Bella drifted off to sleep as I arranged our flight home and called the family. Alice was going crazy; apparently the foetus was blocking her visions, and Bella’s future had become a blurry, jumbled mess. I worried, as was my nature, but Bella continuously assured me that she would be alright. Her sleepy voice and peaceful expression, combined with her still vital heartbeat, coaxed me into believing her, despite my better judgement.
As my love slept, I listened intently to the rhythm of thumping beats from inside her; the new fluttering heartbeat beside hers. Although I had only been hearing it for a few hours, the syncopated beat seemed as familiar as the regular one I had come to know so well and love so dearly.
Thump, thump-thump, thump, thump-thump, thump, thump-thump...
Something else was there. Something prodded at my other 'hearing'; a mind trying to make itself heard. I frowned. There was no one here but us. I heard no other heartbeats, no sounds of approach. I listened more closely.
The mental voice was quiet, barely even discernible, just a gentle murmur. There were no words, only feelings. The mind itself did not understand, but I did. Warmth, comfort, safety and... love.
With a start, I realised that I was hearing... the baby!
Incredible, I thought, that its newly formed mind was already capable of feeling love for the person who sheltered it. And not just any love, but love stronger than any I had heard outside of mated pairs.
All my fear, hatred and uncertainty about what was growing inside my wife melted away in an instant.
It loves her.
It was like Jacob all over again; I could not hate this creature, this child, this little life, because it loved Bella, thought of her with a love so deep it rivaled mine in its intensity. And I found myself with similar feelings. All of a sudden, everything Bella had said this afternoon made perfect sense. Why would I fight it, this thing that I myself had wished for aloud? I was giving Bella what I thought I had taken away – the chance to have a child of her own, a child that would be ours, with part of both of us in it; a perfect symbol of what our love could achieve. Apprehension returned at the prospect of becoming... a father.
The soft mumbling of the baby's thoughts continued through my epiphany. Apparently, though Bella slept soundly, he or she was not ready to do the same. Carefully, I moved, trying not to disturb Bella, until I was lying beside her slightly rounded stomach. I put my hand on the little bump, over her tank top, and was instantly assaulted with a series of fluttering kicks against my palm. I chuckled.
“Hey now, not so hard. You'll wake Momma.”
One, more tentative nudge.
My eyes widened. “Can you hear me?”
Incredible! In mere minutes, this amazing creature had gone from barely knowing its own emotions to understanding my words. There was another little bump under my hand, drawing my attention. I laughed again softly.
“Alright little one, I haven't forgotten you. Be careful now, when you kick. You'll hurt Mommy if you kick too hard.”
Nervousness coloured the muffled thoughts of our child. It worried, as I did, about Bella, and didn't want to hurt her.
“It's alright,” I assured the bump, “I’m sure it will be alright. She likes to feel you move. She loves you as much as you love her. So do I. I didn't know it until just now, but I do. I love you, little one, you and your mother. You are both so precious to me.”
The baby's mind erupted with happiness; it loved me too. It loved to hear my voice and feel my hands touching it through Bella’s skin. It couldn't wait to meet me.
“I can't wait to meet you too, my darling. But let's not rush things. You've got a ways to go yet. Sleep now, little one.” My voice dropped into a gentle croon. “We'll see each other soon enough. Sleep, my precious child.”
I began to hum Bella’s lullaby softly, listening as the baby drifted into a peaceful, contented sleep. I looked up at Bella, hoping I had not woken her. She was still sleeping, looking equally calm and peaceful. Her lips were curved up in a soft smile, and her skin was beginning to show the infamous pregnancy glow. I had never seen her look so beautiful before.
Maybe, just maybe, everything would be okay.
The next morning, Bella woke up around eight, her stomach grumbling. I made her scrambled eggs for breakfast, placing a glass of water and some Pepto Bismol beside her plate; hopefully it would help with her morning sickness. As she ate, I told her what had happened last night and all about my epiphany. I was glad I did; it felt right to be completely honest with her, and her face lit up in a glorious smile.
“I knew it!” she gloated. “I knew you'd come around
I smiled. “You're happy then love? You're sure this is what you want?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Her smile softened. “You're going to be a wonderful father.”
My heart almost burst hearing those words. I had come to terms with my initial misgivings about my ability to perform such a role, and the thrill I got hearing Bella say the word was equal to the one that came from calling her my wife.
I walked around the table and leaned down to kiss her.
“And you will be a fantastic mother. He'll never need complain of being unloved.”
I remembered Bella’s insistence that the child, our child, was a boy. In my heart of hearts - though I would never admit it to her for fear of sparking her hormone-induced temper - I wished for a little girl. As she longed for a miniature me, so I prayed for a tiny Bella, with waves of mahogany hair, a pale pink blush on her cheeks and wide, chocolate brown eyes. The image captivated me; the two of them together, smiling at me. My girls. My beautiful brown-eyed girls. I pulled Bella close and kissed her again, trying to convey in this one simple action how much I loved her.
She giggled under my urgent kisses, wrapping her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. The teasing atmosphere evaporated, passion taking its place. Our lips never parted as I carried Bella back to the bedroom, and discovered a better way to show her how I was feeling.
We made love for most of that morning, slowly and tenderly, with soft touches and loving whispers. I didn't know if it was because Bella’s pregnancy hormones had kicked in, or if we were both just overcome with emotion at the prospect of having a family of our own, but everything seemed so much more intense, even more so than our very first time. Over and over we climbed to the highest peak of pleasure, falling off the edge together every time. I would never get tired of watching her come undone; below me and above me, her head thrown back, mouth wide with silent – and not so silent – cries, back arched and eyes half closed. I loved the feeling of her sagging against me, utterly spent, and the sound of her heart steadily returning to its normal pace as I pressed my ear to her chest. Her soft snores were just as magical as her subconscious mutterings, now that I knew their cause.
Bella slept for about two hours after our... activities, until the baby's kicking woke her up around lunch time. She requested an omelette, which I quickly delivered before heading back into the bedroom to pack while she ate. When I returned to find her heading for the bathroom, I worried that she was feeling unwell. Seeing my expression, she breezily informed me that she wasn't sick, the baby had just decided to start tap dancing on her bladder (her words, not mine) and she desperately needed to use the rest room.
I washed, dried and put away the dishes while I waited for her to finish up, then we settled in front of the television to watch a movie. She chose Romeo + Juliet, the modern version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. I whispered Romeo’s lines in her ear, as I had done almost a year ago in her father's living room, and she began to speak Juliet’s lines back. By the balcony scene, we were completely ignoring the screen and just reciting to each other, though she substituted 'Romeo' for 'Edward', 'Montague' for 'vampire' and, much to my chagrin, 'Capulet' for 'human', while I changed 'Juliet' to 'Bella'. She kissed me once the scene ended. Her legs, previously draped across my lap, moved to either side of my hips. Just as we began to get really worked up, my hands on her hips and her lips against my throat, there was a knock at the door. We groaned in unison as she shifted off my lap and went to see who it was. I already knew of course – Gustavo and Kaure. If Bella hadn't been distracting me so thoroughly, I probably would have heard them sooner. Yet more proof of what a remarkable creature she was.
“Edward, the cleaning crew is here!” Bella called from the hallway, and I got up to greet them.
“Good afternoon Mr Cullen,” said Gustavo, pleasantly and in Portuguese. “How are you both today?”
“Very well, thank you,” I replied. “We're actually heading home this evening, so you won't be needed next week.”
Gustavo nodded. “We will get started now then. Come on Kaure.”
Kaure glared at me suspiciously as she passed, and I gave her a serene smile in return. Her thoughts were full of concern for Bella, and she was frustrated that her lack of English knowledge had prevented her from understanding when Bella had called out to me. She was slightly paranoid, imagining what the language barrier had kept her from hearing.
She doesn't seem to be under his thrall at least. She still has her free will.
Yes she does, I thought, and she still chooses to stay with me.
I felt almost smug at that thought and I couldn't help but smile wider as I followed Bella back into the living room. She was laid down across the sofa, watching the movie intently and mumbling lines to herself. I leaned over the armrest and kissed her on the forehead.
“I'm going hunting once more before we leave, love. I won't be long, only an hour or so. I'll take my cell phone and you can call if you need me.”
She smiled up at me and nodded. “Ok, I’ll see you soon.” She craned her neck, reaching for my lips, and I pressed them to hers softly for a moment before pulling away.
I let Gustavo know I was going 'shopping' and hurried down to the jetty. Last time I went hunting, I had swum there and back, but, since we had company, I would have to take the boat this time.
After speeding through the water for about half an hour, I pulled up on a deserted beach a few miles from Rio that backed directly onto the rainforest. I paused long enough to take in the scents on the breeze around me, working out what was an endangered species and what wasn't, then took off in the direction of a large herd of deer very similar to those I hunted back home.
I had taken down four of them and moved on to tracking what proved to be an already ailing lynx when I heard the thoughts. I ignored them, focused on my kill, and it was only once the animal lay drained at my feet that I realised the voices had followed me.
Who is he? I’ve not seen him before, thought one, a male. The second was female.
Another like us! I knew there had to be others. Unless it's Joham… but it doesn't smell like him. Hmm…
I turned to where the thoughts came from.
“I mean no harm,” I called out. “I apologise for hunting in your territory. I wasn't aware there was anyone living here. I will leave at once, if you wish.”
The under-brush parted, and a small woman with dark burgundy eyes and braided black hair, dressed in what appeared to be animal skin, emerged. She had a vaguely coffee coloured complexion, and I guessed that she had once belonged to one of the local indigenous tribes. The language of her thoughts was very similar to that of Kaure's, which confirmed my theory.
“Who are you?” she asked in English. “What are you doing here?”
“My name is Edward Cullen.” I replied. “My wife and I are staying on a small island owned by our family near here, and I came to the mainland to hunt.”
Her eyes widened. “You eat the animals?”
I nodded. “All my family does. We don't want to kill people. It's an ethical choice, of sorts.”
The female's face went from blank surprise to suspicion. “Where is your wife? Can you not hunt on your island?”
I shook my head. “The wildlife range is too small and mostly endangered. As to your other question, my wife is still human. She knows all about us, and we plan to change her in the near future.”
She seemed to relax now that my explanation was complete. “Very well. It is a pleasure to meet you Edward Cullen. My name is Huilen, and this is my nephew Nahuel.”
She gestured to a young man I had not noticed before, standing on the wide branch of a red wood directly over my head. I was startled to see him. His skin was warm and dark, his scent not vampire, but not quite human either. His eyes were teak coloured, and it was impossible to ignore the sound of his hummingbird-fast heartbeat. Exactly like…
“What are you?” I whispered.
Over the next few minutes, in the little clearing in the depths of the rainforest, Huilen and Nahuel told me their story. I was at first amazed, then excited. These people could help me, help us. Huilen knew how to take care of a person carrying one of these hybrid children, having done so for her sister. Nahuel was proof of what the child would grow to be; the half-sisters he told me about provided insight into the possible differences between the genders.
By the time we were finished, the sun had dropped in the sky a considerable amount. I was anxious to return to Bella; I had been gone much longer than I said I would, and we would have to leave soon. Nahuel and Huilen asked if they could come back to the island with me, and I readily agreed, wanting Huilen's opinion of Bella’s condition and her advice on how to proceed. We ran back to the beach where I had left the boat, then began to speed through the water towards Isle Esme as the sky steadily darkened.