Hope everyone is having a great week. A quick update for you, as many of you were anxious to have Edward meet his son and Rosalie get the news of Emmett.
Thank you to my dear beta Rhi and my pre-reader V.
Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight, however the words are mine.
This begins the second part of this story.
The Distance in Between
Chapter 18/Book 2: Our world set to rights
I paused on the back porch and turned to him, still in disbelief of the miracle of his presence. I found his eyes upon my person. Without another thought, I grasped his face, clutching his heavy beard, and placed my lips to his. He moaned, and his crutch fell as I turned us and pushed him up against the back door.
"Freckles," he gasped between kisses. "Not the time, my dearest" –kisses- "and as you pointed out" –more kisses- "I'm filthy and I stink."
I pulled back with a frown. I felt his firmness pressing against my thigh and nearly growled in frustration. I hated to wait for anything I wanted, and right this moment, I wanted him desperately.
He gently touched my face. "Not the time."
I frowned and curtly nodded. "Yes, but you won't always be stealing my fun in the future."
He grinned at me. "Once we're wed, I promise to try never to do that."
"Tomorrow. We'll be wed tomorrow."
"Yes," he readily agreed.
I nodded curtly. "Meet Wills and then a bath, shave, and hair trim for you before I feed you a hearty dinner."
"You going to-"
"Yes," I said firmly.
"Excellent," he replied with a sparkle in his eyes.
We entered the kitchen just as Ezra came tearing out of the parlor and nearly ran smack into my legs. I let go of Edward's hand and picked him up. "Giving Mama a hard time again?" I asked Ezra with a grin as Rose came running to the kitchen.
"Ezra Dale McCarty!" she said in frustration as she rounded the corner. She stopped in her tracks and stared in bewilderment at Edward, before looking to me.
I sat Ezra down and took Edward's hand again, giving him a fond look, which he returned before I turned back to Rose. "This is Edward Cullen. Edward, Rosalie McCarty, my cousin Emmett's widow."
"Edward. Pleased to meet you," Rosalie said formally with a nod as she picked up Ezra.
Edward was silent as he just stared at Rosalie. "I did not know…I didn't think…" He turned his head and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry for your loss, Mrs. McCarty. I…" he trailed off and was silent again, his head tilted down.
"Edward?" I asked, and he shot his head up and nearly smiled, but something passed over his face, settling his features into distress. He glanced at Rosalie who was watching us both, confusion on her face.
"How did you find out about…Emmett?" he asked quietly.
"We got a letter from Mother McCarty a couple of months after he died, saying he fell at the battle of Gettysburg," Rosalie replied just as quietly.
"I see," Edward replied as he kept his eyes averted from Rosalie.
An odd silence feel between us all, as Rose and I tried to figure out why this was affecting Edward so.
"Why do you-?" I started to ask, but just then, Wills started crying loudly, and we all turned toward the parlor where at one end we kept a crib for the boys to nap during the day and still be close enough we could get to them quickly.
"Come. Let's see Wills, and then we'll get you cleaned up," I ordered, and Edward obediently followed me, but not before giving Rosalie a look of extreme sadness.
"Later, may we speak, Mrs. McCarty?" Edward asked her as he paused at the doorway.
"Yes, of course, and, please, call me Rosalie."
Edward briefly nodded and turned back to me. I wondered at what that was all about, but let it pass for the moment, for Wills was yelling for me as he banged on the side of his crib.
I went and picked him up to his happy cry of "Mama!"
"Your daddy is here, Wills. Remember how I always tell you how much he loves you?"
"Dada?" Wills asked me.
I nodded. "Your Dada." I turned to Edward who was just watching us with tears in his eyes.
I walked to Edward and gave him a smile. "Meet William Edward Cullen. Your son."
Edward raised a trembling hand and briefly touched Wills' face. He trailed a fingertip down Wills' arm and then took his little hand and looked at it in wonder. Wills wrapped his hand around Edward's finger and tugged on it.
"Dada?" Wills asked me.
"Dada," I agreed and looked at Edward, who then had tears trailing down his face.
"He's…oh, he's wonderful, Bella. I left you here, carrying my child. I left you here to this alone. I'm so sorry! I left you…I'm so sorry…" he trailed off as he closed his eyes and a sob escaped him.
I gripped his arm and tugged him against me and Wills. "Shh. It's all right now. We're all alive and together. Our world is set to rights. Shh."
He buried his face into my neck for moment and then pulled back and wiped the tears from his face. "Forgive me. I seem to be a fountain of tears this day."
I shrugged. "Nothing to forgive. I've cried tears of my own this day. Would you like to hold him?"
"I…I don't know how. I may drop him," Edward said doubtfully.
I grinned. "No, you won't. Here." I shoved Wills at Edward, who gingerly cradled him on his hip.
Wills stared up at his father and then patted his chest. Edward grinned down at him, and Wills, an always happy child, returned his father's exact grin.
"He looks just like me," Edward said in amazement.
"I know, and I thank the Lord every day for that."
"Bella, is this all real, or am I dreaming, my dearest?"
I fought back my own tears as I slammed my body against his, wrapping my arms around him and Wills.
"Not a dream, but our reality. Welcome home, Edward. Your family missed you."
Edward was in a large washtub on the back porch as I worked on him to get the dirt and smell off his body.
"Oww, woman! Leave some skin would you!"
"Oh, stop your fussing! You're disgusting, and I need to scrub you hard to get these layers of dirt off of you!"
"But do you have to be so rough?" he asked with a wince as I rubbed the horsehair brush over his back.
"Oh, a big fine soldier like yourself can't handle a little bath? Pathetic," I said in amusement.
He chuckled and leaned his head back so that he was gazing up at me with those beautiful green eyes of his. His eyes fell first on my breasts and then slid up to my face.
"Liking what you see, Edward Cullen?"
"I'm back to Edward Cullen, am I? And yes. Your person is a feast for this man's eyes."
"You and your flowery words. Lean back up. I'm going to chop off some of this hair."
He gripped his knees and leaned forward. As I trimmed his hair, I grinned to myself and sighed contentedly.
Edward was back with me, here where he belonged, and I was tending to him as I had longed to these past two years. I was content within myself, the longing and aching in my heart replaced with joy and gladness. Now that he was clean, trimmed, and shaved, we could have dinner with the family and later…later, hmm. Later I was going to have some alone time with him. Oh, yes, I was.
My mind drifted back to the shaving of him before his bath, and I felt a tremor of want go through me. That had been quite the ordeal with both of us hardly able to keep our hands off each other. Only the nearby presence of the others had kept us from taking that experience to a totally different place beyond shaving.
I grabbed his forehead and tilted his head back. "Better," I said with a grin.
"Freckles, your smiles."
"What? You do not like them?"
"No, I love them. It's just that…"
"Well, my heart is never prepared for them. You're dazzling when you smile. So beautiful."
I scoffed. "You must've taken a cannon ball to the head. Your brain is addled," I said, looking away in embarrassment.
I felt him grab my wrist and tug on it. "Look at me."
I met his eyes at his command. "I love you and need you to understand this; in earnest, I tell you now, I've never set eyes upon anything better than you, my Freckles."
I fell to my knees on the porch and wrapped them around his head, holding him against my shoulder.
"I've missed you. Oh, how I've missed you! I love you so much. I've loved you forever, and that never wavered once while you were separated from me. You left and took all the music with you. Without Wills, I would've never pulled through."
"Freckles, my God, Freckles. Without you, I'd been dead long ago. Just the thought of you, your precious face, your voice in my mind, was enough to rouse me from my depression and for me to carry on. My love for you…I don't have the words, my dearest. I don't have the words."
I held him until he shivered, and I realized the water must have been cold. I let him go and stood up and grabbed a towel, holding it out for him.
"Oh, no. The last thing you and I need is me naked in your arms right this moment," he said with a smirk.
"No, I need that," I replied with a smirk of my own.
"Behave, Freckles," he chuckled.
"Not much fun in that," I replied and tossed the towel on a chair. "Fine. Dry yourself then, stubborn man."
"Thank you for taking care of me," I heard him quietly call as I opened the back door.
I turned and nodded. "That's my job now."
"Then I am the most fortunate of men."
"Yes, you are," I replied with sass and entered the kitchen to Edward's laughter following behind me.
"I see ya lettin' him stay, daughter. Hope we got enough food 'round here," Father said in amusement as we all watched Edward shoveling in his meal.
He glanced up from his plate, slightly abashed, and set his fork down. "Forgive me. My manners are somewhat lacking. An empty stomach is no excuse for such behavior."
Rose chuckled. "You're hungry and eating my food as if it's as good as Bella's. I'm flattered. Eat up. I made plenty."
"This is a fine meal, Rosalie. Thank you," Edward said and picked up his fork again.
"You're welcome," she replied and turned to Ezra to coax him to finish his plate.
"So, we drivin' to the county courthouse tomorrow?" Father asked.
"Yes," I replied firmly.
"Well, then, we best get an early start. We'll leave right after breakfast."
I nodded. "I'll pack up some food for the journey."
"I'll stay here," Rosalie said, and I turned to her in surprise.
"But…I wanted you with me."
"Oh. If that is what you wish, Bella."
"It is what I wish," I replied to her.
"Then we'll come. I'll ride in the back of the wagon with the boys and take care of them."
"I don't have any clothes to wear to wed you in," Edward said softly from beside me. "Even these are borrowed."
"Those are fine, but I'm sure Father has a jacket you may wear. "
"I should have planned better instead of having all my wages forwarded to my parents to bank for me."
"I'll make you clothes. For now, you can wear some of Father's."
"Thank you," Edward said and looked away.
I reached over and gripped his hand. "Rosalie may have prepared supper, but I made dessert. Your favorite, peach cobbler."
Edward graced me with a soft smile. "Even better when it was prepared by your hands, Freckles."
I returned his smile as we just held each other's eyes.
"Now that's sweet," I heard Rose say.
"Hmm? What Rose?"
"Freckles. How sweet. Emmett always called me 'Goldy'…" She turned her head away and covered her mouth.
"Yeah, I remember that," Father said with a pat to Rose's shoulder.
"Let's have dessert and then visit a bit before bedtime," I chimed in to lighten the mood. I stood up and got the cobbler off the stove where it had been keeping warm. I placed it in the center of the table on a trivet and got a large spoon to serve it.
The men, including Ezra, dug into the cobbler with gusto, and even Wills happily ate a few bites. Rose just fiddled with her spoon and finally got up and began to clear the table. I went and got a corner of a towel damp and cleaned up Wills' hands and face and then plopped him in Edward's lap. Edward looked at me and then Wills in surprise and then tentatively began to bounce him on his right knee. Wills giggled and clapped his hands, winning a grin from his father, and I knew all was well there. Rose cleaned up Ezra and then set him down to play with some wooden toys in the floor.
Father got his pipe and sat back in his chair with his legs casually crossed as he watched us all. Rose and I cleaned up the dishes, and by that time, the pot of tea was ready that I had put on to brew. I poured us all cups and sat them down, before sliding into the seat beside Edward. He handed me Wills and stood up, an odd look on his face.
He went over to the door and got his knapsack from the table beside it and then came back over and sat down beside me. We all watched him in curiosity as he opened his knapsack and pulled out a small wrapped bundle.
Edward took a deep breath and then began to speak. "I'm going to tell you a story, and I pray I can get through it, because it needs to be told. God, coincidence, fate- I'm not sure what brought to meet Emmett McCarty. I was there with him at the end. I hope-"
"What?" Rose asked in astonishment.
"I was there. Allow me to explain what happened."
Edward's hand gripped the bundle he was holding as he began his story.
"It was the day after the last day of battle at Gettysburg. I'd spent the night ministering to the dying and wounded best I could. Come daybreak, I'd had more than I could bear and rode off to a small wooded area for a moment alone. That's when I heard a sound behind me and turned with my gun ready. An unarmed man stepped out of the shadows, and I found him oddly familiar. I asked his name, and he told me it was Emmett McCarty of the Seventh Tennessee Infantry. To say I was shocked in that moment, that amongst thousands of men, God had brought me face to face with a kin of the Swan's would be an understatement."
I reached over and placed my hand on Edward's forearm, and he gave me an appreciative look for my support before he continued his story.
"We talked, and he was surprised to learn I knew Bella and Charles, and then he formally surrendered to me."
"So, how did he die?" Rosalie asked in impatience.
"That would be due to Gen. Custer. He rode up and without any hesitation…shot Emmett in the chest. I yelled, I raged at him, but Custer just shrugged it off and rode away. I fell down and held Emmett in my lap. I checked his wound, but the blood…he was fading fast. I ordered him to tell me what he wished to tell his wife," Edward finished so quietly it was difficult to hear him.
He finally looked up from the table and met Rosalie's eyes.
"And what did he say?" Rose asked with a white face and shaky voice. Edward didn't speak, but slid the bundle over to her. He closed his eyes before he spoke again.
"He said right before he passed," –he took a deep breath- "'Tell Rose I love her, and I'm sorry, and that I remember the blueberries.'"
Rose shot up from her chair, the bundle clutched in her fist, and was out the back door, slamming it behind her.
"Leaver her be a bit, Bells. She just needs some time," Father said to me. He slid his eyes to Edward. "That the truth, Edward?"
"It is. I swear it. I've kept those words of his and his letters and pocket watch closely guarded all this time so that I may someday, hopefully, be able to give them to Rosalie. Of all the terrible things I witnessed in that bloody, cursed war, Gettysburg and Emmett's death were the things that took their toll on me. Curse that war!" he swore and stood and limped into the front parlor.
Father met my eyes and sighed. "Best go see to him, Bells. He's got a lot to deal with inside his head and will have for some time."
"But he has me and won't ever have to deal with those demons alone," I replied as I stood up. "Hold Wills for me?"
"No. Take him with you. A man needs reminders that life goes on and there's still some good in this world. Nothing quite does that like seeing your own child."
I nodded and gripped Father's shoulder as I headed into the parlor. Edward wasn't there, so I went out to the front porch and found him sitting in a rocking chair, unmoving.
"Mind if we join you?"
"Such a question, Freckles. Yours and Wills' presence could only ever increase my happiness."
I leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek before pulling another rocker over next to his and sitting down with Wills in my lap.
"I need you to talk to me. I need you talk it all out of your head so that it's not just your burden any longer, but mine to carry as well."
"I have no wish to encumber you with my troubling thoughts and dark memories, my dearest," he said as he reached over and took my hand.
"What you wish is irrelevant. I wish to hear your thoughts and share in your memories. Really. Are you going to be that selfish our entire marriage?" I asked in mock annoyance.
He chuckled and squeezed my hand. "What on earth did I ever do without you, my feisty, fiery Freckles?"
"I can't even imagine. Fortunate now that you have me to guide you, Edward."
"Ah. Say that again."
"What? That you need my guidance?" I teased him, knowing full well what he wanted from me.
"No, you little tease. My name," he replied in amusement.
"Edward Cullen?" I asked innocently.
He laughed then. "Fine. Have it your way. Torment me endlessly with your teasing. I can take it."
"You love it."
"Indeed I do. It's all wrapped up in the perfection that is you."
"Hmph. Hear him, Wills? Flattery. Endless flattery. Your dada is too charming for his own good."
"Do I charm you, Freckles?" Edward asked with a grin.
"I think you know the answer to that, Edward Cullen. Come. It's time to get this boy in bed. Father said you're to sleep in my bed tonight-"
"-and me with Rose-"
"Oh. Well, of course. We're not wed."
"If you ever let me finish, I was going to say that I would come join you after everyone is asleep. But, if you don't like that plan…"
"I like it! I like it too well." He raised an eyebrow and shot me a devilish grin.
"As do I," I replied and then paused at seeing Rose walking down the road to the farm. "Here. Take Wills inside. I'm going to talk to Rose, and then I'll be in."
I handed Wills to Edward and was surprised to find myself pulled to him for a kiss. He held the back of my head as his mouth claimed mine, and I nearly lost my head, so powerful was that kiss.
He pulled his mouth from mine, our breathing labored. "God, I missed that."
"Every woman is kissable," I said tartly.
"Hmm, true, but every woman isn't you, my Freckles. Tell Rosalie again that I'm sorry."
I tenderly touched his face. "I will. Be good for Dada," I said to Wills before I went down the front steps.
It was twilight, my favorite time of the day, as I hurriedly walked to catch up to Rose. She heard me coming and stopped, allowing me to join her. She began strolling again, and I slid my arm through hers, slightly leaning against her.
"Are you all right?"
She shrugged. "I will be. Just…Edward's words…"
"Yes. I understand. He said to tell you again that he is sorry."
"He's a good man," Rose replied.
"Yes, he is."
"You're lucky you got him back, Bella," Rose said quietly.
"I know. Like you, and many other women with men we loved fighting in that war, did not expect to ever see his face in this lifetime again."
She curtly nodded then stopped and pulled out letters and a pocket watch from her dress pocket.
"Edward said he kept Emmett's words and possessions safe all this time so that someday he may give them to you."
"That was good of him. It's a precious gift that I will be sure to thank Edward for. It's something that I can give to Ezra so that he may always have something of his father's," she said as her fingers stroked over the pocket watch. She suddenly raised her head and met my eyes. "I need a change, Bella. To go somewhere new. Start life again."
I felt a chill go through me. I did not want to lose Rose.
"But where? You already said you didn't wish to live with your parents again and that you had no desire to return to Aunt Catherine's."
"I don't know, Bella. I just need…I need a new life. And I'm going to need a man to take care of me and Ezra. I can't live off your father's generosity forever."
"Well, there's no hurry. Please continue to stay with us for the time being."
She hugged me to her. "I will. I'd rather be here with you and Charles than anywhere else in the world. For now, it's enough, but for the future…we'll see."
She pulled back, and even in the falling darkness I could see a gleam in her eyes. "Let's go get those sons of ours in bed."
"Something tells me that Edward won't be spending this night in your bed alone."
"Something tells me that as well," I replied, and we both let out a laugh as we turned and started back to the house.
Thanks for reading!
As I stated above, this begins part 2 of this story. From here on out, major changes occur, and I'm not going to sugar coat it, it gets rough in places.