Falling for a Dark Soul @tufano79
Chapter 19

Disclaimer: None of this mine, nor do I claim to be Stephenie Meyer. I just like to dabble in the playground that she created with Bella, Edward and her Twilight characters. No copyright infringement is intended.

Anyway, we’re going to finish Christmas in Bella’s eyes … starting with her conversation with Esme. We’re also going to celebrate Katie’s birthday and New Year’s before heading back to work at MAC.

Chapter Nineteen

Edward

“Before I do, do you have any pictures of Edward as a little boy?” Katie asked, grinning at me.

“I do have a few,” Mom smirked. “Edward was camera shy.” She got up and found a small album from when I first moved in with them. She handed me the album to show Katie and Bella. “My son was as skinny as a rail and hated getting his hair cut.”

I rolled my eyes, showing them the pictures. “This was about a month after I came to live with my parents,” I said.

“Edward, you were a twig,” Bella said, her eyes wide. “I also like your hair now.”

“I liked to hide behind that mess of hair,” I snorted humorlessly. Bella looked at me, understanding swirling in her eyes.

“What happened to your arm, Edward? You’ve got a cast,” Katie asked, pointing to the green cast. “Did it hurt? You look sad and upset in your picture.”

“I broke my hand. My dad was the doctor who set it for me,” I replied. “And I was really sad for a long time …”

“You’re not sad anymore, right?” Katie questioned, clambering into my lap.

“No, Little One. You, Bella and my parents make me very happy,” I breathed, giving her the photo album.

“Because you love us,” she said with certainty. I smiled at her crookedly, giving her a nod. She kissed my cheek, looking at the pictures and asking a periodic question. I felt my mom get up and heard her quiet tears as she disappeared into the kitchen.

“I’m going to check on Esme to see if she needs help,” Bella said. I turned and kissed her. She traced her fingers down my scruffy cheek. In a quiet whisper, she said, “I love you.” I brushed my lips over hers three times and she got up, walking into the kitchen. My dad came to sit next to Katie and me. His blue eyes were also brimming with tears. His hand squeezed my shoulder affectionately. I just tightened my hold on Katie as she asked me questions about my childhood.

I knew that moment, something had changed for me. I understood what everyone was saying. Blood doesn’t bind family … relationships do.

My parents? We may not share blood, but they adored me as if they had me as a baby. They showed me love. They showed me how to love.

Bella and Katie were slowly becoming my family. I’d fight lions for them. I’d do anything to ensure their happiness, their protection, their love.

“Edward, I’m happy that we got to spend Christmas with you,” Katie said quietly after my father got up to fill up his glass. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, Katie,” I said, kissing her forehead. “This is the best Christmas I can remember. Despite the early wakeup call.” She just turned in my arms, giggling quietly and kissed my cheek. I sat back, holding her and letting the moment settle over me.

This was happiness. This was love.

I wanted it. I wanted it all.

Definitely my grown-up Christmas wish …

Bella

“Esme?” I called, walking into the kitchen. She hastily wiped her eyes, turning around and giving me a watery smile. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart,” she answered. I arched a brow, like how I did with Edward. “I can see why he loves you.”

“He hasn’t said it, but I understand why he’s hesitant,” I shrugged.

“My son had such a difficult life and he always kept everyone at arm’s length,” Esme muttered. “Even his father and me. Edward doesn’t trust easily, but he let you in.”

“He’s easy to love,” I murmured. “And those people who hurt him deserve to rot in hell.”

“Trust me, many of them are,” Esme replied darkly. “Edward lived in about twelve homes before he came into our custody. Out of the twelve foster families, nine of the parents were arrested for child solicitation, molestation and wrongful death.”

“Somebody died in their care?” I hissed.

“A little girl,” Esme growled, “In a home in Dwight. Anyway, they were put away for life. The district attorney wanted Edward’s testimony because he’d told his case workers, but they didn’t listen. He stopped telling them and took the abuse until …” She walked over to a cabinet and poured herself a glass of bourbon. “Want some?”

I nodded and sipped the drink. “You wouldn’t let Edward testify.”

“He was finally accepting that he was a part of our family. Carlisle asked him if he wanted to testify but my son told him that no one cared what he said years ago. Why would they care now?” Esme frowned. “I never, in my wildest dreams, imagine seeing Edward as comfortable as he is with you and your sister. He never smiled. When he did, it was forced.” She took a sip, leaning against the counter. “He’s brilliant, ambitious, funny but he never let down his walls. To see him today? It’s like he’s a whole new person. I’m crying because I’m happy that he has someone that loves him unconditionally.”

“When we first met, Edward and I did not get along,” I snorted. “Oil and water, really.”

“He told us about how he treated you and the guilt he felt afterward. If anything, you’d figure he’d be understanding since Katie is in a similar situation with losing her parents,” Esme shrugged. “But, she has you.”

“Unlike Edward,” I frowned. “I also think that’s why Katie and Edward are so close. They’re kindred spirits, really. They both lost their parents at a young age without the ability to understand why it happened or cope with that sense of loss.”

“You also lost your family,” Esme argued.

“But, I’m twenty-eight. I have the coping skills to work through it. Yes, I struggle with their absence. I have days where getting out of bed is a struggle,” I shrugged. “Therapy has helped. Katie and I go to a grief counselor. I got the name from the preschool I enrolled Katie in. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here from the Pacific Northwest. I toyed with the idea of seeing a psychiatrist, but I didn’t want to take medications unless absolutely necessary. I miss my mom. There are moments when I wanted to call her to tell her all about Edward …”

The oven dinged and Esme checked whatever was inside. “I hope you like lasagna,” she said.

“I love it,” I smiled.

“Please sit, Bella,” Esme urged, gesturing to a small table in the breakfast nook. She put the lasagna back inside, sitting across from me. “I can only imagine the difficulties you experienced when your family died. I can also understand the need to start fresh. When did your parents pass?”

“Valentine’s day weekend of this past year,” I answered. “I stayed in Forks for as long as I could, but there were no chance for me to use my degree in advertising. I tried to keep things consistent for Katie. I just wasn’t making enough money. So, I put my parents’ home up for sale and used some money from their life insurance policies to move here after I got the job at MAC.”

“Has the home sold?” Esme asked.

“We had a few nibbles, but as of now? Nope,” I shrugged. “The real estate agent is trying to pimp out my childhood home but not many people are looking to move to Bumfuck, Washington. I may have to fly out there to deal with that at some point, but we’ll see.”

“Well, I’m eternally grateful that you are in Edward’s life. Both you and Katie,” Esme said, a warm smile on her face. “Seeing my son with your sister? It makes my heart just leap in joy. Edward was meant to be a father. His ex-wife …”

“Is a twat,” I snapped. I clapped my hand over my mouth. “My apologies. I drink and the filter goes away.”

“No, Tanya was a twat,” Esme snorted humorlessly. “She didn’t start that way. But, she just did things that were underhanded and Edward wasn’t truly happy with her. He put up a good front, spoiling her, giving her what she wanted. She never gave him what he wanted … unconditional love, happiness, a family.” She squeezed my hand, giving me an understanding grin. “Now, no more tears. This is the first time, ever, that Edward brought over a girl for Christmas.”

“Not even Tanya?” I asked.

“Nope. We met her at a company event. For Christmas, he’d spend his time with her, not coming around until after the holiday,” Esme shrugged. “I want to get to know you, Bella. No more talk of that bitch. Tell me about you and your sister. I want to hear everything.”

“Let me help you put on Christmas dinner. I can’t just sit here and do nothing,” I snickered.

“Nonsense! You’re a guest. Besides, I knew you had a huge party at your place yesterday evening,” Esme said.

We spent the next half hour talking while she made the salad and prepared some garlic bread. She also pulled out the lasagna, letting it settle while we finished up our conversation. I immediately liked her. She was so put-together and kind. She adored her adoptive son, but was shattered that she couldn’t do more to help him.

“Bella! Bella! Bella!” Katie sang, skipping into the kitchen.

“What? What? What?” I replied, picking her up and holding her on my lap.

“I’m hungry,” she pouted. “Papa Carlisle sent me in here to see when dinner was going to be ready.”

“You can tell Papa Carlisle that he and Edward can head into the dining room, pretty girl,” Esme said. “Dinner is ready.”

“Thank you!” Katie said, hugging Esme’s legs before running back into the living room, calling for Edward and Carlisle.

“She’s adorable,” Esme breathed. “You’ve done amazingly well with her.”

“It’s still early. I’m learning as I go. I go from being a woman, starting a new job in Seattle to a single parent of a lost four-year-old in just a moment. My mom was a bit of a space cadet, but she was a wonderful mother. She doted on both me and Katie,” I sighed, picking up a large bowl of various meats from the pasta sauce on the stove. “She was a stay-at-home-mom. It was a difficult adjustment with me and Katie for her to understand why I have to work. I don’t have a husband supporting us. Yes, we’re comfortable, but the money from the life insurance and social security? That’s going into a college fund for my sister.”

“You know, I can help you with Katie,” Esme offered. “If you ever need anything … I know that Edward works long hours and I must imagine you do the same.”

“One of our earliest fights was about working from home,” I snorted, rolling my eyes. “Edward allows me the flexibility to work remotely, as does my immediate boss, Alice Brandon.”

“Well, the offer is there, if you need it,” Esme grinned.

“Thank you, Esme,” I replied. “If I need to go out of town for work, I may take you up on this. My friends are awesome, but none of them have kids and the one woman that I’m friendly with in my neighborhood is not a fan of Edward.”

“Do you need help, Mom?” Edward asked, walking into the kitchen. He saw me, smiling brightly. “Is she telling you secrets?”

“All of them, Grinchy,” I deadpanned.

“What else am I supposed to do? It’s a mother’s prerogative to embarrass her kid,” Esme snorted. “Use your muscles for good. Grab the lasagna? Use the oven mitts, Edward.”

“I can so feel the love and respect in here,” Edward said flatly, picking up the lasagna. He kissed his mother’s cheek and winked at me before leaving the kitchen.

“Grinchy?” Esme asked.

“When I met him, he was all gruff and grumpy, like the Grinch,” I giggled, walking into the dining room. Like the rest of the home, it was decorated elegantly with classic holiday décor. I put the meat down on the table. “So, he’s the Grinch. He was my recipient of my secret Santa gifts. They were all Grinch themed.”

“I have the FunkoPop on my desk and the stuffed Grinch is on my bed,” Edward said, standing behind a chair. “I’ll wear that nickname like a badge of honor. I was the Grinch, but my heart has grown for these two beautiful women in my life.” I walked over to him and he slid his arms my waist. He kissed me so softly, smiling against my lips.

“Enough kissing. I’m hungry,” Katie said from her spot next to Carlisle.

“Excuse me, Miss Thing. Would you rather I kiss you?” I teased, kissing her cheeks. She giggled and gently pushed me away.

I sat down next to my sister and Edward was sitting next to his mom. We held hands and Carlisle said grace. Dinner was amazing. Katie devoured her piece of lasagna and some of mine, as well. When dinner was finished, Carlisle lovingly told Esme and me to go relax in the living room. He and Edward would handle the dishes. While they did that, Katie and I distributed the gifts. My little sister had a huge pile. Most of the gifts I’d gotten her were from ‘Santa.’ Only one or two were from me, but Edward and his parents got her a lot of presents. I also had a decent pile, mostly from Edward.

“Angel, do you want some coffee?” Edward asked, a towel draped over his shoulder.

“Yes, please,” I smiled.

“Mom?” Edward pressed. “Coffee?”

“Thank you, Edward. That would be lovely. I have some creamer in the fridge, the flavored kind,” Esme said, kicking off her shoes and curling up on the couch.

“Can I have some coffee?” Katie asked, her fingers lazily petting Sam.

“No, Kit Kat,” I chided. “Maybe, I can make you some hot chocolate after Edward and Papa Carlisle are done with the dishes.”

“I can do it, Bella. A peppermint hot chocolate with marshmallows,” Edward grinned crookedly.

“Thank you, Edward,” Katie sang. “Nana Esme, are you going to come to my birthday party?”

“When is it, pretty girl?” Esme asked.

“In two days. I’m turning five,” Katie grinned.

“We’re having it at Navy Pier at Winter Wonderfest,” I explained. “If you’re available, we’d love for you to join us, Esme. Carlisle, too.”

“I’m impressed you pulled that off,” Esme breathed. “And so close to Christmas …”

“It was a miracle,” I snorted humorlessly. “And my bonus check from MAC is paying for it. Would you come?”

“We’ll be there with bells on,” Esme said with a definitive nod of her head.

Edward walked back in with a tray with two coffee mugs and a Starbucks tumbler. He smiled sheepishly. “It’s for Katie. It won’t spill,” he explained. “Let it cool off, Little One. I put an ice cube in there, but it’s still hot.”

Katie nodded, inhaling her cocoa. Carlisle walked in with a tray of cookies and a large garbage bag for wrapping paper, sitting down next to his wife. Edward sat down on the floor next to me, putting his cheek on my thigh. I brushed my fingers through his soft hair and he gave such a beautiful smile.

“Bella, Katie, it’s been so nice having you join us for Christmas,” Carlisle said, sipping his own coffee. “But, I think Miss Katie is ready to tear into her presents.”

“I’ve been … uh … what’s the word?” she looked at Edward.

“Patient, Little One,” he chuckled.

“I’ve been patient,” she giggled.

“Go to town, Kit Kat. Make sure you thank who gave you the gift,” I chided.

“Yes, Bella,” she chirped.

It took over an hour to open presents. Katie had the most and like I suspected, she was totally spoiled by Edward and his parents. Probably, the sweetest gift was from Edward to both me and Katie. He got us a set of matching bracelets that said ‘Little Sister’ in hers and ‘Big Sister’ in mine. We put them on and Edward took a picture of us on his phone. Esme told us all to get together and we sat down in front of the tree. Katie was sitting in my lap and I was in Edward’s. She took a ton of photos, ending with a silly one where Edward held up a sprig of mistletoe, kissing me firmly on the lips.

Esme got misty eyed at that, handing back Edward his cell phone.

The excitement of the day caught up with us and Katie crashed, curled up with her head on Sam’s belly underneath the Christmas tree. Edward and I were in an oversized chair - obviously a favorite spot for us - and Carlisle and Esme were on the couch. “We should get Katie home,” Edward murmured, nuzzling my neck.

“You can always stay,” Esme suggested. “We have enough room. Katie can stay in Edward’s old room and you two can stay in the guest room. I’ll make breakfast tomorrow.”

“It’s up to you,” I said. “You’re the driver.”

“Who’s been overserved,” he said. “I’d rather stay. Little One had us up at the butt-crack of dawn.”

“She was excited for Santa,” I snickered. “She was bouncing on the bed at what, six?”

“I don’t know. It was freaking early,” Edward snorted, his hand sliding underneath my sweater to my back. I shuddered. “What will Katie wear?”

“We have some kids’ clothes,” Carlisle answered. “We’re still legal foster parents. We have a variety of items, if need be.”

“Bella, you can borrow from me,” Esme said kindly. “Edward still has some clothes here.”

“Thank you, Esme,” I grinned. “I appreciate it.”

Edward gently patted my legs and I got up. He bent down, picking up Katie. She mumbled, but put her head on his shoulder, asleep and safe in his arms. Carlisle led us upstairs to Edward’s old room. It was spotless and devoid of any personality. Edward put her on the queen-sized bed and ducked out when his father came in with some pink pajamas. I thanked him and woke up my little sister. “I’m tired, Bella,” she whined as I changed her into her jammies.

“I know, Kit Kat. We’re staying at Nana Esme and Papa Carlisle’s,” I said. “This is Edward’s old room, when he was younger.”

“It’s very … blah,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“Maybe, Nana Esme redecorated after he moved out, Kit Kat,” I shrugged. “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Katie nodded and I took her hand, finding a bathroom attached to the bedroom. Again, it was very nondescript, but it had a step stool so Katie could wash her hands. Walking back into the bedroom, Katie smiled sleepily when she saw Sam curled up on the bed. She crawled under the covers, petting his head. “Good night, Katie. I love you.”

“Love you, too, Bella,” she yawned.

I found a nightlight, turning it on and I slipped out of the bedroom. I walked back down to the living room. Edward was sitting on the chair, sipping some cognac. “Where are your parents?” I asked.

“My dad is throwing out the garbage and my mom is changing into some pajamas,” Edward replied, tugging me into his lap. He kissed just below my ear. “Perfect day.”

I melted against him, taking a sip of his drink. “It was a perfect day. With all of this, the emptiness was gone,” I whispered, looking at the exquisitely decorated tree. “Your mom is awesome.”

“Yeah, she is,” Edward said, sliding his arm around my waist. “Both of my parents are … they got the short end of the stick when the adopted me.”

“Stop it,” I growled. “You’re a good man, Edward Cullen. People are assholes. Unfortunately, you got the lion-share of that when you were growing up, but it’s evident that they love you.” I glowered at him and he just stared at me, his eyes swirling with confusion and a bit of denial. “I wish I could make everything you dealt with go away, Grinch.”

“With every kiss, every ounce of patience, and every embrace, you do, Bella,” he whispered, pressing his forehead to mine.

I slid my hands up to his neck, massaging his muscles. He sighed contentedly. “I do have a question, though. Your bedroom … it was very … bland. Even Katie noticed it.”

“As a foster kid? You didn’t have much,” he shrugged. “I never felt comfortable enough to put up posters or anything because always I felt like a guest in this house. I didn’t really put my mark or personality on my living spaces until I was paying for them with my own money.”

“I guess that makes sense,” I said, threading my fingers with his. We stay cuddled on the chair, sharing a glass of cognac and watching the tree until Carlisle and Esme came back downstairs.

Esme was in a pair of leggings and slouchy tunic with a pair of chic glasses on her nose. Carlisle was in a pair of jeans with a button-down, ditching the sweater he’d worn earlier. “You two are so adorable together,” Esme cooed.

I grinned at her, kissing Edward’s jaw. He just held me closer.

“Is Katie all settled?” Carlisle asked.

“She’s down for the count with her bed buddy,” I giggled.

“Sam is attached to her,” Edward snickered. “It was my fur-child that introduced me to Bella and Katie.”

“You were so patient with her and sweet when we first met,” I said, squeezing his knee. He jumped and threaded his fingers with mine.

“And, then you met me the next day at MAC and I was a colossal douche,” he sighed. “I’m still sorry about that, angel.”

“You owned up to it, Edward. Before, you would have continued to be a jerk,” Carlisle said. “Tanya raked you over the coals and shattered you.”

“Do not mention that bitch’s name,” Esme sneered.

“We saw her,” I deadpanned. “At a brand launch …”

“Please tell me you slapped her,” Esme huffed.

“Such violence, love,” Carlisle teased. She rolled her eyes and put her feet in his lap. He began rubbing.

“No slapping,” Edward scoffed. “Though, Bella wanted to pop her breast implants.”

“I still do,” I grumbled.

“Regardless of the bloodshed the women in my life would love to do to my ex-wife, I’m not going to spend another moment thinking about Tanya Denali or her bullshit. Yes, she raked me over the coals with her behaviors. I’m working on my issues. I’ve spent far too long burying my head in the sand and not living my life because of the never-ending crap storm that was my existence prior to becoming your son and meeting you,” Edward said. “You learn from the past, yearn for the future and treasure the gift that is the present. I’m choosing to move forward. I have a lot of great things in my life and I was an idiot to not notice them before. Mom, Dad, I’m grateful for you opening up your home to me when I had no one. Bella, I so lucky that you accepted my apology and have given me so much that I can’t ever repay you. And Katie? I can’t even … put into words how I feel about her.”

I couldn’t not kiss him after his ardent speech. He pressed his forehead to mine and took a few calming breaths.

“I’m glad that you’re closing that chapter involving Tanya,” Carlisle said. “Now, I’ve got a shift in the ER tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, Carlisle,” Esme frowned. “You said you were off until after the first of the year.”

“I know, but one of my attendings got stuck in Buffalo because of a snowstorm,” Carlisle explained. “I’m covering his shift and once he gets in, I’ll be free until the new year.” He stood up, kissing Esme’s lips. “Good night, Edward. Bella, it was such a pleasure spending time with you and getting to know you.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” I smiled.

“Good night, Dad,” Edward said.

“Well, I hate to disrupt your comfy embrace, but I need you to move your car, Edward,” Carlisle said.

“Right,” he sighed. “I’ll be right back, angel. Mom … no embarrassing stories.” He kissed my temple and put on his coat, following his father outside.

“I put some pajamas on the bed in the guest room,” Esme said, sipping some hot tea.

“Thank you,” I said. “I was dreading Christmas … it was the first one without our parents. But, with the party yesterday with our work family and the dinner tonight? It didn’t feel as empty.”

“I know I’m not your mother, but if you ever want to talk, Bella,” Esme offered. I nodded, giving her an appreciative grin. “Well, like my son, I was overserved. I’m going to head upstairs. Any requests for breakfast?”

“I’m grateful for whatever you’re serving,” I replied.

“Any allergies? For you? Katie?”

“Nuts,” I said. “Katie’s allergic to any tree nut.”

“Got it,” Esme nodded, getting up and smoothing her hand down her tunic. “Thank you …”

“For what?” I asked.

“For loving my baby boy,” she breathed. “He may not be able to say it, but I can see that he loves you, too.”

With a tender smile, she went upstairs after she put her cup in the kitchen. Shortly after that, Carlisle and Edward came back inside. Carlisle waved as he followed his wife. Edward kicked off his shoes and hung up his coat. “It’s frozen out there.”

“The cars get all squared away?” I asked.

“My dad parked outside and I put my car in the garage to charge,” he explained, walking to the fireplace and holding out his hands to warm up. “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s perfect, Edward,” I answered, standing up and holding out my hand. “I can help warm you up.”

“As much as I want to do more of what we did last night …” he purred.

“Tempting, Grinchy. I just want to curl up with you underneath the covers. I just met your parents. I don’t want them to think I’m a skank,” I snorted.

“You are the farthest from that, angel,” he said, threading our fingers together. “You are beauty, grace, and elegance personified. My ex-wife? She’s the skank.” He pulled me closer to his body and kissed me. “Now, cuddling sounds perfect.”

xx FFADS xx

The next day, we ate a huge breakfast with Esme before Edward drove us back to my brownstone. Katie tried to get him to stay with us, but he had to get some things done in his condo. After he’d left, he sent a text saying he needed to pick up Katie’s birthday present. Since my sister had a birthday so close to Christmas, she raised a huge stink if people tried to say that the gifts she got for Christmas were for both her birthday and the holiday.

While Katie played with her new toys, I verified everything for Katie’s birthday, giving the woman I’d spoken to the final numbers of people attending. The goodie bags were packed up and just needed to be loaded up into my car, along with plates, drinks and utensils. The cake would be picked up on the way to Navy Pier.

By late afternoon, I had Katie’s party solidified and I was walking around, cleaning up the brownstone. The doorbell rang and I walked to open it. Edward was standing on the stoop with a smile. “I wasn’t expecting to see you back, Edward. I also gave you a key. You can use it. Any time.”

“I don’t want to wear out my welcome, Bella,” he said, holding up a singular perfect rose.

I took it from him, inhaling deeply. “You are welcome here, Edward. Always,” I said. “Where’s Sam?”

“He’s at home. I wanted to come by to hang out, but if I leave Sam at home, I’ll be more of a gentleman,” he quipped, walking inside. “Where’s Katie?”

“Upstairs, napping,” I answered. “She told me she didn’t sleep well at your parents’ place. New location, new sounds and unfamiliarity. Sam helped, but she tossed and turned. Did you get her a present?”

“Yeah. I wasn’t sure, but I ended up getting some things for that doll she got,” Edward shrugged as we sat down on the couch. The television was on quietly as we talked. “Is everything set up for her party?”

“All good to go. I just need to load up the goodie bags, and serving plates up into my car,” I answered, yawning. “I also need to pick up the cake, too.”

“It seems like Katie wasn’t the only one who didn’t get a good night’s sleep,” Edward chided. “Lay down, angel.”

“I don’t want to bore you,” I mumbled, not really fighting as he guided my head down to his lap.

“Just sleep, Bella. I’m not going anywhere,” he said. His fingers idly brushed through my hair and within moments, I’d dropped off, curled up next to my boyfriend. When I woke up, I was covered with a blanket and my sister was snuggled next to me. I heard some puttering in the kitchen and I sat up as best as I could with Katie in my arms. After I put on my glasses, I saw Edward in the kitchen, moving easily. He looked up, smiling crookedly. “You slept hard, angel.”

“Sorry about that. I’m certain you didn’t need me drooling on your leg,” I whispered, leaning my cheek against Katie’s hair.

“I liked having you drooling on my leg,” he quipped. “You hungry? I didn’t do much. I just reheated leftovers from Christmas Eve.”

“I should wake up Katie,” I yawned.

“She already ate. She came down about an hour after you nodded off. We ate dinner and she prattled on about her birthday tomorrow. She’s really excited, angel,” Edward grinned.

We talked quietly while I ate my late dinner. Katie eventually migrated to Edward’s lap, crashing in his arms. He held her so tenderly as we talked, with such a look of adoration as he stared at me and at her. By nine, he carried Katie upstairs and we tucked her in. Edward and I spent an hour making out on my bed before he begrudgingly left. I whispered that I loved him and he responded by kissing me, brushing his lips over mine three times. My heart fluttered at the sentiment and gentleness he’d showed me. I wanted nothing more than to snuggle in his arms, all night. However, Sam was back at his condo and as much as he wanted to sleep with me, he was determined to be a gentleman.

Selfishly and mentally, I argued that he could still sleep with me … as in snoring and cuddling.

I loved the rate at which we were going. There was no rush to have sex, but I think a lot of it was for him to be ready to say that he loved me. I know that ‘actions speak louder than words’, and Edward has showed me numerous times that he loved me, each time he kissed me. He needed his head to catch up with his heart.

As predicted, Katie was up with the sun. I hadn’t slept well since I’d slept so deeply when I took my nap. However, I plastered on a smile and asked Katie what she wanted for breakfast on her birthday. It was my mom’s tradition that birthdays were a family holiday, where the person celebrating got to do whatever they wanted and the family catered to their every whim. The last birthday we celebrated before my parents died was my sister’s. Last year’s birthday was spent at some indoor waterpark with Katie’s friends. I couldn’t go because I was interviewing for jobs.

Little did I know that the interview I was at, I’d never be able to start. The reason being was that two months later, I’d become a single parent and dealing with the sudden death of my mother and stepfather.

Katie asked for chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream and bacon. I made them for her, drawing a smiley face on her pancakes. She giggled before dug into her breakfast.

“What time are we leaving to go to Navy Pier, Bella?” Katie asked, drinking her milk.

“Well, we need to get you all cleaned up since you’re covered in chocolate,” I snickered.

“Am not,” Katie argued.

“Sorry, Kit Kat,” I said, snapping a photo and showing it to her. “You are. Besides, I’m certain you want to look pretty for your party, right?”

“Can I wear my Anna costume?” she asked.

“You bet, Katie,” I smiled. “You done with breakfast?” She nodded. “Okay, go upstairs and lay out your costume. I’m going to clean up the kitchen.”

“Kay, Bella,” she chirped, hopping off the stool. “Is Edward coming? Nana Esme? Papa Carlisle?”

“They are, Katie. Nana Esme and Papa Carlisle are going to meet us there. I’m not sure if Edward is driving over with us or meeting us,” I answered honestly. “I’ll call him to find out.” She gave me a bright, sunny smile and hugged me before darting upstairs. I picked up my cell phone, dialing Edward’s number.

“Too early …” he grumbled.

“Tell me about it, Grinch,” I snorted. “Katie was up super early. Though, you’re usually an early riser. You are the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave.”

“True, but my imagination was driving me wild last night,” he said. “I was reliving Christmas Eve and yeah …”

“Edward,” I moaned, thumping my head on the counter. “You are an evil, evil man. You’re teasing me. In a matter of a few hours, we’re going to be surrounded by twenty kids at Navy Pier.”

“I’m not evil when I fully intend to follow through, angel,” he purred. “Tonight, if you feel so inclined.”

“It’s a date,” I grinned. “Anyway, are you coming with me and Katie to Navy Pier or …”

“I’ll drive you, Bella. You’re going to need help with the goodie bags, food and everything else,” he explained. “What time do you want me over there?”

“The party will start at noon, so about eleven?” I asked.

“I’ll be there,” he replied. “I’m going to get a quick run in. Call me if you need anything.”

“I will, Edward. Thank you and I love you,” I whispered. He hummed and said his goodbyes. I went upstairs and helped Katie get washed up. Once her body was cleaned and her hair was curled. I got her dressed in Anna costume. Plopping her down on the couch, I had her watch some television show while I got ready. I put on a pair of black leggings and a blue sweater. I ran some gel through my curls and put on some makeup. After I put on my boots, I went downstairs to get the supplies for Katie’s party.

When Edward came over, we loaded everything up into the back of his car. Katie was bouncing off the walls. I bit my tongue, trying not to snap at her. We drove to the bakery. I went to get out of the car.

“I’ve got it, Bella,” Edward said.

“Here,” I replied, handing him my credit card. He stared at it, with a brow arched dangerously. He closed the door without taking my card and he walked into the bakery. Ten minutes later, he walked out with a large Frozen cake. He handed it to me. The cake was beautiful … exactly what I wanted for Katie for her fifth birthday. I wasn’t happy that Edward had paid for the cake, but I’d fight that battle later.

Arriving at Navy Pier, we were greeted by the party planner. She led us to the cordoned off portion of Winter Wonderfest that was our ‘home base.’ After signing the waiver and paying the last installment to reserve this space, the party planner left. Edward and I worked to decorate the tables while Katie set up the goodie bags.

By noon, everyone had arrived and Katie was eagerly greeting her new friends. I said hello to the parents and thanked them for coming. There were piles of presents on an empty table.

“The fact that you set this up in a matter of a couple of days is a miracle,” Alice sang as she walked over to me. I hugged her. “You look good, Bells.”

“Thanks. How was your Christmas?” I asked.

“My Christmas was great,” she grinned, holding up her left hand. “Look what Jasper got me!”

“Oh my goodness,” I squealed, looking at her beautiful ring. “This so you. He did amazing!” On Alice’s finger was an exquisite rose gold and oval diamond ring.

“Yeah, he did,” Alice sighed. “You’ll be a bridesmaid, right?”

“I’d be honored, Alice,” I grinned.

“Bella! Can I go on the ice with Edward and Mr. Jasper?” Katie asked, pulling away from Edward’s grasp. “Addy and Kamryn are on the ice with Miss Cynthia.”

“Be safe, Kit Kat,” I said, kissing her forehead. Edward walked over to me, sliding his arm around my waist. He pressed a sweet kiss to my lips. “Do you need money?”

“According to the attendant, it’s included in what you paid for the reservation,” he said. “Do you want to join us?”

“I’ll just take pictures of you skating, Edward. Do you remember my first foray in skating?” I replied. “Thank you for …”

“Angel, I’m happy to do it,” he answered, grinning crookedly. “Congratulations, Alice. Jasper told me about your engagement.”

“Thanks, Edward,” Alice beamed. “Did he … ask you?”

“I’ve never stood up for a wedding before. I’m looking forward to it,” Edward said.

“Edward! Come on!” Katie said, tugging on his hand. Edward kissed me once more before he allowed himself to be pulled away.

“You two look so comfortable with each other,” Alice smirked. “Like … comfortable. Did you and Edward …”

“Alice, I’m not telling you,” I blushed, picking up my phone and walking to the ice rink. She scurried behind me. I watched as Edward helped Katie put on her skates.

“The blush says otherwise,” Alice cooed.

“Alice, I adore you. You are one of my closest friends, but there are some things that are not meant to be shared,” I spluttered. “Especially, at my kid sister’s birthday party.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll drop it,” Alice snorted.

“Thank you.”

After a beat, she smirked. “Did he, at least, get you off?” Alice pressed.

“Alice …”

A/N: I had every intention to get to New Year’s Eve, but this got to be too long. Up next will be New Year’s Eve, the return to work and introduction of a new character …

Pictures from this chapter are on my blog. You can access that through a link in my profile. I’m also on Facebook: Tufano79’s Twilight Fanfiction Appreciation. I’m also on twitter, too: tufano79. Leave me your thoughts and thank you for reading!!

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