“Hey stranger,” I said. “Where’ve you been? I hope everything’s okay.”
“Things are fine. Great, really. Just a little busy.”
“Are you free to meet me for lunch?”
“Let me see what I can move around, and I’ll get back to you.”
“Great.” I sighed, hoping she’d be successful.
“Bella?” she said after a pause. “Is something wrong?”
“No. I just really miss you.”
“In that case, work can wait. Meet me at Giumarello’s at two.”
“I don’t want to inconvenience you–”
“You aren’t. I always have time for you; you should know that by now. Shit, my next appointment’s here. I’ll see you later. Bye.”
One of the great things about Esme was that she always followed through. Four hours later, she kissed my cheek and slid into the booth across from me.
Her smile was particularly bright, and her eyes were brimming with excitement.
“You already know, don’t you?”
She nodded and let out a quiet squeal. “I’m so happy. I never thought this would happen; I’d completely given up hope.”
“Interesting. You always said you didn’t care one way or the other.”
“Oh, I know I did, but that wasn’t entirely true. I just didn’t want to expect it, or set myself up for disappointment. Besides, it’s not like my happiness depends upon it. Joy and fulfillment come in many forms. I don’t need this in my life, but I’d be lying if I didn’t miss having it.”
“You’ll feel differently the first time you have to clean up shit,” I said, laughing.
She snorted. “Not going to happen. I’ve never been into anal.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Butt sex.” She mock shivered. “It’s not my thing.”
“What does that have to do with babies?”
“Come on, he isn’t that young.”
“He? It could be a girl.”
“Not for me,” she said, laughing. “I’ve always been strictly dickly.”
I had a feeling we weren’t talking about the same thing.
Holy mother of heterosexual fuck!
I clapped my hand over my mouth. “You’re seeing someone?”
“Well, yes. I thought that’s what we’re talking about.”
I shook my head. “No. At least, I wasn’t.”
Her eyes widened, and she flattened her palms against the table. “Oh my god, you’re pregnant!”
We stared at each other silently for a moment, then began to speak simultaneously.
“How did you–”
“How long have you–”
She rose from her seat and threw her arms around me, squeezing my hands and brushing her fingertips through my hair.
“It’s wonderful, you know—the most amazing journey you’ll ever take.”
“That’s good to hear because so far, I’ve been an over-emotional, borderline-psychotic wreck.”
“No.” She shook her head and cupped my cheeks. “That’s just your body adjusting to hormones.”
“I’m going to suck at this.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Don’t we all turn into our mothers?”
She knelt in front of me, holding my hands on my lap. “The fact you’re even concerned about that tells me you never will.”
“Maybe…but I’m already fucking it all up. I promised Edward I wouldn’t tell you. He wanted it to be special, so he framed the ultrasound pic and planted it in your music room. He was hoping you’d notice it while we were over there, but you didn’t. He was certain you’d see it at some point over the week–”
“I haven’t been home.”
I smiled. “I gathered as much.”
She gave my hands one last squeeze before returning to her seat. “How far along are you?”
“How do you feel?”
“Not all that great,” I admitted. “I have headaches, and I feel nauseous all the time. Stuff I used to enjoy doing holds no appeal to me whatsoever; I kind of just want to curl up and sleep.”
“That’s normal. You’ll feel better in your second trimester.”
“I hope so,” I said. I then realized I’d yet to acknowledge Esme’s news. “What’s his name?”
“How did you meet him?”
She shifted in her seat. “Don’t make fun of me.”
“As if I’m in any position to judge! Remember how I met your son?”
The waitress appeared and began rattling off what seemed to be a ridiculously long list of specials. Esme asked questions about a few of them, and I started to wonder if she was stalling intentionally. After she finally ordered something, I told the waitress to bring me extra peppers and bread, and I’d let her know if I decided to have anything more. She hurried off, and Esme looked at me sympathetically.
“Morning sickness?” she asked.
“Except it’s the middle of the afternoon. It seems morning is the only time I don’t feel sick.”
“A lot of women are like that in the beginning.”
“Tell me how you met Liam,” I said, not wanting to change the subject.
“At an engagement party.”
“How fun. Who’s getting married?”
I choked on my water. Out of everyone she could have mentioned, Edward’s ex-girlfriend was the last person I expected.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing. I’m happy for her.”
Esme crossed her arms and leaned back into the booth. “Really?”
“Yes. I just don’t understand why if staying friends with Edward was so important to her, she didn’t tell him she’d gotten engaged and invite him to the party. He never sees his college friends anymore, and I’m sure most of them were there. When he finds out about this, he’s going to be so hurt she excluded him.”
“He wasn’t excluded. Kate did invite Edward; he sent his regrets. Since Jack and Kitty couldn’t make it either, I made sure to be there.”
“What reason did Edward give for not going?”
“I don’t believe he gave one. Anyway, since I was also invited, I attended so Jack wouldn’t give Edward a hard time. You know how close Jack and Kitty are with Kate’s family. Someone had to represent.”
“Edward never mentioned it to me.”
“I’m not surprised, given how you’ve been feeling lately. He probably didn’t want you to feel obligated to go.”
“Edward making a decision on my behalf without consulting me—that never happens.” I rolled my eyes.
“Would you have wanted to go?”
I gave her question serious thought before answering. I was never all that comfortable with the whole country club scene, and only put in an appearance there when it was absolutely necessary—and when I was completely intoxicated.
“Probably not,” I admitted.
“Then what’s the problem?”
I couldn’t pinpoint it. I didn’t tolerate Kate simply because she was important to Edward. Over the years I’d gotten to know her, and I actually grew quite fond of her. I wasn’t at all insecure about my marriage, nor did I think for a moment that she was harboring any lascivious feelings toward my husband. I shouldn’t be angry, yet I was. Then I remembered who Liam was in relation to Kate, and I was too shocked be angry.
“Holy fuck! Kate’s brother is your new boyfriend?”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far. Would a woman my age refer to thirty-nine-year-old divorced father of two as her boyfriend?”
“I think so.” I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the though of Esme with Liam. “Wow.”
“Anyway, it’s all very new and not without its complications. He lives in New York City and has two young daughters. I don’t know if it’s anything more than a fling, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I want more than that. But we have great chemistry, and frankly, the sex is the best I’d had since Carlisle died. You’d be amazed how many men out there who have been sexually active for more than half their lives still don’t know what the hell they’re doing. I’ll take celibacy over chafing and a UTI any day of the week.”
“Yeah, I can’t say that I blame you.” I shifted in my chair, sighing. “Not to piss on your Picasso, but Edward’s going to be more than a little skeeved that you’re involved with his ex-girlfriend’s brother. Add to it the fact that I ruined his fun by telling you about the baby, I may be crashing at your house tonight.”
“A bit of marital advice, sweets—whether you’re at fault or not, never offer to sleep anywhere but your bed.”
“Because I’m pregnant?”
“Especially not while you’re pregnant, though I wasn’t thinking in those terms. Men are creatures of habit; they don’t like their routines disrupted. If you’re sleeping on the couch, it doesn’t affect his day-to-day life enough for him to feel compelled to give you what you want.”
“That may be valuable input, but it doesn’t help me with the issues at hand.”
“As far as I’m concerned, there are no issues. Yes, Edward’s going to be a little freaked out by the idea of me being involved with anyone who isn’t his father. Let’s be real here—there’s a reason you and he have never met anyone I was dating.”
“Wait, you’ve dated people?”
She laughed. “Bella, I love you, but what the hell did you think I was doing? I’m a widow, not a nun. I just didn’t see the point in introducing these men to you and Edward unless I thought the relationship had long-term potential.”
“And you think this one does?”
“I think it could. Anyway, I have no plans to tell Edward about Liam until I have a better sense of how things are going. Now as far as your pregnancy is concerned, that I can help with. Edward doesn’t need to know his surprise was ruined.”
“I’m not going to ask you to lie to him.”
“You didn’t; I offered. I’ll call him as soon as I get home and tell him I saw the ultrasound. I’d do it now, except I’d kind of like to actually see the ultrasound, in case he wants to discuss it.”
I studied her face as she spoke. She looked about ten years younger than she was; it shouldn’t surprise me that a man around my age would take an interest in her. Except in this case, Esme’s involvement with Liam didn’t seem weird to me because of his age—it was weird because her son deflowered her boyfriend’s baby sister.
“Kate’s brother?” I asked again in disbelief. “Really?”
I knew it was wrong of me to keep this from Edward. After all, I was making a decision on his behalf. I could justify it however I wanted, but at the end of the day, it was no different from his declining the invitation to Kate’s party without asking if I wanted to go. For whatever reason, he didn’t think I could handle seeing his ex, and I didn’t think he could handle his mother’s new relationship status. Well, with one caveat—Esme’s personal affairs weren’t mine to discuss. For that reason, I decided to do as Esme asked.
“Your secret is safe with me,” I said, not feeling at all hypocritical. “You have my word.”
And she kept hers. Edward came home from the hospital that night with a huge smile, thrilled his mother could finally share in our joy.
After he kissed me goodnight, I lay beside him, exhausted but unable to sleep. My thoughts ran a million miles per minute, until my eyes focused on Edward. Even after all these years, the sight of him sleeping continued to fascinate me. Though his mind appeared restful, I often wondered if that was actually the case. I imagined it wasn’t, that even in his slumber, he would compose piano concertos or think about his patients.
If he weren’t mine, I wouldn’t think it was fair that someone who possessed such talent and intelligence should also be so incredibly beautiful. Meanwhile, as he got older, his looks only got better. His jaw that once had a roundness of youth, was now chiseled, angular. The slight pudge he’d put on during medical school had melted away, leaving a muscular physique as visually stunning as anything displayed in the Art Museum. At twenty-nine years old, Edward could have been Michelangelo’s David, except more handsome and with a bigger dick.
I should have wanted to sit on that dick, but I didn’t. Not only did I have no interest in sex since getting pregnant, but I was still pissed at him over his failure to tell me about Kate’s engagement party. My rational side told me not to be upset about, that he probably just wanted to spare me a long car trip and several hours of country club hell. But there was another part of me that resented his money and the scene that went with it and wondered if he made the decision not to spare me but to spare himself dealing with my insecurity.
Still sleeping, he rolled onto his side and threw his arm around me. His hand splayed across my hardened belly, and his lips spread into a small smile. I didn’t deserve him any more than I deserved the life that was growing inside me—this, I knew. I also knew I wanted to deserve them; I just had to figure out how.