My eyes flew open as the tension in my abdomen increased. I'd experienced Braxton Hicks contractions for the last few weeks, but these were definitely different. I knew I was in labor. I took a deep breath as the contraction slowly subsided before throwing my legs over the edge of the bed and padding down the hall to Charlie's room.
"Dad," I whispered as I stood by the side of his bed. He stirred slightly but didn't wake up. "Dad," I said louder, giving his shoulder a light shake.
"What?" he asked, his eyes never opening.
Tears burned my eyes. "I, uh, I just had a contraction. It wasn't like the other ones."
That was enough to have his eyes pop open, and he sat up. "Was it just the one? Have you had any since?"
I shook my head. "Just the one so far. I'm scared though, Daddy." There was no way to stop the tears falling from my eyes now.
"Here, come on." He pulled back the covers on the other side of the bed. "Get into bed, you need to get some rest still."
I climbed into bed, curling up under the covers and trying to get as comfortable as I could.
"You know, this reminds me of all those nights when you were a little girl and you'd have a bad dream. I'd wake up to find you curled up beside me. I don't know if I've told you lately, Bells, but I'm proud of you." He gave me a tired smile.
My tears came quicker with his words. I didn't know how he could be proud of me. I was eighteen and pregnant with my ex-boyfriend's baby; one I wasn't capable of taking care of on my own. I felt like the ultimate failure.
"Just a couple more pushes, Bella," Dr. Snow coached. "You're doing great."
"Almost done, Bells." I was sure it was awkward for my dad to stand there while I gave birth, but there was no way I could've done it on my own.
I took a deep breath before bearing down once more.
"That's it, just a couple more seconds."
And suddenly the room filled with the shrill cry of my baby—no, I couldn't let myself think like that. She wasn't mine. She belonged to Irina and Laurent now. They'd flown here from Alaska a couple weeks ago, and they'd head back to start their new life as parents in a few days.
"Sophie," I breathed out as I listened to her whimpers before they whisked her out of the room and to the nursery. I'd asked not to see her or hold her, but I'd forever remember her first cry.
"Please don't, Dad. I know, I shouldn't have named her, but I couldn't help it."
He sighed. "I just don't want this to be harder on you than it has to be."
"There's nothing that will make this any harder or easier for me. I love her, but I can't—" I couldn't finish my sentence before I broke down sobbing. I loved her, but I couldn't be her mom. She deserved the best of everything that life offered.
Life carried on around me as if nothing had ever happened. Every day felt like I was walking through a horrible dream. The evidence of my baby was there, especially in my now deflated, yet still-swollen stomach. I rested my hand there, remembering how she used to kick and squirm when it was just us. I'd tell her how much I loved her and all about her new parents.
I knew I'd made the right decision, but it didn't mean it hadn't ripped out my heart. Some nights I woke up in a cold sweat, hearing her cry, but when my gaze searched the room, I'd remember she was thousands of miles away. I never fell back to sleep on those nights.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. I did everything expected of me. I slept, I ate, I went to work at the diner and plastered a smile on my face, but my heart continued to hurt. It felt like I was going through life in a fog.
I'd pass the hospital every day on the way to work and, more often than not, I'd find myself wrapped up in thoughts of how I labored for hours. Suddenly, I'd find myself parked outside the diner with no knowledge of how I'd gotten there.
I walked through the door after work one evening to find my dad sitting at the kitchen table. "Hey, Bells, come and have a seat."
"Okay…" I hesitated before I sat across from him. "Have I done something wrong?"
He shook his head. "Not in the least. I just want to have a chat with you. Have you given any thought to college? It doesn't have to be the university, you know, Peninsula is a good school as well—"
"Dad, I-I've thought about it. I'm just not ready yet."
He sighed heavily. "I know it's been hard, Bella, but you've got to try. You've been in this funk for months. I don't want to see you stuck here in this town. You're such a smart girl who can do anything you put your mind to. I just want what's best for you."
"I just told you, I'm not ready."
He sat back in his seat, a look of determination on his face. "I know. I heard you, and I understand. Hear me out, all right? Your mother and I talked—obviously, you're eighteen, and we can't decide anything on your behalf—but we think you should consider staying with her awhile. The change of scenery might do you good."
"You don't want me here anymore? Dad, I've lived with you since I was eight, and now you want to pack me up and ship me off to live with Mom?"
"You know that's not at all what I said, Bella. I just want you to find some peace, honey. I hate seeing the little girl I raised for the last ten years so broken up."
I sat there in silence for a few moments. Maybe he was right. Everything surrounding me reminded me of her. "I'll think about it."