A/N: A note on "Departures" – "Departures" was removed by the administrators of this site in October of 2013. It has since found a home on my blog: theficchick dot wordpress dot com. (Remove the spaces and replace each "dot" with a period.)
Thank you, once again, to everyone who read it, reviewed it, recommended it – I still feel like it was my "initiation" into the fic-world, and it will always remain one of my favorites for that reason. In the meantime, this is the "Departures" outtake/futuretake that I wrote for the Fandom for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraiser. It will live here for a while so that people who utilize the alerts function on FFnet can read it. Ultimately, though, it will live with the rest of the story on the blog.
Thanks again for all the love this story has received; Soldierward and Journo-Bella and I thank you. xo
And, as always, endless thanks to HollettLA, who not only fixes errant commas and the like, but also cracks me up with margin notes and helps me keep my versions of these characters honest and real. Thanks, lady, for being you - honest, real, and effing hilarious. xo
Departures Outtake/Futuretake: Reroute
From: Edward Cullen
To: Emmett Cullen
CC: Jasper Cullen
Sent: Saturday, April 7, 2012 7:12 a.m. PST
Subject: Bite me.
Yes, I'm alive.
Yes, we've come up for air.
Yes, she's as perfect, as beautiful, as sexy, as everything as I thought she was (as if you both didn't know that, given that you'd spent more time in her presence than I had until a few days ago. Then again, quality over quantity.)
Yes, I'm going to marry her.
And yes, I'd appreciate it if you'd all bugger off for the next two days.
. . .
It happens when I'm stashing a stack of clean towels in Bella's linen closet, which is right next to the bathroom. I volunteered to launder sheets and towels because given that I'm sleeping in her bed, eating her food, and rumpling and sullying those sheets on a pretty regular basis, menial household tasks seem like the least I can do. Plus, I liked the look Bella gave me when she caught me drying dishes the first time we came up for air and acting, as she put it, "all domesticated."
I pause, the folded pile of blue and green terry cloth still warm in my hands, as I hear the garbled lyrics of what I think is a Beatles song coming from behind the bathroom door. Bella was right: she's as tone-deaf as the day is long, but she's belting out what I ultimately identify to be "Hey Jude" with such gusto that it's somehow less cringe-worthy than it would be if I were judging it solely on its musical merits. I stash the towels and close the closet door, leaning against the white wooden doorframe, listening as she hits all the wrong notes and even a few of the wrong lyrics.
"And any time you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
And well you know that it's just you who plays it cool…SHIT!"
I hear a thump that tells me she dropped a bottle of something and grin as I step closer, leaning against the wall beside the bathroom door as she resumes warbling.
"So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin,
You're waiting for someone to conform with…"
I chuckle because I may talk a big Pearl Jam game, but I was raised on the Beatles, and she is straight up massacring that song. If it were anyone else I'd be heading for the opposite end of the house, but it's Bella, and really I just want to be near wherever she is, caterwauling be damned. And as I stand here in her upstairs hallway, listening to the girl I love absolutely butcher a legendary song, I realize that I really, really want to marry her. I mean, I knew it pretty much the moment I stepped past the security checkpoint at Sea-Tac and discovered that the Bella I'd built up in my mind was exactly who she was in reality: smart and sarcastic and irreverent and sexy as fuck. But in this moment, I know it in the real, holy-shit-I'm-going-to-propose kind of way, which is a lot different than the I'm-pretty-sure-I-could-see-myself-marrying-this-person way.
So here I am, standing in the hallway like a lovesick tool, trying to figure out how the hell a guy goes about buying a girl a ring. Size? Stone? Size of the stone? I haven't got a fucking clue. I could ask Alice, but I sort of want to do this myself. Everything with Bella and me has been so personal, so private, and something about bringing someone else in on this just doesn't ring true.
From: Edward Cullen
To: Jacob Black
Sent: Monday, April 9, 2012 6:21 p.m. PST
I got your e-mail address from Bella's address book; I hope you don't mind. I have a favor to ask. I realize that you don't know me particularly well, but the favor is for Bella's benefit. (Well, I hope it is, anyway.) If you wouldn't mind giving me a call at your convenience, I'd appreciate it. You can get me on my cell phone: 773-555-0513.
It was great meeting you and Vanessa the other day.
. . .
"So…Charlie's a cop."
"Yeah. I know."
"Right. So…he's probably going to give you the interrogator stare-down. The intimidation tactics."
"Okay." Jake checks his blind spot and I glance behind me to where Hank is lying on the back seat of Jake's vintage Ford Bronco. He takes up nearly all of it, and not for the first time, I wonder how Bella's going to react when she comes home from Gaza to find a ninety-pound mutt living in her apartment. The day after her departure, Angela confided in me that she'd been hoping to move in with her fiancé-to-be in the near future, but that she hadn't wanted to ditch Bella with the entire rent and no roommate. Enter: me. And now Hank. God, I hope Bella's on board.
"Thanks again for doing this," I say, returning my gaze to the road. The pavement is damp from four straight days of rain, and I can't help feeling like Bella took the sun with her in more ways than one when she left.
"Are you kidding? I've known Charlie my whole life; you think I'd miss the day he finally shoots someone?" I give him the side-eye and he shrugs. "Kidding. I think."
"Great." I like Jake. He seems cool, and he genuinely seems to care about Bella, and he reminds me a lot of some of the guys I was with in Afghanistan: like he's a person I'd trust to have my back. That said, he seems entirely too amused by the possibility that Bella's dad might legitimately try to shoot me.
"Seriously. You'll be fine. Just…be straight-up with the guy. Charlie hates a bullshitter."
I see Jake nod in my peripheral vision, and I glance once more at Hank before settling back against the cracked leather of his passenger seat.
When we pull up about three hours later in front of a modest two-story house near what appears to be the "heart" of the tiny town of Forks, I take a minute to consider it. There are two tall trees between the house and curb, almost as if they stand sentry, and there's a bay-style window on the left-hand side of the house's façade. It looks…homey. Comfortable. Bella-ish. Jake kills the engine and gives me an expectant look before opening his door and stepping out onto the wet driveway. I crack the windows and reach into the backpack at my feet, pulling a rawhide from the side pocket and reaching between the front seats to hand it to Hank. The weather is blissfully cool and the sky is still clouded over, so I try not to feel badly about leaving him in the car, at least until I explain to Bella's dad who the hell I am. "Wish me luck, buddy."
He ignores me in favor of his chew treat, and I sigh. So much for "man's best friend." I exit the truck and follow Jake up the front porch steps; he knocks on the doorframe of the screen, and a few seconds later, the inner door swings open to reveal a man with Bella's dark hair and dark eyes and a moustache that reminds me vaguely of Magnum, P.I. The comparison only serves to remind me that the guy's a cop, and that he owns a gun, and I attempt to square my shoulders. He pushes the screen door open slightly. "Hey, Jake." His eyes pass between Jake and me for a moment before widening, a fleeting look of panic entering them. Jake must see it, too, because he holds up a hand. "Bella's fine."
Chief Swan's eyes return to the careful, calculating look they held when he opened the door, and he glances between Jake and me again. "Chief, this is Edward Cullen. Edward, this is Chief Swan."
I hold out my hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
He considers me for a moment, moustache twitching slightly, before accepting the handshake. "The Army boy."
He nods. "Heard a lot about ya."
I mirror his nod. "Likewise."
Charlie swings the door wide in unspoken invitation, and I follow Jake into the house. Almost immediately, I spot photos of Bella across the living room on wooden shelves: as a small, knobby-kneed child; as a gangly, wild-haired preteen; as a teenager with hints of the beauty that would one day railroad me completely. I tear my gaze away to find Bella's dad considering me with shrewd eyes that are equal parts cop and father. "So," he says warily, looking over at Jake. "Bella's okay."
"Bella's fine," Jake repeats. "We're here because Edward wanted to…meet you." He throws the proverbial ball to me, eyebrows arched expectantly. Chief Swan follows his gaze, lips pursed beneath the moustache.
"I, uh, wanted to introduce myself," I say lamely, because there's no graceful way to launch from "Nice to meet you" to "I want to marry your daughter."
"Uh-huh." He slants his eyes toward Jake. "Your dad know you're in town?"
"Nope." Jake is barely containing his amusement, and while I'm grateful for his help, in this moment, I sort of want to deck him.
"You staying over?"
Jake shrugs. "Haven't really decided."
"Well, you should probably head out to the res for a visit then," Charlie says, and it isn't a suggestion.
Jake nods before glancing at me. "Hank?"
"Who's Hank?" Charlie demands, just as I'm opening my mouth to reply.
"Hank is Edward and Bella's dog," Jake informs him gleefully, and the chief's eyes are once again on me.
"Their dog," he repeats carefully.
"Yup. He's in the truck." Jake is spinning his keys around his index finger, watching Charlie and me with obvious delight.
"Put him in the yard," Charlie says. "Then go see Billy."
"Yes, sir." Jake lets himself out, and the moustache is frowning at me.
I feel my eyebrows slide up my forehead. "Sir?"
"Why'd you drive almost four hours to see me when Bella isn't even here?" His eyes narrow. "She didn't send you to check up on me, did she?"
His mouth twists. "She does that."
I fight the smile that tries to curl my mouth. "I can imagine." When he doesn't reply, I clear my throat. "Sir, Bella's important to me. Very important. I love her. And you're important to her. I wanted to meet you, and I wanted to have a conversation about how I feel about Bella."
He blows out a breath. "Beer?"
He turns and makes his way through a doorway which, as I follow, I discover leads to the kitchen with the big window. "This sounds like a conversation men should have over beers."
He grabs two cans from the fridge and hands one to me before crossing the small kitchen to lower himself into one of the two chairs at the table. Following his lead, I take the empty one, and I'm struck by the realization that Bella probably sat in this chair a million times before I ever met her. I'm oddly comforted by the thought.
"So?" Charlie says, taking a swig of his beer before licking the foamy residue from his moustache.
"I love your daughter, and I want to marry her," I blurt, the combination of Bella's lingering memory and my extreme discomfort joining forces to rip the words rather ungracefully from my throat.
Charlie's eyebrows arch, his can paused halfway to his mouth, and the brown eyes I fell in love with are boring through me from someone else's face. He returns his can to the table. "Sorry?"
"Sir, I love Bella. I realize that we've had sort of…an unorthodox story. But I love her, and I want to marry her. And I want to do this the right way – the way she would want it done. So that's why I'm here."
He's borderline glaring at me, and I try to steel myself for the very real possibility that he might throw me out of his house.
"Does she want to marry you?"
"Charlie. Cut the 'sir' stuff. It's Charlie."
"Bella. Does she want to marry you?"
"Yes, sir. Charlie."
"You know this?"
"Because you've already talked about it?"
"In a sense."
"Hm." The moustache is twitching at me. "Here's the thing, Edward. Bella's always been very self-sufficient. Whether or not I give you my blessing today, if she wants to marry you, she's gonna marry you. Nothing I say is going to make up her mind one way or the other."
I hide a smile. He's right, and it's one of the things I love about Bella. "True. And her self-assurance is one of the many things I love about your daughter. But Charlie, I know how much she loves you, and I know that your blessing would be important to her. Which makes it important to me."
He leans back in his chair. "This seems awful fast."
I nod. "I know."
"What's the rush?"
I shrug. "No rush. I just want her forever, and I'd like forever to start as soon as possible." He frowns slightly, and I lean forward, pushing the can slightly aside as I fold my hands on the table. "Listen, sir. Charlie. I'm a man of science. Facts, logic, deductive reasoning. Laws of nature. And everything about Bella's and my story flies in the face of logic. Of all of that stuff. I know that. We both know that. But the way I love her? That practically is a law of nature."
He seems unmoved by my declaration, and I realize that Charlie Swan must be one hell of a cop. "How do you feel about this trip of hers?" he asks after a moment, and it feels like a test.
"I hate it," I tell him honestly. "I hate that she's that far away, that she's somewhere so dangerous. But sir, with all due respect, I'm not going to be the person standing in the way of what she wants, even if I don't like it. And I've been the one leaving, the one headed somewhere dangerous, and I know what it did to the people who loved me, who didn't really understand why I needed to go, but they let me go anyway, and I've always been grateful to them for that. So I'm going to give her the same thing, whether this is a one-time trip or something that she does over and over again."
The moustache is frowning at me.
Then, moustache twitches. I think the moustache is hiding a smile.
From: Edward Cullen
To: Bella Swan
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 8:12 a.m. PST
Subject: Which church is it, again?
KIDDING. I'm kidding. (It's the one on the corner of 42nd and Wallingford, right? With the steeple-thingy?)
. . .
From: Bella Swan
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 10:02 a.m. PST
Subject: You're not funny.
You know, it really would be a shame if, instead of marrying you today, I strangled you instead. (Also, stop e-mailing me; we're not supposed to be in touch before the wedding, remember? It's bad luck. Or something.)
. . .
From: Edward Cullen
To: Bella Swan
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 10:29 a.m. PST
Subject: Bad luck
Okay, I spent the early days of our courtship "fiddling around with bombs in the middle of the desert," as you once so charmingly put it. I'm pretty sure if the destinies of bad luck had it in for us, I'd have met that fate long ago.
Also, a bride strangling the groom on the wedding day sort of sounds like one of those Lifetime movies. Should we copyright that?
Love you, too.
. . .
From: Bella Swan
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 10:47 a.m. PST
Subject: Lifetime movies
Generally, the plotlines of Lifetime movies involve the male characters being the murderous psychopaths and the women being the victims, but you might be onto something. Female empowerment (although I'm not sure murder falls under "empowerment" – we'll have to think that one through).
As for the bomb-fiddling…I'm remembering suddenly that you once promised me dinner at a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant near your parents' house – a promise on which I have yet to collect.
Seriously, though…thanks for not getting blown up. That would have been a real bummer.
See you at the altar,
. . .
From: Edward Cullen
To: Bella Swan
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 10:52 a.m. PST
Subject: At the altar
…You'll be the one in white, right?
. . .
From: Bella Swan
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 11:02 a.m. PST
Subject: Re: At the altar
Oh, did I not mention? I figure you have so thoroughly sullied my virtue by this point that it would be disingenuous to wear white. I've selected a gown in a particularly flattering shade of mustard. It's not to be missed!
. . .
From: Edward Cullen
To: Bella Swan
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 11:15 a.m. PST
Subject: Mustard dress
Don't care. I'd marry you in a trash bag. Or nothing at all. (Actually, that's not a bad idea…why didn't we think of that?)
Pretty psyched to be marrying you today (regardless of what you are – or aren't – wearing).
. . .
From: Bella Swan
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Saturday, October 6, 2012 11:37 a.m. PST
Edward, this is Alice. I'm confiscating Bella's phone because she's SUPPOSED to be focusing on having her hair and nails done and NOT on e-mail foreplaying with you. You're not even supposed to be in contact with her – and trash bags? Really? Honestly, how you convinced her to marry you, I'll never know.
See you at the church. I know for a fact Emmett smuggled a bottle of Laphroaig into the church; if you boys are drunk at that altar, so help me God, you're all going to be celibate for a year. It really would be a shame for you to be cockblocked on your own wedding night. Food for thought!
. . .
"Oh my God, we're married."
I grin as I gaze across the sea of frothy bubbles into the face of my wife. Holy shit. My wife.
"We are," I agree, unable and unwilling to combat the grin that stretches my face. The rounded tips of her kneecaps break the surface of the water where she has her legs bent; mine are stretched out on either side of her, and her small hands run soothing lines up and down my shins. Her face is flushed pink from the hot water, the ends of her still-curled hair straightened by the water and plastered to her shoulders. The tiny white blooms nestled amid the curls are beginning to wilt due to the long day and the damp heat wafting up from the tub. The humidity of the bathroom makes small strands of her dark hair curl and stick to her neck, and if I weren't so bone-weary, I'd lean forward and kiss her right where her hair has plastered itself to her skin. As it is, the circus that is a wedding has left me too exhausted to expend the effort. I content myself with wrapping my hands around her ankles and dragging her legs apart so that her feet are resting on my thighs.
"I have a husband," she muses, leaning back against her side of the tub and gazing at me, her expression somewhere between love and disbelief that mirrors what's been going on in my heart since she first appeared at the opposite end of the aisle hours ago, looking like my future in white.
"You do?" I tease. "That's something that seems like it would have come up before now."
"You would think," she volleys. "Especially considering that he's big and muscular and trained in hand-to-hand combat."
"Is that so?"
"He's also the jealous type."
"I am not!" I protest, and she smirks.
"I win," she says, tipping her head back and closing her eyes.
I study the way the ends of her hair drag along the surface of the bubbles, the damp and glistening skin of her chest rising and falling with each breath, the tiny smile that curls her pink lips. "I'm pretty sure I win," I tell her, and she smiles but doesn't open her eyes.
"We'll call it a tie," she suggests, and I nod as I mirror her posture, leaning back against my side of the enormous tub. We sit in comfortable silence for a little while before she laughs softly to herself.
"What?" I ask, lifting my head just enough.
"I didn't believe Alice, but she was right."
She opens her eyes. "That wedding-night sex is highly overrated."
She laughs. "Alice told me that by the time everything is said and done and the wedding is over and you finally get back to your hotel room, you're so exhausted that the last thing you want to do is have acrobatic or marathon sex. She said she and Jasper barely even got off before they passed out."
"Ew," I say reflexively. "That's my brother."
She shrugs, and the movement is just enough to give me a glimpse of the salmon-pink circles around her nipples before they disappear once again below the bubbled surface. Despite my indignation, I had been thinking that I was content to just soak with her until we turned pruny, but that taunting peek at her breasts has parts of me clamoring to prove her wrong. "I'm just saying," she says. "I'm exhausted."
"Too exhausted to make an honest man out of me?" I challenge, trying to keep the disappointment from my voice.
She smiles. "Oh, all right. But you know, they say married-sex gets boring really fast. You sure you don't want to delay the inevitable?"
I wrap my hands around her ankles and yank her toward me, the wave created by the movement slopping over the sides of the tub. "I want to have sex with my wife," I say into the skin of her neck, and she wraps her arms around my shoulders as those teasing nipples press against my chest.
"Okay," she says around a laugh. "Let's go have boring married-sex."
From: Edward Cullen
To: Bella Cullen
Sent: Sunday, October 6, 2013 7:06 a.m. PST
Subject: Happy Anniversary
Good morning, beautiful. You have no idea how sorry I am that I had to leave so early this morning, and therefore didn't get to properly wake you up to celebrate our first year of marriage. Believe me when I tell you that I have every intention of making it up to you tonight. With interest. Whatever you want: just say the word.
I love you.
. . .
From: Bella Cullen
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Sunday, October 6, 2013 9:56 a.m. PST
Subject: Re: Happy Anniversary
Good morning, handsome. Don't worry; I'm a modern girl, entirely capable of taking matters into my own hands. Even in the morning.
Have a good day.
. . .
From: Edward Cullen
To: Bella Cullen
Sent: Sunday, October 6, 2013 10:40 a.m. PST
Seriously?! You're going to e-mail me that when I'm riding around in a rig with another DUDE all day? You're a devious woman; I don't know why I married you.
. . .
From: Bella Cullen
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Sunday, October 6, 2013 11:11 a.m. PST
You know exactly why you married me. And you also know exactly what I want for my anniversary; I wasn't kidding when I mentioned it before. Psych yourself up, tiger. Tonight's the night.
. . .
Bella's driving me crazy. "Are you done yet?"
"No." She moves to one side, dark hair tumbling over her shoulders as she peers through the viewfinder and presses the shutter button once again.
When I asked her what she wanted for our anniversary last month, she said she wanted to take pictures of me. Given that she takes pictures of me all the time, I was confused. Then, she waggled her eyebrows in the way she does when she's trying to be suggestive and I'm not catching on quickly enough. "Wait. What do you mean 'pictures'?" I had asked.
"You know," she'd replied, eyebrows still waggling. "Pictures."
"I'm not entirely comfortable with my junk on film."
When I extracted a promise from her that she wouldn't take any pictures of me completely naked as a jaybird, I agreed, if somewhat cautiously. Now I'm sitting in our bed, a pool of sheets around me, and Bella's standing at the foot of the bed, camera in hand. But the truly torturous thing is what she's wearing: black underwear and a tiny, threadbare gray t-shirt with ARMY printed across the chest in black. She's not wearing a bra, and I can see her nipples poking at the thin gray cotton.
Like I said, she's torturing me. It's as if I can feel every fiber of the cotton bed sheet as it rests against my bare skin, and thanks to the fact that Bella turned away and bent over to retrieve a different lens from her camera bag a few minutes ago, there's a definite…protuberance beneath said sheet.
"You're killing me," I groan, leaning back against the pillows behind me and running a hand through my hair.
"Don't move," she commands, stepping closer. I can hear the beep-snick of her camera's focus and shutter that has become part of my life's soundtrack. "God, Edward, you're so handsome."
I feel a blush work its way up my neck. "I feel ridiculous."
"You don't look it." She's still snapping away, and seeing her like this – in her element, completely focused, wearing something sexier than lingerie – it takes everything in me not to knock the camera out of her hands and pin her beneath me. "Okay, roll over."
"I'm pretty sure that's my line," I argue, and she peeks out from behind the viewfinder, a cheeky grin stretching her face.
"We can do that next," she says, and I groan as I roll, wincing slightly and reaching down to readjust myself. I can't stop my hips from hitching once against the mattress for a little relief, and when I glance at her, Bella's smile is knowing.
"Killing me," I repeat, dropping my head to the pillow.
"Sorry," she says, not sounding the least bit apologetic. "Okay. Keep your head on the pillow, but kind of…peek up at me." I try to do as she asks, and she beams. "Perfect." She lifts her camera, but lowers it again before taking a picture. "Just…" Stepping closer, she leans over me and I feel her fingers drag the sheet down as low on my hips as it will go before my ass is visible.
"Whoa," I mumble. "No porn, remember?"
"This isn't porn," she contends. "This is art."
I glance back at her handiwork; the dents above my ass are visible, as is the slight indentation that hints at the top of my crack. "You're pushing it."
"Cooperate and I'll let you push it in a matter of minutes."
"You still haven't told me what you're going to do with these," I reply, trying to ignore her words even as I feel my body respond, digging deeper into the bed beneath me.
"Because I'm not going to do anything with them," she says, clicking away once again. "I just want to have them." After a few shots, she lowers the camera, a small frown pinching her brows together. "Are you really hating this? We can stop. I'm sorry."
"No," I say immediately. "I'm not. I just…feel sort of ridiculous. If one of us is going to be photographed wearing nothing but bed clothes, it should definitely be you."
Before my eyes, the way she's looking at me changes. Her brown eyes go from calculating, appraising photographer to affectionate, loving wife. Stepping forward so that her bare thighs touch the edge of the mattress, she unwinds the camera strap from around her neck and holds it out to me. "Okay," she says, voice soft. "Your turn."
I'm stunned, even as my hand is reaching for her Canon. Bella hates being photographed. "Really?"
"Really," she says, running a nervous hand through her hair. "Just…no one sees these. Ever."
"Agreed," I say, sliding out of the bed as Bella slides in. "Where are my boxers?"
"If you leave them off, your subject would find it very relaxing," she says from behind me, and I swivel to catch her ogling my bare backside.
"Is that so?" I ask, lifting the camera to my eye.
"Well," she says, now staring at my front. "Perhaps 'relaxing' isn't quite the word." Her eyes dart up to mine. "How do you want me?"
"Like that, for now," I say. "Just…fan your hair out a bit." She does as asked, her eyebrows hitched in surprise. "What?" I ask, and she shakes her head as she rests back against the pillow.
"I was expecting you to ask me to take the shirt off."
"That's next," I admit, pressing the shutter button. "But Bella, you in that shirt and underwear is the sexiest fucking thing ever."
"Really," I confirm, zooming in slightly. I take a few shots before lowering the camera, peering at her.
"What?" she asks.
"Can you…sit up? Pull one knee up to your body?" She does so, folding the other leg around her on the bed, and I snap the shutter. Hair tousled, half-dressed in a sea of rumpled sheets, she looks like morning-after Bella. "Perfect." A few more shots. "Okay, now…can you get up on your knees?" She gives me a faintly warning look but does as asked, hair tumbling around her shoulders in a chaotic tangle, nipples still visible against the cotton. "Good. Just…spread your knees a little bit." When she does, my mouth goes dry. "Jesus. Perfect." I shoot like a paparazzi photographer before lowering the camera. "Okay." I lick my lips. "Shirt…off?" She watches me carefully, reaching for the hem and pulling it up and over her head, baring her beautiful breasts and messing up her hair even more in the process. "You can cover them," I murmur, and she does so with her forearm, still pinning me with her stare. The other arm dangles at her side, and it's sexier than any smut magazine I ever looked at while I was deployed. Hesitant to tear my gaze from the sight of her, I begrudgingly raise the camera again and shoot a few before stepping closer. I open my mouth to ask her to lie back, but before the words can pass my lips, she reaches out and wraps a hand around the hard length of me.
"This isn't very professional of you," she murmurs, and I look down to watch her small fingers ghosting over my flesh.
"I can't say that you're exactly the picture of professionalism at this particular moment, either." I watch her tease me for a minute before remembering the camera I still have clutched in my right hand. When I lift it up between us, a question in my eyes, something sparks behind hers.
"No faces," she murmurs, still pulling at me, and I nod, lifting the viewfinder to my eye. It's an odd sensation, feeling her touch against my skin but watching it through the somewhat detached viewpoint of the camera lens. After taking a few pictures, I reach down and stop her movement before dragging her hand up to her own breast. Wordlessly, I remove my hand and she takes my unspoken cue as I resume snapping, careful to get the curve of her neck and collarbone but none of her face. "Edward," she murmurs, and I lower the camera, placing it gently on the nightstand before pressing my body to hers and lowering us to the bed.
I slide her out of her underwear as she's reaching toward the nightstand for the condoms we started using six months ago, after she went off the pill in an effort to stop the hormonal mood swings it caused. When I close my hand around her wrist to halt the movement, she peers up at me in question.
Her absolute trust, her unwavering love, her unmasked want – they all combine to knock me in the ribs, and I slide my hand up from her wrist to lace our fingers together. I hitch my hips so that the hard length of me is sliding against the soft, wet flesh between her legs and press a gentle kiss to her mouth before pulling back to meet her eyes. With her free hand, she reaches up to cup my jaw, a tiny frown of confusion making a crease appear between her eyebrows. "What is it?"
I turn my head to kiss her palm before returning my focus to her face.
"Want to make a baby with me?"
Her eyes widen, and I feel the fingers laced between mine tighten infinitesimally. She stares at me, wide-eyed, through the darkness in silence, and I can hear my heart thumping behind my eardrums, feel the hammering of hers against my breastbone.
"Yes," she whispers, eyes glistening in the setting sunlight. "God, yes."
"Yes," Bella moans, eyes closed and mouth half-open as she tips her head back to rest against my shoulder. Her hands are propped against the opposite wall of our small shower stall as she leans back into me. "Right there."
I chuckle as I smooth my hands over her lower back, pressing at the spots I know give her trouble. "Careful," I warn her, only half-kidding. "You're turning me on with your moaning."
"I'll do whatever you want me to do as long as you don't stop what you're doing," she vows, and I laugh again as I press my thumbs into the small dents level with the flare of her hips.
"There," she confirms, dropping her head forward. I kiss the small protruding bone at the top of her spine as my thumbs work in circles, trying to erase the tension.
"Mmm. Thank you."
"Welcome," I reply, sliding my hands from her back to her hips and around the considerable swell of her belly. "How's my little guy doing this morning?"
"Not so little, I'd say," she teases, pressing her hips back to where I'm half-hard for her.
"Sorry," I mumble, kissing the curve between neck and shoulder.
"Don't be," she says, interlacing her fingers with mine atop her stomach. "The other little guy is doing just fine." I feel something pointed ghost beneath the distended skin of her abdomen.
"What was that?"
"I think…an elbow?" she guesses, releasing my hands to reach up and rub her face; she leans forward slightly to let the shower stream rinse residual suds from her neck, and I take the opportunity to rub my hands in sweeping circles over the expanse of her stomach. I always want to be touching her now; I thought I wanted to be touching her all the time before, but that lust-filled desire had nothing on this, the unending need to press my palm to the globe of skin beneath which my son lies.
"And how's my girl doing this morning?" I ask as she straightens, her shoulder blades brushing against my chest.
"Fat and getting fatter," she grouses, rubbing her thumbs over the backs of my hands.
"You mean pregnant and getting…pregnant-er."
She laughs. "I'm pretty sure pregnancy is a binary state; you can't be more or less pregnant."
"Hmm." I couldn't care less about word games when she's subtly rocking her hips back to meet mine, but I play along anyway. "You'd think that'd be something I'd have learned by now."
"I must admit, I am questioning the rigor of the Seattle Paramedic training program."
"Your dubiousness is noted." She frees one of my hands and reaches back and between us to wrap warm fingers around me.
"Your horniness is noted."
Another roll beneath the tight skin of Bella's stomach, and she groans. "He beating you up again?"
"He's restless," she says, and the gentle affection in her voice makes something warm swell in my chest. "Like his father already."
"Say what you will, I don't pound you from the inside," I murmur, kissing the curve where her shoulder meets her neck.
"Um, I respectfully disagree."
I chuckle, kissing the faint freckles on her shoulder. "Okay, but I don't hear you complaining."
"True." She sighs, and I resume rubbing her back. "Honestly, I've loved being pregnant, but if the next four weeks sped by, it wouldn't be the worst thing."
"You say that now, but in four weeks we'll be seriously lacking in sleep, so I think we should enjoy them while they last."
"Talk to me when you have something the size of a watermelon residing in your uterus."
I laugh, reaching for the shampoo. "Okay, no watermelon and no uterus…but I do have a cucumber…" I waggle my eyebrows, and Bella rolls her eyes, but a smile tugs at her mouth.
"And that's my cue," she says, sliding the shower door open and slipping out.
"Hey!" I shout in mock indignation. "What about my cucumber?"
Her face appears around the shower door. "We have to leave in half an hour, but if you behave and don't make me carsick on the drive, I'll take care of your cucumber in my childhood bedroom."
"Deal," I say, turning to the spray and lathering up my hair.
By the time we arrive at Charlie's house in Forks four hours later, the sun is just setting in the uncharacteristically clear sky, and the air is still warm despite the early autumn. "I hope the weather's like this for the wedding tomorrow," Bella says, eyeing the sky as she waddles her way up the front walkway of her childhood home. "It'll be beautiful on the island."
"Supposed to be," comes the gruff voice from the front door, and Bella grins when she spies her father behind the screen door.
"Hi, Dad," she says, reaching for the railing of the porch steps as I grab her other elbow.
"Hey, Bells," he greets, eyeballing her round stomach. "Edward."
I nod. "Charlie."
Bella's dad is gruff, rough around the edges, almost always uncomfortable, but I genuinely love the guy almost as much as I love my own father. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that we're the two people in the world who love Bella the most, which means we speak the same language. As if to prove that very point, Charlie clears his throat. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
It's a sentiment I've been voicing for the past month, since I realized that Jacob's wedding to Vanessa would be a mere month before Bella's due date, and that the wedding itself would take place on a tiny island off the coast of First Beach. "I'm sure," Bella says as she climbs the steps. "We're two of only a handful of people who have even been granted permission to get on the island; there's no way I'm not watching Jacob get married." The island is at the mouth of the Quillayute River and is the home to a burial site for tribal chiefs, which is why people outside the Quileute tribe generally aren't permitted on the island itself. We're taking a small Coast Guard boat to the island for the wedding, and then back to the beach for the reception. When I asked Bella why Jacob opted for one of the most complicated possible places for his nuptials, she simply said it was meaningful to Jacob because of his mother and left it at that.
"Couldn't you just go to the reception?" Charlie presses as he steps aside so that Bella can enter the house, and we share a knowing look: I'd never tell Bella, but Charlie and I have had this exact conversation on the phone a few times already.
"Jeez, you two are worse than a couple of old nursemaids. Look, the kid is fine. He's not going anywhere. I had an appointment yesterday morning, and they told me as much. Now, stop henpecking and you—" here, she jabs a finger in my direction "—find me something to eat."
"Yes, ma'am," I say, releasing her hand as she steps forward and tries to wrap her arms around her father's neck, despite the obvious obstacle between them.
"You worry too much," I hear her murmur as I head for the kitchen.
"In the job description," he replies, and I wonder as I leave the room if he means the cop job or the dad job. I suppose I'll find out soon enough.
Hours later, the sky and the house thrown into darkness, Bella is rocking slowly atop me, eyes closed and head thrown back. I'm trying desperately not to thrust up to meet her, because each time I do, the bedsprings creak and the wooden headboard scrapes against the wall. The seafoam green paint is still sporting a scratch from the last time I was here.
"Edward," she murmurs, her hips rolling, and I bracket them in my hands.
"Good?" I ask, my thumbs rubbing the sides of her rounded stomach as my fingers clutch her hipbones.
"So good," she breathes, and I drop my gaze from her beautiful, pleasure-slack face to her ripe body. Her breasts are swollen and heavy, her stomach rounded and faintly shiny where her skin is stretched, and there's something so innately sexy about her pregnant body that I feel a new swell of lust join the heady arousal that has already taken over me.
"Beautiful," I murmur, and she snorts even as she doesn't falter in her movements. I sit up, feeling the presence of our son between us, and curl my hand around the back of her neck. "Beautiful," I repeat, staring fiercely into her eyes, and something in her gaze softens as she lowers her mouth to kiss me. "Can you come like this?" I breathe against her mouth, and she resumes the rolling motion of her hips.
"I think so," she breathes, her eyes closing again and her head tipping back as I lay back against the pillows, watching her take what she needs from my body, knowing she'll carry me with her when she goes.
The next morning, the sun is shining, and Charlie's glaring at the blue sky when I make my way into the kitchen for a cup of coffee before Bella gets up. When he turns his glare on me as I enter, I'm terrified for a fleeting moment that he heard me screwing his very pregnant daughter in the middle of the night, but then I remember that she's also my very pregnant wife, and I meet his gaze. "Morning," I say, and he returns the greeting with a scowl.
"Does it make me a jerk for wishing it would rain?" he asks, and I realize his bad mood is because of the fact that the aforementioned pregnant daughter will be stepping onto a boat in a few hours and heading for a deserted island off the coast.
"Nope," I say, helping myself to the coffee pot on the counter. "I was having the same thoughts all night long."
"Hmm," he says, returning his focus to the kitchen window and the clear sky beyond it.
Just as I'm lifting the steaming mug to my lips, I hear a voice from the doorway. "You are so busted." I spin, and my rumpled, pregnant wife is glaring at me, her eyes shifting pointedly between my face and the mug in my hand.
"Um. It's decaf?" I try, and the glare deepens, tiny fists balling somewhere in the vicinity of her no-longer-existent hips.
"Charlie doesn't buy decaf," she replies, and I toss a glance at her father for help. He holds up his hands as if to illustrate his desire to be left out of it, and I turn back to Bella.
"Sorry," I say finally, realizing that I'm not going to win. When I promised Bella during her second month of pregnancy that I would do without whatever she couldn't have, I'm pretty sure I was thinking booze and sushi and not caffeine, but it turns out that coffee has been the one thing she's craved that's on the forbidden list, and as a result, I've been jonesing just as badly as she has.
"It's fine," she huffs, stepping into the kitchen and making her way to the fridge. "But you better enjoy it enough for the both of us."
"Consider it done," I say, taking a grateful sip as she bends and retrieves the orange juice. She's wearing a pair of my flannel pajama pants, rolled a good four times at the cuffs, and a much bigger, long-sleeved Army t-shirt that is another one of my personal favorites. This one is almost equally adorable, if only for the way our son stretches out the midsection.
"Nice day," she remarks, reaching for a glass, and Charlie's grumble makes her laugh. "You prayed for rain, didn't you?"
She presses a kiss to his stubbly cheek. "Stop worrying."
"No can do," he says, and while I'd never say it aloud, I know the feeling.
By the time we're stepping onto the boat, Bella is ready to kill us both. We're the last ones being ferried over to the island, and if Charlie and I have our way, we'll be the first ones ferried back. Jake insisted that the wedding was, as Vanessa dubbed it, "garden party casual," so I'm wearing khakis and a sky blue dress shirt, and Bella's in a sundress. Charlie is wearing brown slacks and a short-sleeved burgundy button-down, and it occurs to me that, on first glance, I'd peg him more as a science teacher than a cop. Then he glares at me, and I rethink. I shrug, as if to apologize for the lack of control I have over Bella, or perhaps for not timing the knocking-up better, and take my wife's arm to guide her to the bench at the side of the boat. "You okay?" I ask as she lowers herself, and she huffs.
"If you ask me that again, this will be the only child you are capable of fathering. Comprende?"
"Clearly," I say, lowering myself beside her, and she winces as she leans forward and rubs the problem spots on her back.
I start to ask if she's okay again, but bite my tongue when I recall her not-at-all veiled threat. "Backache?" I try instead, and she nods. "Here," I say, nudging her hip, and she half-turns to let me rub the gentle circles that have become part of my daily daddy-to-be duties. My thumbs work her lower back all the way to the mooring buoy of the island, and when she winces stepping out of the boat, alarms start to ring in my head. "Okay, you can be mad at me all you want, but Bella…these back pains. Are they contraction-like at all?"
She frowns. "I've never had a contraction, but I don't think so. I think I just…" She glances over her shoulder to see her father still standing on the boat, and she leans in toward me, lowering her voice. "I think I just aggravated them last night."
I remember her hips rolling above me and silently berate myself for not laying her on her side and doing the work myself. "Sorry," I say, and she nudges me with her elbow.
"Don't apologize. Well worth it. I just forget sometimes that my muscles are…a little out of whack."
"If you start to feel anything sharp, though, you need to tell me right away, okay? We're too far from a hospital to mess around."
She rolls her eyes but promises, and I nod, only slightly mollified. My concern takes a backseat, though, when I see the way she lights up when she spies Jacob welcoming his handful of wedding guests. "Jake!" she calls, beaming, and her friend returns the smile, wrapping his bear-like arms around her gently.
"Hey, Bells," he greets, hugging her and then stepping back to gaze down at her stomach. "Guess I can't really hoist you off your feet today, can I?"
"Definitely not," I answer for her, and she gives me a look, but Jake laughs, extending a hand for a handshake.
"Hey, man," I say, pumping the proffered hand. "Congratulations."
"Thanks." He's beaming, and I remember the feeling like I married Bella only yesterday. "And thanks for coming all the way out here; we know this was kind of a hassle for everyone."
"No, it wasn't," Bella pipes up, and her eyes are soft. They share a look, and I remember her implication about the island's significance to Jake.
"Not at all," I agree, and slide my hand around Bella's waist. "It's really beautiful here."
Jake nods, looking around at the wildness of the tiny land mass. He's opening his mouth to say something when his father calls him from amid a tiny knot of what look to be Quileute elders. "Catch up with you guys later?" he asks, and we nod as he makes his way to where Billy is standing.
Charlie and I lead Bella to the small square of chairs set up on either side of a makeshift aisle, and as she lowers herself into one, I look around at the space. It's wild and overgrown, and there's absolutely nothing wedding-like about it at all. In fact, without the setup of chairs, it would look like little more than a clearing for a picnic. There's no altar, no anything. I lower myself beside Bella and watch as she shifts in the plastic chair, trying to get comfortable. I tamp down on the urge to ask her if she's okay, and instead snake my hand behind her to rub her back, pressing my thumb into the spot just above her sacroiliac joint. She hisses, and I lean forward. "A little too hard," she says softly, and I nod.
I rub gentler, and she continues to shift, and when Charlie meets my eye, we share a look that, thankfully, Bella doesn't catch. I like Jacob, but I swear to God, if my kid is born in a dinghy on the Quillayute River, I will strangle him with my bare hands. I continue rubbing, and Bella keeps squirming, and Charlie's moustache keeps twitching, and I think one of us is going to start to legitimately panic when the soft strain of a single violin cuts through the soft murmurs of the small knot of guests. Everyone falls silent as Jake and another Quileute boy I've never met take their places a few feet ahead of the front row of chairs. An older member of the tribe who will apparently be performing the service stands just past the opening of the aisle. When Jake's eyes swing to the other end of the aisle and his face splits into a grin, the assembled guests follow his gaze to see Vanessa making her way toward him, her father walking steadily beside her. She looks nice in a simple white dress, but suddenly, all I can see is Bella on Charlie's arm, her tiny body hugged in white lace, white flower buds in her hair. I can remember the knot of tears at the back of my throat and blinking furiously so that my view of her wouldn't be obscured even for a moment. I remember the slight embarrassment in her face until she spotted me, and the way she seemed to open, to blossom, as she made her way toward me. I remember every single step she took as she walked, and I remember how that twenty-foot aisle seemed miles long, for the time it took her to reach my side.
I realize that the crowd of people around us is standing, and as I help Bella to her feet, she winces. Her own hand finds her back and takes up rubbing the circles I'd been tracing, her features pinched in pain. "Bella," I murmur, and she shakes her head once.
"Shh." She's watching Vanessa walk up the aisle, but I can't look away from my wife, her brown eyes shining with happy tears despite the tension in her forehead. I let my hand join hers at her back, rubbing gentle circles as I force my gaze back to the wedding. Once Vanessa reaches the top of the aisle, we sit, and I hear Bella sigh in relief.
The ceremony begins, and every time I glance at Bella, I see Charlie doing the same thing from her other side. I can see how we might make an irritating team, but seriously, what does she expect? The officiant begins talking about the symbolism of rings, incorporating metaphors both from Jacob's background and Vanessa's, and I'm just thinking about what a nice job he's doing of meshing the two when Bella sucks in a breath and her hand tightens on my thigh. My eyes slam to hers, and I know in an instant.
"That…hurt," she says, and all of the bravado she's been cloaked in for the past two days is gone.
"Hurt where?" I ask, my training coming to the forefront and pushing panicked-father-to-be to one side.
Her hand ghosts to the space just above her tailbone, and I do quick math. If the back pain she was feeling yesterday morning in the shower was actually early labor, she could have been in early labor for twenty-eight hours already. "Shit," I mutter, and apologize when the person in front of me throws a pointed look over her shoulder. "Bella, I need you to describe the pain for me, okay? What does it feel like?"
"It feels like…almost sharp. Sort of…a dull stabbing."
"Okay, baby. I think we need to leave. Now."
"What? We can't walk out in the middle of Jake's wedding."
"Bella. Listen to me. This isn't me being an overprotective husband right now. This is me being a paramedic. You're in labor. You've probably been in labor since yesterday morning. We can't sit here and let things progress until the wedding is over, okay? Jacob will understand."
It's a testament to her worry that she doesn't argue. I lean across her to Charlie, who's watching us with a pretty serious level of alarm in the brown eyes that his daughter inherited. "Chief, Bella's in labor. We're going to head back to the mainland."
"I'm coming," he says, standing up, and more than a few heads turn to stare at him. As if realizing, he looks around; the officiant stops talking, and Jake and Vanessa turn to spy Charlie standing amid their small knot of guests. "Sorry, kids. Sorry. Uh, Bells is in labor. We're gonna have to head out."
"What?" Jake's eyebrows are up around his hairline. "Bella, you're in labor?"
"I know, I'm sorry, my timing sucks." She attempts an apologetic smile, but winces, her hand going immediately to her lower back.
Oh, shit. That wasn't even five minutes. "I'm so sorry, Jake. Vanessa, God, I'm sorry."
"Stop, Bella, stop!" Vanessa's holding up her hands, her tiny cluster of white roses dancing with the movement. "My gosh, just…go! Do you need help? We can put this show on pause."
"Oh, God, no," Bella says, spots of color appearing on her cheeks, and I can't imagine a more mortifying way for my behind-the-lens wife to go into labor. "I just…I should probably…" She makes a move to stand, and as she does, a gush of amniotic fluid cascades down her legs.
"Oh, shit," she breathes, looking down at her soaked sandals. "Well, this is embarrassing."
"Come on," I say softly, taking her by the elbow.
"I'm so sorry," she's mumbling, treading carefully over the uneven ground, and when she reaches the end of the row, Jacob is there, his face a picture of alarm. "The boat should still be there; we told them to just wait, that the ceremony wouldn't be long." He gestures toward their officiant. "Harry is a medicine man, of sorts; he can go with you."
"Jake, he's marrying you."
"It's okay," he starts, but I cut him off. When his eyes find mine, the panic seems to dim slightly. "Oh, right." He chuckles. "Paramedic. I still think of you as a bomb guy, you know?"
I force a smile. "I know. Me too, sometimes. But I think we'll be okay."
"Yeah," he says, his eyes going back to Bella, then to the Chief. "Okay. Yeah. Um…good luck?"
"Thanks," Bella says, wincing again as another dagger of pain hits her. "Hey, Jake?"
"Go get married. I'm gonna go have a kid."
He laughs and leans in to hug her gently. "Okay. Deal." He kisses her cheek. "Thanks for coming."
"Dance one for me," she says through gritted teeth, and he nods, watching as Charlie and I lead Bella away from the wedding and back to where the boat is waiting. "I'm sorry," she's babbling, picking her way carefully over the earth as I check my cell phone for a signal in hopes that I can call ahead for an ambulance. No such luck. We could likely have the Coast Guard guys on the boat call over, but the trip back to shore is short enough that it would only mean we'd have to wait in the parking lot. Bella, meanwhile, is still babbling. "God, I should have listened. I'm sorry I was so stubborn. That was so stupid. I should have listened."
"Bella," I say gently, even though I'm silently agreeing with her. "It's okay. We just need to focus now, okay? Your contractions seem pretty close together, if that's what they are. We're going to have to time them, okay? So you tell me when you feel—"
I'm cut off by the feel of her hand digging into my bicep, her face twisting in pain. "That one?" I ask unnecessarily, and she nods. I glance at my watch. "Okay. Let's get moving." Charlie and I help her into the boat, and I remind her to breathe, watching the second hand sweep the face of my watch as I settle beside her. "Tell me when it hits again, okay?"
"Okay," she mumbles, her eyes watching the water, and when she squeezes my arm three minutes later, I feel a bubble of something that tastes a whole hell of a lot like panic in my throat.
"Three minutes," I say, fighting to keep my tone neutral, but Charlie's eyes fly to mine and Bella starts babbling again.
"Three minutes, God, we're like forty-five minutes away from the hospital. I'm such an idiot."
"Okay," I say, my mind scanning its limited medical knowledge for the basics. "Bella, you're in active labor, okay? Um, Charlie?" I meet Bella's dad's panicked eyes over my shoulder. "I'm going to need to, uh, check under her…uh, dress. To see where she is. You might want to..."
"Oh!" he almost-yelps, relocating to Bella's other side and helping her swing so that she's essentially reclined along the bench. "Okay, Bells, uh…" He looks utterly at a loss. "You're okay, kid."
"Bella, baby, I'm just going to check how dilated you are, okay?" I'm reciting the bullet points from this part of my training over and over in my head, trying for a moment to forget that this is Bella, this is our son, and pretending like it's not the weirdest thing I've ever done, sliding my fingers into a girl's body while her father sits by her head.
When I look up, Bella's face is pale. "He's too early," she says, and I can hear the wobble in her voice, see the tremble in her chin.
"He's thirty-six and a half weeks," I tell her softly. "Thirty-seven weeks is full-term. He'll be fine." I glance up at Charlie before meeting Bella's eyes again as the boat pulls away from the island. "Baby, I think you're at about eight centimeters."
"Eight?!" she yelps, and I can see her reviewing the "childbirth math" we went over in our birthing class. Eight means she's in transition, and eight is pretty damn close to ten, when she's going to want to push.
"Breathe, babe. Breathe. It's going to be fine." The coastline of LaPush is growing large in front of us as I lower the hem of her dress, and I see Charlie wince as she squeezes his hand, her teeth clenched. Charlie and I watch Bella, who breathes and grimaces as the tiny boat bobs over the water, and I say a silent prayer of thanks for the smooth conditions.
We reach land, and Charlie and I help Bella out of the boat. I guide her gently across the uneven terrain of the parking lot while Charlie bolts ahead to start the car; when we reach it, the engine is running and he's already reversed out of his parking spot. Bella grunts as she lowers herself to the backseat of the cruiser, and I slam the door gently before running around to the other side and sliding in next to her. "Okay. We're in, Charlie."
Give the man credit; he doesn't need to be told twice. He all but peels out of the gravel lot, likely sending a spray of rocks and dirt behind us. I see him flick a switch, and I know without asking that the lights atop the car are spinning; I'm grateful he didn't turn on the siren, because I'm pretty sure that would only add to Bella's panic. I settle myself into a steady litany of soothing encouragement, watching Bella's face crease and relax with each contraction, sweat beginning to gather along her hairline, until her face contorts in a way it hasn't before.
"Shit, I think…" Her chin drops to her chest and she tilts her hips up off the seat.
"What? Bells?" I can see Charlie's panicked eyes in the rearview mirror, and I know what she's going to say before she speaks the words.
"I need…I think…I need to push."
"Hang on," I say, glancing into the front seat. "Charlie? You got a jacket or anything up there?" He hands one back – his brown leather police-issued bomber – and I realize suddenly that there's no plastic partition between the seats. Must not be a lot of violent criminals arrested by the police chief in Forks. "Okay Bella, I'm going to ball this up behind you so you can lean against the door, okay?"
She nods but doesn't say anything, and I do just that, bundling the coat up and helping her turn so that she's semi-reclined along the leather backseat of her dad's cruiser. She props her feet on the seat, and I angle myself so that I'm between her ankles. "Okay, baby, let me see." She glances toward the front seat, but Charlie's eyes are resolutely on the road, and – God bless her – she blushes as she spreads her knees slightly. I realize that she's still wearing the soaked underwear that I pushed aside when I checked her the first time, and I slide my hands soothingly up her quad muscles before resting my fingers on the waistband. "I need to take these off, okay?" I say, so softly Charlie couldn't possibly have heard me, and her blush deepens as she nods once. I slide them off quickly and stick them in the pocket of my pants. "Okay," I say again, pushing the hem of her dress up her thighs just far enough that I can lift it to see how she's progressing.
Suddenly she tenses, and I can see her skin bulge. "Edward," she hisses, and I know she wants to push.
"I know," I say, and her face is so tense, her eyes clenched shut so tightly that I'm not even sure she hears me. "I know," I say again, unbuttoning the top few buttons of my shirt so that I can pull it over my head. I grab the hem of my white cotton undershirt and yank it off. "Bella, love, can you lift your hips for me, just for a second?"
She does, and I slide the t-shirt beneath her, the closest thing I have to a sterile drape in the backseat of Charlie's cop car. "Okay, babe. I know." I glance toward the front seat. "Charlie?" He meets my eyes in the rearview mirror, and if he wonders why I'm shirtless, he doesn't ask. "Bella needs to push, so, uh…just so you know. Maybe…no sharp turns, okay?" He nods, once, and I hear the siren blare to life. I don't know Forks nearly well enough to know where we are on the 101, or how close we are to the hospital. "How far out?"
"About thirteen minutes," he says, and with the speed at which Bella's labor has already progressed, there's a good chance this kid is going to be born before we get there.
"Okay," I say, returning my focus to my wife. "Bella, on the next one, if you feel the need to push, go ahead. Okay?"
"In the car?" she grits out, and I force myself to smile.
"When this is done, I'll tell you about how Jasper was born in a camping tent," I promise, and she manages a tiny smile before her face contorts again.
"Okay, now, gently…push," I say. "Nice and gentle." I remember this part, and all of the paramedic trainees wincing when the instructor told us how, if a woman pushes too fast or too hard, she can tear. "That's it," I coax her, and as I look between her legs, I get the first tiny glimpse of our son's head. "Good," I say, and I can feel when her contraction ends by the relaxing of her calf muscles. "I can almost see his head, Bella. You're doing great, baby. Just…" Then another contraction hits her, and her head comes up again. "Slowly, good. Push, nice and gentle." We go through a few cycles of that, and I find myself peering through the windshield between pushes, hoping against hope that a hospital appears through the glass. She cries out and I return my focus to her, noting that with each push, I can see more of our son's scalp. Charlie's flipping the siren on and off as we approach and pass through intersections, and I figure we must be getting close based on the number of intersections and the slight increase in other traffic. "Two minutes out!" he calls from the front seat as if he's read my mind, and I lean in to Bella.
"Hear that, babe? Two minutes. You're doing great."
She smiles faintly, and I've seen her in a wedding dress, in lingerie, in nothing, in my clothing, in that threadbare Army t-shirt, but she's never looked more beautiful than she does now, dress hiked up to her hips, sweating and panting and already looking utterly exhausted. Then her features tighten and she leans forward, and I watch as her body tries to expel our son. "Good, Bella, good." I would make a terrible coach, but I doubt she's even hearing me; biology is taking over, and she's bearing down and breathing and pushing and doing everything she's never had to do before but somehow instinctively understands. Suddenly, the crown of the baby's head emerges, and I realize that, two minutes or not, Bella's not going to be giving birth in the delivery room at the Forks Community Hospital. I place a hand on the baby's scalp, trying desperately to keep Bella's body from tearing. "Good. Breathe," I say, even though she's doing it without my coaxing, and I watch as she pushes again, and my son's forehead becomes visible. "Bella, he's coming. You're amazing. I love you. You're doing great."
She takes a few deep, panting breaths, and I keep my hand on the baby's head, recalling the words of our instructor.
As the head emerges, keep a gentle hand on it until the chin delivers.
Feel for the cord behind the top ear. If found, tug gently to see if it will slip over the head.
Suddenly she's pushing again, and I can see my son's closed eyes, tiny nose, small mouth. Then his chin is out, and I feel like I might panic myself. Suddenly, the car comes to a stop and Charlie throws his door open; I look up only momentarily to see that we're in the emergency loop outside the hospital. I return my focus to Bella. "His head's out, Bella. Breathe, love. Just got to get the shoulders out, okay?" She nods, eyes closed, and takes another deep breath before leaning forward, her teeth clenched and a vein bulging in her forehead. Her nose and cheeks are red, and her hair is plastered to her temples, forehead, and neck. Suddenly there's someone looking over my shoulder, and I'm about to protest on behalf of my wife's modesty when I note the white coat.
"Okay, son, how we doing here?"
"Head's out," I say, looking between Bella's legs. "No cord around the neck. Getting ready to deliver the shoulders." The doctor looks at where my hand is cradling the baby's head, and he nods, snapping blue plastic gloves onto his hands.
"You a doctor?" he asks.
"Paramedic," I reply.
"Was the amniotic fluid clear?"
"Yes," I say.
"Pushing!" Bella yells, and we both lean in.
"Press down very gently on the baby's head," the doctor says lowly in my ear, "to encourage the top shoulder out first." I follow his guidance, and, as he said, the top shoulder appears. "Good," he says. "Now, when you can see the crease of the baby's armpit, lift the head gently to deliver the other shoulder." I do as instructed, and we watch as both shoulders appear. "Wonderful," the doctor says, and as he speaks, the rest of my son's body slips from Bella's. I'm holding his tiny body, and after a beat, a whimper of a cry fills the car. "Sir, if you'll just lean aside, we can clamp the cord." Once they've done so, there's a rather choreographed effort to get Bella out of the car and onto a stretcher, our son still attached to her by the clamped umbilical cord. I'm hovering to one side, kissing her hair and temple, breathing a senseless string of love and encouragement and wonder into her skin, and she's firing near-delirious questions at the doctors and nurses, who are assuring her that everything looks fine, that our son looks fine, that they're just going to take them both inside and check everything out.
In years to come, I won't be able to recall the minutes that follow with any type of real clarity: I'll remember feeling as though I've been blindsided, sitting beside Bella's gurney as they let me cut the cord once it's stopped pulsing; I'll remember watching Bella's face while they check her over, asking questions about the labor and the delivery, marveling at how quickly it went for a first-time mother; I'll remember marveling at her, feeling as though I'll never have another moment in life that feels this big, no matter how long I live.
When everything finally calms, our son asleep in a plastic cot in the nursery, a warming lamp on him because even though he's a little small and a whole month early, he's perfect, I'm still sitting beside Bella, thankful that no one has asked me to move since I first got here and a nurse suggested I might want to wash my hands and change into some scrubs.
Bella looks up at me, a peaceful smile finally pulling at her lips. "He's here."
I grin down at her, love swelling in me. "He's here," I agree.
"You delivered our son," she says, sounding wondrous, and I chuckle.
"I'm pretty sure you delivered our son." My smile drops and I run a hand over her hair. "Bella, you were amazing. Seriously."
"Thank you," she says, turning her head to kiss my palm. "You were amazing, too, though, Edward. You really were. You just…" She shakes her head. "God, I'm so glad I married you."
I laugh again. "Yeah, I'm pretty psyched about that, too."
She grins. "Dork."
"Are you in pain?"
She pauses, as if assessing, and shrugs slightly. "Not really. I mean, sort of…achy, I guess. But nothing by comparison."
"Yeah, I bet."
She yawns, and I run a hand over her hair again, unable to stop touching her. "Tired?"
"Exhausted," she replies, and her eyes are barely open.
"Sleep," I say, and she forces her lids up.
"Will you wake me when they bring him back?"
"Of course," I say, pressing a gentle kiss to her forehead. I resettle beside her, and I'm just thinking I might be able to nap in the dreadfully uncomfortable chair when the same nurse who gave me the scrubs peeks into the room.
"Mr. Cullen?" I sit up, immediately on alert as I imagine all of the preemie pitfalls that might have affected our son. "Chief Swan is…well, pacing in the waiting room. Perhaps you'd like to go see him?"
"Right," I say, rising immediately. Shit. I'd almost forgotten about Charlie. When I get to the waiting room, I realize that "pacing" was almost an understatement. Charlie, to employ an overused phrase, is moving about the small space like a caged lion. "Hey, Chief," I say. "Wanna come meet your grandson?"
He freezes, and the drop in his shoulders is visible as he blows out a breath before nodding. He follows me through the hospital hallway, our shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor. "She okay?" Charlie asks, voice rough, and I nod.
"She's great. Tired. She's resting, but she's great, Charlie. Everything went fine." His exhale is audible, and I glance at him from the corner of my eye. He looks exhausted, and I feel fleetingly guilty for not keeping him more informed once we were at the hospital. We reach the window that looks into the nursery, and our son is the only baby in there, gleaming beneath the heating lamp, his skin a perfect, healthy shade of newborn pink. There's a barely-there fuzz of hair on his scalp, nondescript in color, and his legs are still folded together the way they were on the sonogram photos we have taped to the fridge in our kitchen.
"There he is," I say unnecessarily.
"There he is," Charlie echoes, staring at the baby in wonder, and I feel a now-familiar surge of affection for Bella's gruff father. "He's okay?"
"He's great. Perfect APGAR scores." I pause before realizing that that's medic-talk. "That's the test—" But he cuts me off.
"Bella had a perfect APGAR, too," he says, eyes still trained on his grandson.
"That doesn't surprise me," I say, chuckling, and Charlie looks over at me, a smile twitching behind the moustache. We stand beside each other for a few minutes, staring, before Charlie claps me on the shoulder.
"You did good, kid," he says, voice suspiciously rough, and I'm not sure if he means the creating-a-kid part or the delivering-said-kid part, though if I had to guess, I'd go with the latter. I'm fairly certain Charlie would prefer to pretend that I impregnated his daughter via immaculate conception.
"You too," I say. "You're quite the getaway driver."
A low chuckle. "Police training." His eyes glance over to me before returning to the nursery.
"So, my grandson got a name yet?"
I smile through the glass, noting the "Baby Boy Cullen" label at the head of the crib. "He does." I glance over at Charlie, wanting to commit his reaction to memory so that I can tell Bella. "Henry Charles Cullen."
Charlie's eyes find mine, and just as they start to glisten, he looks away. "That's, uh…" He clears his throat. "Good, strong name. Henry."
This time, I'm the one who claps him on the back. "Middle name's after a good, strong man, too," I say.
He still doesn't look at me and clears his throat again. "You call your folks yet?"
I realize with a sudden wave of guilt that I haven't; they don't even realize Bella went into labor early. "Shit," I mutter, patting my pockets for my cell phone before realizing I'm in the hospital-issued scrubs. Suddenly a small, silver flip-phone appears in the space between us.
"Use mine," Charlie says.
"Thanks," I say, moving back toward the waiting room to make the call. As ringing echoes in my ear through the phone's speaker, I try to come up with a way to break the news, and it isn't until I hear my father's sleep-roughened voice answer that I realize it's the middle of the night in Washington, which means it's the early hours of morning in Chicago.
"Edward?" His muffled voice instantly awake. "Son, is everything all right?"
"I—" I swallow. "I'm a father."
"What?" Awake has become alert. "The baby's here? Bella had the baby?" There's a brief pause and muffled voices, and I know he's telling my mother the news. "Is everything all right? He's…early? Is Bella all right?"
"Everything's fine," I break in. "He's a little early, but he's fine. Bella did great. It was…um…unexpected, but everything went fine. We're actually in Forks."
"Oh!" my father says. "Right! That wedding. Oh, my goodness. Can we—We'd like—I mean…" He trails off, and I smile at nothing.
"We'd love it if you'd come," I say, knowing they had planned to make the trip closer to Bella's due date anyway. "Maybe…wait until we're back in Seattle and visit us there?"
"Certainly." More muffled talking, and my father says, "Son, your mother wants to talk to you. Congratulations, Edward. We're so happy for you and Bella."
"Thanks, Dad," I say, and hear the shuffle as he passes over the phone.
"Edward?" I can tell just from her voice that my mother's already crying.
"Edward," she says again. "Oh, honey. Congratulations. How is everyone?"
"Everyone's fine," I say. "Great. Bella's resting, and the baby's sleeping in the nursery."
"Oh," I hear my mother breathe. "And you?"
That's my mom: there's a new baby, and my wife just endured the ordeal of childbirth, and yet she needs to make sure I'm okay, too. "I'm…" I don't even know what I am. Euphoric. Ecstatic. Exhausted. Terrified. "Good," I finish. Then, and I don't know why, I add, "I delivered him."
"What?! What do you mean, you delivered him?"
"We…didn't quite make it to the hospital. He was born in the parking lot." I already know I'm going to be telling this story a hundred times over, and I'm pretty sure we'll be embarrassing our son with it somewhere down the road.
"What?!" my mother nearly screeches, and I give her the bare-bones account of my son's birth. When the barrage of questions finally abates, and my father seems to be just about out of them as well, flashes of memory assault me.
"This seat's open." Big brown eyes, swiveling to meet mine, a lip caught between teeth.
"If life is made up of moments, I think some of my favorite ones so far have been with you." Reading and rereading those words, and momentarily forgetting the grit of sand in my boots, the baking desert heat drawing sweat from my pores.
"Hi, stranger." The vision of her in the arrivals area at SeaTac, beautiful and breathtaking and perfect and mine.
"That's so amazingly erotic." The sight of my dog tags sliding against the skin between her breasts. "That was it. That moment."
Back in the present moment, I swallow the lump that has lodged itself at the back of my throat. "Hey, Mom?"
"I, uh…thank you. It's…well, it's sort of a long story, but…I never would have…I probably wouldn't have Bella – any of this – if it weren't for you."
"Moments," I say, clueless as to how to explain it any better. "Life really is made up of moments."
Her sigh is audible through the cell phone connection and hospital interference. "It is," she says.
"Will any of them be better than this one?" I ask, and I'm terrified of the answer. If it's yes, I don't know if my heart will be able to take it. If it's no, I want to soak up every single thing about this one so that I never forget it.
"Better? No. Comparable? Yes."
"Your son will have a first smile. A first step. A first tooth. A million moments of firsts, and you'll have a million firsts as a dad. That's the beauty of kids – they never stop growing, even after they're technically adults. And then you get to enjoy their moments with the same kind of joy as you relish your own. You'll watch your son fall in love, and your heart will swell just like it did the first time you realized you loved Bella. Your son might become a parent, and you'll get to experience this whole thing all over again in an entirely new way." She pauses, and when she speaks again, her voice is soft. "Edward, I didn't even realize how true it was when I said it, but life…it really is about the moments. And you've given your father and me so many wonderful ones. We're so proud of you."
I blink against the burn of tears as I stare at a poster for flu vaccinations on the wall of the waiting room. "Thank you," I say, and I'm mildly embarrassed by the wobble in my voice.
My mother mercifully lightens the conversation by asking about the name, and by the time I hang up, I'm hit with a bone-deep, nearly crushing exhaustion. I return to Charlie, who's still hovering outside the nursery window, and when a nurse inside spies me through the glass, she opens the door and peeks her head out.
"Your wife is planning to nurse, right?"
"Yeah," I reply, handing Charlie his phone.
"Now might be a good time for her to try it," she says, and I nod in agreement, despite my reluctance to disturb her rest. I suppose we had best get used to interrupted sleep.
Wheeling my son's plastic cot up the hall, I'm hard-pressed to shift my focus from his tiny features to the stretch of hallway ahead of me. I push the door to the room open gently, and Bella is still blissfully asleep. As I approach her bedside, though, her eyes slide open and she smiles at me briefly before her eyes fall to the crib. She shifts to sit up, wincing slightly, and I reach out to brush her hair off her forehead. "The nurse said now would be a good time to try feeding him," I murmur, and she nods groggily as the nurse in question appears in the room and closes the door behind her.
"Do you have a nursing pillow?" she asks Bella, who nods but pauses, giving me a panicked look.
"It's back in Seattle," she says, before turning her gaze to the nurse. "We…we're visiting. We were planning to be back home before he came. All of our baby stuff is in Seattle."
"It's okay," the nurse soothes, reaching into a cabinet in the corner of the room and pulling out a spare pillow. "You can just use a regular one until you get home. It'll work just fine." Her eyes swing to me. "Dad, you want to hand the baby to your wife?"
I nod, momentarily stunned at being called "Dad," and I don't realize until I'm lifting him from the cradle that this is the first time I'm really holding him since he slid into my arms from Bella's body. Bella had a few minutes to cradle him once we were inside the hospital, but then they took him to the nursery and I haven't had my hands on him since. His eyes crack open to look up at me, and a small frown pinches his face, and his mouth opens and closes as if he's not quite sure what it's for. Gently, I lower him to the pillow stretched across Bella's midsection as she undoes the snaps holding her gown closed at the shoulder. I take a step back as the nurse draws closer, realizing that my level of knowledge on this particular subject is nil.
Once the baby has latched on and they both seem to be getting the hang of things, the nurse slips out and Bella's joy-filled eyes meet mine. "He's so smart," she says, looking down at our nursing son. "A lot of babies have trouble latching on, but he figured it out right away."
"Genius," I agree with a nod, rising from the chair to which I'd banished myself and moving to stand beside the bed. "We should start saving for the Ivy League now."
"Probably," she agrees, smoothing over the fuzzy crown of his head with her free hand.
"Your dad asked about the name," I say, and Bella's eyes find mine again. "He was pretty touched."
She smiles. "Good."
"He likes Henry, too."
She peeks up at me. "It's growing on me."
I grin as I follow her gaze back down to our son's tiny face. Bella really wanted to name the baby Edward. When I argued that it felt narcissistic to name my kid after myself, she countered that she wasn't even talking about me: Eddie Vedder's given name was Edward, and O'Hare International Airport is named after Edward O'Hare, the United States Navy's first flying ace and a Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. Still, I held firm, and we agreed on Henry – a name we both liked, and which turned out to be O'Hare's middle name.
I watch my wife and son for a moment before my conversation with my mother creeps back into my mind. "Hey, Bella?"
"Thanks for replying to my e-mail."
She laughs. "Thanks for e-mailing me." The hand that was stroking the baby's head reaches out for mine, and I lace our fingers together. "Who'd have thought it, huh?"
"Who'd have thought it," I agree, placing my hand on my son's head and holding my family in my arms.
. . .
From: Emmett Cullen
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2014 7:23 a.m. PST
Subject: Congrats, baby brother!
Hey, man! Mom and Dad called me at the ass-crack of dawn (thanks for that – could you get Bells to time the next one better?) to tell me the news. Rosie and I couldn't be happier for you, man. We want to see pictures of the kid – hopefully he got your wife's good looks. I know the girls all think you're a looker, but frankly, you're sort of goofy-looking. It's for the best if he takes after Bella. Trust me.
Seriously, though. Congratulations. We'll talk about why you didn't name him Emmett another time.
Kiss Bells for us, and let us know when we can come meet my nephew.
. . .
From: Alice Brandon Cullen
To: Edward Cullen
Sent: Sunday, August 24, 2014 8:02 a.m. PST
EDWARD! CONGRATULATIONS! (And to Bella, too, who I'm sure isn't checking her e-mail right now.) You're a DADDY! Jasper and I are so happy for you, baby brother! Sophie can't wait to meet her very first cousin, and I have SO MANY adorable baby boy outfits that Sammy has already outgrown that I'll bring with us (because I don't care what your brother says, there is not a chance in HELL I'm letting him knock me up again).
How big is he? How long was Bella in labor? Mom said he was born in the PARKING LOT?! TELL ME Bella was still able to get some good drugs, because if not, your son is probably going to be an only child. Can you send us a picture? That's what iPhones are for, you know.
Your brother is nagging me to wrap this up, and now he wants me to mention something ridiculous about some herb or root or something that will help with Bella's milk production, but I wasn't really listening, so just pretend I mentioned it. Anyway, give Bells a HUGE kiss and hug from us, AND that little baby, and let me know when you guys will be back from the sticks so we can come see him!
Alice (and love from Sammy and Sophie and your big brother, too)
. . .
I'm still chuckling at the all-too-characteristic e-mails from my siblings when the door slides open and the nurse peeks in again. Bella and Henry are once again sleeping, and she smiles softly before arching an eyebrow at me. "Do you need anything?" she whispers, and I'm just about to shake my head when the thought hits me.
"Can I get a notepad and a pen?"
She smiles. "Sure." She's gone for a matter of seconds before she reappears, handing me a lined yellow notepad and a ballpoint.
"Thanks," I say as she retreats from the room again, and I glance at my sleeping wife and son for a few minutes before uncapping the pen and beginning to write.
. . .
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Once upon a time, a pretty amazing love story started with a letter. Not a pen-and-paper letter, but a letter all the same. I'm sure that, by the time you're old enough to want to read this letter, you'll have heard the story of how I met your mom. It's a pretty good one. A special one. A sort of old-fashioned one in a lot of ways – the sort of story that people don't really believe, because no one really thinks that love can happen that way anymore.
I've loved two people instantly in my adult life: the first was your mother. The second was you.
You two are my whole world, and I will spend every day of my life making sure you can both feel how much I love you. And, if I can teach you that one single lesson, I'll consider my job as your father a success. Because there are a lot of things you're going to need to learn in this lifetime: to always walk between a girl and the road; to always shave with the grain instead of against it; how to change a flat tire; how to make at least one meal that doesn't come out of a box or a can. I can teach you all of these things, and I will. But the most important thing you can learn is how to love with your whole heart, and, thanks to your mother, that's a lesson I can teach you, too.
I spent a lot of time away from home, in ugly, scary, dangerous parts of the world, but a part of me never minded so much because I never felt like I had a specific home. I was too old to consider my parents' house my home, and too young – or too transient – to have established one of my own. That all changed when I met your mother; when I did, I started wanting home. Funny, how wanting home and wanting her happened all at the same time.
Now, I have a home, and I've realized it isn't a place. It's you two.
I love you so much already. I was the first one to see you when you slid into the world, and I was the first one you saw. I already know I'm never going to want to take my eyes off you. I can't wait to watch you grow. I know I'll make you – and me – a lot of promises over the years about what kind of father I'll be, and I can only hope that I keep more of them than I break. But the one I already know I'll keep forever is this: I promise to love you, no matter what. I promise to be here. To be yours. Always.
Thanks, as always, for reading. xo