Happy 2nd December everyone. I hope you're all keeping well and here's the second advent story for you all. This one's a futuretake from the The Cullen Girl universe, so it probably makes more sense if you've read that before. If not though, I think it's okay to be read as a standalone. I hope you all like it.
My thanks today go to the lovely idealskeptic for her beta services on this one (you might hear her name a lot in the coming days) and to lels for pre-reading. As always, I do not own Twilight.
Everyone else was away when the familiar sound of a car pulling up the driveway caught my attention. Frowning, I checked my watch. It couldn't be Carlisle, his shift at the hospital wasn't due to finish until early morning. And Edward had only left an hour previously for his hunting trip. I had to admit that it felt strange to have so few of us living in the same house for once, but Emmett and Rosalie wanted their space for a few years so they were currently travelling. The last I heard they were in Russia somewhere, but they still checked in fairly regularly. Jasper was also away from us, visiting friends down in the south. So for the meantime, the three of us just pottered about.
Only now we had a visitor and an unexpected one at that.
Rising from my seat in the study, I moved downstairs and opened the door only to find my first daughter with her fist raised, ready to knock on the door.
My eyes swiftly catalogued the changes in her even as I pulled her into a hug. She looked thinner, more tired, and her body sagged against mine as she collapsed into my embrace. She looked older too, but that was inevitable, given that she was almost fifteen years older than when she had first come to our family. She now appeared to be my equal rather than my younger.
"Hi Esme," she sighed into my shoulder.
Something about her tone of voice made me hug her tighter. She sounded so resigned, so desolate.
A small gurgle came from behind Bella and I immediately stiffened at the noise. Drawing back, I held Bella's shoulders and asked, "Did you bring her?"
She smiled and nodded and then stepped to one side, shifting her arm so it was around my waist. We both looked down and I felt my heart seize.
"Oh Bella. Isn't she just precious."
The tiny baby yawned and wriggled, letting out another whimper.
"She needs feeding," Bella quickly interpreted her needs. "And a good night's sleep."
I dragged my eyes away from the sight of Bella's daughter and looked at her. I hugged her to my side. "It looks like she's not the only one," I commented softly.
Bella smile ruefully at me. "We've been on the road since yesterday morning. Neither of us slept well at the motel last night."
"You drove all the way here?" I was shocked. "Why didn't you call one of us to pick you up, or we could've paid for you and Ava to fly out here? But to drive all that way with a young baby in tow...?"
Bella sniffled and then sobbed loudly, covering her face with her hand.
"I'm sorry. I don't know. I just... I just needed to get out there and I needed to bring all our stuff with us 'cos I didn't know how long I would be staying and I've still left half of it behind and I just wasn't thinking. I just needed to come home."
She dissolved into tears and I immediately wrapped her tightly in my arms.
"Sshh." I rocked her from side to side gently. "Sshh. It's okay, baby. It'll all be alright."
Bella continued to cry, but her wails were soon overtaken by the newborn at our feet who let out a gusty wail that announced her displeasure.
Hiccupping, as she tried to control her breathing, Bella pulled away from me and wiped her hands over her face, trying to banish her tears.
"She needs feeding. I should get her inside."
I searched her face for a moment and then nodded. Bella was obviously on her last legs and I didn't want to begin questioning her now when she was so emotionally fragile.
"We set up a room for you if you ever visited – one for Ava too. They're on the second floor, the third door on the right. You sort this little miss out and I'll bring your bags in."
Bella sniffled and nodded, then quickly darted forward to hug me before she turned and picked up the car seat.
"Thank you, Esme."
She shuffled into the house and up the stairs, her shoulders hunched as Ava's cries got louder. I watched her go, worried for her. We had visited her and her partner, Nick, a month before she was due to give birth, posing as her cousins, and she had been positively glowing. But now, she looking defeated, beaten down, and Nick was nowhere to be seen.
Ava was only three weeks old. She had called us straight away after she had given birth. How could someone so happy turn so sad in such a short space of time?
Grabbing my cell from inside the house, I dialled through to the hospital while opening the trunk to Bella's car. I gasped as I saw just how packed the vehicle was. This was no short stay. This looked like Bella was running.
Carlisle wasn't in surgery so the receptionist put me through to his office straight away. As I talked, I began to unpack the car.
"Esme?" The sound of my husband's voice settled the butterflies in my stomach. "Is everything alright? You don't usually call when I'm at work."
My words cut him off and silence rang down the line.
"Carlisle, she's here alone, just her and the baby, and I think she might be here to stay."
"What happened?" he asked.
I shrugged, even though he couldn't see me. "She hasn't said yet, but Carlisle...she's in an awful state. Something terrible must have happened."
I didn't even have to wait a second before he replied. "I'm on my way home."
I sighed in relief, but quickly spoke before he could hang up.
"Carlisle, I think..."
"Yes?" he said encouragingly.
I wasn't sure about this next part, especially with Edward living in the house at the same time, but this wasn't about my younger son, this was about Bella.
"I think it might be an idea to contact Jasper."
There was a long pause and I locked the car as I finished moving the last of Bella's possessions.
"I'll give him a call," my husband finally said. "And I'll leave the hospital and come home as soon as I can."
"Thank you. I love you."
I could almost hear him smile down the other end of the line. "I love you too. I'll be home shortly."
Ending the call, I quickly began to move all of the bags Bella had packed up to her room. I could hear her next door, cooing to the whining baby as I did. When I was finally finished, I stuck my head around the door.
Bella was slumped next to the crib that Edward and Emmett had lovingly constructed once they found out their sister was expecting in the hopes that she would bring the baby to visit one day.
"Have you fed her yet?" I asked gently.
Bella nodded. "And changed her. She won't go down though. I know she's tired. She's hardly slept all day, but she just keeps screaming and I..." She choked on her words and I immediately stepped forward, taking my daughter by the shoulders and leading her away from the squalling baby.
"Come on, sweetheart. Why don't you go and have a nice, hot bath and I'll put Ava to sleep? You're tired and stressed and she's probably picking up on that, so go and have a relax while you can."
"But she's never had anyone else put her to bed before," Bella protested. "Just me. What if -?"
"What if nothing," I soothed her. "She'll be fine and you look ready to drop, honey. Go and have a rest and I'll sort her out."
Bella tried to protest again, but it was rather half-hearted this time. "But are you sure...?"
I put on my sternest face, the one that made even Emmett tremble in his boots when he saw it.
"Yes, I'm sure. Go! Relax. Ava and I will be fine and I promise that I'll come and get you if I need you."
Bella finally caved. "Well...if you're sure."
I pointed her in the direction of the bathroom and clean towels and then shooed her out of the room.
Carlisle arrived home just as I was rocking Ava to sleep, the poor babe whimpering in protest every now and then, but too tired to argue properly, just like her mother.
She was a darling little thing. The most beautiful baby in the world. I wondered if she resembled Bella much at that age. When the boys had retrieved all of Bella's childhood photos from her house there hadn't been any baby pictures in the bundle. Ava definitely had Bella's eyes though.
"So this is Ava then?" my husband whispered as he came up behind me.
"Isn't she gorgeous?" I crowed softly.
Her tiny eyelids were just beginning to droop and I kissed her on the cheek before carefully setting her down in her cot and covering her lightly with a blanket.
We stood and watched her for a minute, his arm around my shoulders, as her tiny body relaxed into sleep with barely a murmur. Carlisle leaned sideway and pressed a kiss to my temple.
"She's beautiful. We should go now though in case we wake her up."
I pouted at that, but reassured myself that with my superior hearing I could be back in a flash if she cried out in the night. Carlisle did have to practically drag me out of the room into the hall though.
When we were out of the nursery, I sighed and leaned further into his embrace, offering him a kiss.
"Where's Bella?" he eventually asked.
"In the tub. The poor dear is utterly exhausted and needed a bit of a rest." A sudden thought hit me though and I straightened up abruptly. "I hope she hasn't fallen asleep in the bath."
I made to hurry off to the en-suite bathroom just to check, but Carlisle dragged me back into his arms.
I quieted myself and my worry and made out a light humming sound and the splashing of water coming from the bathroom.
"I'm sorry," I apologised. "It's just she seems so unlike herself. I'm very worried about her."
Carlisle hummed noncommittally. "Having a newborn is very stressful, especially if you don't have any support."
I scowled at that. "Well, she's supposed to have support. Where's the baby's father when you need him? When we were talking earlier, she said that she was always the one to put Ava to bed. It makes me think... Oh, I don't know what I think."
I crossed my arms in frustration.
Carlisle completed my sentence for me. "You think he's not around anymore?"
I held my tongue and shuffled around him to fetch clean linens for Bella's room. Sensing my tangled state of mind, Carlisle set about quietly helping me change the bed and put some of Bella's belongings away.
Shortly afterwards, she emerged from the bathroom in a pair of pyjamas and with damp hair. She still looked tired, but perhaps not as browbeaten as when she had first shown up on the doorstep.
"Carlisle," she exclaimed happily.
My husband took her hand and drew her into his arms. As if she had been waiting for that moment to finally let go, Bella sagged into his arms, her knees giving way as she clung to him. Taking his cues from hers, Carlisle just held her, absorbing all the stress in her body and letting her just grip his shirt as if she was being sucked into a maelstrom and my husband was the only thing stopping her from being sucked into blackness.
It was startling to see, but at the same time strangely heartwarming.
We had become more estranged from Bella, especially over the last couple of years when she had been in a relationship, mainly because our familial relationship was becoming harder to describe to humans, especially as Bella had now grown to be mine and Carlisle's physical equal, and now appeared a little older than her brothers and sister. It seemed to me sometimes, however, that Jasper almost appeared to age with her, although when I stopped and thought about it, I could see that for the flight of fantasy it was.
In moments like this though I was reminded that for good or bad, Carlisle and I had been Bella's parents for the best part of fifteen years and when he held her, keeping her upright as he was now, they truly looked like father and daughter.
They drew apart after a good ten minutes and Bella offered us both a wan smile.
"Did Ava get off to sleep okay?" she asked me.
I nodded. "Poor little thing had worn herself out. She was out like a light after about ten minutes."
I suddenly realised that in addition to being tired from two days on the road, she might be hungry as well.
"Do you want something to eat, Bella? I can rustle you up a sandwich or something if you like?"
I wasn't entirely sure I would be able to make good on that offer as we tended to only stock up on fresh food when we knew that Bella was visiting in advance. I was sure that we had enough dried and tinned food stocked up though that I would be able to cobble something together.
Bella shook her head. "No, not for now, thank you. I'm sorry to do this but I'm really tired, do you mind if I just go to bed?"
"Of course not," Carlisle immediately reassured her. "Why don't you go and get some sleep and Esme and I will watch over Ava for the night while you catch up on your rest."
Bella looked longingly in the direction of the bed, but then started guiltily towards the nursery.
"No, I should get up with her if need be. She might need feeding..."
"And she might just need changing or a cuddle," Carlisle interrupted firmly. "In which case we're more than capable of sorting her out. How about a compromise, if she needs feeding we'll bring her in to you, but if not then we'll look after her while you rest?"
I shouldn't have been as excited as I was, but I was willing Bella to take my husband up on his offer. A whole night of getting to look after the baby... I didn't even care if Ava slept her way through it, I would love every second.
Bella bit her lip. "Are you sure?"
"Of course we're sure. We'll be fine. I'm sure between the two of us we'll be able to manage one baby."
That made Bella laugh softly. "Okay then. Thank you."
"You're welcome, sweetheart." I stepped forward and brushed her hair back from her face. "You get some rest now and we'll take care of everything else."
"And we'll all sit down and have a talk in the morning," Carlisle added.
Bella blanched at that but then nodded.
I felt compelled to ask the question both myself and Carlisle were thinking about. "Will Nick be joining us for this visit at any time?"
What little good mood Bella had vanished in an instance, the small smile disappearing from her face and I immediately felt guilty for wanting to sate my curiosity.
"No," she replied in a clipped voice. "Nick decided after Ava was born that he wasn't as prepared to be a father as I thought he was.
"Oh Bella, honey, I'm so sorry."
I hugged her from one side, Carlisle from the other.
Our poor abandoned baby girl.
"It's fine." She grimaced. "I mean, it's not fine, but it is what it is and there's not really a lot I can do to change it." She shrugged. "One of the nurses at the hospital told me that even if the father wasn't around, I shouldn't be too proud to ask for help from any family I had. I was hoping I could stay here with you guys for a bit while I pull myself back together again, if that's alright?"
I was practically bouncing off the walls. Both Bella and Ava living with us again for the indefinite future? – I was in heaven.
"Of course you can stay," I reassured her. "For as long as you want. You know we love having you here and it'll give us all a chance to get to know Ava. After all, she's our first grandchild."
I relished the word grandchild even as I said it.
"Thank you." Bella looked as if she was about to start crying again, and Carlisle seemed to realise this.
"Esme, why don't you go and check on the baby while I help Bella get to bed?"
Shuffling off, I peered in on Ava, making sure she wasn't too hot or too cold and that she was sleeping soundly. Carlisle and Bella were talking quietly in the next room, but I tuned them out. If either of them wanted me to know what they were speaking of then they would tell me.
After a while, I decided to leave the baby to sleep in peace and went down to the kitchen to make a list of supplies that we would need to get in if Bella and Ava were going to be staying with us long term.
Eventually Carlisle came downstairs and sat opposite me at the table. I glanced up at him, noting that he was frowning.
"Did Bella get off to sleep alright?"
He nodded slowly. "I had to give her a mild sedative to help. She's been under an enormous amount of stress lately with the baby and this situation with Nick. She's been running on empty for much of the last week. I've reassured her that we'll take good care of Ava while she's resting."
I scowled at the mention of Ava's father, but chose not to say anything. I didn't have to anyway; once Jasper and Emmett found out what he had done to Bella I was sure that they both would have plenty to say.
Instead, I chose to focus on a more neutral topic. "Did she say how long she expected to be staying with us? I'm going to run to the store in the morning and I need to make sure I get enough supplies for the both of them."
Carlisle shook his head. "She only said that she had packed up most of her things and arranged for the rest to be shipped over later. She's let the lease on her apartment go so I'm guessing that she'll be with us for the foreseeable future."
I couldn't help my squeal of excitement.
Carlisle mock-frowned at me, but couldn't hide the easy smile that spread across his face.
"Remember that we need to tread carefully, Esme. We don't know how long Bella's going to end up staying with us, so don't go getting ahead of yourself."
"Oh hush." I reached across and slapped his forearm gently. "I know I shouldn't get too excited, but it's Bella, Carlisle, and she's here to stay for a while. I'm just...happy, no matter the circumstances."
He shook his head at me, his smile still on his face. "I know you are. And just think, with Bella and Ava here it won't be long until Rosalie and Emmett catch wind of their visit and then you'll have all the family back together again."
I smiled, but it quickly vanished. "I just wish she could've come home under better circumstances, that's all."
"I know." Carlisle moved around the table and gave me a kiss. "But she's here with us now and that's all that's matters."
I smiled at him and raised my face for another kiss that he obligingly gave me.
The night passed fairly quickly after that.
Ava was good as gold and only got up once when she had a dirty diaper. Edward was back by then so I made him join me while I changed her, laughing as he wrinkled his nose, a grimace on his face the entire time.
It wasn't long before dawn though that I heard a motorbike roaring up the driveway, the familiar scent of my third son meeting me as I opened the front door.
Jasper kissed my cheek in greeting and then bounded up the stairs with a brisk wave to Carlisle and his brother as he passed them.
I wasn't too put out by his lack of attention towards the rest of us. We all knew that Bella was and always had been his priority in this family, a point that was emphasized when she woke up a few hours later and found him there, squealing in happiness at his appearance.
Carlisle had contacted Emmett and Rosalie too during the course of the evening and they were also on their way back.
Soon my family would be back together once more, no matter the sad circumstances that brought us all back home.
Contentment spread through me as I thought about the exuberance and joy Bella's presence would bring back to us all again, and this time there was my little granddaughter in the mix too.
Yes, I was truly blessed.