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Five years later
"You've got the address?"
"Yep. Still in my pocket...where it was the last time you asked." Edward sidesteps neatly, avoiding the playful swat he knows I'll likely give. "And it'll be there in five minutes, too...when you ask again."
I stick my tongue out. "I'm just making sure."
"I know." Indulgently, he swoops in for a kiss, holding my cheeks in his hands. I close my eyes and relax into it, letting everything else just fade. He kisses me properly and I let him, let his hands drift like they always do these days, from my face down to my stomach. He pauses there, pressing lightly, and I feel him smile.
I smile, too.
Eventually, though, we have to deal with reality. Like water flowing around rocks in a river, a never ending deluge of humanity rushes by, hurrying around the baggage claim in pursuit of luggage and other people. It's overwhelming: the busyness and sheer enormity of SeaTac Airport.
Not that Luis Muñoz Marin International back in Puerto Rico is small. Nothingthere is small, per se. It's just...an island, and now we're back on the mainland. Back home.
Although if I'm being honest, it doesn't feel like home.
Faint nausea washes over me. I take a slow, deep breath, relieved when it passes quickly.
"You okay?" Edward's face is impassive, but his eyes never lie. Right now they're brimming with concern and protectiveness. Always my knight in shining armor, this one.
"Yeah. Just..." I shrug, glancing around. "It's weird to be back. I missed it. But..."
"I know." Sighing heavily, he slings an arm around my shoulders and maneuvers me gently toward the carousel touting our flight number. "Feels...foreign."
"Exactly." I lean in to him, glad he gets me.
I sit quietly in the passenger seat, the tiniest bit guilty I'm not helping Edward with our bags. He won't let me, though. This is our third pregnancy, and the only one that's made it this far. The other two took care of themselves quickly: early enough that no one but us knew, late enough that we'd been attached. And devastated.
We hadn't even wanted kids for the longest time. Life in San Juan was so, so good for us - ideal, even, with plenty of money and time to enjoy it. Plenty of each other. We worked, we played, made love. It never got old.
Finding new beaches, visiting old favorites...walking hand in hand down the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan...outdoor music festivals, salsa clubs, the best food I have ever, ever eaten - Puerto Rico was a sun soaked dream.
Funnily enough, flirty Victor became one of our closest friends. He and Edward really hit it off when I introduced them, and we often went out with him and his girl-of-the-week. We were even there when he finally proposed to The One. Then there was the group of old guys I called the Abuelo Crew. They held court every afternoon in the park down the street, playing loud, rowdy games of dominoes beneath the flamboyant trees. Edward stopped on his way home to watch the games so often that they finally took pity on him and taught him to really play.
Our weekends were for exploring. We'd drive around the island, often with my sister and Tyler, stopping at whatever beaches and roadside food stands caught our fancy. We hiked up through El Yunque, where the air was cool, damp and filled with the song of coquis. And, bitten by the sailing bug, we occasionally took charters to neighboring islands like Culebra and Vieques.
Sometimes we drove back to Boquerón. I'd become sentimentally attached to the seaside town, and could understand Marc and Chelsea's desire to return to it again and again. We even met up with them a couple times, when their travels brought them back.
Nothing lasts forever, though. Four years after Tanya and Tyler joined us in Puerto Rico, they got pregnant. And instead of settling in deeper, buying a house and putting down roots like I'd imagined, they decided it was time to go home.
I supposed I should have seen the signs. Tanya had never quite acclimated the way we had. Once the sparkle of island living had worn off, she'd become restless. Tyler remained neutral, but when the pregnancy tests - three at home and one at the doctor's office - yielded positive signs, he gave in to her desire to go home.
I was ambivalent. For the most part, I knew I had to support my sister and her little family, but there was a part of me that wanted desperately to hold on to what I felt was a perfect situation. I loved San Juan, and felt, with every year that passed, more and more disconnected from my old life in Seattle.
"It's...so...hot," Tanya groaned, wiping her face with the bottom of her t-shirt. Her baby bump, which had graduated from barely there to substantial seemingly overnight, bulged over her shorts. I grinned, always amazed to see my lithe, perfect sister with a gut.
"Shut up, Baby Bell," she snapped, but she was smiling, too. "I know I'm fat."
"I love it," I said softly, wishing I could touch it. I didn't, though. Tan was getting to the irritable stage already, and she still had four months to go. The intense August heat wasn't helping, nor was the aspect of moving.
"Yeah." She shrugged, looking down at her belly before dropping her shirt. "I love it, too. Tyler loves it. He wants to fuck like...all the time now."
"Hasn't Tyler always been like that?" I fought a grimace. I loved my brother in law, but imagining him in flagrante delicto was just gross.
"Trust me, it's worse now."
"I thought pregnant women loved sex."
"They do." She winked, then knelt to tape down another box.
Two weeks after that they were gone. Saying goodbye to Tanya - again - had been one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do.
But the emails and letters commenced immediately, bridging the miles with a sort of bittersweetness. Pictures of ultrasounds - the baby was a girl, name undecided - and the nursery in Tanya and Tyler's Queen Anne loft flooded by inbox.
I cried the morning Tyler called, months later, to tell us Baby Annabelle had been born...they were calling her Baby Bell for short.
And then, five years after coming to San Juan, and getting my IUD, I was seriously considering taking it out. It wasn't that I wanted to get started making babies right away, I just didn't want to prevent it anymore.
I finally spoke up to Edward, but he was no help. At all. I couldn't tell if he was horrified by the idea or if he just didn't care.
Studiously ignoring me from the couch, he flipped through TV channels, pausing only to cram more Doritos into his mouth. I glared at him until it became apparent that he was just as stubborn as I was, and then moved to his line of sight, blocking the screen. His eyes met mine. "What, babe?" He sounded tired, like he usually did after a double shift.
"You don't need to work so hard, you know," I said.
"Don't work, don't eat."
"Um, no." I rolled my eyes. "We have more than enough in the bank."
"Yeah, and we have that because we've been able to live off our paychecks."
"Why are you so concerned about money?" I asked, folding my arms.
"Because we won't be here forever, and I want to make sure we have options when we go home."
Surprised, I dropped my arms. "Who said anything about going home?"
"I see your face every time Tanya calls."
Swallowing, I sat beside him on the couch. I wanted to disagree, but I couldn't. I loved our life, but things were changing. It was the weirdest thing, feeling my contentment ebb away like sand through an hourglass.
"And then there's your dad," Edward added.
I nodded, knowing this was true as well. Charlie was set to get out in a couple of years. Even if we waited until his release to return to Seattle, our return was still imminent. I'd been writing to him for years, sending letters to Aro who then got them to Charlie.
It had been forever. I'd missed him for so long I barely knew what it was like to not miss him.
"And now you're talking about babies..."
"I'm not. I'm talking about having my IUD removed."
Edward smirked, popping another Dorito into his mouth. "Unless we're switching to condoms, that means babies."
Blushing, I grabbed the bowl of chips from him and ate a few. "Not right now. But don't you want kids? I always thought - "
"Yeah, I want kids. But I want to make sure we know what we're doing, too. I don't want to be forced into a decision because we didn't plan ahead."
He'd always been so particular about this very topic, so I supposed it shouldn't have been surprising that he was still cautious.
He raised an eyebrow. "Okay?"
Shrugging, I gave him back the bowl. "Just let me know."
One night, really late, he let me know. I had my IUD taken out two weeks later.
And six months after that, I was pregnant.
Blinking, I pop back to the present. Edward's messing with the radio; it's weird to hear more rock than reggaeton. A little flutter in my belly catches my attention, and I lower my hand, acknowledging it.
But Seattle. Wow. Seattle's huge, vast. It's my hometown, and yet...
Everything is fast-paced and polished and spread out and we're hurtling through the center of it, one of many cars headed into the city. It's surreal to be here again. There was a point when I wasn't sure we'd ever be back, and now I can't believe we've been away so long. But bit by bit, I find myself feeling glad.
On a pragmatic note, the issues that drove us out have since cleared up. We've been reassured, at different times and in different ways, by my uncles, Aro, and the authorities, that it's completely safe to be here and has been for some time.
Still, only Tanya and Tyler know we're coming; we'll be staying with them until we've secured an apartment.
Emmett and Rose don't know yet - we wanted to surprise them. It's been years since we saw them, something I know breaks Edward's heart because it kind of breaks mine. Initially, they were too busy being new parents to manage a visit, and then we all decided it might be better to keep separated, just in case. I mean, my sister and Tyler were one thing - they'd always stayed above the fray whereas Em and Rose had been right in the thick of it with us.
So we're going to see them first. Now that we're this close Edward's almost frantic, weaving through lanes of traffic like he never left.
His phone navigation leads us right to the Belltown building where Em's condo is located. I know this area isn't cheap, but like Edward, Emmett works regularly, wanting to maintain both his fat bank account and an upstanding local reputation.
Edward whistles as he parks, his thoughts apparently mirroring mine. "Well, this is nice."
"It really is," I agree, glancing around at the trendy neighborhood shops and cafes nearby. It reminds me a little of our place back in Santurce. Again, I'm hit by a feeling of rightness: the familiar feels of Seattle are coming back to me in increments - the silver blue of this sky, the way the air smells. "They're doing well for themselves."
Retrieving the scrap of paper from his pocket, Edward glances down at it before squinting up at the building.
Getting out, we lock our rental car before approaching the main door. Edward gets his phone out and dials, grinning at me.
"Hey, it's me." He nods, eyes crinkling as he listens to whatever Emmett is saying. "Yeah, listen...we're downstairs."
Even I can hear Emmett's exclamation.
"He hung up on me," laughs Edward, pocketing his phone.
A moment later, the main door swings open and out comes Emmett. A tiny girl who looks just like him, but blonde, clings to him like a monkey.
"Hey, man!" Em practically yells, yanking Edward into a hug with his free arm. They embrace long enough that his daughter starts to squirm, and my eyes prickle with tears. "You ass, uh...jerk," he stammers, blue eyes shining. "Didn't even tell me you were coming. And Bella! Come here!" He lunges toward me, pulling me in for the same treatment.
"Take it easy," Edward chuckles, joking but not really. He wraps his arm around my waist, but Emmett's too excited to notice any subtle cues. He nods toward the door. "Come on up; weather's sh-crappy today."
"And who's this?" I ask, touching Blondie's arm as we head for the elevator.
"Aw man, I suck. Sorry pumpkin." He presses a kiss to his little girl's cheek, which she promptly wipes off. "This is Piper. Piper, meet your Uncle Edward and your Aunt Bella."
She smiles shyly before burying her face in Em's neck.
"She's perfect." Edward sounds like he's in awe. We haven't kept in touch with Em and Rose the way we once did, and while we knew that Rose had gotten pregnant again, details have been scarce.
Upstairs, the modern, geometric lines of the condo are softened by homey, family touches. Little kid paintings complement expensive pieces, and toys lay strewn across the hardwood floors.
There's a television on, but other than that, it's quiet.
"Where's Rose?" I ask, noticing the silence.
"She ran down to the store with Skyler...they'll be back in a bit."
He gives us a quick tour of the condo, which is spacious and bright despite the overcast sky outside. Piper starts to warm up to us, toddling after me wherever I go. She's pretty irresistible, and I find myself hoping for a little girl of my own.
One day, anyway. As long as this baby is healthy, I'm happy.
The front door opens right as we settle into the kitchen. Em quickly hands us each a beer, distracted by Rose's return. "Baby, come here!"
"Gimme a minute," she yells back, sounding exasperated.
I set the unopened beer down on the counter. "Do you have water, actually?"
"Oh, yeah." Em frowns, switching the drinks out. "You good? You..." He glances from Edward to me, realization dawning as he takes in our matching, goofy smiles. "No shit..."
"Chit," echoes Piper, sucking contentedly on a packet of applesauce.
Em cringes. "Whoops."
"What's up..." Rose freezes in the doorway. "Oh no way!"
The next couple of hours are a celebration, a proper homecoming. Rose adds extra pasta to the pot, doubling the spaghetti dinner she'd planned on making. I help with the garlic bread and salad while Edward and Emmett hang with the kids in the living room. My anxiety about coming back to Seattle continues to melt and I realize: it really was time to come home.
"I still can't believe you're here," Rose sighs, popping a cherry tomato into her mouth. "I thought we'd lost you to the island life forever!"
"I thought the same for awhile..." I shrug, shaking my head. "It didn't feel like being lost, though. It felt...right. I loved it there. I imagined our future kids running around the beach, growing up speaking Spanish..."
"They can learn Spanish here," teases Rose, knocking my hip with hers.
I smirk. "Yeah, right."
"I know what you mean, though. I was pretty attached to our place in Vermont. We lived in this tiny little town called Chester. It was like...living in a Christmas card. Perfect. Until, I don't know. One day it wasn't and we knew it was time to come home."
"So, are you going to find out the baby's sex?" Rose asks, turning to lean against the counter.
"No. We want it to be a surprise."
Between Em, Rose and their kids, and Tanya, Tyler and little Annabelle, there's never a dull moment. It's amazing how much needs to be done: new driver's licenses, a car, a part time job for Edward, and, most importantly, a place to live. As much as we love the vibe in Belltown, and as picturesque as Tan and Tyler's lower Queen Anne neighborhood is, we can't seem to find anything that fits.
Things change one night while we're having dinner with Carlisle and Esme. Edward's complaining about the latest batch of less than stellar places we've seen when his uncle clears his throat.
"Well...an associate of mine is selling his house. He's dropped the price a couple times, but it's been on the market awhile."
My stomach flutters with anticipation. I love Mercer Island. "What's it like?" I ask, cutting my steak.
"It's gorgeous," Esme says, "but it's...old. Needs some work."
"It's not that bad," Carlisle says, shaking his head. "And I'm sure you can negotiate with him. If you're interested, I can set something up."
Edward glances at me, and I nod. "We're interested," he says, sipping his water.
"Good. Let me make some calls."
Two years later
Alice huffs at her reflection and then at the makeup artist, Jacinda. "I wanted smoky eyes, not hooker eyes!"
I roll my eyes and touch Jacinda's arm. "I'm sorry; could you give us a quick moment?"
"Of course," she says, forcing a smile as she leaves the room.
I wait until the door closes before rounding on Alice, who, over the past six months, has gone from the chipper, sweet girl I grew up with to a total Bridezilla. Before I can say anything, though, her lips starts to quiver and her eyes fill with tears.
"I know, I know! I promised I wouldn't do this!" she wails, clutching my arms.
"You did promise," I say, delicately holding a tissue to her eyes so she doesn't ruin what makeup she does have on.
"I'm sorry." She sniffles, breathing deeply. "Have I been terrible?"
"I told you this when you yelled at the cake lady last week."
"She was a terrible listener!"
"Yes, but you were a little abrasive," I say, laughing.
"Okay. Yeah. I'm sorry. Forgive me?"
"Oh, I'm not the one you need to apologize to." Confident Alice's eye makeup is no longer in jeopardy, I remove the tissue. "Jacinda is really nice, and she knows what she's doing."
"You're right." Alice nods. "Jacinda!"
The make up artist reappears, regarding us primly. "Are you ready?"
"Yes. I'm...really sorry." Alice frowns. "I'm just...I'm usually not like this."
"It's all right." Jacinda roots around her makeup bag. "Happens to the best of us."
Satisfied that Alice has gotten over herself for the time being, I grab my phone. There are several missed texts from Edward, all from the past hour.
where's Flynn's sippie cup?
never mind, got it
you almost done?
what time should i put him down?
never mind, Charlie took him
That last one, which was sent about fifteen minutes ago, is accompanied by a picture of a drooling Flynn, sleeping on my dad's shoulder. It's pretty adorable.
I send Edward a text of my own.
is he still sleeping?
yeah. you almost ready?
almost. you should come on back.
As an old friend of Jasper's, Edward managed to secure a spot in the bridal party. I'm glad we'll be walking down the aisle together. The last wedding I was in, back in Puerto Rico, was kind of a disaster. A girl I worked with was getting married, and one of her bridesmaids fell ill the day before - so she asked me to fill in. The dress fit well enough and we'd been invited anyway, so it should have been no big deal.
Except I spent the entire ceremony dodging the grabby hands of my escort, Miguel, who was old enough to be my father. I was irritated; Edward was livid. Needless to say we didn't stay at that reception long.
I'm laughing at the memory of Edward's ire when he appears, looking sinfully sexy in his grey suit and pink tie.
"Wow," he says, grinning crookedly when he sees me. My dress matches his tie, as does my little bouquet. "I can't wait to bang this bridesmaid."
"You're so classy," I whisper, kissing his cheek and then rubbing the gloss left behind. "But guess what? You can grab me all you want."
It takes him a minute, but then he gets it. "Haha. Remember that shit?"
"I sure do."
"Have you been drinking?" Edward's language usually goes down the tubes when he's drunk.
"Well, Jasper's a nervous wreck."
"I'll take that as a yes." I straighten his tie.
"Yeah. I mean, you know. Moral support."
I sniff him. "Smells more like tequila."
"Ugh." I laugh, shivering at the thought. I can do tequila if it's in a margarita, and that's about it. "I hope he's good to go. Alice'll kill him if anything goes wrong."
"He's straight. We all are." He kisses me, softly and then deeply, and I know he's feeling that tequila because this is the type of kissing we usually reserve for the bedroom.
I like it, but I back away first. "Later. For now, we focus on Alice and Jasper."
He stares down at me, slightly glazed, more from lust than liquor, I think. "Okay."
After checking on my best friend, who's now been joined by her father, I take my place with the rest of the bridal party.
The wedding is crazy-opulent, almost topping Bree and Michael's back in the day. There are a ton of guests, and not one detail has been overlooked. Not surprising, considering that Alice has been planning her wedding since we played M.A.S.H in third grade. I just hope she actually enjoys it.
Thankfully, as the night goes on, she seems to loosen up. Every time I look at her, she's laughing with one of the guests or canoodling with her new husband.
My husband and I are just finishing a slow dance when my father approaches, clearing his throat. "May I?"
Edward glances at me before relinquishing my hand. "Of course. Is Flynn with Sue?"
"Yes." Charlie nods, pointing to a table near the back where several children are running around. My father's girlfriend keeps feeding my child cake and treats, and I wonder when his sugar rush is going give way to a crash.
Edward and Charlie share a look, and then it's just me and my dad. He's only been out for two months, and I can tell a lot of this...life...is still new to him. He sees everything though eyes that are both fresh and more jaded; he's been to the other side and come back not unscathed.
We don't talk about it, his time inside. I don't ask, partly because I don't want to know. My imagination might be making it worse than it is, but that's okay. And anyway, Charlie's not the heart to heart type. I mean, we were close when I was growing up, but some things are too painful, even for him.
Maybe one day.
Not today, though.
Today's a day of joy and new beginnings. I rest my head on his shoulder, allowing him to lead us in slow circles around the dance floor surrounded by dozens and dozens of other couples.
"Glad I could be here today," he says after a small eternity, voice gruff.
Straightening slowly, I catch the tail end of the saddest expression. People told me, when I was small, I had my daddy's eyes. I look into them, seeing the shine of unshed tears.
"I'm glad, too."
We gaze at each other, all these unsaid things floating between us. He's most likely thinking about my wedding, and the fact he missed it because he was incarcerated.
"Should've been there for yours," he whispers, like he hears my thoughts.
He should have been, but I just nod. "You're here now."
"I am here. I'm not going anywhere."
"Good." I swallow back the lump in my throat, determined to get through this day without crying. I almost lost it earlier when Al and Jasper exchanged vows. "We need you here."
His eyes search mine, and I wonder what he sees. "That boy taking care of you?"
"He always has."
"Hm." He snorts some what derisively, looking over my shoulder, probably at Edward. "He better."
There are still, obviously, things left to reconcile. The two most important men in my life have a lot to say to each other, but they've held back out of respect for me and the right timing. I can't say I look forward to them having that talk, but it's inevitable. Again, though: not today.
"Sue taking care of you?" I say with a smile, flipping his words back.
His cheeks redden a bit, eyes going back to that corner. "She is."
"Good." I rest my head on his shoulder again.
Flynn is deep asleep and, despite my wet wipe attack before the car ride home, sticky with icing when we pluck him from his carseat. I follow Edward inside, slipping little shoes from little feet before going on ahead to make sure his bed's clear of toys and books and any other of the usual debris.
Knowing Sue and everyone else kept Flynn plied with juice at the wedding, I put a fresh diaper on him before wrestling his limp limbs into pajamas. His bath will just have to wait until tomorrow; there's no way I'd ever wake him up now.
Edward's loosening his cuff links when I join him in our bedroom. Unzipping my own dress, I watch him, appreciating how sexy he looks doing that.
"He's out, huh?" He shakes his head, oblivious to my lusting. "What a party animal."
"Yes, and I hope he sleeps late, too. I'm exhausted."
He yawns. "So'm I."
My dress drops to the floor, and I step out of it, kicking it into a corner. It's a sweet, flowy little number I'll never wear again - lovely, but utterly impractical.
Edward's looking at me now, head cocked, the hint of a smile as he loosens his tie. I mimic his stance, reaching back to unclasp the strapless bra I've been confined in all day.
Biting his lip, he looks down. "Hope you're not too tired."
"Too tired to what?" I leave him for the bathroom, pretending I'm already fantasizing about how great my shower's going to feel.
But he's hot on my heels, following me into the bathroom and bending me over the counter, so that we can see ourselves in the mirror there. Holding me down with one hand, he finishes unbuckling his belt and pants with the other. I hear them them hit the floor with a swoosh and clink.
His fingers find me and open me, touching me until I'm writhing and pushing back against him, needing for him to stop teasing.
I think he's going to enter me, but he doesn't. Instead he curves over me, fingers wet against my skin, his chest warm on my back. He moves my hair aside and grasps my chin, turning my face so he can kiss my mouth.
"I loved looking at you today."
"Mm." He kisses me again and then straightens some, pulling me up a little I'm propped on my elbows. He nudges my face forward, making me look at our reflection, at my flushed cheeks and wild hair, the feral gleam in his eyes. Again he touches me, and I gasp, not expecting it this time.
"I love you," I say to his reflection, keeping my eyes on his as he thrusts inside me.
"I love you, too."
Later in bed, Edward's out the second he hits the sheets. Maybe I'm overtired, because it takes me a little longer. I snuggle down beneath our shared blankets, luxuriating in the dreamy space between wakefulness and sleep. Memories and images from today, and how precious it was, flicker through my mind.
And then I'm thinking about everything that has brought us here, how oddly normal my life is these days, if normal can be a real and tangible thing. I think of Flynn, and how he fits into my arms. The way Edward looks when he plays with him, how much they resemble each other.
I think of sailboats and starry nights, danger and safety and freedom and security. I think of beaches and parties, crying and laughing and sandcastles and sex. Plane rides and road trips, getting lost and coming home.
Sea glass in a jar, on my windowsill.
The windows that are cracked open, allowing the night to breathe its sharp, cool breeze, into the room. It blows gently against the netting surrounding our bed, the light, gauzy swoops, impractical
and utterly beautiful.
Powerless - Rudimental
Protection - Massive Attack
so, this is the end. thank you so, so very much for reading. i appreciate your comments and reviews, and the fact you stuck this story out even when it took me forever to update. i love you guys! til next time.