CHAPTER 112

BELLA'S POV:

Even though The Nook was closed for the holidays, that didn't mean my new routine had to stop. So, three days after Christmas I was sitting in a booth waiting for my coffee date to appear.

"Sorry," I heard before Sasha breezed by with Jasmine in her carrier. "Nathaniel was coming with me because he thought you might have Tony with you, and then at the last minute, he decided to change his mind and stay with Ted. Of course, Ted had planned on having the day to himself to get things done around the house so we had to rearrange who was taking care of what before I could even get out the door."

"No worries, I haven't been waiting long," I told her. "Tony had absolutely no interest in coming, so it's probably for the best—Nathaniel would have been bored with just us girls."

"What is he up to today?" she asked, settling the baby down onto the booth seat before starting to remove all her winter gear.

"He opted to spend the morning with Esme. He got spoiled something fierce this holiday, so he wanted more time to play with all the toys that stayed at her house. Though it would probably be weeks before he gets to everything."

"Grandparents can't help themselves when it comes to spoiling their grandchildren. It's like some unspoken rule or something," she said. "Well, since you were waiting on us, the coffee is on me. You've got a lot of fill me in on, so should I get double?" she joked, heading towards the counter to order our usuals.

"Let's just start with one," I said. "I might want to switch to tea at some point."

"Sounds good," she said, before placing our order. Besides our normal coffees, she also ordered two coffee cakes. "I'm sure I don't need the sweets after all that I consumed over the holidays, but sometimes a girl just has to treat herself, you know?" she rationalized.

"You won't hear any complaints from me. My waist, however, may not be so forgiving," I quipped back.

"Your waist is fine—mine on the other hand still looks like I'm pregnant even though I'm carting this one outside of my body these days," Sasha bemoaned.

"You need to be kinder to yourself. Between delivery and having a baby to take care of, your body has been through a lot. Add in unlimited feedings, and sleepless nights—there isn't a lot of energy left to devote to exercising to lose weight. Instead of worrying about that, spend your time enjoying her while she's this small. As you already know, you'll blink, and she'll be out of diapers before you know it. You can always lose the weight when you're running after her as a toddler," I told her.

"I know. Realistically, I don't have far to go. I just hate that my hips still seem wider, and I can't fit into some of my pre-baby pants anymore. I may just have to suck it up and admit to needing a larger size. In the meantime, I'll just eat my feelings."

"Getting back into pre-baby clothes was a no-go for me. I was upset that my pants were not fitting so I took to wearing skirts and dresses instead. Eventually I just accepted the fact that things shifted around, and I was just going to have to dress for the body I had now," I told her.

"I bet all those high-school boys loved you in skirts and dresses. Anybody hot for teacher?" she jested.

"Considering I was one of the only teachers under fifty, they didn't have much of a choice. I get that many students will have a crush on a teacher at some point—and I don't mind the innocent fawning. Hell, some crushes even made them better students because they wanted to do well to impress me."

"I feel a but coming," she prompted.

"But, with puberty comes hormones, and some of those boys were just plain perverts. There were always a few that I would have to set some boundaries with early on in the year, or we would definitely have had issues with what is appropriate."

"Sounds scandalous," she sassed.

I rolled my eyes at her "Hardly. I know a lot of it was learned behavior—and after some of the parent-teacher conferences I've had, I could clearly understand why sons acted the way that they did. Some of the dads were no better. I just hope that my Tony doesn't grow up to act like a buffoon. He's got enough role models now that I think he should be okay. I might just have to limit his time with his Uncle Emmett though—he's the only one that could really corrupt him at this point."

"Speaking of Emmett, how did it all go?" she asked, looking for the scoop. "Last time we met, you told me you made the offer to them, so they had time to think it over."

"And it's been radio silence ever since," I sighed.

"Seriously? That was like, two weeks ago? I mean, I get that it's a huge decision and all, but I figured they would have been having these conversations with you—you know, working out logistics, figuring out where everyone's mind is at," she exclaimed.

"That's what I thought too. I mean, we saw them for Christmas, and they talked with us there like normal, but I just felt awkward. I admit to watching Rose for most of the day to see if I could get a sense of anything from her. I'm worried that maybe my offer upset her. She's hard to read though."

"It was a big offer—if she's anything like you, I'm sure she's working out ever little detail before she even attempts to have a conversation with you. I mean, I witnessed you obsessing over the should I or shouldn't I the weeks leading up to it all. Or at least I saw how preoccupied you were until you were finally ready to actually tell me what was going on."

"I get stuck in my own mind sometimes. It's both a blessing and a curse. I know that I will never be unprepared for a situation since I've got it all mapped out beforehand. However, sometimes that means I'm lightyears ahead of everyone else, and the waiting for them to catch up is hard when I've got it mostly figured out."

"What's Edward have to say about all of this? Does he have an opinion on what way his brother is leaning?"

"Edward hasn't had much to say on the matter. Actually, he hasn't had much to say at all," I mumbled, before taking a big bite out of my coffee cake.

"Uh oh, are you eating your feelings too?" Sasha joked, but the smile fell when she saw that I didn't crack a smile with her. "What's up?"

"Things have just been off. I thought having our couple's therapy session would have made things easier for us to talk about things, but I can't help but feel so disconnected from him these days. Like a line has been drawn in the sand, creating a divide that seems to grow bigger every day."

"I need more than that to understand what's what," Sasha pressed.

"So, when I was telling Edward about my wanting to go the surrogacy route, I was listing all my reasons for why I wanted to do it, and the main reason was because I wasn't sure if he and I would ever get there. Edward said he didn't need the year to decide on more children. He wanted that for us."

"Yes, you told me all that before telling me about the awkward dinner with Rose and Emmett," she confirmed.

"Well, I may have left out one detail?" I sheepishly pointed out.

"May have? I feel a doozy coming," Sasha said, putting her cup down to give me her full attention.

"I told him that I didn't trust that he was doing this for the right reasons."

"No…" Sasha gasped. "Why would you even say that?"

"Because I still feel like I haven't really given him much choice in this situation. I told him that I wanted more kids, and if he wants to be with me, he needs to pretty much conform to my ideals. I've set him up to fail here."

"I think the only person failing here is you," she pointed out. I was shocked by her bluntness, and before I could tell her otherwise, she continued. "I know that you and Edward have had a tough couple of years apart. But you both decided to move forward and try this out. You're figuring out how to make this co-parenting thing work while also exploring a relationship. From what I can see and from what you've told me, he's been all in. He is really trying. I can tell you that not all men would have responded the same way in your situation."

"But..." I tried to argue, but she quickly continued her speech.

"Now, I know that I've told you about my husband, Ted. But what I haven't told you is that before there was Ted, I was with a man named Diego. That relationship kind of was like you and Edward years ago—Diego didn't want kids. We weren't actively trying, but things happen. I ended up pregnant with Nate. Diego said he wanted to be a part of things—and despite my better judgement, I believed him. Looking back, I know that this isn't what he wanted. But at the time, I wanted to believe that we could have our happily-ever after; that I could have everything I wanted."

"Diego had no interest in being a father. The signs were all there—the avoidance; never wanting to spend time as a family. He barely would hold Nate or spend any time with him. He was always picking up extra hours at work. At first, I thought it was his way of contributing. Since he wasn't into changing dirty diapers, or feeding him, he could contribute to our finances. But after the first year, I realized there weren't really any extra hours. He was just using work as an excuse to go out and stay away from us. He met a new girl, Bree, who didn't tie him down like I did, or so he said before he moved in with her. I haven't seen him since. Occasionally, I'll get some money from him—but that's due to the state forcing his hand—not because he actually wants to help his kid."

"I'm sorry Sasha. I had no idea."

"It's not exactly my proudest moment, so I tend to not give him much thought. I'm happy now—Ted is everything I could want in a partner and more. And he is the best father—both to Nathaneil and Jasmine. There is a quote I read once. It said that anyone could be a father, but it takes a special man to be a dad. That is so the case here. But I didn't tell you all of this to get your sympathy. It's to show you that if Edward were pretending just to make you happy, then it would be obvious. The signs would be there. People cannot hide their true feelings that well. If someone truly hated children, they might be able to fool you for a couple of weeks, but eventually the truth would come out, through actions, words, whatever." Sasha paused to take a sip of her coffee, before continuing.

"I know that we haven't known each other long, but from what I've seen, Edward is a great father. I don't see him dragging his feet and going along with the motions just because it's what's expected of him, or what you want. I mean, I saw him at the holiday concert—he was clapping along and interacting even though I sincerely doubt Tony was able to see him on stage. No one was making him do that. You can't fake that."

"He said that he hoped that his actions these last few months would support the words that I'm having trouble believing," I told Sasha.

"Exactly. And I'm telling you that they do Bella."

"I don't know why I'm having such a hard time with this. My heart believes him. I see the evidence like you've pointed out. But my head is telling me to be wary."

"You said it yourself earlier—you get stuck in your head sometimes, which is both a blessing and a curse. This is the curse. You are poisoning a good thing here. That line in the sand that is putting distance between you and Edward. You drew that line," Sasha pointed out.

"That's what I was afraid of. How do I fix it? We're supposed to leave Friday to go away for the New Year, just the two of us. But with the way things have been, I don't even know if he wants to be alone with me."

"Just like he told you Bella, actions speak louder than words. Show him that you trust him. You hurt him deeply here. And if he's pulling away, it's because your lack of trust in him is making him doubt that he'll ever be able to prove himself to you. Think about it—him telling you he wants to have a child with you was monumental. That should have been celebrated. But instead, it got soured by your overthinking."

"I don't know exactly what he had planned for the weekend, but should I take it over? Surprise him?" I asked, truly hoping I could fix things.

"I wouldn't take it away from him. At least show him that you are looking forward to the time away. Promise him a long massage. Tease him with things you are bringing with you, like some naughty lingerie. Entice the man. Right now, his confidence needs a little boosting, but I'm sure you could show him that everything is not lost."

"Okay, I think I could handle that. Now enough about me, tell me about your holidays," I prompted. "What did your crazy sister get up to this time?"

"Well this year was off the charts. My sister, Hilda, brought her new boyfriend to meet the family, and she neglected to mention that he doesn't eat any meat. So, before each course, he would say a prayer of condolence for the poor animals that we slaughtered due to our selfishness. You can only imagine how much my hunter father loved that."

"I know they say opposites attract but taking a vegetarian to a hunter's cabin seems a little far-fetched, even for her," I rationalized.

"One would think," Sasha said, before continuing to spill the rest of her family drama. It was nice to know I wasn't the only one with issues.


One would think the mall after Christmas would be deserted, however that is not the case. People are returning gifts and spending their gift cards to get the things they wanted but didn't get this holiday season. It took me circling the parking lot three times before I even found a spot. I almost gave up and just went home, but after my conversation with Sasha, I really wanted to buy something special for our weekend away. Plus, coming home with a bag from Victoria's Secret would entice Edward of what was to come. Or so I hoped.

Edward had been tight-lipped over what our weekend away entailed, but he did tell me that I needed one fancy dress for dinner. I figured I could get that while I was out—and maybe a tie to match for him.

Two hours later, I finally had a dress I loved, and it came in Edward's favorite color on me, blue. The sales associate helped me find the perfect tie, and then I was off towards Victoria's secret. I won't lie—I hate lingerie shopping. It's such an awkward experience for me. The items look like pieces of scraps on the hangers. And the stuff they have on the mannequins always seems a tad too much—that you needed to have the perfect body to pull it off. I truthfully was ready to call it a day when a kind sales lady stopped me from leaving.

"You look a little lost. Can I be of some assistance to you?" the lady asked. From her name badge, I could see she went by Carol.

"I wasn't really looking for anything in particular," I said.

"Which makes it hard to find exactly what you want," she concluded. "No worries. Let me ask you some basic questions and see if I can steer you in the right direction. Favorite color?"

"Mine or his?" I asked back.

"Why don't you give me both so I can see if I can make you both happy," she mused.

"I like green. He leans more towards blue."

"In one word, how would you describe your clothing style? Classy, preppy, sexy, bohemian…" she trailed off.

"I don't know if I really have a style. I go for comfort first. Maybe a little bit of everything?"

"Okay. How about an ideal date?"

"I'm more of a homebody. Curl up on the couch and watch a good movie."

"How many toppings do you order on your pizza?"

"That's a strange question," I prefaced, only earning a chuckle from her. "Two"

"You've just finished a long workday. What's your ideal drink?"

"A glass of wine."

"Last question. When buying lingerie, what do you value most? Comfort? Style? Price? Partner's opinion?"

"All of the above?"

"But if you had to pick one?"

"My go-to answer would be to say comfort. However, partner's opinion is the main reason I'm buying, lingerie in the first place, so we'll stick with that."

"Okay—well based on the answers, I think that you need to get a corset."

"Ok?" I said, perplexed.

"Beauty is pain, and sometimes seduction needs to rule out comfort. I could see you laced up in a corset to show off your body's curves while also providing more cover. If that doesn't strike your fancy, I would suggest a teddy or chemise."

"Chemise I've done before, but corset would be different. Are they hard to lace up myself though? I would want it to be a surprise," I questioned, wondering if I could pull something a little more daring off.

"They can be laced up the front, if you want actual ties. But many can be secured with eye hooks or zippers too. Depends on the style and type you'd want. Follow me. I have the perfect one in mind for you." She pulled three selections off the wall, and quickly escorted me into a dressing room. "Ignore the colors for now—we're just trying on styles. Try the pink one first, then the one with the zipper next. Leave the lace one for last."

I did as she instructed, and was surprised that they were relatively comfortable. I mean, I don't think I could wear one all day long underneath my clothes, but I could definitely make it work through dinner, and then for a surprise reveal later in the evening. The first one was smaller, and showed more stomach than I was comfortable with, so I didn't pay it too much thought. The zipper one was better, but didn't lay as flat in the front. I was worried it would pucker and show through my dress. The lace one was absolutely perfect though. It covered me the most, and yet still was sexy with the peek-a-book skin that showed through the lace. I noticed that Carol also included a matching panty set and garters. I quickly put the entire outfit on, and was sold.

"Do we have a winner?" she asked, as I came out of the dressing room.

"You saved the best for last," I told her.

"I thought that might be the one. I went ahead and found it in teal. A happy medium of his and your favorite color."

"Thank you. I didn't think I could pull something like this off, and yet, you seemed to nail it."

"That's what I'm here for. My questions may seem weird, but it gives me a better understanding of the type of person I'm working with."

As we made our way up to the registers, I couldn't help but ask, "Can you explain the pizza one, though?"

"I was trying to figure out how fancy to get. If you had a lot of toppings, chances are you would want all the bells and whistles too—different materials, bows, sparkles, etc. You said two—so I figured simpler was better. Which is why I thought the lace would appeal to you most."

"Well, thank you for making this experience less painful. I was ready to just re-use something from home."

Placing everything into the famous giftbag, she said, "No worries sweetie. It is my job after all. And if you ever need help again, I work every Tuesday and Thursday, so I'd be happy to help find something else for you."

"I will keep that in mind Carol. Have a good night," I told her. With my bags in tow, I left the store with a new spring in my step. Things were falling into place. Now I just needed to get Edward and I on the same side of the line.


I called Esme on my way home to see if Tony was ready to be picked up, but they were in the middle of playing one of his new boardgames and weren't ready for the fun to end quite yet. Seeing that it was only one, I decided to swing by the hospital to see if I could have a late lunch with Edward.

At the front desk, the security guard called the ED to see if I had clearance to proceed. When someone answered, he handed the phone back to me. "Emergency Department, this is Corin. How may I help you?"

"Hello, my name is Bella Swan. I'm looking for Dr. Cullen. I was hoping he was free for lunch."

"Which Doctor Cullen. There are two," was all I was told in response.

"I'm sorry. I keep forgetting that. I meant Edward."

"He is busy with patients at the moment."

"I figured as much. I guess I'll just see him at home then. Thanks anyways—"

"Home? Wait, are you his fiancé?" I heard. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be insulted by the way she put emphasis on the word you. Then I got confused. Fiancé? I had accepted the title of girlfriend—we didn't have any additional titles. I was all set to refute her claim when a memory surfaced. I remember fighting with Edward over medical bills, and he told me that he lied to his employer to get me on his health insurance. As with any work place, rumors love to spread, so I wouldn't be surprised if others thought we were really engaged. While I didn't want to lie, I didn't want to get him in trouble either, so I simply said, "I'm his Bella."

"One moment please," was quipped back before I was put on hold. I prepared myself for her to tell me that he was busy, but a few minutes later, I heard Edward's voice over the phone.

"Cullen," his tone was brusque. Sounds like he wasn't having a good day.

"Hey, it's me. I was hoping I could take you to lunch. But if you're busy, I can take a raincheck," I explained.

"Bella?" he asked, clearly surprised.

"Yes? Didn't she tell you it was me?" I questioned back.

"No, she happened to leave that detail out," he said, though it sounded like he said it loud enough for those around him to overhear. "I'd love to have lunch with you, but we have a trauma coming in and I'm probably going to be tied up for the next hour or so."

"Work comes first—I get it. How about I run down and get you something to nosh on when you get a free moment later? Where should I leave it? At the front desk?"

"I'll meet you down at the cafeteria. If I can't eat with you, I'll take seeing your pretty face for two minutes."

"See you down there," I said, before hanging up the phone. By the time I made it down to the cafeteria, Edward was already there. Wanting to see his reaction, I greeted him, "Hello fiancé!" before pulling him in for a kiss.

Startled, he pulled away and gave me deer-caught-in-headlights look. I couldn't help but chuckle at his response. "The nurse I spoke with, Corin? That's what she called me, so I was wondering if I was missing something. But it seems that maybe we both are." His confused look changed to a sheepish one. I wasn't sure what that meant. Deciding to answer for myself, I continued. "Then I remembered about the embellishment so you could put me on your insurance, and I figured maybe the rumor was necessary."

"That and it keeps the unwanted nurses off my back," he elaborated.

"And is Corin one of those nurses?" I asked, now understanding why he wasn't happy my identity on the phone call wasn't brought to his attention sooner.

"Yup. She thinks I made you up. Maybe now that she knows you are real, she'll back down some," he chuckled.

"Maybe I need to further stake my claim. Should I be swinging by for some more lunches?" I asked him, as we made our way towards the selection of food.

"Swing by whenever. I love spending time with you. How was your morning coffee?" He asked.

"It was nice. I really am enjoying my friendship with Sasha. But we finished relatively early, so I swung by the mall to get things for our weekend."

"Did you now? What sort of things," Edward pressed, intrigued. I really hadn't mentioned our weekend away in a while, so the fact I was talking about it now must have eased his concerns.

"You said I needed a dinner dress, so I took care of that. And a little something to go under it," I offered in what I hoped was a seductive manner.

"I think I need to hear more about this little something you purchased," he said, before his pager went off. "But unfortunately, that is all the time I have for today. Quick, let's grab a sandwich. The least I can do is buy you lunch to go," he said.

"No way, this my treat. I'm buying," I told him. "What'll it be? Hamburger? BLT? Wrap?"

"Oo, baby you're spoiling me," he jested, before grabbing a Chicken Caesar wrap and some fries. "You want something?"

"I'll have the tuna sandwich." Edward added it to his pile, and headed toward the register. I took the fact that his hands were full to my advantage, and quickly swiped my card to pay for the transaction. I could tell by the look on his face he didn't like to be bested, but I added, "I have to make sure my fiancé is well fed. Wouldn't want him to collapse during this trauma."

My use of the title brought a smile to his face. "Yes, well, my fiancé is such a kind-hearted woman. How could I not appreciate such a gesture."

His pager went off again, meaning he really needed to get back to work. Taking my sandwich off of the pile, I pushed his chest lightly. "Go. Finish up your work, then come home to me. We can try this 'eat together' thing later for dinner. Any preferences?"

"Whatever my fiancé wants is fine with me. Or you could always just let our son pick?" he said, while walking backwards. From his tone, I could tell that he was loving this interaction.

"I'm sure we'll figure something out. I love you," I told him.

"Love you, Bella. More than you know." And with that, he turned and jogged back towards the Emergency room.

From that short interaction, I was feeling hopeful that things could be fixed with us. The playful banter was blurring that divide. I could only hope this coming weekend would be just what I needed to make everything right again.