Disclaimer: Not mine. If they were, Bella would've made Edward grovel at the end of New Moon, Edward would've given Bella hell for kissing Jacob in Eclipse, and Renesmee - if she existed at all - would've had a normal name.
MrsSpaceCowboy and aerobee82 pre-read and encouraged me to do this; they have my undying love and gratitude. Beta'd by Project Team Beta. Thank you, ladies, for your input.
A/N: This is pretty much the same chapter I posted a million years ago as a WitFit prompt - new material coming next time.
A/N 2: Just realized I accidentally posted the unbeta'd version of this chapter, so if you're re-reading for some reason, that's why it looks a little different now.
"Mama! A big van just pulled into the driveway next door! Someone's moving in!" My seven-year-old daughter, Alice, came running into the kitchen where I had been baking chocolate chip cookies.
I smiled at her excitement and tried to smooth down her tousled black hair. "Why don't you go get your brother, I'll put some of these cookies on a plate, and we'll go over and say hello."
She took off at a dead run, yelling "Emmett!" at the top of her lungs. I wished I had half of her energy.
I picked up the plate and walked to the front door. The kids appeared a minute later, wondering out loud if they were going to get new playmates.
"Guys? Instead of standing here talking about it, how about we go find out?"
Alice grabbed Emmett's hand and raced out the door. By the time I made it down the front steps, they had already accosted our new neighbor.
"Hi, my name's Alice, and this is my brother, Emmett. We live next door. Here comes our mom. Do you have any kids?"
"Slow down, honey. Give him a chance to answer." I turned to smile at our new neighbor, and the sight took my breath away. He was tall, toned, and had a jaw you could slice cheese on. Holy cow, his wife's a lucky woman. I bet she's responsible for that sex hair. I held out my hand. "Hi, I'm Bella Swan. I apologize for my kids-they're loud and rambunctious, but they don't bite. And on the off chance that they do, I promise they're up to date on their shots."
Laughing, he took my hand. "I'm Edward Masen, and no apologies are necessary." He turned toward the house and yelled, "Jasper! Rosalie! Come outside for a minute, please!"
We were joined a minute later by two little blondes who seemed to be close in age to Alice and Emmett. I looked over at my daughter and she was practically vibrating. I put my hand on her shoulder, in hopes of preventing her from overwhelming the other little girl.
"Rose, Jazz, this is Mrs. Swan. She lives next door."
"Ms." At Edward's raised eyebrow, I clarified, "It's Ms. Swan; I'm not married."
"OK, then. Say hi to Ms. Swan, you two." Was it my imagination, or did his eyes light up when I told him I was single?
"Hi, Ms. Swan," they chimed in unison.
"Hi, Rosalie. Hi, Jasper. It's nice to meet you, but please call me Bella." I looked up at Edward. "If it's OK with your dad, that is." He nodded, so I gestured for Alice and Emmett to join me. "This is Alice and Emmett. Guys, say hello to Jasper and Rosalie."
Alice, not surprisingly, took the lead. "Hi, I'm Alice and I'm seven. I like fairies and princesses and anything pink and sparkly. Maybe you can go to the playground with us sometime, and I'll introduce you to our friends. Well, except for Mike Newton. I don't like him since he pushed me off the swing. But Emmett knocked him down and pinned his arm behind his back until he said sorry."
By the time she stopped to breathe, Edward was barely stifling his laughter. "Well, it's a good thing you've got your big brother watching out for you."
Alice's hands went to her hips, and she glared up at Edward. "Excuse me, Edward, but he's my younger brother. I'm seven and he's five. Just because he's taller doesn't mean he's older."
Before I could reprimand her, Rosalie stepped forward and announced, "I like you. Wanna go see my room?" The girls took off with the boys not far behind.
Edward looked at me, his emerald green eyes wide. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend her." He chuckled. "She's quite the little firecracker."
"You have no idea. And I'm sorry about that—she's just a little sensitive about her little brother being so much bigger than she is."
"I have the feeling I'll be dealing with that in a few years. Rosalie is two minutes older than Jasper, and I don't think she'll like it when they hit puberty and he's suddenly taller than she is."
Without the buffer of the kids, I suddenly felt self-conscious. I went to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, and was reminded of the plate of cookies in my hand. "Oh, I almost forgot—these are for you. I hope you like chocolate chip."
"They're my favorite, thank you." The crooked grin that appeared made my lady bits tingle.
"So what brings you to Forks, Edward? Most people have never even heard of the town."
"I threw a dart at a map of the Pacific Northwest, and this is where it hit."
"Really?" I couldn't imagine being that impulsive.
"No..." he grinned again "...but I had you going, didn't I?"
"Smartass," I said, smacking his arm. Wait, what am I doing? I'm flirting with a guy who's probably married to someone as beautiful as he is. Stop it!
"I'm taking over the veterinary clinic for Dr. Gerandy. He and my former boss went to school together, and when he told Maggie he was retiring, she practically pushed me out the door. I grew up in Port Angeles, and I've always wanted a small-town life for my kids."
"Judging by the fact that we haven't seen hide nor hair of any of the kids, I'd say Rosalie and Jasper are going to settle in just fine. I hope that you and your wife like it here, too."
"No wife; it's just the three of us."
All of a sudden it felt twenty degrees hotter and I barely restrained myself from doing a happy dance. Better find out the details before getting all worked up.
"Is this where we trade war stories?"
"May as well get it out of the way. Ladies first?"
"Long story short, my ex had monogamy issues. The first time he cheated, we went for counseling. The second time he cheated, my friend Jake beat the snot out of him while I burned his clothes in the front yard, and I filed for divorce."
"Not that he didn't deserve it, but I'm surprised the cops weren't called."
"Did I not mention that my father is chief of police here?" I grinned evilly.
"Nice. I'll be sure to stay on your good side."
"Anyway, he sees the kids every other week. He was a lousy husband, but a great father. The only stipulation is that he has to come here to see them. He's living in Olympia now, and I won't allow them to be exposed to his sluts. Luckily, his parents live nearby, so they get to see their dad and their grandparents at the same time. Now, what about you?"
"Tanya decided that motherhood wasn't for her, so she packed up and left when Rose and Jazz were about a year old. They don't even remember her, which I guess is for the best."
"Damn, Edward. That really sucks."
"It's better this way. Can you imagine the kids having to grow up with a mother who didn't want them? My sister, Kate, moved in as soon as Tanya moved out. I honestly don't know what we would've done without her."
"Tell me about it. I don't have any family other than my dad, but the whole town pitched in to help me out."
"See, that's what I love about small towns. It was annoying as a teenager, having everybody know my business, but I can appreciate now."
Before I could respond, Emmett appeared with Jasper in tow. "Mommy, guess what?! Jazz has the exact same scooter I have—he even has Spiderman stickers on it! Is it OK if we ride down to the corner and back?"
"Maybe another time, Em. We've held them up long enough. Why don't you go get Alice so the Masens can finish unpacking?"
I knelt down to my son's level. "Emmett, I know you're excited about having a new friend, but the summer has just started. You guys will have plenty of time to play together. And I'll tell you what. As soon as they're all settled in, we'll have a sleepover. Pizza, popcorn, movies...the whole nine yards."
"You'll make chocolate chip cookies too, right?" The pout from a moment ago was gone.
"Of course." I looked up at Edward. "Sorry, I should have asked you first. Do you mind?"
"As long as I can get in on the cookie action, it sounds fine. I'll even spring for the pizza. Better yet, why don't we divide and conquer? I'll take the boys, and you take the girls?"
This suggestion was met with enthusiastic cheering from the boys before they sped off to tell their sisters.
"Speaking of unpacking, do you need any help?"
"My family is on their way, but I appreciate the offer." He nodded at his house. "You know they're not coming out, right? We're going to have to go in after them."
"Separating them is going to be ugly, isn't it?" I sighed. "How about I take the kids and get them out from underfoot?"
He stared at me in surprise. "That would be a big help. Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Not at all. You'd be doing me a favor, really. If I take just Alice and Emmett home, they're going to mope the rest of the day. When everyone is done unpacking, come on over for dinner. I'll call my dad, and we'll do burgers and dogs on the grill."
"Bella, you don't have to do that."
"I know I don't. I want to. Weren't you just telling me that you liked the way people in small towns help each other out?"
"All right then. This is me helping you out."
He held his hands up in surrender. "Never let it be said that I don't know when to back down. I gratefully accept your offer, Ms. Swan." The smile that accompanied that remark positively dazzled me, something that didn't escape his notice if the widening of said smile was any indication.
"Any allergies I should know about before I abscond with your kids, Dr. Masen?"
"Jasper will try to tell you he's allergic to green vegetables, but no, no allergies or anything."
"Smart aleck like his dad, huh?" I asked, bumping him with my hip as we walked up the sidewalk to his house. "That's good to know."
"Is it now? And why is that?" He bumped me back and then grabbed my arm when my clumsy kicked in. Damn, I'd been doing so well, too. Of course, we were just standing. Even I can manage that.
"Because I have the feeling that we're all going to be seeing a lot of each other."
The crooked grin reappeared. "I certainly hope so."
A/N: I can't apologize enough for how long this has taken; hopefully y'all are still interested in reading this. The next 6 chapters have been written and pre-read, just need to send them off to be beta'd.