were crossed over one another, and she stared down at the sleeve of her purple hoodie, picking at a loose thread.
"You feelin' alright? Wy's sayin' his stomach hurts..."
"I'm okay." But when she lifted her head to look at me, she started to cry.
I was down on the floor before I could think about it, hands resting on skinny legs.
"I-" She swiped at a tear and took a shaky breath. "Do I have to go to this?"
"Why wouldn't ya? You've always loved spendin' so much time with your friends here."
She wouldn't answer me, not directly, and with her next words, my heart found its way to my throat.
"Daddy, do you think Bella would still want to be my mom?" she rushed out. "The new kids here... They say..."
This was what I'd been waiting for, tried to plan the last six years for. Since we knew we were having Wyatt and had explained to Ella what adoption actually was.
A loud clatter in the kitchen interrupted us, followed by Bella's frustrated, "Wyatt Charles Masen! Why can't you leave anything alone?"
And then a, "Gracie, baby, don't eat that off the floor!"
I chuckled and cupped Ella's face in my hand. "You've already got her as your mama, El. You might not call her 'mommy', but she loves you like she loves your brothers and sisters."
Her eyes widened. "She does?"
I nodded. "Iz? Sweetheart? Can you c'mere for a sec?" I shouted, earning an odd look from my daughter. "And bring those papers in my desk with ya!"
I wiped away the rest of Ella's tears while we waited for Bella to join us. I could hear the front door open and close, the sounds of the other kids greeting Rosalie and Emmett happily drifting up to us.
Seemed my sister was early.
I glanced over my shoulder when Bella finally came into the room.
The look on her face tore at me.
"Your sister's…" She handed me the envelope, trembling some.
I took the papers out of it and passed them off to Ella, letting her read what they said.
"Daddy, Izzy's name's on here."
"It is," I murmured. Bella knelt down beside me, digging her fingers into my shoulder. I grabbed her and pulled her close, because I needed her for this. "Do you remember when we got married and we told ya that the only thing we were waitin' for was for you to be sure before Izzy adopted ya?"
"Kind of, yeah."
"Well, those papers are like the ones I signed when I got you."
Ella's eyes darted up to mine.
"It's a petition," I continued thickly, "that asks a judge to let Bella adopt you, too."
"If you want me to," Bella said quickly.
"We've had them drawn up-" I blew out a breath as I thought about it. "Oh, since Wy was a couple of months old, maybe? Some of the details might need to be changed, but..."
"So if you sign these, these mean you'd be my mom?" she asked Bella.
"Yes," Bella confirmed fervently.
Ella's bright, beaming smile was all it took for a sob of joy to come bubbling out of Bella's throat. "I want you to, Izzy."
Bella grabbed Ella up and held on tight. I couldn't hear what all Bella was saying to her, but I knew it was something she'd probably held onto for years, maybe even since the day we were married.
I stayed on the sidelines, letting her finally get her moment with our daughter.
There was a commotion out in the hall, followed by Rosalie's voice, and as Bella moved away from Ella, she glanced over at me, eyes wide and anxious.
No doubt my sister had just heard the entire thing.
"Ella, baby, why don't you go and get something to eat, huh?" Bella suggested.
"I'm not really-"
"Y'all are plannin' to do somethin' outside, I think. You should probably eat before ya go," I interjected.
She nodded and got up off of the floor, walking to the hall, and then stopping when she saw Rosalie standing there.
"Hi, Aunt Rosie!" she greeted brightly, obliviously.
"Hi, hon. Ready to go?"
"Daddy says I need to eat real quick," Ella answered.
I could barely see Rosalie smile at her. "Good idea. Hurry up, okay? We don't wanna be late."
Ella took off down the hall; Bella and I sat still on the floor.
"Well," Rosalie said, eyeing Bella as she came into the room, "think you're gonna be able to get back up?"
Bella gave Rosalie a dry look as she pushed on her stomach again. "With a crane, maybe," she grumbled. "These babies get bigger every time. At the rate this one's going, I'll literally be stuck in bed before the week's over."
"Maybe y'all should… I don't know," Rosalie smirked, "stop havin' so much sex?"
"I'm not talkin' about my sex life with my sister."
"I'm just sayin'," she teased. "This wouldn't be a problem if y'all weren't always on top of each other."
"We are not discussin' my sex life," I repeated.
"Oh, come on. It's not like we all don't know ya have one. It's pretty obvious. Just look at her."
She gave Bella a meaningful look.
"Are you implying I'm fat?" Bella questioned.
"I'm implying that, while ya look damned good for bein' on your fourth baby, you also look like you've got two in there."
Bella made a face and rubbed at the side of her stomach. "Feels like it, too."
"Maybe they missed one," Rosalie suggested playfully.
"If they did, I'll need one of you to shoot me in the face," Bella joked. "I'm already freaked out about having two babies in the house at one time as it is. I don't need a third."
"Ah, come on," I replied. "It won't be that bad."
"You… You don't get to say anything about this," she countered in annoyance. "You're not the one who's going to be home for the first few weeks trying to wrangle up Grace and make sure he's fed and changed and quiet during her naps and vice versa."
She stopped talking, chin trembling, when she caught sight of herself kneeling there in Ella's mirror.
"My stomach is going to look like an accordion, isn't it? I'm going to need a tummy tuck after he gets here."
"I-" I pressed my lips together so that I didn't get her even more upset.
Although, at this point, I probably should have been used to it already.
"Did ya need somethin'?" I asked Rosalie, trying to keep it light.
"Just thought we'd swing by early and spend some extra time with the kids while we can," was all she said.
Suddenly, it seemed like it was all she could do to keep it together.
She stared down at me, not replying, and I felt weary with the look in her eyes. Like the happy moment this should have been between the three of us had been completely ruined by a case of bad timing on my sister's part.
No one said anything for a moment, because no one really knew how to begin. Emmett shouted something at the kids, and they squealed in delight, just before he gave them instructions to clean up after themselves so their "poor mama" didn't have to when we all got back downstairs.
I reached out and took Bella's hand with a wink.
Maybe it was a good thing Uncle Emmett stopped by.
"What's goin' on up here?" Emmett asked as he found us sitting there on Ella's floor, his big arm coming up to bring Rosalie to him. Grace was snuggled up against his other side, peeking out at us from beneath her dark hair. "Hidin' from the rugrats downstairs?"
"Bella's finally adoptin' her," Rosalie said numbly, her eyes unfocused and cast at the floor.
The smile faded from Emmett's face as he gazed around the room.
"You okay, baby?"
But she wasn't. Any fool could see it.
"Rose?" Bella whispered hesitantly.
Rosalie blinked, her eyes glassy, and gave Bella a watery smile. "It's- You're so good at bein' someone's mama…"
Bella's hand tightened around mine, hopeful.
"It's exactly what I wanted her to have when I did this." She pulled in a deep, steadying breath. "So yeah. It sucks, but I'm okay. She's- I'm lucky I got y'all as family."
"Help me up," Bella abruptly murmured.
Confused by the change in subject, I only said, "What?"
"Help. Me. Up," she repeated.
I did as she told me to, giving her my arm and helping her get up off of the hard, wooden floor. She winced as she stood and put her hand to her back for just a second, and then had her arms around my sister, stifling her sobs with her shoulder.
While I sat there helplessly, seeing Emmett's panic rise with every minute that Rosalie cried.
Eventually, they broke apart when Rosalie let out a startled laugh.
I stood up, eyeing them cautiously.
"Your son just kicked me," she explained, and blotted at her eyes. "Do I have makeup all over my face now?"
Bella wiped a black streak away without a word.
"He doesn't like people crowdin' him," I told her.
"He's comin' into the wrong family, then."
I tilted my head to the side in concession.
"Alright," she breathed, glancing between the three of us, and I saw that she'd buried it down again. "We'd better get movin'. Mind if we take 'em all in Emmett's Tahoe?"
"Not at all. Need me to get them loaded up for you? They're kind of-"
"I'll get 'em together. You sit down."
Bella scowled at me.
"You're rubbin' your back and pushin' on him like crazy today," I elaborated. "I need ya to sit and relax before I have a heart attack wonderin' if we should've skipped comin' this year."
"There's nothing to worry about."
"Okay, fine. You win. I'll sit on the couch with my feet propped up until it's time to go tonight."
"There y'all are!" Esme exclaimed as she spotted us. She hurried across the church grounds to where I sat with Bella under the tent, bending over to kiss the top of Bella's head the moment she was beside us.
Bella's eyes closed, the makeshift, paper fan stopping mid-swing.
"How're y'all feelin'?"
"I had to take off my shoes," Bella said, pointing to her feet.
I rubbed at one of the angry, red marks her sandals had left behind, prompting Bella to let out a quiet sigh of contentment.
"Well, I see you're being takin' care of."
"It's his penance for doing this to me in the first place," Bella shot back with a grin.
Esme cackled. "Where're the others?"
"Jasper's got El," I answered, "Emmett's got Wyatt and Annie, and Alice is fawnin' over Grace."
"She wants a girl so bad she can't stand it."
"We've got three she can go ahead and pick from."
"I'd smack you for that but I'm too big to move that way anymore," Bella teased, closing her eyes again as I started massaging the arches of her feet.
"Aw, come on, sweetheart. You wouldn't wanna hurt me when I'm doing this."
Point made, Bella groaned when I pressed my thumbs into her skin even harder.
"Alright, you, get up. You're gettin' obscene."
Esme practically shoved me out of my chair and sat in my place, lifting Bella's feet up onto her lap and taking over the massage before I could argue.
"Get us some water, would ya, sugar? Your wife's lookin' a little peaked."
"And cookies?" Bella peered over at me pleadingly.
She thought about it for a second. "All of them."
"What?" I laughed.
"Just bring one of everything they've got. Please?" she replied sweetly.
"No wonder he's so big," Esme said on a snort.
"I won't eat them all… Probably."
"Don't lie to the woman, Iz."
She threw me a dirty look and ran her hand over her stomach. "How about you come back when you have my cookies?"
Taking the hint, I nodded, chuckling as I made my way over to where the snack table stood. I felt ridiculous taking so many cookies off of the platters, but given the fact that Bella and I nearly had a soccer team full of kids, no one paid me any mind.
I was back at her side before she realized it, handing over the cookies and frowning when I saw the intent expression on her face.
Esme gazed up at me, bright beaming smile on her face. "I'm gonna go see where Carlisle ran off to. Y'all call me in a bit, okay?"
"Call you? Why-?"
I stopped asking anything else when I realized she wasn't listening anymore.
"What was that?"
Bella quickly swallowed the bite of chocolate chip cookie she was working on. "Sit down."
I didn't move.
"Just," she sat the cookie and the plate aside and reached up for me, pulling at my hand when I put it in hers, "sit for a second."
When I was in the chair, she let go of my hand, rubbing at a particular spot on her stomach and exhaling sharply.
All at once, I knew what was going on.
"Here?" I nearly swore. "In the Valley without your doctor or-"
"Shh," she said, and laughed a little. "You must've jinxed it this morning."
Now, church standing before us or not, I did swear. "Son of a bitch. How far apart?"
"No idea. A good five minutes or so?"
"It's mostly in my back, like with Annie. He's just bouncing around a lot right now. I think he's tired of being so cramped in there."
I dragged my hands through my hair, and then moved them to hers over the baby.
Sure enough, he jerked beneath our touch.
"What'd ya wanna do?"
"We've got time to go home," she murmured, but when she looked around, I knew we weren't going back to Jacksonville. "I think with everyone here, though, it'd be stupid to make them all drive down there for it."
Practicality won out over the thrill of seeing him for the first time – naming him – soon.
"I'll find a car seat somewhere to get him back home with."
"Esme's already said she'd keep the kids at Rosie's with her…"
"He's gonna need somethin' to wear until y'all are feelin' up to the drive."
"Rose got us a few things. I forgot to show them to you this morning. We could use a pack of diapers, though."
I nodded once. "When do ya wanna leave?"
"Not until we have to," she answered, sitting quiet for a few moments.
When she spoke again, I finally knew exactly what she'd been feeling all this time.
Because this… having a daughter who'd only just turned a year old and welcoming a newborn…
It was a complete game changer for us.
"It might be the last time we have to ourselves for the next few months."
"He's beautiful, Bella," Alice gushed. "And so chubby."
I exchanged a look with Bella, watched her snuggled our newest son closer. She pressed a kiss to his dark head, and then slipped the pale blue cap back over it. Unsatisfied, she adjusted it, shifted him, and leaned back against the hospital bed with a wince.
I watched her closely, knowing she was probably hurting more than she let on. Her labor had sped up so quickly, by the time she was admitted into the hospital, it was too late for drugs. And the baby was bigger than we anticipated too, weighing in at over nine pounds, despite how early he was.
The obstetrician on call had told us after it was over that had one more week passed, Bella would have needed a c-section.
I thought back to how hard it was for her, and I broke out into a cold sweat all over again.
Yet, there she sat, all smiles and cuddles, like she hadn't just gone through hell.
"Need somethin' more, sug?"
At the sound of my voice, Grace reached up and tugged on my ear.
"Ow. No, Grace. Keep your hands to yourself."
She grinned widely, showing off those six teeth of hers, and gurgled out a, "Da-ey."
I kissed her cheek sloppily, her brown eyes crinkling as she flailed and giggled in my arms. "I have a feelin' someone's not gonna enjoy sharin' all the attention."
"Gee, I wonder why," Bella snarked. "You've spoiled her rotten."
"I'll have ya know, I've spoiled them all," I retorted. "This one's no different. Now, back to the meds. Need any more?"
She shook her head. "I'm fine."
Before I could push further, I felt a hand clasp my shoulder and glanced back to see Carlisle smiling at me. "Got a name for this little guy yet?"
"You should just name him Edward and get it over with," Rosalie said lightly.
Bella wrinkled her nose, and I knew she was thinking the same thing I was.
No way were we saddling him with my name.
"Or you could just stick with this whole cowboy theme you've got goin' on," Jasper joked.
"We do not have a cowboy theme," I replied, aiming a glare in his direction.
He grinned back at me. "Maybe not intentionally."
"Y'all are done now, aren't ya?" Alice asked, her eyes flickering between Bella and me. Her mouth dropped at our expressions, and she laughed. "Oh, my God. You're not!"
Bella finally piped up. "Four kids in six years, Alice. Pretty sure I'm done."
My sister smirked from her spot against the wall. "At least until my brother gets a hold of ya again, right?"
"Alright, that's enough," I said to her in annoyance. "Get out now. Go make sure the kids haven't tied your fiancé up to somethin'."
"Western style," Jasper laughed.
"And you, ya fucker, you take Grace. You still could use some more practice for when yours gets here." Passing off our daughter and her diaper bag, I ushered them toward the door and opened it. Alice spun around, impish smile curving her lips.
Judging from how baggy her shirt was today, she wasn't going to be able to move like that much longer.
"Try to name the poor kid while we're gone, would ya?"
Jasper and Rosalie snickered out in the hall; Carlisle shook his head and started toward the waiting room.
I slammed the door in their faces.
Bella's giggles were cut off with a gasp. "Oh. Wow. I seemed to have conveniently forgotten how much everything hurts afterward."
I chuckled and went to sit on the bed beside her. "I think it's probably gonna be worse this go around than before, after…"
"Yeah," she agreed. "This one was pretty rough."
The baby squirmed in Bella's arms for a moment, settling down when he'd finally found that perfect spot in the crook of her elbow. He looked exactly like our other three had pressed up against Bella like that.
"I'll make sure ya never have to go through it again, ya know."
"I..." She stared down at him and shook her head.
"Wait, ya want to?" I asked incredulously.
"No. No," she repeated firmly. "We don't have space for any more."
"Or the time."
"Exactly… Maybe in a few years, though?"
"You've spent the last eight months complainin' about havin' them so close together, and worried about how we were gonna handle 'em all… How the hell is it possible you're considerin' doin' this again already?"
"I'm kidding." A beat of time passed and with it, she scowled. "I think."
"There it is," I said lowly.
"I just… I don't want to do anything permanent."
I simply looked at her.
"I know," she groaned. "I'm being stupid."
And then I was laughing. "Nah. You're being exactly the person I fell in love with."
A grateful smile flickered across her face.
"Five's a good number, sweetheart."
We sat. Marveled at the little human sleeping in her arms.
"Cole," Bella whispered suddenly.
"Cole, Edward," she repeated.
"No, well... Now that you say it, yeah." She gazed up at me. "What do you think?"
"I think it fits." I ran a finger over his cheek, watching his mouth curl up on one side with the movement.
He'd have a dimple in his cheek just like me. Just like Wyatt.
"Welcome to the Masen family, Cole," Bella said softly.
I held them against me, pressed a kiss to her hair.
"Enjoy the peace while you still can."
"Whoa," I said, grabbing the collar of Wyatt's t-shirt so that he didn't take off at a dead sprint through the kitchen. "Sounds like you need to stay here, bub."
On cue, Cole's cry rang out.
"No buts. No tellin' what your mama's been dealin' with today. You and Annie go play in the livin' room for a bit. Ella? Homework."
Another cry, this one Grace's.
I muttered something inappropriate for little ears under my breath as they darted off into the living room.
Once gone, I quickly checked the mail, saw something that made me grin, and threw the rest of it down on the counter, save for that one, large manila envelope that would brighten Bella's day.
Then I was on the move, searching the house for the source of the cries I was hearing, finding that they were coming from what used to be the guest bedroom.
These days, however, it belonged to the kids. In a constant state of chaos, it was full of toys, DVDs, puzzles, Barbies, Legos – you name it – and never quite, even when Bella tried, as organized as the rest of the house.
So bad, we kept the door closed on it and didn't dare to speak of it.
Out of sight, out of mind.
I opened the door and found that it was mostly clean; meaning, Bella had taken the time to put everything back at some point during her day.
Which also meant she was feeling a lot better, given how run down and exhausted she'd been since Cole was born.
Grace tugged on Bella's jeans. Cole was being bounced on her shoulder. Her hair was pulled up at the top of her head in a messy bun, and she had an old South Carolina t-shirt of mine on.
She was murmuring against Cole's head, trying to get Grace to play with somethin' in her other hand.
For just a while, I stood there and watched her. Even stressed out, she was so good with them. Calm and patient. Kind and gentle.
Grace screamed, and Bella's calm demeanor slipped away. She let out an uncharacteristic sound of distress, and I shut the door behind me.
"You have any idea how pretty ya look today, Iz?"
She turned around, careful not to knock Grace over, and nearly burst into tears as I approached them.
"Oh, God. It's six already?"
"Yeah," I said softly, carefully moving Cole and his burpcloth from Bella's to my shoulder. His head bobbed a little, slate eyes found my face.
He smiled at me.
That was new.
I found myself grinning back at him. "Have a bad day?"
She let out a brittle laugh and bent over to pick Grace up off the floor, letting her put her head on her shoulder and swung her around soothingly.
Cole wailed into my ear.
"She's snotty," I pointed out.
"Guess who decided to get her molars the day Daddy went back to work?"
Surprising Bella with a vacation at home for the first few weeks after Cole's arrival hadn't really seemed necessary. The kids had been well behaved. Nothing had gone wrong.
So it was only fitting that the day I went back into the office that it all went to hell.
"Of course she did," I joked. "What's with Cole?"
"I honestly don't know."
I sighed and placed the envelope on the bookshelf beside us. "C'mere."
"Don't start, and just come here," I chuckled.
She didn't argue anymore, stepping over to me and letting me hold her and Grace against me.
"Da-ey," Grace whined.
"Hi, baby." With Bella still clinging tightly to me, I lifted my hand and moved Grace's hair out of her eyes. "You need a bath."
She grinned at me. "Ba."
"Yeah. Feel bad?"
Her lip trembled and she reached for me. I took her from Bella, making sure I had the two balanced in my arms before speaking again.
"How's pizza for dinner sound?"
She almost collapsed against me in relief. "Wonderful."
"And a bath for you, too?"
"I stink like spit up that bad, huh?"
I laughed and pressed a kiss at her temple. "No. But ya look like you need to relax, and you can take one now, so…"
"Oh, that's right. I can," she said, a faint smile flickering over her face.
"Got any milk pumped?"
"There's some in the freezer, yeah."
"Then get a glass of wine while you're at it."
"Have I mentioned how happy I am that you're home?"
I laughed again. "We got somethin' in the mail that might cheer ya up even more."
She leaned away from me, brows furrowed in confusion. "What?"
I glanced down and saw Cole's lids fluttering closed, so I moved away from Bella and nodded my head in the direction of where the papers sat.
"See for yourself, hon."
She stepped away from where we stood and reached out for the envelope. I took the opportunity to put Grace down and adjust Cole. Grace looked like she was about to start crying again, but the second I sat on the floor near her toy box, her lips pursed together and she toddled over to me.
She babbled and grabbed her baby doll, imitating the way I held Cole to me.
"My ba-ey," she said.
I knew the exact moment that Bella had seen what was inside that envelope by the way she gasped and put her hand over her mouth.
Her eyes were full of tears as she looked back to me, papers held tightly against her chest.
"I can't believe they're here already."
"It was fast, wasn't it?" I agreed.
"Is it silly of me to want to frame this?" she asked, holding out the signed and stamped document to me.
"Might be nice up on the mantle with all the pictures you've taken of the kids."
"I am," I insisted. "It's yours. You can do whatever ya want with it."
"It…" She shook her head and came to sit beside us. "I'll put it in the safe with yours. Just in case something was to happen."
"Nothin'll happen to it. And even if it did, we could get another copy from the clerk's-"
"I don't want another copy," she said stubbornly. "I want this copy."
I didn't say anything in return, merely smiled at her, because I knew exactly what she meant by that. It was the first piece of tangible evidence that stated Ella was legally hers now, the first public declaration of the fact that this woman wanted my daughter as her own; loved her as her own.
Suddenly overcome, I cradled Cole closer to me and watched Bella's smile grow as she helped Grace get another toy out of the box.
"They're calmer now that you're home," she commented.
"I'm a tough act to follow, baby."
That earned a little glare.
Grinning, I reached for her, covering her hand with mine. "Let's frame 'em both and put 'em in the study."
"What, the papers?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Why would we?"
A dramatic pause, just so that when I said the words, I could see the eyes, the face, of the person I was still so head over feet for.
I didn't have the knack for catching moments in time in one, perfect still frame like she did.
My memory would simply have to suffice.
"So everyone can see how lucky we are that you chose us."
Thanks to Stratan for the beta work, as always.
There may be a couple of more outtakes from these two. I've got a couple of ideas rolling around in my head, but I'm not sure if they'll amount to anything or not. We'll see :)