Disclaimer: The Twilight world is the property of Stephenie Meyer. I'm just borrowing, and no infringement is intended.
Note:This is a follow-up of sorts to my story, "Touching Solitude." It is set after the final chapter but before the epilogue. Thank you to everyone who inquired about this and provided the inspiration for me to post it!
Bright May sunshine bathed the meadow. The light caught Charlotte's coppery hair as she twirled and leapt about, the exuberance of childhood suffusing her with delight. Her bare little feet danced over the carpet of soft grass and tiny white flowers.
Bella and I sat beneath a cottonwood tree at the edge of the meadow. She laughed softy as she watched Charlotte prance about. I plucked several blossoms and tucked them into my wife's hair.
Bella smiled at me, touching the petals then running her fingers over my cheek. I stroked her silky hair. Even in the shade it was glossy and richly colored, the mahogany tones accentuated by the paleness of the flowers. I added another blossom, kissing her lightly before returning my gaze to our ebullient daughter.
"Where does she get the energy?" Bella asked with an amused shake of her head.
"It comes with being four years old," I replied, rubbing gently at her back.
"Someone should figure out how to bottle that," Bella responded with a sigh of longing. She offered me a smile of gratitude as my fingers eased some of the soreness from her muscles.
"I'm sorry you have to go through this," I said.
"I know. You say that every month." She rested her head against my shoulder. "That's very sweet. At least it's not as bad as it was before Charlotte was born."
"Even so," I acknowledged, "I wish there were more I could do to ease the discomfort."
She looked up at me, our eyes meeting as the subtext of my words reverberated through both of us. We had understood four years ago that our daughter's birth was akin to a miracle; it was a wondrous fluke of fate. Some remnant of my human existence had remained, and this had enabled Bella to conceive. The timing had been perfect, and her body, amazingly, had been receptive.
The physician in me comprehended fully that such a phenomenon could not occur again. But the husband and father in me harbored a secret hope that it might. Bella had never spoken her thoughts aloud, but the wistful look in her eyes when her cycle began again each month told me that she held a tiny thread of hope, too. After four years, that hope was little more than a faint glimmer; we both knew that it could not come to fruition.
We adored Charlotte. She was a wonderful child: bright, inquisitive, helpful, gentle, and affectionate. We could not imagine a more perfect daughter. Yet there were times when I knew we both wished it were possible to have another child. I recalled with poignant clarity the day Charlotte had pressed her tiny hand over Bella's abdomen while we were visiting with the Webers. Charlotte looked from her mother to Angela, whose belly was swollen with the new life she carried.
Curiosity and longing had filled my daughter's green eyes as she asked, "Momma, when will you get a baby in here?"
That incident had occurred over a year ago, but the momentary flicker of pain that had overtaken Bella still remained within my memory. She had quickly suppressed it, focusing instead on her love for Charlotte as she replied, "You're Momma's most precious baby" as she enveloped our little girl in her arms.
Thankfully, the vicissitudes of Charlotte's three-year-old mind had drawn her attention away from the conversation, but her question—and Bella's expression—lingered in my memory. For some days after that incident, Bella had emphasized how fortunate we were to have Charlotte and how no other parents were as lucky was we were. It was true, and I knew there was no point in dwelling on what could not be.
Charlotte skipped across the meadow, her curls bobbing brightly as she approached us.
"Momma! You look like a faerie queen!" she exclaimed joyfully, her tiny hands hovering near the flowers in Bella's hair.
My wife chuckled. "Then you must be the faerie princess."
Quickly I plucked a handful of the small posies and tucked them into my daughter's hair. She giggled with glee as Bella pulled her into her arms and kissed her cheeks.
"Come here, my little wood sprite," I said, lifting Charlotte to swing her around. "My goodness, it looks like you can fly, too!"
She laughed and grasped at my hands. I was standing partially in the sunlight now. I wore a straw hat and a long-sleeved linen shirt, but my hands glittered in the sunshine.
"I'm magical, just like you!" she said.
"You're magical all on your own," I replied, pulling her close to kiss her brow as her little arms wrapped around my neck.
She nuzzled into me. The coolness of my skin felt natural to her, as did Carlisle's and Esme's. She had never questioned the difference in temperature between her mother and the rest of the family. The sparkle of our skin, however, was something she had noticed when she was very young. Her tiny fingers would try to catch the bits of light reflecting from my skin when I was in the sunshine.
I still covered my body entirely whenever we were around others, of course, as did my parents. Bella and I had decided almost four years ago to treat the unique condition of my skin as something special, something that was for family only. We had conveyed this to Charlotte in as natural a way as possible, and fortunately she seemed to understand. She had never mentioned the special glimmer she saw on her daddy's and grandparents' faces or arms to anyone outside our family.
Bella and I knew that at some point Charlotte would begin to question the differences. It was inevitable that one day she would ask why I was colder than her mother or Angela or the Weber children, what made me sparkle, and why I never ate or drank. Someday she would likely discover that I didn't sleep, either.
Bella and I had not reached a firm decision about how we would respond to these queries. I suppose we both hoped that when the time came we would know what to say, based upon the situation. Still, it was a lingering concern. Thus far, Charlotte had never said anything to raise questions among our friends, but she was a child, and despite her sweet, loving nature unintended words could escape her.
At least here, in the meadow, we could all enjoy the warm, sunny day with abandon. Charlotte squealed with delight when I placed her little feet upon mine then took her hands gently as I began to waltz.
"Ooh, Daddy, look!" Charlotte cooed, pointing toward the far edge of the meadow.
I stopped to see what had captured her attention. Several birds were pecking delicately at a few cookie crumbs she had left as she bounded about while eating the snack Bella had brought for her.
Charlotte loved all animals, but winged creatures seemed to fascinate her the most.
"He's so pretty!" she exclaimed softly.
Her eyes were fixed on the brightly colored bird in the center of the little group. His saffron breast and scarlet face made him stand out from the dull, brown sparrows clustered near him.
"He's called a tanager," I told her.
"A nanager?" she attempted.
I chuckled. "Tanager. We're lucky to spot one. I've only seen a few in all the time I've lived here."
She gave a little, breathy exhale; I knew she was excited with this new find. She loved looking at the Audubon bird book Esme had given us two Christmases ago.
"We'll look him up when we get home, all right?" I offered.
She nodded enthusiastically as her gaze remained on the beautiful little bird.
Bella watched us with a loving smile. After a few minutes I swung my daughter back up into my arms, continuing the dance with broader steps. When I swept past Bella, she held out her hand. I paused her help her to her feet, then pulled her close with one arm around her waist. She kissed my cheek then took Charlotte's hand.
I nudged Bella's feet onto mine and continued dancing, languidly now so that the motions would not be jarring. Holding my two girls in my arms, gazing at my beautiful wife and darling daughter, I felt elation wash over me. I was a lucky man indeed.
We returned home before sunset. Charlotte was chattering happily, as she often did after any sort of excursion. As we drove along, she told us about each butterfly she had seen, and about the sparrows and mockingbirds and bright tanager… However, when we passed the turnoff to Carlisle's and Esme's house, she paused.
"When will Gramma and Grandpa come home?" she asked.
"The day after tomorrow," I replied.
"When's that?" she persisted.
I knew that young children had very little sense of time. It was always interesting attempting to explain such things to my daughter. I often tried to phrase my explanations in terms that she could relate to.
"We have to have supper tonight," I began, "then you'll go to bed. You'll have breakfast, lunch, and supper tomorrow before you go to bed again. When you wake up, it will be time for Grandma and Grandpa to come home."
"With shells," Charlotte said hopefully, remembering that the pretty whelks on her windowsill came from our vacation to the coast last month. We had explained that her grandparents went to the same place.
"Sweetheart," Bella said, turning to look at our daughter, "remember, it's not polite to ask for gifts. When Grandma and Grandpa get home, give them hugs and kisses and tell them you missed them. Don't ask if they've brought you anything."
Charlotte was really too young to retain her mother's words, but both Bella and I tried to instill good manners in her. We knew that eventually she would learn to be gracious. She was truly a sweet child, and she had been quite good about saying "thank you" for some time.
"Yes, Momma," Charlotte acquiesced. However, her eyes sparkled with anticipation. She knew that her grandparents always brought her treats when they traveled. They doted on her, but I couldn't fault them for it. It was difficult for me to keep from spoiling her at every possible opportunity.
As we neared our home, Charlotte's thoughts shifted. "Daddy," she said, "can we pick some peaches?"
Bella had promised to prepare a peach cobbler with supper. Our orchard was bearing beautiful fruit, and my talented wife tried to use as much as possible while it was ripe and succulent.
"Are you feeling up to it?" I asked Bella quietly.
She nodded. "Of course. But I think I'll leave you and Charlotte to the task of gathering the peaches."
As I pulled the Cadillac into the garage, I took her hand, saying, "I'll draw a warm bath for you, love, and you can have a nice soak while Charlotte and I are in the orchard."
Bella smiled. "That sounds wonderful."
Soon I had filled the tub with steaming water and some gently scented bath oils. I kissed Bella on the cheek as she stepped into the bathroom. She thanked me, and I closed the door behind her, knowing she would want some privacy at this particular time.
I lingered for a few moments in the hallway, until I heard her slip into the water with a little contented sigh. Then I hurried downstairs, where my daughter waited by the door eagerly. She already had a basket clutched in her tiny hands.
I scooped her up into my arms, enjoying her little giggles as I carried her through the yard and into the small grove on the edge of our property. The peaches were perfectly ripe, and Charlotte could not resist eating one as she sat upon my shoulders reaching for the higher branches.
The peach she chose was a particularly juicy one, and by the time she had finished enjoying it, her face and hands were covered in sticky, sweet juice. My shirt had not fared much better. I didn't mind in the least. My daughter's laughter was all that mattered.
By the time we returned to the house, we were both in need of a bath. Bella had finished in the tub and was in our room dressing. I poked my head through the doorway, Charlotte still upon my shoulders.
Bella chuckled when she saw us. "It looks like the peaches are very ripe," she commented.
"And very 'ummy!" Charlotte agreed.
"I'll give her a bath," I said.
Bella nodded. "Thank you. I'll get started on that cobbler."
Half an hour later, my daughter was clean, cheeks rosy from the warm water. Her hair remained damp, but the evening was quite warm, so I dressed her in a little chemise and left her feet bare. She scampered off to join Bella in the kitchen while I prepared another bath for myself.
I had learned to enjoy spending time in the tub. While sitting in the steamy water with Bella between my legs was still my favorite way to bathe, I found some pleasure in relaxing alone, lying with my head against the rim. Sometimes I allowed my entire body to sink into the water, submerging myself completely. The stillness and complete quiet were very calming.
I rested on the bottom of the rub with my eyes closed, allowing my mind to wander back over the pleasant day in the meadow. I did not realize anything was amiss until I heard my name called. Through the water, the sound was faint.
I sat up. The moment I inhaled, I sensed an acrid smell. I inhaled once again and immediately realized that there was smoke somewhere in the house. I leaped from the tub, pulling on a robe then hurrying from the bathroom, all of my senses now attuned to the happenings within the house.
I heard Charlotte first. She was crying, her little heart beating frantically. "Momma!" she sobbed.
"No," Bella said sharply, "stay there!"
"Momma!" my daughter cried again.
"Wait right there for Daddy. Don't move!" Bella commanded hoarsely. "Edward!" she called.
As I dashed down the stairs, I saw smoke billowing from the kitchen. Charlotte stood outside the doorway, her eyes wide and her little body rigid with fear. Bella was standing inside the room, near the window, trying to extinguish the flames engulfing the curtains and licking up the wall toward the ceiling. She was frantically batting at the fire with the tablecloth.
"Go outside," I said to Charlotte.
"Now!" I shouted. I saw her begin to move away from the doorway as I ran into the kitchen.
"Bella," I cried.
She looked at me with true terror in her eyes. In an instant I had scooped her up into my arms and deposited her in the foyer. "Get outside," I said briskly.
I hesitated for a single moment before grabbing the heavy rug from the foyer. My thoughts raced with dire possibilities, but above them all I knew that I had to keep my family and home safe. I darted back into the kitchen, the flames crackling all around me.
To be continued...