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Story Notes:

Disclaimer - I do not own Twilight and do not profit from the use of its content.

Author's Chapter Notes:

Thank you, latetolove, for another great beta job. Mwah! :)


Zenith: The Year Between

A series of outtakes from Zenith


 

 

“Dad, I need to talk to you.”

 

Charlie turns in his seat, lifts his head at an inquiring angle to look at me standing stiffly in the entryway.  “You’re up,” he says, slightly dumbstruck by my first appearance downstairs in several days.

 

“I’m up,” I affirm with an edge that clearly says I’m up to stay.  “And I need to talk to you.  It’s important.”

 

He’s caught off guard by the clarity of my assertion—no downcast glances or bitten lips—and I hope this will make things easier.  A shot in the arm hurts less when you don’t know it’s coming.

 

“Sure,” he says sincerely—curiously—and he briefly releases the hold he has on the coffee mug before realizing he has nothing else to do with his hands and reclaims the handle firmly.  “What’s on your mind, Bells?”

 

I slide into the chair opposite him, palms splayed on the table top and eyes fixed on the twinkling police chief badge affixed to his navy uniform.  He has to leave for work in twenty minutes. I’m doing this now for both our sakes.

 

“Bells?”

 

“I found out some pretty big news.”

 

His stare prods me forward.

 

“I…”  I freeze, but it’s just for a second, and then my resolve—the loud voice of reason in my head saying there really is no other way—returns.  “I’m pregnant, Dad.”

 

The space between us seems to stretch before my eyes, as he blinks and looks away to stare at the phone as if suddenly expecting a call.  His thumb strokes the chipped rim of the mug, keeping a nearly even pace with the twitching of his jaw.  Charlie looks lost.

 

The clearing of his throat snaps us violently back into the same world where he’s a father and I’m the knocked up teenage daughter.  “How did—no, I know how it happened.  But do you understand what this means?”  He shakes his head as if even he—a father—can’t fathom the changes a baby will bring.

 

I can only agree.  “Everything will be different now.”

 

“Not just different, Bella.  Harder,” he mutters in a sudden burst of indignation. “Babies…are hard.  And that’s with two parents.  You don’t even have…” The name dies on his lips, buried six feet under.

 

“Jacob,” I finish for him quietly.  “I don’t have Jacob.”

 

The next breath that leaves Charlie is heavy with regret and resignation.  “No.  You don’t.”

 


 

I’m surprised to learn that Billy doesn’t know.  But it’s the first thing Leah tells me when I call later that day.

 

“Jacob definitely never told him.  And no one was going to say anything after.”

 

After settles like swallowed sea water in my stomach as I contemplate the task before me.  It leaves me distractedly rattling off the information that had motivated the phone call in the first place.  “I’m not enrolling at Peninsula anymore.  I’m going to live with Vanessa in Olympia and pretend I’m studying English.  Sorry we won’t be able to carpool like we’d planned.”

 

There’s a drawn out silence on the other end that tells me Leah doesn’t think too highly of my decision.  But when she does finally speak, it’s to say, “Mom will have to cave and help me buy a car now.”  She goes on to discuss her low expectations for next fall.  The boys are all going to be skinny burnouts who can’t speak proper English or can’t speak at all.  The class work is going to be mind numbing and time consuming. The library will smell like moldy coffee.  The professors will be sexually repressed, and she’ll have to sleep with a couple of them to get good grades.

 

It will be the last conversation I have that doesn’t include the word ‘baby’ or ‘soul’ for a very long time.

 


 

No one answers the door when I knock.  Not after the first, second or third time my knuckles rap against white paint.

 

I stand outside waiting longer that I probably should, but I’ve never knocked before, have never needed to know whether or not I’m welcome.  Maybe he knows it’s me.  Maybe he has nothing to say—or everything to say.

 

During the long minute it takes me to grasp and turn the handle my foot runs idly over the door mat, familiarizing itself with the floral pattern fading from the coir, so that when the door’s pushed open my feet would much rather stay where they are.  They’ve taken a sudden liking to the doormat.

 

Sluggishly I make my way inside and the silence and darkness causes me to wonder if Leah had been wrong.  Perhaps he isn’t home.  The living room is empty, not just devoid of people but of the signs of use; there are no used cups on the TV tray, no throw pillows carelessly shoved to the floor, no newspaper ads scattered across the coffee table, no book bag in the corner.  The tidiness makes me uneasy, and when I enter the kitchen and find it in the same organized condition I feel a new sense of loss: this is not the second home that I remember, and I will never again find the comfort here that I used to.

 

The Blacks’ house is small in such a way that it’s impossible not to notice the only open door in their short hallway.  I stand outside Jacob’s room and peer in.

 

It’s painfully untouched.  The hamper is bursting with clothes, familiar sneakers peak out from beneath the unmade bed, a dresser door sits open, and spilled wood shavings circle the can of the un-emptied wastebasket.  In the little space that remains Billy’s wheelchair stands just as silent and unmoved as its surroundings, cradling a man who’s cradling a wooden figurine between his palms.

 

He doesn’t look up as I step into the room, but the low timber of his burdened voice acknowledges me quietly.  “He never finished this.”

 

I look more closely at the piece in his hands and recognize the rough outline of a dog.  Or wolf.

 

“The tail,”—he taps the abandoned stump—“was giving him fits.  Of course, I knew the trick to it, but he would’ve been better off learning on his own.”  Billy’s eyes are empty of anything but sadness.  “I should have shown him how to carve the tail.”

 

“How…”  The words to ask him how he is doing are too worthless to make it past my lips. “I think he would’ve learned how to do it himself eventually.”

 

It’s several seconds later when Billy nods slowly.  “Yes, he would.”

 

And then there’s nothing but silence, and I have no choice but to say what I’ve come to say.  I sit on bed so that I can face him completely even if he doesn’t acknowledge the movement.  “Billy, I know that Jacob is gone and nothing can bring him back or make it all hurt any less, but I wanted you to know that I’m so sorry for what happened.  I never meant for any of it, and if I could go back to before….I would have fought harder to save him.  Because everything hurts so much now.”

 

His fingers begin trembling along the edges of the wolf.

 

“But I can’t.  So I’m trying to only look to the future, and right now I see me wanting to be happy and strong because Jacob left me with something very precious.  In about seven and half months I’m going to have a baby.  Jacob’s baby.”

 

The grip he has on the wooden figurine tightens as the quaking of his hands strengthens until he’s forced to relinquish his hold, and the wolf clatters noisily to the floor.  I don’t hesitate to take his hands between my own, and the force with which he clings to me is almost painful.  I squeeze back harder.

 

Billy finally looks up so that I can see the tears rolling down his red face.

 


 

“Bella, sweetie, it’s so good to hear from you.  It’s been a few days, and I was starting to worry.”  Renee’s voice is warm but cautious over the phone.

 

“I know.  I’m sorry. It’s just been a rough couple of days.”  I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom with my back against the bed and a cell phone at my ear.  In my free hand I’m holding a pregnancy test I felt obligated to take.  Something about the little plus sign gets through to my rationality and I’m sick with fear.

 

“Anything I can do to help?”

 

I open my mouth to respond but only a loud sob comes out, and I don’t quite manage to stifle it with my hand.  The sound comes out of nowhere and I’m shocked when tears start forming and flowing madly.  It’s the first time I’ve cried since my talk with Edward two nights ago.  And though I try to collect myself, gasping, wet breaths are all I can manage

 

On the other end of the line Renee becomes alarmed.  “Bella, are you okay?  What’s wrong, sweetie?”

 

I’m shaking my head, but manage out an almost indiscernible sentence. “I-I donknow…h-how…how to do it.”

 

“Do what?  Bella, try taking a few deep breaths.”

 

I follow her advice blindly and with little success, but my voice starts to become whole.  “I don’t…know how to be a mom.”

 

I listen to her silence and her sigh, and when she speaks, I’ve never heard her sound more like a mother.  “Oh, baby.  I’m so sorry.”

 

She listens to me cry into the receiver for a good two minutes, and when I finally begin to quiet there’s no talk of things that can’t be changed.

 

“Bella, if anyone is strong enough to be a mother at your age, it’s you.  You’re so self-reliant and capable. You practically raised yourself,” she says, sounding both proud and a little wistful.

 

I wipe at my damp face resolutely.  “Not sure that counts for much; I was an abnormally well-behaved baby.”

 

Renee chuckles quietly and plays along.  “I wouldn’t know, would I?  You changed your own diapers.”

 

We lull into a short silence.

 

“How’s Charlie taking the news?”

 

I shrug and sniff.  “He’s upset.  But he wants to be helpful.  I think he’s still a little shocked.”

 

Still an expert on all things Charlie, Renee confidently reassures me that he’ll come around soon and he just needs some time to put things into perspective.

 

Nonetheless, there were some needs only a mother could satisfy.  Reluctantly but honestly I whispered, “I wish you were here.”

 

“Then I will be. I’ll book a flight when I get home.”

 

“No, you have Phil, and—”

 

“And you have me.  I’ll be there by Thursday.”

 


 

I’m sitting at the Clearwaters’ dining room table—next to Seth and across from Leah with Charlie and Sue at either end—and eating dinner when the front door opens and Embry nearly jogs into the room looking determined and a little frazzled.  He scans all of our startled faces before landing on mine.  He opens his mouth, but Seth is shooting to his feet an accusing finger in the air.

 

“No!  We agreed—”

 

You agreed.”

 

“Embry, you can’t just—”

 

“We’ll talk when you have a driver’s license.”  Embry dodges Seth’s outstretched arm and makes it to my side, and with a small triumphant smile offers his hand.  “Can we talk for a moment?”

 

I hesitate and risk a sideways glance at Leah—because if anyone knows what’s going on, it’s her—but she’s eating rice and stir fry without comment.  Her lips however are twisted in a repressed grin, and I can tell she’s fighting off laughter.

 

“Can’t this wait until after we’re done eating?” Sue asks, always the voice of reason.

 

Seth and Embry respond simultaneously.

 

“Yes.”

 

“No.”

 

Embry rolls his eyes and takes my hand.  With a gentle tug I’m on my feet.  “This is important.  We’ll just be outside.”

 

I shrug helplessly at Charlie’s baffled expression as I’m towed from the room with Seth’s curse, Sue’s scolding, and Leah’s snickers disappearing behind us.  We head out the back door and through the enclosed patio until we’re outside where the air and grass are both damp and the sky is a darkening bruise overhead.  Early summer evenings in Forks allow for a lingering chill, so I shift closer to the heat of Embry’s body and the brisk breeze loses its bite.

 

Embry stops us in the middle of the backyard, looks around in contemplation, and points at the wooden mini barn set back in a far corner of the property.  “Prefect,” he declares, sounding quite satisfied.

 

Earlier I was curious, but as we head toward the dark, isolated shed I quickly become skeptical.  Something tells me this is not going to end well.  But Embry doesn’t open the doors.  He walks to the side where an impressive stack of firewood is covered in a big blue tarp.  He releases my hand, and I watch nervously as he climbs up on top of the wood pile and then pulls himself up onto the roof of the mini barn.  He motions for me to follow.

 

“What are you doing, Embry?” I question without budging.  I’m not climbing onto that roof.

 

“I’m in search of some ambiance.”

 

“On top of a shed?”

 

“And here I thought our relationship was built on a strong foundation of trust.”

 

I climb onto that roof.  And, of course, he’s right.  Because of the way the ground slopes down to the creek bed and the moderate distance of the tree line, we can see the sun as it takes its final blushing bow of the day, casting the cloud cover in pale pink and orange relief. 

 

“It’s beautiful,” I murmur and allow Embry to help me sit beside him on the mild slant of the roof. 

 

I’ve been admiring it for several moments when I notice that Embry isn’t looking at the sky at all.  He’s turning something small over in his hands, his brow creased in thought.

 

“You didn’t bring me out here to watch the sun set, did you?”

 

He lifts his head while closing a fist around whatever he’s got tucked in his hand. “No,” he agrees and then hesitates.  “I miss Jake a lot.”

 

Caught off guard, my right hand flies to my chest as if to catch my fluttering heart.  I haven’t done this yet, haven’t talked about Jacob as if he’s someone to be missed, someone who’s been gone for weeks and won’t be coming back.  I’ve talked about things he’s done and things he won’t ever get to do, but never once have I allowed myself to linger on the idea that he’s not here this very moment.  He’s not sitting with me and Embry on the roof of this shed, and he’s not eating dinner at home or tinkering in the garage.  He’s not anywhere.

 

I shiver at the thought, and my grief deepens.  “I miss him, too.”

 

“He was my best friend.”  Embry’s voice is clear but heavy, and I know that this is hard for him to say.  “We would’ve done anything for each other, and that day—”

 

That day.

 

“—that last day he asked me to do something for him. It was after we left you Emily and at the house and before we’d phased.  And he asked something I really didn’t understand at the time.  At least, I didn’t think much of it because you never think that—” Embry stopped and swallowed back something painful.  “Well, you never think that.  So when he asked me to always look after you when he couldn’t, I didn’t realize what it would mean.  And now it means a lot.”

 

I’m shaking my head before he finishes talking.  “Embry you don’t have to worry about that.  I can take care of myself just fine.”

 

“No, you can’t!” he says passionately but then clarifies, “I mean…you can, but you shouldn’t have to.  You don’t need to.”

 

“Embry…”

 

He takes my hand.  “You don’t need to go to Olympia, Bella.  The people who love you are here. We want to be able to care of you and the baby.  You’re family.  You know that, right?”

 

I duck my head in a nod.  “I know.  Everyone’s been so great.  But”—I squeezed his hand—“I have to think about the long run.  I can’t stay here forever. I can’t even stay here for another ten years.  People will notice I’m not aging.  And I’m a vampire magnet, remember?  If the Volturi still want me dead, I’ll be safe with Vanessa.  She can teach me to protect myself.”

 

Embry looked me bluntly in the eye.  “I’ll protect you.”

 

“That’s not your responsibility,” I dismiss, looking away.  I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone else trying to come between me and death and ending up sacrificing everything.

 

But Embry is determined.  “Yes, it is.  I promised Jake.  It was the last thing I ever said to him.” Something small and firm is pressed into my palm.

 

I look down to see a ring made of wood.  The band is wide and stained a bright red. Down the center runs an intricate engraving of symbols that I don’t recognize but find beautiful in their strength.  I trace them with a fingertip.

 

“What’s this?”

 

“A promise ring.”

 

My eyes fly to his.

 

“Jacob made it,” he explained, “to give to you.”

 

“O-oh.”  Unable to resist the nagging temptation, I slip it on.  It fits.

 

Embry watches me staring down at my left hand.  “You can stay here, Bella.  Have the baby here.  At the rate I’m going with my online classes I’ll have my degree in a year and if you still want to leave then, we’ll go.  There’ll be time later for learning what you need to from Vanessa.  Until then I’ll make sure you and the baby are safe.  I promise.”

 

Hearing that from anyone else would have made me uncomfortable or maybe even a little resentful, but with Jacob gone, Embry’s the most pure-hearted person I know, and he’s trying to do what’s right by Jacob and by me.  So I throw my arms around his neck and wind up halfway in his lap.

 

Holding me tightly against him so I don’t go careening off the roof, he says into my hair, “Is that a ‘yes?’”

 

“Absolutely not,” I murmur.  “But thank you.  It means so much that you’re even willing.”

 

His shoulders sag, and I wonder if it’s resignation or relief.  “I’ll always be willing.  That won’t change.”

 

We stay on the roof until Charlie comes out to say it’s time to leave.  After Embry helps me back to solid ground, I look at him uncertainly.  “Is it okay if I keep this?” I indicate the ring.

 

He nods, his smile understanding.  “It’s yours.”

 


 

Everything is packed in uniform boxes or covered with haunting white sheets that dangle stagnantly to the floor.  Everything except the piano.

 

I sit at Edward’s side, as he effortlessly coaxes a sleepy tune from the chords.  It’s as sweet as my lullaby but more mournful, reserved in its buildup to low crescendos that aren’t quite allowed to be resolved.  I imagine the song reflects Edward’s mood in that moment, and I lay my head on his shoulder, tying to sooth us both.  His playing doesn’t falter.

 

“And you won’t come with us,” he speaks for the first time since my arrival.

 

It’s not a question, but I answer anyway, if only for a good reason to talk at all.  “No.  I’m going to Olympia with Vanessa.”

 

He accepts this with silent regret.  “If she doesn’t care for you properly, you can always come to New York.”

 

I nod, although we both know that won’t be the case.

 

“And even if she does,” Edward continues almost hesitantly, “you can always visit.  Alice misses you already, and I…would very much like to see you and the baby.”

 

“Of course,” I say earnestly and mean it.  This won’t be the last time I see him or the Cullens.

 

His playing picks up subtly, turning brighter and more fulfilled.

 


 

“All settled in?”

 

I startle at the sound of Vanessa’s voice and look up from the photograph I just placed on the desk.  Standing in the doorway, she’s dressed as casually as I’ve ever seen her in a pair of pressed khaki pants and emerald knit top.  She wears the simple ensemble as if it’s an evening gown.

 

I glance around at my new room—that’s nearly twice the size of my bedroom at Charlie’s house—and am only slightly disheartened at how empty it looks adorned with the meager possessions I brought with me from Forks.  I reason that in a few more months it will be packed with baby furniture and clothes, so the naked feeling won’t last forever.

 

“Yeah.  I just need to get rid of those.”  I gesture to the stack of empty cardboard boxes sitting beneath the window that overlooks the expansive front lawn of the house.

 

“I’ll send them to the dumpster to be picked up with the recycling,” Vanessa offered, and with no further preamble, the boxes disappeared from sight.

 

The nonchalant use of power catches me off guard so that I startle back dumbly at the display. 

 

Vanessa smiles softly at my unease. “You’ll learn to find it comforting.  With time.”

 

Eyes still on the floor where the boxes had been sitting, I asked, “Will I be able to do that?”

 

She enters the room fully, coming to a stop at my side.  “If what you’ve already accomplished is any indication, you will do much, much more.”

 

“I need to learn.”  That resolution has become the very marrow of my bones.  My will is my own, but that single drive to know and conquer the strange forces that work through me is what keeps my feet moving one in front of the other.

 

My hands reach for the picture again almost compulsively.  They grip the simple wooden frame modestly surrounding the image of Jacob standing by a La Push bonfire, two of his fingers hooked in my back pocket while I’m turned away talking to Embry.  I’ve never been so grateful for Emily’s insistence to bring a camera to those sorts of things.  Mundane things.

 

I can see Vanessa considering me from the corner of my eye.  “You will learn.  But it will take a lot of time and practice.  What you managed to do that day”—that day—“was completely unprecedented.  The way you were able to seamlessly receive and utilize my knowledge in such a short amount of time was truly amazing.”

 

I shake my head. All I saw of that day was Jacob’s body was lying on the bloodied grass. “It wasn’t enough.”

 

Her fingers brush my shoulder.  “It will be.”

 

I find her touch and soft words mildly reassuring.

 

“Breakfast’s at 8:30 if you’d like to join us,” Vanessa says after a beat and begins retreating from the room.  “Leopold’s treat.”

 

“Leopold cooks?” I ask distantly, my surprise only half-baked.

 

She pauses at the door to hum an appreciative affirmative. “Mmm. And Mediterranean is his specialty. He was born in Sicily and spent 40 years in Greece.”

 


 

“It’s not working,” I grumble.  Any small amount of goodwill I had remaining after rolling out of bed at six o’clock in the morning full of exhaustion and an unhappy bladder is quickly diminishing.  The fried eggs and peanut butter I ate for breakfast are not agreeing with me, my feet ache from standing in front of a tree for 40 minutes and my pants are threatening to burst in protest of me having yet to buy any maternity clothes.

 

Vanessa’s placidity only serves to irk me.  “That’s because you’re not talking to it.  You must communicate. You need to give in order to receive.”

 

“It’s a tree,” I grouch unnecessarily.

 

“And my journal was only a book.”

 

I roll my eyes.  Vanessa sees.

 

“It’s a living thing,” she assures me, strain finally beginning to color her tone. “Open your soul to it.”

 

What I want to do is throw a tantrum, sit on the ground, and refuse to get up until someone rubs my feet.  But it’s one of many childish impulses I have to fight off on a regular basis, and I close my eyes, lay my hands upon the bark of the trunk, and focus.

 

And just like every other time, there is nothing.

 

Give, Bella.”

 

So instead of banging on its unresponsive door, I try opening my own soul to the invisible planes that run through us all.  It’s a heady feeling, having the entire world at your fingertips—or the edge of your mind.  But the sensation is short-lived.  One moment I’m soaring and the next I’m anchored to the ground, the core of the earth under my feet and most dirt beneath my fingernails.  A bird nests in my ribcage, a mole burrows through my elbow, and stag rakes its antlers along my shins.  The unseen sun seeps light into my hair, giving me strength as my toes soak the water up and inside.

 

I am a part of the forest.  Or it is a part of me. I begin to see that there isn’t a difference.

 


 

Bella,

 

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to come down with Leah and Embry.  Mom thought I wouldn’t be able to get my history project done by Monday.  But I really wanted to see you because I have something important to say.  So I’m going to tell you now, and I want you to know that I mean every word.

 

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone love someone else the way Jacob loved you.  It’s different from the way Sam loves Emily or the way he loved Leah.  It reminds me of the way my dad loved my mom. But different, too.  He didn’t hold anything back.  He just loved you with everything all the time.  No one in the pack could stand it.

 

When I think about Jacob not being around to love you like that anymore, I think that you must miss it a lot.  Jacob was a lot.  And I know that he would want you to be loved just as much now as you were then.

 

So, I’m writing to tell you that I love you.  I don’t know how to love just like Jacob did, but I think I might learn.  In the meantime I’m going to graduate from high school, go to a nice college, and then buy a big house for you and the baby to live in.  Somewhere sunny. 

 

If you want, we can get married on a beach. You won’t have to wear shoes.

 

Love,

Seth

 

P.S. I would have told Embry ‘no,’ too. He’s a loudmouth and doesn’t like to clean.

 


 

“Jesus, you’re huge.”

 

I shrug off Leah’s 20th comment on my size since her and Embry’s arrival last night.  “My coat is stuffed with feathers.”

 

Leah’s shaking her head as she holds open the door to one larger department stories in Olympia.  “I’m not talking about your pregnancy poncho—which looks ridiculous by the way.”

 

I lift my chin and tug at the zipper of my oversized, down winter coat, which swallowed my arms and chest but was snug across my expanded belly. “Not all of us can prance around in snow with only a windbreaker on.”  I wriggle out of the blue monstrosity with Leah’s aid.

 

“I don’t know.  I thought pregnant women were supposed to run hot.”  She snags a shopping cart and tosses my coat inside.  As if the arrow on a finely crafted compass, we turn simultaneously to the right side of the store and start heading to the back, brushing shoulders with other holiday shoppers.

 

“I’m eight months pregnant,” I mutter and dab a crumpled tissue beneath my runny nose, “nothing in my body runs like its ‘supposed’ to.”

 

She shudders as we turn off of the linoleum and onto the carpeted floor cluttered with racks and shelves of clothes.  “You’re like a walking abstinence poster. Ooh, booties.”

 

I groan.  “No.  We agreed: no more shoes.  When is he going to wear the nine pairs you already got him?”

 

Leah peeks at the price tag and adds them to the cart anyway.  “I’ll take him hiking in muddy places.”

 

I don’t even get a chance to begin bludgeoning that argument when I notice Embry dashing toward us, a plastic grocery bag swinging from one hand.  I’m fairly certain he leaps over the back of one woman bent over her fussy toddler.

 

“I’ve got ‘em,” he enthuses once he reaches our side. He thrusts a hand into the bag and pulls out two items. “Dill relish and cheddar popcorn.”

 

“Thank you so much!” I exclaim and pull him into a one-armed hug. I’m already fantasizing about getting home where I can toss them together in a bowl and then kick back and finish watching Colin Firth steal the show as Mr. Darcy.

 

Leah eyes both the food and my glee with notable distaste.  “Yeah.  Definitely not having sex ever again.”

 

“Aw, Leopold will be so disappointed to hear that.”

 

Leah’s eyes turn fiery with threat, and I quickly decide to herd Embry a safe distance away.  “Hey, Em, look! Batman pajamas.”

 

He gasps and disappears.  Leah looks like she’s going to hunt him down anyway.

 

“How’s Sue?” I ask, preventing collisions with all the fluency of an air traffic controller.

 

Leah’s anger diminishes quickly, and she jumps on the diversion more easily than I expect.  “Oh, she’s fine.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“Nothing.  She’s fine.  Charlie’s fine.  They’re both fine.  Together and fine.”

 

“I’m not following.”

 

“They’re totally having sex.”

 

The onesie in my hands drops to the floor.  “W-what?”

 

“Okay, well, sometimes it’s hard to tell with old people because they look guilty for just thinking about doing it, but…they’ve had to blush and mumble their way out of more than one compromising position.  I’ve been sleeping with headphones on just in case.”

 

Really, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sue and Charlie have been dancing around each other for months.  But Charlie is…Charlie, and I thought the romantic in him had long been abandoned in the wake of Renee’s rattling departure from his life.

 

Thinking of him in a relationship with someone as wonderful as Sue Clearwater leaves me feeling shocked, wistful, and more than a little hopeful.

 

Leah sees this all in my expression.  “Yeah, yeah,” she mumbles reluctantly.  “They’re real cute.”

 


 

Renee has gone to call Phil, and the nurse has just left the room.  It’s the first time we’re alone together.  And I can’t my eyes off him.

 

He’s small.  Smaller than I had expected, than I had even thought was possible.  And while I want to hold him as close as I can, I’m nervous about breaking him and cradle his hat covered head in my palm.  It fits there just so.

 

Ephraim Jacob Swan is slightly orange, and very wrinkly, and six pounds ten ounces of the most wonderful thing I’ve ever laid my heart on.  Swaddled as he is, all I can see of him are his short eye-lashes, bald brow, flat nose, and tiny, pursed lips.  The smile on my face is permanently affixed as I watch him sleep.

 

“Oh, Jacob,” I find myself murmuring into the relative silence of the room, “isn’t he just beautiful?”

 

The quiet, consistent beep of the heart monitor is the only response.

 

“I was worried before that I would be able to do this, but now…just by looking at him, I know that I can.  I’m not so afraid anymore.”  I shift my arms so that a finger is free to brush along a round cheek. “And we’re all going to see each other someday.  Far from now,” I continue, believing the words with everything that I am.  In my heart, I know that they’re true.  “I promise you that.  I won’t stop fighting until it happens.”

 

Eyelids begin to droop open with a lazy, unlearned motion, revealing wide, dark eyes that peer up at me without a single expectation.  I feel my smile reach new heights.

 

“What do you think about that, Ephraim?  What do you think about getting the chance to see your daddy some day?”

 

Chapter End Notes:

AN: I know I said I was going to only do one or two scenarios, but I'm one of those people who just has to turn every little thing into a project. Hence the hugeness of this piece. It's an illness.

The next thing you see from me won't be Zenith related. It will either be Spent My Nights Counting Stars (which is coming along nicely) or a very, very short o/s I'll be writing for a friend. Hopefully she won't mind me sharing it with you lovely people. :)

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