A/N: Happy Holidays! I wrote this little tale very late one night after a glass or two of the vino, but I actually loved it when I reread it, so I'm giving this to you as a thank you for all of your support. It's a familiar tale, but I believe I've given it a twist…at least I hope I have.
I had a good friend beta this one for me…Southern Heifer has been a constant support, and she was more than happy to help me so I could get this to you in time for Christmas. Thank you dear for your assistance!
SMeyer owns the characters. Charles Dickens owns the story premise. I merely meshed the two together and offer you this…
Bella Swan slammed the phone down on its cradle. She was seething mad at her fiancé's ultimatum she take the week off between Christmas and New Year's for their planned ski vacation with his family or the engagement was off. In her opinion, he was being completely unreasonable, and she wouldn't allow him to dictate terms to her.
So what if he'd rearranged his schedule at the hospital to have the week off, and so what if she'd put off making wedding plans, allowing the business she and her father had worked so hard to make a success to take precedence over the relationship. She was upholding her father's legacy, and if Edward didn't understand it, perhaps she was better rid of him.
She went back to the bookkeeping program to crunch the numbers again, looking at the year-end profit margin. If she was going to maintain it, holiday bonuses were out for the employees, and while she wasn't exactly thrilled about telling the staff, it was time to take the bull by the horns. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and she'd held off as long as she could. She rose from her desk and smoothed her black dress. At times like this, she missed her father more than ever because it was always he who delivered the bad news.
The business she and her father had worked so hard to make a success was a real estate company. They bought properties which were about to be foreclosed upon, kicked out the tenants, and refurbished the units as cheaply as they could. Once the properties were inhabitable again, they put them back on the market with a six month window of low rent. After six months, the rental fee would double, but once most of their tenants had settled into the properties, few were willing to move out, so they covered the additional rental fee as best they could.
"Miss Swan, the staff is assembled," her assistant, Alice Whitlock, informed as she cowered at the door. Bella hated weakness in anyone in her life, and Alice Whitlock was the epitome of weakness as she stood there with a look of fear on her face. Bella was on the brink of firing her because she'd missed so much time taking care of her son, but Alice's family woes weren't her concern. It was the bottom dollar, plain and simple, so if Alice couldn't cut it, she needed to go.
"I need you to stay late and come in tomorrow. I need edits to the contracts for the buildings on Williams and Shook to be ready to go out on the twenty-sixth. Can you accommodate the schedule?" Bella knew Alice wouldn't accommodate the schedule, and it was her attempt at getting rid of her once and for all.
"But, Miss Swan, it's Christmas Eve…" Alice began her constant complaining.
"So? It's just another day. Look, I need those contracts notarized, and if you won't come in and do your job, I'll get Jessica to take your place. She's recently acquired her notary license, so it's up to you. The foreclosures are due to take place on the twenty-seventh, so I want to get the documents to the bank on the twenty-sixth. If you can't do it, then you need to clear out your desk and get Jessica Stanley in here," Bella snapped without taking in the small woman.
If she'd have looked up, she'd have seen the fear in Alice's face. Alice Whitlock's husband, Jasper, had lost his job as a construction manager due to the housing crisis, so the family depended on Alice's salary. If Alice lost her job as well, the family would lose the home they occupied, which was owned by Swan Investments. Alice got a ten-percent discount on the over-priced rent, but it was their home.
"I'll…I'll stay," Alice conceded.
"Good. Let's go do this. I'm going to make the announcement, and then you announce I have a call. I'm not going to explain myself, and if anyone asks, you remind them they are lucky to have a job; got it?" Bella commanded. Alice nodded.
Bella walked out into the open office, seeing a few Christmas decorations, which pissed her off, but she hadn't blatantly forbid them, so she couldn't actually react. It did, however, gall her.
"I'd like to thank all of you for a job well-done, but as you all know, the market is cold, and profits are down, so there will be no bonuses. You will, however, have a job to come back to on the twenty-sixth, which is a lot more than I can say for some of your cohorts at other companies. So, you can all leave at 4:30 instead of 5:00. Thank you." With that, she turned and walked into her office to continue working on the contracts for the purchase of two apartment buildings- one on Williams Avenue and the other on Shook Lane.
She saw there was grumbling outside her office door, and she saw Alice attempting to calm her employees down, but as she concentrated on the work at hand, it all blended into background noise, which she had no problem ignoring.
At 8:00 P.M., she walked out of her office handing Alice her final edits on the offer she was prepared to make to the bank. "After these edits are made, e-mail them to me at home. Once you send them, you're free to leave."
She didn't wait for a reply. She walked out the door and got into the waiting limo without speaking to Emmett, her driver. He knew her schedule, and there was no need for words.
When he pulled up in front of her townhouse and opened the door for her, she hopped out after finishing a text message to a potential investor in China. "Thank you, Emmett. Here, Happy Holidays," she remarked as she handed him an envelope, which contained a generic corporate Christmas card and a hundred dollar bill.
"Thank you, Miss Swan. Merry Christmas. I assume you'll be taking the day off tomorrow?" Bella noted the hopeful tone in his voice, and she chuckled.
"I expect you here at 7:00 A.M. as usual. Tomorrow's just another day. Good night." She walked up the stairs and into her home, locking the door behind her.
After slipping off her shoes and coat, she went to the refrigerator to see what her personal chef had left for her. There was a standing rib roast, roasted potatoes, and candied carrots. She made herself a plate and placed it in the microwave, after which she went to her bedroom and pulled on her pajamas.
When she returned to the kitchen, she uncorked a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, pouring herself a generous glass, and she collected her plate. She walked into her living room, turned on the gas-forced-air fireplace, and settled into the buttery leather of the Queen Anne that rested nearby. She ate her dinner and sipped her wine as she listened to Bach on her sound system.
There was no Christmas tree in her home, nor any hint it was holiday time. Any thoughts of holiday celebrations had died in the Swan family when her mother had passed at Christmas time when Bella was ten. After her death, Charlie had turned Bella over to a nanny, Mrs. Cope, for day-to-day care and nurturing, the latter of which Mrs. Cope wasn't stellar, and he'd poured himself into his business.
When Bella went off to college to study finance and real estate in order to pick up her father's torch, she too, had cast aside any pretense of upholding traditions. Her life was devoted to work, with the minor glitch wherein she met Edward Cullen during an impromptu visit to the emergency room after a fall on the ice one bleak January morning while she was on her way to work.
As she finished her wine by the fire before she went to her home computer to read through the contracts again that should be waiting for her from Alice Whitlock, she remembered the night she'd met Edward Cullen.
"So, um, Miss Swan? What seems…oh, you fell on the ice? Well, I'm Dr. Cullen. Let's take a look."
Bella noted how handsome the man was immediately. She smiled at him as he asked her questions regarding her injury, and once he'd made a diagnosis, he'd ordered x-rays.
"Sorry, but I think you might have fractured it. We'll get the x-rays, and if so, I'll give you a pretty little cast and send you on your way with a few pills that will make you feel a whole lot better." He could have told her he needed to amputate the limb, and she'd have smiled because he was so damn handsome.
"How long?" she asked.
"How long what?" he answered.
"How long is the proper amount of time from when I check out of here until I can take you to dinner?" she responded boldly.
He smirked at her before stating, "I think you'll be out of here by 6:00. I expect to hear from you by 6:02." He stayed with her while she went through her x-rays, and he set her ankle, even though he was an attending, and the job could have been done by a resident. When he wheeled her out to the curb where her father's driver waited, Edward stood looking at her with his arms crossed over his chest.
"So," he challenged.
"So, would you be free to have dinner with a cripple tomorrow night? I can get dinner together, I think," she offered.
"Give me your address, and I'll bring dinner, Miss Swan," he answered.
"It's Bella," she replied.
"Ah, it fits you. You truly are beautiful."
Bella shook herself from her memory because she didn't want to let herself dwell on the fact he'd been so wonderful to her, and she was letting him down by canceling the ski trip. They'd only been engaged for two months, and he'd mentioned he wanted to make the announcement at his parents' house in Aspen over the holiday. She wondered if her hesitation to attend had anything to do with her reluctance to actually plan the wedding. Maybe she wasn't good enough for him. He was good. She was driven. It didn't seem like a match made in heaven.
"Poor guy. I perpetrated a fraud on him, and I should let him off the hook," she commented as she went to the kitchen to load her dishes in the dishwasher. She refilled her wine glass, went to her home computer to print off the documents, and went back to her fabulous chair to proof the contracts.
The wine warmed her on the inside, and the fire warmed her on the outside while the contracts bored her to death. She felt herself continuing to drift, so she placed her glass on the small table so as not to drop it, and she began focusing on the contract, finding her eyes continuing to close. She tried to fight it, but. . . .
"Bells, wake up, honey. We need to talk." It was her father, and he was standing in her childhood bedroom. She sat up from the bed and saw her old comforter over her lap. He was holding the silver bell in his hand her mother had given her for Christmas when she was a child, and she smiled as she saw it again. It had been packed away for years, and the sight of it made her happy.
"What's wrong, Daddy?" she asked.
"Oh, what's wrong? So much is wrong, Bells. You're too much like me, honey. You've completely allowed the business to take over, and you're throwing away your future. Success isn't measured by money, Bells. What happened to your compassion for your fellow mankind?" he asked.
"Compassion? Dad, you taught me business is business. There's no room for compassion. You taught me the only thing you can rely on is the money in your pocket. That's what I'm trying to do," she explained, not sure why she had to explain his life's mission to him. It had been engrained into her since her mother had died, and she'd taken it to heart.
"I was wrong, Bella. I was really wrong about it. I let my loss of your mother overshadow what I should have been to you as a father. If you keep up the way you're going, you're going to lose Edward, and you'll be alone and miserable for the rest of your life. I never wanted that for you, honey."
"I wish I had the opportunity I've been allowed to give you because I'd have done a lot of things differently if I had, but I'm happy to give this chance to you. Here's the plan, and I know you're good with plans. Throughout the night, you'll get visits from the people who will show you things that will surprise you and probably shock you a bit. Open your heart and take it in, Bells. Don't close yourself off the way I did, okay? I love you too much to push my misery off on you. That's not the torch I want you to carry. I want you happy. I love you, and I miss you."
Bella's eyes shot open, and she threw the documents onto the floor in front of her, jumping up from her chair.
"It was a horrible dream. You've got to quit watching that damn Lifetime channel. It was a dream," she chanted to herself as she carried her wine glass to the kitchen and placed it in the dishwasher.
She went to her bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face, and once in her bedroom, she turned on the noise machine Edward had given her for her birthday. He'd complained it wasn't a very romantic gift, but her reason for requesting it was because when he spent the night with her, he snored a bit, and she couldn't get any sleep. That was the reason she never stayed at his place.
She drifted off to sleep again as she tried to put the dream about her father out of her mind.
"Buttercup, wake up," Bella heard whispered into her ear as she slept in her bed. She opened her eyes to see her mother standing over her bed with the glowing smile Bella remembered. She was wearing a sky blue dress, which seemed to flow around her, and it appeared as if there was a permanent breeze flowing that carried her mother's hair away from her face.
"I've missed you so much. You've grown into a lovely young woman, but you're bitter, and it disturbs me," Renee remarked. It sounded like a song to Bella as she remembered her mother singing as she worked around the house. It always gave Bella comfort.
"I'm not bitter, Mom. I'm trying to uphold Dad's legacy. It's complicated," she offered by way of explanation.
"Child, it's not as complicated as you make it out to be. Come with me," her mother beckoned as she took Bella's hand.
Suddenly, Bella was in the small apartment where her parents had started. She saw herself on her father's shoulders at seven, putting the star on top of the tree. She remembered it as if she was living it again.
"Okay, Bells. Time for bed. Santa won't come if you're not asleep," her father remarked as he pulled her down and hugged her.
"Daddy, I know there's no Santa. You and Momma are Santa," Little Bella whispered to her father.
"You're growing up so fast. Don't tell Mom, okay? She deserves one more year of you believing in Santa. Our secret?" He held his hand out, and they shook on it.
"That's the best gift I got that year. I just wanted you to believe in Santa one more year. I was pretty sure you knew the truth, but I had just been diagnosed and was set to have surgery after the holidays, and your father was determined to give at least one more Christmas to me. Thank you for that, Buttercup," her mother remarked.
Suddenly, they were in a hospital on Christmas Eve. Bella, ten at the time, was sitting with a nurse named Angela, and they were reading a book about a Christmas dog. She saw her father walk out of her mother's room, tears streaming down his face. "Daddy, what's wrong?"
"Your mom has gone to celebrate Christmas with Jesus. God wanted to give his son the best gift ever, and it's your mom. He's lucky to get her you know. She's the best gift…" Her father broke down, and Angela walked away.
Bella felt the tears she didn't cry that night. She didn't exactly understand until they stood at the cemetery the day after Christmas what her father was trying to tell her, but as an adult, she knew exactly what had happened.
By the time they returned from the cemetery, the house had been stripped of anything that would remind anyone of the holidays, and her grandmother had shooed away any callers. The Swans weren't a family who dealt with feelings, so it was all swept under the carpet. Her father went back to work the day after the funeral, and Bella's grandmother made her help clean out her mother's things from the bedroom, erasing any trace of Renee from the house.
"That old bitty. She was completely heartless about my passing. You and Charlie should have done it together, but Charlotte didn't have a sentimental bone in her body. I'm really sorry about that, but I wasn't exactly able to step in, and your father didn't deal well with my death very well. I'm sorry about that, too, Buttercup. I had a lot of high hopes and plans for us that didn't actually pan out."
"Why are you refusing to plan a wedding with your young man? He's got a lovely soul, Bella. Don't shut him out, okay? You'll…well, you'll see," her mother commented as she and Bella were once again sitting on the bed in Bella's room.
Bella snapped awake and rose from her bed. She grabbed a drink of water from the bathroom faucet without the aid of a cup, and she wrapped her long hair in a ponytail. She heard her phone chime from her bedside table, so she walked over to it, picking it up to see who was sending her a message at 10:30 P.M.- according to the clock.
The first was a voicemail from Alice Whitlock.
"Miss Swan, I'm sorry, but I can't work tomorrow. My son's in the hospital, and I need to be with my family. I've called Jessica, and she's agreed to be at the office tomorrow to notarize your documents. I know you won't understand it, but my family is the most important thing in the world to me. I'll have someone clear out my desk."
The second was from Edward.
"Bella, I love you, and you know that. I changed our tickets to the twenty-eighth. I rearranged my schedule again, so we can spend the end of the week together. I'm sorry I was such an ass. Please take into consideration I've got pressures of my own, and I was looking forward to down time with the woman I love. Call me."
Both messages were disturbing because as she thought about it, she didn't really want to lose Alice Whitlock as an assistant. Aside from her absences due to her son's illness, she was intuitive and proactive. Bella prized that in an employee, but she needed dependability with what she was trying to do with the business, so if Alice couldn't commit, she'd have to let her go.
With regard to Edward Cullen, she wasn't sure what to do. He'd been with her through ups and downs, and he was supportive. He didn't understand the pressure she was under regarding the business, and there were times when he asked her why she was so quick to throw out residents in the buildings she purchased. She saw his sentimentality as a weakness. It was a weakness her father wouldn't have ever tolerated. There was no room for compassion in her world because compassion was a minus in the profit column. Edward's goal was to help the downtrodden of the world. Bella's goal was to make money, just as her father had taught her.
She saw the differences in their personalities, and she knew, as much as it would pain her, she needed to break the engagement and concentrate on the business. It was what her father would have wanted.
She went back to bed, pulling the covers around her again, slipping off into sleep without further thought. She prayed, yet again, for dreamless sleep, but she wasn't sure it would come. She hoped for it because the next day would be busy, but in the back of her mind, she was sure it wouldn't be dreamless.
"Get up…time's a-wasting," Mrs. Cope called as she shook Bella harshly.
Bella's eyes flashed open, seeing her nanny from years ago. She knew Mrs. Cope was dead because she'd paid for her headstone. The woman had been barren, and she'd taken in Bella as her own, though she wasn't capable of expressing feelings any better than Charlie or Bella.
"Mrs. Cope? What are you doing here? Damn that roast!"
"Knock it off, kiddo. You know it's not the roast. Grab you're robe. We've got places to go," the woman announced as she pulled her wrap around her tighter.
Bella climbed out of her bed and slipped on her slippers, grabbing the robe that had been her father's and pulling it tightly around her.
"Alright, you old crow, let's get this over with," she demanded.
Suddenly, she was outside of a house she'd never seen. She saw her car parked in front of it, and when the door burst open, she saw her driver, Emmett, fly out and turn on the engine, spreading a towel on the front seat.
"What's going on?" she asked harshly.
"Emmett's wife, Rosalie, is in labor with their first child. It's been a complicated pregnancy, and there's a chance the baby won't make it because she's early. He's mentioned how excited he is about it, but you don't listen to anyone who isn't talking to you about money. They've been trying for a baby for five years, and if they lose another, their marriage probably won't survive. It's difficult to not be able to have children when they're so desired. That's what broke up my marriage. I couldn't carry a baby to term, much like Rosalie, but we tried three times before we gave up. This will be their fourth attempt. Can you imagine how that would hurt?" Mrs. Cope explained.
Bella looked at her and saw tears trailing down her face. "Will the baby make it?" she asked, feeling her heart clench.
"I can't say…not my job. If it does, it won't be easy. Now, we're off," Mrs. Cope responded with a sweep of her hand. Bella found her on the pediatric ward of the local hospital.
She saw Alice Whitlock speaking with various doctors, and she was crying. "What's going on?" Bella saw it wasn't good news at all.
"Her son has acute asthma, and you've cut benefits, so Jason's hospital stay won't be covered. They're talking about the best public assisted care facility. It's seventy-miles away, and if Alice is to keep her job, she can't accompany her son. She's trying to make certain her son will get the best care possible, and she is trying to figure out how to get him there as soon as possible. See there, she's offering her engagement ring to the doctors to try to ensure his care. It's all she has to give," Mrs. Cope explained.
Bella watched the woman plead for them to take the ring, but the doctor's weren't giving in. Suddenly, Edward burst into the room, shoving Alice's ring away.
"I'll pay for it myself. That boy isn't going anywhere. Alice, don't you worry. He's going to be fine," Edward assured with a hug to her shoulders.
"Why's he here? He's supposed to be with his family in Aspen," Bella responded.
Mrs. Cope laughed. "You foolish girl. He changed the tickets so you could work. He's praying you'll change your mind about coming with him to announce your engagement to his family. He's quite proud you've graced him with you affections, and what do you do? You ignore him at all turns. That man loves you. He wants you to be his wife, but you're only content to be married to the almighty dollar. I thought I'd raised you better than that."
Bella turned to look at Mrs. Cope, and she couldn't hold back the tears because the woman was right. For reasons she'd never understand, she'd tossed away all pretense of civility to make sure the family business was successful. She'd even tossed away the man she truly loved. It was horrific, and she had no idea what to do about it.
Bella woke with a start. She felt the tears rolling down her cheeks, but when she checked the clock at her bedside, she saw it was just 11:00 P.M.
Pressure- she was under too much pressure with work. That had to be what was wrong. She rose from her bed and took an aspirin to stave off the headache looming in the background. She checked her phone to see she had no messages, so she crawled back into bed, determined not to fall back to sleep because she didn't want to live the hell of another dream.
She'd figured out she needed to slow down and maybe re-examine her life. Maybe changes were in order. After she'd secured her latest acquisitions, she was determined to slow down, and she was determined to make time for Edward. He was wonderful, gorgeous, and extremely patient with her, and she owed it to him to make time for him.
That was the lesson she'd learned, so she closed her eyes confidently and drifted off to the sounds of some sort of birds chirping on her sound machine.
"Isabella Swan, wake," a voice ordered. She opened her eyes to see a hooded figure standing next to her bed. She was done with the whole thing.
"Get out of my house. This is ridiculous," she shouted. The figure reached over and touched her hand, and suddenly she was in a house she'd never seen before.
There were children running around and shouting, which she'd have never tolerated, but a woman who looked very much like her walked into the room wearing a Santa cap.
"You little hoodlums need to calm down before your daddy gets home. He had an emergency at the hospital, but he's on his way, so if you want a shot at opening the loot under that tree, you'll go wash up and sit at the table like the good little boys Santa believes you to be. Now, scoot. Carlie, I expect you make sure they're presentable," the woman called to a tall girl with copper hair.
"Yes, Momma," the girl called as she shooed the two boys upstairs.
The woman went back into the kitchen and flipped pancakes on a griddle while humming along with the Christmas music that filled the air. Bella saw a huge tree with many gifts under it, and she wondered where on earth she was.
"Where are we?" she asked.
The apparition touched her hand, and she was suddenly in another house. There were no decorations to be seen, but she could see Alice sitting at a kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of her. Alice's husband walked into the kitchen, pouring himself a cup of coffee.
He sat down across from her. "Alice, honey, we're running late," he stated.
Bella saw her look up, her eyes completely blank. "He's not going anywhere, Jasper."
"We can't keep doing…I can't keep doing this. We lost our son, Alice. Don't think I don't live that every day. I loved him too you know. I wish it could have gone differently, but it didn't. We should be grateful we had him while we did. Get dressed. We're going to visit him. At least she got hers in the end. She was a bitter bitch, and if she hadn't…well, it's all water under the bridge. Get dressed," the man ordered.
"Who's he, and what's he talking about?" Bella asked.
The figure touched her again, and she found herself standing in front of a grave. The headstone read "Jason Brandon Whitlock." He was five.
"Oh, he died?" she inquired.
"You cut off benefits, and they couldn't get healthcare for the boy. Come." With that the apparition touched her again and put her in front of another headstone.
It was her name, her date of birth, and her date of death. The grave was open, and the only people in attendance were Alice, Emmett, and Edward who had a woman at his side who held his hand.
"I'm sorry about bringing you to this, but she used to mean something to me a long time ago, and she doesn't have any family. It seems harsh that no one's here to see her off. Thank you, sweetheart, for indulging me this. It's a shame, really," Edward told the woman next to him who was wearing a matching wedding band to the one on his left hand.
"I know she was your first love, my darling, but we need to get home to the kids," the woman commented before she walked away, leaving him standing alone in the rain.
"Bella, my love. I'll always love you, even though you turned me away. I've met another, and we are happy. I've got two children now. I'll never forget you, but I have to let you go," he whispered. He walked away wiping tears.
She turned to the apparition and shouted, "NO!"
When she got no response, she sunk to her knees and cried. After several minutes, she found her voice. "How do I not make this my future? I've seen the fucking movie. Take me back. Take me back. This isn't my life. Please…please…please…" she pled as she beat the wet ground around her.
It just couldn't be the end. She couldn't let that be her life. It couldn't be the end.
Bella jolted awake in her bed. It was cold in the house, but she remembered the thermostat was on a timer. She hurried to it seeing it was only sixty-five degrees, so she cranked it up and looked around, seeing nothing was different.
"What a flipping nightmare." She climbed back into bed and thought about the three dreams she'd had. She didn't believe in anything mystical, but remembering the significant events from her past with her mother as her guide had likely led her to the other dreams, so she chalked it up to too much wine and a rich dinner.
She tried to close her eyes, but behind her lids she saw the flash of her headstone and Edward standing at her lonely grave. She didn't believe it was something she'd just dream up on her own, so she determined she'd test her theory. It was all simply tricks of her mind.
She pulled out her phone and called Emmett, seeing it was three o'clock in the morning. It rang twice and was quickly answered. "Miss Swan? Is anything wrong?" Behind Emmett's voice, she heard the sounds of beeping machines and quick breaths. She heard groaning and several people chattering in the background.
"Emmett, where are you?" she asked harshly.
"I'm sorry, Miss Swan, but my wife's about to have our baby. Can I call you back, please? I'll be there in the morning, I swear." The call ended, which surprised her, but with his confirmation his wife was in labor, Bella knew the dreams were more than just her subconscious playing a game.
She called Edward's cell to further test her theory. "He…hello? Babe? What's up? Is everything okay?"
"I'm sorry to be calling you at this hour. I got your message. Where are you? You didn't have to change the tickets. You should have gone without me," she commented.
"It's for the best I did. Alice brought her little boy in, and if I wasn't here, they'd have sent him to another hospital. He's resting comfortably, and I was able to convince a guy I went to medical school with to fly in on Monday to consult. The little boy's in respiratory distress, and the stupid HMO they have refused to provide the care he needs. I'm taking care of this myself. Alice has been very accommodating to you over the years, so I'm returning the favor. You're really not going to fire her are you?" He sounded very disappointed in her, and she wasn't happy about it. It made her feel very unworthy of his love, and as much as it surprised her, she wanted to be worthy of a wonderful man the caliber of Edward.
"Is Alice there?" Bella asked, an idea coming together as they spoke.
"Yeah, she's asleep in his room. Have you reconsidered going with me to Aspen?" he asked sounding very nervous as he waited for her answer.
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Edward, I love you," she whispered. It wasn't the first time she'd said it, but she knew she hadn't said it often enough.
"Oh, honey, I love you, too. Come up to the doctor's lounge when you get here, okay?" She agreed and went to change quickly into jeans and a sweater.
She wrapped up in a heavy coat and scarf, pulling on boots when she noticed the snow, and she began walking toward the main thoroughfare to hail a cab. Seeing none around, she decided to walk. The hospital was only a mile from her home, and she believed she could get there faster than if she simply stood on the corner and waited.
As she passed the doorway of the Korean market down the street from her home, she saw a homeless woman sitting on the stoop, wrapped in a blanket. She appeared to be sleeping, so Bella slipped by her without a second thought.
"Bella Swan, did you not heed the lessons you were taught? Tonight, Alice Brandon's son will die. Emmett McCarty's daughter will be in peril, and Edward will meet the woman he will marry and make a life with. You seem to doubt the power of the lessons you have been shown."
She stopped in her tracks and turned back to look at the woman. She looked familiar, but not in a way that immediately came to mind. She was dirty, and her smell wasn't exactly pleasant, but when she pulled the blanket away from her head, Bella saw the brown hair and brown eyes, which mirrored her own.
"You're me? Why? Why are you here?" she asked in astonishment.
"Because this is the one piece of your potential future you weren't shown. If you don't wake up and change your ways, the loneliness will drive you insane. Once you lose Edward, you'll become this. You will die alone, and the regret you feel for the rest of your life will be too much to bear. Take it to heart, Bella. Don't end up like this."
The alarm on her phone rang, jolting her out of bed, yet again. She was shocked that she was still in her own bed with the sun shining through the huge windows in her bedroom. She hopped from her bed and ran into the living room, looking at the huge grandfather clock in the corner seeing it was just after 7:00 A.M.
She hurriedly dressed and ran downstairs where she was shocked to see Emmett waiting nervously for her. "What are you doing here? Wasn't your daughter born last night? How is she?" Bella asked as she hopped in the front seat of the Mercedes, tossing the forgotten towel in the back seat.
Emmett jumped into the car, a look of surprise on his face. "Miss Swan? How'd you know about Lilly?"
"Emmett, just get us to the hospital, and please, from now on, call me Bella," she ordered. Without an answer, he drove to the hospital and pulled in front of the emergency room entrance.
"Okay- I'll park the car while you go in. I need to go check on Jason Whitlock, but get back up there and check on your daughter and wife. Come find me at on the Peds ward if you need the keys. And Emmett, congratulations. I have a feeling your daughter will be fine."
With that, she sped away to the parking lot, finding a spot not too far from the door. She ran to the ER, and asked the whereabouts of one Jason Whitlock, explaining she was his mother's sister. She had a feeling she'd find Edward somewhere nearby, and she was going with it.
She was directed to the eighth floor, and from there, she found Jasper, Jason's father, pacing in the hallway on the pay phone. "You've got to allow him to see a specialist. There's something else…yeah, I'll hold."
Bella walked up and flipped the switch to disconnect the call. When Jasper spun to look at her, she saw the lack of recognition on his face. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I was on a call. I think there's another bank of phones…"
Bella held up her hand. "Mr. Whitlock, I'm Bella Swan…Alice's boss. How's Jason?"
She saw the surprise and then the anger, which she actually expected. If Alice had told him anything about their working relationship, she knew she deserved his vitriol. Instead of yelling at her and calling her the name she deserved more than anything, he calmed his face and smiled. "Miss Swan, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry Alice can't…"
Bella held up her hand to stop him. "Mr. Whitlock, please call me Bella. I'm not here to take Alice away from her son. I'm here to ensure you get the care you deserve. I know I've been a horrible person and cut the healthcare benefit, which I intend to fix tomorrow, but I want your son to get the best care possible. Go home, pack bags for the three of you, and get back as soon as possible," she ordered.
"It's not exactly the right time to go on vacation, Miss Swan," he responded with confusion clear on his face.
"It's not a vacation. I'm having your son life-flighted to the best facility my fiancé can recommend. Here, my car's in 3F. The plates are 'Swan01'. I'll check on Alice. I need to talk to her anyway. Now, go," she ordered again.
She was surprised when Jasper Whitlock leaned forward and kissed her cheek before running down the hallway and the stairs.
She walked to the nurse's station, and she froze. It was the girl she'd seen with Edward in the dream about the cemetery. She was determined the young woman wouldn't be Edward's future. She was his future, and there were no two ways about it.
"Hi, um, Kate. I'm looking for Dr. Cullen," she asked as nicely as she could despite the jealousy coursing through her body.
"Oh, I can page him, if you'd like," she gushed with a smile.
"No need to page him. I'll just call him," Bella answered.
"Oh, you can't have that on in here. I'll page him for you. Where would you like to meet him?" Kate asked, flipping her blonde ponytail behind her back.
"I'll wait for him right here," Bella answered as she unzipped her coat and slipped it off, pushing her hair behind her ears. She made sure the girl saw the engagement ring on her finger because she was definitely going to make certain the young woman knew Edward Cullen was off the market.
Edward raced down the hallway with two paper cups of coffee. "I got a page. Is something wrong with Jason Whitlock?" he asked the young woman who smiled at him.
"I had you paged, honey," Bella called from her place at the other end of the counter where she was leaning against the wall.
Edward turned to see her and smiled a glowing smile. "Babe? What's up?"
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him as if it was the first kiss they'd ever shared. When they pulled away from each other, both breathing heavily, he smiled again, lighting up her world.
"I need your help. Take me to Jason Whitlock's room. I need to talk to Alice, and don't jump to conclusions. I've got a plan," she whispered. He grabbed the coffees, and the two of them hurried down the hallway.
Once inside the room, Bella saw Alice looking quite forlorn. "Alice?" she whispered, so as not to wake the sleeping boy. Edward handed her both coffees and slipped out into the hallway to begin making the arrangements Bella had requested.
"Oh, Miss Swan, I'm sorry but…" Bella held up her hand for the young woman to stop.
"I owe you a huge apology. I'm going to change the healthcare plan back to the original, but in the meantime, we have to get this little guy the best care he can get. My fiancé is setting everything up, and your husband's gone home to get clothes for the three of you. You're on paid administrative leave until this business with Jason gets sorted out. I won't hear anything less from you. Besides, the office is closed until after the first of the year. It's a paid vacation for everyone. I'll send the e-mail myself. Now, how's your son?" Bella asked.
She didn't expect the hug from the woman, but she was actually grateful for it. After the details were ironed out and Jasper returned with packed bags for the family, Bella took Alice's hand. "Alice, I expect you to keep me updated, and if you need anything, anything at all, you call my cell phone. After Jason is taken care of, you and I need to talk about your future with Swan Investments. I have a feeling I need a Vice President because I'm going to be very busy making wedding plans."
Bella heard Edward laughing behind her, and when she turned, she winked at him. "So, I need you to take me to the NICU. I don't need to get in, but I need to talk to Emmett. Alice, Merry Christmas. I have a feeling everything's going to be okay," Bella called as Edward wrapped his arms around her shoulders and led her out of the room.
"I'm not sure what happened, but I love seeing this side of you," he told her as he kissed the top of her head.
"Well, I'm not done yet," she joked as she wrapped his arm around his waist when they passed by the nurses' station. She saw Nurse Kate take notice, and she was quite happy.
Edward steered her to the other end of the pediatric ward where she saw Emmett standing outside the nursery window looking very worried. Before they approached him, Bella stopped. "Is this NICU very good? Little Lillian needs the best care she can have. Can they take care of her?"
Edward walked over to the nurses' station and requested the chart. He leafed through it and turned to Bella. "She's premature, but it appears she's going to be fine. We do what we can, you know, but she's in very good hands. Dr. Banner is a fine pediatrician."
"Would a donation help? I mean, I could direct money to modernize it or hire additional staff. Tell me how I can help," she requested.
"I don't know what happened, but I'm certainly loving the change. I'll get together some information for you if you're serious. Are you going to come to Aspen with me?" he asked.
"Actually, you're going to come to Aspen with me." She pulled out her phone, made a few calls, and set a plan in motion that would hopefully show him how much he mattered to her.
"We need to go to your place and grab your things, and I need to go to my place and grab mine. The plane with be waiting for us at two o'clock. We'll worry about cashing in those other tickets later. This one's on me, Dr. Cullen. I'm thinking a June wedding. What say you?" she teased as they walked over to where Emmett was looking through the glass at a very tiny little girl with a pink cap on her head.
"I think you're the most wonderful woman in the world, and I thank my lucky stars you broke your ankle," he commented as he kissed her.
One Year Later
"Bella, Jasper's going to drop off the plans for the rehab of the Shook property. I've got to tell you, making it low-income housing is a glorious idea," Alice informed her as the two women sat drinking cocoa on December 22nd. The office was having a holiday party that afternoon, and then they would close up shop until January 2nd. Many things had changed at Swan Investments.
The company had made a substantial donation to the hospital where Jason Whitlock had spent a lot of time. There was a new pediatric wing, and the NICU had been substantially updated.
Instead of throwing out the tenants of the properties the company purchased, they'd relocated the residents to new facilities, refurbished the old facilities, and then offered them the opportunity to move back into the old property or stay in the new.
Alice Whitlock had been promoted to Vice President and ran the acquisition side of the business, and Emmett McCarty, who had a degree in finance, unbeknownst to Bella, had been hired on as the CFO. Much to Bella's surprise, the change in direction of the company had been more profitable than she'd anticipated, and with the newfound success, she'd made changes.
She upgraded healthcare, offered more flexible hours, and implemented profit sharing. Her employees were quite happy, and the company was thriving.
Her personal life was thriving as well. She and Edward Cullen had married in June, just as she'd hoped. She endeavored every day to show him how much she loved him and how grateful she was for his presence in her life, and he returned the sentiment so much her heart was overflowing.
They'd bought a house near Edward's parents, which Bella was surprised had accepted her into their family easier than she'd ever anticipated. His mother helped her furnish the house, and Bella was so impressed by the woman's sense of design, she'd contracted with her to work with Jasper Whitlock regarding all rehabilitation on the properties Swan Investments purchased.
"Jason's coming, right?" Bella asked. She'd taken to the boy after she'd gotten to know him. He was an extremely bright boy, and he had his father's love of building things. Bella and Edward had a lovely birdhouse in the large maple tree in their yard that was a gift from Jason for Bella's birthday three months earlier.
"Oh, do you think he'd miss coming to see Santa, Aunt Bella, and Uncle Edward? He's been talking about this since Thanksgiving when you and Edward stopped by for dessert. So, you've made a lot of changes. How are you feeling about it?" Alice asked. They'd become best friends over the year, and Bella felt she had someone in which she could confide.
"FYI, Edward's playing Santa. Do you think Jason will be able to sniff him out?" Bella asked as she took a breath for what felt like the first time in three months.
There was a knock on the door to interrupt their morning cocoa break. "Come in, please," Bella called.
The door opened, and her new assistant, Jessica, whom she shared with Alice, walked in with a huge bouquet of flowers. "Mrs. Cullen, there's a very handsome man outside with a garment bag who'd like to speak with you. He sent me in with these as a bribe," Jessica teased.
"How many times have I told you to call me Bella?" Things around Swan Investments had become a lot more casual as well.
"Oh, I have no problem with that, but the handsome doctor asked me to remind you that you're his wife, and he shouldn't have to wait to hold court with you," Jessica laughed.
"Well, now isn't he full of himself. Send him in. What time is the caterer arriving? I'm hungry," Bella asked.
Alice and Jessica laughed. "God, when aren't you hungry? The food will be here promptly at noon," Jessica answered as the two women walked out of her office allowing her husband to breeze in. He dropped a garment bag on the leather couch and turned to her with a smile.
"You should have woken me before you left. I actually slept in my office last night. I'd have been more than happy to drive my gorgeous wife to work today. How goes it? Any big deals I should know about?" he asked with the smile he only shared with her.
She rose from her chair to hug and kiss him, and suddenly, they both looked at the floor as they heard the gushing sound. "Jesus!" Bella exclaimed.
"Yeah, honey, I'm afraid you're going to miss the first annual Swan Investments Christmas Party. You're water just broke. We need to get to the hospital," he ordered as he took her hand.
"But, who's going to play Santa?" she asked as he led her out of her office.
"Alice, Bella's just gone into labor. We need a Santa; the suit should fit Jasper. Oh, and her office needs to be cleaned. She's obviously dropped, and my son's ready to make his debut," Edward called.
"I'm on it. Call me," Alice responded as they arrived at the elevator.
Seven hours later, Carlie Renee Cullen was born. She was a surprise to Edward but not to Bella. The name for their daughter was easy. She knew the first name from her experience a year prior, and when Edward suggested the middle name should be her mother's, she cried.
As she gazed at her husband holding their little daughter, Bella dozed with a happy, exhausted smile on her face.
"Bells? Honey, we're very proud of you," Charlie Swan told her as he held her hand. She turned to the other side of the bed and saw her mother smiling at her, the ever present fan blowing her hair from her face.
"We are quite proud of you. Live a happy life, and we'll all be together again…though not for a very, very long time. Merry Christmas, sweetheart," her mother whispered.
She opened her eyes, half expecting it to have been another dream, but when she saw Edward holding Carlie, she knew her life had turned out far better than she'd ever imagined. She had a new definition of success: it was a group of friends who rallied in support, it was a handsome husband who stood by her, offering his family as a surrogate to the one she didn't have, it was a bronze-haired beauty held by her husband, and it was the twin boys who would come in a few years.
Life was everything she dreamed it would be, and it was a very Merry Christmas.
E/N: Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading. Till next time…xoxo