Oh my, I have a lot of "mea culpa's" to say. I'm sorry for taking so long with the chapter and sorry about the lack of review replies. I would give you my whole sob story about how busy my life is, but I think you'd rather read the chapter!
lemonmartinis and MoltenChocCake are my wonderful betas – couldn't do this without them!
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.
CHAPTER 11: Ears Perked Up
The sun is just beginning to rise as I kiss my way down the column of her neck. Her soft skin is warm from the heat of our two spooning bodies. We both showered before collapsing into bed; not wanting to wake up smelling like stale beer and nightclub. As a result, my girl smells like fresh strawberries. And I woke up wanting to take a bite.
She doesn't stir, even as I run my hand underneath her threadbare Westminster Kennel Club t-shirt and close my hand over her breast, gently squeezing, then tugging on the nipple that hardens under my touch. It is only when I move my arousal against her backside that she finally comes to life. I smile into her skin when she quietly moans.
"Good morning, beautiful," I whisper in her ear.
"Mmmmm...," she responds.
I move against her again, earning another delicious moan. She rolls back toward me and the arm that was stretched out in front of her across her pillow while she slept, lifts behind, grabs a fistful of my hair and pulls my mouth down to hers. I continue to caress her breasts as our tongues tangle and she surprises me by reaching for my hand, threading our fingers and moving them between her legs.
She places my hand where she wants it, then moves hers back to my hair. My strokes are gentle, causing her to pant. I move my hips away from her. As amazing as the friction feels, when I come, I want it to be inside of her.
"Edward...," she cries softly.
After all of the times we've been together, I know her body so well. This is my cue to increase...everything.
"Right there, baby?"
Seconds later, I feel her body tense. I give her a moment to recover before I get her naked. Sleep pants and shirts removed, I slide in to her from behind. As cliché as it sounds, every time I make love to Bella, it's better than the time before. Her body is made for mine.
Her mouth is turned into her pillow in an attempt to muffle her sounds as I move inside her. I am not as successful as she is at staying quiet. She feels too amazing. I pick up the pace.
"You feel so good," I tell her. "So fucking good. I love you so much."
"I love you, too. So, so much," she replies, followed by, "Edward...faster, baby."
She doesn't have to tell me twice and when she falls to her release a second time, I am right behind her.
"You know," she starts, trying to catch her breath, "I packed these crappy pj's so that we wouldn't do this in your sister's house."
I snort, rolling on to my back.
"First of all, gorgeous, it's going to take a LOT more than a ratty t-shirt to keep my hands off of you. And second, if my sister didn't want me ravishing you in her house, she shouldn't have given you that sexy dress. Or the shoes. Honestly baby, I wasn't sure I was going to make it through the night without risking an improper conduct arrest."
She laughs, tucking her head into my neck and lightly running her fingers in slow circles on my chest. Times like this are some of my favorite times with Bella – curled up together in bed talking about anything and everything. I enjoy intimacy with her as much as I enjoy sex – well, almost as much. Lying here making silly top ten lists with my girl is doing a very effective job of keeping my mind off of today's meeting with Marcus and Jo.
With help from Mag's therapist, Bella and I have a backup plan and a backup plan for the backup plan. We chose a meeting spot that was close to the exit, in case Kate makes a surprise appearance. Although I have no reason to not believe her parents when they say they don't know where she is, I'm not taking any chances. And one of us will be with Mag at all times – I don't want her left alone with Marcus and Jo. I hate that a visit with my daughter's grandparents requires so much strategy and paranoia, but until I am certain that everything is on the up and up, this is just the way it has to be.
Emmett sits at the table with the kids, devouring a mountain of waffles, bacon and eggs. Rosalie runs the griddle, waving Bella off when she offers to help.
"Hi, Daddy," my daughter says with a mouthful of waffles and syrup.
"Good morning, baby girl! Please eat with your mouth closed," I reprimand as I lean over to kiss the top of her head while stealing a piece of the bacon off of her plate.
"Sooooo, how did you sleep, Dr. Bella?" Emmett asks, innocently. He has that look in his eye, like he's been waiting all morning to deliver a zinger. I know that look well. My girl is completely oblivious, though, and I do nothing to clue her in. Better to let her get used to my brother-in-law's antics, since I fully intend for her to be a part of my family someday.
"I slept great," she replies politely, between bites of waffle. "How about you, Emmett?"
Here it comes.
Emmett takes a swig of his juice, slowly wiping his mouth with his napkin.
"Oh, great…but I woke up around sunrise, because the birds and bees were singing really loudly. I'm surprised they didn't wake up the whole house."
It takes Bella a second to figure out what Emmett just said. When she does, her face turns crimson.
"Did you hear them, brother-in-law?"
I smile smugly over the steaming cup of coffee in my hands.
"Yes, I did," I drawl, "and it was magnificent."
"Edward, one. Emmett, zero!" Rose yells from the kitchen.
"Well played, sir," Emmett concedes with a salute in my direction.
"I'm mortified," Bella leans over and whispers in my ear.
I put my arm around her and whisper back, "He's just jealous, beautiful."
Rose joins us at the table, winking at us. She gives Emmett a radiant smile.
"Emmett?" she sweetly asks.
"Yes, my dove?"
"Eat your breakfast and leave Bella alone, or you won't be hearing any bees singing tomorrow morning."
"Yes, ma'am," he answers, sitting up straighter in his chair and piling his fork with eggs.
"I didn't know that bees could sing, Uncle Emmett," Mag pipes up. "How do they do it?"
I choke on the coffee I'm drinking.
"That's a very good question, Mag," Bertie chimes in. "Let's look that up on my iPad after breakfast."
"NO!" the adults shout at once.
Suddenly, even the prospect of meeting Marcus and Jo doesn't seem nearly as scary as the direction that this conversation is heading.
Later that day, after my nephew trounces me in chess, Bella and Mag and I load up the car to head to the museum. We will be going back to Forks at the end of the day and Rosalie, Emmett and Bertie have a church function to attend, so we say our goodbyes in the driveway. Bella and Rosalie make plans to get together again soon and invite Alice. Emmett and I talk about taking a boys-only camping trip.
When Bella and Mag are buckled in, Rosalie pulls me aside.
"I'm sorry we didn't really get a chance to talk, but I want to tell you that I'm so happy for you, little brother. She's amazing. She's it, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is," I answer honestly. I've known this for a while – that I want to spend the rest of my life with Bella. In fact, I plan on talking with Mag when we get back about how she feels about asking Bella and Gandalf and Wallace to move in with us. I don't have to worry about what her answer will be, but I want her to have a say in this very important step in our lives.
Rosalie lets out a squeal, sounding very much like Alice, and practically renders me deaf.
"I knew it! I'm so excited! I haven't seen you this over the moon since Mag was born. Love looks good on you, little brother. Now, I want you to call me and tell me all about what happens with Marcus and Jo. And you better keep an eye on my Mag Pie, Edward. If they do anything to hurt her, I swear I will…"
I cut her off before she can go any further with her threats.
"Bella and I have got it under control, sis."
"Okay, okay…well, call me the second you get home."
"Will do. Now, let me go so that I can get this over with."
One hug later, my girls and I pull away from the curb, honking and waving. I see Rose run back inside, surely on her way to call my mom and Alice.
We walk into the Seattle Children's Museum hand in hand – a unified front. Bella looks gorgeous in her dress covered in flowers, almost matching the outfit that Esme bought for Mag. She carries a gift that she helped Mag make for her grandparents. I can't help looking around and inspecting every corner, expecting Kate to jump out any minute. My pulse races and I start to sweat.
Marcus and Jo stand just outside of the snack shop located in the museum. I almost don't recognize them, as they look like they've aged about 15 years. But their Florida tan gives them away, sticking out profoundly from the pale Seattle-ites walking around them. They are surrounded by gift bags adorned in various shades of Mag's favorite pinks and greens. To my extreme relief, my ex-wife is not with them, and I relax for the first time in days. Jo's eyes go directly to Madigan, and her shaky hand flies to her mouth as a sign of either shock or regret for lost time, or both.
"Oh my God, look at her, Marcus," I hear Jo say.
We stop midstride, leaving an awkward gap between our two parties. No one wants to close it yet. It's the perfect metaphor for our situation – so close, yet still so far away. Tossing my anxiety and distrust aside, I make the first move. Besides, the faster we get started, the faster we can get back to Forks and move on with our lives.
"Marcus. Jo," I shake a wrinkled hand and kiss a painted cheek. "It's great to see you."
Hopefully, my insincerity is concealed.
"Edward," Marcus returns stoically.
"You look wonderful, Edward," Jo's watery voice comments.
Our exchange is brief. They didn't cross two time zones to see me.
Jo crouches down to get closer to a face that is a first grade version of her own daughter.
"Hi, Grandma Jo," a soft voice greets.
Seeing and hearing her granddaughter for the first time in way too long opens the floodgates. Tears flow freely as Jo crushes Mag to her chest. Marcus joins in on the reunion, displaying the most emotion I've ever seen in the entire time I've known him. At last, the motive for their visit is clear: they missed their granddaughter. And from her reaction, it's apparent that she missed them, too.
I stand back, wrapping my arm around my Bella, giving Mag the space to make up for lost time.
Bella kisses me below my ear and whispers, "I'm so proud of you, Edward. I love you."
Her words and the smile I see on Mag's face help melt the frost that had settled over my heart when my old life collided with my new life, threatening to upend it.
I kiss Bella softly on her lips. "I love you too, baby."
Once our eye contact breaks, we find that Marcus, Jo and Madigan have finished catching up and are waiting for us to notice them.
"Who is this lovely lady, Edward?" Jo asks with sincere enthusiasm.
"Marcus and Jo, this is my girlfriend, Dr. Bella Swan," I answer.
"She's an animal doctor!" Madigan offers.
"It's very nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Collins," my present replies to my past.
I wait for a collision of the two, but it never comes.
"It's wonderful to meet you too, Dr. Swan."
"Please call me Bella. Should we find a place to sit down?" Bella suggests.
We go in to the snack shop to catch up. Marcus and Jo tell us about the week they've spent in Seattle, and make a great effort to get to know Bella. Their voices hold no hint of animosity toward her. And I don't get the sense that they are doing investigative work for their daughter. In fact, Kate never makes an appearance – literally or figuratively, and I am reminded of how her betrayal didn't just impact my household.
Mag opens her gifts - a dolphin stuffed animal, some books because they heard about the Read to a Dog Program, and some clothes. The situation might be tense, but my daughter is a little girl, and in the presence of presents, she lets her guard completely down.
"Look, Daddy and Bella!" she squeals, "I can't wait to read these to Gandalf and Wallace!"
"What do you say to Grandpa Marcus and Grandma Jo, Mag?"
She jumps up from her chair and rushes around the table to embrace her grandparents.
"Thank you so much, Grandma and Grandpa!"
Judging by Marcus and Jo's expressions, winning back their granddaughter's acceptance is akin to winning the lottery.
"I made something for you with Bella."
Mag hands her grandparents their gift, wrapped in brown paper that she had decorated with markers and stickers. Jo removes the paper carefully, so as not to destroy Mag's work, and slowly turns over the photo frame that emerges.
This time, both pairs of aging eyes brim with tears. Inside the frame is a piece of construction paper. In one corner is Mag's school photo from this year. In the other, is a photo of her reading with the dogs. In the center, Bella and Mag have painstakingly glued twigs and fir needles and leaves together to spell out her name.
"It is so beautiful, Madigan. You made this for us?" Jo asks.
"Bella helped me. We took the dogs for a walk and collected the sticks and leaves. And that is my picture for Mrs. Newton's class. And that's Gandalf and Wallace," she points out her best friends. "Bella said this would remind you of me in Washington while you're in Florida."
"We will cherish this," Marcus replies.
"You and Bella did such a good job on this, Madigan. This is the best gift we've ever gotten, right Marcus?"
"It sure is," he agrees.
As I watch Marcus and Jo dote on Mag's gift as if she's just given them a map to the fountain of youth, it occurs to me that my anger toward them is a bit misguided and possibly even hypocritical. These aren't bad people. They're parents and grandparents – caught in a conflict of loyalty. What would I have done in their position?
That's a question I hope to never have to answer.
After making short work of her hot chocolate, Mag is more than ready to check out what the Children's Museum has to offer. Her not-so-subtle hints are why the table is being cleared of empty cups and gift wrap.
Standing up to follow Mag and Bella to the first activity, I am stopped by Marcus' fingers tapping me on the shoulder.
"Edward, do you mind staying behind for a few minutes with me and Jo?"
I exchange a glance with Bella.
Bella nods, and leans down to Mag.
"Hey Maggie May, why don't you and I get a head start and your dad and grandparents can catch up with us later? We can go get the lay of the land. What do you say?"
"Yeah!" she shrieks, as the sugar from her drink takes over. She pulls on Bella's hand, sending her lurching forward, looking like she's holding on to the dogs after they've seen a critter in the woods.
"See you in a bit!" her voice trails off as runs after Mag.
We take our seats again and Jo begins to speak. Before she can get the words out, however, I decide to take control of the conversation.
"Let's just cut to the chase, okay? Do I have to worry about Kate coming for Madigan? Did she ask you to email me? Is that why you're really here? Because, I'll be damned if I'll let her…." My words fly out in rapid succession, eyes travelling back and forth between the two of them. I know that if I was looking in a mirror, I would be able to see the fear and desperation in my eyes, silently begging them to have pity on me.
"Edward…," Marcus interrupts my rant in a weary voice.
I sit up straighter in my chair, crossing my arms to brace myself for the worst.
On the road again -
Like abandof gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends.
Insisting that the world keep turning our wayAnd our way
is on the road again.
The song plays as we make the turn in Port Angeles that will take us back to Forks – back to our happy life. Back to reading to the dogs that Mag hasn't stopped talking about since she buckled her seatbelt. Back to walks in the woods and living room picnics. Back to star parties and chasing waves. Back to chocolate chip cookies. Back to family and the house I hope will be a little more crowded soon.
I reach over and grab my lovely one's hand. Her wistful smile tells me that our thoughts are one and the same.
On The Road Again – music and lyrics by Willie Nelson.
Marcus and Jo wanted to talk to you themselves, so their words to Edward will be included in a separate outtake from their POV.
The fabulous les16 nominated SPTL for Fic of the Week over at the Lemonade Stand...and it was voted in to the top five! Many thanks to her – I'm honored to be among the company of the other great nominees! And you should also head over to les16's fantastic new story, 'Watching Her.'
Thank you again for reading. Wallace and Gandalf told me to tell you that they will be back in the next chapter.