Monday, August 12, 2013 | By: Drotuno

Pieces of You Chapter 17 & Pics

Chapter 17: Epilogue – Walking on Sunshine
Jacksonville, FL – October
“Edward,” I pleaded, though it was merely halfhearted and muffled against his very insistent mouth.
He let out a sound that was as close to a trapped animal as a human could make. “I know, I know,” he chanted, squeezing his eyes closed and dropping his forehead to mine. “But fuck me, Sunshine, I’ve missed you.”
Smiling, I cupped his face, tilting my head just enough to brush my lips across his. “I was only gone two days.”
“I don’t fucking care,” he sighed sweetly, his mouth quirking up into a half-smile as I giggled at him.
Not one thing about the Jacksonville airport existed around us for just those few minutes: not the other disembarking passengers, not the calls for loading, and especially not the stares we were receiving as we reunited. I’d only been gone the weekend, but you’d have thought it had been months.
Kate had called me for another photo shoot with Garrett, and Edward had been frantic that he couldn’t go with me. He’d had an art class to teach and hadn’t been able to find a replacement. Though, he had insisted that he drop me off and pick me up, which was a good thing, considering that we’d been unable to get flights out of Gainesville and had opted for Jacksonville, instead. And that only served to remind me that we still had a three-hour drive back home.
I groaned, relishing the smell of the man I’d missed too damn much over the course of two very long, very busy days.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I just…I’m ready to be home. I want you all to myself.”
He grinned, shooting me a wink. “Then I made the right decision. Come, Sunshine. I have a surprise for you.”
Edward lifted my bag to his strong shoulder, wrapping his free arm around me. He dropped a heavy kiss to the top of my head.
“Besides missing me like…how’d you put it?” he asked with a laugh.
“Like a hooker misses her virginity.” I snorted at his laugh, but we’d texted each other the whole time I had been away in Los Angeles with Kate and Garrett, and that declaration had come on the first night.
“Yes, besides that. How was the trip?” he asked, gazing down at me.
Smiling, I sighed. “Good. I mean, it was busy, but I was with Kate and Irina when we weren’t taking shots of his premiere. He’s so calm when people are yelling at him. How he doesn’t go crazy…”
“Who says he hasn’t?” Edward teased with a grin. He dropped another kiss to my forehead. “Jesus, I hated being away from you. Though, at least we could keep in touch.”
It had been a test for us, that small separation. We hadn’t been apart since we’d broken up after the art show well over a year and a half prior. We’d done everything together for a solid ten months. However, texting had become our way of communication when I couldn’t talk.
Some of them had tended to get a little…dirty.
Seeing Edward’s written words had only led to calling him from my hotel room, and that had resulted in a conversation that still made me break out into a sweat if I thought about it for too long. His sexy, smooth voice coupled with the things he was saying had resulted in phone sex – a first for both of us.
When Edward led us toward the airport hotel instead of the parking garage, I glanced up at him. He said nothing until we got inside the elevator. Luckily, we were the only ones in it, because I found myself pressed against the metal wall, a tall, handsome thing looming over me.
“I just fucking knew we wouldn’t make it home,” he panted, his lips capturing mine in a searing kiss.
Completely lost to him, I moaned shamelessly, threading my fingers into his hair. Strong hands gripped, cupped, pulled, and tugged at me as our lips and tongues meshed. His kiss was desperate, but so full of love that I could barely breathe.
The ding of the bell and the opening of the doors made me jump, which caused Edward to chuckle at me.
“Mm, just like that first time in a hotel, Sunshine,” he crooned, his eyes heated at the memory of how we’d simply given in to what we were feeling, and I realized that this was the first time we’d been in a hotel together in ages. “You jumped then, too.”
“I was so nervous,” I admitted in a whisper, shaking my head. “What we were doing was wrong, and you were this…”
He guided me down the hotel hallway, pulling out a keycard when we reached the end. Once we were inside, he dropped my bag to the floor, stalking me sexily until the back of my legs met the bed.
“I was…what, Sunshine?” he asked, his voice deadly and low.
I fidgeted under his stare. “An important person that should’ve only been an assignment,” I whispered, unable to meet his gaze because of how damn intense it was at the moment.
He snorted into a quick, soft laugh, cupping my face to make me look at him. “I’d like to blame the drinks we had at the bar first, but…” He shook his head slowly, smirking down at me. “But no, I wasn’t drunk on alcohol, baby.”
“Me, either.” Smiling up at him, I finally just gave in, just like I had back then. Gripping the front of his long-sleeved T-shirt, I pulled until we collapsed on the bed into a heap. “I missed you. Just…love me.”
“Gladly,” he whispered, dragging me up to the middle of the bed. “You never have to ask me twice.” Bracing his elbows on either side of my head, his body pinned mine down deliciously. “Only this time, Sunshine? We’re staying in bed all night together.”
Cedar Key, FL – December
“Hey, Bob,” I said in a rush as I breezed past him to my door.
He merely rumbled a little as the door slammed shut. A glance at the clock told me that Edward’s last class before the holidays was just about over. And he didn’t really hang around long after this class because it was a bunch of retired women from out of state, and they tended to flirt until he was red-faced. Timing this would be tight because I’d had to go all the way to the mainland to get what I needed. Cedar Key was great, but everyone knowing everyone else had its good and bad points. One of the bad points was that everyone would’ve known my business before I even reached home.
I headed straight for the bedroom and into our bathroom, slamming the bag down onto the vanity. Bracing my arms on the edge, I tried to get my heart under control. I didn’t know what I was feeling...or maybe it was that I was feeling too much: fear, hope, worry.
Taking out the first of two pregnancy tests, I followed the instructions. There was no need to wait. The second little line popped up almost immediately, and it never faded over the wait time; it only got brighter.
My heart exploded, and I slid down the bathroom wall, my knees up to my chin. Tears streamed down my face as every scenario hit me. We were busy, we were happy, and this would change everything. Visions of a round face with bright green eyes and dark curls hit me hard and fast, making my breath catch, only to explode back out of me in a harsh sob.
I couldn’t find it in me to move from where I was, even when I heard the front door slam.
“Sunshine, where are you?”
I could hear his long strides get closer, but I stared down at the extra little line on the piece of plastic equipment in my hand. At the edge of my vision, I saw jeans and sneakers in the bathroom doorway.
“Bella?” he asked softly, but when I finally got the courage to allow my eyes to trail up his body to see his face, I realized he’d been right there before. With Jane. And that was proven when his next question was barely a whisper. “What’s it say?”
I simply held it out, and he shook his head.
“No, baby, just tell me.”
More tears spilled down my cheeks as I tried to catch my breath. “I’m...I’m...pregnant.”
Something flashed in his eyes, something I couldn’t place, but immediately, he was in front of me.
“Let’s get you up, sweetheart,” he said, but his voice was raspy, deep.
The very second he touched me, cradling me in his strong arms, I lost my shit completely. I hadn’t realized how much I’d needed him throughout the day until that moment. Burying my face in his neck, my fingers clung to his shirt in an unrelenting and tenacious grip.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he crooned in my ear as he settled us in the chair in the corner of the bedroom. “Sunshine, look at me. Please?”
Warm, gentle hands brushed my hair from my face, down my arm, and over my thigh in one long sweep over and over until I could finally pull back and look at him.
He swallowed nervously, swiping my tears away. “Baby, why are you crying?”
“I don’t know!” I sobbed, shrugging a shoulder, my hands flailing. Suddenly, every thought that had tromped through my brain all day long came spilling out of my mouth in hiccupping sobs. “I’m scared and...and...freaking out..and..and...happy. It’s too soon, and we’re not...I want, but you...I’m sorry!”
Poor Edward looked like he wanted to laugh, but was doing his damnedest not to. However, he cupped my face and kissed my lips softly.
“Shh, Sunshine. Take a deep breath for me, okay?” he crooned against my lips.
Nodding frantically, I gasped air until I could finally focus on the deep, warm green gaze that was waiting so very patiently for me to get my shit together. Once I was able to take a deep breath and let it out slowly, he brushed another kiss across my lips. Edward trailed his fingers down my arm to my hand, turning it over to see the test still there. He gazed at it for a moment.
“I never missed a pill, Edward,” I said apologetically. “I don’t know...I mean...”
He nodded that he heard me when my voice trailed off. “Birth control isn’t a hundred percent, Bella.” He smirked when his eyes glanced up at mine. “Every guy pays attention to at least that fact.”
I snorted at him. “It’s too soon.”
“No, it’s not. It’s fucking perfect,” he interrupted, tilting his head a little.
“We’re not ready.”
“We’ll get ready,” he countered.
“We’re busy and all over the place,” I continued to argue – for what, I had no idea.
Edward snorted. “We’ll get un-busy and focus on what’s important. Bella, I know we said we do things at our own pace, but maybe...” He held up our hands that had the test in it. “Maybe this is our pace?”
Smiling, I kissed him. “We’ve done everything else ass-backwards, so why should this be any different? Right?”
He cracked a smile. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.” That sweet smile fell quickly, though, and he held up the test. “I want you okay with this, Sunshine, because...fuck me, it means the world to me.” He took my chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing me to meet his intense gaze. “The last time I walked in on a scene just like that, all I could think about was how badly I wished it was you. I knew for a fact the last time that it wasn’t mine. I know this one is, and I was ready for this then, and I’m still ready. Shit, Bella, if anyone can do this, we can.”
“I know!” And the tears started all over again because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Edward would make an amazing father. “I’m more than okay, Edward. I’m scared.”
He kissed my lips. “Me, too. But I’m really happy about this, Sunshine.”
Again, emotion flashed in his eyes, and I saw it for what it really was: pure happiness, unadulterated bliss, and a touch of possessiveness that had only shown itself a few times. One time had been back in Chicago when he’d pressed his hand to my stomach, declaring that he wanted to see our babies there.
Taking his hand, I placed it on my stomach. Locking with his now-watery green gaze, I whispered, “You’re gonna be an amazing daddy.”
He grasped the back of my neck, pulling me in for a toe-curling kiss, but now our tears blended together into a salty taste. He wrapped his arms all the way around me, burying his face in my neck.
“I love you, Bella, so much,” he murmured against my neck.
“Love you, too.”
I wasn’t sure how long we stayed wrapped around each other like that, but I finally pulled back to look at his sweet face.
“We can do this,” I said firmly, nodding once. I brushed the stubborn curl from his forehead and dropped a kiss to it.
He smiled. “Oh, yes ma’am.” He swiped at the wetness beneath my eyes. “Together, Sunshine. I promise.”
“So I guess we just got our early Christmas present.” I snickered at his happy smile. “Which reminds me... I heard from your parents, Mom, and Phil. They’ll all be here by the twenty-third.”
“Good,” he said, sounding all growly against my lips as he popped the side of my leg lightly. “I don’t want you overdoing it.”
“I’m not fragile, Edward Cullen,” I sighed, rolling my eyes.
“No, you’re just very fucking important,” he countered, raising a sexy eyebrow at me when I opened my mouth to say something. “Bella, please don’t argue. Not about this, okay? I want you safe and happy and healthy, and I want to take care of you. Does that make sense? I want us to plan this out. We have time. And I swear to fucking God, you and our baby will have everything. You’ll have it all.” Before I could kiss him stupid for just being Edward, he went on. “And yeah, we’ve kinda done this shit backwards, but it’s our backwards, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks but you. Nothing you and I have ever done has felt wrong to me, and this... This, Sunshine, is at the very fucking top of the list.”
Edward still made me stupidly mute sometimes, and this was no different. I could only nod at him in answer and lean in to kiss his lips.
“Okay, baby,” I sighed, smiling at him. “Plans. Together.”
“Yup,” he said with a sexy, crooked smile. “Absolutely together...every step. Ready?”
Giggling and sniffling at the same time, I nodded. “Yeah. Ready.”
Cedar Key, FL – February
“That’s it, the last class, guys,” I told my class. “Don’t forget to take your binders with you. You all did such a good job.”
As I stored the class cameras in the drawer and locked it, I could hear my students – most of them women – greeting Edward on their way out. I didn’t teach a class very often, but occasionally, I’d take on a group of ten or so, mostly stay-at-home moms that were into scrapbooking and wanted to be able to take a decent picture.
Glancing over my shoulder as I locked the last cabinet, I smiled. “Hey, baby.”
Edward didn’t say anything, but started breaking down the long folding tables in the room. Mrs. Stevenson was going to be teaching a painting class in a few days. She did amazing watercolor work.
The furrow to his brow, the clench of his jaw, and his rough manhandling of the tables screamed at me that something was wrong. I leaned back against the desk at the front, running a flat hand over what was now becoming a prominent little bump. Some days, I felt bloated and stretched, and other days, it was all I could do to contain my excitement. We still didn’t know what we were having, but the doctor said it could take a few weeks for him to be able to see. I was right around four months along...and engaged.
That thought made me smile a little and glance down at the beautiful ring Edward had presented me with on New Year’s Eve. It had been our year anniversary of being truly together. He’d told me that he wanted it to continue to represent fresh, new stages for us. I, on the other hand, had been a sniffly, blubbering mess that could only utter the word “yes” over and over.
As Edward slid the last folded table into the storage closet, I tilted my head at him. “You gonna tell me what’s wrong, or are you just gonna take it out on the equipment?” When he started to reach for the easels, I walked to him. “You have time. Mrs. Stevenson’s class doesn’t start for two days, Edward. Stop and talk to me.”
He stopped what he was doing, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, but I hadn’t seen his shoulders slump with stress like that in ages.
“We need to talk, Sunshine,” he muttered, his eyes dark when he looked at me.
There was a time when those words would’ve scared me coming from him, but I knew better now.
“Okay, so let’s talk,” I conceded with a sigh, tugging him by the front of his T-shirt to the desk. I forced him down into the chair and sat down on the desktop in front of him. With a wicked smirk, I kicked out of my sandals and placed my feet on his thighs, rolling the chair closer. “Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”
That settled him a little, and a small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “We’re not having the minister ask that. I don’t give a fuck what people say.”
“Fine.” I laughed, but cupped his handsome face. “What’s wrong?”
He looked pained for a moment, his hands rubbing the outside of my thighs over my jeans, but he tugged me closer in order to kiss my stomach.
“I have news from home, Bella,” he sighed, wrapping his arms around me.
“Good or bad?”
“Neither one is great, but one may cause you to get pissed off,” he said softly.
“Then tell that one second.”
“Okay.” He took a deep breath and let it out, swallowing nervously. “Charlotte called Emmett. She told him that she wasn’t going to be able to keep an eye on the house anymore. She’s moving to Arizona to live with her son.”
“Ah, well, that’s good. She missed him, and she’s not in the best of health.” I ran my fingers through his hair, but his eyes locked on mine.
We’d closed on the Chicago house the previous summer, but Charlotte had offered to keep an eye on it since she lived right down the street. She’d become a sweet friend, aside from a really good landlady. But she wasn’t young, and her arthritis was terrible.
“You knew?”
“Yeah, I knew. Arizona’s warm. She should feel better there,” I explained gently, because Edward had come to really care for the older woman. He respected her, simply because she’d protected me when he’d tried to find me. “Did you think I’d be upset?”
“Yeah, a little,” he admitted with a shrug of one shoulder. “We’ll have a security system put in the house now that she’s gone, but...damn, she’s been so fucking awesome to us.”
Smiling, I leaned forward to kiss the wrinkle on his brow. “Yes, she has. Be happy for her, though, Edward. She’s been trying to get to a point that she could move.”
“’Kay,” he sighed, leaning into my kisses.
“What else?”
Edward physically flinched, but his grip on me was just as tenacious. “Mrs. Cope and I were going over some of the new reservations for May Faire while you were finishing up your class, and...”
“Before I tell you, you have to know that I didn’t know, okay?” he blurted out suddenly. “I didn’t. I swear.” When my eyes narrowed, he groaned aloud, letting go of me long enough to rub his face roughly. “Jane’s signed up for May Faire,” he mumbled behind his hands.
I pulled at his wrists until I could see his face. “Say that again.”
“Jane’s signed up for May Faire.”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod, looking like he wanted to bolt from the room. Suddenly, he started talking rapidly. “I called my dad, and apparently, she’s started painting again, only this time, under the radar. Once she testified against Marcus and he was sentenced, she moved out of Chicago. Umm, Atlanta, I think, which would make sense, because Victoria passed the word about May Faire that far north, but...she knew where we moved, so...I don’t know.” His head fell back as he rubbed his face again. “I don’t know what to do, because...I don’t want her here, but her samples of art that she sent in are amazing. It’s nothing like she’s painted before. And she paid the rental costs up front and everything.”
“Jane’s” I asked stupidly, but really, I was trying to get it to sink in. Florida had become a safe haven from the drama that Jane and her father could stir up. The thought of her here made me uneasy. “She’s coming to see you.
Edward started shaking his head, but he lifted it back up to look at me. “I don’t fucking care. I don’t have shit to say to her, Bella. I can...I’ll have Mrs. Cope tell her that we’re full or some shit.”
“That’s bad business, Edward,” I chided halfheartedly. “You can’t. She’s coming.”
“I’ve done my absolute fucking best to keep her away from you this entire time, Sunshine. I can’t...I won’t let her near you,” he argued, pushing the desk chair back and getting up to pace. His hand gripped his hair so hard that it looked painful. “After all that’s happened, there’s no telling how desperate she’s become.”
“Desperate,” I snorted, rolling my eyes. “She made off with millions after your divorce, Edward. She’s not starving, and she’s not homeless.”
“She’s mostly likely still mean,” he countered, raising an eyebrow at me.
I rolled my eyes again. “What can she do, baby?” I asked him, waving him back to me. When he stepped between my legs, I said, “You’re free of every way. She can’t throw any more stones in that glass house she lived in. By May, though, we’ll be that much closer to getting married, and I’ll be as big as the side of a barn.”
Edward finally grinned. “True. You sure you wanna wait?”
“I’m sure, baby,” I said with a giggle. “Once you’re done with May Faire, then we’ll have more time to plan for baby and wedding, but we can’t do all three.”
The engagement had brought with it questions of when, but with doctor appointments, getting the spare bedroom ready for a baby, and Edward’s full-time involvement with the upcoming festival, there just wasn’t time for planning a wedding. And that was disappointing to all our friends and family, although they understood it. However, more than one time we were tempted to just hop on over to the courthouse.
As if he were reading my mind, he mouthed, “Courthouse.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “If that’s what you want.”
“You know, Mrs. Cope’s a notary...” He chuckled softly, kissing my forehead.
Laughing, I shoved him a little. “Of that, I am aware, handsome.”
Things got serious again, and he cupped my face, kissing me softly. “What do we do, Sunshine?”
Taking a deep breath, I let it out. “She can’t hurt us anymore, Edward,” I stated firmly. “Maybe she does need to see you.”
“You’re okay with her coming?”
“No,” I scoffed, shaking my head. “No, not really, but she has no power over me anymore. Over us.”
Something about that statement calmed Edward completely. The tension in his strong, broad shoulders relaxed, the wrinkle in his brow smoothed out, and a small crooked smile curled up on his very handsome face.
“No, Sunshine, she has no more power here,” he agreed, leaning in to kiss me. His hand found my little bump, spreading over it almost completely. “Not an ounce.”
Cedar Key, FL – May
I stepped out of Sea Breeze and onto the top step. May Faire was an enormous success. It had brought in food vendors – not to mention local restaurants like Joe’s were there with booths – talented artists from all over the South, and tourists from everywhere. The entire main street of Cedar Key had been blocked off and was now lined with white tents from one end of the beach to the other.
In order to keep me out of the heat and sun, Edward had volunteered me to watch Sea Breeze, but Mrs. Cope had just arrived back from walking the fair with Sam Uley, which had made me giggle. Now I was starving, which seemed to be most of the time these days. I was considering walking – or waddling, as the case now was – down to see Jasper, who was manning his grill out in front of Joe’s.
The day was bright and clear, the breeze cool coming off the water. When I stepped down to the sidewalk, a hand appeared in front of me.
“I was just coming to get you,” Edward said with a smile.
“Hi,” I sang, kissing his lips. “Have you seen her?” I asked warily, because neither of us were too keen on running into Jane, though it was most likely inevitable.
“Nope,” he said happily, giving my lips another kiss and my now very large belly a rub. “But we just really got started, so I imagine before it’s all over, it’ll happen.”
“She’s here,” I told him, shrugging a shoulder. “I saw Mrs. Cope’s sign-in sheet.” When Edward nodded and then shrugged, I added, “And I’m starving.”
His smile was priceless and filled with amusement. “Jasper’s already set aside a plate just for you.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “Oh, damn. The whole town knows the feeding habits of the bottomless pit.”
Edward chuckled, wrapping an arm around me and guiding me down the center of the festival. “Not the whole town. Just the ones that have seen you hungry, Sunshine.”
Laughing hard, my head fell back, but we continued down the main street. Edward dropped a chuckling kiss to the side of my head, but the art surrounding me was hard to ignore. Hand-blown glass, folk art, photography, caricatures, comics, watercolors, oils, and so much more, and it lined the street on either side.
“Wow,” I whispered, shaking my head. “I’m...Edward, this is amazing. I’m really proud of you.”
He grinned, and it was shy and sweet and a touch smug, but he had every right to be smug. He’d pitched the idea to Mrs. Cope and started the whole thing from scratch, not to mention that he’d seen to every detail in less than a year. And that was on top of working at Sea Breeze, dealing with a baby on the way, proposing to me, and helping me choose my own art.
He stopped us in the middle of the sidewalk, cupping my face. “Thank you, Sunshine,” he whispered, his brow furrowing a little. “That’s the best compliment I’ve received all day. Your opinion means more than any of these other people. But all this?” he asked, twirling a finger around at crowds and tents. “All it means is that now we can focus on this and getting married,” he said, placing a hand on my stomach again.
“I can’t wait,” I said with a smile that felt watery and emotional, but Edward caused that reaction more now that I was pregnant than he ever had before. However, Edward frowned when I hissed a little, rubbing my belly. “She’s hyper today,” I explained softly.
I moved his hand and placed it where the kicking was hardest, falling in love with him all over again because every time he felt our daughter move, his eyes warmed to a deep sea-green, his breathing caught, and the smile that curled up on his lips was so very happy...and really sexy.
“Damn, feels like she’s doing backflips or some shit,” he said with a laugh, kissing my forehead. “Fuck me, I can’t wait for her, Bella. I swear to God.”
“I know.” I giggled, but glanced just past him to see we were being watched from a tent across the way. “Edward, baby, it’s Jane.”
I watched him steel himself to prepare to turn around, but he shot me a wink before he faced her, linking our fingers together. I hardly recognized the woman that I’d met only a few times – each time she’d ignored my existence. Instead of the hard, cold glare, there was an anxiousness about the way she fidgeted a little, her eyes flickering between Edward and me. Instead of the designer clothes, the name-brand shoes, and the flawless makeup, she was dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans – though they were probably still damned expensive. Her natural blonde hair was pulled back into a long ponytail.
When she saw that we were coming over, she seemed to get more nervous, but I had to give her credit because she faced us head-on.
“Hello, Edward,” she greeted, then looked to me. “B-Bella.”
I was surprised she remembered my name, but her eyes dragged down my body and landed on my big belly first and then onto my hand in Edward’s, which was in a tenacious grip.
“Jane,” Edward said back, sounding almost angry.
“Look, um...Mrs. Cope made me swear not to bother you. It was the condition for allowing me entrance into this thing.” Jane explained quickly, which made me fight my smile at our sly Mrs. Cope. Apparently, our friend had recognized Jane’s name. “But I was wondering if I could have a word with you, Edward.”
Edward sniffed, shaking his head no at me when I started to leave them. I trusted him completely, but they had a long – albeit ugly – history, and I was willing to let them talk. At this point in our relationship, I knew Edward’s heart was mine. Completely.
He gripped my hand harder, but turned to Jane. “Anything you have to say to me, you can say in front of Bella.”
My emotional state was tentative at best since I’d found out I was pregnant, but hearing that from Edward just about caused me to burst into tears. For so long, the woman across from us had taken him from me, caused him to leave me alone in order to protect me from her. Edward was still protecting me, but this time, he was doing it right by my side. I wasn’t even sure he understood just what that meant to me.
That statement didn’t seem to faze her, though, and she simply nodded in agreement. “Fair enough.” She swallowed thickly, looking up at him. “I saw...I saw Carlisle. Did he tell you? I wanted him to let you know that I was sorry, Edward. For everything.”
“Not all of it was your fault, Jane,” Edward stated, shrugging a shoulder. “Your father...”
She snorted a humorless laugh. “ dad.” The bitterness that came through her tone was thick and nasty. “My mother, too. But I’ve stopped talking to them, and I’ve started talking to someone about it. Listen, Edward, I’m sorry. From the time I was little, my parents needed me to be a certain way, to be friends with certain people – or to date certain people. I was raised, groomed, to be to their political agenda. You got wrapped up in that, both of you.”
“No presidency now,” Edward sang sarcastically.
“No, definitely not,” she agreed, but glanced from Edward to me and back again. “He’s doing fifteen years, so no, no more politics. But my dad had you followed, Edward. He knew you were seeing her. His bodyguard had the same app on his phone that I did. When you’d stay too long, he’d call me, tell me to bring you back home. I’m so sorry I never told you. And the baby, well...all of it snowballed all at once. I knew you were done, that you wanted out, and I knew I’d never get away with anything once I found out I was having Seth. I begged him to keep it civil – the divorce, I mean – but he didn’t care, nor would he let me speak. He paid the lawyers extra to ignore me.
“I should’ve told him – both of them – no from the very beginning, from the moment that I started school with you, but by then, I was...”
“Brainwashed,” I provided, which seemed to startle her, but she nodded with wide eyes.
“Yeah, it felt that way.”
Edward pursed his lips together, letting out a deep sigh. “Jane, I appreciate that. I do. But we both could’ve said no. It’s done now.”
She nodded, and I could see the tension leave her a little. “I should’ve said something, but I was scared.”
That part, I understood. I’d seen Marcus in action, and my guess was that if he could threaten perfect strangers like he had me, then there was no telling what he said to Jane...or even his wife, May.
Edward’s eyes hardened a little. “Yeah, I’m not buying all of that, Jane. Some of that, some of those fits you pitched...that was all you. Please don’t try to spin it otherwise. You forget that I know you.”
She smiled ruefully, but nodded. “Yeah, I know. I’m working on that. I just...wanted to explain some things, even if it meant coming to this tiny town to do it.”
He snorted into a laugh. “Well, I’m sorry you had to lower yourself, Jane.”
She merely shrugged, which proved that he saw through to her snobbery – something that was probably bone-deep in her personality by now. Hell, she most likely couldn’t help herself. I’d known girls like her in college; she needed to make herself superior somehow, even when she wasn’t feeling that way.
“Hey, Edward!” we heard behind us, and Edward turned to see a gentleman off to the side.
“Excuse me just a second. That’s security,” Edward muttered, letting go of my hand and walking to the guy in shorts and a T-shirt to shake his hand.
I turned back to Jane, but my eyes caught her work. It was different, better. It seemed to be coming from someplace real and emotional. I’d never cared for the modern things she’d painted before, but the stuff hanging on the tent walls was showing real talent.
“These are beautiful,” I murmured, stepping toward an oil painting that looked angry and sad mixed together. She looked tentative, but I turned to face her. “I probably owe you an apology.”
She shook her head. “Probably, but I don’t want it. Edward and I...we weren’t exactly innocent in that marriage, and despite how it turned really ugly, I cheated first.” She grimaced. “Of my own choosing, which was the sad part, and my dad found out. He made me continue the affair with Jacob in order to...”
“Gain control.”
“Yeah.” She sighed deeply. “ hated you, though. For a long, long time,” she admitted with a smile.
Smirking, I nodded. “I’m sure that was mutual.”
“I’m sure,” she conceded, eying my stomach again. A deep sadness crept over her features, but she masked it quickly and really well.
Rubbing my belly where my little girl was “kicking like a ninja,” as Alice like to put it, I said, “He would’ve helped you, you know. If you’d have just told him, he would’ve tried to do something, anything.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
That statement right there told me that she never really knew Edward. In fact, as long as she’d been with him, she never even tried to truly know him. She didn’t understand that he had an amazing heart, that even though he’d been used, he would’ve listened to her story, to what her parents had done. And right then, I also knew that we’d never be friends and would most likely never see each other again, considering her disdain for the little town Edward and I had truly come to love. She’d needed this closure, not Edward. It was why she’d come down here in the first place. She’d needed to see him in order to move on, which I could see she had, because a tall man about our age stepped into the tent with a big drink and a plate of food for her.
He was wearing an Atlanta Braves T-shirt, so I assumed she’d met him in Georgia. The way he looked at her was so familiar, as was the smile she returned.
A warm, strong hand landed gently on my shoulder, and Edward’s soft, concerned voice was at my ear. “You ready, Sunshine? I want you to eat before you get lightheaded, okay?”
Looking at him, I smiled and nodded. “Yeah.”
I could feel Jane’s eyes on us, but Edward turned to her. “Good luck, Jane. With everything.” His eyes caught sight of the young man, and he nodded one time before leading me back out onto the main thoroughfare. “Bella, you okay?”
I huffed a laugh through my nose, glancing up at his very concerned, very handsome face. “Never better. But if you don’t feed me and this kid of yours, I’m gonna do something rash, like settle for a tub of ice cream or somethin’.”
Edward laughed, wrapping an arm around me and kissing the side of my head. “What my girls want, my girls get. Though, I think I can find you something better than just ice cream.”
“You just don’t want to hear me bitch about bein’ fat after eating said tub of ice cream.”
He grinned. “Damn, right. You’re not fat. You’re beautiful. Come, Sunshine. I’ll take care of you.”
Smiling, I leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Oh, I know that, Edward.”
Cedar Key, FL – May, three years later
Click, click, click
Smiling, I glanced up from my computer to see a sight that would’ve made Edward laugh out loud. Trying to do it without making a sound, I lifted my camera to catch Charlie. She was playing with an old busted camera of mine while sitting on a deck chair, and I snapped off a few shots, quickly sending them to the printer.
“Mommy!” she giggled when she realized I’d photographed her, something she should’ve been used to by now.
“Charlotte!” I countered, shaking my head at how she was a funny little blend of her daddy and me.
Dark curls, a sweet crooked smile, and brown eyes with green around the pupil were just the tip of the iceberg. She was everything we’d ever wanted. Charlotte Sarah Cullen was born in late July after Edward’s first May Faire...and two weeks after we’d gotten married at the courthouse with just a handful of friends and family in attendance.
She was now almost three years old and ruled us both with an iron fist, but she was smart and sweet and silly. The name had been an easy choice. We named her after the lady that not only had given Edward and me a place to live when we’d needed it most – on separate occasions, and later together – but also after the little girl that meant so much to Edward. Our former landlady was no longer with us and had passed away just before I’d given birth, but Sarah was now a teenager and still doing very well living in Chicago with her brother James. They both visited often.
“Charlie, Mommy,” she corrected.
“Yes, ma’am,” I conceded with a nod, smiling at the nickname.
Technically, it had been a joke from her Uncles Emmett and Garrett, but it had stuck. My mother and I loved it because it kind of played tribute to my dad, who’d died when I was young.
“I want Daddy.”
“Me, too,” I told her, typing quickly, because I should’ve sent off the email ages ago, but I was running late. “Hang in there, baby. He said he’d come get us when he was done with work.”
Another May Faire was fully underway – a new Cedar Key annual tradition – and Edward had needed to be up and out early that morning for a last minute walk-through. He’d told me he’d come back for us later when he could spend the rest of the day with us.
Charlie and I glanced up to each other when we heard the front door open and close.
“Where are my girls?” a smooth chuckle resounded through the house.
“Here, Daddy,” Charlie cried, abandoning all toys and thought as she scrambled off the lounge chair and pounded through the living room, only to be scooped up into Edward’s arms.
If I thought I’d loved Edward before – the Edward I’d met so long ago that was so sweet with Sarah – then nothing compared to how he was with our own daughter. Nothing. He wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to her, and she had him wrapped around her little finger. He was an amazing father, just like I’d told him he’d be.
“Where’s Mommy?” he asked her.
“Right ’dere,” she told him.
“I’m almost done, Edward. I just needed to send Kate some more photos,” I told him over my shoulder.
“Okay, Sunshine,” he called back.
“Oh!” I laughed, glancing over my shoulder to see his face in between two chubby hands. “Check the printer, baby.”
His laugh boomed out through the open deck doors. “You gonna take pictures like Mom, huh?”
“Yeah.” Her answer was quick and soft, like it was a secret.
He stepped onto the deck, sitting next to me with Charlie on his lap. “This needs framing.” He held up the picture of our daughter with a camera up to her face.
“No kidding,” I said with a laugh, finally closing my computer. I leaned in, kissing his lips and then Charlie’s cheek.
The shuffling on the steps made all three of us look up.
“Hey, Bob,” Edward and I said together.
Edward added, “You gonna hide back here all day?”
Bob ruffled his feathers, ending with a shimmy of his tail, finally stretching his wings. He liked humans, but it seemed he was hiding from the bigger crowd. Again, it looked like he’d shrugged. However, he rumbled a soft sound at Charlie.
She giggled. “Hi, Bob!”
He let out another sound, but settled himself on the deck rail.
“You two ready?” I asked Edward and Charlie, smiling when their nods were identical. “Okay, shoes, then, Miss Thing.”
Charlie scrambled over to me, and I took her inside to strap on her sandals. Hitching her up on my hip, we followed Edward down the deck steps and out onto the sand. He was a few strides ahead of us as we aimed toward the smell of food and the sound of the crowd. Once again, the art fair was a huge success.
Charlie squirmed to get down, which slowed us down even more, but her quick command brought Edward up short.
“Stay wif us, Daddy,” she ordered, opening and closing her hand for him to hold.
Grinning, I said, “Yeah, stay with us.”
His face was gloriously happy as he waited the few steps it took to get to him. He held out two long fingers for her to wrap her chubby grip around, but his eyes were on me when he leaned in for a kiss.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be,” he whispered, dropping his forehead to mine, his eyes heated and full of promises that he’d fulfill when a certain two-year-old was finally tucked in later.
Humming in agreement, I kissed him again. We’d come so very far since we’d met. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly ours. Every step we’d taken from our affair to our breakup, from his divorce to our reconciliation, to the sweet little giggly girl standing between us. It was just...ours. Our pace, our love, our careers, and our decisions.
Edward smiled and glanced down at Charlie, swinging their hands between them. Charlie squealed in surprise when he scooped her up, setting her on his strong shoulders.
“What’s first? You have me all day, my girls.”
Neither of us answered him, because in the end, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were together. As we stepped into the crowded main thoroughfare, I could see and hear our friends – both from here and from out of state – calling us, and with waves and smiles, we joined them.
The End


Snoopylover said...

Loved it!! Loved it!! Loved it!!! :)
What a great story. Even old Jane coming to make amends. It was great!!

Looking forward to your next story!!

Rainn E said...

Loved this story so much! Such a sweet, happy ending, I'm so glad you wrote it.

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