epilogo uno e due

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epilogo uno e due

Messaggio  simona80 il Dom 13 Mar 2011, 14:00

Epilogue The First
-x-x-x-x-
Near Burlington, Vermont
December 2010
Peter was lying awake in his parents' house staring at the ceiling.
Bella was going to marry him. By this time tomorrow, she'd already be married.
He couldn't believe it.
After everything he had put her through … after all of his fucking paternalistic, asinine controlling bullshit. She took him back. Worse – she didn't just take him back; she was marrying him.
Studentfucker.
Peter rolled to his side and groaned, staring blankly at the old Goo Goo Dolls poster on his wall. He thought vaguely of their song Iris and then shut his eyes.
Why?
Why do good guys always finish last?
What do the Masens of the world always get the girl?
There is no justice in the universe.
She said that he'd changed but really, how much could one man change in the space of a year or less?
Peter groaned again and tried to go to sleep, ignoring the weight that pressed down on his chest like an anvil.
The following morning was busy on the farm. Peter was working with the extra men he had hired when his father went into the hospital. Despite his father's recovery, the doctors had instructed him to refrain from performing manual labour.
Walking back to the house from the barn at eight o'clock, Peter was ready for breakfast. It was cold and the wind whistled through the trees that a Norris ancestor had planted as a windbreak around the large farmhouse. Even Max, the family's border collie, was cold. He ran in circles around Peter's legs, barking at the blowing snow and begging to be let inside the house.
A pair of headlights travelled up the long drive from the main road, stopping inches from Peter's feet. He recognized the car immediately – a newish lime green Volkswagen beetle. He also recognized the driver as she opened her door and placed one Ugg clad foot after the other onto the freshly ploughed driveway.
"Hi," she called to him, waving. "I brought coffee from Dunkie's."
Peter looked at her hands and saw that she was carrying a tray that had three large coffees from Dunkin' Donuts and a bag that contained mysterious treats.
"Come inside, it's freezing out here." Peter waved his gloved hand at the house and followed Charlotte and Max inside.
Mrs. Norris greeted Charlotte warmly and then disappeared from the kitchen with her coffee, leaving the two young people to talk.
"How's your dad?" asked Charlotte as she pulled her ski jacket and boots off before padding in her socks to the kitchen table.
"He's better." Peter's voice was stiff as he sat across from her accepting her offer of coffee gratefully. "He keeps trying to work and my mom keeps telling him not to. It's a never-ending cycle. At least he didn't make it out of the house this morning. Mom caught him in time."
"We sent flowers to the hospital …" Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
"I saw them. Thanks."
They sat in the kitchen quietly until Charlotte reached her hand across the table to take Peter's large paw in hers.
"Peter, I heard about the wedding."
His eyes immediately flew to hers.
"Your mom told my mom." She grimaced. "There aren't too many secrets between them."
He shook his head but said nothing.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"Thanks, Char." He squeezed her hand. He was going to withdraw it but it felt nice curled around hers. It felt familiar and comfortable and God knew that he needed comfort in that moment, so he kept it there.
She smiled at him and sipped her coffee. "I know this is a bad time. But I just wanted to let you know that I'm here."
He shifted in his seat awkwardly and focused his gaze on his Styrofoam cup.
"Thanks," he said gruffly, releasing her hand.
"Do you want to go to a movie?" she blurted out. "I mean, sometime. Not now obviously." Her cheeks pinked up as she searched Peter's expression.
"I don't know."
"I don't want things to be weird between us. We've been friends forever and we promised each other we'd always be friends." She began to score the sides of her coffee cup with her fingernail.
"Things are just – difficult right now. I have a lot on my mind."
Charlotte continued scratching at the surface of the Styrofoam. "I know that. And I promise I'm not trying to rope you into something. I really want to be friends and I want to spend time with you. I know you're busy and … stuff…" She trailed off uncertainly and began ripping off pieces of her coffee cup and placing them neatly on the kitchen table.
"Hey." Peter's hand shot out across the table to catch hers mid-rip. "Relax."
She looked into his eyes and saw acceptance and kindness. She breathed a long, slow sigh of relief.
"We have a history and it's a good history. But I don't want to jump into some kind of rebound thing. It would be too easy to do that with you and that isn't who I am." He cleared his throat and looked her straight in the eye. "And it isn't who you are, either. You deserve to be with someone who is really into you and not – half there."
"Half of you would be better than the whole of someone else," she muttered.
"What's that?" He squeezed her hand and let her go, refocusing his attention on his almost depleted coffee.
"Nothing." She straightened up in her chair and smiled at him warmly. "So are we on for a movie or what? I might even take you to dinner at Leunig's afterwards."
Peter found himself smiling back at her, and the smile was genuine.
"Only if you let me take you to breakfast at Mirabelle's."
"Great. When?"
"Get your coat." He followed her to the back door and helped her with her jacket. When she nearly toppled over trying to put her Uggs back on, he knelt on the sandy, salt licked floor and held her boots, offering his shoulder for stability.
"Half of you is better than the whole of anyone," she whispered, if only to herself.
Peter looked up at her and smiled.
-x-x-x-x-
Two nights before Christmas he was working in the barn, deep in thought. Bella was married now. At least, he assumed that she was. He'd be lying if he said that he hadn't hoped and even prayed that she would come to her senses and change her mind. She didn't have to love him – she could love someone else, anyone else, and he would be happy for her. She just shouldn't marry him.
"Hey."
Peter was startled by the voice behind him.
His sister Heather had wandered almost silently into the barn and was now staring at him curiously, arms folded across her chest.
"Hey yourself. What are you doing here?" He acknowledged her presence and then went back to work.
"I'm staying the night. Chris was called to look at one of the horses on Anderson's farm. They think it broke its leg. He'll be there for a while so I asked him to drop me off. How are you?"
"Fine."
"You don't sound fine." She walked over and stared at him until he met her gaze.
"What? I'm just preoccupied with my upcoming interviews. Six different universities have requested an interview with me at the Modern Language Association meeting in January. That's a lot of pressure."
"Right."
Heather wrinkled her nose sceptically.
He shrugged. "I have an interview with St. Mike's. I'd really like that job. Then I could help Dad out on the weekends."
She looked surprised.
"That's great news. Congratulations. Mom didn't mention that."
She cocked her head to one side and listened to the music that was playing in the background. It was a cover of In the Sun and Peter was listening to it on repeat, over and over again, its melancholy sound filling the barn.
"If you're excited about your job prospects, then why the hell are you listening to this music? Jeez, Peter. I'm ready to slit my wrists already and I just got here."
He glared at her and began walking in the opposite direction.
She trotted after him like an eager colt.
"I ran into Charlotte the other day at Hannaford's."
"Mm-hmm."
"Why don't you ask her out?"
He snorted.
"Because we broke up."
"Yeah, so what? She isn't seeing anybody and neither are you. Chris wants to go snowboarding in Stowe for New Year's. He's going to rent a place up there so we don't have to drive back and forth. Why don't you invite Char and the four of us can go? It will be like old times."
"That's not a good idea."
Heather reached out and caught her brother's arm, stopping him mid-motion. "Yes, it is. We're all friends. It's no big deal. Ask her."
"We can't leave Mom here by herself."
"Yes, we can. That's why you hired extra help. Virgil." She gave him a playful shot to the arm.
"I'm not Virgil. I'm Dante," he mumbled.
"Look, big guy, you need to blow off some steam. You're letting things fester. I can see it. " She grinned at him impishly and tried to tickle him. "Fester, fester, fester."
"Knock it off." Peter swatted her hands away. "If I say yes, will you leave me alone?"
"Absolutely."
His shoulders slumped in defeat.
"Fine. Now get lost."
"Fine. I'll make coffee. And when you come to the house, I'll expect you to call her."
Heather disappeared from the barn and Peter stood still for a moment, wondering what he had just agreed to.
-x-x-x-x-
On January first, he found himself in a chalet in Stowe in the wee hours of the morning. Heather and Chris had already retired to their bedroom, having rung the New Year in already, leaving Peter and Charlotte to drink their beers in companionable silence.
They were both seated on the floor in front of the fireplace. Charlotte was staring at Peter with an inscrutable expression on her pretty face.
"Do you remember our first time together?"
He sat bolt upright and nearly expelled his beer.
He swallowed quickly.
"What? Why are you asking me that?"
She looked away, visibly embarrassed. "I was just wondering if you ever thought about it. I'm sorry. We don't have to talk about it."
He began peeling the label from his bottle of Samuel Adams as he waited for his heart to start beating again.
"Is that something you think about a lot? Our first time?" Peter tried to make his voice sound gentle. He cared about Charlotte and didn't want to make her feel badly.
"Um, don't you?"
"You broke up with me, remember?" He exhaled slowly, dropping his voice. "Where are you going with this?"
"I just wondered if you ever thought about me that way."
He rubbed at his eyes and groaned.
"Of course I do. But what are you trying to do – torture me? I had to stop thinking about you, otherwise …" He shrugged awkwardly.
"I'm sorry." She sounded repentant.
Peter was silent for a moment or two as he gazed into the flames.
"What do you think about when you think about ... that?" he asked at last.
She began to pick at the fibres of the carpet.
"The way you smell. The way you sound when you whisper in my ear. The way the skin on your back feels underneath my fingers. The way you used to look at me when we … you don't look at me like that anymore."
He winced.
Charlotte gave him a thin smile.
"I understand why you don't. It's my fault and I have to live with that. I guess I screwed up, didn't I?"
"Maybe everything happens for a reason." Peter kept his eyes fixed resolutely on the fireplace.
"Maybe. I just wish I could take it back. That I wasn't so stupid."
"The long distance thing was tough for me, too. And we were fighting a lot, if you recall."
"They were stupid fights."
"That they were."
"I'm sorry."
Now he was looking at her.
"Stop apologizing, okay? You did what you thought you should do. I got over it. I don't want to hear your apologies anymore."
"But that's what I'm most sorry about," she whispered.
"And what's that?"
"The fact that you got over it."
Their eyes met and Peter swore he saw tears swimming in her eyes.
She brushed at them quickly.
"Don't get me wrong, they're good memories, happy memories. But after you and I broke up and I started dating someone else, I couldn't help but think about us."
Peter nodded.
"You dated a guy named Dave, right?"
"Yeah. We worked together but not anymore. He moved to Montpellier."
Peter nodded again. "You didn't date him for very long."
"He was nice enough, but not as nice as you."
"Did he hurt you?" Peter's defensiveness began to emerge.
"Oh, no, nothing like that. But when we were having sex he wouldn't look at me. He always kept his eyes closed. I never felt like he was really there, you know? I felt like I could have been anybody. Any girl he'd taken home with him, rather than his girlfriend."
"Charlotte, I –"
She swiftly interrupted him.
"I couldn't help but compare him to you. That's why I brought up our first time. How you insisted that we get to know one another really well before we slept together. How you booked a room in a nice hotel for our first time." She smiled again and looked down at her hands. "You always made me feel special, and that was even before you told me that you loved me."
Peter winced. "You are special. And I'll always love you, Char. I promise."
She looked at him steadily.
"Do you think it's possible that we could pick up where we left off?"
"No."
She cringed.
He reached over to grasp her hand.
"I'm not going to lie to you. I still have feelings for you. But I'm not ready to jump into something right now. And even if I was, we can't just pick up where we left off. I'm sure we're both different people."
"You don't seem that different."
"Well, I am."
Charlotte squeezed his hand.
"I'm going to say this once and then I'll shut up about it. But if that girl, that Bella, didn't recognize you and appreciate you for who you are, then she isn't the girl for you."
Peter took another long pull from his beer and shook his head.
-x-x-x-x-
By the time the winter semester began in January, Peter's father was well enough to supervise the farm workers so Peter could return to Toronto to finish his dissertation.
When the day of his departure arrived, Charlotte came to say goodbye bearing gifts.
"It's just some ground coffee from Dunkie's and some chocolate chip cookies. I made them myself. And there might even be a book in there." She handed Peter the care package and then stepped back shyly.
Peter placed the box on the front seat of his car before turning to her with a smile. "What's the book?"
"Sense and Sensibility."
He looked at her quizzically. "Why are you giving me that?"
"I thought you might find it meaningful."
Peter looked at her carefully but her expression gave nothing away.
"Am I Colonel Brandon?"
"No." She shook her head.
He felt relieved.
"You're Marianne," she mumbled.
If Peter had any inkling of what she had uttered he would have been offended. But he didn't.
"Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome. I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too. Come here."
Despite the fact that he knew that his mother and sister were looking out the living room window watching him, he pulled Charlotte into a warm embrace.
After a moment she pulled back slightly and pressed a gentle but insistent kiss to his lips. She was surprised but elated when he didn't recoil but actually deepened their connection.
"I'll be home this summer," he whispered, when they finally pulled themselves apart.
She answered him with a hopeful grin and then stood in the snow waving until he drove out of sight.
-x-x-x-x-
In the days that followed, it became abundantly clear that Peter was tired of graduate school. And it wasn't only because he found himself missing Charlotte a good deal more than he had anticipated. He wanted to graduate as soon as possible so that he could put his Ph.D. behind him, but that seemed unlikely. Despite his success on the job market, his dissertation would not be finished in time to graduate in the coming spring.
However, Katherine Picton was still trying to get him a job at St. Mike's in Vermont, with the promise in her letters of recommendation that he would finish his dissertation soon and that they would be wise to hire him immediately.
And like Lady Catherine de Bourgh she was not a woman to be gainsaid.
Peter liked Professor Picton very much. She was an excellent dissertation director. And she had a wicked sense of humour that bordered on the perverse.
One day in late February, Peter and Professor Picton were walking down Bloor Street toward Starbucks when they ran into someone who was familiar to both of them.
"Aro," said Katherine, alerting the tall, preoccupied man to her presence before he swept past her in his long, black overcoat like something out of a nineteenth century Russian novel.
"Professor Picton," he spoke through clenched teeth.
Katherine planted herself in Aro's path, which meant that he would have to walk around her in order to continue his journey.
"I believe you've met my graduate student, Mr. Norris."
Aro's eyes flickered to Peter and he nodded minutely.
"I'm surprised to see you walking about in the middle of the day," she prompted, her aged eyes taking on an impish gleam. "Perhaps this is your normal constitutional?"
"It's for my health," he said primly.
Katherine nodded knowingly.
"And how were your December holidays?"
"They were fine. I'm afraid I must be going, Professor Picton. I have an urgent meeting with the University President."
"Ah," said Katherine. "Don't let me keep you waiting, then. But I'll just say that I spent part of December in Umbria. I was attending a wedding."
"Yes, well, I must be going." Aro sidestepped Katherine and Peter but she moved to block his path once again.
"I believe you are acquainted with the bride and groom."
"Really?"
Katherine smiled a wicked smile. "Yes. Professor Masen from Italian Studies and my former student, Miss Isabella Swan. Do you remember them?"
Aro's face froze.
Peter had been watching the exchange between the haughty Vice-President and the small but feisty professor emerita with no small amount of nervousness. But now that Professor Picton had revealed this surprising truth, he instinctively stepped forward as if he was prepared to throw himself in front of her in order to protect her.
"It was a lovely wedding. Very romantic. They're both in Boston, you know." She continued smiling.
Aro gave her a stony glare that masked his shock. "Good afternoon, Professor Picton. Mr. Norris."
"Good afternoon, Aro. I'll tell my friend Margaret that I ran into you." Katherine smiled triumphantly as she continued walking, leaving a very surprised Peter to follow her.
"Professor Picton, aren't you worried that Aro will try to do something to Bella? Um, I mean, Miss Swan?" The panic in Peter's voice did not go unnoticed.
"Why should I worry about that? She has already graduated, her degree has been conferred and she's at Harvard."
"Can't he take her degree back?"
Katherine snickered. "He'd have to convince a good many people to comply with his request in order to bring that about. And even if he did, there would be an outcry from me and Margaret and others. Isabella is a grown woman who married her former professor. They've broken no rule. And besides, Aro is finished."
Peter followed her through the door into Starbucks.
"Pardon me?" he said.
"I have it on good authority that Aro is taking early retirement. See? There is justice in the universe. It just takes a little time." She winked at Peter and then strode purposefully to the counter to order a pot of tea and a plate of French macaroons.
-x-x-x-x-
As the winter semester continued, Peter found himself engaged in flirtatious correspondence with Charlotte via email and text message. And the cupboards in his spare apartment were always filled with Dunkin' Donuts coffee and homemade cookies. In fact, he had to admit that his friendship with Charlotte, for so they were still calling it, was the single ray of sunshine in his life and he eagerly looked forward to spending time with her in Vermont during the summer.
However, neither of them could have anticipated the overwhelming joy that was to come in early April when Peter was offered the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Saint Michael's College. He didn't waste time fussing over the salary or negotiating a lighter teaching load. He simply accepted it. Gladly.
A few days before he was to leave Toronto for Vermont permanently, Peter was exiting the Centre for Medieval Studies when he ran into a beautiful but harsh looking woman.
Their eyes met.
"Angela," he greeted her grimly.
She offered him a fake smile. "Peter. How is Masen treating you?"
Her tone was somewhat frosty, like the ice blue wrap dress she was wearing with four-inch high heels.
Now Peter smiled. Widely.
"You haven't heard?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"Heard what?"
"Masen went to Boston University."
"I know that," she snapped impatiently. "And I don't care. I'm completing my doctorate with Professor Pacciani at the Università degli Studi di Firenze. In fact, I'm on my way to present a paper at Yale this weekend."
Peter suppressed a snort.
"That's great, Angela. Best of luck to you." He nodded slightly and then moved to continue on his way.
"Wait." She pressed an overly manicured hand on his arm. "Who are you working with if Masen left? Not Professor Santos?"
"No." He grinned.
Her dark eyes narrowed. "Then who?"
"Professor Picton."
He watched as Angela's features took on an expression of absolute envy.
"Masen was kind enough to sort it out for me after he left. I just had an email from Bella, too. Perhaps you didn't hear about her."
"What's she doing? Working Yonge Street as a hooker?"
Peter bristled and found himself clenching his fists. "No, she's at Harvard doing her Ph.D. And living in Boston with her husband."
Angela tossed her long dark hair behind her shoulders. "Really? I hadn't heard."
Peter smiled slowly, like a crocodile.
"Then you probably didn't hear who she married."
"No, I didn't," she huffed in annoyance. "Who is he? Some grunge guy from Seattle?"
He paused, if only to build the suspense.
"No."
"Then who did she marry, Peter? Spit it out!"
"Professor Masen."
Peter watched Angela's expression change into a mask of fury and then he indulged himself in standing still and laughing as she cursed and turned on her substantial heels to skulk away.
-x-x-x-x-
As soon as Peter arrived in Vermont, he immediately took up residence in his new office at St. Mike's and began to unpack his books.
He was happy. He was going to live at home while he saved for a down payment on a house and he was going to help out the hired hands on the farm, when he wasn't working at the college.
He and Bella had exchanged polite emails and were on friendly terms, but since her wedding he'd resigned himself to the fact that she was now Mrs. Bella Masen.
He picked up his Dante and Beatrice action figures, (for once again, the company did not think that Virgil was worthy of action), and began to position them on top of his desk, when he heard a knock at the door.
"Come in," he called over his shoulder, not turning around. "It's open."
"Hi."
Peter turned from Dante and Beatrice to see Charlotte standing in the doorway.
In that instant, Peter was struck with how pretty she was, her hair, her face, her eyes. Her mouth. She was even more beautiful than he had remembered.
And she was smiling.
"I thought you might be here. I wondered if you could use some help."
"There isn't much to do. I'm just arranging my books." He placed the empty box on the floor.
Her face fell. "Oh. Well, I didn't mean to bother you. I was just eager to see you. But I'll let you get back to work."
She turned to go and Peter's heart plummeted to his shoes.
"Wait."
He stood up and walked over to her, catching her hand in his and withdrawing it from the doorknob.
"It's good to see you."
She smiled up at him. "It's good to be seen."
"I missed you."
She reached up and pushed some of his hair back from his forehead. "I've been counting the days."
They stared at one another for what seemed like an age before Peter found his words.
"I was going to take a break anyway. How about we walk over to Purple Knights for pizza?"
"I'd like that."
She moved to exit his office, but he tugged on her hand. She looked up at him questioningly.
"Roses," he whispered, gently stroking his work roughened fingers across her knuckles.
"What?"
"Our first time together. Your skin smelled of roses."
Two patches of pink appeared on her face.
"I didn't think you remembered."
He looked down at her intensely. "I never forgot. Every time I smell roses I think of you. Always."
"I stopped wearing that scent."
He reached up to cup her face in his hand. She leaned into it and closed her eyes.
"Would you wear it again?"
"Only if you're serious."
"I am." He paused, and when she opened her eyes to search his he tried to show her with his expression that he was telling the truth.
"Then yes."
Charlotte moved into the gap between them and lightly pressed their lips together.
With a gentle push, Peter closed the door behind them and pulled her into his arms.
Relevant Story Links:
Diploma for surviving UoEM. Congratulations, class of 2010!
Portrait of the man (hmm) himself, Sebastien Robichaud. I‘d do him!
Gustav Dore's illustrations of Dante's Inferno.
In this picture, the demons threaten Virgil
while Dante hovers behind him.
Matthew Barber – Settle My Account‘s With You https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMsPEK1bCVw
Loreena McKennitt – Beneath a Phrygian Sky https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exJmnYa8nok
Goo Goo Dolls – Iris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdYWuo9OFAw
Michael Stipe with Coldplay – In The Sun https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj3ibm95zzc
Epilogue The Second
-x-x-x-x-
December 2012
Cambridge, Massachusetts
"Darling? Are you alright?"
Edward stumbled sleepily through the darkened bedroom toward the ensuite washroom, but Bella didn't answer. The pain was too intense.
That's how he found her, bent forward with contractions, clutching the marble topped vanity with white knuckled hands.
"Do you want me to get Rebecca?" Edward turned to go, readying himself to sprint down the hall to their housekeeper's room.
"No, don't wake her up. Call the hospital."
Immediately, he flew into a panic, hurriedly asking her questions, fumbling back into the bedroom to find his cell phone, and hastily dialling the maternity ward of the local hospital, all before her contraction had subsided.
"Has your water broken?" He called to her after he successfully reached a nurse.
"No."
"Are you in active labour?"
"I think so. The contractions are painful and regular." Bella tried to keep her breathing deep and relaxed, a technique she had practiced over and over again with her yoga teacher, who promised success.
Sadly, her yoga instructor was male.
Before Edward could return, another contraction overwhelmed her. She focused every ounce of her attention on her breathing and shut out the sound of his voice. She loved him, it was true, but he wasn't exactly helping.
"The nurse said I should bring you in right now. I have your bag and the bag you packed for the baby. Are you ready to go?" He tried to sound calm and began to rub her back through her loose fitting t-shirt.
"Yes. Let's go."
Bella straightened up and then took a good look at her husband.
"You can't go like that."
"Why not?" He ran his fingers through his hair, trying desperately to tame it, but only succeeding in making it wilder.
She smirked. "Look at yourself."
Edward turned to gaze at his reflection in the full size mirror behind the bathroom door. Unfortunately, he was clad only in his underwear, a cheeky pair of boxer shorts that had the phrase Medievalists Do It In the Dark (Ages) printed all over them in phosphorescent lettering.
"Damn it! Give me a minute."
She waddled after him into the bedroom, chuckling. "Emmett will be very pleased that his Christmas present is coming with us to the hospital. At least if there's a power outage we'll be able to find you. You'll just have to drop your pants."
"Very amusing, Isabella."
She giggled, finding his fashion faux pas slightly funnier than usual. During her last trimester, he had spent thousands of dollars on maternity lingerie because he couldn't stand the sight of her wearing baggy t-shirts and yoga pants to bed. He declared that such apparel "did a grave injustice to her sexiness," and suggested she simply sleep naked.
She wore the maternity lingerie, instead.
"Those medieval boxer shorts do a grave injustice to your sexiness," she goaded him, clutching at her protruding abdomen as she cackled with delight.
He cast her a withering glance as he pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, then he accompanied her down the hall. They paused just outside the nursery as another contraction seized her.
Edward switched on the pink and white chandelier so that he could see her face. "Is it very bad?"
"Yes." She tried to distract herself by leaning against the doorpost and staring into the baby's room.
She would have been content to purchase all the furnishings for the nursery from Target, while Edward insisted on Pottery Barn Kids.
(Parenthetically, it should be noted that Bella referred to Pottery Barn as Protestant Barn, for it featured fine furnishings that were WASPish in the extreme. Furnishings that she was enamoured of, but too cheap to purchase for herself)
Edward won the argument and together they transformed one of the guest rooms into a tranquil space for a little girl. Bella chose sage green for the walls and a soft white for the woodwork and crown moulding. A fanciful area rug that featured flowers in pink, yellow and green pastels covered the oak floorboards.
The single window was hung with two cotton candy pink silk panels that flanked a white sheer, which was embroidered with green polka dots. All the furniture was white, with the exception of a chocolate brown leather chair and ottoman that Edward had bought as a surprise for the soon-to-be nursing mother.
"This is my favourite room in the whole world," she breathed, gazing at the classic Winnie the Pooh decals they had placed over the crib and changing table, in anticipation of wide and eager little eyes.
"It's waiting for her." Edward smiled. "It's waiting for our little Spring Roll."
When Bella's contraction subsided, he took her hand and helped her down the stairs and into the Land Rover. And then he returned to the kitchen, hastily scribbling a note for Rebecca. He was so glad that they had persuaded her to move in with them. He knew that Bella was going to need a lot of help with the new baby and since both Renee and Esme were gone she needed a mother figure.
A short while later, they arrived at the Bain Birthing Center at Mount Auburn Hospital.
By the time they were settled in one of the birthing rooms, Edward had managed to conjure a calm exterior. He didn't want Bella to see his anxiety or to feel the way his insides churned with unspoken fears. But she knew. She knew what he was afraid of and she held his hand and told him that she and Spring Roll were going to be fine.
They held hands during her internal exam, in which Dr. Rubio announced that the baby was in a transverse position and that she hoped the baby would decide to turn when it was time for her to be born.
Nurse Wendy quickly distracted a nervous Edward from asking too many questions about transverse positions, teaching him to read the monitor in such a way as to tell Bella when a contraction was peaking and when it was coming to an end.
She was grateful for his distraction. But that didn't stop him from googling the information on his iPhone.
When the pain medication relaxed her enough to allow her to nap, Bella drifted into semi-consciousness. A cluster of memories danced before her eyes like waking dreams ...
-x-x-x-x-
October 2011
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Bella sat in the Land Rover in the driveway of their home trying to figure out how to break the shocking news to Edward.
She felt numb as her mind raced through a hundred different possibilities.
What would he say? How would he react?
This wasn't supposed to happen …
Bella grabbed her messenger bag and walked into the house, pausing to deposit her keys and bag in the front hall before entering the kitchen.
"Hi, Bella. How are you?" Rebecca greeted her cheerily.
"I'm fine. Is Edward home yet?"
Rebecca shook her head. "He left me a note asking me not to wait on him for dinner."
Bella sighed in disappointment. "I forgot that he has a departmental meeting after his last class."
"Are you alright?"
"Just tired. I think I'm going to go upstairs and lie down."
Rebecca looked at her with concern. "I made Esme's lasagne for dinner. I'll just wrap it up and put it in the fridge for later."
Bella smiled thinly. "Thanks. See you tomorrow."
"Hope you're feeling better …" Rebecca's voice trailed after her.
Bella didn't bother changing out of her clothes, she simply got into bed and pulled the sheets up to her chin, drifting to sleep almost before her head hit the pillow.
The room was shrouded in darkness later that evening when Bella felt the bed move.
Edward's naked body crawled in beside her, wrapping around her warmly.
"Hey," he whispered.
"Hey," she whispered back sleepily, rubbing her eyes. "What time is it?"
"It's after ten. Rebecca left me a note saying that you weren't feeling well and skipped dinner." Edward leaned over to place his hand on her breast protectively.
"I was exhausted."
He chuckled and reached over to kiss her cheek. "Graduate school will do that." He began moving his hand on her breast, caressing and tantalizing her.
"Are you too tired to …?" His voice trailed off suggestively as did his hand.
Now Bella was awake.
"Um. No. Just give me a minute."
She swiftly shed her clothes and then rejoined him under the covers.
He placed a hand on her abdomen as he kissed her deeply.
"I missed you today."
"I missed you, too."
He tugged her until she was astride him, reaching up to cup her breasts.
She leaned down to kiss him.
"Invite me inside," he murmured as he pressed up against her.
"Do you need an invitation?"
Edward searched her eyes, which had brightened with excitement.
"Sometimes I wonder if you want me as desperately as I want you."
Bella paused at the sudden vulnerability that flashed across her husband's face. She leaned down and stared at him with a white hot intensity.
"Then come," she whispered, bringing their lips together.
Within minutes they were pushing and pulling, their skin warm and alive with excitement.
"Is it good?" Edward ground out, his hands at her hips setting the rhythm.
When she didn't answer he placed a tender hand to her face. "Bella?"
Her eyes fluttered open.
"Come back to me," he whispered.
Her body stilled above him. "I'm sorry."
"It's not like you to zone out. What's wrong?"
"Um, can I tell you later?" She chewed at her lip, begging him with her eyes to give her a little more time.
"Of course." He chuckled and switched positions with her. "But clearly I need to do a better job here."
He pulled back and gave her a heated look. "Pay attention to me."
And with that, Edward devoted his sensual arts to driving his wife to erotic distraction repeatedly, until they both collapsed from near exhaustion.
-x-x-x-x-
"You haven't told me what had you so worried last night." Edward brought Bella's hand to his lips to kiss it as he drove her to the university.
She heaved a great shuddering sigh and shook her head, looking out the window at the passing buildings.
"Isabella?" he prompted.
She leaned down to fumble in her messenger bag and pulled out a white envelope.
She held it by its corners disdainfully as if she were worried the contents would contaminate her.
Edward glanced over at her swiftly before returning his eyes to the road. "What is it?"
"A letter. A letter that arrived for me in the Department of Romance Languages at the university."
"From whom?"
She shivered.
"Jacob."
Edward's knuckles tightened so hard on the steering wheel, the Volvo swerved.
"What the fuck is he doing writing to you? He isn't supposed to contact you."
Edward began pressing buttons in order to use the built in cell phone to make a call.
"Wait," Bella said, laying a gentle hand on his arm.
His eyes flashed to hers and she saw a glimpse of the fire he had unleashed on Jacob the day he had rescued her at her father's house.
"Technically, the letter is from Leah. It's postmarked from her and it's in her handwriting. But I know him – I know his words. I don't know how he pulled it off but this letter is from him."
Edward inhaled slowly. "What did he say?"
She sighed. "He said he was hoping to get out soon. He said he was sorry, that he never meant to hurt me. And then he goes on to say that everything that happened was my fault, that I was asking for it and –"
"That's bullshit." Edward interrupted her. "You know that, don't you? It's utter bullshit."
Bella turned away so that she could look out the window. "Yeah, I know."
He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed.
"Leave me the letter and I'll look after it. I want you to put it out of your mind completely. Okay?"
She nodded.
-x-x-x-x-
December 2012
Mount Auburn Hospital
"Bella? Sweetheart, you're safe. You're with me."
She opened her eyes to see her husband standing over her, a concerned expression on his face.
He pushed her hair back from her forehead.
She smiled at him weakly and it almost broke his heart.
"I must have been dreaming."
"It's the medication." He wasn't about to tell her that she had been talking in her sleep and that she'd said his name. Jacob was out of jail but he wasn't going to hurt her ever again. Edward had seen to it.
Bella reached out to him and he took her hand, bringing it up to his lips so that he could kiss it.
"My rings," she whispered, pressing against his wedding band. "Did I lose them?"
He stroked her naked finger. "You took them off months ago, remember? Your fingers were swelling and you were worried they'd get stuck. I bought you a necklace so that you could wear them."
She reached up to touch her neck. "I forgot. I put them in my jewellery box last night."
"You had a premonition. Spring Roll is almost here."
She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. "I didn't think anything would be more demanding than my comprehensive exams. I was wrong."
Edward's heart clenched.
"You'll be back at university soon enough. Rebecca can help with the baby and you'll be able to work on your dissertation during your maternity leave."
Bella hummed in response.
He pressed his lips to her brow.
"I spoke to my dad. He's flying in with Alice as soon as they can. He's going to call your dad and see if he'll join them."
She nodded but didn't open her eyes. "Good."
While Bella was sleeping, Carlisle had attempted to reassure Edward that the transverse positioning of babies was not uncommon. A baby would sometimes reposition herself during labour or the obstetrician would simply turn him or her. It was nothing to worry about. Esme had presented in a transverse position when she was born, or so she'd told him long ago. And the obstetrician who delivered her did so with forceps. Bella and Spring Roll were going to be fine.
Edward was grateful for Carlisle's encouragement but still anxious.
As Bella lay in her bed half-asleep and dreaming, he paced the room. She looked so small in the big hospital bed, so fragile.
So young.
She was in her mid-twenties, but she looked so much younger. Her skin, which had always been pretty and frequently pink, was pale and almost translucent. Dark circles ringed her eyes and her fingernails were ragged and chewed. She'd succeeded in hiding her worries from Edward for the most part during her pregnancy, except at the beginning …
-x-x-x-x-
December 2011
Just before their first wedding anniversary, Bella presented a paper at a prestigious conference at Berkeley. Edward accompanied her proudly, sitting in the front row of the audience during her presentation. Although her paper, "The Convertibility of Being and Goodness in the Structure of The Divine Comedy," was very well received, she spent most of the conference in her hotel room. She was fatigued in the extreme and seemed to have caught the stomach flu. No food appealed to her and she found herself drinking copious amounts of ginger ale and chewing crackers just to allay the nausea.
She thought nothing of her symptoms until after New Year's, when Edward demanded that she see a doctor in order to figure out why her mysterious flu hadn't disappeared. He'd been quite cross with her, actually, worried that something was seriously wrong.
She had assured him that she was fine and when he offered to cancel his graduate seminar in order to take her to the doctor, she'd waved her hand and laughed. She would not be the cause of so much inconvenience to a group of earnest graduate students.
At five-thirty sharp at Boston University Edward ended his seminar and walked down the hall to his office. His pace quickened as he saw Bella standing next to his closed door.
"What is it? What's wrong?" His voice trembled in alarm.
"Can we go inside?" She folded her arms across her chest.
He fumbled in his blazer for his keys.
"You're scaring me," he whispered, opening the door for her and then closing it firmly behind them.
Bella sat on one of his comfortable leather chairs and tried to find the right words.
"Isabella, I said you're scaring me. Tell me what happened."
He quickly placed his papers and briefcase on his desk and turned to face her, his eyes narrowed with concern behind his glasses.
"Dr. Springhall said it isn't the stomach flu."
"So what is it?"
She looked up at him and her eyes filled with tears.
"I'm pregnant."
Edward stared, open-mouthed, like a fish that had been mounted on the wall of someone's rec room.
When the initial disbelief wore off he couldn't hide the joy that filled his soul. He pulled her up into his arms and laughed uncontrollably, squeezing her against his chest.
"Is she sure?"
Bella nodded. "I don't understand how this happened."
Edward kissed her forehead and then grinned at her wickedly. "Well, my darling. If you don't know how this happened, then clearly I'm not pleasuring you enough."
She laughed and wiped at her tears. "Very funny, Professor Masen. I bow to your sexual prowess. I meant, how is this possible? The urologist said your vasectomy was still intact. We were waiting …" Her voice trailed off.
He wrapped his arms around her more tightly.
"I have a confession to make."
Bella's heart almost stopped.
He didn't, she thought.
"Do you remember when we went down to St. Francis' crypt after our wedding?"
"Yes," she sniffled.
"I … prayed while we were there." His voice was hesitant.
"I did, too."
He pulled back so that he could look into her eyes.
"I probably should have said something at the time or after. But when I prayed, I prayed for a baby."
Bella's face didn't register his admission.
"I didn't expect my prayers to be answered." He smiled awkwardly. "I still can't get used to the idea that God would even listen to me let alone decide to grant my requests. I planned on following through on our agreement – we'd wait until we were ready and then I would have the reversal procedure. I was open to adoption, too, you know that." He sighed deeply. "But I couldn't stop myself from asking for a child, one child, who we made together."
Bella began to laugh.
Edward worried that she was becoming hysterical.
"Here, sit down." He helped her to a chair and then crouched down in front of her, taking her hands in his.
"I'm sorry, Isabella. We should have been more careful."
She looked into his eyes and leaned forward, kissing him lightly, then she lifted her hand to pet his mussed hair.
"You don't need to apologize for asking God for a gift. Or for wanting to have a baby with your wife. I'm just in shock. But I have a confession to make, too. I prayed for a baby at the same time." She kissed the surprised expression that spread across his face. "I guess God had mercy on us and answered our prayers."
It took a moment for Edward to process her revelation, but when he did he kissed her long and good.
"So you aren't upset?" He sounded worried.
"I'm surprised. I'm unprepared. But deep down, I'm happy."
His heart swelled within him. "I'm happy, too. Very happy."
From that day forward, he was at Bella's side at every doctor's appointment. And when the time came for them to have an ultrasound to discover the sex of the child, he was the one who shed tears at the discovery that they were having a girl. He made copies of the ultrasound snapshots and immediately had them professionally framed, but he resisted the urge to display them outside of their bedroom.
However, he wouldn't entertain any of Bella's attempts at discussing potential names, which is why they dubbed the baby "Spring Roll." Once Bella's nausea subsided, she had a strange fixation with Thai food that lasted her entire pregnancy. At one point, Edward surmised that she was about seventy-five percent spring rolls.
Despite light-hearted days spent designing the nursery and sweet nights filled with physical love and his hand spread over his wife's budding stomach, Edward was afraid. Faced with the mortality of Bella and his unborn child, he began to spend a considerable amount of time in prayer and quiet contemplation, recognizing his own inability to control his destiny or the destinies of those around him.
Although there was much in the Christian tradition to inspire and comfort him he found the prayer of St. Francis to be the text to which he always returned:
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen."
For Edward had discovered that the only thing he could control was himself and how he treated other human beings. And he had to place his beloved wife and child in the hands of God.
God had taken good care of Maia and Esme. Edward could trust Him with his family.
-x-x-x-x-
December 2012
Mount Auburn Hospital
"Bella?" Edward held her hand as the next contraction washed over her. He kept a watchful eye on the monitor so that he could announce when the contraction was beginning to subside, then afterwards he would gently stroke her knuckles or her forehead, praising her.
"You're doing so well."
Edward was not. He was dishevelled and nervous and if he were to take the time to think about it, extremely concerned. Despite the fact that they were in the biggest hospital in Boston and enjoying excellent medical
care, he was terrified. Although he kept his fears to himself, he would silently pray over and over that Bella and Spring Roll would both remain healthy.
Shortly before nine o'clock in the evening, Bella began to run a fever so Dr. Rubio ordered an antibiotic be added to her intravenous. Edward chewed at his lip as he watched the nurse hang the bag next to the other fluids that slowly dripped into his wife's arm.
Shortly thereafter, the doctor broke Bella's water and encouraged her to begin pushing. Her epidural only succeeded in taking some of the pain away, much of it remained. And Bella still had feeling in the lower half of her body.
Nurse Wendy held one of Bella's legs while Edward held they other. She pushed with each contraction and although the obstetrician and Edward cheered her on, very little happened. Eventually the obstetrician admitted what Edward had been afraid of – Spring Roll was stubbornly maintaining her transverse position, and she was situated too high up to be delivered with forceps.
Bella groaned weakly at the news, collapsing back on the bed in near exhaustion.
"What does that mean?" asked Edward quietly, his hands folding into fists.
Dr. Rubio pursed her lips.
"It means we need to do an emergency caesarean section. The baby's heart rate is beginning to increase, your wife is running a fever and it's possible there's an infection. I'll assemble my surgical team, but we need to do this right away."
"That's fine with me," said Bella. She was tired. Oh, so tired. The idea of having an end to labour brought some welcome relief.
"Are you sure?" Edward was nervously clutching her hand.
"There really aren't any other options, Mr. Masen. I can't deliver this baby in the position she's in." Dr. Rubio's voice was firm.
"Actually, it's Dr. Masen," he snapped, his frazzled emotions getting the best of him.
"Darling, relax. We're going to be fine." Bella smiled thinly and then closed her eyes, willing herself to relax through the contractions that continued wracking her body.
Edward poured his apology into a chaste kiss and a few whispered words of comfort before Bella's room became an epicentre of activity. The anaesthetist arrived and asked a series of questions, Wendy took Edward away so that he could change into scrubs, and Dr. Rubio began barking orders to the other nurses.
He did not want to be separated from Bella, not even for an instant. He'd spent hours at her side, feeding her ice chips and holding her hand. But since he wanted to be with her in the operating room and it was a sterile environment, he agreed to change. And he sent a surreptitious text to his relatives, Bella's father and Rebecca, explaining the new development.
In his absence, Bella simply closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, that is, until she was lying in the operating room and Dr. Rubio began touching the area that had been prepped for incision.
"I can feel that," said Bella, clearly alarmed.
"Does it feel like pressure?"
"No. I can feel you pinching the skin. And it's uncomfortable."
Edward sat at Bella's side, above the screen that blocked her lower body from his view. He took her hand.
"Are you hurt?"
"No," she said, sounding panicked. "But I can still feel pain. I'm afraid that I'll feel the incision."
Dr. Rubio repeated her test, pinching and twisting at Bella's skin and Bella insisted with increasing anxiety that she could feel every pinch.
"We have to put her out," announced the anaesthetist, moving swiftly to prepare a general anaesthetic.
"It's hard on the baby. Give her something else," Dr. Rubio objected.
"I can't give her any more. She's had all she can have. I'm putting her out."
Bella looked up into the kind eyes of the anaesthetist. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
The anaesthetist smiled down at her and patted her shoulder. "Sweetie, you don't need to be sorry. I do this all the time. When I put the mask on, just breathe deeply."
Edward began asking questions, rapid fire, as the surgical team buzzed around him. Bella squeezed his hand as if willing him not to lose his temper. She needed him to be calm. She needed him to watch over her while she slept. She needed him to be strong.
The last thing she heard before she drifted into the darkness was Edward's voice in her ear, assuring her that he would be with her until she woke up.
It was moments like this that Edward regretted not having gone to medical school. He felt helpless as the surgical team spoke in a vernacular only known to them. Every movement, every comment caused great waves of fear to crash around him and because his view was hidden, he couldn't see what the obstetrician was doing.
He squeezed Bella's hand, willing himself to remain calm, until the surgical team gasped collectively.
A beautiful baby girl with a full head of thick, dark hair was pulled from her mother, and quickly wrapped up. The nurses cleaned the baby and checked her thoroughly, performing several different tests before bringing her to her father.
"Eight pounds, fourteen ounces. She's a good sized baby." Wendy placed the little girl in her father's arms.
Edward began to cry as the reality of a new life, a life made by he and his beloved Isabella, looked up at him. With the cord cut and the baby cleaned and swaddled, he turned to his wife to introduce her to her daughter.
But Bella just lay there, unmoving. She didn't look like she was asleep. She looked as if she were dead, her body pale and lifeless.
"She's haemorrhaging. Take him out, now." Dr. Rubio pointed a bloody gloved hand at Edward and he found himself being dragged away from the operating table.
"What's happening? Is she going to be okay?"
"We'll look after her, but you need to leave." The obstetrician turned her attention back to Bella and began hissing at her assistants.
"You can wait for your wife in the recovery room. It's right next door." A nurse led Edward through a doorway, away from Bella.
Walking away from his unconscious wife, holding their newborn baby in his arms was the most difficult thing Edward had ever done. Tears streamed down his face as he clutched the little bundle close to his heart, praying that Bella would be alright.
-x-x-x-x-
It was another forty-five minutes before Bella was wheeled from the obstetric operating room into the recovery room. For Edward, those forty-five minutes were the longest of his life. As soon as he saw her and Dr. Rubio assured him that the haemorrhaging had stopped and that she was going to be fine, he said a silent prayer of thanks.
An hour later Bella began to stir, twitching slightly in her bed and blinking.
"Sweetheart, meet your daughter. She's beautiful. And she has hair." Edward held the baby up so that Bella could see her from her reclined position.
Bella's gaze was wide and unfocused before she closed her eyes.
He cradled the baby against his chest once again.
"Sweetheart? Can you hear me?"
"It will take a while for her to come around. But she'll wake up eventually." The voice of the nurse broke into Edward's musings, as he wondered anxiously if Bella was unhappy about the baby.
"Your mom called you Spring Roll because she craved Thai food for months." The baby stretched and squeaked before going back to sleep.
Edward's iPhone chirped with a couple of texts and he quickly checked it. Carlisle, Alice and Charlie had secured seats on the same flight and would be arriving late that afternoon. Rebecca was preparing the house for the influx of guests and everyone spoke with admiration at how beautiful (and elegantly coiffed) the new baby was.
"She has hair?" When Bella finally awoke, the first thing she noticed was the dark strands peeking out from under the purple knit cap that the nurse had placed on the baby's head.
"She does. Lots of dark hair. Darker than yours, even." Edward grinned and placed the baby on Bella's chest, where she immediately snuggled against her mother's skin.
"She's beautiful," Bella whispered.
"She is. Pretty like her mama."
Bella giggled and pressed gentle kisses to the baby's head.
"I don't think so. She has your face. But I thought she'd have your hair."
Edward laughed. "She's lucky not to have my hair. She has the biggest blue eyes you've ever seen, but she doesn't like to open them."
Bella lifted her head to examine the baby's face, cuddling her even closer.
"Are you in pain?"
She grimaced slightly. "Yes. It's pretty uncomfortable. I feel as if I've been sawn in half."
"I think you were."
She peered up at him questioningly.
"No darling, I didn't look." He kissed her gently. "We should probably talk about what we're going to call her. Her grandfathers are not going to be impressed with the name Spring Roll."
"How about Clare?"
Edward considered that possibility for a moment.
"I like the name Clare, but since we prayed at St. Francis' crypt perhaps we should call her Frances."
"St. Clare was Francis' friend. We could call her Clare and make Esme her middle name."
Edward caught Bella's eye and felt himself choking up. "How about Clare Esme Hope? She represents the culmination of so much hope, so much joy . . ."
"Clare Esme Hope Masen. It's perfect," Bella breathed, kissing Clare on her tiny cheek.
Edward looked at his wife and daughter and saw the rest of his life flash before his eyes. Birthday parties, first days of school, family vacations, Halloween and Christmas, christening and first communion, a wedding in which he was honoured to walk Clare down the aisle …
No one could replace Maia or Esme. Edward knew that human beings aren't replaceable. And the loss of a child is a loss no matter how many children a couple subsequently have. The scars that Edward accumulated over time, some of which were through his own wrongdoing, would never disappear completely.
But little Clare represented faith, hope and love. Faith that there was Someone out there who heard whispered, anguished prayers for help, and hope that goodness would overcome despair and sorrow. And the love of a man for his beautiful wife and their precious, precious child.
"Yes, her name is perfect. She's perfect." Edward kissed Isabella and Clare, and wrapped his arms around them both.
"My sweet, sweet girls."
He would stay awake all night watching over them and he would be there when their eyes opened in the morning.

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