This oneshot is written a little differently, in present tense with flashbacks. It came out insanely long, but I didn't think you'd mind it. As of now, this is the last thing I've written for what has become an epic fic. I changed the story's status to 'complete', but that's not to say there might be some additional scenes at some point. I might surprise you… and myself.
As always, reviews are muchly appreciated. Happy reading =)
"Mr. Cullen, do you want to hold your daughter?"
I blink, and stare emptily at the nurse. Her smile is polite yet warm. Another second passes before I realize she is addressing me, still awaiting my reply. I'm dizzy, half with exhaustion, half with relief. My ears are still ringing, and the cacophony in the room, consisting of conversing nurses and wailing newborns, isn't helping. Everything sounds louder than it should be. There's an echo to it; it sounds unreal. I still feel a little queasy; I expect my legs to give way any moment. For a moment I'm not even sure I'm conscious; I might have fainted without even realizing that I have. But it all ceases to exist when my mind finally wraps itself around the meaning of the question I've left unanswered.
There's a squirming bundle in the nurse's arms, and her smile widens in wordless encouragement as she gently places it in arms I have no recollection of outstretching. Understanding is written into her every movement. Clearly, I'm not the first father she's come across.
Then it hits me and I gasp. The entire room swims about me. Dizziness is worse than ever before. Despite all those, I hold on to the bundle in my arms as tightly as I dare.
I'm a father.
I'm hardly aware of the tears I can feel streaming down my face as I take in the sight of her. I've seen her briefly before, but I've been more worried about Bella being taken care of to really look. She's not crying anymore. She looks up at me without really seeing anything. I stare at her; she stares back. She looks tiny to me, but the nurse assures me she's perfectly fine. Her skin is still unnaturally pink, but I don't allow myself a moment of panic. She's hardly an hour old, and already I'm in a complete awe by her, my daughter – our daughter. To me, she's perfect.
Thoughts about her would always bring me back to Christmas, especially the one we spent in London two years ago. Bella joined the English National Ballet for their holiday performances that year, and I came over during my break so she wouldn't have to spend Christmas alone. I was looking forward to it; she hadn't been home for nearly two months. We spent Christmas Eve with Nathan, Claire and Emily, and went back to Bella's place, an apartment in one of London's trendiest hotels, provided to her by the company.
"I'm really glad you came over," she told me when we finally got in bed that night.
"I'm really glad I came over too," I replied and held her tighter. She rested her head against my chest and exhaled slowly. I knew she must be exhausted; the last couple of months had been intensive. And yet, there was something strange about her; she felt too tense. I thought I sensed her heart racing, but I didn't think much of it; not until she started speaking, anyway.
"There's, umm, something I want to say." She shifted a little so she could face me. I looked at her questionably. Her face gave nothing away. I waited. "I've been thinking about it for a while, and… well, I keep meaning to bring it up, but there's always something else to do at home, so I never… and I hoped that since we're both here, there would be no distractions and I could finally…"
It wasn't like her to ramble. She had only done that when she was nervous about something. I thought I detected faint blush creep onto her cheeks, but it was too dark to know for sure. "Are you going to tell me, or do I need to get it out of you somehow?"
She didn't return my grin. Her gaze was intense on mine. "It's… sort of serious."
"Do you want a divorce?"
She chuckled darkly. "You're not that lucky."
"What is it, then?"
"Well… remember how during our honeymoon, we said it would be okay to wait, about having a baby?"
I had a rather clear idea as for where this was going by now, but I was too stunned to speak. All I managed was a weak nod. I tried to tell myself she wasn't really going to say what I thought – what I hoped – she was.
Her eyes, still boring into mine, suggested otherwise. "I don't want to wait anymore."
And it was that day all over again, the day she had proposed. All speech evaporated, all thought turned into dust. "Bella…"
"I've been taking those damn pills forever so it's going to take time, but if I stopped taking them, maybe we could try… I mean, if you want?"
For the longest time, my tongue was tied. I didn't have the faintest idea this was what she had in mind. I'd been thinking about it myself for a while, but no time had ever felt right enough to bring it up. And now, knowing she was thinking the same thing…
A poke at my chest shook my out of my astounded reverie. I blinked, and my eyes met hers again. The expectancy in them reminded me I hadn't answered her question yet. I didn't think words could contain everything I wanted to tell her, so I kissed her instead. She responded immediately, her entire body molding against mine as she kissed me back over and over again. I rolled us over, and then slowly pulled away from her.
"Is that a yes?" she breathed, grasping my hair when I trailed my lips down her throat.
"That's a yes," I whispered, pressing a kiss to the hollow of her throat; "And a yes," with another kiss, to the spot just beneath her chin; "And a yes."
And so we started trying.
When the nurse tells me I can go ahead and see Bella, I'm almost reluctant to hand the baby back to her. She laughs softly and promises to bring her into Bella's room right away. My arms feel strangely empty when I leave the room. It's ridiculous to miss her already, but I do. Anxiety washes over me, instant and unfamiliar. I know she's in good hands, but I can't stand to be unable to see that she's okay. I find myself wonder if this is how things are going to be from now on. I'm in too blissful a mood to care.
I wash my face and head towards the waiting room to spend a few minutes with my family. Bella and I were both hesitant when my father suggested she'd have the baby in the hospital he had been working at instead of in New York. At the same time the proximity of my family and her father comforted her, I knew Bella wasn't too keen on the idea of making this journey across the country at eight months pregnant. Eventually, after considering the pros and cons carefully, we left Emmett in charge on our place, and headed west. In the long run, it is the wisest thing we could do. Knowing my parents are nearby soothes me, even in the frenzy of the last several hours.
The waiting room is nearly empty. My mother is here, as well as Alice, who has flown over especially from Miami. Charlie appears on the other side of the hallway; I assume he is back from calling Renée. My father is nowhere to be seen. My mother is on her feet as soon as she spots me. She shoves a bottle of juice into my hands, and I empty half of it in one gulp. Charlie catches up with me by then. There are dark circles beneath his eyes. He came here straight from a double shift, and I know he hasn't slept for nearly twenty four hours. He looks anxious, but Alice jumps forward before I make half a move. She hugs him and assures him Bella is fine. They're all beaming at me, but I'm too weary to react to their excitement. Eventually I excuse myself, and hurry forward to Bella's room.
The door is ajar, and I shut it on the way in. Her bed is at the farthest end of the room by the window. The bed next to hers is empty. She doesn't turn or look up when I enter. When I approach her bed, I see she's fast asleep. It's not a peaceful slumber; she looks in pain. Her forehead is cringed in a tiny frown. Her hair is still pulled back in a plait, but most of it has managed to escape by now. I reached out to smooth it away from her face. I'm careful, but the motion shakes her awake anyway. A gasp escapes her as she jolts.
"Shh, it's okay," I whisper, gently pushing her backwards when she tries to sit up.
"Where is she?"
The question is hasty, frantic. I laugh. It seems we have this new anxiety in common. "The nurse will bring her over in a second."
This reassures her. She sighs and her head falls back on the pillow as she closes her eyes. She looks drained, as pale as a ghost. Even her lips are colorless. For a moment I think she's fallen back into sleep – or worse – but her hand slips along the mattress, searching. I cover her hand with mine. She laces our fingers together. Her grip is weak but confident.
"Do you want me to get you some water?"
"No, don't leave me." Her eyes snap open; they are wide with fright. Her grip is suddenly stronger.
"I'm not going anywhere," I assure her. I lean over to kiss her forehead. Her skin feels hot beneath my lips.
As soon as I take a seat beside her bed, she takes my hand again. It seems to calm her down. "Have you seen her?"
"I have. She's perfect." My throat feels tight when I speak about her – our baby. The swell of emotion within me is impossible to describe or contain.
"Could you…" Her voice cracks. She clears her throat and tries again. "My mom. We haven't – She doesn't – "
"Charlie has already called her. And he's right outside."
She nods and shifts. A whimper escapes her before she manages to hold it back. I'm back on my feet in a second. "I'm fine," she tells me, biting her bottom lip. I know she's lying; her face is contorted in pain. It pulls me back to the horror of the delivery room. I can still hear her screams and weeping in my mind, where it lingers. I can still see her sweaty forehead, her squirming body, wriggling with pain, and me, helpless beside her, hoping it would all be over soon. She has refused an epidural shot that could have made things easier on her. She isn't trying to be brave. I've known better than speaking against her decision. I know the reason behind it, and I respect her choices. As slim a chance as it is, one wrong move can cause permanent damage to her back, and she will never be able to dance again.
Not being able to dance was the thing that had scared her most from the very beginning. Even though she was the one who had initiated the baby plan, I could sense her hesitation. She knew it would have consequences on her career at the company, and I knew it frightened her. I assumed they'd understand; we'd been married for four years, and I knew for a fact people had asked her about starting a family, always half teasing, half serious. I'd always brushed off her concerns about breaking the news to her managers, if and when she got pregnant. We'd cross that bridge when we got to it, I told her. She was doing so well with the New York City Ballet; it seemed pointless to worry with no reason.
In the middle of October I got an urgent phone call while grading papers in the teachers' lounge. It was the stage manager of the New York City Ballet, informing me very gravely that Bella had an accident, and if I could please come over. Having the advantage of working across the street from one another, I was at the theatre in less than ten minutes.
They had just moved their rehearsals into the theatre a few days ago as dress rehearsals for their new production started. The theatre was dark and misty when I stepped in. She was in the front row, half sitting, half laying there. Some of her colleagues were around her. One of them held a cloth to her forehead. Another placed a water bottle in her hand. Bella nodded, but didn't take a sip. When she saw me, she closed her eyes and groaned. "I asked them not to call you."
The girl who held the cloth to Bella's forehead gave me her seat. I thanked her and took the cloth from her hand. As I placed it against Bella's forehead, I observed her closely. She was still asleep when I left this morning, but she looked fine. Now she looked pale, exhausted, and her forehead was shining as if she had a fever. "What happened?"
"I… suddenly got really dizzy. Jeremy caught me right before I hit the floor." She tried to smile, but she was clearly putting effort into it. "I'm fine now, really."
"I'm taking you home." It wasn't a question. She looked like hell. There was no way I was leaving her here. Dress rehearsal or not, there was no way she was dancing in this state today.
"That's hardly necessary – "
"Home. Now. No arguments." The voice that echoed my thoughts belonged to Bella's stage manager, who was suddenly there. He gave her a stern look, and nodded at me. "Thank you for coming so quickly."
"Thank you for calling me." I wrapped an arm around her. She rested her head against my shoulder. Her body felt limp against mine.
"I've let it go when it happened a few days ago," her manager told her. I stared at her wide-eyed as this new piece of information sank in; it happened before? "Take today off. Leanne will dance your part."
"Okay," she whispered, but I could see she didn't like it.
I took her home, and called the school to say I wouldn't be coming back. Fortunately, I didn't have any classes scheduled for the rest of the day, but I had a meeting with a student; I asked the secretary to postpone it, and to apologize on my behalf. When I walked into our bedroom with some tea for her, she was sitting in bed, staring absentmindedly at the opposite wall. Wearing a pale pink tee shirt, her skin looked nearly translucent. I handed her the mug. She thanked me with a faint smile. "Don't you have a meeting to get to?"
"I cancelled it, just now."
"Edward, you don't have to – "
"Don't even try," I mock-threatened, sitting beside her. I watched her as she brought the mug to her lips and took a tiny sip. She winced as if the steaming liquid burnt her tongue, and lowered it to her lap. "Your manager mentioned it had happened before?"
Her eyes widened ever so slightly, as if with fear for getting caught. Then she slowly nodded. "It wasn't as bad before, though."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because you have your own problems to worry about."
"Bella, do I really have to tell you you're top priority, especially if you're sick?"
"I'm not sick."
Protest froze halfway up my throat at the sight of her expression. I said nothing, just waited.
"I think I'm pregnant."
My heart stilled, and began to thump twice as fast. "You're…" My voice trailed; I couldn't bring myself to say it. We'd been there before, getting excited and worked up for nothing. It could have been just another false alarm.
She nodded, and her eyes remained intent and serious on mine. "I'm almost three weeks late. I've been feeling really queasy lately. Remember last week when you brought in those chicken sandwiches?"
I did. They were her favorites, and she couldn't even look at them.
"I have a doctor's appointment in a few days, but I didn't want to say anything until I was sure… What happened today sort of ruined my plans."
"It's okay," I whispered, still completely at awe. It all fit. Of course, it had to be that. This time, it was for real. "When… I mean how long…"
"I think it was September. Around my birthday."
I did a quick calculation in my head. Nine months from September were… I looked up at her, and she nodded, her smile widening an inch as if my expression amused her. There was this glimmer in her eyes as if she was thinking of exactly the same thing. We were going to have a baby in May. My eyes wandered to her stomach, which was flat. "Do you feel anything at all?"
"I don't think so. If I do, I think it's because I'm trying too hard."
"Isn't it… too soon?"
She laughed softly. "There aren't rules, you know. It can take years… or months, apparently." Her eyes were gleaming when they locked with mine. "I think this is it."
And of course, she was right.
The hiss of an opening door makes me look away from her. Both of us turn our weary gazes to the door, where a nurse is wheeling in a crib. Bella's grip tightens around my fist. My heart begins to throb irrationally. Surely there is no reason to be so excited when I've just seen her, but I am. It's more than excitement; I can't really define what it is.
"How are you feeling, Mrs. Cullen?" The nurse beams at Bella. She's replying something, but I barely hear their conversation. My attention is set on the soft fuss that comes from inside the crib. I can't see her from where I'm sitting, but the movement of blankets assures me that she's there.
The nurse reaches for the crib and scoops the moving bundle in her arms. Slowly, she lowers it into Bella's hands, guiding her how to hold the baby. Bella hardly pays attention. Her eyes are wide with what looks like wonder. I'm sure her expression mirrors my own. She looks scared out of her wits, but her grasp is confident as if she's done it all her life.
"There you go, honey," the nurse coos, but I'm not sure if she's addressing Bella or the baby. Then she looks up at me. "Call me if you need anything."
I think I thank her, but my thoughts are in a haze. Bella doesn't even notice when the nurse is gone. Her eyes never leave the bundle in her arms. Her expression is dumbfounded. I can't see the baby from where I'm sitting, and I'm adjusting my position a bit. The motion shakes Bella out of her reverie and she smiles wearily at me as she lowers her arms a little. Her eyes glisten with tears.
Those are different tears than the one's I'd constantly seen on her face in the past couple of months, and she had been crying a lot. The company had forced her to step down as soon as she told her managers she was pregnant. I understood completely, and even supported this decision. They didn't want to take any risks, and neither did I. I was sure that deep down, Bella also knew it was the right thing to do; but she'd been dancing for so long that the abrupt ending of it completely crushed her spirit.
She fell apart after her conversation with her manager at the New York City Ballet. Somehow, through broken sobs, she let it out that he did promise to take her back as soon as she was able to, but at the time, it didn't comfort her. She was devastated about the need to stop doing what she had been doing nearly all her life. I held her as she cried that night, and tried to comfort her the best I could. A lot of dancers stepped down to have kids, I told her. It didn't end their career; it wouldn't end yours.
This period of depression, as short as it had eventually lasted, scared the hell out of me. I would call five times a day to check on her, to make sure she got out of bed, that she was eating, that she remembered her doctor's appointments. I didn't want her to have second thoughts about this. I wanted her to want this baby, to wait for it as anxiously as I had been. I hoped her manager would keep his word. It was the only thing that kept her steady in those first couple of months. I didn't want to imagine what would happen if, from some reason, they took the promise back.
That soft fuss brings me back to the hospital room. I blink and look down at her, only to be amazed by her again. We've seen her countless of times before on ultrasound screens at various stages of developments, but it's miles different. She's an actual person now, with eyes and nose and lips that suck on air, but she's so small she seems unreal. I reach out to touch her fingers, clutched into fists. My finger looks huge next to any of hers.
"She's so tiny."
At the sound of Bella's voice, she opens her eyes. We both gasp in surprise, and then laugh at our own reaction. Her eyes have strange hazel shade. They are alert, as if searching for the source of the voice. I wonder if she recognizes it.
"Hey," Bella murmurs, and touches a finger to the baby's head. Although she can't see yet, her eyes focus on Bella's. For a second, it does feel as if she recognizes her.
"I was being stupid." The words make me look up. Bella's eyes are urgent on mine. "I'm sorry I was making it difficult. Hormones." She laughs darkly, but the sound is broken. "All my life I've made ballet my top priority, so when they took it away from me… I was lost – I didn't know what I was supposed to do with myself. I was angry – with her, with everything. I didn't think – I didn't know – "
Her apology trails as I shake my head. "I'm pretty sure she won't resent you."
Her eyes are huge, imploring, as if she honestly believes that I might. I lean over and kiss her forehead. "I thought you knew me well enough to know the answer for that," I chide her. "I know how important your dance is to you. But if you want it back, you have to get your strength back first."
"I don't…" Her voice trails off again; her eyes turn sheepish. "I don't want to be anywhere without her."
"You don't have to," I assure her. "Take all the time you need."
We don't say anything for a long time. The baby drifts back to sleep. Bella seems equally fascinated by her closed eyes, her soft breathing. Then she looks up at me and smiles. "As long as we're mob-free, we might as well name her."
Her uncontrollable giggles drowned the noise from the TV. I wanted to tease her and say she could probably be heard all the way to the street, but it was impossible to say anything as long as she was laughing, which she was. Her eyes soon filled with tears which she didn't bother to wipe away. The noodles she had fished on her fork fell back into the box. "Tell me you're not serious!"
Mustering a severe expression of feigned offence, I tickled her feet, which were in my lap. She yelped and tried to squirm away. I wrapped my arms around her ankles, counting on the fact she could barely reach them now. Instead, she grabbed her growing belly. "Daddy is abusing me," she told our unborn baby.
"Mommy is making fun of me for trying to name you," I backfired.
"I'm not naming our baby after both our dads!" she said, bursting into giggles again. "The next thing you say is that we could do a mash up of our moms' names."
"Those are the least likely names to do a mash up from," I pointed out. "I mean, what could you possibly do with Renée and Esme?"
"Reneeeesmeeee," she replied, stretching the vowels as if she was putting the name together on the spot. The last sound was lost in another fit of giggles, to which I soon joined too. It was impossible not to laugh. It sounded ridiculous.
"It's even worse than Carlie," she laughed, wiping a few more stray tears with the back of her hand. "I don't understand what's wrong with Annalene."
I rolled my eyes and picked at my rice. "You've been spending too much time in England. Was that Nathan's idea? Or Ivan's?"
"Stop being evil!" She raised her foot to poke my chest with her toe. She couldn't aim higher even if she tried. "Focus!"
"Phoebe," I shot, glancing at the TV screen where an ancient episode of Friends was playing.
She snorted. "I thought we were going to be serious! Ow!" Her face screwed up a little, and she lay a hand on her stomach. "She agrees," she told me, wincing through a smile.
"Maybe she's working on her grand pliés."
The accent implied it was French, so I assumed it was a ballet-related term. She looked sort of contemplative, which made me stay on my guard. "I seriously hope you're not thinking of some weird, random French or Russian name."
"Anya will love to know you think her name is weird and random," she said smugly, sticking her tongue at me. "But just for the record, that's not what I was thinking. That's because I have some taste." Her expression was haughty as she stuffed noodles and chicken into her mouth.
"I like Emma."
She shook her head before I managed to complete the thought. "It sounds too much like Emmett, or Emily, for that matter, in which case Claire will kill you."
"True, scratch that."
"No Brontë references, please," I laughed at her pout, "but nice try."
There was a moment of silence before she scoffed. "It shouldn't be so difficult. There must be something we'll both agree to."
"We'll get there," I smiled and lay a hand over her own on her stomach. "We still have a couple of months before she shows up."
Perfectly timed with my statement, our baby kicked. This time I felt it too. Both of us started, and began to laugh. And in that one perfect moment, I couldn't care less what name we'd eventually choose for her. I couldn't wait for her to show up.
I look at the baby thoughtfully and search my memory for the names both of us have eventually agreed on. We've narrowed them down to three, and I try to eliminate them now. We both like Kristen, but it rings weird with Cullen, so we've reluctantly let it go. Irene is another option, but she doesn't look like Irene to me now. There's one option left, secretly my favorite, but before I speak it out, Bella does.
It's not a question. She sounds as if she's made up her mind. I look up. I guess I look surprised to her because a soft laugh escapes her as she blushes.
"She looks like Grace to me," she explains. Then insecurity shadows her blissful smile. "Unless you want something else – "
I shake my head. "Grace is perfect." My voice is quivering, my throat thick with tears.
"Gee, that was fast," she giggles. It breaks the tension a little. I can see that beyond that grin, she's as emotional as well. "Grace Elizabeth Cullen?"
This time it's a question, although it shouldn't be. We've already agreed on her middle name. I nod anyway and return her smile. We sit there in silence because there's really not much to say. Bella fights off sleep and I mean to tell her to close her eyes and rest when a new voice pierces the silence. Both of us are alert in a matter of seconds. Grace's cry is thin and somewhat helpless; I find myself at loss against it. I watch Bella as she gently rocks her, whispering comforts into her tiny ear, and panic sweeps over me. My mother said parenthood was all about intuition – wasn't it supposed to kick in by now?
"I think she's hungry," Bella says, but uncertainty clouds her eyes. "Shh… it's okay," she murmurs. There's distress in her eyes as they meet mine.
"I'll get the nurse."
I nearly bump into the nurse when I dash down the hall. She fights off a grin at my frenzied explanation, and promises to check on Bella right away. Then she sends me to the nurses' station where my father is waiting. I'm just standing there, torn between the need to go to my father, and the stronger yearning to be back with Bella and Grace. Eventually, I head to the nurses' station. If Bella's instincts are correct, it feels necessary to give them some privacy.
The day we finally told everyone is clear as if it has happened yesterday. At three months pregnant, Bella wasn't showing, but with her current lack of job, someone was bound to find out sooner or later. It was Christmas, and we were going to surprise our family in Forks. Usually I had stayed in New York while she had been working. Sometimes my parents would fly over. Charlie even joined them once. This year I discussed our holiday plans vaguely with Emmett, and booked our flights without telling anyone, thinking my parents wouldn't mind two (and a half) extra guests.
"Are you nervous?" I asked Bella as we were nearing Forks. Twilight descended over the thick forest; we were going to crash their dinner, but I couldn't care less.
"No," she replied. The serenity in her stare was overwhelming. She looked beautiful, radiant. There was not a hint of last month's depression. "We've come full circle."
It only just occurred to me that we had.
Rosalie opened the door for us. Her eyes, for a split second wide with astonishment, lit up. "Oh my God! What are you – Esme!" she half turned as she yelled my mother's name, and then ushered us inside.
Soon everyone surrounded us, including Charlie, who had been invited to dinner.
"What are you guys doing here?" My mother asked me. "How come you're not working?" – to Bella, while crushing her in a hug.
"Don't I deserve a proper Christmas break with my family?" asked Bella. I was thoroughly impressed; I'd expected blush and stutters. Instead, the lie – not entirely a lie, but not really the truth, either – slipped easily from her lips. And it was enough for my mother, who hugged me again and gushed at how happy she was we could make it.
As we went into the dining room, my eyes met Rosalie's, and I stilled at her smile. Even if she was more discreet than others and hadn't said anything, she had clearly sensed something was going on. I could see it by the way her gaze flickered from me to Bella's stomach and back. Luckily Jade and the twins soon took over the conversation. Ten minutes into dinner, it was as if we had been there all evening.
"Carlisle and I were just talking the other day," my mom told Bella over dessert. "When is your next production? It's been a while since we came to visit, and we thought we could see you perform."
There it was, the blush I'd feared from. Slowly, Bella placed her fork on the table and met my mother's inquiring gaze. "I… won't participate in the next production. Or the one after that."
My mother's face fell. "How come?"
"You weren't fired, were you, Bells?" Charlie interjected. He looked concerned, as if that could be the only reason we would come here.
"No. No, of course not."
"Are you going back to the English National Ballet?" My father's eyes flickered in my direction as he asked her that. He asked it lightly, but I could see the possibility made him somehow uneasy.
"We're not moving to London," I assured him.
All their eyes were on Bella, apart for a few whose eyes wandered between the two of us. It was nerve wrecking. I remembered when Emmett had told us Rosalie was pregnant; he looked so cool back then. He had been acting so nonchalant, waiting for just the right moment to break their news to us. I couldn't help but wonder how he did it, and admire him for it.
It felt as if forever had passed before Bella spoke again, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. "I'm pregnant."
The squeals and shouts were deafening. Suddenly everyone was on their feet, forcing us onto our feet as well as they surrounded us. Questions mingled into congratulations. The kids, who had no idea what was going on, joined the cheers anyway.
"It's about damn time, dude," Emmett rejoiced, nearly knocking me over when he smacked my back. His grin was blinding. "Edward and Bella are going to have a baby," he explained Matthew.
The twins exchanged a look. "Why?" Andrew asked, as if he honestly couldn't understand why we'd want one.
"Because they knew I wanted to be an uncle." He gave me that haughty grin again. "I thought I'd have to shut up about it forever."
I shouldn't have been so horrified, but I was. "You knew?"
"Suspected. You've been acting weird for weeks, man. Rosalie said it was impolite to ask."
"Thanks, Rose," I muttered.
She came over to me, beaming, and gave me a quick hug. "You should be grateful. He was impossible to reign." Emmett rolled his eyes; she blew him a kiss, then winked at me.
"Uncle Charlie, why are you crying?"
Jade's question made everyone look at Charlie. His eyes were moist; I half expected him to look away and deny it. Bella untangled herself from Emmett's grasp, her dark stare suddenly worried. She walked over to Charlie and wrapped her arms around him. He held her close; as he blinked, a tear fell into her hair.
"I'm crying because I'm happy, honey," he told Jade with the slightest quiver in his voice.
"When are you due, honey?" My mother asked Bella, as she slowly pulled away from Charlie.
I stared at my brother dumbfounded. "And… what?"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
I looked up at Bella. We only found out a few weeks ago, and we hadn't actually decided if we wanted to share that, but looking at her now, she nodded as if she knew Emmett wouldn't leave it alone unless we answered.
"It's a girl," she asserted, jokingly ducking against the new wave of exclamations.
My father is speaking to a nurse by the desk, but the conversation stops as soon as he notices me. I haven't seen him since Bella has been brought into the ward. He eyes me anxiously when I approach him, but also eagerly. A fully experienced grandfather by now, I expect him to get used to it by now. Looks like he never has, never will be.
"I heard my new granddaughter is quite a beauty." His smile is tender. Then he shakes his head. "I sent your mother home to get some sleep. Charlie too, but he won't listen. He just went to get some coffee. For you, too; I thought you could use some."
We've been here since one in the morning, but I hardly feel tired anymore. I don't even know what time it is, and I hardly care. "I'm fine," I protest. My father just smiles knowingly. He looks as if he's waiting for me to crash.
"I don't want to rush you, but you'll need to register her and take care of some paperwork, so as soon as you name her – "
"We have, just now."
This surprises him. There's anticipation in his gaze. Although he doesn't actually ask anything, I answer anyway.
"Grace Elizabeth Cullen." It slips out of my lips with confidence, as if it has always meant to be her name.
He nods, and there's approval in his stare.
"Could you please call mom later and tell her? And Emmett; he will kill me if he finds out from someone else. And tell Alice she should go home and get some sleep too. And when Charlie gets back please tell him Bella is fine. We should also call Renée and – "
My string of frenzied orders is instantly cut off when he rests his hands on my shoulders. It's only when I blink I realize there's moisture around my eyes. My father's smile is sympathetic; he has clearly noticed the tears that are now spilling down my cheeks. It's silly to cry. Bella is fine, and so is Grace. And still, I don't seem able to stop them from coming.
The knowing smile curls on my father's lips again as he shakes his head. "It's okay," he says, and his voice his tender, as if I were a child. And then his arms tighten around me as I cry into his shoulder, and he pats my back as each sob ripples through me. I should be hugely relieved, but instead I'm panicked. I've prepared myself for this moment for months, if not years, but it isn't until I've seen her that I've realized I actually know nothing at all.
"I know it's overwhelming," my father speaks to the top of my head. "It's not going to be easy. But it will get easier each day. And then before you know it, it will be you holding her and telling her exactly what I'm telling you now."
After what feels like a long time, I feel myself calming down. My father doesn't rush me. He just waits it out with me, as patiently as ever. When I finally pull away from him, I wipe my tears, although I'm sure Bella will notice them anyway.
"Go," my father orders gently. "Send her my love. I'll get Charlie for her, and I'll call your mother."
I nod absentmindedly, my thoughts are already given to the tiny baby down the hall. There's no need to deny it – I'm scared shitless. That first cry has already sent my confidence crumpling. It won't get easier as my father has predicted. It will only be more and more difficult. There will always be new things to learn. There is so much I don't know yet.
I'm filled with this rush of energy at this thought, one that sends the panic away. Suddenly I can't wait. I thank my father and hurry down the hall, feeling strangely confident all of a sudden. I assign my mood swings to the enormity of the day. I'm a father. It's still difficult to absorb.
I think back to the day we told everyone, and the memory comforts me. If anything, it assures me we will not go through this alone. They'll always be there for us, one way or another. And if they do, we can get through anything.
Yes, I tell myself; we can definitely do this.
Resolution conquers fear. I smile as I push the door open. I'm anxious to be back with her. Our baby. Our daughter. Grace.