A/N: Thanks so much for your prayers for little Hailey. If you can continue praying, that would be so wonderful of you. :)
TCL was nominated for the second time for Fic of the Week over at The Lemonade Stand. I can't tell you how honored I am. I love you guys so friggin' much for voting and for indulging me by reading this little story of mine. I truly hope you enjoy these last few chapters, and as a 'thank you' for giving me so much love, I'll be posting another chapter on Friday!
Voting is open for a couple more hours or so. If you'd like to go vote for this and/or any of the other wonderful stories up on the poll, the address is triple w dot tehlemonadestand dot net.
Betad by the wonderful Michelle Renker Rhodes.
Most characters belong to S. Meyer.
Ch. 33 Sleeping Arrangements
Chapter Song Rec: Ho Hey by The Lumineers
For the next few days, we spend lazy mornings and laid-back afternoons out on the beach. Elizabeth is in love with the entire atmosphere here in Oyster Cove. We take out the boat, and when I let her steer, she swears she's going to grow up to be a boat captain. Sometimes it's not just a physical resemblance, but the things she does and says that remind me of myself at that age, and I wonder if she's always been so much like me. I may never have a complete picture of what my daughter was like before age six other than through pictures, videos, and memories Bella and everyone else that watched my daughter grow up can share with me. But I know what she's like now, and I swear to myself that regardless of what the future may have in store, she'll always know she's loved by both parents. She will never become a pawn in a game of political power. Bella and I will guide her, but Elizabeth's future will always be hers to decide – even if she does want to grow up to be a boat captain.
We take long walks around the property. Tall evergreens and wide, red maples shade us from both the last of the summer sun and possible roving eyes. It's a good sized property, big enough to keep Elizabeth busy and happy; she skips over the dewy green grass in the wee hours of the morning, singing songs around the shady trees while the birds chirp from up above. She makes her way across the clammy sand that sticks to her feet. She jumps over the rocky path that borders the beach. And the entire way, she sheds piece after piece of clothing until she's only left in her swimsuit. Even her sunhat gets discarded along the way despite all of Bella's protests.
One morning, halfway through our week, Aunt Esme volunteers to watch Elizabeth by the pool so that I can take Bella to the tennis court for a lesson to which she's been looking forward. Alice and Jasper come along to double up with us, and I remind myself that I've got to find a minute to thank Jasper for hanging out here this week. I know he'd made plans with some friends for the week, but he and Aunt Esme have been great at keeping Alice entertained and feeling welcome while Bella, Elizabeth and I reconnect as a family. Yeah, I've got to find time to thank him.
Anyway, the tennis lesson turns out to be more challenging than I'd expected it to be. Bella misses almost every ball that comes her way. Jasper has better luck with Alice, who Bella accuses of having inherited the better share of hand-to-eye coordination in the Swan family.
It appears to be somewhat true, though that's not what makes the lesson so friggin' tough to get through. Bella is, in fact, a really good sport about performing so poorly. Most of the time, she laughs off her misses and missteps.
It's her outfit that's killing me. She's wearing one of those short, white tennis skirts, and every time she jumps, so does her skirt – and so does my cock.
My lesson is pretty off, to say the least.
I send another ball her way, and she jumps high to try to hit it with her racket, but all I see are her golden thighs coming back down to the ground. I turn in a semi-circle and groan quietly to myself.
I can do this.
While we're walking back to the main house, Alice and Jasper trail behind us rather slowly. Alice did pretty well, so I suppose she's tired. Either way, it gives me a chance to talk to Bella about a surprise I'd like to give our daughter, and to get her opinion on it.
She laughs when I tell her.
"You're spoiling your daughter."
It sends a warm current through me when she refers to Elizabeth as "your daughter," as opposed to the way she used to refer to her just a couple of short months ago: "my daughter." It's as if she's finally, fully accepted in her heart that Elizabeth is as much mine as she is hers. In that instant, as in so many others, I'm dying to tell her just how much I love her. Not just because she looks so damned delicious in that tennis outfit, but also because with those simple words, she's showing me her heart.
But I don't want to rush her. I can wait.
So instead I simply shrug, shaking my head. "I don't think I am. I don't think Elizabeth can be spoiled. She's…unspoilable," I grin.
Bella chuckles while swatting my arm with the tennis racket. "Unspoilable. I'm pretty sure that's not a word. I hope you don't use words like unspoilable in any of the speeches you give before Congress, Congressman Cullen."
She's teasing me. In the past few days, I catch more and more glimpses of the Bella I first met, that young, carefree, trusting young woman I first fell in love with.
I turn and stop, and she comes to a quick halt before me. When I dart my eyes to Alice and Jasper, they're still lagging way behind.
A slow, one-sided grin forms on my mouth. "I apologize for my lacking verbal skills, but that's what happens when you wear outfits like that around me."
The past few days of our American summer sun have given her body a golden glow that stands out beautifully against all that damn white. My eyes purposely roam up and down her frame, from the little white tank top that ends just above her belly button, giving me a glimpse of her midriff, paired with that little white skirt that flows in the breeze and shows off her sleek, shapely tanned legs.
"You're making me forget how to speak, much less swing a tennis racket," I tease her back. "And we're back to calling me Congressman Cullen are we?"
A flirtatious glint lights up her eyes. It's not something I'm used to seeing in Bella – not even back when we first met. No, she's not the same Bella she was seven years ago. I suppose neither one of us can ever be the same, but that's a good thing. We're trying to move forward, not backwards.
"Ah, I thought that was a pretty poor tennis lesson," she snickers, moving closer to me, "but I didn't want to embarrass you by saying anything. Still, I don't think it's fair for you to blame my outfit, Congressman, after all, it is the proper outfit one wears to play tennis, isn't it?" she adds in a seductively low voice, twirling slowly in front of me.
A low groan forms deep within my chest. She hears it, and places a warm hand over it, tilting her head up to me and holding my gaze. "As for your verbal skills, Congressman, I don't believe for one second that they're at all lacking. You're a pretty smooth talker there, Sir. You always have been."
I wrap my arm around her waist and pull her in quick, making her gasp sharply in surprise when her body is flush against mine. Her eyes twinkle wickedly though, so I reach out with my tennis racket and swat that ass that's been torturing me all morning.
"Oomph!" She looks slightly bewildered, staring at me for a few seconds before speaking, and just when I think I may have gone too far, she grins. "Did you just swat me arse with that tennis racket? You're a cheeky Congressman there, you are. What would your fellow party members say about that?"
God, I love it when she reverts to her cockney.
"You're the one being cheeky, Love, with those ass-cheeks there just begging to be swatted."
Her eyes widen. I see her cheeks flush brightly beyond the beautiful golden glow she's developed over the past few days. She swallows thickly and then gives me a lopsided grin.
"I guess I'll just have to cover me arse-cheeks properly from now on then, won't I?" She moves in and gets on the tips of her toes, whispering in my ear. "I'd hate to be the blame for your use of non-existent words in front of your colleagues." Her mouth moves in closer with each word, until her lips are grazing my earlobe and my cock is throbbing. "Or for unseemly bumps that may appear while you're in the middle of a tennis lesson."
When she moves away, she keeps her eyes on mine, watching me release more than a few uneven sighs.
"Bella…you're teasing me. That's not very nice."
She smiles innocently. "Let's go, Love. Our daughter is probably waiting for us."
I stand there, with my heart about to beat out of my chest and my cock straining against my board shorts while Bella saunters off in front of me, leaving me with a pretty great view of those afore-mentioned ass cheeks - and a pretty painful ache in my groin.
In the past couple of days, Elizabeth has taken to calling Aunt Esme, "Nanny Esme." I suppose because Esme reminds her of her grandmother back in England, with the way she both nurtures and at the same time gently reins in my admittedly exuberant daughter.
"Do you mind?" Aunt Esme asked me nervously after Elizabeth had started with the habit.
It is sort of bittersweet for me; more than a few times, I've imagined a world where my mother got to meet her granddaughter, and I've imagined Elizabeth calling her "Nanny" in that sweet little accent of hers. But as short a time as I had with my mother, I knew her heart.
"No, Aunt Esme, I don't mind," I responded honestly. "I think Mom would be thrilled right now."
Aunt Esme reached out and squeezed my hand gratefully.
When we arrive at the pool, we find that Emmett has joined Esme and Elizabeth. They're all in the water playing water volleyball. Emmett appears to be having a hard time accepting that my aunt can whoop his ass at any form of volleyball. In just ten seconds standing there watching them, I can already tell he's losing big time - and he's not happy about it.
He roars when my Aunt spikes one into the water right next to him.
"Damn it! Elizabeth, you get your butt over here and play on my team now! Your Nan doesn't need your help; I do!"
He probably shouldn't be using that kind of language around her, but I can't help chuckling quietly when Elizabeth giggles and makes her way under the net to Emmett's side.
Emmett takes his job as Ellie's personal bodyguard extremely seriously – even more so than he took being my personal security, and that's saying something. But then again, at the time, that was more to appease my aunt; at no point did either he or I perceive myself to be in any sort of danger.
I pray every morning and night that for all the prep Emmett and his team go through, Elizabeth and Bella will never truly need them.
As it is, Emmett rarely strays far from Elizabeth. He'd never come out and say it, but I know she's stolen his heart. I see it in the intensity with which he watches her – as if he'd lay his life on the line for her. He doesn't coddle her, but at the same time, he's devoted to her. He's like the uncle that teaches your kid all the rough and tumble crap you wouldn't teach them yourself. In return, Elizabeth has accepted him as her family – which he is. After everything he and I have gone through together, he's my brother for all intents and purposes.
Before long, Bella and I have joined in the game - Bella on Aunt Esme's "team" and Elizabeth and I on Emmett's, and though Bella's lack of hand-to-eye coordination seems to have followed her into volleyball, Esme still kicks our asses.
"Alright, I've had enough of getting my butt handed to me this morning; I'm out," I call out, hopping over the ledge of the pool.
"You and me both," Emmett mutters.
I shake the water out of my hair and run the towel across my bare shoulders and chest – and catch Bella looking at me. Her eyes are intent on my chest, and she's biting her lip, and that look goes straight to my groin – again.
She looks up and sees that I've caught her staring, and instead of looking embarrassed, she grins that slow, seductive grin again. I wink at her.
But then Elizabeth demands her attention for something, and she looks away.
Emmett and I catch up over the lounge chairs, bullshitting and relaxing after weeks of madness. No, I haven't forgotten that there's a world outside of these walls that's as insane as it was a few days ago, but for now, for a few more days, we can pretend it doesn't exist.
"Em, I want to thank you again for looking after Elizabeth and Bella in England and for the job you and your team are doing here."
He's got his eyes closed, his face up to the sky, catching the rays. He gives me a small nod to show me that the words registered. I lay my head back across my own chair and close my eyes, listening to Elizabeth's giggles while Esme tries to teach her and Bella the basics of pool volleyball.
"I care about them, Man, even if neither of them can play any form of volleyball for shit. And besides…I made a promise."
I smile, eyes still closed. "Renee made you promise that you'd watch over all of them, didn't she?" I assume he's probably giving me a small nod like he did before.
"She did…as did others."
His tone is non-committal. I lift my head up curiously, but he's still got his eyes closed.
"Where's Jasper?" he asks abruptly.
Wait, where the hell is Jasper? I run a hand through my wet hair.
"He's probably playing another game of tennis with Alice. She's pretty good, unlike her sister." Emmett snickers, and I lay my head back down, once more closing my eyes. "He's actually been a big help in keeping Alice busy while Bella, Elizabeth and I spend time together. Poor kid, I wouldn't want her to get bored, especially since you've been too busy for her to fawn over," I say, referring to Alice's not-too-secret crush on Emmett.
He chuckles. "Yeah, well. Can't blame the kid for having a thing for me, now can you?"
"Just kidding. She's a good kid. Jasper's good to help you out like that. Guess he's still trying to earn his forgiveness, huh?"
"He's already earned it."
"It's always good to forgive, Edward," Emmett says after a pause, "especially when someone is truly sorry. In the end, it might help bring you closer to the closure you need."
When I open my eyes, he's no longer leaning against his chair with his eyes closed, but he's watching me intently, his expression solemn and unusually humorless.
"Daddy, Nanny Esme says she's going to teach me to swim now so that I don't have to wear this ugly vest anymore!"
Bella walks our way, taking a seat next to me on the lounger. In the background, I hear Aunt Esme assuring Elizabeth that she'll still need to wear her vest when she's on the boat with me.
"I don't know how to swim myself, or else I would've taught her," Bella admits sheepishly.
I wrap an arm around her and pull her closer to me. Her beautiful legs rub against mine, and I wish I could feel the rest of her skin, but she's thrown a terry cover-up on. Her swimsuits this week have been pretty modest as it is. Don't get me wrong, they look great on her, but they also keep her pretty well covered, and my imagination is running rampant by now. I spend nights picturing her in tiny triangle tops and bottoms that barely cover anything…
Unless I want to pop a tent right in front of my daughter and the rest of my family, I better stop thinking these things.
"I'll teach you how to swim," I promise her.
"Thanks. I much prefer the warmth over here."
The smile she gives me makes me think she's talking about more than just the warmth of the water.
The next morning, Seth and Paul take a drive into town with me, and when we return, Bella spots me first. She walks my way with a knowing grin spread across her face. She's got a black one-piece on with a white terry front-zip sweatshirt over it. Her dark hair looks wavier than usual these days, the salt water and sand curling it at the ends and where it frames her face. She looks heartbreakingly beautiful, and I just want to pick her up and carry her inside.
"Did you get it?" she asks.
I blink, forcing myself to focus, and nod, grinning smugly at her when I give her a glimpse of what I'm carrying wrapped in a blanket at my side.
She draws in a deep breath, eyes sparkling.
"Well, show it to your daughter, then."
"Elizabeth!" I call out, my voice admittedly shaking with excitement.
She sees me and comes running.
"Daddy, where were you this morning? Mummy said you had errands to run," she calls out, answering her own question. "What do you have there, Daddy?"
She squeals in delight when she spots it, and I exhale in relief because for two seconds, I actually started doubting how well I know my own daughter, and whether or not this was something she'd even want. But she takes him out of my arms and holds him up in the air, blinking rapidly as if she can't believe her own wide eyes, and then snuggles him into her gently, yet so firmly.
"My puppy - you got me a puppy, Daddy," she breathes in disbelief.
"He's from both your mom and me. We both got him for you." I reach over and take Bella's hand, and she folds her fingers within mine, squeezing tightly.
The puppy reaches its small, black head up and licks Elizabeth's face, long ears slapping against her cheeks as he goes to town. Elizabeth squeals again.
"Thank you, Mummy and Daddy! I love him! I love him already, and look, he loves me too!"
Bella chuckles, reaching out and petting the curly, black fur on the puppy's back. He's a golden retriever/poodle mix, still small, but I've been warned to expect him to grow quite a bit, and I've warned Bella, since he'll be spending time between both our homes – that is, until I convince her to make my home hers.
"He does love you, Darling."
"Mummy, Daddy, may I name him?"
"Well, you'd better name him. We can't call him puppy forever," I tease her.
"Oh my goodness, what do you have there, Ellie?" Alice questions, walking over. She gives a high-pitched squeal as loud as Ellie's. "A puppy! Bella and I always did want a dog. May I hold him, El?"
Ellie hands him over hesitantly. "Be very gentle, Aunty Alice. He's a little puppy."
Everyone gathers around and fawns over Elizabeth's new puppy.
I pull Bella against my side as we stand there watching our daughter and our newest family member. Leaning into her ear, I whisper,
"You know, there's a reason other than companionship for why I wanted to get Elizabeth a dog."
She looks up at me. "Oh? And what is that?"
I grin at her and then move my mouth to her ear once more, brushing her earlobe with my lips.
"Maybe Elizabeth will be satisfied with having someone else sleep at her side, and free you to make…alternative sleeping arrangements."
She chuckles huskily, turning darkened eyes back up to me. "You have a one-track mind there, Congressman, don't you?"
We hold each other's gazes.
The next day during breakfast out on the back deck, we're watching the waves lap gently towards the sand before breaking against the brown and grey rocks, and Aunt Esme, out of the blue, seems to take pity on me. Either that or we're on somewhat of the same wavelength because she skillfully brings up Bella and Elizabeth's sleeping arrangements and tactfully suggests that Elizabeth may be getting too old to sleep with a parent more than just occasionally, and that now that she'll be starting first grade, it's probably time for her to have her own bedroom.
Bella tells Esme that it started more out of necessity, since they lived with Renee in a small home in Leigh, but then they just both got used to it. So while I hear the choirs of heaven singing quietly in a corner of my mind, she agrees that it might be time to break that habit for the both of them.
Besides, with Oyster around now (Oyster is the name that both Alice and Elizabeth picked out for her Goldendoodle) it might be easier to get Elizabeth used to sleeping in a room without her.
So it's settled, Esme agrees that it's a great idea - as if she hadn't come up with it herself, and when Bella walks off to help Elizabeth feed Oyster his morning meal, my aunt looks at me and grins.
Have I become that sadly transparent?
That evening, Bella and I settle Ellie into bed, with Oyster in his tufted red pillow at the foot. We read her a couple of stories, kiss her goodnight, leave a night light on for her, and only close the door half-way while Bella reminds her that she'll be just down the hall in her own bedroom, and that I'll be in my room at the end of the hall.
We look at each other and Bella shrugs. "We'll see."
We're out on the beach, lying on a blanket and staring up at the stars. They're much clearer out here than in the city because there's no interference from skyscraper lights and street lamps. The sound of water breaking at the shore fills the background.
"And that one there is Cassiopeia," I inform Bella, pointing out some of the constellations I remember from when I was a kid. "See? You can recognize it because it's shaped like a "W." The one to the south of it is Andromeda, and to the east of it there, you see? That's Perseus. According to mythology, Cassiopeia bragged that her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than the sea nymphs, and as punishment, her daughter was to be sacrificed to a sea monster, but Perseus the demi-god saved her from that fate and then claimed her as his."
I feel Bella's eyes on me, so I turn towards her.
She laughs. "You are such a smooth-talker."
I grin at her, furrowing my brows. "I'm not doing anything other than giving you a lesson in star-gazing." I reach over and snake one arm under her waist and wrap the other one around her, moving them up under her arms and lifting her over me. "It's not my fault if you find that sexy."
She laughs again. When I lift my head, she presses her mouth to mine, licking at my lips with her warm tongue. I open up eagerly, but when I snake my hands under her zipped up sweatshirt, I find a pleasant surprise.
"This isn't a one-piece," I grin against her mouth.
She shakes her head slowly and sits up over me, reaching down to the hem of her sweatshirt and lifting it up.
The choirs of angels sing once again at the revelation of a tiny, triangle shaped white bikini top paired with an equally small piece of cloth covering her bottom.
I swallow thickly, unable to form words when she lunges herself at me and for what feels like hours yet nowhere near enough time, we kiss under the stars and over the sand, rolling around over and over so that sometimes she's on top, and sometimes I am. Her entire warm body is pressed against mine; I grope her unapologetically, and she pulls all the harder on my hair, making me groan. Seven years ago, my hair was much shorter than it is now. I was actually thinking of getting a haircut before Congress met again next Tuesday, but now I may hold off on that idea.
She sits up over me again, and I can feel her heat through the pitifully small cloth covering her, right through my straining board shorts. My mouth closes over the silky material of one triangle top, right over her hardened nipple, and she moans, licking and sucking my neck.
I've got to admit though, that when Bella lifts her head up and spits just to my side, I'm offended for just a moment. Then she does it again.
"You're all bloody sandy!"
I throw myself against the blanket, howling with laughter while she drops over me and does the same, wrapping her arms around my neck and burrowing her head under my chin.
We lie there for one long moment, letting our laughter subside while I rub my chin over her temple. When she shifts her hips slightly and hits my erect cock, I can't suppress a moan.
"Bella…Ellie has her own room now. You have your own room now. Has your head caught up to the rest of you?" I can't withhold the tone of hope – or probably more accurately labeled, desperation – ringing in my every word.
She laughs lightly. "It's getting there."
"Mm. Is there…anything I can do to speed the process along?"
She picks her head up and laughs. "Not very subtle, are you?"
I wrap my hands around her face. "You're driving me crazy, and you know it. A bit of a tease, aren't you?"
She gasps and pretends to be offended, lifting her body off of mine and storming off, leaving me exposed to the beach's night breeze.
"I'm going to bed."
"Promises, promises," I mutter, making her laugh at me again, but when I pick her up off the ground and cradle her in my arms she squeals.
"Edward, put me down!"
"Yeah? You sure you want me to put you down?"
"Yes! Put me down now!"
"You asked for it," I sneer, and then run towards the water.
"What are you doing?" she whispers. "Edward, no. No, Edward, no!" she pleads, but we're both laughing and moaning at the cold water lapping at us. I don't stop until it hits my chest, and her entire body is submerged except for her head.
"Oh my God, don't forget I can't swim, Edward. Please don't let go of me. Please don't let go of me." She holds on tightly to my neck.
All the while, I simply gaze at her in all her glory. She's got a perfect body. I remember that weekend. Yeah, her body was perfect then, but she seems to have filled out a bit since: her breasts are a bit rounder, her hips just slightly wider. The other women I've been with, tall and thin and blonde and purposely the opposite of everything Bella was…they can't touch her, they never could.
"Bella…I'll never let go of you."
The stars and the moon sparkle in the night sky but there's no more beautiful sight than my Bella illuminated by their glow.
Before I can get the words out, she wraps her body around me and crashes her mouth to mine. I suck on her sea-salted lips, plumped up from the cold. When I nip at her neck, trailing wet kisses down her chest, she wraps her hands around my head and guides my mouth back to hers, kissing me slow and tender now; all the while she's whispering something, but I can't quite concentrate enough to hear it. But she keeps whispering and whispering. Finally, I force myself to break away from her mouth and listen.
"Please…please…please…" she pleads while sucking on my collarbone.
"Please, what, Love?"
Her eyes meet mine, the light from the moon reflecting off her almost black pupils.
"Please, take me to your bed."
When her mouth crashes against mine again, there's nothing slow or tender about the way she snakes her tongue inside my mouth.
"Take me inside," she breathes against my lips. "Take me to your bed, Edward."
My heart races in my chest, and my cock twitches underwater. I cradle her in my arms once more and quickly make our way out of the water, through the wet sand and up towards our bedrooms; all the while we're kissing and chuckling like young kids about to get laid for the first time ever. Lifting my leg to help support her in my arms, I drop a hand to my doorknob, twisting and turning to open the bedroom door.
I grin proudly once I have us inside. "Are you-"
Her eyes move beyond me, and she closes her eyes, snorting. I follow the trajectory of her gaze-
-to the form of a tiny little girl, sitting up wide-eyed on my bed, her puppy asleep at her feet.
"Mummy, Daddy, where have you been? I've been looking for you. I looked for you in your room, Mummy, and then came to look for Daddy."
There are no words to describe my total and utter despair. My shoulders droop, my chest deflates - as do other parts of my anatomy. Carefully and regrettably, I lower Bella's feet to the floor.
"Mummy and Daddy are right here, Darling." Bella looks up at me, clearly reading the misery that I'm in. With an apologetic smile, she gets on the tips of her toes and whispers in my ear. "This is all part of being a parent, Love."
All I can manage is a faint smile.
In the morning when I wake up, right before I open my eyes, there are about five seconds that go by in which I have no idea why my feet are so damned hot or why I'm at the very edge of the bed.
But then I feel the small, warm body snuggled into my side – as well as the other warm body next to her, the smooth hip under my outstretched arm.
When I open my eyes, the sun's rays are bouncing off of my daughter's long, copper hair, splayed against my stomach. I look beyond her at where my hand is wrapped around her mother's creamy, soft hip, and then up into her beautiful face, still sleeping soundly.
I snort quietly, because Bella and I did end up sleeping together last night – with Elizabeth right between us.
And Oyster at my feet.
It actually did turn out to be one of the best nights of my life.
Alright, alright. Maybe we have taken the cock-blocking as far as it can go. :)
***Remember, another update on Friday…one more EPOV…***
And yeah, update schedule will continue to be erratic for the next couple of weeks. Sorry, guys!
Link to 'Stories by Pattyrose' is on my profile page.