A/N: As so often happens, I am about to completely date myself, and I'm sure most of you will have no idea what I am talking about. When I was a little kid, one of the musicians I listened to very often was Neil Diamond, and one of my all-time favorite songs of his was the title of this mini story, which also came from one of my favorite movies as a child, called "The Jazz Singer". And from the time I was old enough to start writing, one particular scene in this movie always stirred a desire to write something like it someday. And to this day, it still tugs at my heart and brings tears to my eyes, and after watching the movie a few months ago, I naturally began envisioning Edward and Bella, and here you have it. It feels good to finally get it out and with characters I felt passionately enough about to do so with.
So I hope you enjoy it. Until next time.
Dim light and the heavy stench of cigarettes, peanuts and beer surrounded me as once again, I sat alone in that dingy, out of the way bar. My fingers moved lightly over the keys of the out of tune piano, waiting for the regulars to begin wandering in to drink their sorrows away.
It wasn't the most glamorous job, by any means—hell, they barely noticed my presence behind the piano or my guitar at all most nights—but it was a way to scrounge up some tip money to eat, pay the rent on the rundown motel room I was sleeping in every night, and get together enough for a bus ticket the hell out of there. It wasn't the first, but I kept hoping each stop would be one of my last, before I could finally make my way back home. I just couldn't bear to go back yet and face them.
They'd all told me that LA would fail me, that I should just give up the pipedream of becoming a professional musician—with only two exceptions. And that was my best friend, Jasper, and his half-sister, Bella, also one of my closest friends. They had both been unfailingly supportive of me, knowing that I would never be completely happy in a shirt and tie, nine to five job, with the wife, two kids, dog and an SUV. Music was my passion, my drive, and I needed to give it my all before I could even consider settling down to sing lullabies rather than into a microphone.
However, chasing that dream and the shame I felt in my failure had led me to a year of drifting from town to town, job to job, praying that something would find me instead. And that's how I ended up on that bench, in front of that piano, in the middle of nowhere and a thousand of miles from home.
"Hey, piano man. Gonna sing me a song?" a familiar voice carried across the bar and actually brought a smile to my face as I slowly turned my head. "You, my friend, are not an easy man to track down, did you know that?"
I chuckled, swinging my leg over the bench to stand and hopping down off the small stage. "Hey, Jasper. How are you doing?"
He embraced me tightly once I'd reached him and I hugged him back just as securely. In all honesty, I had missed him, and when we pulled away, he seemed almost reluctant to let me go—I really had been away too long. "I'm doing all right. You, on the other hand, look like shit. What's with the beard? Lose your razor?"
"Just haven't bothered to shave. Come on, let's sit down," I replied as I rubbed my fingers over the heavy scruff lining by jaw, gesturing toward the nearby table and settling across from him. It had been almost two weeks since I'd taken the time to dig out my razor in the morning, which I'd never done back home. A day or two, maybe. Three days was pushing it. The clearing of Jasper's throat didn't allow me much time to think on it, and I brought my eyes back to him. Neither of us seemed to know exactly what to say, so I began with what was probably the most obvious. "So, how'd you find me anyway?"
Jasper shrugged and shook his head. "Like I said, it wasn't easy. Word of mouth, mostly. We were about to put your face on a milk carton or one of those flyers or something. Even the background check we had Dad do came up with jack shit after you left California."
"We?" I asked and Jasper responded with a raised eyebrow, instantly giving me my answer. "How is she?"
"Good. Had her heart broken by some punk who skipped town on her, but she's coping pretty well," Jasper replied cryptically and I gave a heavy sigh.
"Jas," I began, shaking my head and feeling the pain stabbing through my heart like a shard of ice. She'd been hurt and I hated to think on it. I hated knowing that she'd cried a single tear. And what I hated the most was that "punk" had been me. "I didn't mean to hurt her."
"Edward, you are probably the only man in this world who can say that to me and not get his teeth knocked down his throat. Because I know that's the truth. I know exactly how much Bella means to you and always has. Not that I'm particularly okay with what happened between you two, especially given that it's my little sister we're talking about, but something really great came out of it." Jasper paused and I brought my eyes up to look at him, furrowing my forehead as he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out his phone. He tapped the screen several times before turning it to me with a broad grin, while my heart and breath stopped. Bella's face stared back at me, looking just as beautiful as the day I left. Her eyes were alight and her smile was wide, but what captured my attention the most was where her cheek was rested—atop a tiny head covered in a thin layer of auburn hair. "His name is Edward Jasper Cullen, born on July sixth, seven pounds four ounces, twenty-one inches long, and every bit as vocal as his daddy."
I brought my trembling hands to the phone and took it between them, my breath leaving me in a long shaky exhale. Daddy. I was a father. There was no question about it, even if I didn't know from the bottom of my heart that Bella would never lie about something like that—from the reddish brown of his hair to the green of his eyes, that was my boy.
Bella had given me a son.
"Why aren't you killing me?" I asked softly, but my eyes never left that screen. I stared in absolute awe at Bella and the beautiful child we created together, as visions of how he came to be flashed behind my eyes.
I watched as Bella's tears began streaming down her face and I pulled her gently into my arms and she clung hers tightly around my waist—the night before I was to leave home for LA. "Bella, what's the matter? This is a good thing, remember? I won't be gone forever."
"I know. And I'm happy for you, I am. It's about time those idiots got their heads out of their asses and recognized talent when it's staring them in the face," Bella mumbled against my chest with only a hint of the fire in her voice I'd heard three weeks before, when the rep from LA called to ask me to come down for an audition as a backup guitarist/singer for an up and coming new artist. She leapt into my arms, wrapping hers, as well as her legs, around me and kissed me soundly on the lips in her excitement, then proceeded to verbally disparage every rejection and "it's great but not what we're looking for" my demo had ever gotten—all from her perch around my hips.
Yet, there was nothing like that in her demeanor that night. Her tear-filled eyes rose to meet mine and she brought her fingers to trace over my cheek, and I whispered, "Then what is it?"
"I just can't imagine not being able to see you for more than a few days at a time. I'm glad you're finally getting the shot you deserve, but I'm pretty sure I miss you already," she replied, attempting to smile through her tears. "Just don't forget me, okay?"
I cupped her cheek with my palm and pressed my lips to her forehead, murmuring against her skin. "Never, Bella. That would be physically impossible. You mean too much to me."
Bella lifted onto her toes and tilted her head up to meet my lips with hers, curling her hands around my shoulders to pull me against her. I took hold of her hips and began pulling back, but her grip tightened on me. "Please. I know you don't love me like that, but please. Before you go."
"Bella, how can you say that? You know that's not true," I whispered, my nose skimming along her cheek before brushing a kiss on her soft skin. "And you know why I can't."
Bella's lips trembled against my jaw with her nod, her hands coming around to glide up my chest to take hold of my face. "I know it's not, but I need to convince my head that you don't, or my heart will drive me insane. And he never has to find out. I don't know if or when I'm ever going to see you again. I just want this one night with you, if that's all I can ever have. Please."
After two heavy, shuddering breaths, my lips sealed over hers and my arms slid tightly around her waist. For seven excruciating years, we'd felt this intense longing for each other, wanting so badly to be together from nearly the moment we met when she was just fifteen, and I was nineteen. Though we'd never taken it beyond a few needy kisses over the years, no matter how much we wanted to. Aside from the age difference that for years, could have landed me in jail, Charlie having an illegitimate daughter he'd been unaware of until her mother passed away, also meant that she was my best friend, Jasper's, little sister. He'd taken on the role of big brother very seriously and guarded Bella with his life, particularly from guys, and I knew that included me.
Besides, there was that unwritten, unspoken rule between men that you just don't cross that line with your best friend's sister, and beyond those kisses, I never had. But God, how I loved her; she was every dream I could ever have, more than anything else in my life—even my music. Being unable to have her was killing me a little more every single day, and I could see the same was true for her. And I hated seeing her hurting more than I did feeling it myself.
Yet, holding her in my arms right then, feeling her against me and kissing her with every ounce of passion I had for her, nothing about it felt wrong. If one night was all we could ever have, I would take it.
I lifted her feet from the floor and followed her mumbled instructions to take her to the bedroom. I made my way through her small apartment with her legs wrapped around my waist and lowered her to the foot of the bed, where she immediately began raising her shirt over her head. Her eyes never left mine as I did the same, gazing down at the vision of her lying there, waiting for me and sliding her shorts over her hips to reveal her bare skin underneath.
She was perfect, flawless, and fuck, I wanted her.
I watched her slide up to rest her head on the pillow as I shed my shoes and the remainder of my clothing, and she reached into her bedside table to take out the condom. Climbing up the bed, I kissed a path along her abdomen, chest, throat, and finally her lips, coming face to face with her as she sheathed my length. She never broke eye contact with me as I brushed my lips on hers and settled between her legs. "I love you, Bella."
A tear slipped from her eye as she brought her hand to my face, pulling me closer until our foreheads met. "I love you, Edward. I always will."
I slowly pressed inside her and we made love for the first of three times that night; twice before I fell asleep with her in my arms, and once the next morning upon waking up. I should have been on the road hours earlier than I was, but I couldn't bear to leave her until the very last second before I absolutely had to.
And even then, it was the most painful thing I'd ever experienced; saying goodbye to the woman who held my heart, and forever would.
"I'm coming back for you, Bella. I promise," I murmured against her lips as we kissed goodbye at her door. "As soon as I can show your father and brother that I can take care of you."
"Just come back. That's all I want. Just you," she whispered and brushed her lips against mine. "I love you."
"I love you."
"I should have gone back," I said to no one in particular and then tore my gaze away from the picture that would forever be burned into my mind to look at Jasper. "Why aren't you killing me? Seriously."
"First of all, Bella is a grown woman who can make her own decisions. Second, I've always known how much you love my little sister, like I said. Third, she still loves you, man. And finally, this little guy right here needs his dad," Jasper replied, illuminating his screen once again and I gazed down at my son and his beautiful mother. "Don't you think it's time you came home, Edward?"
After twelve long months, I found myself back at my parents' door. From the moment I left that bar with Jasper, I hadn't slept or stopped any more than necessary; I needed to get home, to her, and to our child.
My mother embraced me tightly and my father gave me a nod and a "Welcome home, son', but they knew exactly what I was doing there. It wasn't the time for "I told you sos" or "It's about times"; there was something far more important.
My mother led me back to the kitchen, holding my hand in hers and stopping by the sliding glass door that looked out over the back yard. Then, without another word, she left me alone.
There she was, sitting out in the middle of the lawn and enjoying the rare, mild October evening. The setting sun bounced off the highlights of her hair and I couldn't get over how absolutely beautiful she was; my memory and pictures hadn't done her justice. And then my eyes fell to the blanket beneath her, onto the tiny infant lying there.
Bella and our son.
Jasper had told me that just prior to giving birth, she'd moved into my family's home, taking them up on their offer to help her out until she could get back on her feet after having the baby. They had the space and means that Charlie did not for both her and the child, and I knew they were both enjoying having their grandson around as well.
"There's no time like the present, Edward," I heard my father's voice from behind me and I looked back, catching his eye briefly before he left the room, too.
Taking a deep breath, I slid the door open and stepped out onto the back porch, my eyes never leaving Bella as she appeared to be talking animatedly with our son. Even from a distance, the adoration in each of their faces for the other was evident and I almost felt like an intruder on a very private moment between mother and child.
Suddenly, Bella froze as if sensing that she was being watched, not even appearing to breathe as she began turning her head to glance over her shoulder. Her gaze met mine and her chest rose with a deep inhale, but she never looked away.
I slowly descended the steps of the porch and started across the massive lawn toward her, watching her stand while lifting our baby from the ground, but remaining rooted to her spot with him. I realized then that I had no idea what to expect from seeing her again. Her brother's words ran through my mind—"Had her heart broken by some punk who skipped town on her"—and I saw the evidence of that statement in her eyes. They grew more nervous and uncertain with every step I took toward her until I stopped a few feet away, allowing her to decide how close she wanted to come to me.
At first, she didn't move, only staring back at me in disbelief, but then she began making her way toward me as my eyes flickered back and forth between her and the baby. She silently shifted him in her arms to hold him out to me, and I moved a couple of steps closer to take him into my hands. I could feel her gaze on me as I lifted him up level with my face, taking in every amazing feature of the beautiful child in front of me.
My own eyes stared back at me set within Bella's round face. From the tips of his reddish hair to the tiny sock-covered toes dangling beneath him, he was absolutely perfect. I closed my eyes and pressed a kiss to his soft cheek, my lips trembling with the overwhelming emotion.
I didn't know what I'd ever done in my life to deserve either of them, in any way. I'd been so afraid to come home and face my failure, to the knowledge that I was no better for her than the day I left. If anything, I was more broke and unworthy of her than ever and knew her family would never approve, even if Jasper had come around in the meantime. But more than that, I wanted to make her proud.
As I brought my eyes to hers and my son to my chest, I was nervous but so proud of her. She'd gone through it all alone, and she was still the beautiful, strong Bella I remembered. Being left to have a baby on her own hadn't broken her, but instead, seemed to make her stronger. Her brother claimed that she still loved me, and I could see it in the tears rimming her eyes, but would it be enough after what I'd done?
"I've been waiting," Bella said softly with a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "You said you'd come back."
How could I tell her that I'd missed her every single moment I was away? That she hadn't left my mind once. She was everything I thought and dreamed about, longed and ached for each night for a year, but I was too ashamed to look her in the eye and tell her that I failed. That I felt unworthy of her and little Edward, despite the pride I felt when looking at him. He was the best thing I'd ever done in my entire life, and that I'd created him with Bella only made him that much more sacred.
"Can you at least say hello?" Bella asked after my prolonged silence of simply looking at her, shifting her eyes nervously.
Holding my son securely with one arm, I stepped closer and slid my free one around her shoulders, sealing my lips over hers when my voice failed me once again.
Bella responded immediately, pressing her body closer to me and wrapping her arm tightly around my back. I felt her other hand gripping the elbow that was cradling our son and hummed softly against her lips, massaging my fingers over her shoulder blade before curling them around the back of her neck and into her hair.
I was home, finally back where I truly belonged.
After dinner, I sat on the edge of my old bed while Bella put our son to bed and showered, gazing around the room with her scent surrounding me. So much had changed, I noticed as my eyes took in the space around me. The walls had been repainted, and in place of my posters from my teenage years, there hung various photographs, mostly of our son, with Bella included in a few. Yet, in the center of them all hung a picture of the two of us, taken at her high school graduation.
We'd shared our first kiss that night, as we sat alone on her father's front porch, lost in the moment of her telling me that she had decided to attend the local community college in the fall. She'd been unsure all year, knowing the benefits that could come of going to a four-year college somewhere, possibly even out of state, but also not wanting to even go as far as Seattle, away from her family, friends, or me. I'd been so selfishly relieved that I took her face in my hands and pressed my lips to hers firmly, and she reciprocated just as heatedly. Only the sound of footsteps on the other side of the front door had broken us apart, but by then, it was too late. We'd had a taste of the forbidden and it wasn't enough, for either of us.
However, even with as damn good as it felt to have her in my arms again, with hers gripping me back as securely as she could with the baby between us, I knew we needed to talk. Everything couldn't be solved with one simple kiss, especially with a child involved, and I knew that a lot of that response from her was the heightened emotion of the moment. We hadn't seen each other in a year and so much had changed; did that include us?
My head was in my hands when I heard the door click closed and I didn't need to look up to see her. She was a permanent fixture in my mind, from the hesitant look I knew she would have in her eyes to the biting of that damn lip, to the nervous wrapping of her arms around her middle. "I'm sorry, Bella. I should have come home. I should have been here for you."
"How could you have known?" Bella replied softly and I looked up to find her eyes lowered to her feet. "What happened to you? I've been searching for you since I found out I was pregnant and got word that you weren't in LA anymore. You were just gone. That was the most terrifying thing I've ever felt. I knew I could handle having a baby, even alone, but thinking that something had happened to you? I was so scared."
I watched tears trickling down her cheeks with her hand clutched to her chest, her eyes squeezed shut in pain. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare anyone, least of all, you."
"Will you please stop apologizing and tell me why?" Bella cried, looking at me finally with bloodshot eyes.
I sighed, lowering my head again and folding my hands in front of me. "I could bear everyone's disappointment in me, except yours. You believed in me so much, and I swore I would come back and take care of you. How can I do that when I can't even take care of myself?"
"I don't need you to take care of me, Edward. At least, not like that," Bella replied, crossing the room to sit beside me on the bed. "I told you, all I needed was for you to come back."
I turned my head to gaze at her, meeting her eyes and felt my heart breaking at the look within them. I could see the months' worth of fear, the longing, and the love for me still present there. "I wanted to make you proud. And to make leaving you even minimally worth it."
"I am proud of you. I always have been," she said softly, lifting her hand to run her fingers along my face. "You don't need money or a huge career for that. You kept trying and never gave up. That is so much more to be proud of than anything else."
"But now, it's not just us, either. I have a son to support as well and no idea how I'm going to manage that," I groaned with an ache growing in my chest. "He's so damn beautiful, Bella. And I want to be a good father for him, but how the hell am I going to do it?"
Bella's hand lowered to take mine and squeezed it gently. "There's more to being a good father than money can supply. Supporting him is a team effort, and I have a job. He needs his parents, in whatever capacity that might be."
"What do you mean by that?" I asked, feeling my forehead crease in confusion.
Bella shrugged, her eyes lowering to our hands and running her thumb over mine. "A year is a long time, Edward. Things change, people change. And in all honesty, we had one night together. Granted, it was an amazing night with one of the most beautiful results I could ever imagine. But if it hadn't been for that one last time in the morning, since I really don't think either of the condoms broke the night before, chances are that he wouldn't be here. And I don't know that you would be here tonight if Jasper hadn't found you to tell you about Edward. He's the only thing really binding you to me right now, and I don't know where you've been or what you've done since you've been gone. Obviously, I haven't moved on, being pregnant and then home with a newborn, even if my heart would have allowed it. But I'm not naïve enough to not know that temptation was out there for you. You're a musician and I am a woman. I know exactly how appealing that can be to some."
"Bella, our child ties us together irrevocably, but he is not what binds me to you," I said emphatically, tightening my hold on her hand until she looked at me again. "My heart does that. I love you so damn much. I can't say that I would have been here tonight, but I would have come back, even if you didn't want me in that way anymore by the time I did. I left to make something of myself, not just for me, but for you, too. And not to get laid by dozens of women trying to tempt me, which they did try. But I didn't want them, and I hope you understand me well enough to know that sex isn't something that frivolous to me. Especially not when my heart was here in Forks."
Bella's fingers slid between mine and she inched closer to me until our thighs pressed together. Her other hand rose to settle on my chest, brushing her thumb back and forth above my pounding heart, watching its path for a few moments before lifting her eyes to me. "Aside from the little boy sleeping in the next room, you are the most important person in this world to me. I have missed you more than I could ever tell you, and he was the main thing holding me together most days over this last year. I never thought I would be one of those weak women, falling apart inside because the man she loves is gone. Part of me followed you to California that day, but you left me with a very special part of you. I love him so much, and when I found out I was pregnant, I was a little scared. Would I be any good as a mom? Could I do it alone? Yet, at the same time, I'd never heard better news in my entire life. I never planned on being a single mom, but I knew that once our baby was born, I'd figure it out and also be able to look at him and see you. And it may sound selfish, but I had given you your first child. That was one thing no one could ever take away from me."
I brought my hand to her ear, tucking her damp hair behind it and watching her tears slip down her cheeks. "You're not selfish, Bella. Not in the slightest. I wish it could have been under better circumstances, but I am very glad it was you that had my first child. I know we can't just pick up where we left off, even though we never really had the chance to start anything, but I hope that someday, you'll be the mother of all of them."
"Why can't we?" Bella asked softly, tracing her fingertip along the collar of my t-shirt. "There's been no one else for either of us. And I still love you. Time hasn't changed that. You still love me, right?"
I took hold of her face in both my hands and gently pressed my lips to hers. "Time hasn't changed that, either, Bella. You're the only one I've ever loved."
"Then please, let's not waste any more time. Everything else can be figured out as we go. I know we have a year to catch up on, but I want to do it together. I've missed you and I don't want to be without you anymore."
"I've missed you, too," I breathed out heavily, barely finishing my statement before she claimed my lips with hers.
Bella kissed me fiercely as she laid back on the bed, pulling me with her by the front of my shirt until I was settled above her. Her arms circled around my back, holding me flush to her body, and I felt every staggered breath she took against my chest. Her fingers clawed hungrily at my shoulders and I felt her foot dragging along my calf, and I froze.
"Bella, we can't do this. We should take it slow," I panted against her lips, swallowing hard and trying to quell my increasing arousal.
"We took it slow for seven long years, and what difference did it make in the end? It didn't stop the way we felt about each other, and we ended up in bed together anyway. We created a child because once or twice just wasn't enough. Following rules didn't change anything. I want you, right here with me, every night and every morning. Please don't take yourself away from me again. I don't care what anyone else says, I just want you and our son," she whispered, attempting to pull me closer despite the absence of space between us. "You don't have to make love to me if you don't want to. Just please touch me, hold me."
"I want to, but I don't know if we should. It's been a long time and you just had a baby," I answered quietly, pressing my lips to her neck as my head rested on her shoulder.
"Our baby is three months old, and I've been fully recovered for a while now. I was also put on the pill after he was born, so we don't have to worry about any more surprises. And yes, it has been a very long time. A year for us both, and I don't want any other man the way I want you, Edward," Bella replied as she ran her hands down my back and began sliding my shirt up. "And no amount of time or waiting will change that."
I reached my hand back to help her, lifting my head to pull it over and toss it to the end of the bed. She shimmied out of hers as well and threw it to the floor behind me, followed by the tiny shorts and panties she wore. Burying my face into her neck, I could smell her shampoo and the soft scent of her body wash from the shower she'd just taken as I unfastened my pants and worked them down over my hips.
Once we were both divested of our clothing, we held each other's gazes as we moved up the bed and covered ourselves over with the thick comforter. Her fingers stroked my face as we shared soft, gentle kisses while never closing our eyes, neither of us seeming to want to miss a single moment.
"I love you so much, Bella," I murmured and she responded just as tenderly before I began entering her, and her eyes finally slipped closed. Her legs tensed on either side of my hips and I slowed, afraid I was hurting her.
Bella shook her head and looked up to me again, tears misting in her eyes. "It feels amazing. Keep going."
I moved my hips back and forth, slowly easing myself into her until our bodies were completely joined and we both released simultaneous moans against each other's lips.
"Just go slow," Bella whispered with a hard swallow and slid her fingers into my hair. "I want this to last as long as it can."
I brushed the backs of my fingers along her cheek and kissed her gently, my forehead resting against hers. "I planned on it, Bella. There's nowhere else I'd rather be at this moment than right here with you."
Bella smiled briefly and then her lips parted with the first thrust of my hips. I had no idea how I'd gotten so damn lucky, and it made everything that had gone wrong in my life seem so trivial. All that truly mattered in the world was right there beneath me, and sleeping soundly in the next room. I was gazing at the love of my life, the mother of my son, making love to her. And for some crazy reason, after all we'd been through, she wanted me and loved me thoroughly and unconditionally. No amount of failure, or success, would ever change that, and I was a fool to have ever thought otherwise. I had everything I needed; just me, her and our baby.
"I'm never leaving you again, baby," I exhaled raspily and closed my lips around her top one, rocking my hips rhythmically against her.
Bella whimpered softly, pinching her eyes closed and tightening her arm around my shoulders while her other hand massaged my scalp. Her chest rose to press against mine as her body arched beneath me and her legs locked around my hips, bringing every inch of our skin possible into contact. "Good, because I have no intention of letting you."
Our eyes met once again while I continued moving inside her and I caught sight of her teeth digging deeper and deeper into her bottom lip. Her hips began rolling against me and her breaths accelerated, and I could feel the beginnings of my own release approaching.
"This won't be it," she panted heavily, clutching my hair tightly in her fist.
"No, Bella. Not a chance," I groaned and our lips sealed as we hit our peak, falling over together and trembling in each other's arms while we both gradually stilled. "I'm sorry. It's been a long time."
"Do I look the least bit discontent?" Bella asked in a soft whisper and I opened my eyes to look down at her. Her gentle smile and the soft mist of tears met my gaze, but she definitely did look happy. With one more brush of her lips on mine, she began rolling over beneath me and I settled onto the bed behind her, sliding my arms around her warm body. "I'm so glad you're home. I can think of one thing you could do for me, though."
"And what's that?" I responded, humming softly against the skin of her neck.
"Lose the beard. It doesn't suit you," she said, looking back at me sleepily and tugging lightly at the thick whiskers lining my jaw.
"I'll put that on the top of my 'to do list' in the morning," I replied with a chuckle, gently brushing her lips again and then we both settled our heads into the pillow.
The most amazing sound I'd ever heard filtered in from the next room before I could even begin to doze off, but Bella was already sound asleep. Then suddenly, she stirred, sitting up with her eyes still closed. "Duty calls."
I smiled, pulling her back to lie down and kissing her cheek. "Let me?"
She groaned but eventually nodded, mumbling nearly incoherently—she had to be exhausted. "Bottles in fridge."
I rose from the bed and grabbed my jeans, sliding them on and hurrying from the room, and into the adjacent one. I gazed down at the tiny, wriggling body for a moment before reaching down for my son, bringing him to my chest and pressing my lips to the top of his head. "Shh, it's okay, buddy. We don't want to wake up Mama, do we?"
Naturally, that didn't work in the slightest and I quickened my steps down the stairs and toward the kitchen, where I found my mother standing in her long bathrobe.
She looked over her shoulder and appeared surprised, but then smiled at the sight of me with the baby in my arms. "Right on time, sweetheart. Grandma's got your bottle all ready for you."
I watched as she tested it on her wrist and then held the bottle out to me, as I shifted him to lie down on one arm and sat down. He continued to cry and wouldn't take the nipple, and even glanced over in my mother's direction. "This was stupid of me. He doesn't know me from a lamp post. Here, can you do it, Mom? I don't want to wake Bella."
"No, honey, you can do it. He needs to get to know you," my mother said calmly, her hand stroking over my hair. "Talk to him. Let hear your voice. You've only been an active daddy for a few hours. Give yourself, and him, some time."
"What do I talk to a baby about?" I asked, my brow creasing as I looked up to her. "He can't understand."
"He understands more than you think," she whispered and then her gaze fell to the baby. "Edward, sweetheart, it's okay. This is your daddy. He's come a long way just to meet you."
Little Edward continued to hiccough, but gradually eased his crying as my mother brushed his cheek lightly with her finger and guided my hand to bring the bottle back to his mouth. He took to it and his eyes rose to me, wide and wondering, his breaths slowing with his sniffles in between long draws from the nipple.
"Say whatever you want him to know. I'll see you in the morning," my mother said, leaning over to kiss my cheek. "I love you, honey. I'm so glad you're home."
"Love you, too, Mom," I replied while never breaking eye contact with my son. I waited until I heard my mother's slippers scuffle across the floor, and her footsteps on the stairs before I began to crumble there with my child in my arms. I extended my pinky from my hold on the bottle, stroking his cheek lightly with my fingertip and his breath shuddered through his nose at my touch. "You are quite a handsome little man. You look so much like your mom. Sorry for the red hair, though. That's all my fault."
He gurgled softly in response and his eyes crinkled at the corners, smiling around the rubber tip in his mouth, before resuming his meal. I knew it was unrealistic to believe that he really understood anything I was saying, no matter what my mother said. However, that did not restrain the emotion bubbling up inside me as he seemingly held my gaze, as if waiting for me to keep talking to him.
"I am so sorry I wasn't here all this time, and I hope that someday, you both can forgive me. I would have come home if I'd known, but I made that impossible for anyone, even your mom. I've loved your mommy so much for so long, and I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. You really are the best thing I've ever done in my life, and I am never leaving either of you again, I promise. I'm going to do right by you and be the best daddy I can," I continued, my chest aching with the intensity of the moment I was sharing with my child as I pressed my lips to his forehead. "That is, of course, if Grandpa Charlie isn't cleaning his gun as we speak."
I knew Chief Swan would have a few choice words for me once he saw me again, even if I'd never meant to hurt Bella or my son, just from the silence from his end of the phone line when he'd called her that night. I'd hoped for my entire life to never be the one to make that man angry in any way; he terrified me more than both my parents combined. He loved his daughter so much, and I had wanted nothing more than to be the man he felt he could trust with her someday. And I had already taken several steps in the wrong direction with my actions.
Edward's head wiggled on my arm and I lifted mine to gaze down at his scrunched face as he released the drained bottle. He began to fuss a little, squirming in my hold, so I lifted him to my shoulder as I'd watched Bella do earlier and began patting his back.
"Guessing you don't like the beard, either, huh? Don't worry, Mom's already requested it gone," I mumbled as he rested against me until the tiny bubble of air worked its way up from the tapping of my hand.
It still didn't seem real that I was sitting there with my tiny baby son in my arms, feeling such a sense of fulfillment in my life after months of hopelessness and despair. And Bella was upstairs, sound asleep in my old bed, still wanting and loving me as much as she ever did. I no longer felt the need to run away in search of my dreams—everything was right where I was meant to be all along.
After taking Edward back upstairs and making an awkward attempt at changing his diaper, I settled him into his crib again. He continued to gaze up at me with curious eyes and I reached down to rest my hand over his chest and stomach. I could feel him breathe and wriggle beneath my touch and his little heartbeat against my fingertips, and it brought such a calming sensation over me. It was amazing.
"Get some sleep, little guy. Daddy loves you and will see you in the morning," I said softly, feeling so hesitant to leave him, despite how badly I knew I needed sleep.
But first thing's first.
I left the baby's room and crossed the hall to the bathroom, checking under the sink for my old electric razor kit. The buzz and hum vibrated against my skin as I gradually granted Bella's request, and the subtle one of my son, and I could see my jaw again.
As I was toweling off my face, I heard the distinct sound of soft whimpers and I walked out of the bathroom to check on the baby. He was still wiggling and kicking his feet, but otherwise, he wasn't making a sound. I turned my head to look toward the next room, and as I moved down the hall, it grew louder until I opened the door.
Bella was crying.
I quickly crossed the room after stepping inside and closing the door again, gently climbing into the bed behind her and touching her arm with my hand. "Bella?"
Her head spun toward me and her eyes shot open to look over her shoulder, a shuddering breath accompanying her tears. "You're really here?"
I swept her hair back from her face with my fingertips and kissed her forehead as her hand rose to cover mine, pressing her body back against me. "I'm really here, Bella. I'm not going anywhere."
"I thought it was a dream," she whispered, closing her eyes again and hugging my arm around her middle. "Another incredible dream."
"You dream about me?" I asked, pressing my lips to her temple and she nodded as another tear slipped from her eye and fell to my lips. "Are you usually naked in bed when you do so?"
Bella stilled suddenly, realizing what I'd said and pulling the blanket to her bare chest and turning her face into the pillow. "No, not ever, actually."
I chuckled as I kissed her shoulder, feeling her skin flush with heat from the embarrassment she was surely experiencing. It hadn't been my intent, only to point out the differences from normal, but some things never changed with her. "It's no dream, Bella. And I'm here as long as you want me."
"I'll always want you. But you said everything I ever wanted to hear you say, exactly," Bella mumbled into the pillow and then turned her face forward again. "You weren't upset with me about our baby, you love me, you're never leaving me again. That's all I've been dreaming about for a year. And now, you must think I've become such a slut."
I lifted my head to look at her with a furrowed brow, tugging gently on her shoulder and rolling her body toward me. "Of course not. Why would you say that?"
"Because the last two times I've seen you, I've thrown myself at you and dragged you into bed with me, despite your objections both times," Bella answered softly, her eyes remaining lowered to the blanket covering her chest.
"Bella, it wasn't objections, it was just precautions," I said, tilting her chin toward me and kissing her gently. "I love you, more than I can tell you. And the thought of losing you forever because of one action in a single moment of wanting you so badly that I lost my head, it scared me. And I don't want to mess things up again. With us, and especially not with Edward."
"You won't, and you never did. I knew you'd come back when you were ready. It's not like you ran out on me, knowing I was pregnant. You're not going to lose me or Edward," Bella replied, rolling onto her side and releasing her hold on the blanket.
"Edward…sounds so strange to hear that in reference to anyone but myself," I said, wrapping my arms around her and resting our foreheads together.
"I wanted him to have another little piece of his father, no matter how long it took for you to come back," Bella whispered, tracing my chest with her fingertips. "And me, as well. I really have missed you so much."
I felt her arm circle around my waist and her body shifted closer, pressing against me and draping her leg over my thigh. "There hasn't been a day I haven't thought about you at least once. I should have called, but I let so much time pass. And the more that did, the harder it became to gather up the courage to. Bella, I'm so s—"
"Don't," Bella cut me off, bringing her fingers to my lips. "No more apologies, I mean it. We're here, we're together, and we have a beautiful new baby. That's all we need to think about anymore."
"Not exactly. I still need to face your father," I replied against her fingertips, opening my eyes to look at her. "So that by the time I find a job and can take care of both of you, I can earn his blessing to marry his daughter."
Bella's eyes misted as she gazed back at me and fluttered closed as my lips brushed hers. "Edward, you don't have to do that. There's no need to make an honest woman out of me. Lots of people have babies together and never get married."
I lifted my hand to cup her face and shook my head. "Bella, have you not heard a single thing I've said to you? I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life doing so with you in my arms, if you'd let me. You didn't need to have my baby for that. You've been the girl I've dreamed of marrying since the moment I met you."
Bella gave a soft chuckle and tightened her arm on me, and my eyebrows rose in surprise. That was funny? Her laughter increased for a moment at the sight of my face, and then she simply smiled against my lips as she kissed me. "Are you asking me?"
"Well, not officially with a ring and fancy proposal. But yes, that is my intent," I answered seriously, stroking her cheek with my thumb. "It was what I was fighting so hard for all this time. To come back to you, ask you to marry me, and deserve the 'yes', if you chose to give it."
"I would have said yes, no matter what. With or without money, or the baby, or my family's blessing, if need be. I would marry you anytime, anywhere. I want to be with you forever," Bella murmured in reply, nuzzling her nose against mine as she spoke. "Because I love you, and I have for so long. You're worth every moment of the wait."
"Just until we can at least get a place of our own," I said and she nodded, pressing her cheek to my chest.
Her breaths were slow as she ran her fingertips along my back and I began to wonder if she was falling asleep again. Then I felt her lashes brush against my skin with her blinking. "Does that mean you won't touch me again before then, either?"
I sighed and secured my arms around her, placing a gently kiss on her hair. "It won't be long, baby. I swear."
"Looks like I'll be pulling some overtime, then," Bella replied and I pulled my head back to look down at her. The smirk on her lips contrasted with the serious set of her eyes as they met mine. "Not just because sex with you is amazing. I really want this, too. Just time for us, but alone, without the worry of who might be listening."
"With one tiny exception," I added, nodding behind me toward the wall separating us from our son, and she rolled her eyes with a laugh. "Soon, Bella. Very soon."
"And thank you, by the way," she said as she snuggled back against my chest. "It's good to see your whole face again."
When Chief Swan arrived the next evening to visit with his daughter and grandson, I thought for sure my stomach would abandon ship any moment with the way it was flipping as his eyes fell upon me. I kept waiting for the lecture that was certainly bound to come—how could I treat his daughter that way, how I intended to take care of my son, and what my intentions were toward Bella. I was formulating responses in my head to each of those questions, but they all seemed feeble whenever I caught his hard gaze locked on me, with my son in his arms and Bella right beside him.
The instant he handed the baby to her and stood, I knew the moment had come before he could even utter my name. I followed him out to the kitchen and my mother quickly departed, leaving us to speak in private. His silence was more disconcerting than it had been the night before on the phone with Bella, and intensified as his fingers ran along his mustache in contemplation.
"Edward, I've always liked you. You've been a very good friend to Jasper over the years, and I've considered you to be as close to another son as I could have without the ties of blood. And the way you've cared for Bella since she arrived here, I've been very grateful for it, even if I've never said as much," he began in a soft tone, but then folded his arms over his chest and turned his stern gaze to me. "So you can imagine my surprise when my little girl came to me and told me she was pregnant, and that you were the father. I'd been more sure that I would have you at my door asking to marry my daughter before I ever heard something like that."
His statement took me off-guard for a moment, but I bowed my head, the shame from his disappointment with me evident in his voice nearly as bad as it would have been from my own father. "I'm sorry, sir. I never meant for any of this to happen. Bella means more to me than I could ever explain in words, and I would never intentionally hurt her."
"Then why, Edward? Why would you do this?" he asked in an exasperated tone, waving his arms out. "And what about your son? Or is he the only reason you came back? To do the honorable thing?"
"I came back for them both, but honor has little to do with it," I replied and immediately regretted my words when his eyes widened. "Allow me to rephrase that. I did come back to do the right thing for both Bella and little Edward, but not solely out of duty to do so. I love her, Chief Swan. I don't remember what it's like not to love her. She and our son are the best things that have ever come into my life. But I always intended to come back for her from the day I left, long before I knew she'd had a baby. She was my reason for everything I've done this last year, and I know I've done it all wrong. I wanted to be the man she deserved, to have something to offer her besides my heart, which was already hers to begin with. I know it's no excuse for not keeping in touch with her or coming back sooner, before Edward was born. And I will regret that for the rest of my life. I just wanted her to have a better life that I could provide for her this whole time, and to earn your respect as well."
"Son, you've had my respect for years. Even this hasn't dampened that much at all, though I admit, that even seems odd to me," he said, finally sitting down at the kitchen table. "You've always been very respectful to her, although I don't know how long all this has been going on between the two of you, and I'm really not sure I would want to. But I do know you well enough to be absolutely positive that you didn't force yourself on my daughter. I don't appreciate the manner with which this all happened, but Bella played a part in making that beautiful little boy in there, too. I just wish you two had dated or something first, at the very least."
I folded my arms across my chest, more to find a way to occupy my hands than anything else, and nodded my head. "So do I, sir. Believe me, I wanted to and I should have done so. On retrospect, my reasons for not dating her were stupid. Once she was eighteen, I had no reason not to, other than I thought there was no way you would be all right with that, and Jasper's my best friend, and that's his little sister. I couldn't cause problems for her like that within her family."
"Well, you definitely would have been far preferable to some of the other schmucks around here who don't respect her even a fraction of that amount," he replied as he leaned back in his chair, his eyes perusing me. "I'm not a stupid man, Edward. I've seen the way you've looked at her for a very long time, and it was never that lustful gaze that would have brought my gun out. I never would have allowed a nineteen year old boy around my fifteen year old daughter, if you'd looked at her any other way from the very beginning. And you're not standing there feeding me bullshit excuses or dispelling your responsibility in all that's transpired here. I was never really angry with you, Edward, at least, not in the way you might think. I knew my baby loved you just as much, and you were both hurting for no reason. And that made me angry."
"Chief Swan, I will do everything I can to set things right for Bella, our son, everyone. Nothing is more important to me than that," I answered, overwhelmed by all he had said. "And I will be at your door someday to ask for your blessing to marry your daughter."
"And I'll be waiting there, ready to give it," he replied, gazing at me with both pride and sadness as he looked upon the man who would take his little girl away someday. "And I know you'll deserve it."