There isn't much I take for granted. In a small dirty sink is where this used to happen. On occasion, I used a couple coins and slept on top of the warm pile, scattered across my motel's bedsheets. So many buttons and fancy shit going on here. It took me a year, five shirts that are too small for him and a Lucille Ball moment with bubbles, just to figure it out.
I told him used was fine. The easier the better. Edward is extremely hardheaded.
This counter is fucking great, though. The windows and natural light. It's better than having to cart shit up the steps. Not that I could or was allowed to very often. Bumps and shit. Swollen ankles he never let me have and Esme apparently loves fucking Virginia. She might as well just pack her bags and start paying rent.
My hands smooth out the wrinkles in the white of his shirt. It's slightly damp and why does it make me weak in the knees? It's just a stupid shirt. I've seen it a million times. What goes under it even more and I'm reduced to a fucking school girl just thinking about it. A light sniff of the sleeve and I'm a loser.
Even more so, when I hear his car pull in and the door close. My mouth smiles at just the sound of his damn feet and the warm weather filtering in and the slats of the window is not why I feel flushed on the back of my neck. Cheeks. All over.
The sound of his bag hitting the floor behind me and I know what comes next. Hands on my hips and he's pulling me into him. I don't turn around. This is much better.
By my ear and he's had a hard day. "Either you're trying to torture me, or your falling for this 'green' lifestyle they push on everyone."
I push my ass a little further into his crotch. "I'm just being logical, Edward. Pants needed to be washed, so how could I be rude to the ones I was wearing and leave them out?"
He smiles and bad day is disappearing. "I see. Were bras on the list of items as well?" And hello hands, hands and more hands.
I lean my head against his chest. Hello, green eyes. Love you. "No. That shit is just to torture you."
And white smile. And hands want to play, but before he goes for it, he will always be, "Where are the kids?" first.
I lean away and reach for the monitor. "Napping." I hold it out as proof. I'm a good mother. Promise. "I was watching them the whole time. See, the sound is on."
Green eyes fill with that remorseful shit. Fingertips slide softly over the fullness of my cheek. And as if he heard my thoughts, "I know, Sweetheart." And now everything is kosher. That warm air from the window is back and working its way up the back of my legs. Edward's hands working their way down and meeting somewhere in the middle. There is a magnet is our lips and foreheads. A brief recollection of our life before skin meets skin and eyes close, taking each other in and the warm air is now blanketing over me.
They think it's this house. The doctor title. The car. My ring. No.
It's this.
Something warmer. Metal on the backs of my thighs and hello dryer. Okay, this too.
That baby monitor states we have roughly fifteen minutes before the magic disappears from this room. I only need two to get his clothes off. Good bye shirt and pants. Tie, you stay on. Good boy. Hands cup my tits and and make a bed for his face. Strawberry lotion and I am obviously edible. I draw him in with my legs and he's not going anywhere. The time seems to slow as his mouth slides smoothly and steadily along my skin, from my chest to my neck, until he's under my jaw, pulse against tongue and my eyes are rolling into the back of my head. Stay here. Stay here. God, stay here.
The mind reader is tugging gently to my hair, tipping my head back further and continuing his delicious assault.
"What, Sweetheart?"
You know what. Just do it. Tease. A fucking tease.
I push him away and that goddamn smirk says it all. Love you.
"Like this," because I've already been on top of the dryer. I'm on my feet, turned around and showing him why I'm really not wearing pants. His mouth appreciates the way my shoulders and back stretch and arch like a cat. Ass out...and...Jesus Christ...palms never felt so good.
"Like this?" Him this time and I'm just nodding like there's no tomorrow as palms make play number two and push my cheeks up, so he can...
"Like that...like that...Jesus Christ, Edward, just like that."
Mouth at my ear and Doctor Cullen is not as shy as he used to be. "Which one?" because he slaps my ass while he asks.
"You. Not Jesus. Sorry."
And he thinks it's funny. Until...
"Christ, Bella." Scissored legs. Works every time.
I hold them together tightly. "Which one?"
He takes a moment to think it over, or to process, whatever. I grin at either one before he replies, "Bella..." and that mouth is hot and dotting wet kisses all over the back of my neck and shoulders. "Bella, Bella, Bella." And my name is fucking incredible. It keeps slipping from his lips with every thrust, lick, kiss and deeper breathes, until the doctor has become a product of marrying a woman who is not shy and saying shit like how good my pussy is.
So, I give it back. Hand reaching to the back of his head, pulling him toward me and my lips against the side of his face. "You fuck me so good..." and a break with one of those high-pitched breathes. "You fuck me so, so good, Edward." Edward. Not Jesus. Edward.
His arms wrap around me and why Edward? Edward because this could have been a random 'I fucked my wife against dryer' moment. Added to a list of places in this house we've fucked. But fucking is like the old machines and coins and used to be's. Arms wrap around me tightly because he needs to put his mouth as close to my ear and hair as possible when he, "I love you, I love you, I love you." And I come undone.
Edward, because he holds back until he feels me go slack in his arms, except for the legs, need those to to be a good wife, and he has perfect timing. He's grunting and over me, head buried in my shoulder as he comes inside of me. And I love, love, love it.
The air has changed. Cooler against my heated skin and his. It takes over for a moment as we collect ourselves, breathes, heartbeats. The soft click of the dryer's dial and cycle ends. I glance up and see small hands and feet kicking around.
I want to sleep face down on the dryer. "Baby is up."
Kisses on my cheek and he ignores me for a second. "Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?" More kisses, down the neck and onto the shoulder. "How good you smell?" On the spine and hello goosebumps. "Taste?"
I lift my head and look over my shoulder. Yeah...he's good. And I love that fucking smile. "I have to go get her."
A playful, light smack to my ass cheek. "You have laundry to do." And another kiss to my shoulder. "I'll get her." He leans away and dips down to pull his pants back on.
Facing him. "What happened today?"
His face is a little surprised. "What do you mean?"
"You were in a bad mood when you came in."
More surprised, confused. "I was?"
Nothing, just staring...and then a small grin. "How did you..."
I point. "Your tie."
Scrunched eyebrows. "My tie?"
I nod. "Yeah, it's loose." Still doesn't get it. "You play with it when you're stressed out."
His smile is warmer than the air. But shy. My insides could be butterflies and I have to wonder - how? After so long how does he still do that? Small steps towards me and I'm back to making braille on my skin. His fingertips could be moth wings as he places them so gently under my chin, bringing my mouth to his and I don't have to answer his questions from before because in between each light kiss he, "You're so beautiful." And "I don't even know what was wrong anymore." Holds me and says it against my face. "There was this girl who smelled and tasted like strawberries that made it all better." He pulls away and I could cry from how intently he looks at me. "She always makes it better."
And so do you. And so do you.

This outtake is for CrookedSmile. She wanted more Jake and Bree. Her reviews fucking deserve so much more.





There is a room filled with soft and sweet and lovely. A boy who has grown into a man. A man who is having a hard time of letting go of a girl. The girl, who is ready for it all. She is a woman. Ha. Try telling that to the man who cannot let go.

I watch as her mother puts the pins and pretty in her hair. A swipe to her lips from a tissue. Those teeth will only be white today. Fuck you, red. I toss my garter for the second time in its life and yeah, fuck red. My cheeks. To think that shit would make me blush.

"Something borrowed." I wink and she looks like she might cry. "Don't you dare cry, Bree. If Edward sees that shit, he'll think you're trying to leave Jake at the alter. No false hope today."

She laughs and nods. "Right. Is...do you think it's a good idea to leave them alone?" Bites her lip and she has every right.

Mom's getting something. In the other room. Sex can be mentioned. "Not if you want to get laid on your wedding night. Your uncle is probably threatening every part of Jake's being. I'm sure. 'Cause you know...you're wearing white, today." And I laugh hard at that shit.

"Does he really think we haven't..."

"Yes and I'd like for him to remain the sane, sad, little naive man I know and love, so just shut it, Bree. Just shut it."

When it's time to sport that white dress and play innocent virgin girl who is still and will always be fucking nine; Edward takes her hand and the place of a man who is no longer here. Stressful jobs leave behind stressed & despondent wives and kid. Fuck yes they do. Edward fixes that shit, though. For everyone. So, his hand, her hand and then I die a little inside when he answers the question.

"Myself, on behalf of her father."

He's a fucking grown-up and you know, I will just never be so grown-up. I look at my kids, 1,2,3,4 and wonder how I even do this. I feel as short and small as they sit beside me. Will Edward cry? God damn it. I hope not. He smirks a little when I reach into my top. Oh shut up. It's just for a tissue. Like I'd flash him my tits in church. With our kids right here. He fucking smirks again. I show a little bit of nipple.

At least he doesn't cry.

There is another room. Filled with lights and cameras and a dance-floor and pretty round tables that have arrangements that I feel proud I never let Alice anywhere near my own wedding. We're shoving our faces with frosting and making sure to say how good it is because Alice not only has decorating skills, but of course, the cake too. She needs to add a few more kids to her life. Time. Too much of it.

And then there is that look. As he stares over my shoulder and the song is slow. I know him. My fingers turn his face back my direction. I want to see this up close and personal. And he knows, too. He knows.

"Bree's making me feel old." Covering up a little. I quirk an eyebrow. Can't fool me, fool. "And...I can't believe we are dancing at her wedding."

"To Jacob," I add.

He smiles. "Tell me about it."

Love to. "Seems like just yesterday I caught them making out on our porch."

Face crinkling. Lots and lots of face crinkling. "Bella. Please."

"They're cute. They've always been cute, Edward."

He's not convinced. "Mmhmm." Twirling me around and he wants me to shut it.

"Jacob worships that little girl. You know it."

Pulls me closer. "That's the whole point, Sweetheart." Eyes back over my shoulder. "She's not a little girl, anymore."

Lights die and new music plays and way too loud DJ shouts shit. Flowers get sent straight into the hands of my daughter, the first one, and I think...yup. Edward is going to die in this place. He thought the light coat of gloss on her lips was bad. Two soft brushes of blush on her cheeks and the word divorce was somewhere in his thought process.


He's rubbing the space between his brows and she's smiling widely at her prize. Joshua is adorable, looking just like a miniature Emmett, but with Rosalie's blonde hair and my kid and their kid would be just as cute as Jacob and Bree. She's still daddy's girl and she knows it when he pulls her into his lap and a hug that is way too long and way too embarrassing is given and "Daddy, stop." Because Josh wants to dance.

"No. Never," because he's Edward and today, he already had to give away one girl.

But Joshua is already just as devoted to my girl, our girl, as what we've witnessed today. They have years on them, sure, but I see it. He hands Grace found wildflowers just the same way Jacob placed them into Bree's. We were fishing and they were on a dock. I saw them under the sunlight and golden and how he reached out, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. It was sealed with a kiss to her chin, even though he is at least seven inches taller.

Everyday when he met her in the kitchen before school, he poured her a glass of juice. Except once. Edward woke up early.

Then there was the books. And the vending machine. I had a thing with baby three. More like, she had a thing with peanut butter M&M's. I had to make the trip two times a day. Used to be three, but I had to cut down when I came home, rainbow colored fingers and the jigg was up. Even though, I did enjoy how he arched that brow and placed a protective hand that knew way too much about babies and artificial colors on me.

The reason why it is relevant...on my trip, there were books. Classes ending and beginning and I don't think Bree has any clue how much any of them weigh. They never touched her hands. Arms.

But the best...what I pray for my own girls...is that Jacob grew up under the thumb of two men who are truly men. Drop and give me fifty when he fucked up. A seat next to a tie and shiny shoes when he needed advice and the most important fucking time he ever sat next to him...there was a ring and a belly full of throw-up.

I think it's the only reason Edward left him in tact. He asked first. The ring was then in the room for a second time when there was a second time of asking, but blessed with a pat on the back and pride. He'll never admit or know that I saw it, but I did. A small smile as Jacob exited our home that evening. Edward's.

"I want to dance," she is grumbling and I'm sure that her fingers would be better than her voice right now. It's another sign of growth and he is a ball of nothing in that rental chair with a hideous satin bow.

"Good thing for you, Gracie, I know how." She meant with Joshua, not him. He knows. The smirk gives all his shit away and only because she loves him and knows his face like I do, she won't dare say no or correct him.

From the other hideous chair, Joshua's young eyes watch. Lost in the awe that is my girl, our girl, and stupid, stupid eyes are just that. My other kids are running around, stealing plastic bottles of bubbles from the other guest tables and still so very innocent, but Grace, she is swaying with her daddy, watched and admired by the boy he will no doubt pass her to someday.

And I feel lucky that she will never have arms full of books. Her hands will know what wildflowers and stolen kisses and other hands feels like. Lockers will have dents in them from boys who cross the line and don't get away with it. Notebooks with initials. Porch swings that are hated by her father.

Someday...someday...a canopy of flowers. A room filled with soft and sweet and lovely. Cake that is one of a kind. Blessed rings and questions asked twice.

A yes.

And a yes.

I am stuffed under the covers. Toes frozen. Surrounded by fluff and white and pillow. He said the shivers were supposed to warm me up. Liar. Such a damn liar this guy. I have been shaking for the last twenty minutes. My face is on fire. I want to toss the covers away as much as I want more of them.
I think God is punishing my ass. My throat. I knew I should not have let Grace and Bree take those stickers from the bank. Even if they were free. They were meant for customers. To display on their cars. Like advertisements. They are too young to drive and shit. Bree, only by Edward's made-up rules. But still.
"I heard there was a sick, sick patient in this room."
I am not cold. Toes. What toes? Pain? Have none. My head nods, for my mouth is fucked. Fucked silent. Fuck. He did not. But he steps in and shit yes. Yes, he did. Has. God, you are truly awesome. I'm sorry I missed so many services. Oh, and those stolen stickers.
"Edward?" Damn voice. Catch up to this moment, please. Sexy. Sound sexy.
He sits down on the bed. "Yes, baby?"
"Who invented the stethoscope?"
His mouth scrunches up into that smirk I want to run my tongue on. If it weren't sick and gross.
"I'm not sure, Sweetheart, but I believe it happened in France." He turns my way, giving my eyes quite the show. "Is there a reason you ask?"
Cocky bastard. I love it when he plays. The things I have done to this man. Changes. One of my arms chances slipping out from under the blanket. I tug on the end of one of the only two things he is wearing. Stethoscope. Underwear. Where are the kids? Who cares. Stethoscope. Underwear. Cullen.
And he brought soup.
Yes, I taught him well.
Work voice. "If you showed up to work like this, you'd have a line out the door. You'd be like that dentist in that lame movie with the chick who has awesome abs."
He laughs. "Good Luck Chuck?"
My face scrunches. "I'm going to make believe you knew that only because of the dentist description and not because of the chick with the awesome abs."
He rolls his eyes. "I would never bring Awesome Abs Chick soup when she is sick." He balances the cup of soup in one hand, giving it a stir with his free one. "My wife however, yes."
And right on cue, like it would never, ever happen in the movies, I sneeze.
All over him.
His eyes close, scrunching from the surprise. And I want to die on site. One eye peeks open and because Edward is Edward, he actually laughs.
"Sorry." Does that really cover it though? I just snotted on him. Sitting in our bed. Wearing a sex-stethoscope. Looking like God's creation and concept of perfect.
He sets the soup to the night-stand and plucks a tissue from the box. Like he would do to our kids, holds it to my nose. I shrink down. I am not going to…not while he is in the sex-stethoscope.
"Just blow, Bella."
I shrink down further, almost under the covers. "If only," I whisper.
He laughs like I am the funniest thing. Not some gross, germ-infested monster. I refuse to blow into that tissue. I don't care. I'd like to fuck him at a later date. He settles for wiping around my nose and of course, the mess I created on him. My soup-cup is back in his palm.
He holds the spoon to my mouth. "Open, Baby."
"You aren't doing it right."
He pops an eyebrow in question. "No?"
I shake my head. "Up on the legs, Edward. Make it good." I pat my thighs under the covers and he is amused at my request. Only…Cullen has become a genius in the last thirty seconds, because he climbs under the fluff and settles his sex-thighs on the outside of my sick-thighs and re-covers us with the blanket. It's like an Edward-sex-heater.
"Now I understand the nick-name," I mumble to myself.
He draws the spoon away. "What nickname?"
Crap. "You don't know?"
His face answers. Crap. I sigh. "What the ladies in the grocery store call you?" Nope. Clueless as ever. "Mr. Amazing-Pants?"
He snorts and I wish I had a camera to capture the shy shit happening to his face. If my body hadn't been warmed by the hot-doctor routine, it would be now. The truth is, he could be fully clothed and he'd still be fucking amazing. This is just a bonus. Like getting an onion ring in your order of fries.
He stirs the soup, keeping his eyes there. "And…how might you know this, Love?"
"Because I heard them one day. Waiting in line for lunch meat, funny enough." I pat my hand to his bare stomach. He rolls his eyes.
"Anyhow, they were talking about their kids and then that led to one of them having a cold and then that led to you and then that led to how you are amazingly nice and amazingly hot and amazingly caring and how they spotted you out one day with the girls and what an amazing father and husband you must be and…"
I sigh in a dramatic form, like they did. Hand over my forehead. But that part is a little lie. Whatever. Cullen needs shit spelled out for him.
"If they only had a 'Mr. Amazing-Pants' to call their own."
My soup must be super-stirred by this point. And I thought my face was hot. I play my hands on his stomach, until he looks at me and goes back to the feeding. When the cup is empty, he sets it aside.
Hands go gently to my face, checking, making sure. His eyes don't like what he feels. He says a sweet apology from his lips, leaning down to kiss my forehead.
And when he does it, my eyes can't close like normal. The weight he is putting on his arms, shows me his strength. It flashes memories. It makes me think of us. Like this. Him over me. Bare body. Weight on arms.
I loll my head to the side and tug on the stethoscope, bringing his face down into my neck. He gives sloppy, wonderful kisses there. My hands slide over his hips, feeling along his back and sides. The cool metal of the stethoscope presses against my belly. Goose-bumps don't all belong to it. It's not the only thing pressing against my belly.
I press my face to the side of his head. "This is way better than Patch Adams."
And I know his smile is against my skin. "I should let you rest." But he said should and keeps going.
My hands slip under the waistband of his underwear. I grope and I tug them down enough to grope some more, flexing my fingers and kneading at his skin. His arms scoop under me, arching me up into a position that allows his mouth to do wonderful shit to my tits. I lay lazily in his hands and revel in the first thing that has felt good in days.
"This shit," I whisper.
He mouth keeps going. "Mmm?"
"If you did this shit…you'd have a line. Like that dentist."
He talks to my nipples. "Think so?" Sucking harder.
I tuck my lips between my teeth. "Mmhmm."
His eyes glance up. I know these eyes. These teasing, playful eyes. I squirm under him. "You don't sound very coherent, Mrs. Cullen." He rests on one palm, using his free hand to place the stethoscope on my chest.
He says it seriously. "I see why. Your heart rate is much too high. I think you need to rest."
Um. No. He goes to move and I trap him with my legs. "Edward. You don't even have earpieces in."
He laughs and settled back over me. "This is why I could never offer this service like your movie dentist. Too many cases of negligence. We'd be broke and out of business in no time."
I tighten my legs and slide my hands to his front, over bulge of his underwear. "What's wrong? Too much blood loss to the brain, Dr. Cullen?"
His mouth opens to reply, but is cut-off by the sound a baby crying. I groan. He sighs. "I suppose we should be used to this by now." A kiss to my forehead.
My face sours. "Cock-blocking kids, you mean?"
He smiles. "Yup." And he leans away, climbing off from what could have been his best prescription yet. "You really should be resting, anyhow." Fingers on my face and I pout.
A soft tap on door. Grace on the other side and he calls out. "I'll be right there, Sweetheart." A soft blow of air leaves his mouth. He turns back to me. "I'll come check on you in a bit. Sleep."
Sigh. "Yes, doctor."
A kiss to my face. I hold him there before he can go. I kiss his cheek. "That one is for the soup and skin-show." I kiss again. "That one is for the girls….even though they are cock-blockers."
And I love his smile. How he tucks the covers under my chin. Soft touches to my face until my eyes close. The last peek I steal before I see him leave our room, dressed in jeans and appropriate daddy-attire. The giggles I hear from whatever he is doing while filling in for me and my sick, snot-ridden self. The piano and the faces I see under my lids, knowing without even watching what they all look like down there.
And the adoring faces and praise of strangers.
Mr. Amazing-pants.
If they only knew the half.

Thank you to everyone who has taken this journey with me.
A special thanks to everyone who has contributed pictures, song and works of art for this story, Tracey who allowed me to use her video-maker and anyone who recc'd this story.
I am truly thankful for all of your support.

Under the Apple Tree
~ Epilogue ~
"Jesusmotherfuckingshit." In a moment of intense orgasm, my mouth. It thinks of new words that are as sinful as our acts.
He's panting in my face. His eyes are closed and my eyes are closed and I only know this because I know him. I know when his head falls into my shoulder. I know when his hands tighten around my thighs. I know when…
"I know, baby. So good," he breathes hard and is going to smirk. I know this.
I shake my head in a moment of panic and push at him a little. "No, I mean shit. There's a guy out there mowing the lawn."
He turns his head, looking over his shoulder, to the large kitchen window. A groan of irritation and then he pulls me away from the refrigerator, where breakfast was interrupted by something much more delicious.
Inside the safety and privacy of the laundry room, I laugh. He rests me on top of the washing machine and I feel ridiculously warm. My legs remember what has happened here before. His smirk must remember, too.
I push him away. "Don't even. I'm already stupid-late, Edward."
He goes again for my mouth. "Then another ten minutes won't hurt anything."
My foot on his bare stomach. "I don't think showing up late my first day will make for a very good impression."
He takes my foot and shows the bottom of it some affection. His voice whispers to it. "I thought you loved me."
I smile at his…everything. "I do." I take my foot back. "Which is why I don't want to fuck this up."
He follows me out of the laundry room and we peek around the corner before going back into the kitchen. All is clear from creepy lawn people. We scoop our clothes from the floor and our day continues on.
Kisses on the head, fingers on the cheek and, "I'll miss you. I Love you. Have a good day." Grace. Edward. "And remember to eat your lunch. All of it." Wink.
Hugs and kneeling down to make sure her bangs aren't in her eyes. "Remember Mommy is just down the hall if you need me, okay? It'll be okay. Um, sit in the front so you can see." Me. Grace.
She looks around. She likes her hands over her voice and that shit is fine. But she is still small and little people have insecurities as big as big people.
I'm scared.
Me too. But we've done this before. We have done this before. Fuck, we have done this before. A hand and she looks up. Her eyes trust that hand and she takes it. He's braver than me and he does the dirty work. I watch as he helps her find a seat. Make a friend. Talks to the teacher and I just smile and wiggle two little fingers at two other little fingers that want my ass to not be such a coward.
I'll just be down the hall.
That sentence carries my feet in that direction, until it is settled into my seat and adjusting the little sign on my desk that says who I am. But in my bag, there is something that holds more truth. I make sure the glass is clean and that I stare at it long enough to get me through this day, before I pull out the easel and allow it to face me as I face my first attempt as a Guidance Counselor.
She didn't need me.
She was fine.
But I found myself in need of having to use the restroom too many times.
The restrooms that were located past her classroom door.
The small window that allowed a peek inside.
And kept my brain safe from the unknown for the remainder of my day.
"I didn't do anything!" I watch as he is ushered into my office.
"Fighting in the hall, Mrs. Cullen. Good luck with this one."
I want to focus on the fact that Jacob has been tossed into the chair before me and is in trouble. Mrs. Cullen. That shit is still weird. My mouth is such a girl. Focus.
When the door closes. "You know, Jake, when I agreed to let you come stay with us, I did it under the impression that it was for the better. That is what I told your mom. This makes me look like a damn liar."
He huffs and slouches. "This school sucks. There are too many little kids."
"Small town," I shrug. "And FYI, if you think you have it rough, having to share the grounds with little kids, try being me. I have to not only manage those guys, but also deal with the shit you and your stupid teen-aged friends come up with."
I put my glasses on. I can see just fine. But I am supposed to be a professional. Not his friend. And also, they have a meeting with Edward soon and I need to get used to wearing them.
"For instance," I find a notepad and his file. "Fighting in hall. Care to explain?"
He sinks lower in his chair. "Can we eat pizza for dinner?"
"This is stupid, Bella."
"The only thing stupid right now is you. Now sit up straight in your damn seat and tell me what's wrong before I send you to the Principle and then you can explain to Dr. Cullen why we have to have a discussion about it at a pizza-less dinner tonight."
Damn. I am good at this.
His face is pissy, but he listens. "I saw some kid looking at Brianna."
She has been Brianna since two summers ago. Not Bree. Brianna. Bree does not exist anymore. She is a kid. Brianna is a teen-aged girl who has made two grey hairs appear on the back of her Uncle's head. The bowl of oatmeal he eats every morning is contributed to the other name. Angel-face. Heart health and blood pressure, or some shit.
"Well, she's a very pretty girl. It's bound to happen," I shrug.
He leans forward. "She's my girl."
"You sound like a cave man, number one. Number two, if you start a fight every time someone looks at Bree, you are going to be expelled in no time and on a plane back home. Away from Bree. And then…who knows Jacob. She could find another boy."
He is hating me today. Good.
"Good. Now be a gem and get your ass back to class. No more trouble."
He stands. "You're scary, Bella."
I smile. "Really?"
"Yup." He turns for the door.
"Oh and Jacob…." I adjust my glasses. "It's Mrs. Cullen during school hours."
And when I enter another office, later on in the day, with two chocolate milks and two chicken pattie sandwiches, I am still Mrs. Cullen.
"He is with a patient I'm afraid, Mrs. Cullen."
"It's alright, Regina. I'll wait in his office." I drop her off some oatmeal cookies and walk down the hall.
Inside, I set out our lunch and take a seat in his chair. I smile at the smiles looking at him on his desk. The colorful pictures under the glass that lays on top of the wood. The post-it note he doesn't need. He'd never forget.
The door opens and he looks happy, but something else.
"What's wrong?"
He sits in the chair across from me. He grabs the chocolate milk and opens it. A laugh. A sip and a head shake. "Nothing."
"Spill it, Edward."
Another sip. "Believe me, you don't want to know."
He hasn't even noticed my glasses yet, which mean, "Believe me, Yes I do."
He smiles and I am all ears. "This kid…oh Jesus," a hand to his head and I am already laughing. His voice shrinks a little. "This kid came in with a very…odd problem."
"Yes, go on. Please."
He sighs. "It's really not funny, Sweetheart."
"Something tells me otherwise, but okay, I'll shut up."
A weary eye and then goes on. "He sort of…took something he wasn't supposed to. An herbal supplement. It was for…it was for his father."
I bite my lips so he'll tell me the rest of the story.
"It gave him an erection for the last…"
And I lose my shit, laughing face down against his desk. I can't help it. I am so in need of Sunday and God and forgiveness.
He sighs. "Exactly why I didn't want to tell you."
I pop my head up from my arm. "I'm sorry. It's not funny. Not the poor kid having to deal with it. Just…." ah shit I cant stop myself. Giggles. So good. "Just your face. I could only imagine what you looked like in there." My laughs meets his desk again.
"You know how embarrassed that poor kid must have been, Bella? Having to tell your mom you have a boner that won't go away."
I try to sober up. I try to look at him, but I am eternally twelve.
"And for the record, I don't enjoy having to deal with erections before lunch time. Especially if they aren't my own."
He isn't helping. He knows this right?
I am given a shake of the head as he reaches for his foil-wrapped sandwich. Sitting back in the chair, I find my composure. "Would you like to talk about it? I could um…" I adjust my glasses. "Put my therapist hat on."
He chews. He sees my glasses. I smirk and put my shoes on his desk, crossing my legs.
He swallows. "Are we going to discuss my erections?"
I reach up and pull the pen from my bun, allowing my hair to fall around my shoulders.
"Whatever you like, Dr. Cullen."
And foil-wrapped sandwiches are nothing. And chalky-chocolate milk is nothing. And his desk, the top of his desk is everything. And my skirt was a good fucking idea. These heels are goddamn amazing around his waist. His fingers finding garters and groaning into my mouth at them is heat between my legs and my own hands gripping at his coat and tie and frantically trying to get rid of those things is all I want. Wet lips run down my neck while buttons undo themselves on my shirt. Glasses on, his face buried in my tits and my heel against his ass. And I hear the drawer, but fuck that drawer.
"No." My heel reiterates as I try to push him into me. "Just you."
"Bella," it's a warning, but I know what I'm doing. I know what I want.
I let my legs and tongue and hair-tugging speak for me. He gives in, palms on my hips and bare. Nothing keeping him from me and it's so fucking good. Just as good as this morning. So much better than in bed and playing it safe.
He pulls me forward and off the desk. My feet touch the floor and I turn around. I spread my legs and bend over. I lean on my elbows and his fucking hands on my hips is Heaven. His cock buried deep inside me is Heaven. Having to be quiet is torture. His palm slapping gently to my ass must be for laughing earlier.
I look over my shoulder and let him have his lil fantasy. He's earned it. He watches my glasses and he holds onto my hair and I want to say dirty shit to him and tell him to fuck me harder, but there are little people and nurses and shit on the other side of that door and this town looks up to him. This town thinks I am a good wife and mother and Mrs. Cullen. I make the best oatmeal cookies for the annual bake-sale.
He covers me with his weight and body as my thoughts must be his too. His mouth at my ear as I am given deep meaningful thrusts as he swallows down the noises I want to make, placing his mouth over mine and trading those noises for kisses.
And I know. When his body tenses. When his arms tighten around me. When his head falls…but this time it doesn't. His hands are cupped gently around my face and he is looking at right at me. For good reason.
Like I only have a second to decide. "Are you sure?"
I was sure this morning and shit hasn't changed. I nod.
And now his eyes close. Now his body tenses and his head falls against mine. His mouth kissing at my cheek and with anyone else this would have been just a dirty office fucking. But we are us, and it is not.
I make sure his tie and hair are fixed. His finger pushes up my glasses and my finger pokes the smirk in the corner of his mouth. He grabs it and laces our hands together. His lips touch my forehead.
"How's Grace doing?"
My face leans to his shirt. Taking a little lavender Edward for the road. "She's fine. Jacob is being an ass, though."
He only says it because of the Angel-face name. "Isn't he always."
"I think I fixed it. For now. Anyhow…I've got to get back." I tip up on my toes and find his lips. "See you at seven."
"Should I bring yellow or pink?"
I smile at his love and thoughtfulness. "Pink. She'd like pink."
A wink to me and it completes the best lunch ever.
Her small hands hold onto my shoulders as I help her into the tights. Then shoes. Her curls look adorable piled on top of her head. Pink ribbon.
"Hurry up. We're gonna play a game on stage before it starts," Bree begs.
"Hold your horses. She'll be right there."
Bree spins and twirls and laughs with the other girls while I make sure I remembered everything I was supposed to do.
"Alright. Let Mommy take a picture." She looks shy and it only makes it better.
"There's our girl."
She smiles, hearing a grandmother she hasn't seen since our last visit. And Grandpa standing next to her. And Edward looking charming and right on time next to them.
Esme gets the first kisses and hugs before we find our seats. I still haven't seen how RENT ends, but it somehow seems rather insignificant up against Grace's first ballet recital. This is the only show I want to know the ending to. My nerves are only calmed by Edward's hand holding mine. His face full of pride as he watches the curtains pull open. This, I want more of. With him.
She doesn't miss a beat. She never falls or is lost. The girl next to her does. A few times. Her ears shouldn't have let her fall or get lost. She just doesn't pay attention. Grace is just her name. She is perfect and she is full of her name.
The teacher hands them all a little bag of treats and a ribbon backstage. I sit and wait. My camera on my lap. She is full of smiles and Bree hugging her and showing off her own rewards, but that's not what I am waiting for.
Shiny shoes show themselves and no bag of treats or ribbons has shit on her daddy. Her daddy who kneels down and waits for pink slippers to find him. For pink lips to smile and brown eyes to look shy as pink flowers are extended to her and warm kisses meet her cheek with all the pride and love any little girl would want to have.
And that is what my camera waits for.
"So, how are things? The house looks lovely. The flowers are just blooming like wild in the yard."
I hand Esme a cup of tea and take a seat next to her at the table. "Thanks. Everything is good. Great actually."
She smiles. "Then why is there something behind those brown eyes, Bella?"
She is a mom. Always. "It's nothing. I'm just being a little stupid."
My hands cup the warm mug. "You ever just feel like something might drop? Like it's….too good to be true or something?"
"The old 'rug getting pulled out from underneath you'?"
I nod. "Yeah. Like that."
"Sure, Dear. We all do. That is why life is unpredictable."
I laugh a little. Her hand touches my wrist, fixing the charm I still wear. "You just live each day like it will be the last and then you have no regrets."
"I'm trying." And my mouth can't help but smile and Esme sees that shit. Her eyes and motherly Esme-self want to know. "We're trying to have a baby."
Her eyes go all wide and happy and shit. "Really?"
"Trying is the word. Don't get too excited, please."
"Well, I'm sure you'll have no problem. You're both healthy and I couldn't imagine God not wanting to bless you with one."
I can. "Just don't tell Edward I told you."
Her face scrunches. "Why would he mind?"
Do I? Fuck. "Because I'm sure he already feels enough pressure and if it doesn't happen, he's gonna blame himself."
"Why…is there something I don't know?"
Such a big mouth. "He couldn't have kids with Tanya."
Eyes wide. "They were….oh my…I never…I never knew that."
I know. "Just don't say anything. Please?"
She pats my arm. "Safe with me."
He walks in as we finish our tea. He smiles and kisses the top of my head before going to the fridge. So do I.
And I'm not talking about those smiles. No matter how much she begs.
"Ready, Gracie?"
She nods happily, sitting in his lap. The morning has brought us two new visitors. Alice and Jasper. They are on the couch, watching as Edward is about to play something on the piano. Grace just likes putting her hands over his and pretending she is the player.
He doesn't mind giving her credit.
I see Jacob sneak off with Bree and say nothing. They are going out the back door and I decide as long as they are on the porch and not in his bedroom, that shit is fine.
Everyone else's eyes are on the piano concert. Esme is taking pictures and smiling like she's never seen this before, even though, she has. She begs for it every time we are together. When the song concludes and the standing ovation stops, Alice remains standing. She smiles at Jasper and something is up. It is the same look she had when she announced they were getting married.
"Jasper and I have something to share. Well actually….Jasper, me and um…" she hold her hands to her stomach and the smile that spreads ear-to-ear finishes that sentence.
And I want to be happy. I want to be hugging her tightly like Esme and crying tears of joy and all that shit a good family member should. But, I am watching Edward watching her and how he smiles and wants to look like he thinks this is wonderful news, but I know his eyes and his smile can't hide the fears and insecurities in them.
And as we lay in bed, staring at the moon that is staring at us, I am right.
It's laced with it. "You know it might not happen, right, Bella?"
I'm glad he's holding me from behind. I don't want to see his face. "Mmhmm."
"I'm sorry."
I look over my shoulder. "Are you seriously apologizing for shit that hasn't even happened?"
He hides his face into my hair. "That's the point. It probably won't."
"It's only been like a day, Edward. Not even long enough to try or to know anything. Have a little goddamn faith, would you?"
"I'm just trying to be realistic."
Jesus Christ. I roll over to face his woe is me. "I would prefer optimistic."
Like a little boy. "Tanya and I didn't work together. Chances are, we might not either. You're always telling me not to be naïve."
"And you're not. Optimism and naiveté are not the same. Not even close. And for the fucking record, I'm not Tanya. We're not…we're not you and Tanya. We're you and me."
Quietly. "I know."
I'm teasing. Sort of. "So shut the fuck up already."
He laughs. "Sorry."
"Stop saying that and just watch the moon with me. It's full and beautiful and doesn't want to hear your sob story." I kiss his face and roll back over.
I feel his arms and his laughter. "I think you picked the right profession, Bella."
Only the moon sees me smile.
I am walking to the teacher's lounge for a soda as I hear it. Metal. Loud. Over and over. A girl and begging. Other kids. My feet walk fast and towards it.
"Jacob, no! Stop it!" And she is about to get a fist to the face if she doesn't move. Oatmeal will not cure that shit.
"Move. Move." I push through the circle of kids and good thing I know how to avoid a punch being thrown and an ass-kicking being given. Bless Emmett and our history. I grab Jacob's shirt and pull hard, until he can't connect his hands to the kid he is slamming into the lockers anymore.
Another teacher helps to get things under control and I am dragging Jacob's ass all the way back to my office. He says nothing and knows he is about to get an ass-kicking of his own. I close the door with all the anger and disappointment I feel. He slumps in the chair.
"What the hell is wrong with you, kid? Did you not understand our little conversation about no hitting and getting expelled?"
He jumps up. "That kid was touching Brianna."
"I don't care. You don't hit people, Jacob."
"You don't understand. He was trying to touch her like…like…like how I touch her." His face calms down. "He was hurting her."
"Then you tell a teacher. Or me. He would have gotten in trouble. Now look at you. YOU are in trouble. Again."
He sits back down. "If someone hurt you, wouldn't Dr. Cullen protect you?"
Yes. I walk around my desk and take a seat. "Jacob…you can't hit people. You just can't. And Dr. Cullen would never…" I can't even say that bogus shit. Of course he would. He punched Emmett in the face and brawled with him over less. "You just can't hit people."
It's quiet for a minute. I rub my face. I pull out the pad of paper and his file. "What was he doing to Bree?"
This desk and these glasses have lost a bit of his trust. "I told you already."
"Well then tell me again."
His arms cross his chest. "I told her not to wear that skirt. It's too short," he huffs. "I just don't like people hurting her, Bella. Not with looks. Not with words. Nothing. She was crying because he said rude things about…about stuff he wanted to do to her and I was just trying to protect her. Alright?"
Jacob looks at the wall and I want to be pissed off at this kid. I want to keep telling him that he can't hit people. I want to tell him that he needs to go back home. But I was once a girl who needed protection and a man to stick up for her, and while he might not be a man, he is closer to it than most I have met.
I close his file.
"As your friend, Jacob, I'm proud as shit of you. But as your Guidance Counselor, you are going to spend the next two week in detention and every morning you are going to wake up an hour early, be at this school and make sure there is no gum stuck under the cafeteria tables.
"I hear the lunch ladies hate doing this and since you want to help and be such a good little protector and shit, you won't have any problem keeping their fingers safe from sticky ass gum you jerks leave under the tables. Right?"
He rolls his eyes and hates me.
His palms slap the arm rest of the chair. "Yeah. Whatever."
I plop down on the couch. Edward looks away from the TV.
"What's wrong, baby?"
"Ask me what isn't. The list is shorter."
He slides over. "I didn't realize first graders had so many issues."
I shove him a little. "I don't just deal with little kids you know."
He pulls me into his side. "Tell Dr. Cullen all about it, Dr….." he laughs. "…Cullen."
I make a face. "It's just Jacob. He's starting shit."
"At school?"
"No, on Jupiter. Of course at school." He's quiet and I am being a bitch to the wrong person. "Sorry. He just pisses me off.'
"What did he do?"
"He keeps getting in fights over Bree. He apparently has a serious jealous streak I was unaware of. He beat the crap out of some boy today who made her cry."
The wrong person to have this discussion with. "Why was she crying?"
"Something a boy said about her short skirt. Remind me to bring up dress codes at the next PTA meeting or some shit. Anyhow, he said something rude and I guess she cried so Jake beat his ass."
I move so I can see his face. "Huh? I tell you Jacob is hitting people and your only comment is huh?"
He shrugs. "I would do the same thing if someone made you cry."
Damn men.
"He's going to get expelled if he keeps this shit up."
Edward pulls me back into his side. "I'll talk with him. And Bree. And Carmen. No more short skirts."
His fingers work through my hair and it is amazingly relaxing. He slumps down so I can lay on his chest and soon our mouths have found each others. My back has found the back of the couch and my leg is over his hip with his hand running up my thigh.
"Grace is out with your folks and Jacob has football practice. We have a while, you know. Alone."
His hand goes higher to answer me. Mouth under my chin and I give him more access. His warmth and lavender suffocate me. My face is flushed and my heart thumping for him. My hands find his face and I want it against my own. I hold him there, forehead pressed to his and I don't need to say anything. He just knows it's because I love him. Because his face in my hands would be enough. He is that good and I would be just as lucky.
My heart matches my breathing as he graces my lips with a soft kiss. Then to the corner of one side. Then the other. His eyes are so heated. So alive and full and I pull him into me until I can't breathe.
I'm lifted from the couch and a trail of clothes gets discarded as we find our room. My back is laid gently on to our bed. His knees press into the mattress. Lips above my belly button. To over my heart. Until his face is above mine. Looking down. And the sun setting happens in the green of his eyes as the window lets it in.
"You want to make a baby with me, Bella?"
I take his face into my hands. "I just want you. Anything else is just a really big bonus."
And the sun disappears from his eyes as he closes them. Leans down. Into my lips and I am staring at the moon, wishing there were a man who really lived there and who hears my silent prayers for miracles before the sun will wake up again.
"I cannot believe how hungry I am." I follow Alice around as she attempts to eat half of the mall.
I shrug. "It's the kid. At least you're still skinny. I was a fat cow at six months." Truth be told, she is a little chubbier since I saw her the last time she was here. Okay, a lot chubbier. I'm being nice, though.
"Did it feel like this for you?"
It's an odd question. Not really. I'm just odd. "Yeah."
"I could go for a pizza. Where is there pizza in this place?" She pauses at the map of the mall and I wait as she looks. Over the crowd, I see the top of a familiar head. She waves to me.
I wave back, happy that we all found each other. Edward leans down so I can pull Grace off his shoulders.
"Did you have fun?"
She nods and holds up a bag. Edward takes it from her though, laughing a little. "Not yet, Sweetheart. We have to wait for Santa. Remember?"
She tells him she's sorry and of course she didn't have to. I see something new. My eyes look up to him. He knows this look.
He's not hearing it. "She wanted them."
"Mmhmm. And when she wants a pony, gonna buy that too, Mr. Softy?" I thumb her newly acquired pink, diamond earrings, that make mine look a little ratty.
"Pony?" Of course she speaks now.
I shake my head. "No pony."
Her head goes to my shoulder. "She looks tired. I think I'm gonna take off. Your sister is still trying to consume a pizza joint or something. Maybe you should stay with her."
He leans over and kisses us both. "Drive carefully, please. The roads are going to be slick."
I kiss him. "You too." Another one. "I love you."
His mouth repeats it back to my forehead.
I leave the Christmas tree lights on and curl up on the couch. Grace wasn't the only exhausted person. I yawn and smile at the same time. I stare at the stockings along the fireplace. One, two, three, four, five. Edward. Me. Grace. Jacob. Bree - because she is spoiled rotten, but does not live here. Brat.
I laugh to myself and snuggle up to the couch. I have never felt so warm and when my nap is interrupted by loud teenagers and bags and adults and all that follows a trip to holiday shop, I don't mind. Nothing cold ever warrant a complaint. I have nothing to be angry be over.
Edward looks quite the opposite. He places my feet in his lap and is about to begin a massage, but I pull them back and sit up. I lean back against the arm of the couch and open my arms.
"Want to share my blanket?"
Of course he does. He snuggles down, hugging himself to me how I would usually hug myself to him. His head against my chest and I wonder if he hears how content my heart is. I scratch my fingers to his hair and he makes noises that tells me he likes it.
And my mouth just can't shut up. I should shut up and give it to him for Christmas, but my mouth just can't shut up.
"I bought something."
"At the mall. I bought something."
He laughs but doesn't move. "That's why we went, Sweetheart."
Men. "Don't you wanna see it?"
He shrugs. "Sure."
"It's on the coffee table."
I watch his face as his eyes open and he looks that way. "I don't see anything. New, anyhow."
I point. "The stocking."
"Oh." He is quite for a moment. "Um, it's nice."
I roll my eyes. I ditch the game. Obviously it isn't going to work. You can a lead and horse and all that shit.
"I bought it for the baby."
He snuggles back against me. "Alice will love it."
Jesus H. "Not hers." I move the hand that is on my side, to below his face. "Ours."
The longest pause of all time. Happening right now. Green eyes finally look up. But he doesn't believe. I know these eyes. Eyes. How I pray they will be his.
My thumb reassures those creases in his forehead. "We work together." My hand goes over the one on my belly. "We work together."
And apparently, very well.
We stand in the doorway, peeking at the steps. Flannel covering our bodies. Warm socks on our feet. A few more grey hairs on the back of his head. Not all from Bree. She has found protection from another. Edward has finally come to terms with this, having too many girls of his own to watch out for. And Jacob, he wouldn't let a fly harm his Angel-face, who has a ring on her finger that will someday make her his wife and perhaps, they will be like us.
They will be standing in a doorway, trying to steal a peek of that first bit of happiness and excitement as little feet come running down the steps, anxious to see what Santa has left behind. Year after year.
"This is my favorite part," he whispers.
I look over my shoulder and smile.
Because they all have his eyes. The good in them. The happiness. The love. Because all of the shit that could have been pulled out from under us, never was. Because even if it did, it wouldn't matter.
We've faced it before.
And you can turn broken emptiness into a house full of this.
You can take a chance.
With your life, when another is sick and needs it. With the fate of your family, when someone needs protection and you put on a badge and do it just because someone has to. With your heart, if you can find bravery and strength to forget that it died, but remember that it can be resurrected. With your pride, if you can let it go and admit your mistakes. Turn those mistakes into a man who would do anything for the angelic girl he loves. Learn to dance and find your place, even if you are different. Even if all you have to go on is the vibration under your feet and the encouragement in your father's eyes.
Some of the most significant things we have done in our lives have been merely… because we took a chance.
Under an apple tree.
Against all the odds.
On unsteady feet.
And sometimes you never open doors that are closed. Sometimes, what you have is enough. And it doesn't matter if you can never share coffee and pedicures. That you will never have a number for advice in your contacts, because that person would never answer the phone even if you did. There's no going back to certain places. Sometimes, there's no forgiveness or second chances.
Not all of it works out. Not all of it can be perfect.
But it's part of it.



This is the last chapter of UtAT. I will be posting an epilogue along with something special, though. Don't ask when. When it is up, it is up. I usually don't make you wait long. You know this.

Under the Apple Tree

Chapter 63: Sometimes Love that Hurts, Can Heal

- The Final Chapter -


There are so many moments. Moments that simply pass by. Moments that you watch in slow motion. Moments you wish you could use the remote control on and either fast forward or rewind. Pause. Stop.

Then, there are the ones that you wish you could relive everyday. The ones that you watch and cannot believe that you are somehow worthy of witnessing.

And I, have seen them all.

New Ears

"One night I had a dream-I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord and across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints, one belonged to me and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before me,I looked back at the footprints in the sand.I noticed that many times along the path of my life,there was only one set of footprints.I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it. "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,you would walk with me all the way,but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. "I don't understand why in times when I needed you most,you should leave me." The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child,I love you and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. "When you saw only one set of footprints,it was then that I carried you."

"What does that mean?" Bree asks Edward.

He adjusts Grace on his lap. "It means, you're never alone. That when your load gets too large and you feel as though you cannot handle what life gives you, God is there to guide you. To help you. To save you."

She thinks about it for a minute. "So, you're kind of like God, then?"

His mouth smiles, but his eyes say no. "Why would you say that?"

"Because you help people. You save them." She pokes him in the back and his only reply is a kiss to her forehead.

I take Grace from his lap. She is so much bigger. Harder to easily pull into my arms, but well worth the effort.

I say it with my eyes closed, holding her to me. "Let's just hope God is in the mood to be charitable tomorrow."

"He's gonna give Grace new ears. I can't wait. I want her to come to dance class with me."

So do I.

"There would have to be more than new ears for that to happen, Brianna."

I look at him. He smirks. "Let's just get dinner and not talk about this for the millionth time." I pick up Grace and walk to the kitchen.

He is relentless. He is Edward. "Just think about how wonderful it would be, Bella." He pauses at the counter as I open the fridge door. "Grace and Bree would be like sisters. They could do ballet together. We could get out of this town…" his eyebrows suggest naughty things… "Apple picking in fall."

I place Grace in his arms. "And your mother would kill us both. Not to mention, all the money you spent on that gym/pool addition. What about that?"

He shrugs. "Increases the sale value."

Bree has become a traitor. "I want to go apple picking. And I want Grace to be a ballerina like me."

Edward smiles. Of course. I poke his chest. "Two against one isn't fair."

He takes my hand. "Then just say yes. Agree to move to Virginia. Problem solved."

I draw my hand away. "One problem at a time, Edward. Now let me feed you, please. If you're going to be playing God with our daughter's ears tomorrow, you should be well fed and rested."

His best replies tonight- are definitely kisses.

Somewhere in between toss and turn number fifty one and fifty five, I feel the bed move. The weight next to be is gone and so with it, goes the warmth. I sigh and roll over. When he doesn't return quickly, I let my feet touch the floor and wander until I fine him. I stand at her door.

He's holding her so sweetly. He's holding her like love. He's holding her like she is the most delicate, precious thing. She is. Their secret I love you rubs her cheek. Over and over. He doesn't need to say it, even if she could hear it. I can feel it and it's not even touching me. "I'm sorry you felt scared. You know Daddy would never let anything happen to you, right?" His hands move. They sign. His mouth speaks. It breaks my heart. It gives my heart a reason to beat. So gentle. So nods. He wipes her tears. Thumb to tiny cheek."You're too pretty to cry."The secret rubs her cheek

I sit on the plastic chair. Bree at my side. She has a book in her lap. It doesn't belong just to her. Jacob has sent her more gifts than I can count over the last three years. This is shared between them, though. I peek over. Her mouth is twisted up into a grin. Her hand writes something under where his hand has written something. I'm not prying, or sure, but I think this is like a journal they exchange whenever she visits. What I do know, is that if Edward ever peeked into it, he would probably go and hunt down Jacob.

Yeah. Probably.

I keep my mouth shut.

They come walking down the hallway. It's like when you see a wave about to crash over your head. I want this moment as much as I want to run away from it. The color of their scrubs is not comforting. I wish. His hands are. They slide under my chin. I don't trust my legs to stand. Carlisle waits while another doctor and some nurses go in the room that holds all of my life. Other than the one that is in front of me.

"She'll be alright. Piece of cake, remember?" He assures.

Bree. "Cake sounds good."

He smiles, but otherwise pays her no mind.

I nod. "I trust you."

A few kisses to my cheek and I watch his feet disappear behind Carlisle's. I wish as I sit here, that there really was a fast forward button. I settle for finding a piece of dried out cake in the cafeteria with Bree.


It's Sunday. I have a picnic basket in one hand. Small hand in my other. A man on the other side, holding on to the other free hand. In his free arm, there is a blanket and a book. We walk along the soft blades of grass towards our usual spot. My mouth is about to open, about to ask a question that is rather insignificant, when I am rendered still.

And then, all of us.

There is something that makes this our park. It goes above our heads. It keeps us shaded when the sun is high. It provides comfort despite its hard exterior. It has been the one place in the world I could always count on being here and as my eyes look out, in search of that place, there is only a grouping of benches with tables. A pavilion. I look around. I make sure. Everything else carries on like it is supposed to be here. Like we have arrived at the right place, but no. This is wrong. This is so, so wrong.

My knees are about to fail me. My eyes are already there. And a heart that has finally learned how to be, how to live, has suddenly forgotten how. A tug to my pants. I look down.

Small fingers haven't fully figured out her new voice and ears, yet. Where is the tree, Mommy?

I just shake my head and I…just shake.

The day I grew up

"Oh, honey. We are so proud of you." Esme hugs me like I am hers. I let her. "And this little hat. I forgot how adorable they are."

I shake my head. "There's nothing cute about it." I look around. "Where's Edward?"

"Grace had to go potty. Unfortunately, kids don't always understand the importance of such important moments in our lives," she smiles and fluffs the ends of my hair.

Carlisle puts his arm around her shoulders. "When you gotta go, you gotta go. Small bladders."

Esme makes a face, but she loves this man. "No lessons on the human body. This is Bella's day, Darling."

He smiles.

I see Edward coming through the crowed with Grace on his hip. She is wrapped around his neck like he is her protection from all the strange people. And I want a pause button.

"No. Not my day."

His mouth is on my cheek before I can even say hello. He is whispering in my ear and there are little arms trying to find their way into mine. She says a few words in between her fingers to him and he pulls something from his pocket. But I don't want gifts today. I don't need them. This isn't a day for rewards.

I tell her my own fingers and voice. I love you.

It is a day for redemption.

It's her day. I owe her this day.

When I gave in

"Edward wants to move to Virginia."

My shrink thinks for a moment as he writes. "And what do you want?"

"I want to go. I mean, I really want to go. But…I just don't want to pick up my shit and leave due to a few random assholes knowing about my business and spreading rumors. I guess, I'm not sure how much that shit hurts Grace, in comparison to how much leaving her grandparents and shit would. You know?"

He writes and then looks up. "Have you discussed this with Edward?"

I nod. "Of course." And I smile a little at how much we do that shit.

"And he's still in favor of the move?"

"Like, bugs the shit out of me everyday for years now."

A pause. A real one. "I would suggest making a list, number one. Pros and cons. Then of course, as a family, an entire family, you need to have this discussion. His parents included. All voices need to be heard. If there is a plan set in place, with Grace's grandparents, then the move should be smooth and would probably benefit her greatly. As well yourselves."

"A plan? What kind of plan?"

"A schedule of sorts. When visits can and will happen. Structure is very important to a child. If there is something, let's say a calendar for instance, that would show Grace when Grandma and Grandpa would visit, it offers her not only a sense of structure - as there is a plan for these events - but also, something to look forward to."

I think about this. My head nods. "Yeah. That makes sense."

"Talk about it with Edward."

Like I wouldn't.

"How are things going with the other list, Bella?"

And I know what he means. There are many lines crossed off. There are many that I feel quite proud of. But still, one remains. Renee.

"I'm still working on it."

And that's the truth.

I drive past the house everyday. I have a thousand thoughts in my head of how it would play out. I have words in my Christmas journal I have scribbled and crossed lines through and balls of paper in trash cans. But I also have happiness and no desire to ruin it. It doesn't offer a solution or resolution. It is just a line that I stand beside and do not cross. I just can't. Not yet.

"She's so beautiful." He is watching what I am watching. On our bed. In between us. A sleeping face. Tiny hands and pink little lips. Dreaming. Peaceful.

I nod and don't look away. The curls around my fingers feel just like the one's on my own head. But they are not frizzy. They are smooth and soft. They are well cared for. They are treated with ribbons and bows and headbands and I am not Renee. She has a hat with a logo and a number that was made just for her and it is the only time the curls are compromised. But when it sits on her head, she sits on Edward's lap. And he, he is Charlie. He is everything good and we, we are not my parents.

"Edward?" I whisper. He's looking at me. "Do you really want to move to Virginia?"

His face smiles. The whole thing. I hate and love him in stupid, stupid ways. That smile. I find my own. "I'll go, but under one condition."

"Name it."

"I want an apple tree in our backyard."

He tries to contain his laughter, keeping his mouth closed as he does it. Fingers under my chin like they love me back in stupid, stupid ways.

"With a swing?"

I look down to Grace. "Definitely."


"This sucks." Jacob kicks the dirt.

"You can visit in the summer. Any time. As long as you like."

"I'm gonna be here all alone. This sucks." He kicks the moving truck.

"Jake, this thing is a rental. Don't kick it." I tug on his arm and pull him to the sidewalk while the guys load up our things. "You're not alone. Emmett is here. And Billy. And your parents. If I could take you with me I would, but I don't think Sue would like that idea. You'll be fine. I promise."

He hugs me like I was the best thing to happen to him, but the truth is that Jacob, he was one of the best things that happened to a lot of people. Me. Emmett. Bree. Edward. Grace and all her smiles and laughs at his funny faces. Even Emmett's kid Josh and how he has a better father. A father who no longer hides and can hold his head high. A father who learned how to take care of his family and be honest.

If Jacob didn't exist, I wonder what would.

"Dude." We look over our shoulders to Emmett. He is carrying something heavy. He drops it down on the back of the truck. He wipes his forehead and looks at Jacob. "You're supposed to be my helper. Not hanging out on the sidewalk with the pretty girls." He snaps his fingers and Jacob stands.

I nod and he walks off to the house. Emmett winks at me as he passes. I stand and hold Grace's hand as we follow them back into the house. She runs with her little legs until she hits the steps and then climbs up. I chase behind her until she pushes the door to her room open.

"Hey Gracie," Alice greets her, but her face falls a bit when she sees me. "Bella."

We talk we just don't talk. You know, coffee and shit. Getting our nails done and shit. Her and Rose type of shit. No. Not us.

"Hi. Um…I can help with that." I take a pile of clothes from her hands and rest them on the bed while she rids the closet of the rest of the toys and clothes and million other things it holds.

Grace sits on the bed by me.

"Want to help Mommy?" She nods and does her best to help me take off the hangers. Mostly, she holds things up to her and puts other things on her head. It's the best kind of help.

I manage to get everything folded and put it to the side, ready for more, but when I look over, Alice hasn't moved anything else out. It takes me a second to realize what she is doing. What is in her hands. It was so long ago and all of those things I let my hands write on a piece of notebook paper, have been long forgotten. Well, they have been rectified any how. I couldn't ever forget.

She turns. Her face is thoughtful. She gives a light smile and shoves the letter back into its envelope. It's handed to me and I sit it down on the bed. Grace of course scoops it up and pulls everything out. Her eyes lighting up when she sees a familiar face.

"Pooh." And even the most simple, single words are the best. From her lips.

I nod. "Pooh. Want me to read it?"

Of course she does. Her little body crawls until she is in my lap and waiting. There are so many more words inside of that envelope. Things I am ashamed of. Things I am proud of because of the outcome. Shit I wish I could have pressed rewind to and never had to watch, but this paper, that I tore out of one of her books, will remain true.

Pooh is telling Piglet, but not really. "If there ever comes a day, when we can't be together, keep me in your heart and I'll stay there forever."

And my eyes. So goddamn stupid. Still.

After hugs that hurt - Esme - and a million promises we have to promise - Esme - and reassurance and 'Please. Stop. You're going to drive yourself insane.' - Edward - we have finally made our journey and have lush green grass under our feet. I don't know why, but grass on the front lawn of this house, feels amazing. I never want to wear shoes again. Not dirty. Not clean. Nothing. I just want to feel it in between my toes and lay on my back with it on my back and it and the sky and nothing.

Well, something. Two.

And when I close my eyes, I swear it was just for a second, but someone must have a fast forward button, because there is my daughter and there is Bree and there is Jacob and what was a house full of boxes is now a house full of kids, running down the porch steps, begging to get in a truck and drive down the little country store.

"Let Bella rest," Edward says, laying at my side. He was just trying to get lucky. Blankets. We have a million. This one was being quite good to us….until. Kids.

"Come on! You guys can kiss later. Geeze. Important stuff here," she is pulling Edward's hand and he is such a sucker. I get up and I hate that his weakness has worn off on me.

I brush the ground from my clothes. "What the heck are we going there for anyhow? I just went shopping. We have snacks coming out of my….we have plenty of snacks."

"It's a surprise." She pulls us along until we are giving in to what they all want.

They run from the truck as we arrive.

"Watch Grace," Edward calls out. He doesn't look away until Jacob and Bree have her hands securely in their own. Then, he takes mine. We follow behind them until I see what the big deal was. You see, the thing about country stores in country settings, they sell everything.

At the same time. "We are not getting a bunny."

Them, at the same time. "Come on. Please?"

Same time. "No."

Grace is better at this game then all of us. She holds one and asks with her eyes that Edward has no ability to say no to.

"Edward," I warn.

His face twists. "It is just a small rabbit. How much could it hurt?"

I have eyes too. And my eyes are saying exactly how I feel. But you see, this small child, her brain is not the same size as her small body, because she places her face against this damn bunny and bats her lashes like she learned that shit somewhere. He kneels down and as soon as she opens her mouth to ask in her softest, sweetest Grace tone 'please daddy', I have lost.

I am alone.

I should turn around and shout that aisle three needs a clean up. My boyfriend, a huge pile of mushy man on the floor. Bring a mop.

"Yes!" And the miniature masses rejoice.

They are all taking turns holding this rodent as we drive home. I am making eyes that I know he can feel. As I see the smirk on his stupid face.

Bree holds it up to me. "Look. He's wearing a sweater. Cute huh?"


She rolls her eyes and they go back to playing pass the bunny. The truck doors slam as we park and they race to the house with it. Grace trailing behind. Smaller legs. You know. Jacob stops and lets her piggy-back and I knew there was a reason I loved that kid.

A hand finds mine. "Don't be mad."

"You didn't even try to say no."

Not even the corner of his smirking mouth will save him. "I can't help it. The word 'daddy' is like an instant killer to all my sensibility and rational thinking."

"Yeah. I see this."

He laughs and kisses my hand as we go up the steps. "We'll just consider it an early Easter present."

"Edward, Easter isn't for another six months. You are weak. Just say it. I am Edward and I am weak."

He smiles and goes to lean in for a kiss. I pull back, but I am obviously playing. Like I wouldn't kiss his ass.

"Did you want me to buy one for you? Are you jealous, mommy?" His arms wrap around me, not letting me escape. I laugh, because he is stupid.

"No. Shut up. And don't try to get frisky with me. We have a house full of kids."

He is going to say something back, but pauses. His face sobering up. I am pulled into him, his arms tighter and chin on my shoulder. A soft voice that means shit he says.

"That might have been one of the best sentences you have ever said, Bella."

I know what he means, but I carry sarcasm like it has small legs. "Good, because I'm defiantly not giving you any pussy after you failed me on the bunny-buying shit." I pull away and he is smiling. I pat his chest. "Have fun chasing after Thumper or whatever the fuck they'll name it, Edward."

It's like, I know this shit. Because for the rest of the night, until I am tucked beneath our covers, waiting for his ass and he is still looking for where the hell that damn rodent has run off too.

But this bed, it just isn't complete or right without a pair of feet rubbing against mine. The covers get my frustration as I toss them aside. The wooden floors feel just as amazing on my bare feet as the grass. Probably, because I am the one who cleans them. He has his head tucked under a piece of furniture. Grace is holding a flashlight.

I shake my head. "Maybe he went back to his homeland."

As soon as he makes a face at me, I walk away, down the hall, trying to find a white ball of fluff somewhere.

I call to him, quietly. "Here you little fucker. Where are you? I would like to go to sleep please. And fuck the shit out of my b…" Feet stop. I am looking into a scene, that if anyone other than me were watching - particularly, a male, green-eyed version of me - it would not end well.

On the other side of the glass, out on my back porch, in my white swing that is normally reserved for Sunday and Ice-tea and story telling, is the sweetest goddamn thing I have almost ever seen.

"You find him, Sweetheart?"

I turn around to the sound of Edward's voice and hurry down the hall, pushing him back towards the living room. "No. Let's go look out front. Seriously, he might have escaped and made friends with my flowers."

I keep walking, tugging him along to where it's safe…and away from Jacob holding his teenaged hands to Bree's teenaged face and kissing her like she is the angel he swears she is.

The day we became closer to we

"Are you sure this is safe?"

Edward is amused at my terror. "Yes, baby. Give me your hand." He steps into the gondola before me and then helps as I place one foot inside and then the other. We sit and then the man starts off down the water. My eyes dart around, wondering what lies beneath the dark water all around us.

"Nothing is going to eat you. I promise." He kisses my hand and then leans into my ear. "Unless you'd like something to."

I pull back with my eyes a bit wider. "Your dirty jokes are getting closer to actually being dirty jokes, Edward. I'm proud."

He puts his arms around me. I relax into his hold and comfort. "We should have done this a long time ago."

"No. We shouldn't have. We're doing it now because it is supposed to happen now."

I feel his quiet laughter. "Yes, Ma'am."

"I miss Grace."

"Me too, but she'll be fine. I'm sure she having the time of her life with Esme and Alice, tonight."

"Ugh. I don't like our kid wearing clothes that cost as much as my college debts."

His arms squeeze tighter. "Thank you."

I turn my head to look at him. "For?"

"For always saying she is ours." His mouth touches mine. "For being a wonderful mother and my best friend."

I kiss him back, but smile. "I'm Jacob's best friend. Watch it."

He smiles. "Fine. For completing me in life. Is that better?"

"Are you trying to have a Jerry McGuire moment under the bridge with me, Edward?" I point to the bridge as we pass under it. It goes dark and for those few moments of pitch black and his tongue speaking to me, I want a major, major pause button.

The thing about Italy is, they have pastries that make Alice's bakery seem like it doesn't even deserve to be called a bakery. I might or might not be thinking about that shit, as we sit for breakfast in one of the little café's.

Staring at her.

Grace was returned to us last night with enough Italian designer tags to pay off our house. And the neighbors.

I might be feeling a little evil.

Although, she does look super cute. So okay, Alice's bakery is not utter shit. It just isn't this place. Fuck therapy and all it's rational thinking.

"So, we were thinking about going sight-seeing this morning." Esme rests down her coffee or café. You choose. "Will you all join us?"

She makes a face that clearly reads, 'since you allowed the tickets I gave you more than five years ago to expire and I lost a shit load of money.'

Edward funded our trip to make up for it. He has serious guilt issues. I just have a heard time saying no when his mouth is speaking things to me. Especially, when it is in between my legs. Alas, family trip to Italy.

This is where Grace gets that shit from. Her way. Edward.

"Actually, I wanted to take Bella somewhere," Edward replies.

My ears are shocked. See my prior thoughts.

"But, Darling, I really think we should all spend time together. This is supposed to be a family vacation. I mean, it's not like we get to see you all very much. You know, since you moved away from us and all."

And okay, I lied. That's where Grace gets that shit from. And damn. Mama Esme is good.

"Ma, please. We will do something together later. A nice dinner or something. But I'd like to spend the afternoon with Bella. We already have plans."

"We do?" I ask surprised.

His face looks tired. "Yes, love. We do."

Esme is not a quitter. "Well, then we'll just join you." She turns to Carlisle and starts going on about how to rearrange their day. Edward is palming his face and looking pretty annoyed. Grace is just lost in all her Italian pastry Heaven.

Alice smirks at Edward…and I….I feel rather left out of the loop.

We all walk together, looking at architecture and history and it is all very amazing and shit, but truthfully, I feel a bit small here. I don't know much about this stuff, other than it looks pretty. And I feel a little stupid when I don't understand what people are saying and asking me. I cling to Edward's arm and just follow them around.

By noon, Grace's legs have officially had enough. Edward puts her in the stroller and Esme pushes as we continue on our journey of never ending sight-seeing. She and Alice are babbling back and forth, laughing and lost in conversation. Carlisle is trying to keep track of the map that clearly shouts we are tourists. I just keep on walking, until Edward's feet stop and my arm can't go without him. I look back in question.

He just watches me.

"What?" Nothing. "Um…" I look the other direction. "We're gonna lose your parents." And his face tells me that perhaps that is the point. His hand, pulling me towards him confirms this. I laugh a little. "Edward."

His expression changes, softening and doing something makes my heart sting in my chest. Warm. His hands cupping my face, makes it go faster. His lips closer to mine give my skin braille letters of nervousness.


That's all he offers as his eyes do shit to my insides. My lungs that want to breathe heavier. Or not at all. The soft tips of his fingers over my cheeks.

"You know I adore you, Sweetheart?"

A tiny laugh leaves my mouth. I nod. "So do I."

Closer. "Do you?"

Softer. "Of course."

A pause and his fingers slip from my face, down to my hands. He walks backwards and pulls me along, into where the space in the street is wider. Where most people take pictures because there is something worthy of taking pictures in this spot. What, I couldn't tell you. But they all seem to do it.

His expression is amusing. "What are you doing, Cullen?"

But he doesn't answer, just allows that small smile to reside in the corner of his mouth. When we reach the middle of the circle, he stops. He holds my hand in his.

"Do you remember your condition for moving to Virginia?"

I nod. "The tree. Yeah."

His free hand goes into his pocket. He pulls out his cell-phone and flips it open. A few buttons and then he hands it over. There is a picture. Of a tree. I look back to him.

"It's ours. They planted it while we're here. I wanted it to be a surprise for when we got home. Not only because it was my end of the deal to hold up, but also because I know how hurt you were when Charlie's tree was destroyed in the park." I smile and go to step forward so I can hug him, but he shakes his head. "I'm not finished."

He takes his phone back and drops it back to his pocket. Something else drops. His knee. And the phone must have exchanged places with the box in his hand.

"It actually occurred to me after I spoke with the guy planting it, how much it is like us. He was warning me that there is no guarantee if this tree will live or die, because you when you take a tree or plant from the ground, from all it knows, it can get sick and die. Sometimes you can save them if you catch them in time, see the signs, but usually they die.

"The point though, is that your taking a chance. There's no guarantee of what will happen. And if we never took a chance, Bella, we might have died. And we wouldn't have what we have now.

"And this tree, I think it's going to live, because it's going to get a lot of love and care, so next year, when its roots are strong and able to hold the million lanterns and other tacky shit my mother will surely want to hang from it, I want to be under it.

"I want to have you across from me and Grace in between us and I want to be telling you that I love you and I'll always love you. What I'm asking is, if you'll marry me under that tree. Under our apple tree?"

And if a light ghost of wind went by, I might just float right away with it. My knees are definite failures. And I fall to them, into him and hug him like he is my protection. Like I don't see his family over his shoulder, taking pictures like the other idiots all around them. And like I never want this moment to end. And as my eyes find my other eyes, and they smile at me…

It won't.


Under the Apple Tree

Music for B & E at the end is: Matt Nathanson, Come On Get Higher

Chapter 62: Windows


"If someone looked into the window of your life, what would they see?"

That was the last question of the day from class. There is a piece of paper in my notebook that has that question written down. It is supposed to be our assignment during break. The girl behind me groaned and the boy at my side snickered and called it, "cheesy shit."

I stared at it and asked myself, silently.

My pen did not move.


I am in the doorway, trying my hardest not to laugh. Edward is on one side of the couch, Emmett next to him. Jacob sits on the coffee table facing them.

Emmett's turn. "So, you will have these urges. Urges you don't understand."

Edward. "Ever watch one of those Looney Tunes cartoons where one guy thinks the other guy is a Thanksgiving turkey?"

Jacob nods.

"That's kind of what it feels like."

Emmett. "Except, you're going to want to…you're gonna wanna…"

Brilliant Man One leans over and consults with Brilliant Man Two.

Edward. "You're going to want to do a lot more than just eat the turkey…and that's okay…but, just not right now. You see…you want to marry the turkey first. You and the turkey should be in love. Committed."

Emmett nods. "Exactly."

Edward. "And you don't want turkeys from Virginia. They are…you just don't want them. Trust me."

Jacob's face scrunches. "But…what about if you want to…you know…touch your own turkey?"

Emmett looks at Edward, smirking. "This is your area of expertise."

Edward makes a face. He looks back at Jacob. "That's perfectly normal and fine, but keep it to yourself. That is information you only want shared between you and…your turkey."

I roll my eyes and carry the tray of drinks into the living room. Jacob stands up, letting me put it down on the coffee table. Emmett and Edward take their hot chocolates. I hand one mug over to Jacob, but he doesn't take it.

"Come on, Jake. It's hot cocoa."

He shakes his head a little. "I think I'm gonna go upstairs."

My brows scrunch. "You have plenty of time to unpack. Sit and drink your cocoa."

"I'm not gonna unpack."

"Then what the Hell do you need to go upstairs for? There isn't even a TV up there."

He glances to the guys, then me. "I'm not supposed to say."

I cringe and he disappears up the steps. I look to Edward. I am not happy.

"When I said to talk to him about sex, I didn't mean to give him permission to whack off in the guest room, Brilliant Man One."

Edward pulls me to his lap. "I didn't. And Jesus. He better not go anywhere near Brianna with his sinful hands."

I laugh and so does Emmett.

"I'm serious." He sips his cocoa.

"Well, maybe you shouldn't have agreed to turn this place into a Lover's Retreat," I tease.

"I didn't know Bree would be coming here the same time Jacob would need a place to stay. Trust me."

"He could always stay with me and Rose," Emmett offers.

Edward shakes his head. "No. I told Billy I'd look after him this week. I'll just have to…really look after him." He brings the cup to his mouth and mumbles, "And buy a shotgun."


I pour coffee as Edward feeds Grace. Jacob has his cereal. He watches Edward. I watch Jacob. My mind goes back to the question in my notebook. I observe what they do. I watch this moment in my life.

I like how Jacob looks at Edward, when Edward looks at Grace. I like that he sees what a man be could. A man can be gentle with a child. I like him being here. I like being here. I like being off from school. I like being off from work. God bless snow and winter. God bless it. I like this house and the way it feels inside of it.

I don't like the fact that Billy is not feeling well. I don't like that being the reason why Jacob is here with us. I don't like that he is still too scared to go home and stay with his mother. I hate him feeling like he isn't as tough as those idiot boys who threaten and beat on him. I hate that his father doesn't do enough to protect him. I wish Emmett's lessons were giving him more strength and confidence.

I have a Holiday gingersnap recipe that will make it a little bit better.

I will teach Jacob tomorrow. I will let him bring some to Billy and his mother later this week. We will sit in the hallway as Carlisle runs tests. I have a wall picked out for where we will paint the Christmas tree Edward said the hospital was in need of. I'll take Grace's small hands and make small turkeys along the bottom of the wall, like Charlie used to do to mine- except it was on homemade greeting cards.

Turkeys. I laugh.

Edward looks up to me. His eyes expectant. I shake my head.

"When does Bree get here?"

We look at Jacob.

"We have to pick her up from the airport in an hour," Edward explains. "Is there a reason why you ask?" He stares him down and normally, I would feel bad for Jacob and the fear on his face, but this is harmless.

It's just Cullen being Cullen.

I help Jacob tuck the gift for Bree into his jacket. It's our secret. We both smile like idiots and laugh as we go downstairs. Edward has Grace bundled up and I can't help but to smile wider at how ridiculous he is.

"Expecting a blizzard?"

"She's small," he shrugs.

I laugh, tugging down the scarf, trying to peak in. "I can only see her eyes, Edward."

"It's snowing. You know how easily one catches the Flu this time of year? Pneumonia? Bronchitis?"

I hear Jacob snort. So do I. Edward is not amused. "Alright, alright. I get it. Bundle at will."

He fixes where I pulled down her scarf and we walk towards the laundry room, the garage and we are off.

Bree runs when she sees him at the gate. He scoops her up and hugs her tightly. I look over to Jacob at my side and watch him smile and look nervous. I lean over.

"Remember to tell her she looks pretty. Um, the hair. Tell her she has pretty hair."

He smiles and nods. I hold Grace and wait as they walk towards us. Bree sees me sitting here and her expression changes. I get up and go to say hi, but she lets go of Edward's hand and walks ahead. Great. Another person who is pissed off at me.

She pauses when she sees Jacob. They stare at each other. I die a little for him. He must be so scared. He looks so adorable. Edward goes to say something, but I grab his jacket's sleeve and shake my head. He makes a face.

"Just give them a second. It's harmless."

He leans in to my ear. "Tell me that again when Bree is asking me for a pee test."

I snort. "They are just kids. Let them be kids."

He sighs and I kiss his chin as he waits patiently.

I want to watch what goes on in this window.

"Hi…um…I'm Jake. Um, Jacob."

She giggles. "Hi, Jakeumjacob."

He smiles and my heart is dying on site. In a good way.

"Just Jacob. Or Jake. If you like Jake. I like either one."


I tap Cullen. I nod towards Bree. My eyes make him do it.

"Brianna, this Jacob. He's a friend of ours and he'll be staying with us this week as well. Jacob…" a long pause and breath. "…this is Bree."

He blurts it out and poor kid. "You look pretty hairy."

Do not laugh at him. His face is red. His skin is dark, but his face is red. I fucking hate red.

"What?" She giggles.

"I mean…you have pretty hair."

Her face softens. She is shy. "Oh. Uh…" she looks up to Edward. Back to Jacob. "Thanks."

Jacob unzips his coat and pulls out the box. He shoves it at her and I cover my mouth when she trips backwards a little. He shoved it at her.

"Merry Christmas."

"Uhhmm, it's not Christmas yet. We haven't even had Thanksgiving."

Jacob is at a loss for words. I elbow Edward.

"We should get going." Edward takes her hand and we start to head towards the baggage claim. She holds on to the present in her free hand.

Jacob looks up to me as we follow behind them. I wink and he shakes his head, looking embarrassed. Bree glances over her shoulder to Jacob and smiles.

He looks at me and returns the same expression.


"That is huge."

He smirks. "I thought you liked it….you know."

I snort. "Was that your attempt at making a dirty joke, Edward? 'Cause if so, you failed."

He smiles and looks back to the tree. "Alice requested to have a large tree this year. She wants to take…what did she say…epic pictures at Thanksgiving this year. Yeah…I think that was the phrase."

He's funny. And hella sexy with a scarf around his neck. But the Alice shit is over riding my happy mood right now.

"She's still pissed at me."

"I know."

"Probably will always be."

He takes a step back and sits on the couch. He tugs at his scarf. And the bottom of my sweater, until I am sitting on his lap sideways.

"She'll get over it."

"Edward, you have eyes that don't hide shit. You know this, right?"

That delicious corner of his mouth lifts. "Well, regardless of if she does or doesn't…nothing here changes. You're still my Bella." He leans his face to my chest, arms surrounding me.

"And what about Grace? I'm sure she misses her Aunt."

"She sees her all the time. Have you not noticed her pink toenails? Think I did that? I mean, I get bored when you're not here, Bella…but not that bored, " He laughs.

"I don't like seeing you guys fight. I don't like being the cause. I was actually…You know your mom had a good idea when I saw her."

"I can't wait to hear this."

I make a face. He smiles. "She thinks I should ask Alice to go shopping. Like, to ask for her help shopping for Grace. For Christmas."

He shrugs. "It couldn't hurt, I guess."

I watch his eyes. "But?"

"But…just don't expect her to say yes, Bella. She's very…well, aside from you, the most hardheaded person I've ever encountered."

I push against him until he is on his back and he brings me down to his chest.

"Grace won't be up for another thirty minutes, don't make me use that time to teach you a very….valuable lesson, Cullen."

His eyes lower. "Mmm…and that would be?"

I let my palms slide until the tip of my nose touches his.

"Torture. Pure torture, Edward."

"Mmm." And that noise never sounded so good.


"Oh, I'm sorry. There's nothing here I think you will like." Alice turns around and goes back to making fresh pots of coffee in her bakery.

I try not to say what I would like to. "I'm just here to ask a question." She's ignoring me. Keep calm. "I just wondered if maybe you'd like to join me for some Christmas shopping. I have to buy some stuff for Grace and I'm not really good at picking out clothes and…"

She spins around. Hand goes on the hip. Great. "So, you want to use me so you'll look like you know how to buy your daughter clothes? Sorry, I think one Cullen is already filling the "I need to be used" section of your life, Bella."

Calm. Calm. But fuck no. "You don't really give him very much credit."

Her eyes, they say shit worse then her mouth could. "Don't tell me about my brother. I know him. I know him very well."

"Then you would know that he's not stupid. As much as he is naïve, he's not dumb, Alice. If I was trying to use him, I wouldn't be around. There's a reason why I wasn't in his life for the past year, you know."

"Yeah, because you ran off."

Okay. Honesty the shrink says. Fine. Honesty.

"No, because Edward didn't want me around like…like I was. He's not stupid, as I just explained. You think that you are hurting me when you hold this position, but the truth…the truth Alice, is that you only hurt Edward. I can take it. I'm used to people not liking me. And if you weren't connected to him, I could careless if you didn't like me…but you are…so…I have to care. Because I care about him."

She's just a sister. I know this. "You don't show it very well."

"I'm trying to. I'm trying. I'm here."

She thinks for a moment but turns around and goes back to her coffee duties. I feel defeated. I hear Edward's words from the day prior and I knew it was a tough sell, but I don't want it on my shoulders any longer. I want the ball in her court.

I glance around. And you know…if someone looked into this window, under the brown letters that spell the Bakery's name…they would see my pissed off faced and her pissed off face and someone would think this was a rather unpleasant situation. It wouldn't be a window I'd like to look into. That's for sure.

My fist taps gently to the counter. "I'm going to be at the mall on Friday. When they open. I'll sit on the bench at the main entrance. I'm sure Grace would like a day of shopping with her Aunt. We hope you'll be there."


A hard tile floor has never felt so great.

"Her hands are perfect." Bree smiles, helping Grace press her fingers into the paint and then to the wall. I am forgiven at the moment. Or at least, she is speaking to me.

"I know. Me and um…me and my dad used to do this when I was little."

Jacob's ears are perked. "You and Charlie?"

I nod. "Yeah."

"Your dad must have been cool. My mom won't even let me hang posters in my room. She hates the holes the thumb-tacks make," Bree grumbles.

I smile. "Well, we didn't paint them on the wall, just made cards for the people he worked with and stuff."

"It's still cool," she shrugs.

"Did he ever let you shoot his gun?" Jacob asks.

I laugh. "No. Never."

"Grandpa Billy says he's gonna teach me when I turn fifteen." His chest puffs out. He's trying to impress Bree. I love it. "We're gonna go hunting."

"Ewww. No. Killing animals is cruel!"

Or not.

"You ate a hamburger at Dr. Cullen's house last night," he argues.

"Yeah, but those came from the grocery store." She makes a face and keeps painting with Grace's hand.

We are up to about ten turkeys. They are walking under the huge blob of a green Christmas tree we painted earlier. It is hideous and I love it dearly. The nurses passing by all make faces, but say it's nice. Lying bitches. I never said I was an artist and fuck, it's not like we are getting paid. Plus, I'm working with kids. Give me a damn break.

"Looks great." Familiar. I look over my shoulder. Fuck he's good looking. He shoves his hands into his pockets and studies our Christmas disaster.

Bree. "Look. Grace made turkeys." She points to them. He kneels down.

He speaks to her with his hands. His eyes. "Did you make those?"

Grace smiles, but who wouldn't. It's Edward.

And then….her paint-filled fingers smack right into his face. His eyes close. Lips pull tight. And three children die of laughter.

This is an awesome window.


I have officially fallen in love with this part of the house. Kid One, Two and Three are sleeping soundly. There is only fragrant bubbles, hot water and my ass wedged in between Edward's thighs. I sink down into the tub further and relax against his chest.

"I would like to die here."

I feel his laughter. His hands find mine under the water and lace together. "Sounds like a good idea."

"Think Bree will care that we stole most of her bubble bath?"

If I looked at his face I'd see a smile. "I'm sure she won't know," he assures.

"Edward, we are going to smell like a candy store. She'll know. This is like bubble gum scented or something."

He only answer me by playfully tasting my neck. I push him away. He finds my hand again and we are quiet for a moment.

"What are you thinking about?" He asks.

I shrug. "Christmas, I guess."

Lips kiss my head. "What about it?"

"Just how weird it is to actually…it's been a long time since I actually celebrated Christmas."

He extends his arms out. I slide my palms over his. Back and forth as we talk.

"We had a Christmas together. I remember it quite well. We almost were attacked by moose. All your fault, by the way."

I laugh. "I remember."

"But this is different….right?"

I tilt my head back. I nod. "I don't know what to get Grace and then…then there's your family and friends and stuff…and…I'll play along…I just…"

"Don't want to," he smiles.

"Yeah. Sorry."

His shoulder shrugs. "Bella…I don't want to play either."

"Why not?"

"As much as I love them all…I'd rather be sitting my ass in front of the television watching a movie. It's not weird, you know. Most people dislike the holidays."

My ears are interested. The ears that go to school. "Why?"

"I think it's just more stressful than enjoyable. Look at us," he lets go of one of my hands and sweeps my wet hair from my forehead. "On our own, we're fine, right? Happy?"

I nod. "Yeah."

"But then add in my sister and all of the other bullshit we both carry…plus having to buy gifts and remember everyone and making sure what you buy them is appropriate and good enough and…." he sighs. "Who in their right mind enjoys this?"

I smile. "On TV and in movies they always make people seem so happy."

His eyes lower, with his voice. "A conspiracy, I tell you."

I love his teasing. I kiss it.



"What were you thinking about?"

His hand finds mine again. I lean back into his chest.


"I'm serious."

"So am I."

"What about me?"

"Your schooling. Your therapy." He shifts his hips a little. "Amongst other things."

I laugh. "I must add to my list of things to do: 'teach Cullen how to make a proper dirty joke.'"

"You have a list, do you?"

"My shrink forces me, against my will. Yes."

His smile is in his tone. There is also honest curiosity. "What else is on this list?"

I shrug. "A lot of things."

Softer. "Like?"

"Mostly boring shit. But some serious stuff….like he thinks I need to set goals on paper in order to make them seem less challenging or something. Like that's possible."

A pause. He's being careful. "What's your next challenge?"

"I'm supposed to go see Renee. Talk to her or some shit."

He doesn't press any further. My mouth won't shut up though.

"You really believe what you said, Edward?"


"About your mom. That if she wanted to know you she'd come and find you."

And he knows what I'm asking. The pause tells me so. "That's what I think, Bella. Yes. But…but there is always room for misunderstandings, I suppose. Not everything is always black and white."

"What if it's black and white between Renee and I?"

He shrugs. "Then she gets to miss out on knowing a really beautiful girl."

I meant to wonder silently. "What if it's not black and white?"

"What do you mean?"

Have to say it now. "What if she wants to know me? To fix this shit?"

His hand finds my face. "Is that what scares you most?"

"I'm used to her not being around. Not wanting to give a shit about me. What if she…what is she wants to and I can't forgive her? What if I don't want to know her?"

"I think I already answered this." Lips kiss my face.

I find his eyes and see the love in them. It burns so brightly. My fingers touch his chin.

"Would you go? If I go and try to see her someday…would you come?"

He pulls my fingers down, until they are over his lips. "Mmhmm."


An old lady smiles as she passes by. Not at me. Grace. On my lap. I'm asked her age by almost every person entering the mall. She is asked if she is here to see Santa. They don't wait for an answer. They just make faces and give praise. I have said a million thank you'sthat I don't mean. I am too irritated to be honest.

"This is boring."

I look over to Bree. "Just five more minutes."

"We have been here for forever," she whines.

"I know. Just…just a few more minutes, okay?"

She sits back on the bench, arms crossed. Jacob hops off the bench and makes a game, tossing rocks into the parking lot. She joins him. Grace starts to get cranky. I bounce her on my knee and Edward will kill me if she catches a cold from being out here this long.

Damn Alice.

"Come on." I stand and place Grace into her stroller.

We walk around the mall and buy presents from Edward's list…and over-priced pretzels. I am supposed to help Bree find gifts for her parents. They will be here tomorrow. Cullen is helping out at the hospital this week still and I just hope I get this shit right. I try to stick to his list of things that are okay and not okay.

I have another list, of sizes from clothes Grace has in her closet. Numbers Esme gave me, too. I wish she was here. Damn Alice.

I also have a list of things to get for the tree. Rose and Emmett are going out of town for the holidays and Alice has decided to decorate Jasper's tree instead of Edward's tree - that damn HUGE tree she requested - and I haven't decorated a tree since I was a kid. I hope he doesn't expect that classy shit they used to do. I'm not the matchy-matchy type.

By the time we get home, I am exhausted, but then there's that damn tree again.

"Do you guys know what bag the lights are in?"

I only help with the stuff they can't do. They seem to be having fun.

At least someone is.

A few hours later, I hear the garage door and then his keys.

I know she can't….fuck I just say it anyhow. "Daddy's home." I walk with her on my hip and she doesn't need words. She sees him and says with her arms what she wants.

His lips kiss her neck repeatedly as he hugs her to his chest. His eyes closing briefly. He's tired, sure, but that's not why.

He looks at me. "Hi, baby."


He holds her head as he leans down to kiss me.

"I bought pizza for dinner. The kids wanted it. It's cold, but I can reheat it."

He nods. "Pizza sounds great."

"Didn't catch a break today, huh?"

"Nope." He sits down at the counter with Grace. "But I'm sure we both could say that."

I want to laugh, knowing he means the kid situation, but there's a lot of truth to that sentence. My face must show it.

"Alice didn't show up, did she?"

I shake my head. His face isn't happy, but I don't want that.

"It's alright. I still got everything done. It's fine." I turn around and place the pizza in the oven.


What is there to say? Food. Food. Food. It is pretty much the same as the first one I spent here. Except, I don't end up with Edward in my room, eating pumpkin pie in the midst of a mental breakdown.

Alice is here with Jasper, but they are putting on smiles and not really paying too much attention to us. She pays attention to Edward, just not me. I just hang out with the kids for the most part. Bree's mother is actually a warm, kind person in comparison to Alice. I talk with her for a while. I want to give Edward time with his family. I don't want him to feel like he has to choose.

Plus, there is Jacob. I don't want him to feel like an outcast among a bunch of….I pretty much don't want him to feel like me.

We sit on the couch together and eat our pie. He is mostly watching Bree as she parades around in her red dress.

"Is she a dancer?"

I nod. "Yeah. Ballet."

"Is that what she's doing? Ballet?" He's talking about the little act they are making her put on.

"I guess. I don't really know a lot about dan…" I nearly choke on my words. "I don't know, Jacob."

He grins. "She probably looks hot in one of those stretchy things."

I make a face. "Do you want me to have Dr. Cullen end your life?"

He laughs and shrugs. "It's true."

"Keep those thoughts to yourself. Seriously. Edward will kill you."

"Why does he care so much anyhow? It's not like I like Grace or something…I mean, I like her, she's cute, but not like Bree."

"Bree is his niece."

"Yeah but…she's not his daughter. Why does he care?"

I talk around the pie in my mouth. "Because he's a good person, Jacob. And they have a special bond type of thing."

So does he. "Why?"

Cool whip is grand. "She has one of his kidneys."

Jacob's eyes go wide. "What? Eww. Why?"

I lick the back of my spoon. "Because she needed one. She was sick. She would have died."

His face looks back to her. And I think over the course of the next fifteen seconds, Jacob goes from being eleven to thirty.


There is nothing better than Edward in Christmas pajamas. Nothing.

Okay, that's a lie.

Grace in her pajamas with messed up hair and a sleepy face.

But that's about it.

We are having our own 'private' Christmas morning before the madness begins again. Over at his parent's house. Grace is crawling through the crinkled up paper as we take a breather to drink some coffee.


I glance over. We are leaned against the bottom of the couch, On the floor.

"No offense, but that is the ugliest tree my house has ever had," he laughs.

So do I. My jaw drops in false-horror.

"But you know what?" He continues.

My brows answer.

He leans over, under my ear. Low. "I love it." A kiss to my neck and Jesus. Happy Birthday.

A small hand on my foot interrupts. I lean forward and pull her into my lap. I have learned this part. With my fingers. It took fucking forever. I swear, Edward's brain must be twice as big as mine.

"Are you ready for Mommy's present?"

She smiles and I swear it is the best smile ever. Edward grabs the last gift for her on the floor. I hold her while he helps her unwrap it. Well, her version of what unwrapping is, anyhow. When they get to the white box, my heart is so nervous. I'm not sure if I did okay. He said the clothes were perfect. But this…this isn't clothes.

I watch his face as he lifts the lid. He glances up and I think I did okay. He looks back down and his fingers pinch the string, pulling it from the box. Grace reaches for it and my heart feels light and high. He extends his arms and takes her, rising to his feet. He whispers something in her ear, which is odd, but he does, as they walk to the window.

Edward licks the back of the suction cup and then sticks the sun-catcher to the glass. He takes a seat on what used to be Tanya's bench. Grace points at it and just stares.

And this window…this window is ever changing and always…for the better.

As we clean up the paper from the floor, I am presented with a gift that I never saw. He smiles shyly.

I shake my head. "We agreed not to buy presents."

"I didn't buy it."

My eyes question him. He laughs.

"Okay…I had to buy a part of it…but trust me, the repercussions for not doing so would have been far worse."

"Am I supposed to understand that?"

"Just open it."

I roll my eyes and tear at the paper. There is a journal. It has an elastic band over the front, holding a card. I glance up and he is looking at it. Open it, dummy. I pull the card out and almost let the contents fall. My fingers grab the paper before it escapes. But the paper is more like…


He smiles. "They're from my parents. Esme thought that maybe…we could use a little time to ourselves. A little vacation."

And the picture on the card makes sense when I look at the tickets destination. "Italy?"

"I told her it was too much."

My face agrees.

"That's why I bought the journal. In case you wanted to hit me with something." His attempt at holding a serious face fails…and I love his smile.

"I like the journal. I don't get it, but I like it."

"Just not the tickets?"

"It's a little much, like you said."

He nods. "We don't have to go…I know there's a lot going on."

"But…you want to…right?"

His eyes say it. I look back down to the journal. I lift it up and wiggle it.

"Why did you really buy this?"

He shrugs. "I thought if we went, you might want to write in it. And if we don't go…then maybe you'd still like to write in it."

My heart could burst from the love I have for him. And I think this is where I'm supposed to try. I'm supposed to step over that invisible line and cross it, where it isn't comfortable.

"I'll think about it. Okay?"

It's a hopeful nod. I place the gifts down and wrap my arms around his neck. He holds me tightly and tells my ear sweet things. I tell them back to his shoulder.

Grace just 'talks' to her sun-catcher.

Saturday - Work

I never realized how much I hated this place until I was free from it for a few weeks. The weather has cleared up and things are back in full swing. I am trying to figure out this damn table chart as one of the other waitresses pauses, smacking gum in my ear. She's cool, but a little…yeah.

"Man, did I just score."

I look over to Peg. "I didn't know you and the bus boys had it like that."

She snorts and nudges me. "No. Not like that. Table fifteen. Total hotness. I'm going to write my number on his ticket." More nudging. "If ya' know whatta mean." Laughter.

I look towards the table. My heart pauses. Then, I laugh too. At the unbelievable.

I look down to the seating chart. Still feels weird. "That's my boyfriend."

She is still staring at him. "He's in my section, Bella. My boyfriend. You're stuck with the geezer and Tom Gropey Fingers at three."

I look up and shake my head. "No, I'm serious. That's my boyfriend. His name is Edward."

Her eyes think I'm joking until no more laughter comes out of me. Her face sours.

Disappointed. "Shit." She glances at him. "Should have known. His clothes are too nice to eat here. Damn. I bet he would have tipped good, too."

I smile. "Sorry."

I walk towards him and feel nervous. I'm not sure what he's doing here. But my heart feels high. A foolish part of me wants to skip. He looks up as I slide into the booth, across from him.

I smile. "Stalking me in your free time, Cullen?"

His eyes like my words. "Nope."

"Have a serious craving for barbeque?"

A faint smile, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "Esme and Alice are hosting Girl's Night. Billy's doing better and Jacob is back with him. Emmett and Rose are doing their family thing." Eyes look to my hands. He reaches over and takes one into his.

There's something going on with him. There's that lost look.

He's talking to my hand. "And you're here. So…home isn't…" he pauses and then, presses my palm to his lips several times. And without words, I know what he's saying. I feel it on my skin and wetness stinging my eyes.

Both of his hands cup mine. "I just miss you, Bella." Another kiss. "I don't want to get you in trouble, though. I'll order something." Another kiss and he lets go, picking up the menu in front of him. My mouth should be used to this by now. It should know what to say to a Cullen who is lost. A Cullen who is deliciously sweet and fucking charming.

"What's good here?" He asks, eyes down on the plastic menu.

I find a voice. "You."

His lips smile, but his eyes don't look up.

"On the menu, Sweetheart."

I shake my head. "Nothing."

He looks up. He's teasing. "I think you're supposed to suggest something, anyhow."

I watch him for a moment. I glance to my surroundings. Back to him.

"The problem with going to therapy, Edward, is that I am supposed to be honest and shit. The problem with drinking is that people do it to mask themselves. So, between having loads of one and not the other…it's kind of hard to bullshit, now. I'm not…" I look down to the dirty on this table. I feel how my clothes stick to me and how I know I reek of fried food and hickory smoke. I know my bed upstairs is cold. I know the guy at table two is going to check out my ass when I get up.

"The truth is that I'm a shitty waitress. Most of the time I can't remember what table order what drinks or food and it pisses off the cooks because I fuck up their tickets. I get shitty tips because of my killer personality and I really don't even care. I'm not good at faking it…not anymore. And tips…I used to make great tips. I used to be a great actress, Edward. But that's when I was good at it. When I wanted to be. I don't want to be."

His hand finds mine again and he talks to them. "Then…come home."

He's looking at them because he thinks I'll say no and let him down. His face…it just kills a part of me. If someone looked in this window right now, they would see the broken and the pain in his eyes. That he came all this way just to see me. Just to not be alone.

He puts himself on the line. He puts his heart out there even though I've done horrible things to it in the past. And while his hands hold mine, I want to reach over and if I could, just hold his delicate heart in my hands, like a fragile paper-winged butterfly. So gently and not let it fly free. Away.


I watch as his brows scrunch. As he looks up. He's waiting for it to get snagged away.

"Alright." I smile a little, so he knows I'm honest.


We lay quietly on the couch. The fireplace is burning and Grace is sleeping in her room. There's no TV on. Just music, softly. There are bags that still need to be unpacked on his bedroom floor. An hour away, there is a rather pissed off ex-boss/landlord. Here, there is lavender-scented cotton pressed against my face and under my palm. There are fingers sliding through my hair and whispered words in between stolen kisses.

"Have I ever told you I love you?" That's one of them.

I kiss him back. "I loved you first."

He smiles as he disagrees. "I said it first."

I try to convince him with my mouth. Both ways. "Doesn't mean you did."

His laughter feels like Heaven against me. A kiss to my forehead. His hand is held out.

"May I?"

"Depends what you are asking."

"Have this dance," he clarifies, with a nod toward the speakers.

I give him my hand and he pulls me off the couch, into the open space of the living room. And in the dim blue and golden, there is everything. Fingers to spin me around, twirl me in a circle and then hold. Surrounded in arms and warm. My cheek to the white of his shirt. Heart to ear and everything. Chin on my on head and safety.

And if they looked through the window right now, they wouldn't see fighting. They wouldn't see anyone lonely or in need. They would just see…