Best song for this chapter and possibly the story as a whole? Chances by Five for Fighting.
Consider where we started and where we've ended up. Have a listen; it really is perfection.
Don't get me wrong, I'd never say never.
'Cause though love can change the weather,
No act of God could pull me away from you.
I'm just a realistic man, a bottle filled with shells and sand
Afraid to love beyond what I could lose when it comes to you...
Bella and I watch Riley and Kalia drive away before turning toward the house, laughing at the approving barks coming from Max who's propped up on the window sill.
"Hey, buddy!" He bounds over to me, his paws flying up to my chest, tongue wagging. I love welcome home receptions like this.
I drop my bags and get down on the ground to wrestle with him, rubbing and patting him all over. "Missed you too, man."
"I've gotta pee…what else is new," Bella announces with a sigh, dropping her purse. "Be right back."
After a few more minutes of roughhousing with Max, I get up from the floor, toss my cover on the coffee table and collapse into the couch. I stretch out with a roar, my hands fluffing the throw pillows under my head, when I discover one of our trusty little condoms. It's been waiting here patiently for its day to come.
Come. I snort at my own pun.
I rest my eyes, breathing a sigh of relief that I'm back in the same country as my wife, who managed to stay in one piece despite a few near-misses. My fingers still playing with the condom, I hear the floorboards creak and I look up. Bella's standing in the doorway wearing a little pink nightie that comes down to her thighs, and I'm instantly stiffening. My lonesome dick doesn't need much coaxing. Seven plus weeks without my wife? Come on.
She eyes the condom in my hand and smirks. "Guess we're on the same page then, huh?"
I reach my hand out. "C'mere, beautiful." When I sit up, she straddles my lap, perching almost back at my knees because of the belly in our way.
"Good grief," she whines and steadies herself. "I feel like I'm about to fall off."
I smile, taking her face between my hands and kissing her gently. "I've got you."
Our lips move in a slow dance, tongues tangling amid pleasure-filled sighs. Damn, I missed this.
"Edward, please." She's breathless and begging, her hips swiveling on my tensing thighs.
"How do you want me?" I ask, before kissing the juncture of her neck and collarbone. It smells like oranges and coconuts and tastes like forever. My tongue travels up to find her pulse point, where it thrums beneath the delectable surface.
"First— ahhhh— I think we should go to our bed. I wanna try to be on top, but if we're sitting here on the couch, you'll end up with belly burn on your chest from all the friction I create," she giggles in my ear.
"UH—!" She calls out wide-eyed and we both look down while the baby shifts, sending a wave of some limb across her belly. I lift her nightie and put my palm on her stomach.
"Hey there, little one. You about to give us a show?"
Bella smiles, watching me watch her belly move. A few more adjustments occur before the resident seems happy in his or her quarters.
"Come on, Marine." She dangles her feet to find the floor and stands. "I want you on our bed and naked in the next sixty seconds."
"Shoooooot, you don't know who you're dealing with," I scoff, pushing past her, stripping as I take the steps two at a time to the sounds of her laughter.
Once we're both upstairs and I'm nude as ordered, Bella joins me on the bed, straddling my hips.
"Let me know if you get tired, and we can mix it up."
She nods and we resume our kissing session from downstairs. My fingers comb through her hair as her erect nipples make themselves known under the satin material. Fighting for breath through my mouth's demands, she trails her hands down my chest, wraps her fingers around my dick and begins to tease and pull. If I keep thrusting into her palm, this will be a twenty-second hand job.
No, thank you. Not after seven fucking weeks of celibacy.
"Oh, God…stop, we gotta stop. Right now, I need you right now. Up on your knees," I command with a smack to her ass, not caring that I jumped into Major Masen mode.
She rises up, hovering over me while I lay back and hand her the condom. But then I remember…
"Wait, you don't have your stitches anymore."
She shakes her head and wiggles her eyebrows.
"Do you want to use this, or are we ready to chance it?"
She grabs it from my hand, tears it open and rolls it down. "Definitely want to use it for as long as we can." She sinks down and shudders while my eyes roll to the back of my head.
"Holy fuck, you feel incredible," I groan as she rises and falls on me, keeping up a steady rhythm.
"Mmmmm…like I was saying…I want to use them for selfish reasons because I missed my husband. And if you coming inside me is gonna set this party off, we're keeping you wrapped up, buddy."
My mouth falls open as she continues to grind, swivel and bounce.
"Is that okay with you?" she squeaks when I start playing with her clit with my right hand and her nipple with my left.
"Baby, anything is okay as long as you keep doing exactly what you're doing— aww, shit— you'll get no argument from me."
Five days later, we've re-christened almost every sturdy surface in our home, but there's still no baby action. To be fair though, we've used condoms every single time until this morning. Precaution went flying out the window around quarter after six, because I woke up horny as fuck, slipped my hand between Bella's thighs and found her soaked. It was game on.
Pretty sure we've scarred Max for life.
This afternoon, we're heading out to the park near the beach where Bella's old apartment is. Rosalie got back from the States a couple of days ago, so we're having a big cookout with the gang.
"Girls just called. Their appointments should be done in the next fifteen minutes. We're supposed to meet them near the amphitheater." I collapse into a dining room chair, watching my two cohorts finish packing for the picnic.
"What's all this, Emmett? We're going to the park for the afternoon, not the month," Riley argues, sifting through the contents of the cooler.
"Hey. Get off my case. Rosie has all different cravings day and night. Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance, Biers."
I chuckle and shake my head, listening to Emmett throw a cornerstone Corps phrase up in Ri's face.
"Ohh, fuck yeah. These are so damn good." Riley holds up a box of Edy's Real Fruit Bars. "You ever try these, Edw—?"
"Gimme that! Are you crazy?" Emmett, wide-eyed, rips them out of Riley's hand. "Don't mess with Rosie's ice pops, dude. She'll go for your eyes, I shit you not."
Riley holds his hands up in surrender while I crack up, grabbing the campstools and tent chairs for the girls to sit on. "You two ready?"
"Yeah. Do you have everything you need for Bella, food-wise?"
I nod, marking off my fingers. "Paper thin Genoa salami, cream cheese and Otis Spunkmeyer double chocolate chip muffins. I'm husband of the year, as far as I can tell," I'm kidding, but really I'm dead serious. Bella's been on a salami kick. Probably not the healthiest food on the planet, but with the baby coming any day now, I'm hardly going to pick on her nutritional choices and deny her an indulgent meal with our friends. She's been a trooper, enduring her strict gestational diabetes diet for the last few months. She deserves this treat. "We should get going. What we really don't want is to have two hungry, pregnant women kept waiting for their food. Things could get very ugly, very quickly."
"Shit, you wanna hear ugly? Rosalie was craving Popeye's the night she flew in. So I brought home a huge spread…dirty rice, mac and cheese, slaw, biscuits…the whole nine." Emmett locks up his house, and we head to Riley's truck with our gear. "We did some damage, but there were plenty of leftovers. Well, she went to bed early, and I stayed up late playing Metal Gear Solid. My midnight snack craving hit, so I grabbed a few legs and housed them. Left my plate in the sink, went to bed…didn't think anything of it. Got up and out the door at my usual time the next morning, but got a phone call from her a few hours later."
I bark out a laugh, imagining where this story is going.
"My wife calls me from the head, her face in the toilet, yelling at me between heaves."
Riley contorts his face in disgust, and I just shake my head.
"Em—METT!" His voice goes up three octaves, mimicking his wife's words. "Why did you leave your disgusting chicken bones and leftovers in the sink? I haven't stopped throwing up, you shithead!" He shrugs again. "How the hell was I supposed to know she'd have an issue with chicken and all the sides the next day?"
"So she was craving Popeye's the night before for dinner, but twelve hours later, she couldn't stand the sight of it?"
Emmett nods. "Pretty much."
"Bella did the same thing to me a few months ago. Right before she found out she had diabetes, she was dying for her favorite pizza from the Hut. So, one night I bring home a Meatlovers with mushrooms on thin crust, two actually…because I figured I'd help out and provide a few dinners' worth of meals so she wouldn't feel the need to cook for us."
Emmett snorts. "Suckerrrrrr."
"The next day, I get home from work— like around nine— and she's complaining that I left my gross pizza in the refrigerator and I had to take the rest with me to work immediately." I shake my head, remembering the night in question. "My crazy wife made me turn back around that night, take the pizza out of our house and drive back to work to leave it in the fridge there. She claimed the smell was lingering in the air. I swear, I think this pregnancy has turned her into part-wolf."
That line earns me some resounding laughter as we pull into the lot of the park where we're meeting Bella, Rosalie and Kalia.
The guys and I haul the coolers and chairs toward the area where Bella told us they'd be waiting. As we approach, Riley slows, his eyes fixed on the group.
"Fuck," he mutters, shaking his head. I look up and study the scene in front of us, trying to connect the dots but failing miserably.
"What's wrong?" I ask, giving up on the mystery.
"Unexpected visitor." He nods toward the crowd, and I realize that there's an extra person chatting with our girls…Senna.
I drop the chairs and cooler I'm carrying and thread my arms under my wife's elbows, rubbing our baby belly and placing a kiss below her ear. "Hey, Slim."
She giggles, spinning in my arms. "Mmmmm, you smell delicious. Freshly showered hubby…my favorite flavor."
"You're just saying that because you're not allowed to have mint chocolate chip anymore."
She hums into my chest. "Not true. You've always been scrumptiously lickable. But I promise you this, the first place we stop on the way home from the hospital will be at Cinnabon, so I can get one with cherry topping. Their recent commercials are killing me."
I lean down for a kiss. "Fair enough." Bella stiffens in my arms, whimpering. Immediately, I'm on high alert. "You okay?"
She blows out a breath, her eyelids fluttering. "Yeah, just—mmmm— a cramp."
"A cramp? Like the-baby's-on-the-way cramp?"
She presses her hand against her side, putting her weight on the picnic table. "I don't know. This is the third one I've had today that's seemed a little more painful than the others I've felt since Thursday." She straightens up after another exhale and wraps her arms around my back. "I guess we'll see, right?"
"Maybe my super-potent swimmers we let loose this morning are doing the trick?" I wiggle my brows, reminiscing on the crazy sex we had before we climbed out of bed to get our day started.
"That and the western omelette with extra hot sauce for breakfast…and the Raspberry Zinger tea…oh, and the foot massage I just had at my pedicure."
I narrow my eyes at my wife. "I choose to believe it was my guys, okay?"
She giggles, leaning in for another kiss. "Whatever you say, honey."
Riley starts grilling the meat while the rest of us set up the table and chairs.
Kalia pokes her head between Bella and me on the bench. "Do you two mind if I invite Senna to our barbeque? She was just hanging on the beach by herself and her roommate left for the summer last week. I feel bad that she's alone."
"It's fine by me, kiddo," I explain. "Maybe you should ask Riley, though?"
Bella knees me under the table and I look over to where she's nodding. Riley's eyes are wide as saucers and he's shaking his head subtly. I suppose I should've glanced his way before answering Kalia.
"I already did. He said he didn't care, but he asked me to clear it with you first."
Bella smiles at Riley and pats Kalia's hand. "Well, you've got your answer, sweetie."
"Yay!" Kalia whispers and scampers off to talk to Senna who's chatting with Rosalie and Emmett at the moment.
"Thanks a lot, you two," Riley spits, "you were my out, ya know!"
I raise my hands, talking through a mouthful of Doritos. "How the hell were we supposed to know what you wanted us to say? What's wrong with Senna?"
Bella's arms are now crossed. "There's nothing wrong with her. Riley's just not ready," she challenges, her left eyebrow rising to a point.
"Ready for what?" I ask, looking between the two of them. "What the hell am I missing?"
Kalia starts squealing behind us. We turn to find Emmett laughing, while Senna is frozen but smiling.
"What's going on over there?" I help Bella off the bench to discover what all the fuss is about.
"Attack of the ladybugs," Kalia giggles and scoops up a red one from Senna's shoulder. "Oh my God, here's another one!"
While Kalia is touching her finger to Senna's lower back to coax the second ladybug to crawl onto her nail, Rosalie chimes in. "Holy crap, there's another one in your hair…hold still."
Emmett pulls one from the top of her backpack, too. "All these ladybugs on you at once? Good grief girl, you need to go play the lottery," he jokes.
Once we all settle back into our seats with drinks, Kalia can't keep silent. "That was so cool that those ladybugs came to visit you," she sighs. "I bet Nalani sent them."
"SHIT!" Our heads whip toward Riley who's shaking his hand furiously, walking away from the fiery grill and grabbing for ice from the cooler.
"Riley!" Kalia scolds, hopping out of her seat to check out his injury. "You owe me a quarter in the swear basket for that one!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he mutters. "I'm fine, by the way."
"I have some Neosporin in my bag," Senna offers. "It might soothe the burn after you ice it." She digs into her backpack and pulls out the tube of ointment.
"Oh, ummm…thanks." His smile seems forced, not to mention his less-than-enthusiastic reply.
Once Riley's burn has been treated, Bella instigates again. I've figured out her game, now.
"So, what were you saying about Nalani sending the ladybugs, Kalia?"
"Oh, just that I think— well, I know— Nalani's been watching over me since she died, but I think she knows how much Senna's helped me in school and she sent her here to me…like a guardian angel." She shrugs, smiling, as Senna winks at her. "I think Nalani knows she'll take care of me."
I catch the exchange of smirks between Rosalie and my wife. Yup, troublemakers… both of them.
Everyone makes a plate and gets into conversation, settling at the other end of the table, but I hang out by the grill with Riley as he flips the last of the burgers.
He takes a long pull from his Corona. "Workin' on it."
I nod…and wait.
"Ladybugs," he mutters, shaking his head. "I feel like a piece of trash for even considering the remote possibility that Nalani would want me to pay attention to somebody else." His jaw tenses, nostrils flaring. "But there are all these signs, you know? These fucking signs. Nalani was always big on signs, and everyone knows ladybugs were her favorite." He plates the burgers after a deep breath and turns to walk away, so I figure I'll join him. He's in a talking mood…which rarely happens…I need to be there for him, even if it's just to listen.
We cross the bike path and head toward the beach. I smile, remembering the last time I was here. Bella and I confirmed we were having a baby and I bumped up the wedding in the same conversation. The crazy realization hits that if we'd kept to the original date, we'd be getting married two days from now.
"I listen to them, Kalia and Senna," he offers. "When Senna comes over to tutor, I always leave the room, but I find myself listening in on their conversations, lurking in the hallway, just out of sight, like a fucking stalker. I'm discovering so much about her and I want to know more, but I feel like I'm cheating. I get to learn all this stuff about her family, job, friends…but she knows nothing about me. Hell, I'm not even on her radar because I act like such a dick. I barely make eye contact with her when we're in the same room." He chugs the last of his beer and tosses it in the recycling bin we pass. "And I know that's not fair to her, to me…I don't know," he spits. "I'm fucking thirty-six years old and I honestly don't know what to do."
He falls back on the sand, his forearms propped on his upright knees. He's hanging his head until I sit next to him and he glances up.
"Are you looking for advice, here?"
"I don't know what I'm looking for. In a few weeks, it'll be a year since we lost Nalani. Next week is the anniversary of us getting engaged. I think about her pretty much all day every day. If she'd be happy with how I'm doing with Kalia, if she'd approve of the meals I make for us, if she'd be proud that I sought out her step-dad to put Kalia in touch with him." He looks out on the water. "I swear, sometimes when Senna's sitting with Kalia at the dining room table, I do a double-take thinking it's Nalani. I even called her 'Lani' once," he scoffs, disgusted. "Kalia didn't seem bothered, just corrected me without thinking twice…but fuck! My head is so screwed up right now, man. I don't know what's right."
Before I open my mouth to respond, I think for a few minutes. Eric hasn't even been gone for three full years and Lauren's apparently had her boyfriend in her life for almost a year. My mom buried my dad over twenty-five years ago, but she's finally found someone she cares for and who loves her right back. Bella lost Mike just over four years ago, and here she is, newly married and ready to pop with my child.
"Who's to say what the right amount of grieving time is, Ri? I have so many people in my life who've experienced a tragedy in one form or another, yet they've all found love again. Some faster than others, but it doesn't matter, and it shouldn't matter. You have to come to terms with what's right for you. Nobody can dictate how long you should mourn somebody, or stay single, or whatever. If you don't feel comfortable thinking about somebody else yet, then that's okay. But if you're feeling a pull toward Senna," I hedge, "I think that's okay, too. You just have to tell yourself that you're on your own timetable. When it's right, it's right. And maybe– ladybugs or not— maybe Nalani's telling you that she's ready when you're ready."
He looks at me intently, like he's really hanging onto every word I'm saying. "Senna's the complete opposite of Nalani," he snorts. "She has this sassy mouth on her…probably from always dealing with high school kids. Kinda like Rose in that way. I always hear her snarking it up with Kalia. The two of them together make me laugh. It's funny, you know?" He makes eye contact with me and smiles. "Nalani was always quiet, reserved. And she and Kalia are the blood relatives, but Kalia's always been the center of attention kid, loud, playful…it's almost like she's the mirror image of Senna, just twenty years younger."
"Kalia's hilarious. Nothing like Nalani," I agree, quietly. "Except for the fact that they looked like twins, their personalities were polar opposites."
"But Kalia still worshipped the ground her sister walked on."
I smile, sadly. "Of course she did. Everyone was naturally drawn to her. Nalani was a beautiful person, inside and out."
Riley looks back out at the sea and hurls a shell he's been playing with into the mint green abyss. "She was."
Attempting to squash the ache that lingers, knowing Nalani is gone forever, I clear my throat. "I don't really know her, but Senna seems like a genuine girl. Anyone can see that she cares a lot about Kalia. And she's definitely gorgeous," I add, not beating around the bush.
"Yeah, there's that," Riley chuffs. "It's not even about her looks, though. And if I do let myself explore the possibility of spending time with Senna, I don't ever want her to think I'm doing it because she has the same features as Nalani."
"Well, their coloring might be similar, but their faces and hair are the complete opposite. Nalani's was straight as a pin and she looked like she was from Hawaii— err, Fiji, rather. Clearly Senna's got a whole other look, with her curly hair and light eyes." I toss a pebble into the water. "What's her nationality, anyway?"
Riley shakes his head. "I heard her tell Kalia she's a mutt. African-American, Native American, Middle Eastern…whatever it all is, the combination is spectacular."
I crack a smile, hearing a little bit of my old friend rise to the surface. He just needs time to know it's okay. That everything and everyone is going to be fine, no matter what he decides.
"I think— when you're ready— you should engage Senna in conversation. Don't wait for Kalia to do it for you. Kalia's already sold on her. I doubt it would take much convincing, if you were honest with Kalia about wanting to get to know Senna more. You have to forgive yourself first, before you move forward with anything. What happened last year was not your fault, and I guarantee you that Nalani is up there on a cloud beaming from ear to ear watching you and Kalia make your way together. You made her wishes come true, Ri. Don't ever doubt that."
Before he gets a chance to respond, our attention is diverted by a chorus of shouting from behind us.
"EDWARD! EDWARD, GET BACK HERE!"
We both stand and turn, seeing Kalia running toward us at lightning speed.
"Edward, hurry! The baby's coming!"
My heart leaps into my throat and I sprint back to the picnic site, certain I've surpassed Usain Bolt's best time. I see Emmett and Senna walking Bella toward Riley's truck, so I grab her purse from the chair and catch up to them but realize we don't have any of our maternity supplies with us.
"Your bags are still at the house, baby," I remind her, stepping in for Senna as she jogs forward to open the car door for us.
"Craaaap!" Bella whines in frustration and maybe some pain.
"I'll go get them," Riley chimes in, climbing into the driver's seat as Emmett and I get Bella situated in the back seat.
"Wait, no," Emmett interrupts. "I'll run down to your house and get them, Riley, just concentrate on getting them to the hospital."
"But what about everyone else?"
"I'll get everybody home, no worries," Senna offers with a smile. "You just get this mommy and daddy to labor and delivery."
"Will do and… thanks." I hear Riley's inch of progress with Senna. It gives me hope in my own personal moment of uncertainty…fatherhood charging at me like a freight train.
I toss Emmett my keys and he takes off in Rosalie's car, heading to our house on Kinser to grab Bella's maternity bag and favorite pillow.
"We'll see you soon," Rosalie adds. "Once we figure out the car situation, we'll come to the hospital."
I thank the girls, watching Rosalie, Kalia and Senna hustle back to our picnic site to clean up, while Riley peels out in the direction of the gate closest to the hospital on Foster.
Bella nods rapidly, squeezing my hand. "Yeah," she blows out on a huge breath. "I'm excited and a little scared."
I lean in, kissing her temple. "How did it happen?"
"Just minding my own business, eating my cheeseburger and then I had to pee. So I went to the bathroom at the pavilion, triple-lined the seat with the toilet cover thingies, sat down and literally had a waterfall gush out of me. Really lovely experience by the way," she groans. "It even splashed on my granny panties…so I'm going commando as we speak."
"I'm not deaf," Riley chimes in from behind the wheel. "And now I know you were wearing granny panties up until ten minutes ago. So thanks for that image."
I roll my eyes at Riley as Bella sucks in air.
"OhGodOhGodOhGodOhGahhhhhhhhhhhhhhd," Bella mewls into my shoulder, blowing out several deep breaths over the course of the next minute. "Holy cripes, that one hurt."
I try to soothe her, rubbing the back of her neck as she shifts her hips, attempting to get comfortable. Thankfully, we're almost at the entrance to the ER.
"And by the way, Ri, I'll probably be busy the day you call me when Kalia gets her first period," Bella snips, but gives me a wink.
I watch his eyes bug out in the rearview mirror. "Okay, okay…forget I said anything about your granny panties. I'm sure if anyone can pull off sexy in those, it's you, Bells."
My mind is cluttered enough without my best friend's ludicrous ramblings. "Riley…what the actual fuck?"
"Sorry…I'll shut up now. I think I'm just nervous." He taps his thumbs on the steering wheel as we pull up next to the ambulance bay.
Bella giggles but stops abruptly as another wave hits her.
"I'm gonna assume that she'll want a wheelchair?" Riley asks feverishly from the front seat.
I nod through the pain of Bella's bone-crushing hold on my hand.
"On it!" He disappears behind the ER doors, and I turn back to my wife.
"Shit, this hurts. I don't remember there being pain like this the last time."
"Maybe it wasn't as painful because you weren't as far along?" I have no idea what I'm talking about, but it sort of makes sense in my head. "Here's Ri."
He opens the door and helps her up while I'm behind her in the seat, steadying her back when she stands and turns. Once she's safely in the chair, I jump out of the car and rush behind the nurse who's already started wheeling her inside.
"Just say yes to drugs, Bells!" Riley shouts. Bella gives him a "thumbs up" before the automatic sliding doors swallow her.
"I'm gonna park and come find you," he says, pulling me in for a hug. I smile with a nervous chuckle before he adds, "Good luck, Daddy-O!"
We make it up to the fourth floor of the hospital to labor and delivery, and the nurses move quickly to get Bella into her gown and strapped to the fetal monitor. Dr. Epperly just so happens to be the on-call OB this weekend, so we luck out in that regard.
"You're fully effaced, but only dilated to five, Bella. Do you think you want your epidural now?"
Bella's face is frozen at the moment, pinched in pain. I feel nauseated watching her go through this, knowing there's nothing I can do but offer her ice chips. Really helpful.
"Will it help the dilation if I'm not stressed and in pain?"
The doctor gives a non-committal shrug. "Sometimes it helps the body relax so that nature can take its course, but I've had patients whose labor stalls and I've had to administer Pitocin to get it going again."
I shake my head in aggravation. "So it's a crap shoot, is what you're saying."
"It's okay, babe. Let me hang in there for the next hour or so. If it becomes unbearable, I'll get the epidural then."
My wife. Always trying to be the hero.
"Okay, I'll be back in a little while to check on you again. Just let the nurses know if it gets to be too much and we'll call for the anesthesiologist." The doctor leaves and I put in a call to track Emmett down, realizing I forgot to mention Bella's ice pops in the freezer.
"Yeah! I'm coming, pulling up to the main gate right now. Be there in ten minutes."
"Wait, go to the commissary first. Bella needs bomb pops."
"Say what now?"
"You know, the red, white and blue popsicles." I glance at Bella looking for a better description, but she's groaning and in mid-contraction. Probably best not to interrupt her.
"Well, who makes 'em? What's the package look like?"
"I don't know. And I don't think they're called bomb pops anymore, that's what I called them when I was a kid. Didn't you ever eat a bomb pop?" I scratch the back of my head, trying to remember what the package looks like. "They're shaped like a rocket. I think the flavors are cherry and lemon and I dunno…blue…something." I continue to pace, racking my brain for the details. "Not sure who makes them, but I think the box is yellow? You could—"
"FIRECRACKERS! IN A BRIGHT YELLOW BOX AND MADE BY THE POPSICLE COMPANY! NOW PLEASE GET OFF THE FUCKING PHONE!"
My eyes fly open at Bella's unhinging. "Em, I think…"
"I'll figure it out. Be there as soon as I can."
I ease my way over to the bed, hoping she doesn't slug me. Her breathing is labored before she flops back onto her pillows.
"Sorry for cursing at you," she moans, reaching for my hand and squeezing her eyes shut. "The phone call started to annoy me, and I was in pain."
I nod like a damn bobble-head, doing my best to not infuriate her further.
"It's okay. Just tell me what to do for you. I hate to see you in pain."
"How long has it been since the doctor left?"
I glance at my watch. "About four minutes."
"Screw this." She shakes her head. "I need the drugs."
I internally fist pump, kissing her forehead before I go in search of Dr. Feelgood.
I consider myself a strong Marine. I've been in the field with blood spilled by fellow military brothers and sisters; it's not easy to watch, but in the heat of a firefight, you're not pausing to overthink the situation.
Being in the delivery room with my wife, however, is entirely different. Whole other universe different.
It takes almost forty-five excruciating minutes for the anesthesiologist to show up. I thought Bella was going to rip his head from his shoulders, but she stayed put. When he finally waltzed in, all smiles, I'm pretty sure his only saving grace was that Bella was curled on her side, humming through the pain she was enduring.
I have to turn away and just rub Bella's arm as she hunches over a pillow while the Candyman sticks a needle the size of a McDonald's straw into her lower back. She says she just feels pressure; meanwhile, I feel like my head is going to explode. Less than two minutes later, the medicine is flowing through her veins, and Bella's feeling chatty, sitting upright with a smile, and gathering her hair into a clip.
Her instant transformation is creepy and fantastic, all rolled into one. But if she's happy, I'm happy, not to mention breathing a sigh of relief.
"We still don't have a girl's name, Edward. You've gotta decide." Bella's lips and tongue are freakishly purple in color from the red and blue dye on the bomb pops— Firecrackers— that Emmett successfully located at the commissary.
I nod, taking the used popsicle stick from her and tossing it in the trash. "You're right. You sure you're okay with either?" She makes room for me on the bed down by her knees.
"Yes, they're both precious. Just pick a name before a little girl pops out and they have to write Baby Girl Masen on her name tag."
"I think I want to stick with the CMM theme, then. Christopher Michael for a boy, Cecilia Marie for a girl."
Bella's responding smile is bright as the sun. "Perfection."
My wife keeps contorting her face. It's making my blood pressure skyrocket.
"That's it…I'm getting the doctor again." I leap out of the chair, heading for the door.
"She's just gonna tell me I'm still at six. I've been at six for the last hour, even though the contractions are on top of each other." She takes another deep breath. "I'm not in any pain, but I'm feeling a crazy amount of pressure. Like, I feel like the baby's head is right there. I want to push—"
Bella rolls her eyes at my outburst, but I'm not screwing around anymore. If the baby's head is, in fact, right there, I refuse to be the one to deliver my child. Plan for and execute a war? That, I can do…but don't ask me to deliver my own baby. My heart can only handle so much. I haven't been this anxious since I got the phone call that Bella had broken her nose.
I meet the doctor at the door. "My wife's saying she feels a lot of pressure. Can you check her again?
Dr. Epperly saunters over to the bed, lifting the sheet to examine Bella, a look of surprise suddenly on her face. "Wow! Where did those four centimeters come from?"
My hands fly to my head. I could pummel the doctor for acting so casually, but that wouldn't be appropriate. I'd end up having to deliver my baby anyway, so no, violence isn't the answer at this point.
The nurse appears at the other side of the bed and instructs me to follow her lead by hooking my arm under Bella's knee while she sits up to push.
"Okay, Bella…I'm watching the monitor. As the contraction comes, you lean forward and push while Edward counts to ten, got it?"
Bella nods just as the doctor says a contraction is starting.
"Push…push as hard as you can!"
Major Masen steps on the scene. I start counting off like I'm calling cadence for my Marines. "ONE…...TWO...….. THR—"
"Sir," the nurse interrupts, "your wife's going to pass out if you make her hold her breath that long."
Bella gives me the stink eye and falls back again.
"Pick up the speed next time," the doctor adds. "Here comes another one, Bella."
This time I count off much faster and get to ten without Bella turning purple. She's huffing and puffing, but she's a fucking champion. I'm in awe of her.
After the second round of counts, the doctor cheers. "Yes! Another one like that should do it. You're doing great."
I only get to five before I get cut off.
"Stop! Stop pushing right there!"
Bella gasps, a look of wonder on her face. I turn to see the doctor cradling a baby.
I swear, time stands still.
My chest tightens. My eyes get watery. I try to refocus and I notice a crop of dark hair, pinkish skin and wrinkled, long, delicate fingers... and a faint, gurgly cry.
It's my baby. Bella's baby…ours. And just like that, we're a family.
I smile in amazement, kissing my superhero of a wife and whisper, "You did it, baby. Christopher's here."
"Come on, little guy. Let's let Momma sleep." I scoop my six-day old son out of his bassinet and slip out of the room to let Bella catch up on some much-needed rest. Christopher's had his days and nights reversed ever since he arrived Thursday evening. "I bet somebody on the other side of the world is just as awake as you are."
I lay him down on the couch and re-swaddle him tightly, making sure his squirmy hands don't make their way to his face. He's already scratched himself once when we didn't move quickly enough. Bella cried for a half hour after that happened. I'm trying my best to let her sleep when she's not up breastfeeding the baby. I have leave for another five days, so it doesn't matter if I'm a zombie by day. We catch naps when we can, and when the baby starts fussing, I hand him off to Bella for his feeding, then take him right back to change his diaper and get him back to sleep.
"Let's see what we've got here." I sign onto Skype and find my sister's name highlighted with the green cloud, so I press video call and wait.
Before the picture comes into focus, I hear squealing and clapping.
"Oooooohoohoohoo! Yes, yes, where's my gorgeous grandson?" My mom is beaming from ear to ear as I adjust Christopher in my arms and position the monitor so the camera finds him.
"Hey, Mom. How's everyone over there?"
"We're wonderful. How's my sweet Christopher Michael doing tonight?"
I huff. "Well, it's three in the morning and we're talking to you. He's a party animal and I'm wiped out, but…he's fantastic." He's going to town on his pacifier at the moment. No wonder Bella's complaining about her nipples being sore. My kid's fierce!
Just as I look back at the screen, Bailyn's face pops into focus. "Hi, Uncle Edward! Hi, baby Christopher!" Her voice is a whisper; it's too stinking cute. "Are you coming to see us yehhht?"
"As soon as the baby has his check-ups over the next few weeks, Bay, I promise we're coming to see you at the beginning of August. Our tickets are already booked."
"It's going to be wonderful to have you here. Are the Swans all set up with their travel plans?"
"As far as I know. They're making a vacation out of it because they've never seen California. So they'll be in Monterey for a week with all of us, then after we leave to fly back to Oki, they're heading up to San Francisco, then down to LA and San Diego."
"Good for them," Mom sighs while Bailyn wiggles on her lap. "I can't wait to officially retire. Two more years at the travel agency to pad my savings account and I'm done."
"Just in time for us to get back to the States, so you can babysit the Manchild." I tease, nuzzling my son who snarfles through his pacifier.
"If you promise to get stationed here, I will gladly watch my Munchkin Man. Has he been nursing better for Bella?"
"Yeah, he's got the hang of it now. Sucking down milk like a champ. We go back for his one-week check-up on Friday, so we'll see how much he's gained." I switch the baby to my right arm and reposition the camera. "I bet he'll be tipping the scales at eight pounds by then! I predict welterweight by the time we see you next month."
"Are you staying in tomorrow?"
I pinch my lips. "Nahh, we'll head over to Emmett's around noon."
"My Uncle Emmett?"
"Yes, your Uncle Emmett, Goofball! He and Aunt LeeLee are gonna have a barbeque for the Fourth of July. Plus, their base has a big fireworks display tomorrow night. I'm sure the baby will be knocked out for most of the day, so we'll be able to hang out as long as Bella's up for it. We need to try and spend a little time with Riley and Kalia. It won't be an easy day for them."
My mom nods, a wistful expression on her face.
I decide to shift gears and get us back to happy. "So, how 'bout you guys? Any fireworks or plans for the day?"
"We're going to the parade in the morning!" Bailyn shouts.
"And then we'll hit the lawn party downtown and the fireworks in the evening. It'll be a long day and night, but it'll be fun. Bill will come along and Ben and Hadley, too," Mom adds.
"Oh, and Mommy promised to put blue and red streaks in my hair and Hadley's hair, too!"
"Wow, Bay!" Bella responds, surprising me from behind and nestling into my lap. "Sounds like you and Hadley will be looking very patriotic! Promise to take a picture and send it to us."
"I will Aunt Belle! I miss you!"
Bella kisses the top of Christopher's head and whispers into the computer, "Miss you too, sweet girl. We can't wait to come visit you in August. Are you excited to meet this little guy?"
Bailyn's dimples deepen as she giggles. "Yes! I've been practicing how to hold a baby! Mommy makes me practice with my Dora doll every day."
Bella and I look at each other and smile. "We know you'll be ready, Bay," I ensure, kissing Bella's temple. "Well, I think we're gonna try to get some rest over here. This little man is in a milk coma. We should take advantage of it."
"Go," my mom says, blowing us a kiss and waving. "Enjoy your holiday tomorrow. Give Riley our love."
"We will, Mom. Love you both."
"Night night, baby Christopher," Bailyn calls out. "Bye."
I end the call while Bella leans in for a kiss. Her lips are soft and warm, tasting like cherry ChapStick. Just as the tip of her tongue dusts my bottom lip, Christopher mewls like a newborn kitten and we find ourselves chuckling into each other's mouth. I look down and push his pacifier back between his lips, and he starts sucking away once again.
"Come on," Bella sighs. "Time to put my boys to bed."
I follow her down the hallway and place the baby in his bassinet. He doesn't even flinch, thank God. I collapse on the bed and pull Bella into me. Her body melds to mine with little effort, like she was always meant to be there. "Love you, Clementine," I offer with a kiss to her forehead.
"Love you, hubby," she yawns. "Sweet dreams."
I smile, hearing her words. And I realize I don't even need dreams. I have her. I have my baby boy. I have a life I never would've known, never could've imagined, had I not met her. So no, I don't need dreams.
I'm living one.
A/N: And there you go, sweet readers. That's all she wrote. I've had the most fun telling this tale. Giving you insight into the Marine Corps lifestyle and lingo, providing you a mini-literary tour of some of the Hawaiian islands and a little taste of Okinawan life, too. You've made me giggle along the way with your suggestions that the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Disney owe me money for all the traffic I've sent their way. *smiles* It's been a blast. #FlynnRiderForever
A final shout-out and thank you to my awesome Team Cabana: LaMomo the BetaNazi, and my pre-readers: Born Onhalloween, Cejsmom Watson and Jules Lovestoread. It's been an incredible journey, made better because you were at my side every step of the way. And to my Major Hubs, my military advisor throughout...my love and thanks...and my hand in marriage for the rest of our lives! :D
To my readers who reviewed, pimped, favorited, alerted and those who lurked...thank you for being here with me for this adventure. I'd love to know what your final thoughts are regarding this chapter, or even the story as a whole. I'm not marking it complete until I give you the epilogue (which I've started) and the outtake I also have planned...so don't take the story off alert just yet!
GREED (my o/s from The Sinner's SALIGIA compilation) is my third story, it's already posted to my profile and will be expanded soon! Come check it out and put it on alert, too!
There's ANOTHER list forming for folks who'd like a Last Call Girl t-shirt! PM me here, or find me on FB or in the Cabana and let me know if you want in on this order.
So go... make yourself a fluffernutter, grab a clementine and enjoy a re-read with the completed version of TotS. Tell the Anti-WIP'ers that their day has arrived! :)
Oorah and Semper Fi!