Thank you for all the reviews last chapter. Once upon a time, I felt like Bella; it's a lonely place to be. Many thanks to Lolo84 and Capricorn75 for their pre-reading and beta help. Much love, girls.


Chapter 5

Bella and I both heard Audrey crying sometime around four thirty in the morning. It was a battle of wills between us over who would cave first and console her. Although I won, really I lost. Bella made a huge production of getting out of bed, huffing as she pulled the covers off both of us when she got up. She flipped the light on to find her robe and conveniently left it like that when she went to get our daughter. Since I was 'sound asleep' I had to pretend I didn't notice the glaring light. The end result - we both lost precious sleep.

Two hours later, both girls were wide-awake and raring to go. Fair's fair, even in love and war, so I got up with them. Lucky me, Audrey had a diaper explosion and the stench hit me before I even entered their room. That's called karma for feigning being asleep. She needed a bath and I cursed at the mere thought...and wouldn't you know it, Audrey copied me.

"Fuck."

A second little voice sounded behind me.

"Fuck."

Oh God, no. Bella was going to kick my ass. Mind you, if she never found out, I was fine, right?

"Sshhhh!" I put my fingers to my lips as both girls mimicked me.

"Sshhhh!"

"Good girls!" I praised and they repeated with giggles.

After baths, I got the girls dressed and carried them down the stairs. Bella joined us at the breakfast table dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, her face free of makeup, and her hair in loose waves. Though she should have had enough sleep, she looked exhausted.

"You look tired."

"Is that your way of telling me I look like crap?"

What?

"No! That's not what I meant. You look tired is all. Did you not sleep well?"

"Well, one of us got up in the middle of the night with Audrey." Her eyebrow went up in accusation.

"Did she wake up last night? I didn't hear a thing."

Right then Avery dropped her plate of Eggo waffles onto the floor and her sippy cup of milk followed. The lid popped off and liquid splattered the floor and up the cabinet. In her sweet, innocent baby voice she dropped the F-bomb. And of course, Audrey parroted her.

"Fuck!"

"Fuck!"

I sheepishly looked at Bella and she glared at me.

"Nice work, Daddy."

I shrugged.

"At least they used it in the correct context. That's something to be proud of, right?"

The look told me it wasn't.

I wiped a cloth over both Audrey and Avery's hands then faces and told them they could go play in the living room and set about cleaning up the kitchen.

"You remember Carlisle and Esme are coming over later?"

"Why?"

"For a visit. Does it matter?"

Bella gave a dramatic sigh. "I'm not really in the mood for company."

"You haven't been in the mood for much lately."

I didn't mean that negatively rather pointing out the obvious unhappiness she was experiencing. Correction, we were experiencing. Bella didn't take it that way.

"It always comes down to sex for you, doesn't it?"

"Did I say that?"

I was annoyed and frustrated because I didn't want to fight but our problems weren't about sex. It was so much bigger than that. Could Bella really not see?

"No, you didn't say that but you didn't need to. You implied it."

"You always say you never get any adult interaction...now tonight's your opportunity but you don't want it."

"It's not that, Edward. I don't want to have to pretend that we're fine. We both know we're not."

Sighing, I sat down in the chair opposite her. I could hear the girls playing nicely in the next room so I thought I'd attempt a real heart-to-heart conversation with my wife.

"I don't want to fight with you all the time."

Bella's eyes remained downcast when she answered me. "I don't either."

"I hate feeling so…discontent all the time."

I figured 'discontent' was nicer than me saying I was totally unhappy and miserable in our marriage.

"It fucking sucks. Am I alone here? I don't think I am, but …"

I saw a tear slip down Bella's cheek as I spoke the truth. It made me sad but it also made me realize she knew what I was talking about and could, hopefully, relate. As more tears stained her cheeks, I desperately wanted to reach out and hold her hands but she had them wrapped around her coffee cup. Her eyes stared into the mug as though she was hoping to find the answers to our troubles in the murky water. If only it were that easy.

After a few moments of contemplation, she spoke.

"Maybe we should, I don't know, see someone, you know? Like a marriage counselor? My friend Rachel said—"

"Is she one of your friends?" I used air quotes around 'friend' and was met with an eye roll.

"Yes, one of my on-line friends. She—"

"You told your fake friend Rachel about us? That's fucking great. I love that virtual strangers know about our marriage problems." I rolled my eyes back at her and shook my head. Bella knew I was a private person and I didn't like her airing our dirty laundry, so to speak.

"She's not a virtual stranger – I've been friends with her for years."

"On-line friends don't count, Bella."

"They count to me."

I ran my fingers through my hair in frustration. It bugged the hell out of me that she felt more comfortable taking to them than to me. It was a debate we'd had countless times before and not one I wished to rehash right then. There were more important things to discuss, like how or if we could save our marriage. Before we could continue, there was a crash and screams from the living room.

We both ran in to find little feet sticking out of the toy box. There was a time when we would have found that funny, as mean as that is, but it felt like everything was sobering now.

I helped Audrey out, holding her close, shushing her with words and kisses. Scared for her sister, Avery clung onto Bella and she did the same to calm her down. How I wished it was Bella in my arms that I was comforting. That it was her face I was kissing tears off of.

It took a while but eventually the duo was happy, albeit extra clingy. Bella and I settled onto the couch and watched four back-to-back episodes of The Backyardigans – their favorite show. The things you do for your kids. And then I realized I would do that a hundred times over, and so much more, for my wife and marriage.

I took a chance and reached over to hold Bella's hand. She flinched at the contact so I quickly apologized but she grabbed hold before I could pull back. Our fingers threaded together perfectly. It felt familiar and full of promise. Maybe there was hope for us?

"Can we talk more later?" Although I asked her quietly, Avery shushed me, putting her index finger against my lips.

Bella nodded. "I'd like that. Thank you."

"Shhhhh!"

Part way through the show, Audrey made an announcement.

"Mommy cry."

My girls and I all turned toward Bella. She frowned, trying to blink away the tears but I knew those tears were for us – for me and her. For our marriage. It made my own eyes water which, of course, wasn't missed by the girls.

"Daddy cry."

Then came the question that's in every two year olds repertoire.

"Why?"

I left it up to Bella to find an answer that was age appropriate.

"Because Mommy and Daddy are sad."

"Why?"

Three pairs of eyes turned toward me. The most important ones – Bella's – locked on mine, almost pleading for an answer.

"Sometimes moms and dads are sad."

"Daddy fix?"

Such a simple request with a complicated answer.

"I'll find a way to make it better, baby girl." I pressed my lips to Audrey's forehead reassuring her as much as myself.

"Promise?" Bella's eyes locked on mine as she asked. I looked down at her left hand, my fingers toying with the ring I'd slipped on her finger so many years before. That piece of platinum was my promise and I had no plans to renege. I gave her hand a squeeze and nodded.

Later that night when Carlisle and Esme were over, we spent the evening playing cards. Bella and I joked, laughed, and pretended things were fine. Carlisle knew the truth; I'd confided in him a little before. He didn't seem concerned, assuring me all married couples fought – including him and Esme, which I found hard to believe. I'd only ever seen her soft-spoken and sweet. My brother had balked at my statement, telling me she could be a tiger – in the bedroom and during an argument.

Even though it was our personal game of charades, I enjoyed the pretense of being happily married, even for a few hours. If only there were some way to fake it continually, sweep the shit under the rug and continue on our way to happiness.

In bed that night, the air of awkwardness crept back in between Bella and I. It almost felt like we were strangers; I fucking hated it. We both lay on our sides, this time facing each other. In the darkness I couldn't tell if she was still awake or not but I could feel her breath, minty from the toothpaste, on my face.

Once my eyes adjusted, I could make out her features and realized her eyes were closed, lashes dark against her cheeks. Her breathing was slow and rhythmic. I closed my eyes and timed my own breaths to hers.

"You awake?" Bella asked quietly so she wouldn't disturb me if I was sleeping.

"Yes."

"Did you mean that? What you said about wanting to fix us?"

"I promised, didn't I? And on our wedding day, when I put that ring onto your finger and told you I'd love you forever, I meant that shit."

Bella was quiet. For a moment I thought she'd gone to sleep then I heard sniffling, a telltale sign she was crying.

"Why are you crying?"

"I feel so alone."

"I'm right here." I placed my hand against her cheek, feeling the wetness there. Bella leaned into my touch and I pressed my lips to her forehead. My gesture only served to make her cry harder. I let her. My own tears threatened to spill but I fought them back and swallowed the lump in my throat.

"I'm sorry the house was a mess and dinner wasn't ready yesterday. I had such a shitty day. I was barely holding myself together."

"What happened?"

"You really want to hear?"

"Why would you ask that?"

I felt her shrug.

Was I so wrapped up in my own world that I couldn't stop for five minutes and ask about her day once in a while?

"Bella, I'm sorry. Please tell me about your day yesterday."

In the darkness I heard about the failure known as potty training. Six accidents – and that was Avery. Audrey's personal motto is go big or go home, so she far surpassed that. Someone– perhaps me –left a pen within reach of the little people and Bella spent hours scrubbing the kitchen cabinets and floor of ink marks. There were also two epic tantrums over lunch.

And that all happened before their afternoon nap, which was a bust because for some unknown reason the house alarm was triggered. It only went off for a minute but the girls woke up and had been in fine form for the rest of the afternoon. Avery bit Audrey – another first, but one we wouldn't be putting in the baby book. Audrey clocked Avery over the head with the TV remote. Both girls had monumental meltdowns over various silly things like who got to wash their hands first. There was an unfortunate incident involving putting cheese on the heat register. To top it off, Barbie took a swim in the downstairs toilet right as I walked in the door.

"Wow, I had no idea." I wanted to ask why she didn't just put the TV on to give herself five minutes of peace but refrained.

"There's probably more but I've blocked them out."

I chuckled. "That's probably a good thing."

"How was your day? I know the deadline's approaching. Next week, right?"

"Yeah, next Friday. I have no idea if we'll finish on time. There were problems with shipping some products, which put us behind. That'll cost us a pretty penny if we don't get it done on time."

"Then how come you got off work early yesterday?"

She knew me well. With all the work that had to be done, there was no way I would have left voluntarily.

"I sort of yelled at our secretary for something that wasn't her fault. After I threw a stapler at the wall in the office, Carlisle sent me home."

"I think we both know where Audrey got her temper."

"Very funny. Then I sat in traffic with morons trying to cut me off and walked into the aftermath of your day."

"We both could have used a hug."

"Totally." I smiled into the darkness because we finally seemed to be on the same page.

"It's nice to talk to you again." Bella's thumb rubbed circles on my hand as we talked.

"Sorry it took a fight to get us to talk."

"We've been fighting a lot lately, Edward. I don't know if one talk fixes everything, though."

"What do you mean? This was great and I think it was exactly what we needed." I couldn't remember the last time we'd had a heart-to-heart civilized conversation. Us talking was really refreshing. I let myself feel optimistic.

"But we haven't been good for a while, Edward."

"Yeah, but this was a start, don't you think?"

"I still feel like we should see someone."

I groaned my displeasure. "I don't want to talk to a stranger about our problems, Bella. It weirds me out. I think we need a good old fashioned fuck to set us on the right track."

In the darkness I reached for her, grabbing her boob suggestively.

"Edward!"

"What? Thought you'd want a little foreplay but if you want to get right down to it, that's fine." I was already wriggling out of my shorts. Men are physical- and I, for one -needed the physical intimacy that was missing from our relationship. Maybe that's a backwards way to look at it but it's how we, as in men, work.

"Groping a boob is not foreplay. Never was; never will be."

"I beg to differ, sweetheart. There was a time when that's all it would take."

"I'm trying to be serious, here."

"So am I."

"God! You don't get it, do you?"

Bella rolled over, taking the covers with her.

"Are you fucking kidding me? We just had this great talk where I thought we understood each other better and, dare I say, we actually reconnected. And what better way to reconnect than by having sex? And now you're going to roll over and deny me? Unbelievable."

"Do you want me to lay here, spread my legs, and give it up for you?"

"Preferably." I thought that was said in my head but it wasn't. I was an idiot.

"You're such an idiot."

Confirmation didn't make me feel better.

"Well, if I had my choice of fighting or sex, what do you think I'm going to choose?"

"This is exactly what I'm talking about. We take one step forward and two steps back. You really don't think we should see someone about this? Are you not the least bit concerned about our marriage? Have you already given up?"

And that was when I lost my shit.

"Of course I'm concerned about our marriage. Don't make me out to be the bad guy here, Bella. I'm willing to work on our relationship – together. We just need time to talk – you and me – not with some shrink. Besides, do you think I want to be a divorced dad before I'm thirty? Come on. I'm scared that I'm losing you, and losing myself in the process. Do you know I haven't slept in weeks, worrying about us? But I feel like I'm always stepping on eggshells around you. It's bad enough I have a fuck-ton of shit to deal with at work and when I come home I don't get the support I fucking need from you."

I saw her flinch at my words and open her mouth to interrupt but I continued before she could. Honestly, I'd heard enough from her.

"I don't want my kids to grow up in a divorced family like I did, and I certainly don't want to be alone again. But I also can't see how us fighting all the time is good for Avery and Audrey. They may only be two years old but the girls understand a lot more than we think. So, fuck off with your bullshit about me not being concerned about our marriage; telling me that I'm giving up! It's all I fucking think about!"

After my tirade I grabbed my pillow and the extra blanket from the end of the bed.

"Where are you going?"

"Where do you think? I'm going to sleep in the guest room tonight."

"Edward—"

I left before she could say anything else, wishing I could slam the door to make my point. Unfortunately that would wake the girls and I wasn't in the mood to deal with them.

Situated in the guest room, I felt like shit. I wished I could take back some of what I'd said, and the boob grab as well. Things had never been so hard for us before. Why was this happening to us? We still loved each other, didn't we? God, I hoped so. How were we going to fix something that felt so broken?

My mind wouldn't let me sleep as I pondered those questions. As dawn was breaking, it felt like my heart was, too. It had been shattered once before, I wasn't sure if I could survive something like that again.

There was one conclusion I came to after being awake all night. I couldn't lose her. I was willing to fight for her if she was willing to do the same for me. If Bella wanted to tell our secrets to a stranger, then so be it. I padded down the hall to our room and climbed into bed somewhere around six-thirty. Bella was awake; her eyes red-rimmed from all the crying she'd done

"I'll go see some stupid therapist with you, okay? You make the appointment and I'll get the time off work. I'm sure Esme will watch the kids for us."

Bella nodded but she didn't reply. That didn't exactly make me feel optimistic but I wasn't going down without a fight.


One step forward, two steps back. You know I'd love to hear your thoughts.
And there may be another update on Thursday this week...