Tuesday, February 26, 2002 | By: Drotuno

Smoke and Mirrors Chapter 25

CHAPTER 25

EDWARD

"What the hell are you doing here?" Mickey growled, her gaze never wavering from an extremely nervous Obie, who was standing on my front porch.

However, I wasn't sure exactly who was making him more nervous – Mickey...or me, Jasper, and now Emmett, who had just joined us.

Setting Bethy on her feet, I knelt in front of her. "Little sweetness, would you please take your brother inside? You can put a movie on or play in your rooms, but stay inside."

"Okay, Daddy," she whispered, and I could see that she was as intuitive as her mother, because the front yard practically crackled with tension. "Can I get 'mooches from Aunt Kate first?"

I snickered. "If you don't, she'll be upset, I think."

Bella set Sammy on his feet, and Bethy took his hand to lead him up the sidewalk. Aunt Kate met them halfway, beaming at them like they were the best thing she'd seen in a long time.

"Elizabeth Renee, come give me love, beautiful girl," she said, kneeling down. "And bring that handsome brother with you." She wrapped them both in loving arms, giving tons of kisses. "Samuel Masen, you're the spitting image of your daddy. And just look how big you've gotten!"

When Caleb joined them, she loved on him, too. He said, "I've gotten big, too, Aunt Kate! Wanna see?" He curled his arm to make a muscle, and she was loving every second of it.

Mickey shivered next to me, and I placed a hand on her shoulder as Aunt Kate led my kids and Caleb inside the house, telling them something about a surprise for later. Sometimes, it was best not to question her.

"You don't have to do this, Mick," I whispered. "Not now."

Instead of giving me an answer, she spun to face us – all of us. Her eyes roamed from Bella, Rose, and Alice, to me, Emmett, and Jasper. "Which one of you called him? Tell me!" she hissed, her hazel eyes blazing like a forest fire.

The girls shook their heads, as did the guys and I, because despite how badly we all wanted to give Obie a piece of our minds, we hadn't called Alaska. At least, no one had told me they'd made the call.

"He wouldn't have just...shown up," Mickey breathed, looking to me, and I could see that she was just barely holding onto her emotions. Fucking pregnancy hormones. "Someone called him."

"Believe me, I wanted to," I told her, giving the front porch a glare, "but I didn't."

The girls seemed to move as one giant hug, pulling her to them, but it was the sound of my full name that had my attention.

"Edward Anthony, get your behind over here," Aunt Kate ordered.

Despite the tension, I couldn't help but snort and roll my eyes. Some shit would never fucking change.

"Yes, ma'am," I sighed, but smirked as she wrapped me up in a big hug. "You look good, Aunt Kate."

"Thank you, child," she crooned, cupping my face.

It wasgood to see her, because we hadn't been up to Alaska in some time. In fact, not since before Sammy's first birthday. I was pretty sure the fact that he was walking and talking was a big shock for her.

"Not that I mind at all, but what are you doing here?" I asked her, glimpsing up to the porch to see that Obie was still fidgeting nervously on the top step. He was just far enough away that he couldn't hear us, though I think Mickey had stopped us on purpose.

"I got a call," she said simply, shrugging her shoulder and giving me a maddeningly all-knowing look.

"Oh, hell, who? And just what does Obie know?" I asked, trying not to point. "Because Mickey's a real mess over this...breakup. I'm not sure she's ready to see him – not that I don't think he deserves all that she decides to do to him, but..."

"I called her," I suddenly heard, and it was loud enough for all of us to look up at Esme. "It was as good a time as any."

"He knows I just about snatched an ear right off of his head when I found out why they really were fighting in my house," Kate stated firmly, giving Obie a withering look. "But he doesn't know why their argument meant the end. Michelle, come see me," she called, and the girls guided her over.

"Aunt Kate," Mickey sighed, falling into the older woman's arms. "You shouldn't have brought him. He doesn't want...the same things..."

"You'd be surprised just what he wants, Michelle," Kate said sagely, pulling Mickey back to cup her face. "And pregnancy suits you, child. You're glowing! Are you eating okay? Have you seen a doctor?"

Mickey cracked a smile. "Yes, I'm fine. I've had one appointment, and I'm eating okay... Well, I'm eating, though not everything stays down."

I chuckled, because it was the truth. Mickey had gone from morning sickness to a sort of all day sickness. Some days were better than others, but she reminded me of Bella when she was carrying Bethy – strong one minute, but throwing up without notice the next. I was damned sure that the stress of the case combined with the stress of facing the possibility of this moment was enough to make shit worse, but Mick had handled it like she handled everything else – by fighting through it independently, blowing off anyone's concern for her.

"She's going to see my doctor in a few days, Aunt Kate," Bella told her, wrapping an arm around Mickey. "I've already made the appointment for her."

Kate grinned wickedly, kissing my Bella's cheek. "Ah, Bella-child... I should've known you'd be all over this... Now," she sighed, turning to face the front porch. "What do we do with this heartbroken boy of mine?" she asked just loud enough that Obie heard her, which caused him to scoff.

Before Jasper and I could move, Emmett was already stepping forward. "Sit your ass down, Obie...before I make you sit. Your fate will be decided soon enough," he said with an evil grin as he cracked his knuckles and flexed his arms. He looked like all he was waiting on was for Mickey to say the word that she didn't want Obie there, and he'd be on it like white on rice.

"Emmett!" all the girls scoffed, but it was my father coming out my front door that made us all shut up.

"Sit, Obie," he sighed, pointing to one of the chairs. "Any sudden moves, and I may not be able to save your future ability to walk. However, I'm not sorry Esme called Kate. There are reasons you're here, and it's time you knew."

"Mickey," Obie said softly, sitting as he was told, but his eyes betrayed him. They locked with hers, and they screamed loneliness, heartbreak, and longing.

"Wild child," I whispered, and her eyes met mine. "Tell him. Tell him, because if it scares him, at least you tried, right? You can go on with how you're going now... Or..."

"Or...he accepts it," Esme finished for me.

"I'd want to know," Jasper stated softly. "We may not want kids, but if it happened... Yeah, I'd totally want to know." He shrugged a shoulder, giving Alice a glance when she wrapped an arm around his waist.

Bella and I had discussed more than once Alice and Jasper's decision not to have kids. We weren't sure exactly what it stemmed from. We guessed it had to do with Alice's upbringing as an amazingly smart child – brilliant, really. She rarely spoke of her family, and when she did, it wasn't always with a happy tone to her voice. Jasper, on the other hand... He'd told me more than one time that the only reason he would've had children was to give grandkids to his mother, but since she was gone, it just wasn't something that he really longed for. Though, together, they made an amazing "aunt" and "uncle" to all the kids. Their patience was endless, and they loved to play with them.

"Okay," Mickey finally conceded with a nod. "Eddie's right. If he doesn't accept it then nothing changes." She glanced up to the front porch, where it looked like my dad was taking a guard-like stance next to the boy. "Obie...let's walk and talk."

"We're not far," I stated, neither apologizing for my tone, nor the fact that Obie heard me. "The guys and I will unload my tools back into the shed. We'll be right there," I told her.

"Edward..." Bella started, but stopped when Emmett interrupted her.

"We're not listening, but he won't get the chance to act like a fool, either," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "Come on...tools."

"Are you calling me a tool?" Jasper asked him, punching his arm as we walked back toward the chopper and cars. "'Cause if you're calling me a tool, Em..."

"Shut the fuck up," Emmett laughed, and I just rolled my eyes at the both of them, walking to the door of my shed.

Taking the keys out of my pocket, I unlocked the door and lifted it up over my head. The sweet fucking smell that hit me made me inhale deeply. It was sawdust, pine, cedar, and a touch of machine oil. My whole body gave a shudder at just how relaxing that smell was for me. As Jasper and Emmett bickered back and forth, my eyes caught a glimpse of Mickey and Obie walking along the tree line. They seemed calm for the moment, so I allowed myself to take in the project I'd been working on before we'd had to leave. Bethy's desk.

I ran my hand over the smooth top, noticing that it needed one more sanding. The two sets of drawers for either side were just about ready, though I still needed to add the detailing, the drawer pulls, and the guides.

"That's nice. What is it?" Emmett asked, setting down my table saw, like it weighed nothing.

"A desk for Bethy," I said, putting the saw back in its rightful place. "She was upset that the first graders had their own desks, but the kindergarten class had to sit at tables."

"Is there anything you won't build her?" Jasper laughed, bringing in my sanders and a few bags of hardware that I'd picked up in California.

I chuckled, shaking my head. "No, probably not," I sighed, smirking at their laughter. "And when Sammy starts to want shit, I'll most likely build that, too."

"Which reminds me... Bella's old tree house could use some repair," Emmett said, looking sheepish. "I was afraid to mention it, but Caleb's started really hanging out in there. Rose says he's old enough to really handle it. It's probably the weather, but the windows stick and the roof needs some work. It's leaking, so if she wants to save that shit in there..."

Despite the fact that Bella had given Rose and Emmett the house she grew up in and that they'd been living in it for close to five years, the tree house would always be referred to as Bella's. Hell, even Caleb said he loved Aunt Bella's tree house, and it truly belonged to him.

"Yeah, sure. No problem," I agreed with a nod. "I'll come over next weekend. We'll put the game on."

Fuck, it felt so strange being back home, making plans for the normal shit we always did – football games, home improvement projects, the kids, and I was sure grilling would be a part of that shit, as well. It usually was. But it always took me a few days to wind down from a case like this.

The guys made a few more trips back to the car and the chopper, and soon, my tools were back to where they belonged. Reaching into my mini-fridge, I passed them beers. Hanging out in my shed was as good a place as any to wait for the news to reach Obie's ears.

Jasper's gaze locked onto the couple as he took a long draw on his beer. "Looks like he knows," he muttered, shaking his head. "Body language is a fantastic way of eavesdropping."

Emmett chuckled, though his eyes drifted toward the house. "Yo, Eddie, does the baby girl know about her desk?"

I took a drink, nodding. "Yeah. Why?"

"She looks like she's huntin' you down," he snickered, stepping back a little so that Bethy could make her way inside my shop. He ruffled her hair, but she ducked out from under his hand with a giggle.

"What'cha doin', Daddy?" she chirped, and I couldn't help but set my beer down and put her on the closest workbench.

"Well, I was thinkin' about workin' on your desk, little sweetness," I told her, tucking her hair behind her ears. "Wanna help?"

"Yeah," she said with a grin.

"Think Mommy will be mad we're out here?" I asked her, raising an eyebrow up, because if anyone could sense trouble, it would be Bethy.

"No," she giggled. "She told me to come play wif you, 'cause she said that you had to get used to bein' home."

Chuckling, I kissed her forehead, because my girls were so fucking good to me. Maybe I did need decompressing time in my shop, and Bethy was the perfect chattering distraction. She'd definitely keep me from killing the guy currently raising his voice to Mickey.

I glanced up to see Jasper and Emmett starting to step toward them. "Hold it!" I growled, standing up straight. "Let them finish. I'm pretty sure this isn't easy on either of them."

I still didn't fucking understand Obie's opinion on not wanting children. Period. As I gazed down at the little clone of my wife and remembered just exactly how she came to be – yeah, we'd totally conceived her in my chopper as I proposed to Bella – I couldn't imagine not having her. She was the very best of me and her mother, as was Sammy. The two of them, along with Bella, were the absolute best part of my life and something so fucking good that it shocked me that I deserved it all.

"Just...give me a minute, Mick!" Obie snapped, walking away from her as he shook his head. He left her standing there as he made his way around my yard.

"Go check on her," I told Jasper and Emmett. "If she's upset, take her inside. I'll keep an eye out for him. Make sure he doesn't accidentally trip and break his neck." I muttered the last sentence, causing them to chuckle.

My ever sharp little girl eyeballed Obie and then looked back to me. "Mr. Obie's sad?"

I took a deep breath and let it out, walking over to the bookshelf that housed catalogs and how-to books. "Not sad, baby. Not really." I grabbed the book I wanted and handed it to her. "Pick out what kind of handles you want, Bethy."

She nodded, blindly opening the book. "Then what's wrong wif him? Everyone seems mad."

I smirked at her, trying my best to figure out how to explain something so grown up to a five-year-old without overwhelming her. I also never wanted her opinion on Obie to change, because she loved learning about the animals on Aunt Kate's farm from him. But how did one tell a child that some adults just didn't want kids? It didn't necessarily mean they didn't like kids, but she could take it to mean it that way.

"We're not mad, baby," I said, turning to pick up the desk's top and laying it across the sawhorses. "You know how you feel when someone messes with Sammy? Hurts his feelings or makes him cry?"

"Angry," she stated.

"Protective," I corrected. "You don't want him hurt, because you love him. That's why everyone is acting funny. Your Aunt Mickey and Obie... Well, they had an argument, and they need to work it out. We're not mad at him, but we don't want Mickey hurt. Does that make sense?"

"But what if Mr. Obie's hurt, too, Daddy?" she asked, tilting her head as she watched me sort through different types of sandpaper. "Dat's not fair, either. When you and Mommy yell, you both get sad."

I sighed, locking gazes with eyes that matched my own – bright green and curious. "You're very wise, little sweetness. You're also probably right." Bracing my hands on either side of her legs, I growled dramatically, "How'd you get to be so smart?"

"Mommy and Aunt Awice," she giggled, grabbing my face and squishing my cheeks.

I laughed, pressing a kiss to each palm. "That's probably true, too," I murmured, standing up straight and pointing to the book in her lap. "Pick," I ordered, taking off my shirt, because Bella hated it when I ruined them. It left me in a wife-beater undershirt, but those weren't as big of a fucking deal as my button downs.

Giggling, she looked down at the book, flipping through pages. Her little legs swung in time with whatever soft song she was humming to herself. Her color of the day was yellow, and somehow, it seemed fitting for her at the moment. She was all things happy and bright, sweet and innocent, but so very smart. Her tiny yellow Chucks were a blur with every kick of her feet.

God, I could sometimes squeeze her to death. And the same went for Sammy. With every little spark of their independence or their own personal opinions, I could just about explode with pride and fear and love. They were by far the best thing I'd ever had a part in. And that was tied with marrying Bella.

Using long, firm strokes, I started sanding the top of the desk. The top needed to be extremely smooth in order for the stain to take. Glancing up to see that Bethy was still right where I'd left her, I continued to sand off the last of the rough edges. I reached for my beer and the rag next to her.

"Did you find anything?" I asked her.

"Yeah. I like these," she said, pointing to a picture of a simple screw on knob with painted flowers on them. They were perfect for her for the age she was now, and keeping them that simple made it easier to change them in the future if she ever wanted something different.

I smiled, kissed her forehead, and said, "Those, it is."

"Hey, Daddy," she said, holding up the book. "Will my desk have this?"

"It can," I mused, scratching my jaw and mentally calculating adding the hutch on top. "You want the shelves and that cork stuff?"

She grinned and nodded, so I apparently, had my answer.

"It'll take longer to finish it," I warned her, because she'd been excited about this thing before we left. She was well aware that once it was done, Alice would finally build Bethy her own computer – something simple, easy to deal with.

"That's okay," she sang, reaching for me. "Can I have it? I can put pictures on it and my books."

"Sure, little sweetness," I sighed dramatically, catching her when she jumped for me with a cheer.

"You're the bestest daddy in the whole world," she sang, kissing my cheek.

I couldn't lie if I tried. That shit never got old. I was well aware that there was only a small window between the time my kids were born to the time they'd start to think I'm an old fucktard. The hopeful side of me wanted them to always think I was their hero, that I fought bad guys and found little hermit crabs on the beach just for them. But the reality was that eventually, my kids would be smarter than me, so for the time being, I wanted every superhero moment I could get my hands on.

"You're just saying that to get out of work," I growled against her neck.

"No, I'm not!" she argued with a giggle. "What's next?"

For the next few minutes, I showed her how to wipe the sawdust off of what I'd just sanded. I set her up on a crate, guided her hands and the rag with the grain so that most of the loose shit would wipe off. Before it was stained, I'd vacuum it to get the rest of it off.

Next, I set her up on the workbench again to help me put together the guides for the drawers. I knew we weren't alone, so when I reached for my next beer, I grabbed two. Obie sure as hell looked like he could fucking use one.

I gestured to the closest chair. "Feel free to hang out. I'm sure the house is...volatile."

He groaned, rolling his eyes, but he stayed quiet as he sank down onto the closest stool.

"Hi, Mr. Obie!" Bethy sang, using two pieces of small wood like drumsticks on her legs. "How's Goliaff and Samson and Maia? Do dey miss me?"

"Yeah," he snickered at her. "Goliath and Samson miss you."

I looked up when he didn't mention Maia, the Husky that my daughter loved so much.

"Mommy says we're suh-posed to go up 'dere for Thanksgiving. Do you think I could ride in the snow?" she asked, tilting her head at him.

"Sure, little one. Samson loves the snow," he sighed, taking a long draw on his beer. "You missed shearing this year, though," he chuckled, glancing up at her.

"I don't like shear-wing," she huffed, her little brow furrowing. "It makes the sheep naked."

Laughs escaped both Obie and me, because that thought was hilarious, but Obie explained it to her.

"We have to shear them, Bethy," he chuckled. "It's like a haircut. If it gets too long, the sheep are uncomfortable in the summer."

"Oh," she said, and then let him be, helping me hold the guides so that I could screw them in.

Obie nursed his beer as Bethy babbled away about nothing in particular. The topics were a wide variety – school, which she was going back to as of Monday, her friend with the stutter, and of course, Kyra playing a cartoon princess. All three very important subjects for her.

As I started to put shit away, tiny fingers stopped me, tracing the ink on my upper arm.

"Tell me again, Daddy," she commanded, but it was in a whisper.

"That's the Cullen crest. You know that," I chuckled. "It's a symbol of Poppy's Irish heritage – um, background."

"I know, but I like Mommy's version better," she giggled, her fingers and eyes still on the dark ink. "Why'd you get it?"

"Oh, that's what you're asking," I chuckled. "I got this for Mommy." I tapped my bicep with one finger. "Let's see... How do I put this? I got this to remind myself that I'm not alone since I met Mommy. That no matter how I mess up, you and Sammy and Mommy always come first."

"Always?" she asked, blinking up at me.

"Always," I stated firmly.

"You don't mess up, Daddy," she sighed, rolling her eyes, like that was dumbest thing she'd ever heard.

"I love you...but oh, yes, I do," I laughed, kissing her sweetly puckered lips. "Just ask Mommy how I've messed up."

"Love you, too," she sang, hopping down from the workbench, "and I'm gonna go ask her right now!"

I snorted, shaking my head, and put the rest of my tools away, pausing just long enough to cover Bethy's desk. By the time I was ready to pull the door down, Obie was throwing away his beer.

"Another?" I asked, and he nodded, so I grabbed us each one.

As I handed his over, he breathed, "I'm going to be a father." He looked up at me with a scared shitless expression plastered over his face. "I can't... I don't know how to..." He gestured inside the woodshed, trying to suggest that he couldn't do what I did with Bethy.

I pointed to the closest chair and took a seat across from him. Taking a long, slow drink of my beer, I tried to figure out the best way to help him, though I truly wasn't sure if my way was better or worse than anyone else's way. I was a different father than my own – not that he was bad, just different.

"Who do you see when you look at Bethy?" I asked, because it was absolutely obvious who my baby girl resembled the most.

"Bella," he said, looking curiously up at me.

"Exactly. I see my wife in every smile, laugh, and tear that little girl has." I sighed, sitting forward and resting my elbows on my knees. "I see her in Sammy, too, but Bella would tell you she sees me in them."

"I won't know what I'm doing. I'll be the worst father..."

I studied his face, frowning at the fear that I could hear in his voice. "Bethy was...unexpected. Did you know?" I asked him, and he shook his head no. "We weren't exactly prepared for her, but I don't regret her. At all. She's tangible proof of mine and Bella's relationship. So is Sammy, but by the time he came along, we wanted him, and it was easier to prepare ourselves for him."

I took another drink, looking up at him again. He was staring off out into the darkening sky.

"Do you love Mickey?" I asked him, not only because I needed to know the answer to protect my friend, but because his answer would give me something with which to work.

"God, yes," he breathed, his head spinning back to face me. "More than anything. I've been worthless these last few months."

I nodded, looking down at my shoes and then back up at him. "Then you'll love that baby more. Trust me. It's a different love, but it's strong. And you'll understand what I mean the first time you see him...or her. You'll know that it's no longer about you. It won't matter that your own past was shitty, because you'll do anything to make sure their's isn't.

"You will fuck up. Trust me on that," I chuckled, shaking my head. "You'll use the wrong soap, the wrong diapers, the wrong...whatever. The bottle will be too hot or not hot enough...or you'll forget their lunch for school. You'll pick the wrong toy, the wrong book, the wrong dress..."

"Dress?" he laughed, his brow wrinkling in curiosity.

"Preschool pictures," I chuckled with a nod. "Bella wanted Bethy in one dress, but I put her in a different one, because she wasn't there that morning to remind me. I was in trouble for days. And again when the pictures came out."

Obie laughed, shaking his head, but he sobered quickly. "Mickey says she's not coming back to Alaska."

My eyebrows shot up. "Ever?"

He shook his head no slowly, and I could see pain and nerves. "She wants to move here permanently. She wants me here, too. That is, if..."

"If you can accept being the father," I finished for him, and he nodded again.

I stood up, throwing my unfinished beer into the trash. "I can't tell you what to do. Only you know what you can and can't handle. However, I know Mickey really well. She has no blood relatives, and despite how much she loves Aunt Kate, she knows that we are the closest thing she's got to a real family. She's staying here because she knows we'll help her. If you stay with her then we'll help you, too."

"I don't know anything but Alaska," he countered, grimacing with that admission as he stood up from his chair.

"And that's a decision only you can make," I told him, shrugging a shoulder before pulling the woodshed door down and locking it. "Look, Obie... I'm going to tell you the same thing my dad told me. The woman has all the power. Period. They make the good shit good and the bad shit not so bad. Mickey won't let you screw up. Bella doesn't let me. Those are two very strong, very smart women, and for some fucking reason, they want us around. And I'm telling you, if my wife wanted to move to Mars, I'd sit right next to her on the ship there. Got me?"

"Yeah."

I turned to face him, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "My suggestion... Go with Mick to her doctor's appointment. I think it'll change your opinion. Your fear right now is in your head. Just you wait until you hear that first heartbeat..."

"You think?"

"Couldn't hurt, right?" I countered, guiding him back toward the house. Just before we got there, I stopped him. "Don't hurt her, Obie. I'm not fucking kidding. If you can't do it, then go back to Alaska, but if you commit, then really fucking commit. Don't let her depend on you, don't make promises, and then turn tail and run. The pregnancy and the first year are hard enough as it is on the mother. Don't add personal bullshit to it."

"Okay," he breathed, paling at most likely the serious look on my face.

"She's like a sister to me and those people inside the house," I said, gesturing toward my own front door. "If you hurt her and the child, I won't stop those guys from coming after you. Hell, I might even fly them to you." I raised an eyebrow up at him, and he nodded fervently. "And trust me, the girls are deadlier than Jasper and Emmett."

He smiled, though it was shaky and nervous. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Just...think about it," I told him, starting toward the house again. "Oh, and why didn't you answer Bethy about Maia?"

Obie grimaced again. "Oh, no. I'm out of this one. Let Aunt Kate tell you."

We stepped up onto the porch, and I tugged open the door. What I saw made me groan and shake my head. I was going to kill Aunt Kate, especially when my daughter came running up to me, a bundle of fur in her arms.

"Wook, Daddy! Aunt Kate brought Sammy and me a pwesent! Can we keep 'dem?" she asked.

"Them?" I verified, gazing down at the little gray and white Husky puppy that seemed to think Bethy's face was a lollipop. "As in more than one?"

Bella laughed, and I glanced over to the sofa to see her holding another puppy that was almost black. She was bottle feeding the little guy, and I frowned, because they were way too young to be away from their mother.

"I told you he'd freak." She patted the spot beside her. "Come sit, baby. I need to tell you something."

~oOo~

BELLA

"I'll start dinner," Esme suggested, scooping Sammy up out of his Poppy's arms. "Boys, would you start a fire outside and set up the table?"

Everyone cleared out the room, leaving me, my husband, and the hungry little guy in my arms. Edward sat down beside me, his face impassive as he looked down at the puppy. I'd asked them to give the two of us time to talk it over, and I had told Bethy I couldn't promise her anything until I talked with her daddy about it. This was a huge decision, but it was also a sad little story.

"Bella..."

"Wait," I giggled, shaking my head. "If you say no, then it's no, but you should hear why Aunt Kate brought them." I sighed, gazing up at my Edward. "Maia died, sweetie. She was protecting her litter from a wolf pack, and they ganged up on her. By the time Obie and Tom got out there with shotguns, it was too late to save her and some of the pups. There were only three left...these two and one that Tom is keeping."

"Yeah, but...two?" he asked, and I smiled when I watched him unable to not pet the little guy. Long, gentle fingers traced up the puppy's nose as he suckled from the bottle. "Does Bethy know?" he asked softly.

"Yes." I nodded when he locked eyes with me, his expression sad for her, because our daughter had loved Maia just about as much as Edward had loved her mother, Kia. "Aunt Kate told her the story, but it was easier to take when the puppies were in the room."

"Bella, I don't know," he sighed, sitting back into the sofa. "Two is a lot of work."

"I know, and if the answer is no, Aunt Kate said we could sell them, but they've got to be weaned first," I explained, shrugging a shoulder.

"Oh, now, you can't do that, either," he whined, sounding more like Bethy by the minute, "because if we keep them long enough to wean them, the kids won't want to give them up! That's cruel, Bella. To them and the pups."

I giggled, because he was right. "Aunt Kate also said you owed her one, Edward Anthony. That you've been promising to take a pup for years, and you never have. She said two is payback with interest."

Edward grinned, and it was that All-American, panty-dropping, youthful smile. "Yeah, and that started way before you, sweetness," he sighed, his head falling back to the couch as he groaned. He looked back up at me. "By the way that you're feeding this guy, I'm guessing you're okay with it."

I shrugged, setting the now empty bottle aside. "We have the room, Edward, and we've been promising the kids pets for awhile. So we skip the hermit craps and dive straight into dogs. Besides, baby...look at this face," I cooed, holding up the puppy so that his little nose was practically touching Edward's.

"Don't," he ordered, fighting his smile and pointing a finger at me. "That's not fair. I can't make a rational decision based on cuteness..."

Giggling, I leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Fine, then, just think about it."

"Aw, fuck," he groaned, shaking his head. "If I say no, then I shatter Bethy's heart. If I say yes, then we're up at two o'clock in the morning for feedings again...and then there's house training, fur everywhere, vet visits..." He stopped himself, letting out a deep breath. "Aunt Kate!" he called, and the woman appeared out of the kitchen, wearing a smug as hell smile. He pointed to her. "This was low, even for you."

"Oh, hush, child," she laughed. "It's time for you to give these kids a pet. You had your first puppy when you were four..."

"Pete," they said together.

I shook my head at the name, but said nothing as I ran my hand flat over the puppy's head.

It seemed Edward thought about it forever, but in reality, it was only a few minutes. He took a deep breath, let it out, and then called, "Bethy, Sammy, come in here."

Both kids ran into the room, the gray puppy right on my daughter's heels. It seemed they'd already bonded. Edward saw it, too, and shook his head slowly, snorting softly at the sight. Bethy walked to her dad, and he bent down to scoop up the other puppy. Sammy walked to me, his little hand lightly touching the fur of the one in my lap. Both kids gazed up at him, waiting for what he'd say.

"So," he sighed, running a hand through gray fur and then glancing at his kids. "I guess we're not getting hermit crabs..." he said sadly, smirking at his daughter's fidgeting. "You'll be too busy with puppies..."

The squeal that Bethy let out was loud and happy, laced with a giggle as she jumped up and down.

Edward's laugh was soft, but he looked over at me. "Are they both males?" he asked, and I nodded. He turned to the kids, mainly Bethy, because she understood more of what was going on. Sammy just stayed quiet. "Well, they need names, don't you think?"

"Yup!" she chirped, nodding vehemently. "But I don't want Smiff and Wesson."

I laughed, burying it in the top of Sammy's head. "What'cha thinking, pretty girl?" I asked, still giggling, but it was Caleb that bounded into the room with the answer.

"Lock and Load, dude!" he yelled, looking just like Emmett, which only drew loud laughter from the kitchen.

"Lock," Bethy reiterated with a smile and a nod, pointing to the gray puppy and then to the black one, "and Load."

Edward cracked the fuck up, and I joined him, because it something I was sure they'd all heard their dads say more than once. He handed her the gray pup, still chuckling.

He looked over at his son, who was just quietly observing the whole thing, and then over to me. "Okay...Lock and Load, it is."

~oOo~

The car was eerily quiet after dropping Sammy off at Mrs. Cope's and Bethy off at school. It was their first day back since we'd left for the safe house, and Bethy wanted both her parents to go. However, they weren't the only ones that required mine and Edward's attention today. Mickey and Obie sat silently in the back seat as Edward drove toward Seattle.

We were on our way to Mickey's doctor's appointment. I was going just in case Obie couldn't handle it; Edward was going to keep the peace between them. Things were still tense, because Obie hadn't made a decision yet, though while Aunt Kate stayed at Carlisle and Esme's home in Forks, he'd gone back with Mickey to her apartment. I was guessing that they were trying to work stuff out.

If I were playing devil's advocate, I'd say that I didn't blame Mickey, because any decision Obie made at this point could be based on the emotions of being without her for a few months. They'd been miserable without each other; that much was obvious.

In Obie's defense... Well, poor Obie was just scared. Everything was changing, and he either had to accept it or get the hell out of the way. He was used to being quiet, in the background, and he shied away from everything up at Aunt Kate's. He'd had a rough childhood, having been tossed aside by both of his parents, but he couldn't shy away from this, nor could he stay in the background. If he chose to be with Mickey, he had no alternative but to be a father, and Mickey was determined to stay in Forks, so he also had to move away from everything he'd ever known.

I let out a slow breath, and a warm hand met my thigh, giving it a squeeze. We were both nervous for them, because this one doctor's visit could change everything. For Mickey, she'd get to see her baby a little bigger than the last time. For Obie, he'd see proof that this situation was indeed real. There was no going back for either of them.

Linking my fingers with Edward's, I squeezed back. I was a lucky, lucky woman. Edward dove into fatherhood without even blinking. And he was an absolute dream daddy to his kids. He gave them time, love, his ear, and his knowledge. There wasn't much they asked for that he wouldn't give them.

Edward pulled into the parking lot and shut off the engine, holding out his hand.

"I didn't bring a gun, Edward," I sighed, rolling my eyes. "If I have to kill Mindy, it'll be with my bare hands."

Edward laughed, and Mickey joined him.

"Is that the bitch from school, pretty boy?" she asked, opening her door.

"Yes," I laughed, getting out at the same time. "She's regretting being mean..."

The crew was well aware of Edward's old stutter by now, because they watched Bethy struggle with it. Not one of them teased him about it. They knew him, knew about his mother's death, so they wouldn't dare rag on him for it, especially considering they'd never heard him do it. Only the kids and I had heard that sweet stutter of his.

So when the girls heard the story of Mindy from Forks Middle School and High School, how she'd teased him due to his stutter, his smaller stature, and his shyness, only to change her mind once he'd filled out, outgrown his speech impediment, and become a little more outgoing, they wanted their hands around the stupid woman's throat just as badly as I did.

"Well, shit," Mickey chuckled, grinning up at Edward. "I sure hope she still works here, because I totally need to take my frustration out on somebody. Come on, Bells, let's see if she still has a staring problem."

Edward groaned, rolling his eyes and shaking his head as he held the door for us. Mickey and Obie walked up to the desk, and Edward sat in a chair, pulling me down next to him.

"Behave, sweetness," he warned low and sexy in my ear. "I don't need protecting, nor is Mindy worth your time." His palm rubbed my thigh slowly, eventually giving my knee a tickling squeeze.

Laughing, I fought his fingers. "Okay, okay, okay," I chanted through breathless giggles.

His low, sensual chuckle gave me goosebumps as he gave my neck a long, slow, open mouthed kiss. He pulled back a bit, glancing around the waiting room. "This place brings back memories," he whispered, kissing my lips lightly.

"Yeah, of hormones, anger, and just...fat..." I laughed, rolling my eyes when he scoffed.

"You were fucking gorgeous pregnant, baby," he stated, waving me off.

"So you told me...repeatedly," I muttered, smiling when Mickey and Obie were indeed greeted by the one and only Mindy. "Well, look who it is..." I sang, just to tease him, snickering when his gaze shot up to the front desk.

When his eyes landed back on me, they were fierce, dark. "You know, she'll never speak to me," he said softly, wearing a smirk that was as sexy as it was smug. "Never."

"Why's that?" I asked, thinking that she could certainly stare.

"I told you what she did when I first moved to Forks, Bella, but I didn't tell you what I did just before Dad sent me to military school," he chuckled, raising his eyebrow up one time as he glided his tongue along his bottom lip. "I told you that I played baseball and started hanging out with the wrong crowd."

"Right," I said, dragging the word out. "You got caught smoking weed..."

"Yes, but just before that is when Mindy changed her mind about me, started flirting instead of making fun. My stutter was gone, and I'd hit a growth spurt at sixteen."

"Mmm, I bet you were cute as hell," I purred, grinning at his scoff and eye roll.

"I was also with Dana at the time," he added, raising an eyebrow up at me.

"Ah, yes, the only long term girlfriend, besides myself, and the girl who was willing to do long distance for you overseas, because she'd already done the long distance thing from Forks to your military school," I sighed dramatically, feigning jealousy.

"Yes, smart ass," he growled, rolling his eyes, and I couldn't help but snicker at him. We knew each other so fucking well.

"And?" I prompted with a laugh, but we both glanced up when Mickey was called back, both of us willing to go with her, but Obie quietly took his place at her side and they disappeared behind the door. "And?" I laughed, glancing back at Edward and nudging his shoulder with my finger.

"And...I sort of set her up," he chuckled, shaking his head. "See, Dana wasn't happy that Mindy was suddenly flirting with me..."

"Can't say that I blame Dana," I huffed haughtily, giggling when he kissed me quickly.

"Hush, sweetness," he snickered. "Mindy may have stopped picking on me, but she hadn't stopped picking on...others." He raised up his eyebrow again. "There was a kid in the Audio/Video department that had a crush on Dana, so we asked him for a favor. We also knew the kids Mindy picked on – some more than others – and one of them just happened to be the A/V kid's friend. That was the same girl that helped me out in biology."

"Oh, hell, you broadcast that shit all over the school, didn't you?" I laughed, covering my mouth, because that was some evil, but very funny shit.

"Yes, ma'am," he chuckled, nodding slowly. "I warned Margaret that it would happen. She was a mousy little thing, but she was smart as shit in science. I liked her, didn't want to see her fucked with anymore, but I also needed Mindy off of my ass, because...well..."

"Your girlfriend didn't like it," I finished for him. "I said I didn't blame her, Edward."

He grinned, stating, "So Margaret baited her one day...getting her to start threatening her, picking on her. It was broadcast all the way from the gym to the principal's office. Mindy was humiliated in front of the whole school, especially when I made sure to walk by."

"Oh stop it!" I gasped, my gaze flickering from my husband to the woman that was back behind the desk. "She did not 'Hey, Edward' you did she?" I asked, knowing how girls like that sounded, all sing-songy and pathetic.

"Yup," he laughed, "and it was all over the school. She never spoke to me again, because she was suspended for bullying that very day. After that, no one let her live it down – especially the baseball team."

I laughed, my head falling back to the wall behind me with a soft thump. "Okay," I snickered. "She may live, then. She's had enough Edward-drama to last a lifetime."

Edward barked out a laugh, but kissed me sweetly. "Truly," he purred, pressing his forehead to mine. "In fact, I'm not sure why you put up with it..."

I giggled, biting my bottom lip. "Ask me that again when we're home alone, Edward, because I'm not listing all of your...assets in public."

"Hmm," he mused, narrowing his eyes at me. "Don't tease, baby."

"So not teasing," I chuckled, shoving him back when Mickey and Obie appeared back into the waiting room. "Well, how'd it go?" I asked, my question mainly directed at Obie, because he was pale as a fucking ghost.

"I'm right on target, the doc said," Mickey stated, holding up the sonogram picture, and I couldn't help but coo at it, because she was far enough along that fingers, toes, and a little face could be seen in almost perfect clarity. "She said that all my vitals were strong and that I'm exactly where I should be. She also thinks that I'm closer to three months along."

"That's good news, wild child," Edward praised, draping an arm around her in order to look at the picture. "Maybe next month, you'll be able to find out whether it's a boy or a girl."

"I hope it's a girl," Obie finally spoke, though it was barely above a whisper. He grinned sheepishly up at all of us when we looked over at him. "I could see her heart! Hear it beating!"

Edward chuckled, slapping his shoulder. "Told you, man. Makes it real, right?"

Mickey rolled her eyes, folding her arms across her chest, and glared over at Obie. "Well?" she asked him.

The shy thing that he was, he dropped his gaze to the floor. "I guess I'm moving to Forks," he said softly, meeting her gaze. "If you'll still take me..."

Edward rolled his eyes and took my hand, leaving them behind for just a moment. He kissed the side of my head, chuckling a bit. "Yeah, sweetness, you're right. They are more stubborn than we are."

~oOo~

"Wait, if you're s-so c-clumsy…Why do you have a fort in a tree?" Edward asked with a chuckle as we climbed up the ladder.

I laughed. "Don't think I haven't fallen out of this thing. It was here when we moved in. I've only just in the last year proven I can climb those steps."

The memory of first meeting Edward when I was twelve made me smile as I sat up in my old tree house. We were all over at Rose and Emmett's, trying to repair the thing before winter truly rolled in. Due to the rain, some small leaks here and there, and Caleb not really using it, my old fort had fallen into disrepair, so Emmett had asked the guys to come over and fix it up. Caleb had also asked me to take down all the "girly stuff" that I'd left in there, because he was now big enough to use it, according to his mother.

So that was what I was doing – packing up some of my old stuff for Bethy to have, throwing away some things that had been ruined, and stripping away all remnants that a girl had once used that tree house.

Reaching up, I took the yellow curtains down, knowing they'd most likely be replaced with camo or blue, and I gazed out over my old backyard. My kids, Caleb, and Abby were all running around, two chubby, fluffy puppies right at their heels.

It had been three weeks since we'd finished the case, only to come home to find Aunt Kate there with the dogs. Lock and Load were doing just fine. In fact, they were just about weaned, and house training was getting there, though it seemed to be a slow and frustrating process. Their little ears were starting to stand upright, and they looked like small wolf cubs. It was official; they were a permanent part of the family.

Lock was obviously Bethy's dog, having the same happy, hyper personality as hers. Load was exactly that – a load – all chubby and slow, but so very sweet, and he was wherever my son was. He was the laid back, sleep all day, easygoing one of the two pups. Load never cared if Sammy pulled too hard or used him as a pillow; he was just content to be. However, when the kids were at school, Lock and Load were at Edward's heels just about all damn day. At first, he'd never mentioned it, but as the days turned into weeks, he actually called for them if he was going outside.

Screams of girly disgust echoed up from the back porch, and I laughed softly to myself as Caleb thought it would be hilarious to throw pumpkin goo at Abby and Bethy. Rose, Sarah, and Alice were helping them carve Jack O'Lanterns and finish up decorating for Halloween. Trick-or-Treating was tomorrow night. Costumes needed one last check, so Makenna was working on those. Caleb insisted on being Batman, Abby was going as Tinkerbell, Bethy was a princess, and Sammy was "'Piderman."

"Caleb Edward McCarty!" Rose hollered. "Cut it out! That's just nasty." She then turned to Mickey, who was chuckling and rubbing her just now starting to show bump. "See? That's what you have to look forward to..."

Giggling, I got back to work. Edward, Jasper, and Emmett had gone to the hardware store for new roof tiles, and they would be back any minute, leaving Alec to start grilling and to keep an eye on the game. I was supposed have finished before they got started, because it would be loud inside that tree house once they started pounding on it. Carlisle and Esme were also due at any moment, having taken Obie and Aunt Kate back to the airport.

Obie... I sighed, shaking my head. He'd become obsessed with Mickey's pregnancy, determined to make shit right. He and Aunt Kate had stayed as long as they could, but they'd needed to get back to the farm. Aunt Kate was going before the weather became too bad to fly in, and Obie was going home to pack; he was officially moving in with Mickey. Edward had offered to fly up there when he was ready, load up the chopper, and move him back, because he didn't have a lot of stuff to begin with.

Mickey was also due for another doctor's appointment. We were all hoping that this time, even though it would only be her four month checkup, she'd find out what she was having. The bets had already been placed. My girls and I were hoping for another girl, just simply because it was a gender thing, and Edward was with us. He couldn't wait to tease Mickey about having to go pink and lacy and girly. The rest of the guys, however, were looking for a boy. I think they were just trying to even shit up. With Abby, Bethy, and now Benny's little girl, Hannah, that made for three girls among us. They wanted to make shit fair by giving Caleb and Sammy another guy to hang with.

Dropping another bag of garbage down to the lawn below, I went back to packing up some of my old books. They'd been raided by all of us throughout the years, but most still remained on their shelves, all dusty and lonely. I packed up old CDs and threw away my old posters, except for the one of Alcatraz, which I carefully pulled down and rolled up, never mind that it was a little faded.

~o~

I turned on the stereo, and we sat down. Edward looked around at all my posters, quietly absorbing my private world.

"I want to travel," I whispered, feeling a little exposed now that he was up there. "Those are places I'd like to see."

"New York…London…Paris…Italy…" he muttered, and I noticed when he was calm, comfortable, the stutter evaporated. "I've been there," he said, pointing to the poster behind me. "San Francisco."

"I want to see Alcatraz," I gushed, smiling at his laugh.

"It's cool. Kinda c-creepy."

~o~

Dear God, Edward had been so fucking cute back then, though if I thought about it, he wasn't much different now – sweet, funny, quiet, polite. He'd grown up to be a hardened soldier, but deep down, he would always be the beautiful, stuttering boy in that tree house to me. The boy that had told me he wanted to fly helicopters in the Air Force, and the very same boy that had listened as I'd chattered on and on about being an FBI agent so I could catch bad guys.

I pulled the last book down, and with it came a fluttering piece of paper. Thinking it was an old note from Rose from when we were in school, I opened it up, only to gasp.

~o~

"Kids, where are you?"

"Up here, Dad," I called out, giving Edward an eye roll. "He knows where I disappear to," I muttered. "It's not a state secret…"

"Right," he chuckled, setting his magazine down. "Got a pen?"

I nodded and handed him one.

"My email and cell number…I'll send you pics of Alcatraz," he told me, handing me a slip of paper before scooting towards the door. He stopped, turning toward me. "Thanks for not laughing…most p-people d-do."

"Thanks for helping me up."

"I knocked you d-down to b-begin with!" he laughed, opening the hatch leading to the ladder. "It's only fair, B-Bella."

~o~

"Sweetness?" Edward called, climbing up into the now almost empty fort. "We're back. You almost done, love?" he asked, sitting down in front of me, and the dèja vu was almost overwhelming. "What's wrong?"

I just shook my head, handing over the scrap of paper that had stayed pristine between two of my books. His script was just about the same, though now it was a little more fluid, not so boyish, like when he was thirteen. On it was his name, phone number, and email address.

"No shit?" he chuckled, gazing down at the paper and then back up at me. "Wh-Where th-the h-hell w-was th-this?" he asked with a happy grin, but the fact that his stutter returned with that little slip of paper just about made me kiss him stupid right there. I wasn't so sure I would be able to stop myself if he did it again.

"Between The Secret Garden and The Wind in the Willows. I think I was hiding it from Charlie," I giggled, shrugging a shoulder. "I don't know why. He knew we kept in touch for a little bit. For God's sake, the whole house knew when I got an email from you..."

Edward laughed, his cheeks tinging a little pink. "Damn, I never would've guessed that you still had this," he sighed, gazing up at me, his eyes evergreen, happy, and so very loving.

"I didn't think I did," I chuckled, giving the empty bookshelf one last look before closing up the last box. "Don't you dare fucking lose it, Mr. Cullen. That's getting framed or something."

Edward leaned to the side a bit, pulling out his wallet, and he tucked the little slip of paper carefully inside, only to put it right back. "Okay?" he asked, highly amused at the whole thing.

"Yeah," I snickered, rolling my eyes. We were so fucking stupid about our simple one-time meeting, but I wasn't sure it could be helped. And I also wasn't sure it didn't come later on, after we'd discovered just how much our mothers wanted us to know each other from the time they'd been pregnant with us.

I tugged down the last curtain, throwing the old faded fabric into the bag I had for garbage. Edward dropped it down below for me and then pointed to the two small boxes.

"Books," I said softly. "Some Bethy will be able to read soon."

Edward gave another solemn, but studying gaze around the fort, reaching out to drag a thumb across one of the window sills, because it needed to be replaced. The wood was warped, and the paint was cracking.

He huffed a small, soft laugh through his nose, shaking his head slowly as he looked around again. "I-It d-doesn't s-seem r-right...a-all e-empty a-and sh-shit..."

That was all I could take. Sitting up on my knees, I reached for either side of his face. Edward didn't even hesitate, but reached for me, too, threading one hand into my hair and the other grasping at my waist to pull me to his lap. It felt desperate, but comfortable, that kiss. It was deep, filling the little empty room with soft moans, heavy breaths, and wet sounds of lips and tongues.

Edward kissed me so thoroughly, so deeply, that it brought tears to my eyes. Gripping the back of my sweater in a strong fist, he pulled me closer, while the his thumb caressed the soft spot of skin just behind my ear as his fingers massaged my scalp. We swept top lips across bottom lips, tasting, teasing, smiling into it all.

Grasping my head on either side, he pulled back just a bit, only to kiss my forehead, my nose, and then my lips again. I leaned in, nuzzling his nose with my own, up one side and down the other.

"Mm, I so wanted to do that the first time I met you," I giggled, kissing him again when he chuckled softly.

"We were twelve and thirteen, Bella," he snorted, but bit his bottom lip as he gazed lovingly up at me. "I can't imagine it would have been all that good."

"Don't care," I sighed, cupping his face and rubbing his stubble with my fingertips. "You were so fucking cute, Edward. You have no idea... Any kiss would have been worth it."

Grinning, he tilted his head a little. "Yeah," he said softly and slowly, looking just like Sammy as his crookedly shy grin quirked up his face. He sighed contentedly, whispering, "Love you, sweetness."

"Love you, too, Edward," I snickered, unable to stop myself from pressing my lips to his again.

"Everyone's here, baby," he said softly, tucking my hair behind my ear. "They want to eat, and then at halftime, we'll fix the roof on this thing."

"Okay," I said with a nod, both of us looking down the hatch when we were summoned.

"Mommy, Daddy...come see my punkin," Bethy gushed, ignoring a bouncing Lock at her feet.

"Just a second, little sweetness," Edward told her. "I've got to help Mommy with these boxes."

"Up, Mommy!" Sammy commanded, holding up his arms and grinning.

"We're coming down, handsome," I chuckled.

"'Kay, hurrwy," he ordered.

Suddenly, our little trip down memory lane was gone. Poof. But that was okay, because that interruption was the result of all our history. And they were beautiful and perfect and smart.

Edward and I looked back to each other and smiled, but he lifted me off of his lap. Climbing down, he reached for the boxes and set them on the grass, only to take me by the waist when I was about halfway down the ladder. He stayed wrapped around me from behind, but didn't say a word.

After one last glance at my old tree house, I sighed and kissed Edward's jaw. "I think when you guys get started, I'm gonna run to the store."

"What for?" he asked, grabbing up the boxes at the same time I scooped up our son and took Bethy's hand.

I giggled and shook my head, kissing Sammy's temple and swinging Bethy's arm between us. Glancing up at Edward, who looked like he already knew why I'd all of a sudden need the store, I laughed, shrugged a shoulder, and said, "I suddenly have a craving for Aunt Jane's apple pie."

1 comments:

nsturms said...

So good!!!! Just got done reading the whole series!!! I love your work!!!!! I have read Island in the Sun also. I love all these Edward's!!!

Post a Comment