DISCLAIMER: All things Twi belong to SM and all things Whedon belong to Him.


The Monday after Thanksgiving, I had an appointment with my gynecologist. Edward had cleared his calendar for the day so he could take me to class then come with me to the appointment. We had an awkward moment where he assumed he'd be in the exam room with me, and I assumed he'd be waiting in the waiting room.

His insistence to be involved in every step was very sweet, but a little overwhelming because it made everything that much more real and significant, and kind of stressful. I didn't go so far as to say that, exactly, but he sensed my anxiety and backed off from accompanying me to the exam room.

I was lucky to have someone who genuinely cared about me—I knew that from my various contrasting experiences—but the grueling process of waiting and all the unknowns were almost smothering me with doubt and anxiety.

"And you say your mother's judgmental," I mumbled as I fastened my seat belt, resenting him for drinking a cinnamon latte right in front of me, still not ready to go cold turkey off caffeine.

"What…?" Edward clenched his jaw, then calmly twisted his steaming paper cup into its holder and turned in his seat. He pulled his sunglasses from his face and glared at me. "Please explain to me how looking out for our child's health is being judgmental."

"Well, you said I couldn't have a latte like I was a murderer or something," I replied.

"First of all, I never said you couldn't; I said shouldn't." That trademark temper of his was simmering just under the surface. "Secondly, I do not think you're a murderer or anything else of that kind-"

I scoffed.

"What in the actual fuck, Róisín?" He raised his voice. "I said you should wait to talk to your doctor first before drinking caffeine or eating those cheeses. And Jimbo's litterbox-"

"Whoa—what?" I said, whipping my own sunglasses off. "I know you don't like Jimbo, but I am not getting rid of him because of some old wives' tale!"

"I don't like Jimbo?" Edward looked shocked and confused. "When did I stop liking Jimbo? I love that cat."

"I know you just put up with him." The second I heard the words coming out of my mouth, I regretted saying them. I was projecting a whole bunch of shit onto Edward. I was scared of all those unknowns, and I wasn't used to having someone unconditionally backing me; I was used to doing shit, like my first ever gynecologist's visit, on my own, then telling friends or my parents about it later.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I opened them again, all the mean, unfounded, irrational accusations I had hurled at Edward had twisted his expression into a grimace. He sat slumped into the driver's side door, stunned.

"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I didn't mean any of those things."

He breathed heavily and steadily—his gaze darting around the front of the Cayenne. Then he slowly looked up and made eye contact with me again, and the look in his eyes…

I never, ever wanted to be the cause of that kind of pain for him. I'd seen that look when we visited his parents—in the driveway when he realized they weren't there to greet us, at brunch when his dad showed zero interest in anything he had to say—and, again, when we talked to them on Thursday. As tough and strong as Edward was on the outside, he was a vulnerable boy underneath it all. And I was a piece of shit.

"Edward…" I reached out for him, needing to feel him, to soothe him and me both.

He accepted my outstretched hand, entwined our fingers, and let me come close to him. I wrapped my free arm around his shoulders, burying my face in his neck and squeezing him.

"It's okay," he said quietly, comfortingly, and I immediately nodded in agreement, sniffling into the crook of his neck. "We're gonna be fine. But, we're takin' it one day at a time, remember?"

"I know, I'm sorry, baby." I kissed his neck then pulled back to look him in the eye.

"There's no excuse. I just forgot that you're on my team."

He nodded, understanding. "And I love you," he said, his face soft and pleading.

Ghosts of the heartache and disappointment that come from family and friends being torn apart because of choices and loyalties hung heavy behind his eyes. Edward was honest and devoted and he lived by his heart. He loved with everything he had, and he loved me.

"I love you, too," I said, my lip trembling.

It was suddenly crystal clear to me that the rare and precious thing Edward and I had would continue to grow and become more intense, and we would have it for the rest of our lives. It wasn't fleeting. It wasn't about common interests, or sex, or even about the child I was carrying; it was about the way we fit together, balanced each other, and helped each other to be the best that we could be. And, after seeing all of that in just a handful of weeks, I could not fucking wait to see us in five years.

"You're so perfect." I spoke quietly as I kissed his lips and smoothed my hand over the soft, buzzed hair on the back of his neck.

He laughed just as quietly as I spoke. "Nobody's perfect."

"You're perfect for me," I said, holding his face in my hands and kissing his lips.

We calmed each other's nerves and gave each other comfort until we realized if we didn't get going we'd be very late for my appointment. I climbed back over to the passenger's side, buckled my seat belt, and we were on our way.

Unlike any other doctor appointment I had ever had, I was admitted immediately, leaving Edward in the waiting room with four pregnant women and a stack of magazines. As Dr. Saunders's lab tech drew a few vials of my blood, I couldn't contain my anxiousness. He didn't ask any personal questions, but I babbled on and on about my boyfriend and my job and the fact that I was graduating in the spring.

Once he was done taking the samples he needed, he showed me to an exam room where he instructed me to put on the smock and wait for Dr. Saunders to bring the results and conduct a cursory physical exam. After I was changed, I pulled out my phone.

You should see this smock I'm wearing, I texted Edward. Sexiest thing ever.

I snorted to myself as the message was sent. About 30 seconds later, I got a text back from him.

Hot… Picture?

I lifted the phone to take an aerial view image of myself sitting on the exam table—that angle that chicks always use online when they're trying to make themselves look skinny and hot. The thought of the picture I was about to take being some kind of flirty get-to-know-me tool made me laugh out loud as I sent the image to Edward.

Damn, that IS hot… wanna play doctor?

Through the ringing in my ears from the thought of playing doctor with Edward, I heard someone at the door. I stashed my phone just in time to see Dr. Saunders enter the small room.

"Test is positive, Rose," she said with a smile, my file in her hand. "I'm glad we talked on Friday so we could be appropriately prepared for this result. How are you feeling?"

"Good," I answered. "I mean, I've been sick and stressed, but I feel like just knowing is a step in the right direction."

She nodded as she flipped through my file and took a seat on a small stool beside the exam table. "Nausea and exhaustion are absolutely normal," she said. "What isn't normal is pain or bleeding, so call me if either of those occur."

"What about coffee?" I blurted, feeling a little guilty and selfish about making such a priority of proving I was right about something that Edward felt strongly about.

"You can have it in moderation," she replied, making notes. "I'd recommend sticking to no more than 20 ounces a day."

I nodded, and we proceeded with all the routine checks that go with an annual physical exam. We also talked about the litter box thing not being as scary or dangerous as some of the stories I'd heard. After the exam, we calculated that I was just about four weeks along. As she stood to leave the room, Dr. Saunders said she'd call in a prescription for prenatal vitamins to my pharmacy for me to pick up. She patted me on the shoulder and shot me one last reassuring grin.

"I'd like for you to come back in about six weeks, so we can do an ultrasound, okay?" she asked.

"Yep," I agreed with a nod, sliding down off the exam table. "I'll make an appointment before I leave today."

Once the door was closed, I dressed and grabbed my jacket from the coat rack before leaving the room. I was still feeling nervous about how and when to start telling people and about what would happen with school and my indecision over what to do after I was done with school, but just talking to Dr. Saunders was a huge load off my mind.

When I walked out into the waiting room, I found Edward slouched in a chair that was too small for him, reading something on his phone. I remembered then that I hadn't responded to his "playing doctor" text and felt my face flush as I approached him from the side. When I touched his shoulder, he looked up at me with wide eyes and immediately pocketed his phone and stood to meet me.

"Hey," he said, reaching for me. "How'd it go?"

"Good," I answered, burrowing into his warmth. "I just need to make an appointment for an ultrasound in a few weeks."

"Yeah?" he said. His face was lit with hope—that look again that set my mind and heart at ease the morning I told him about the test I'd taken.

"Yeah," I answered with a smile. "You wanna come with me to the desk so I can schedule around both our calendars?"

He grinned back and nodded, and we made our way to the receptionist's desk to schedule the ultrasound in the coming new year.

In the car on the way to the pharmacy, Edward used his handy dandy Bluetooth to engage in responsibly returning a client's phone call, and I replied to a text from Alice. Since her visit, and on her insistence, we'd been keeping in contact—not that I would've argued with her even if she hadn't utterly demanded it. Now that I had more information from the doctor, I was going to have to keep our correspondence to texts only for the time being, because if anybody besides Edward could get me to blurt out the truth, it was Alice.

Edward's call continued as he parked in the pharmacy lot and we exited the car to enter the building. Before he was off the phone, while we were standing in line, I got a call from Riley that I probably should've ignored.

"I can't talk long," I said in lieu of an answer. "I'm at the pharmacy, and you know they give you dirty looks when you use your phone here."

"Why are you at the pharmacy?" he asked. "Did Mr. Wonderful give you crabs?"

He snorted at his stupid joke.

"Gross," I said. "No."

"Are you dying?" He chuckled, and I heard him light a cigarette.

"No-"

He interrupted me. "Pregnant?"

Shit.

"Hello?" Amusement tinged Riley's voice. "Rose, dear, unless your phone died, I'd say we have a lot of catching up to do."

I looked up to see that Edward had ended his call and I had his full attention. I must've been wearing an alarming expression on my face because he was frowning as he mouthed "what?" and cocked his head to the side.

I tried to shrug it off by rolling my eyes and shaking my head—probably looking more like I was having a seizure. I mouthed the word "Riley" and Edward nodded, seeming to understand that if Riley was involved, any drama was probably disproportionate.

"I gotta go," I told Riley. "Call you later?"

"You better," was Riley's only answer before I quickly disconnected the call.

I nervously caught Edward's gaze again, but this time he didn't look so convinced that the call was nothing. He quirked an eyebrow as the attendant at the pharmacy window spoke to us.

"Name, please?" he asked, so Edward and I approached the counter.

"Rosalie Hale," I answered.

The guy nodded and smiled politely before turning to walk behind a partition.

"So, what's up with Riley?" Edward asked.

I paused, wondering how to tell him that I'd let the cat out of the bag, even if it wasn't intentional.

"I don't know," I said, shrugging and not making eye contact. "He, um… he kinda guessed."

"Guessed…?"

"About the baby," I said, finally looking him in the eye.

"He guessed?" Edward blinked. "What is he, psychic?"

"No—just persistent. I said I was at the pharmacy and it was his third guess."

Edward snorted and rolled his eyes. "What were his first two?"

"STD and death."

Edward threw his head back and laughed out loud, running a hand over his face, but his laughter quickly calmed to a chuckle, as he reached out and pulled me into his side.

"Okay, well…" He paused and kissed my forehead. "This is where it begins then, huh? The big reveal?"

"Yeah, I guess," I replied with a sigh and a reasonable amount of relief that Edward wasn't angry. "You're not mad?"

"Why would I be mad?"

"Because I blew our secret and you wanted to wait till the second trimester."

In all the times Edward stood by me, in all the times he seemed happy and trusting in me, I was still unsure of this one last hurdle. I was afraid of what the truth would do once it was out, because it wouldn't be ours anymore. It would no longer be our secret; and what if that secret, the mystery and excitement, was the thing that was keeping us together?

"I know," he said, kissing me again then releasing me when the attendant was returning to the window. "But I realized how unrealistic that is. I mean, we have eight more weeks before your second trimester; I doubt we're gonna be able to keep it a total secret until then."

We paid for my prescription and headed back out to Edward's car. We were outside in a rare ray of sunshine when I caught his lopsided grin and sparkling eyes; he could've lit up a football field. The love that lived there reminded me that the connection between us wasn't so fragile as to be broken by telling a harmless secret. Edward was so beautiful to me and nothing was going to change what we were to each other.

I honestly even forgot how we probably appeared to the outside world, because I was so used to my up-close and personal view. I'd always found Edward attractive, even before I really knew him, because of his kind eyes and soft smile. But to the casual observer, Edward was probably intimidating as fuck with a buzzed head and crooked nose, tattoos up and down his arms. I was so thankful that I'd seen through all of that to see him my way—my sweet, gentle boyfriend, under the rough exterior. And I was even more thankful that he'd seen inside me as well.

"So, you ready to tell your mom and dad?" I asked teasingly as we climbed into the Cayenne.

His grin spread wide and he laughed softly, shaking his head. "I'm not so sure I'm quite ready for that, but we'll see when we get there."

On Tuesday, I went to my classes and planned out a clear study schedule for finals, creating checklists for what needed to be done for each class and signing up for group study sessions. That night I went to my shift at the shelter. I had realized earlier in the day that getting ready for finals was going to be a heavy workload, especially considering the extra Saturday shift I'd taken on at the shelter. So when the kids were all settled into studying, I broached the topic with Wes.

"Hey, Wes, I think I might have to shuffle some things around to accommodate studying for finals."

"Well, let's take a look," he said. "Do you have your calendar with you?"

"Yeah." I reached into my bag and pulled out the schedule I'd put together that afternoon. "It gets kinda crazy the week after next for about 10 days straight."

He nodded, flipping through the big scheduling book on his desk where we kept all of our shifts and any notable events that we all needed to pay attention to.

"Would it help for you to take those 10 days off completely? Because I think we can probably handle that now that Edward's here on Saturday nights."

Edward had really stepped up over the weeks and become more a part of the nightly routine on Saturdays. Of course, most of his non-teaching time he spent with River, but all the kids responded well to him and he was comfortable there.

"If you can spare me, yeah; that'd be great."

I was grateful for the respite as Wes shifted some things around over that 10-day period.

The next several days flew by with an unfamiliar and packed schedule ahead of me. December was a blur of studying, and tests, and slowly admitting to our closest friends—Riley, Carlisle, and Esme—that I was pregnant. But I honestly felt like I did well on my tests and I was looking forward to the time off from classes—even if I wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing Edward's parents.

On the Thursday before Christmas, Edward and I hopped a flight to Chicago for a three-day visit. Before we left, we made plans to celebrate Christmas with Carlisle and Esme when we got back on Christmas Day. When we landed at O'Hare, we discovered that Edward's parents had sent a car for us, which set Edward the fuck off, even though he said it didn't surprise him. He was so upset, and he wouldn't stop apologizing to me.

"Baby," I said, gently laying a hand on his between us on the leather interior. "I'm okay with it. You don't have to apologize to me."

"Well, someone should," he answered, angry and hurt by his mom and dad's seeming lack of concern to pick us up themselves. "God knows she won't."

The rest of the car ride was filled with silence and Edward wringing my free hand in his.

When we pulled up at the house, the lights were ablaze—the place seemed to be alive. It was obvious they were home, which further infuriated Edward.

"Can you fucking believe them?" he asked, throwing the door open once the car was stopped then storming around the back of the vehicle to retrieve our bags from the trunk.

As I climbed out of the backseat, I thought I saw movement in my periphery, but when I turned there was nothing in the front window of the house but light streaming through the drapes.

"Thanks, Peter," I heard Edward say to the driver as he scooped our bags up and walked around the side of the car to meet me. "Ready?"

"Yeah," I replied, reaching for my satchel so Edward didn't have to shoulder everything alone, then I gave him a reassuring smile.

His returning smile was tight as we turned to walk to the house together. Just as we climbed the few steps to the front door, it swung open to reveal Kate.

"Surprise!" she yelled, throwing her arms wide without spilling a drop from the champagne flute she held in one hand. "And Merry Christmas!"

"Hey," Edward said, standing still and staring blankly, loosely holding my hand.

People were practically coming out of the woodwork, pouring down the staircase and into the foyer from every room in the house.

"Come in, come in!" Edward's mom appeared from the crowd, pushing people out of her way. "You two must be exhausted. Tanya? Tanya! Where are you? You said you'd help Rosalie get settled."

"I'm here, Aunt Caroline." Tanya pushed her way to the door, smiling and waving us inside, dozens of people milling around just inside the door, craning their necks and peering around doorways to get a look at Edward and me.

"What the-" Edward asked in a daze.

"Surprised?" Tanya asked, chuckling.

"I'm sure you'd like to get freshened up." Caroline turned to me. "Right, Rose? You really do look exhausted."

Just when I thought this sweet surprise was an indication that she was turning over a new leaf, she tells me and 20 other people that I look exhausted.

"Mom?" Edward asked, blinking twice. "What-"

"It's our annual Christmas party, Edward," she said, distracted and seemingly put off by the bags we'd brought with us all the way from New York for our three-day visit. "Will someone help with these bags, please?"

"Mom." Edward asserted himself further, then thanked the guy he called Ben for taking our bags.

"Second bedroom on the left, Aunt C?" Ben asked.

"Yes, Ben," she answered. "Oh, and take this, too." She snatched the satchel from my shoulder and handed it to him.

"Mom!" Edward raised his voice, but no one seemed to notice, except Caroline and me.

"What, Edward?" She whisked two glasses of champagne from a tray that was offered to her then handed them to us. "Why are you acting like this? We have our Christmas party every year on this same date. Now, take a glass of bubbly and relax, because you're home for the holidays!"

People actually applauded her and someone began to chant speech, speech, speech. There was a resounding clinking of glassware, and I honestly felt like I was in a movie set.

Edward and I both stood stunned in the foyer, bagless and clueless. I felt gross, because, even though I don't fly in sweat pants like I see a lot of people do, I don't exactly dress up. And I hadn't even used my flat iron that day to tame the frizz that was fanning out of my ponytail and all around my face.

I looked at Edward, expecting him to be straight up pissed, but instead he looked apologetic.

"Shit," he cursed under his breath then glared at the champagne in our hands before discarding it on a nearby table. He turned back to face me, shaking his head. "I'm so sorry about this. I totally forgot..."

"Rosalie," Edward's mom interrupted us for what felt like the dozenth time since we walked in the door. "Dear, let Tanya take you upstairs so you can get…" She waved her hand around in front of me, and I rolled my eyes. "Spruced up. Trust her; she's very good. She can work miracles."

I had told myself that I was going to use this visit with his mother to win her respect and to reassure her that no matter the circumstance with Edward and me and the baby, that I was the right person for her son. But, right then, I was about to tell her to go fuck herself right in the ass without lube.

"Come on, Rose." Tanya came up beside me. "Ben took your bags upstairs already. I'll just help you unpack." Then she lowered her voice. "And I'll bring plenty of wine."

"Perfect," I responded wryly, realizing right then that there was no way in Hell I was getting out of Chicago without Edward's extended family being added to the list of people who knew our used-to-be secret.

I scanned the immediate vicinity and discovered that Edward had been pulled to the side by a couple of guys, but he'd kept his eyes on me. As Tanya and I made our way toward the staircase, I leaned into him and kissed his jaw.

"I'll be back in a flash," I whispered, kissing his lips on the second round, because he'd turned to face me. "All gussied up."

He smirked and his eyes danced with mischief—hopefully an indication that his mood was lightening—as he hooked me around the waist, pulling me into his side.

"Can't wait," he said, kissing me a little longer that time. "I am sorry about the surprise, though."

His face was serious again and he really did look contrite. I grinned and slipped out of his embrace before he could introduce me to his friends, or relatives, or whoever the guys were, and I followed Tanya up the stairs. She was carrying a bottle of Veuve in one hand and two flutes in the other. I sighed internally and braced myself for the conversation I was about to have.

~DL~

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it was gonna be," I said, moaning as Edward's fingers dug into my shoulders. "She was actually really excited."

"I'm sure she was," he replied. "But, you do realize that Kate and Irina both know now, too, right? And probably Carmen?"

I sighed in defeat, because I did realize that, but I had no idea what else to do.

"So," Tanya said as she closed the door behind us then rushed over to the desk that sat under the window in Edward's childhood bedroom. "First, we need to toast."

She set the glasses down and quickly unfoiled and popped the bottle of Veuve. As she partially filled two flutes, I shucked my jacket and started to remove my boots. When I was considering disappearing into the bathroom to avoid the confrontation of alcohol, Tanya handed me a glass of bubbles.

"To you and Eddie," she said with a grin.

I wanted to readily accept the glass and her toast because of the genuineness of her gesture and the simple sentiment. But, in the end, I didn't even have to refuse her offer, because my slight hesitation told her everything she needed to know.

"You're pregnant," she whispered, then clamped her free hand over her mouth, her smile crinkling the edges of her crystal blue eyes. "Holy shit!"

"She just said it, ya know?" I half-whined. "I would've had to flat-out lie to get around it."

"I know, I know," he said, dismissing the conversation and slipping his hands over my shoulders and down my arms. "Let's just…" He kissed my neck and wrapped his arms around me. "Let's get a warm shower…" He kept kissing my fucking neck. "And climb under the sheets."

"Yes," I sighed and turned into his body. "Let's."

The next morning there were far fewer people in the house, but it was still kind of overwhelming. The out-of-town cousins had spent the night but were leaving after brunch, so some of the pressure would be alleviated. And I remembered how much Caroline loved brunch.

"Auntie C..." Ben, who I had grown to humorously appreciate the night before, called to Caroline from the table where we'd all gathered. "Your brunch is the best brunch; it's the best brunch we know."

He was sing-songing what he said to her, and I realized his joke must be an inside joke because everyone in the room was laughing—even Edward's dad.

"Thank you for having us," he continued without singing, as he raised his Bloody Mary in a toast, and we all followed suit. "As always, you are a most gracious host and this has been yet another unforgettable Christmas."

"Oh, Ben." Caroline pretended to be humble as we toasted her and she sipped her mimosa.

Edward leaned into my side and whispered in my ear. "Just one more day."

I let out a short, quiet laugh and snuggled closer against him. He hadn't taken his hands or eyes off me since we arrived at his parents' house, except when I was upstairs with Tanya. There were even a few times when he fell into his instinct of putting his hand on my belly, which I think deep down he knew was going to tip people off.

"Rosalie," Edward's mother beckoned me. "Why don't you come help me wrap a few last minute gifts while the boys clean up the kitchen, hm?"

Edward's hand stilled on my hip and we looked at each other blankly. I gained my composure before he did, though, and he continued to look like a deer in headlights as I turned to follow her out of the room.

"Happy to help," I replied.

Caroline and I wound our way through rooms and corridors in utter silence until we arrived at an unassuming door in the corner of the house. Caroline opened the door to reveal a sunny room with a large counter space and several bins with ribbon and other textiles spilling from them along one wall. The room was filled with splashes of color, and texture, and shape. In the center of the room was a large island workspace where a few ordinary boxes and rolls of holiday wrapping paper sat.

She waltzed across the room and I followed in awe of our surroundings. It looked a bit like Santa's workshop.

"Wow," I said, sounding like and idiot, but I honestly could not believe what I was seeing.

Caroline "perfectly coiffed, seeming to never color outside the lines" Cullen had a craft room. And it was glorious.

"This is incredible."

"I'm glad you like it," she replied, as she set to work arranging boxes and paper, tossing tape, scissors, and brightly colored ribbon to the island workspace. "Ribbons are my specialty. Would you mind wrapping the packages in paper for me?"

I settled my hands on the flat surface and nodded before picking up box number one.

Caroline was a woman who knew her talents and what she wanted to do with them. In all our differences, I vowed to keep that in mind and to respect it. And I hoped I would learn other things about her; I hoped we were on the road to learning respect for each other.

We had been working quietly and amiably for a few minutes when she broke the virtual silence with a din of speculation.

"My son is hovering around you like you might disappear into thin air," she said, deftly flipping a package as she entwined silken ribbon in a complex pattern around its body. "And I haven't seen you drink anything but juice or tea since you've been here."

She flicked her gaze to me, eyeing me up and down. Her expression was surprisingly free of final judgment, but full of wondering inquisition.

"On the one hand," she continued, returning her visual inspection to fastening an elaborate Christmas bow. "I could assume you're playing the prima donna like all the rest and he's doting on you so you won't leave him."

Her voice held tones of bitterness, loss, and regret—the same tones and feelings that Edward showed whenever he would move beyond his anger over the dissension in his family. The aftermath of Siobhan and Edward's relationship marked them all with heavy emotion and consciousness. I saw the destruction in every exchange of terse dialogue and wary glance between Edward and his mother.

"Maybe you're on the verge of a break-up—hesitation and awkwardness?" She paused in between packages, holding one of the final products aloft, studying her work. "But, I highly doubt that, judging by the way you touch and look at each other."

Her gaze shifted to study me instead of the package. Yet it wasn't the way every mean girl I ever knew had studied me before her; it was softer, less critical. And I didn't back down for one second. I stood still and tall under this mother's scrutiny.

"On the other hand," she continued with a gentle shrug. "Maybe you're pregnant."

She went back to her work, and I remained silent. I looked down at the package in my hands, not knowing exactly what to say to her without Edward by my side.

"You've only been together a few weeks-"

"Two months," I interrupted, suddenly emboldened by her accusation, forgetting that I wasn't ready for the fight.

"Okay, eight weeks," she said, stopping her creative process for our dramatic stare down. "How far along are you?"

"About that," I answered quietly not breaking eye contact.

She eyed me thoughtfully. "Well, you picked a good man," she said. "The Cullen men are good men; I can attest to that."

I suddenly remembered the story of Edward's great-grandmother, and her Irish fighter, and the man who Edward said married her for love and honor. Edward was both of those men for me—my love and my knight—and even though I hadn't planned for things to work out this way, I wasn't about to believe I was exempt from deserving someone to care for me the way Edward did.

"I didn't do this on purpose," I informed her, because I felt it needed to be said.

"I know that, Rosalie," she answered, and I believed her. "But Edward… he's been through the wringer with women."

She shook her head and inhaled deeply. This was a protective mother, a mother who loved her son and wanted the world for him. I wanted to tell her I knew what he wanted and I wanted the same thing.

"Siobhan?" I asked.

"To name one," she answered, tying the current ribbon a bit too tight, creasing it unattractively. "To think I actually reached out to her—tried to help her."

I could hear all the words she took for granted and didn't say out loud. She was the kind of woman who believed that all women were naturally calculating and manipulative, and she was okay with it. She believed that was her and every other woman's nature and right. Even as I understood her, I would never be her. But I could play her game.

"Edward said he felt like he and Siobhan could make it if they tried." I defended his actions and tried to give Caroline the benefit of the doubt. "You were trusting your motherly instincts and trying to do the right thing in supporting him."

"Well, that was part of it—I love my boys; they're my life—but I also wanted to be sure that if she were to have a Cullen baby that it would be healthy and well-cared for under any circumstance."

Right then I knew where I stood with her. I knew that she'd accepted me on the same terms I had accepted her. She would never care for me the way I had hoped the mother of the love of my life would, but she accepted me as the mother of his child. If I was no longer an obstacle, I could only hope she would focus her efforts on mending things with Edward. I would make that my objective from that point on.

"They're lucky to have your love and support, Mrs. Cullen," I said.

She smiled at her task at hand. "And he's lucky to have you," she quietly replied, slowly bringing her small smile and gaze up to meet mine.

We shared a moment that I would never forget—a moment of practical and utilitarian solidarity in a room full of color and ingenuity—and I knew I had an ally in Caroline Cullen. We had the same goal in mind; we wanted comfort and joy for the boy we both loved.

~DL~

Edward and I flew back to Brockport on Christmas Day just in time to have dinner and exchange presents with Carlisle and Esme. It was a nice, quiet, low-key evening; and even though I kept the thought to myself, I was thankful for the contrast against the hustle and bustle that Edward and I had endured in Chicago, however fruitful that trip had been.

The following week was equally relaxing. I spent a few hours here and there researching my post-bachelors degree life. It was becoming quickly apparent to me that there weren't a hell of a lot of jobs out there for an average chick with a basic Psych degree.

"I'm gonna have to look at grad schools," I mumbled as Esme buzzed around her kitchen.

We seemed to spend an awful lot of time in Esme's kitchen. But she liked to cook and I liked to eat, so it worked out—especially since I'd spilled the beans and told her about the baby the month before.

"Yeah?" she asked, as she came up next to me and peered over my shoulder at the laptop in front of me. "What kind of degree are you thinking? Where would you go?"

"Not sure," I said, closing out of the depressing jobsites and turning to face her.

"But I think I'll start by talking to Wes and Gunn—see what they recommend."

"That's a good idea," she agreed, then looked over her shoulder at the pot of fudge she was cooking on the stove. "Don't be surprised if they offer you a job."

"You think?" I asked, surprised and intrigued by the prospect of not only getting a job right out of college, but getting a job I loved.

"Edward says you practically run that place," she replied with a grin, then turned her back to me as she stirred her chocolaty confection.

"Well, that's a bit of a stretch, but…" I paused and thought about how much I loved being there and how the experience had impacted my life and my studies in just the past few months. "I really do feel like it's a significant part of me—that I've learned a lot and could learn even more from it."

Esme nodded and turned back to smile at me over her shoulder. "Then you should definitely talk to them."

I nodded back at her then swiveled in my chair and opened a blank Word document. I was going to outline a plan for myself and share it with Wes and Gunn. And I'd need Edward's help as well.

~DL~

New Year's Eve was a Saturday, so Edward and I both worked at the shelter before we headed back to Carlisle and Esme's for a late dinner. Carlisle had to be at the ER by midnight, so we did our countdown at 11 p.m. and helped Esme clean up the dishes, then Edward and I headed over to his place for our own celebration.

We had sparkling cranberry juice and some of Esme's insanely delicious fudge spread out on his coffee table. Edward poured us each a bit of the ruby-red bubbles and handed me a glass.

"What did you want my input for?" he asked, settling into his couch, one arm slung across the back, inviting me to take my place at his side.

I had told him earlier that day that I wanted his input on an idea that I had. Considering Edward's past insecurities and our random miscommunications—like him thinking I was going to break up with him—I was careful with my word choice and hadn't just said "we need to talk."

"I have a proposal for Wes and Gunn," I answered, settling myself on the couch, facing him with one leg tucked under my body. I was excited and on the edge of my proverbial seat.

"A proposal, huh?" he asked as he sipped his juice.

Edward's face was colored with an interesting mix of amusement and restraint. He looked like he was trying not to say something.

"Well, not so much a proposal, I guess, but more of an outline of what I think the shelter needs, what I can bring to it, and how I can benefit from it."

"So… a proposal," he replied, tilting his head and blinking innocently with that little smug smirk.

I rolled my eyes. "Okay, yes, smart ass, but I'm nervous about this. Will you just take a look at it? And tell me if I'm assuming too much?"

He grinned and leaned forward, pecking me on the cheek. "Yes, I will." Then he leaned back into his seat, his teeth gripping his bottom lip.

I rolled my eyes again, laughing, because he obviously thought I was being silly.

"Thank you," I said sweetly. "Here."

I handed him the printed copy of the proposal, and he set his glass on the windowsill behind the couch before accepting the papers from my outstretched hand. He turned forward on the couch and took a deep breath, shooting me one last grin and a wink before diving into the text.

His eyes scanned the papers critically—thoughtfulness dancing over his features. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes at the last page, where I had listed out several other options if Wes and Gunn were not interested or able to bring me on staff for the proposed concept.

When he was done reading, he shuffled the papers back in order and placed them flat on the table in front of him. For seconds that felt like really fucking long minutes, he was silent, leaning forward, elbows on his knees.

"So?" I prodded, craning my neck to try and get his attention. "What do you think?"

He pulled at the inside of his cheek with his teeth and his hands were fisted in the way they always did when he was contemplating something intense. He took another deep breath before turning his head to look me in the face with a neutral expression.

"It's well-thought out," he said with a nod. "Clear, concise, direct."

"And?" I encouraged him to say more.

"And…" He paused then shook his head once and sighed with what sounded and looked to be relief. "I'm surprised you aren't considering NYU; they have a great Psych program."

Edward had watched me quickly grow from the girl who used to make every single life decision based on the proximity of her boyfriend and his wishes, into Róisín, the "strong, beautiful woman, who deserved to rise above anything holding her down." It would have been hard for us, and it would have hurt him, if I had proposed the option of attending NYU or a more distant location for my Masters Degree. He wouldn't have been surprised, though. He would have been proud and helped me make my plan a reality.

Which was the very reason I never even considered it. Edward loved me, he wanted me, and he respected my hopes and dreams. He wanted the very best for me and our baby, just as I did. And I wanted to be with him while I continued to learn and grow and make a life for myself and us. My decision to stay in Brockport was not just to stay with my boyfriend; it was for our life together.

"NYU's six hours away," I said, shrugging slightly, watching him carefully. "That's a pretty long commute."

He let out a short laugh at me making light of the situation. Then he turned his gaze to meet mine. His eyes were soft and gentle—God, the way he looked at me—as he continued to wring his hands where they hung between his knees.

"We'd be able to make it work, though, you know that," he stated—a smug smirk playing on his lips. "Just for the record."

I smirked back and nodded in agreement. I did know, but I didn't care. I had some really great options right there in Brockport.

"Okay," I said, finally reaching for my bubbly, red juice. "I'm gonna give them each a copy of this on Tuesday."

I burrowed back into the couch, but Edward still hadn't moved. He sat wrestling his hands and biting his lip. I wondered what he was thinking, and my stomach flipped when I thought for just one, brief moment what if he wants me to go?

"I love you." His voice was barely above a whisper.

"I love you, too," I answered—my heart pounding in my chest.

Without looking at me he got up from the couch and left the room. My palms were sweating and my skin went cold.

"Edward?"

He was back within seconds with a new look of determination on his face as he approached me with even, intentional steps. He stopped in front of the couch where I sat frozen, curled into the corner cushions. Then he dropped to one knee.

"Róisín," he started to speak, then hesitated, looking unreasonably annoyed by the flute of bubbles in my hand. He reached for my glass, silently asking me to hand it to him; I did, and he set it aside then grasped my hand in his.

After a deep breath and shifting his position, he began again, looking me straight in the eye.

"Róisín, you have been an unexpected but unbelievably welcome source of strength and stability for me. You challenge me and comfort me. You turn me on and you calm me down. You listen to me and you trust me. I could never ask for more from a lover and a friend and the mother of my children."

He lifted and opened his left hand to reveal a small, black velvet box. He let go of my hand then flipped open the lid to reveal the most perfect ring I had ever, ever seen.

"And I want you to be my wife."

He pulled the twinkling red and white ring from the black velvet box and reached for my hand again. I was crying and nodding my head and muttering nonsense, as he slipped the ring on my left hand. I sank to the floor between him and his couch and threw my arms around his neck.

"Yes, yes, yes," I chanted. "I love you, I love you, I love you."

I kissed his neck and he held me close. We sprawled out on his living room floor, and he wasted no time getting us undressed. Poor Masen huffed at us and got up to leave the room. We both laughed at him then got back down to the business of consummating our engagement.

Later, when we were tucked into bed and I held my hand above where we lay comfortably wrapped in each other's bodies, we watched as the stones winked in the moonlight beaming through the windows.

"It was my great-grandmother's," he muttered, kissing my temple and entwining our legs.

"The one who was in love with the Irish fighter?" I asked.

He hummed by way of answer, and I was overwhelmed with emotion by that simple answer.

"Thank you," I whispered, turning and burying my face in his neck. "Thank you for trusting me and being patient and loving me."

He laughed quietly and held me tight. "It's not like it's hard," he joked. "You make this love thing pretty fuckin' easy."

I knew that wasn't entirely true; easy wasn't the word I would have used to describe us, and I knew we had a whole life of challenges ahead of us to contend with. But I also knew that I would never want to do it without him. He just made everything better, prettier, more colorful and full of dimension.

"You make me happy," I said in response, nuzzling his throat and brushing kisses over the fine hairs on his chest. "So, so happy."

In the early hours of the morning, we made love again, setting our sights on the dawn of our new life together.


AN: To OneLilHopeful, TheHeartOfLife, and Einfach_Mich for pre-reading and supporting me, to MsKathy for all the big things and little things—many thanks to these beautiful ladies for being my friends.