A/N: I don't own this. We all know who does.

Thanks to goldentemptress, BellaEdwardlover1991, and bugsmama07 for pre-reading this. :)

Thanks to MariahajilE for keeping me in line and fixing my brain spewings. :)


Chapter Twenty-One

Sunday morning was rather quiet. The kids were excited, but it was different. Alec had always loved holidays and tended to make a big deal out of them, especially once we had kids. Collin and Mckenna were excited to see their surprises from the Easter Bunny and they loved hunting for eggs, but I could tell they missed their dad. Once they'd looked all through their baskets and inspected every ounce of sugar that had been left for them, they both curled up next to me on the sofa and wanted to talk about their dad. Alice and Jasper were a huge help to me, offering up funny stories about Alec and some of the sillier things he'd done on holidays. It made the kids laugh, and it kept me from crying. It also got me thinking about all the things he was missing. That combined with the stress I was feeling about Edward put me in a negative mood, and as soon as the kids were ready to go outside and play, I got showered and dressed so that I could start working on our Easter dinner.

Edward and Emily showed up a little after one in the afternoon, and Emily's excitement over the Easter basket she'd received put a smile on my face. Edward still seemed a bit standoffish, and because of my sour mood, I wasn't as warm and friendly toward him as I usually was. Maybe he picked up on that, because after saying hello and standing around the kitchen for a few minutes, I saw him head outside to the backyard where Jasper and the kids were.

"What was that about?" Alice asked, coming in to help me prepare the ham we'd be eating later.

"I'm just in a bad mood, you know?"

"So I take it the grocery store thing wasn't a success?"

"Oh, no. It went fine. For Edward." I let out a huff, slamming my hands on the counter-top. "Why am I villainized for being friends with him? Why am I made out to be a slut because I'm keeping company with another man only months after my husband died? They have no idea what's going on between us, if anything at all. What gives them the right to make those kinds of conclusions about me?" I spat out.

"Whoa, what happened?" Alice's voice was laced with caution and concern, and I knew I needed to tell her. I needed to tell someone before I completely blew up. As I related the details of my grocery store trip, her eyes widened in shock, then quickly narrowed with anger. "That's ridiculous, Bella. You know what they said isn't true."

"Yeah, I know, but how many other people are thinking that, Alice? How many other people are seeing me and Edward and jumping to the same conclusions? I just don't know if I can do this. I can't take the looks those women were giving me. And it's not just because they want Edward, which I'm sure a lot of them do. It's the fact that they dislike me just because of who I am. It's not fair."

Alice reached out and took hold of my hand. "Bella, you can't think about them. They're not worth it. All you can do is be happy. You have to do what's best for you and your kids. You can't worry about anyone else."

"That's easy to say," I sighed.

"I know it's hard to deal with, and if things work out with you and Edward, you'll eventually have to move away from here if people don't understand. But Bella, Edward is good for you, and he's good for your kids. Alec would be okay this, and you know that."

"It's just hard, Alice. And it's not fair," I said, feeling my eyes fill with tears. "And now there might be someone else, so I might be worrying about this for nothing."

"Bella," Alice said, pulling me into a hug. "You're gonna talk to Edward this evening, and you're gonna tell him what's going on, okay? Just a few more hours and then you can get all this off your chest, all right?"

I nodded. "Okay."

After I'd calmed down, we finished the potato salad and a few other side dishes we were having with dinner and then frosted the Easter Bunny cake that had become a tradition for our family. When dinner was finally ready, we all sat down around the table and ate. I listened as the kids laughed and talked, though I didn't join in too much. Edward glanced at me several times, finally mouthing "Are you okay?" to me. I simply nodded, then focused on my dinner.

"Guys got the dishes," Jasper said once we were done, and I happily let him, Edward, and Collin take care of it.

"Come on, girls," Alice cheerfully called to the little girls. "I've got some new fingernail polish, and we can play beauty shop."

The girls were excited, and I followed the three of them out to the back patio. The sun was beginning to set, and I sat on the steps that led to the yard, listening as they all sat around the patio table and chose what colors they wanted.

"I had an Easter Egg hunt at my Grandma Cullen's house with my cousin, Claire. And my Grandpa put money in the eggs!" Emily said.

"Oh, man. Dat sounds like fun," Mckenna replied.

"Yeah. I got like ten or twenty dollars. Daddy said I can buy us an ice cream tomorrow after school. Can we drive by the ice cream place tomorrow, Auntie Bella?"

I nodded. "Sure, we can do that."

"I'm gonna get a chocolate one, huh, Mommy?" Kenna asked as Alice painted her toenails.

"Sounds like a plan."

I stared off into the yard at one of the bushes planted along my back fence. The leaves were finally starting to pop out — a sure sign that spring had arrived. I knew the days were getting longer and longer, and I was looking forward to the sun and warmth.

"Claire said that Liam and Benjamin are coming to visit in a couple of weeks. I'm not very happy about that."

Emily's words caught my attention, and I turned to face them as they talked.

"Who's that?" Alice asked.

"These mean boys that threw sand at me when I went to Disneyland. Their mom is bringing them to visit at my Aunt Rose's house."

Alice looked pointedly at me, a panicked look on her face when she saw my expression. Maggie was coming here? To Washington? Why else would she be coming all the way here if not to see Edward? My heart sank, and I felt like I might throw up. I wanted to rush into my bedroom and lock myself away, but I didn't think I could stand up without falling. And I didn't want to draw anymore attention to myself.

Emily and Kenna continued talking as Alice kept looking back at me, making sure I was alright. When they were finally finished and all their nails were dry, the little girls went back into the house to look for their Easter goodies.

"Bella, talk to Edward," Alice said as soon as the back door closed.

"Why? She's obviously coming here for him," I responded, digging the heels of my palms into my eyes. "What am I doing?"

"Bella, stop it! You know better than this. Either you go in there and talk to him, or I will."

"Alice, I-"

"No, knock it off! You don't know anything right now, so stop it. You go march yourself right into that house and talk to Edward. I don't want to hear another word out of you until you do."

I knew she meant business, but I just couldn't pull myself up. I was frozen, stuck on the stairs as my body began to shake and tremble.

"Hey, Bella," I heard Edward say as he stepped through the back door he'd just opened. Alice quickly excused herself and returned to the house, leaving Edward and I alone on the porch. "I was wondering if maybe we could talk. Jasper said he and Alice would keep the kids occupied for us."

I turned to my left, facing the backyard again and looking away from him. I didn't know what to say or what I even wanted to say. I had so many different emotions running through me that I felt like I might explode. And it wasn't in the good way that being with Edward usually caused.

"Maybe we should," I said quietly.

"I think I should start out by apologizing to you. My behavior this week has been inexcusable, and I'm so sorry. I'm not sure if it's me or my leaving Emily with you so much, but something's off between us. I can feel it." He started toward me, and I knew he intended to sit on the stair next to me. My body was aching for him, wanting him close and accessible. My mind had other ideas.

I had to hold back a laugh as anger started to fester in my gut. I wanted to scream at him, to yell and rage and demand answers about Maggie and Lauren. Babysitting Emily was the least of my problems, and he didn't even seem to get that.

"Are you seeing someone else?" I asked. My voice was a little stronger than it had been before. I was certain if he could ignore the quiver in it, he would hear the venom there.

"What?" he asked, pausing where he stood a few feet away from me.

"Maggie? Are you seeing her? Did you sleep with her when you were in California?"

"Bella... What are you talking about?"

I turned to face him, letting him see the hurt and outrage that burned in my eyes. "Your new friend? You know, the one who's coming to visit in a few weeks? Maggie? The woman you spent all last week with while you were in California?"

His face had a shocked expression on it and I watched as he stared down at me, finally folding his arms across his chest and pressing his lips together. His brow furrowed a bit, and he was breathing harder than normal. I could sense his mood was changing.

"Were you gonna tell me? Did I not move fast enough for you? Am I still too busy grieving for my husband? What?" I asked him, my voice steadily rising. I stood up, finding a new strength and fierceness as the rage overwhelmed me. He was just standing there, not denying anything I'd said. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to shake him and make him understand that I needed him. I wanted to slap him and cry, because I'd made such a fool of myself in front of him.

"Bella..." he said in a low, strong voice.

"No! What about all these women here? The mom from the party, Lauren. Did you see her at the store last night? Did you talk to her? Maybe make a date?"

"Of course not. What has gotten into you?"

"Did you hear the things she was saying about me?" I asked, hoping with everything in me that he'd heard and that he'd set her in her place after I had left.

"No, I didn't hear anything. She didn't say anything to me, other than how sorry she was that I couldn't make it to the birthday party."

I laughed out loud. "Oh, of course!" I said. "She's sorry you didn't come hang out with her and her friends. Of course I should know that! Oh, man. This town is so screwed up! She doesn't even care that she used your daughter to lure you there. She thinks I'm a slut, and yet she's a married woman actually going after another man."

I stepped off the stairs and into the grass, pacing back and forth as I let myself get more and more worked up.

"It's this stupid double-standard. You know, the one that says it's okay for you to date and screw around because you're a man and you need someone to take care of you. But for me, a woman who was widowed only two weeks after you, I'm a slut and a whore and pathetic, because I hang around with a man who isn't my dead husband. I should be home with my children, after all. I shouldn't need a man, and if I want one, I'm branded with some medieval scarlet letter across my chest so that the whole town can see what a cheap whore I am!"

As I yelled, I knew I shouldn't be taking my feelings and frustrations out on Edward, but he was there and he was part of the problem. My mind wouldn't even entertain the idea that he could also be part of the solution.

"Bella, I-"

"You don't get it, do you? Do you know the looks I get around town? When I picked Emily up from school, the aide glared at me. The whole birthday party fiasco still gets me sideways glances from other moms when I take Collin to school in the mornings. And you wanna hear what else I heard the other day? This one's priceless, but you probably already know," I said as I stopped to face him. "Some of the boys in Collin's class were talking about his new dad; the cool dad who brought him to the baseball game. I heard them talking about how Collin called you his new dad, Edward. Did you let my son call you Dad?"

Edward's eyes widened in surprise, and I watched his jaw move as he ground his teeth together and his nostrils flared ever so slightly. "No, Bella. I did not let Collin refer to me as his dad. He called me his Uncle Edward and he called me his borrowed dad, just like we'd discussed. He never, to my knowledge, referred to me as his father." I could tell Edward was getting angry, and part of me felt good that I wasn't the only one feeling that emotion. "But make no mistake, Bella. I would be honored if Collin chose to call me his dad someday. But that would be up to him and you."

I huffed out a laugh. "Ugh, whatever," I said, then turned away from him as I reached up and dug my fingers into my hair. "I think you should go."

There was nothing but silence behind me for several seconds before finally I heard him breathe out a long, deep breath. "Fine. But before I go, I wanted to give you the gift I bought you for Easter. I know we're not very religious and Alec was never really into religious jewelry, so it's not for that. It's more a symbol of today and what the holiday represents."

I wanted to turn around and look at him, but I couldn't. The sadness in his voice was quickly stripping me of my anger, but in its place was hurt. And I was hurting badly, not just because of Edward and the mess we were in, but because Alec had left me in the first place. I still hadn't had a chance to deal with his loss completely, and I was mad at him for giving up and not fighting harder the last few days he was alive. How he could have left me alone with our children, I'd never understand. But the fact that he did still upset me. And in that moment, I was taking it out on Edward. And he was letting me.

"I saw this and thought of you. It symbolizes a rebirth, a reawakening. A new life. And I want that for you, Bella. I want you to have something new and good and happy. I miss the old Bella. The Bella that used to tell off-colored jokes when she was tipsy. The Bella that used to serve her kids cake for breakfast because it has eggs and flour in it. The Bella that used to watch horror movies just to laugh at how cheesy they are. The Bella that used to misplace Heidi's prized vase just to watch her search the house for it. I miss her. And I know I'm not the only one."

He paused for a moment, letting out a sigh before he spoke again. "And even if you don't want that new life to be with me, I want you to have it. I want you to be happy again, and I'd really like to be a part of that, Bella. But you have to let me in. You have to let me help where I can. You have to trust me. You have to give us a chance. You have to give us a start. When it comes to me, you have no competition. You're only competing against yourself. I know who I want, and if you honestly think I'd ever want one of those women from the party, then apparently you don't know me as well as I thought you did."

I heard him place something on the table, and then I heard footsteps as he walked toward the house. Just as I was about to turn around and ask him not to go, I heard him clear his throat.

"And just so you know, Maggie is Rose's roommate from college. Emmett asked her to spend a couple of days with us as a favor to me. Her husband died last year, and his best friend was there to help her and their boys. Within a few months, they were dating and six months after the funeral, they got married. I told Emmett about us and what was going on, and I told him I didn't know what you were thinking. I didn't want to scare you or push you away. I know we're not in the same place, Bella, and I hoped that maybe Maggie could give me some insight on what you're feeling."

My hand slowly lifted to my chest, pushing against my ribs as my heart began to pound and my breathing picked up. Tears were sliding down my cheeks, and I knew I'd made a horrible mistake.

"Maggie's coming to visit Rose, just like she does every year. She's not seeing me, although she'd hoped that maybe she could meet you while she's here. She's a good person, and she told me to be careful and patient with you." He paused for just a few seconds, and when he spoke, his voice was softer and so sad. "And she told me not to worry, that she was certain you'd be crazy about me. But I guess she was wrong. I'll take Emily and go, but when you figure out what you want, let me know. You already know what I want."

I spun around, catching his eyes and seeing the sadness in them. "I'll have my mom watch Emily this week. I don't want to burden your life anymore than I already have."

"Edward..." I said quietly.

"Happy Easter, Bella."

Then he opened the door, and I watched him through the window as he got Emily and her things and they left. After a minute or two, I finally found the will to walk back to the porch and to the table. On top of it sat a small blue box, and in it was a beautiful silver cross necklace with a little diamond in the center. I'd never seen anything like it before, and I instantly loved it.

Maybe Edward was right about me. Maybe I didn't laugh as much as I had before. Maybe I didn't enjoy life the same way I did before the accident. Maybe I'd lost myself in sorrow and grief and change. Maybe I needed to find myself, to rediscover myself, so that I could figure out what my life was going to be from that point on. Who I was going to be from that point on, I didn't know, but as I traced my finger over the curling silver metal of the cross, I knew that I needed to figure it out.

And soon, before I ruined something that could be amazing and wonderful. Perfect.