Monday, January 16, 2012

Heaven in the Real World - Chapter 5 (December 1876)

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but I'm grateful to Stephenie Meyer for her dream/vision. Please don't steal my original work.

December 1876

Epilogue – 10 years later

Edward POV

The past ten years brought many changes for Bella and me as we began our life together. I liked to bestow many kisses and other displays of affection on her any moment we were alone.

Bella listened carefully to my explanations about running a general store, supply and demand, profit and loss, etc. She then contributed some of her own ideas. She spruced up some of the displays for the fabric and notions section, adding some completed quilting projects and quilt patterns. We seemed to be getting more sales in that department, so I was glad she could assist me.

True to my word, the March after we were wed, I took my bride on our promised honeymoon trip to San Francisco. Marcus and Aro were excited to be watching over the store. Their wives would assist if needed, along with Emmett and Rose as well. The store was definitely in good hands and we could leave with a clear conscience.

As soon as we boarded the train and settled into our seats for the journey toward the Pacific Ocean, Bella said, "I feel like such a rustic. All these women are dressed in stylish clothing!"

I gave the other women in our passenger car a cursory glance, then looked at my beautiful bride and said, "If you'd like, love, I'll buy you some new clothes in San Francisco." Then my lips went to hers; and then they moved down her neck and back up to her earlobe.

"Edward!" she hissed quietly at me.

"Yes?" I asked, pulling away with a huge smile on my face.

"Not here!" she exclaimed quietly, so as not to draw attention.

I smiled smugly and folded her hand in mine as the train began chugging onward toward our destination. "It did get you to stop thinking about dresses for a moment, though, didn't it?" I asked. She blushed and a mirroring smile spread across her face.

We spent the majority of our trip with our hands clasped and pointing out various items of interest we passed along the way. At one point, we moved to the dining car and ate a filling lunch. When I noticed Bella was starting to look around at some of the other ladies' fashions, I captured her hand lying on the table and began kissing just the tip of her finger. By the time I had the tip of her middle finger in my mouth, sucking on it gently, she withdrew it immediately. A huge blush covered her face.

I was serious. I could care less about the scenery between here and San Francisco. And I didn't want Bella thinking she wasn't adequate with the beautiful dresses she'd sewn herself. I'd ask the conductor if we could secure a sleeping car for the remainder of the trip if it would get my bride's mind off what these other women were wearing. Who cared about them anyway? The most beautiful woman on this train was the one with me!

Bella seemed to take the hint and we were able to enjoy the rest of our trip without her comparing herself to others.

Once in San Francisco, we rented a room at a nice hotel overlooking the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean. Bella was fascinated by the never-ending action of it. I had grown up in Boston, Massachusetts, so I'd seen the ocean in all its majesty before – but seeing it through Bella's wonder-filled eyes was a joy. She put her hair up for our journey, but once we were on the beach, she unpinned it. Bella's hair whipping around her face from the sea breeze was like a vision from a dream.

For dinner, we ate local seafood in the hotel dining room. We decided we would explore the city more the next day, as we were tired from our trip. As we lay in bed, I showed Bella she had no need to compare herself to anyone. She was the most beautiful creature in existence. As my lovely wife fell asleep in my arms, I thanked God repeatedly He brought her into my life.

The next day, we explored the city and ate more seafood. This was something we definitely couldn't get at home. We ducked into many shops and bought a few items. Before we left, we learned Emmett and Rose were in the family way, so Bella wanted to purchase a few baby items she didn't want to make.

I also bought Bella some new clothing. After trying on several dresses, she considered how often she would wear them in her everyday life at home and ended up only purchasing three. Her eyes kept flickering over a very nice emerald green satin dress, which she swore she would rarely wear. I could see in her eyes she loved it. I had the man wrap it up as well. Bella gasped as she knew it would be very expensive. I asked them to send the packages to our hotel.

Once we were out of hearing range of the proprietors of the store, I whispered in her ear, "I'd like you to wear that tonight for dinner, Mrs. Cullen. And I'll enjoy taking it off you later." She blushed but also grinned from ear to ear.

The rest of our trip was enjoyable as possible. We spent as much time as we could on the beach, even if we were huddled up in a blanket together. San Francisco is not known for having warm beaches. We were able to see seals, sea lions, sea otters, and an occasional whale spouting.

When we arrived back home, Bella started getting ill some mornings. She waved it off as some kind of flu bug going around, but I wasn't convinced. I took her to see Doc Black.

As Bella was getting dressed after being examined, Doc Black walked into his waiting room and sat beside me. He said, "Edward, nothing is wrong with Bella – at least nothing that nine months won't cure." As understanding dawned on my face, he continued, "She's strong. She's not like Angela was, with weak blood. She can do this, Edward. Have faith."

And so, every night and every morning, I carefully placed my hands on my bride's ever-expanding stomach and prayed. I prayed for her health, for the baby, for my sanity if anything should happen to either of them.

By the time the Harvest Festival came around that year, Emmett and Rose were celebrating their little daughter. Bella and I enjoyed a dance or two, even though I could barely get my arms around her. She had long since told me I didn't need to treat her like a china doll. I was trying – everyday I was trying.

Then one cold December morning, Bella shook me awake, "Edward, Edward!" I instantly jolted awake. "Please go get Doctor Black. I think it's time." I was almost out the door with just my longjohns on when I heard Bella giggle from the bed. "I think you still have time to get dressed, darling," she said.

"Oh, right," I mumbled as I put on the nearest clothing I could find.

Doc Black arrived with his wife, Leah. I had no idea what was going on in our bedroom as I stirred up the embers of the fire in the living room and put water on the stove to boil. I had heard that's what people did when there was a baby being born. Until I heard Bella cry out in pain and agony. I cried out myself in anguish. How was I going to handle this if something happened to her or the baby?

Leah appeared before me in the kitchen and put her hand on my arm. "Thank you, Edward, for getting some water boiling. I think you should go over to the Swan's or the church and pray for a bit. I'll come get you when your son or daughter has arrived," she said.

I looked at my pocket watch and figured Emmett and Rose would be up by now, so I decided to drop in on them for breakfast. As soon as I was in the door, I told them what was happening and they had my niece in my arms, which was strangely comforting.

They fed me a hearty breakfast, during which Emmett echoed Doc Black's statements, "Bells is a fighter. She'll definitely pull through childbirth like a champ!"

After breakfast, I sat on the couch with my niece and looked into her sweet, innocent face as she slept. Then I closed my eyes and prayed for Bella as she brought our child into the world.

Suddenly, someone was shaking my shoulder. I'd fallen asleep at a time like this? What was I thinking? Leah Black was in front of me.

I looked down at my arms to see someone had taken the precious bundle out of my arms. Panicking, I stood up immediately and said, "Is Bella all right? What's going on?"

Leah smiled broadly and said, "Yes, Edward. Everything is fine. I've come to introduce you to your son."

My son? I have a son? My heart was beating out of the confines of my chest. Leah and I walked back to the store and up the back stairs. Doc Black was cleaning up some of his instruments in my kitchen, but walked over, shook my hand, and said, "Congratulations, Edward. He's a healthy boy and Bella is doing fine."

I walked into our bedroom alone and there, propped up against all the pillows was my beautiful wife, gazing down lovingly at the most handsome baby I'd ever seen. I walked to where I could finally reach my wife on the bed and kissed her forehead.

"What…what should we name him?" I whispered.

Bella looked over at me and said, "I was thinking of naming him after my father and you – Charles Edward; but only if you agree." Charlie Edward Cullen would be a fine name for our son!

Our life was rich and full. Bella was company to Aro and Marcus when they came to the store every day we were open. She supplied them with hot cups of coffee throughout the day in the cold months and cold glasses of ice tea or lemonade in the warmer months. She also provided cookies or other type of baked goods. She especially fawned over Marcus after he lost his wife to a sudden heart attack.

Bella and Rose joined the town quilting circle. Jessica, after being harassed unmercifully by Aro and Marcus for being interested in Bella, finally married one of the miners who lived at the boardinghouse. They eventually moved to Auburn.

Emmett and Rose had three other children, while Bella made me suffer through two others of our own. I wanted to think I handled it better each time, but I don't think I ever did. I breathed a sigh of relief when Renee Esme and later Charity Rose were born.

Three years after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed – in 1872 – my parents came all the way to Gold Run for a visit. They wanted to meet Bella and discover what was making my heart so light and happy in my letters back home. They were absolutely thrilled with their grandchildren and couldn't get enough of them.

At this year's Harvest Festival, my heart was near to bursting when I was able to dance with all three of my beautiful girls – Bella, Renee, and Charity. I believe I saw Charlie asking his teacher for a dance. I may have given him some encouragement in that direction.

As my beautiful bride and I snuggled back under our bed covers after placing "Santa's" gifts under our Christmas tree for our children, I stroked her hair, much the same as I did that very first night I was with her.

I kissed the shell of her ear, and whispered, "Bella, thank you for giving me heaven in the real world. I never would've thought it possible. I love you so much."

"I love you, too, my darling," she replied, as she pulled me closer and kissed me more passionately. And we continued onward, making more memories in our little corner of heaven.

Author's Notes: As always, I love to hear if you liked a story or not! =) This one is complete. I hope you enjoyed!

Heaven in the Real World - Chapter 4 (December)

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but I'm grateful to Stephenie Meyer for her dream/vision. Please don't steal my original work. Lord knows it takes me long enough to come up with it! =)

Bella POV

I'd never given much thought to courting. In all my nineteen years, I'd never been attracted to anyone enough to want to be courted. Edward was a different story altogether. Now I was able to attend church, I sat between him and Emmett. Edward and I shared a hymnal and each time our fingers brushed, however innocently, a small smile played on his lips.

Edward came to our small home for dinner most evenings. After dinner, Emmett would usually ride out to the Hale's so Edward and I had time together, alone. Edward was very respectful of me. We talked about his reasons for coming west – to prove to his family he could build a successful career; which seemed to be my reasoning as well. Now we had found each other, we looked forward together at continuing to make a success of his business and raising a thriving family.

I knew raising a family was a tender subject with Edward. He still loved and wanted children, but was scared to take that leap of faith again. We prayed about it together and separately. The Lord was still leading us toward marriage. Along with marriage comes procreating, if that's in His will.

Sometimes Edward would bring me small gifts from the store – several pieces of penny candy, ribbons for my hair, or additional foodstuffs. He was such a kind soul.

December in Gold Run was cold with snow dusting the ground almost daily. It wasn't enough snow to put runners on the wagons – just enough to be annoying to the townspeople. Being from Arizona, I thought it was beautiful and wondrous, no matter if there was a little or a lot.

Emmett was learning all the telegraph operations like a duck taking to water. Most evenings after work he rode out to the Hale ranch to see Rosalie. That gave me time to work on my Christmas dress with no male interference. I decided I would wear it to Emmett and Rosalie's wedding on Christmas Day, which happened to be on a Tuesday this year.

On a day early in December, Emmett announced we were expected at the Hale ranch for lunch and dinner along with Edward the next Sunday after church. It had turned bitterly cold that day, so both men encouraged me to wait indoors while they readied the horses and wagon for travel.

When we were ready to go, we were all wearing our warmest clothes covered with our thickest coats. Edward placed a wrapped heated brick on the floor of the wagon where I was sitting to keep my feet warm. Edward sat on one side of me to drive the wagon and Emmett sat on the other. I was glad to have their protection against the wind. Snow spit down on us from the sky as we drove along.

Sitting so close to Edward warmed me up some even though it was still quite cold. As I watched his concentration guiding the horses through the less muddy sections of road, my love for him grew. He was confident in this. I was grateful for another gift he'd bestowed upon me – the warm blue mittens which currently enveloped my hands.

"We'll be there soon, Bells," Emmett said, his face ducking close to mine. "It's a good thing the Hale's only live a couple miles out of town and not five or ten like some families." I shivered considering that information and Emmett put his arm around me. I would've rather had Edward's arm around me, but I knew he was assuring we would get to our destination safely.

Soon, the Hale ranch came into view. The main house was the largest log cabin I'd ever seen. Emmett told me Rosalie had two brothers who helped out on the ranch. I could easily imagine five people living in the house I saw before me.

Edward stopped the wagon, set the brake, and was swiftly out of his seat. He reached up to help me out of the wagon. "Let's get you inside to Rosalie so you can warm up, love," he said. I felt plenty warm when he called me things like that, but his hand on the small of my back guiding me forward toward the warmth of the house helped me to remember we were standing out in the freezing cold.

Rosalie and her mother, Ada Hale, opened the door wide as I neared it and welcomed me inside. "Goodness, child," Ada said, "come in out of the cold. I'm sure the men will be in from the barn as soon as they get the horses settled."

I was out of my warm wraps and settled onto a needlepoint chair next to a roaring stone fireplace. Ada brought in a cup of tea from the kitchen and sat it on the table beside me.

Rosalie giggled as she sat on the couch opposite me. I looked at her and she said, "Oh Bella, I've heard the story from Emmett how you came to Gold Run posing as a man, but I can't wait to hear it from you." I told the story as best I could, adding in the part about Jessica, which made Rosalie laugh even more. I could tell she and I would become great friends.

"And now," she sighed dreamily, "Edward is courting you! I didn't know if he'd ever find someone to settle down with again. Losing his wife and child was terribly difficult for him. When will you be married?"

I looked at Rosalie and Ada and said, "I don't know. We haven't discussed a date. I figured I would move into the boardinghouse once you and Emmett marry. I know it will be tight financially for awhile as Emmett foots that bill, but hopefully I'll find work soon to pay my own bills. Then hopefully Edward and I will be married later."

Rosalie said nothing, but looked at her mother meaningfully. The subject was changed then as the men came in from outside, joined by Levi and Rosalie's older brothers.

Once the men warmed up by the fire, we all moved into the dining room to eat lunch. Ada had prepared a lunch of delectable pot roast with vegetables along with mashed potatoes.

Conversation around the table was lively and I was interested in the varied topics converging on this particular afternoon. I liked Levi immediately. He was warm and affable. He reminded me a lot of my pa – even down to his mustache.

Suddenly, Rosalie spoke up, "Edward, did you know Bella is going to move to the boardinghouse on Christmas Day once Emmett and I are married?" She looked him right in the eye and I almost dropped my fork when she said, "Do you know the kind of unsavory characters who sometimes frequent the boardinghouse?"

I couldn't chance a glance at him to gauge his reaction. I couldn't look anywhere but my plate. I couldn't swallow and could barely breathe. If I'd been sitting on the same side of the table as Rosalie, I would've stepped on her foot in a polite sort of manner to let her know her line of questioning wasn't acceptable.

"Yes, Rose," Edward said as he sat beside me, "I know the type of men who frequent the boardinghouse. If you've forgotten, I've eaten most of my meals there for the past three years."

"Of course," she said quietly.

Levi changed the subject to some new horses he was breaking and the next cattle drive he'd be taking in the spring. I felt as if some air had been let back into the room so I could breathe and eat once again. As I picked up my fork to take another bite, I felt Edward's hand ghost over mine in my lap for a brief moment. My pulse picked up immediately. He would take care of me somehow.

During the afternoon, several games of checkers were played as well as cards. Rosalie and I worked on sewing and quilting projects. I knew Edward's home already had some lovely quilted items, but they hadn't been made by me and the ones he had weren't going to last forever.

By the time a wonderful dinner of steak, baked potatoes, and green beans was served, Levi noted the snowfall had increased. It appeared we would be spending the night at the Hale ranch as it wasn't safe for the horses on the road with the blowing snow.

After dinner, I helped Ada and Rosalie clean up the kitchen and dining room as Emmett and Edward helped Levi with bedding down the animals for the night in the storm. Rosalie and I also made up two small beds in the guest room for Edward and Emmett. I would be bunking with Rosalie in her larger bed for the night. She hadn't mentioned anything else about me moving to the boardinghouse, so my earlier shock at her outburst had worn off and I was enjoying getting to know my new sister-in-law.

During the night, dressed in one of Rosalie's warm nightgowns, I watched the snow fall in earnest outside her window as I listened to her even breathing. The rest of the house was quiet. Just watching the snow was making me cold. I got out of bed without waking my soon-to-be sister-in-law and slipped into a robe and beaded moccasins she called her "house slippers." I was going to go downstairs and see if a fire was still banked in the massive stone hearth.

Not knowing the Hale house that well, when I was almost to the bottom of the stairs, I stepped on a creaky one and silently cursed. That would be just like me – waking up the entire household. I stood perfectly still at the bottom of the stairs for a couple of minutes, but there was no other movement in the house.

Feeling satisfied I was the only one awake, I moved toward the fireplace. I sat on the raised hearth and warmed myself with the banked fire. I could almost be lulled to sleep, feeling as warm as I was now, when I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I pulled my robe tighter around myself before I looked up to find who had discovered me here.

Edward was on his knees before me momentarily. "Bella," he said as he looked into my eyes with concern, "could you not sleep?" His hands found mine in my lap and held them gently.

"I was looking at the snow falling and became chilled," I honestly answered him back.

"Are you warmer now?" he asked.

I looked at him shyly and replied, "Yes, with the fire…and you holding my hands."

"If you are agreeable," he said, "I would like to talk about what Rose mentioned earlier. I know it was distressing to you."

"A bit, yes. But if I need to live at the boardinghouse for awhile, I'll make do, Edward."

He looked at me so earnestly then. "Do you not understand my feelings for you? I don't want you living at the boardinghouse. I want you to be with me." He paused for a moment, and then continued, "Emmett and I talked tonight. If you are agreeable, I would like us to have a double wedding ceremony with Emmett and Rose on Christmas Day."

I could barely see now that my eyelashes were busy blinking back tears. "Ummm…" I started out eloquently.

"Bella," Edward said, still on his knees before me, with my hands still enveloped in his, "I want to share every moment of life with you – every today, every tomorrow. Please, love, I would be honored if you'd marry me on Christmas Day. I want to marry you sooner than later."

I began nodding and finally a "yes" slipped out. His arms were around me and he was twirling me around and around until I was dizzy.

"I want to wake up the entire house with my happiness," he breathed into my hair, "and I wish tomorrow was Christmas!" Then his lips were on mine. His lips continued down my neck and suddenly I was warm – much too warm.

"Edward," I said and that seemed to stop the descent of his lips at the top of my robe. For that I was grateful. Not that I didn't enjoy every single one of his kisses, but we shouldn't be doing this here – not like this.

"You're right," he replied with a sigh, "we should get you back to bed." He released his arms from around me, took my hand and walked me over to the staircase. "Watch that second stair," he said with a wink, "I hear there's a squeak."

I attempted to cover my giggle as I made it up the stairs without a sound. I turned around at the top of the stairs to see Edward had watched my ascent. I gave a little wave to him and then was safely once again in Rose's room. I slid between the covers, doubtful she even knew I was gone.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast, we were on our way. The snow had stopped sometime during the night. Other than it being bright and cold outside, the road was clearly defined. I took full advantage of the warm brick at my feet and the body heat of the men on either side of me. Once we started out, the horses seemed to want to hurry to another warm stall, so we wasted no time in getting back to town. The general store and telegraph office opened a little later than normal this particular Monday morning, but other than that, it was a normal day.

Days flew by between then and Christmas. There was baking to be done, my dress to be finished now it was going to be my wedding dress as well, and packing to be done. Emmett was mostly on his own these days in the telegraph office as he only called me for questions. I was busy cleaning our small home so he and Rose could start fresh.

Suddenly it was Christmas Eve. Emmett took the last load of my belongings to Edward's living quarters above the store. When he returned, I was a little panicked.

"What's wrong, Bells?" he asked.

"It's just difficult for me to believe after tonight, I won't be coming home with you any longer," I replied.

Emmett came over and hugged me before sitting down to the simple stew I prepared for dinner. We'd decided to keep things simple tonight with just us. Tomorrow would be stressful enough. "Aww sis, Edward is a good man. You know I wouldn't let you marry anyone I didn't have the utmost respect for. I'll be just down the street."

"I know," I half-whispered, "It will be strange."

He grunted in agreement and dug into his stew. We ate quietly, pondering our own thoughts.

After dinner, we brought out our Christmas gifts to each other. I made Emmett and Rose monogrammed pillowcases for their new bed. I didn't think he would find the gift special, but when he hugged me and he wasn't his usual boisterous self, I knew he was thinking of the momentous step he was taking as well.

Then Emmett was away from me, getting something stored underneath his bed. He was back in a couple of moments. "Sit down," he asked. I did so.

He lay what looked like a lot of money on the table in front of me. I looked up at him in surprise.

"Bells, you know I'm done with gambling. Before Pa died, he showed me where he hid some money on our ranch in Arizona. He said it was for our future. If Pa were alive, he'd most likely be giving it to you now, when you're getting married," he said.

I swallowed, getting teary-eyed thinking of Ma and Pa, and then asked, "How much is there?"

"About twelve hundred dollars, when I counted the other day. I thought we could split it, since we're both starting on our future at the same time."

As Emmett split the money evenly, I put my hand on his arm and said, "I'm proud of you, not gambling this money when you knew where it was all this time."

He smiled cheekily and continued counting. I knew my portion would get to Edward in the morning. That's how things were done in this day and age. Knowing Edward, he would attempt to spoil me silly with most of it.

As I went to sleep that night, I thought about how truly blessed I was – I had the best brother in the world, the most wonderful fiancĂ©, and an exciting future to look forward to. It was almost as if it was heaven on earth.

Edward POV

I was nervous as a first-time groom, even though this was my second marriage. Looking at Emmett beside me at the front of the small church wasn't helping as he was nervous as well. When he brought over the wedding/Christmas gift before church this morning, I could barely stand upright.

He explained their parents kept this for them for their future. The future Mrs. Edward Cullen was going to get spoiled on part of those funds and she didn't know it yet. But then again, perhaps she did – I made no secret about the fact I liked to get her things. There was no way we could make a trip now in the middle of winter, but perhaps in the spring, we could make a delayed honeymoon trip to San Francisco. Marcus and Aro would watch the store for me. They'd probably get a kick out of it.

I needed to stop my wool-gathering as there was a small commotion at the back of the church when Ada Hale arrived and was escorted to her place of honor by her two sons. Our pastor had agreed to perform the double wedding ceremony prior to his Christmas sermon.

Soon, Bella and Rose were walking down the church aisle on either side of Levi Hale. Since he and Bella met during our visit earlier this month, they were quite taken with each other. I was glad Bella had someone to walk her down the aisle since her father wasn't able to do it.

Bella was a beautiful, glowing bride in her sapphire blue dress she'd created from the fabric and notions I'd brought her on Thanksgiving. There was a small amount of white lace around the collar and cuffs and pearl buttons marching down the front of the dress, ending at the waistline, from where there flowed a full skirt.

Levi was kissing Rose and Bella on the cheek and then Bella was on my arm. We repeated the age-old vows and then I was allowed to kiss her in front of a sanctuary full of witnesses as the bright winter sun streamed through the stained glass windows.

As we took our seats in the pew to listen to the sermon about the Savior's birth, I held Bella's hand tightly and smiled at her often. She smiled shyly up at me as well. I'm certain the sermon was wonderful that Christmas Day, but I don't recall a word of it. All I could think of was my wonderful wife sitting beside me, holding her hand.

After the sermon, Marcus and his wife invited the wedding party and their family to their home for a late Christmas lunch. Of course, Aro and his wife attended as well. It was full of family, friends, and a lot of good-natured joking. Instead of the traditional pies, wedding cake was served for dessert.

As Bella and I made our way home, loaded down with leftovers, it began snowing again. It was just as well as the store would be closed for the next two days to give people the opportunity to spend with their families – and to give Bella and I time to spend alone with no interruptions.

When we finished placing the leftovers in the kitchen, I caught Bella around the waist and danced her around the kitchen, humming as I did so. Her head fit naturally on my chest, where it felt it belonged.

"I should go stir up the embers in the fire so it will warm up in here for you, love," I said. She looked at me shyly.

I got the fire roaring again in a matter of moments and then said, "Perhaps you'd like to rest after our busy day?"

"But it isn't even dark outside!" she exclaimed.

I took her hand and drew her into the – our – bedroom. I led her over to the bed, where she stood beside it stiffly. I let go of her hand and went over to one of the windows and pulled down the shade. "But it's getting darker," I said, teasingly with a smile. She smiled from beside the bed.

Then I went around the bed to the other window. I saw she had turned to silently watch me. I pulled that shade down as well. "And darker," I affirmed. She giggled nervously.

I came back around the bed to stand beside her. "You are so beautiful," I told her, truthfully and honestly, as my hands weaved through her long hair and my mouth gently kissed hers.

"I trust you," she replied as my body covered hers on the crisp, white sheets.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Heaven in the Real World - Chapter 3 (November)

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but I'm grateful to Stephenie Meyer for her dream/vision. Please don't steal my original work.

Isaiah/Isabella POV

Time was growing closer to Thanksgiving. All I could think about was making a new dress for Christmas. I wasn't certain how I was going to make it happen without taking a horse to Auburn to another general store and buying enough fabric to make a dress. Edward would know something was up if I marched over to the general store and looked at the fabric selection like any other woman in town.

Drat this ruse I'd come up with! I'd mentally kicked myself repeatedly. Ma made me a new dress every Christmas or I had made one since she'd been gone.

Ever since the Harvest Festival, Jessica had been to the telegraph office to check for mail and to visit with me every day. She was incredibly irritating. I'd love to just whip off my hat and come twirling out of my living quarters in a skirt when she walked in. The look on her face would be worth any wrath I would face.

Today it was raining cats and dogs – that's what Pa would've said, had he been here. I'd put off a trip to the store so long Emmett and I were going without various foodstuffs we loved. I couldn't put it off any longer – rain or no rain.

In the middle of the street, I ran into one of the town's elderly residents. He wanted to know if he'd received any mail the past couple of days. I asked if he'd like to accompany me back to the office to check. He said he would not; he had a dry seat where he was seated on his wagon and would wait until I returned with his mail. I ran back to get it and then he wanted to visit a bit more. By the time he moved on, I was soaked. I pressed on toward the general store anyway. This shopping had to get done today.

I could feel my wet hair tucked up under my sodden cap. I silently prayed it wouldn't come out of its carefully placed pins until I could get back to the telegraph office.

Edward was busy with other customers. I could spend a little extra time perusing his fabric selection. I could see all the notions out of the corner of my eye. Amongst the bolts of calico fabrics, there were several that caught my eye - a beautiful scarlet, a brilliant sapphire blue, and an emerald green that reminded me very much of Edward's eyes. I was fondly touching them all, knowing I could get away with it for the moment.

Suddenly, I heard a noise behind me, like the floorboard creaking. My hands on the fabric bolts stilled immediately. Whoever was behind me had caught me, red-handed. I was almost afraid to turn around and see who it was.

I turned to face my accuser. My face burned with embarrassment when I saw it was Edward, blocking the only aisle of escape.

"Isaiah," he asked gently, "who are you – really?"

I wanted to burst into tears right then, but I couldn't give him the satisfaction. I went right up to him as he was blocking the aisle and said, "Edward, let me pass."

He grabbed my shoulders and said more firmly, "Isaiah, just tell me who you are."

My hands immediately went to his arms to pull him off me. I needed to get out of this store – now; staying longer would prove disastrous. My strength was nothing compared to his. His grip could've been formed from iron for all the good my efforts were providing. I could tell he was not out to hurt me; he would never do that. He just wanted to find out my story.

"Edward," I implored again, "please let me pass."

During my struggle, the worst possible thing happened. My saturated cap fell to the wood floor with a wet plopping sound. Now that my wet hair was no longer confined by the wet cap, it began falling in long loops down my back, still pinned in various places. I was certain I looked a fright.

And then my tears did begin to fall. I couldn't look at Edward. I couldn't look anywhere. Big, fat tears rolled down my cheeks and I sobbed.

I felt Edward's hands leave my shoulders at once and he was gone. Next I heard the tumbler of the lock in the store's front door turn. Then I felt Edward pressing a fine linen handkerchief into my hand. I pressed it to my eyes.

In the next moment, a move that startled me even further was Edward drawing me into his arms and letting my tears fall onto his shirt. If I didn't feel so rotten about deceiving him and the entire town, I might welcome his warm embrace.

Edward POV

As I stood holding this beautiful creature who – just moments ago I assumed was a man – I wondered how wrong I could be about life.

Perhaps that's why I'd been irritated with her all this time. She wasn't being who she truly was. She'd been living a lie. I wasn't certain of her reasoning for it, but I hoped to find out what it was.

Her tears were slowing now. I spied a nearby stool and moved it with my foot where we were standing. I sat her down on the stool and made sure she was safe before I let her go.

I looked into her eyes and said, "Now, should we start at the beginning? I'm Edward Cullen and you are…?"

She took a heaving breath and said, "Isabella Swan, but my friends and family call me Bella."

I figured if she volunteered the information, she expected me to use it. "So, Bella, tell me how you came to Gold Run, pretending to be a man?"

Her story came out then, how no one would hire a female telegraph operator. She created a new moniker so she would have a means to provide for her brother and herself. She didn't know she would actually be hired and then have to pose as a man every single day. She now had to stay away from church and other things she enjoyed because she couldn't remove her hat. She certainly couldn't join the town quilting circle. They would laugh uproariously at the very idea.

Then I thought about me and my reaction to Isaiah. I'd been her harshest critic. I'd made fun of her at every opportunity – buying various foodstuffs, canning fruits and vegetables, her outstanding baking expertise.

And now – now that I knew everything about her – all I wanted to do was hold her close to me and let all her hurts wash away like the pounding rain outside.

When I could see that her tears had stopped, I tipped her chin up with the pad of my index finger and gave her a small crooked grin. She looked at me, wary.

"Bella," I said as I then held out my hand to her, "come. Let's have a cup of tea. I've closed and locked the store for the time being. No one will be coming out in this storm." She looked down at my offered hand, slid silently off the stool, and placed her hand in mine.

I tried to ignore the feeling, but Bella's hand in mine felt like coming home after a long journey. As I guided her up the stairs at the back of the store, she kept a firm grip on my hand.

I was suddenly nervous. No woman had been in my living quarters since Angela. Would Bella find them acceptable? As we entered the living area and I watched her appraise my home above the store, Bella said, "Edward, it's beautiful!" I sighed in relief. The cozy fireplace in the living room was dark at the moment, but I could start a fire in a few moments if I sensed she was overly chilled.

I settled Bella into a cushioned rocking chair as I went to start the tea water. "Where did you get all these beautiful quilts, pillows, and chair pads?" she asked.

"A few were made by the women in town, but a lot were made by my wife," I responded. At her gasp, I continued, "I've been a widower for three years now. Angela passed away during childbirth. Doc Black did everything he could, but he wasn't able to save her or the baby."

"Oh Edward, I'm so very sorry," Bella said.

"Thank you for your sympathy. I feel God has helped me through my grief and I'm ready to move on in His timing." A thought occurred to me just then and I said, "What about…? I took you to Doc Black the day after you arrived. Does he know?"

Bella smiled a small smile and replied, "Yes. I swore him and Leah to secrecy right away." She waved her hand in the air and continued, "Doctor/patient confidentiality and all that."

I handed her a cup of freshly-brewed tea and took one for myself as well. She took a small sip and then proceeded to remove the hairpins that were still hanging loosely in her hair. I watched, almost mesmerized, as she finger-combed her long hair. I thought briefly of Angela who refused to ever wear her hair down. I wondered if Bella would ever purposely wear hers that way. I would wager a guess it was beautiful when it wasn't soaked with rain. I'd love to run my fingers through it.

Bella let out an unladylike snort. "You really are something else, Edward." I hadn't realized I'd spoken those last words aloud. The look on her face told me I'd done that very thing.

She took another sip from her cup and said with a sigh, "I suppose now I will have to leave town. Now that you know my secret, there's no way I can keep up the charade. More townspeople will find out. They will all hate me."

She began crying again. I sat my cup down and was beside her in an instant, offering her another handkerchief. She had my other one balled up in her hand. I used it to remove the remains of her self-applied beard of what appeared to be coffee grounds from her face.

Bella said through her tears, "Emmett won't be happy. He's in love with Rosalie." Then she looked out the window at the steady rain and continued in a small voice, "And I think I'm in love with you…and you despise me."

"No, Bella," I said gently, "I don't despise you. I think it was very brave of you to do what you did. Not many people would have the courage to do it." I did touch her hair then and run my fingers over the soft strands, as a comforting measure.

I hugged her to me in a one-armed hug and encouraged her to drink more tea. My mother always used to say it was very medicinal and would cure what ailed you.

"I don't want you to leave. We can figure out what to tell the rest of the town," I vowed.

We were quiet as we finished our tea. When we looked out the window again, it appeared the rain was letting up. Bella stated she needed to get back to the telegraph office.

As we looked outside from the store windows, the street was a virtual large puddle of mud. I looked down at the shoes Bella was wearing. There was no way she was going to get across the street and still be wearing those shoes. The mud would suck them under.

Even though she protested, I got out a thick pair of rain boots and placed them on my feet. Then I scooped her up in my arms and carried her across the street. This time I carried her, her arms were around my neck. Oh, if I'd only known she was a woman the first time I carried her to Doc Black's! And if I'd known the depths of my attraction for her! Every time I made a step, the mud made a sucking noise on my boots. By the time we made it to the telegraph office, we were laughing hysterically. It felt good to laugh with Bella in the rain, now that all our secrets were out.

As I was sliding into bed that night, a thought occurred to me. Had Bella said she loved me? I sat upright in bed and went over our entire conversation in my mind. She had, and I had been such a complete fool that I'd run almost roughshod over her feelings, insisting we'd find a way to tell the rest of the town.

I cared for Bella as well. In the short span of a few hours, admiration for what she'd done grew into love. I'd had several months to see her in action with the townspeople and see that she was honest, caring, hard-working – and, by God's grace, loved me. I'd have to find a way to show her I cared for and loved her as well.

The next morning, I was pleased to see the streets had mostly dried up from the deluge we'd had the day before. As I opened the store for the day, I mentally prepared myself for the rush of customers. This week Thanksgiving would be celebrated, a new holiday proclaimed by President Lincoln three years prior. It seemed the week after that celebration, my customers wanted to begin their Christmas shopping.

As I sat on a stool behind the counter of the store, a flurry of activity in the street caught my eye. I swung my head around to see several of the town fathers headed for the telegraph office. A sense of dread settled into the pit of my stomach and I went to get my winter coat hanging from a nearby peg.

Aro and Marcus were just coming in the door to begin their first checkers game of the day. I asked them to keep an eye on the store as my legs carried me down the steps and across the street as quickly as possible.

I made my way inside the telegraph office behind the town fathers just as I heard the mayor say, "Ma'am, we don't know what game you're playing, but our town did not hire a woman to be our telegraph operator, nor would we had we known. You are hereby relieved of your duties!"

I muscled past several of the men until I could see Bella. If I thought she'd look like a mouse cornered by a cat, I couldn't have been more wrong. She was getting ready to speak her case against all these men coming against her, not backing down in the slightest.

"Now, see here, Mr. Mayor," Bella said, "I'm perfectly capable of performing my duties and have been for these several months while you thought I was a man."

She was dressed in a blouse and a skirt. Her long hair was flowing freely down her back and it was shining beautifully in the light coming through the window. Focus, Cullen, I reminded myself. I moved until I was standing beside her.

"Cullen," the mayor addressed me, "what is your part in this?"

"I didn't know Miss Swan was a woman until yesterday either. But certainly we can come to an agreement where she can provide for her family until other arrangements can be made," I said.

The mayor considered that for a moment and then replied, "I've decided that Miss Swan can keep her position for one month while she trains someone else – a man. After that, she can no longer be employed as our telegraph operator. That is my final word."

As the town fathers made their way out of the building, I circled my arm around Bella's waist and smiled at her.

She gave me a worried look and asked, "Who will I find to do my job?"

"What about Emmett? Then he can stay here and be with Rosalie. You said he was in love with her," I said gently.

"Oh, that's wonderful news. Then he can take care of his spinster sister," Bella replied as she moved away from me and across the room.

Just then, Jessica came through the doorway. "Hello! I've just come to check for the mail. Is Isaiah around?" she asked. Could my luck get any worse?

Bella said, not missing a beat, "Jessica, haven't you heard? I'm Isaiah. I've been pretending to be a man this entire time so I could retain this position in your town. I know you've been sweet on me, but truly, I've held no such feelings for you. I do hope we can continue to be friends, however."

I've never actually seen the blood drain from a person's face before in horror, but it was actually quite entertaining to watch – especially on Jessica's face. Then she screamed, stamped her foot, and whirled back out the door.

Thankfully, Jessica's display broke the ice between Bella and me once again and we laughed uproariously.

I caught Bella by her waist again and said lowly, "I don't think you need to be concerned about being a spinster, Bella." I kissed her lightly on the cheek and made my way to the door.

She called after me, "Will you come for dinner on Thanksgiving?"

"It would be my pleasure," I responded.

Thursday evening, I sat in the Swan living quarters and enjoyed a wonderful feast. Over dinner, Bella asked Emmett if he would consider taking her position as the telegraph operator. He said he would as he wanted to marry Rosalie on Christmas Day and she wanted to move to town. Being exiled to a ranch was not to her liking.

After dinner, Emmett rode out to the Hale ranch to tell them the news. As soon as he left, I brought out my gift.

Bella looked at me warily and said, "I don't believe Thanksgiving is a gift-giving occasion."

"I'd like this one to be," I said as I offered her the brown paper-wrapped package tied with string.

As soon as the package was opened, tears filled her eyes. "Oh Edward!" she exclaimed.

"You don't like it? I thought it was one of your favorites," I replied, confused.

Running her hands lovingly over the sapphire blue fabric I'd freshly cut from the bolt at the store along with some lace and a spool of matching thread, she said, "It's absolutely perfect! How did you know I'd been looking for fabric for a Christmas dress?"

I took one of her hands in mine and said, "I've been a shopkeeper for a while now, Bella. I think you'd look stunning in blue. I'd like to ask you something."

"What is it?"

"The day it was raining, you said you loved me. Did you mean that?" I asked softly.

She focused on the fabric and answered, "Yes," almost blushing.

"I've come to admire and love you as well, Bella. Will you allow me to court you?"

She looked up then, surprised. "Yes," she said with a smile.

And we sealed our courtship with a kiss.

Author's Note: The first Thanksgiving celebrated on the same date by all states was in 1863 by presidential proclamation. The final Thursday in November had become the customary date of Thanksgiving in most U.S. states by the beginning of the 20th century. And so, in an effort by President Abraham Lincoln (influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale) to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states, proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November.

Heaven in the Real World - Chapter 2 (October)

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but I'm grateful to Stephenie Meyer for her dream/vision.

Isaiah/Isabella POV

"Bye Bells. Have a good day," I heard Emmett say softly from the doorway to our living quarters before he shut the door behind him. I snuggled deeper under my quilts to get a few more hours of blessed sleep before my day started.

Emmett was able to secure a position as a ranch hand on the ranch of Levi and Ada Hale. I hadn't met them yet, but I was sure they were fine people.

Emmett was up and out the door long before sunrise. He was such a wonderful brother to me. He always made sure the fire in the cook stove was banked for me which also served to heat our living quarters. He also brought in fresh water before he left in the morning. I knew he likely ate hearty meals at the ranch – when he came home, he never complained about missing breakfast or lunch.

Doctor Black had determined the cyst on my ovary was large enough it could be removed safely during surgery. His careful and steady hands also removed a smaller cyst. Thankfully, he was able to keep my ovary intact so I would still have my monthly cycle and be able to bear children later.

Doctor Jacob Black and his wife Leah were the sweetest couple I'd met in this town thus far. Leah was expecting a baby within the next few months. It felt so good to be myself with them. Leah kept me fed well as I recovered from surgery. Emmett was worried sick right after surgery, but glad to see me on the road to recovery.

Now that time had passed into October, I'd finally unpacked all our belongings and our living quarters looked like a real home. I could take any item from the shelf and prepare a normal meal.

What proved to be more challenging was purchasing the items at the general store. Edward didn't feel a man should know his way around the foodstuffs. Did he have to be so narrow-minded? I heard briefly when passing Aro and Marcus during one of their checkers games Edward was from back East. Did he not know there were male chefs? And besides, his penny-colored hair would probably burst into flames if he knew I was actually a woman! The thought made me giggle silently to myself.

But then I thought – what would Edward's reaction be when he found out I was a woman? Would he be horrified? Would he be mad I'd deceived him and the rest of the town? One look into his handsome eyes – where I tried not to look too often and give myself away – and I knew I didn't want to disappoint him.

I loved this little town so much. I could see myself living here for a very long time. I wasn't certain how long I could keep up this deception I'd started. I was growing to love the people and the area. I wished I could attend church, but since men took off their hats in church that couldn't be for me. I spent my Sunday mornings reading my own Bible at home.

Speaking of Aro and Marcus, I sat down and chatted with them several times. They were actually very nice gentlemen. I think it makes Edward nervous for some reason and gets his goat.

In the telegraph office, Jessica came in with a jacket on, her skirts plentiful underneath. I hastily placed the quilt block I was currently working on underneath the counter. This town wasn't ready to see a "man" quilting! "Isaiah," she practically fawned, "good morning! How are you today?"

It was too easy to be gruff with her. I also wanted to roll my eyes, but refrained. "I'm well, Jessica. How are you and your parents?"

"Oh, we're all right as rain," she responded with a giggle and a flutter of her eyelashes.

Oh my stars! How did men put up with this? I'd seen girls flirt outrageously with Emmett before and it made me want to find the nearest outhouse so I could lose my latest meal. Jessica was no exception. Except now she was flirting with me – which made it ten times worse.

"You'll be coming to the Harvest Festival, won't you, Isaiah?" she asked.

I looked thoughtful for a moment, and then replied, "Oh, I suppose I will, if I don't have anything else going on that evening."

She looked soulfully into my eyes and said, "You simply must! And I hope you save a dance or two for me!"

Trying to divert her attention, I asked, rather flatly, "Is there something I can help you with today, Jessica?"

"Yes. I'm here to see if there's any mail for The Stanley House."

I gave her the mail addressed to the boardinghouse and she finally went on her way.

Dance with her? Was she crazy? This entire scheme had gotten entirely out of hand! I wondered if I could fake being sick. I suppose if I did, Edward would be over here, scooping me up and hauling me off to Doctor Black. I'd never live that down again. Tonight, I'd best ask Emmett to remind me of those dance steps Pa taught us when we were younger.

Edward POV

I stared out the window of the store and dragged my hand through my hair in frustration. Was Isaiah out there again talking to Marcus and Aro? What was his deal anyway? It irritated me to no end. Didn't he have work to do in the telegraph office? Isn't that why the town hired him?

Isaiah was in my store almost every day as it was – asking for various foodstuffs for cooking and then asking for the last of my summer vegetables and fruits for canning. I looked at him critically and informed him I knew of no men who canned fruits and vegetables. He gave a slight shrug and informed me his ma had to teach both his sons many things as she knew she wouldn't be having any daughters.

I wasn't sure why Isaiah Swan irritated me – just he did. Was it because he was younger than me? No, I seemed to get along fine with most of the other townspeople, no matter their age. He claimed to be a God-fearing man, but never attended church. That was odd. Perhaps it was because he sported a 5 o'clock shadow at 9 in the morning. There was just something "off" about the man. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

I wanted to ask Isaiah to go to another store, but the closest one was in Auburn, which was about 25 miles away. That wasn't very neighborly of me and it would be quite an expedition for one trip to a general store.

Tonight was the Harvest Festival. I suppose I would be forced to dance with Jessica. I knew this was coming. It would just be dancing as friends. I would dance with plenty of other women – not just Jessica. People from the surrounding ranches and farms usually attended the Harvest Festival as it was a big community event featuring a potluck picnic, games, and ended with a dance.

As the late afternoon shadows descended, I locked up the store and walked toward the meadow near the church. It was the largest clearing in town to hold such a celebration. I helped set up long lengths of plywood over sawhorses to use as tables and bales of hay to use as seating in preparation for the potluck feast we'd all enjoy. As women came from various parts of town and in multiple wagons, the tables fairly groaned under all the weight of the food.

Then I spied Isaiah and Emmett coming toward the food table, Isaiah holding a cake plate. "What is that?" I demanded, pointing at the plate.

Isaiah said, "It's a fresh apple cake with a maple-flavored frosting, as if it's any of your business." He seemed to raise his nose in the air a bit, then thought better of it and placed the cake with the other desserts.

Emmett placed his hand on my shoulder and said, "My – brother – is a good cook. You should let him be."

"Hello Edward," Jessica said, coming up beside me. Spying Isaiah, she said, "Oh, Isaiah, you're already here – and you've baked a cake! That is simply divine! I've never known a man who could bake well!"

I almost snorted with laughter as I turned on my heel and walked away from the food tables. So, that was the way of it then? Jessica had moved on to Isaiah, had she? Well, good luck to the both of them. They were going to need it.

I watched some children's games in progress until the preacher called everyone's attention so he could give the blessing over the food so the townspeople could begin eating.

I assisted some of the elderly people with filling their plates and locating a place to sit. Then I took my own turn through the line.

Wouldn't you know it? Just as I was going through the line, on the other side were Isaiah and Emmett. When I came to the desserts, Isaiah gave me a look of defiance not to take a slice of his cake. I took a small slice, just to spite him.

Noticing a table sparsely populated, I made way in that direction. I couldn't wait to dig into the flavorful bounty certain to be filling my plate. As I bit into my first taste of fried chicken, I closed my eyes to enjoy every moment. By the time I opened my eyes again, I saw the Swan brothers were making ready to sit across from me.

Just then, the Stanley family arrived and sat beside us as well. I only had to contribute to the conversation when I could get a word in edgewise between Jessica, which wasn't very often.

I worked my way around my plate methodically and finally reached the dessert items. I looked up briefly and saw a look of challenge in Isaiah's eyes for me to take a bite of his cake and a look of something else – longing? The waning sunlight and lamplight must be playing with my vision. I looked down at my plate again and then back up. Only the look of challenge remained.

I shoved a forkful of the apple cake into my mouth and chewed. I was going to force it down even if it was the worst-tasting cake in town. To my surprise, it wasn't horrible. In fact, it was the most delicious cake I'd ever tasted! I looked back at Isaiah where I saw a smirk playing around his lips. Now he wanted to gloat. He actually had every right to – this cake was wonderful! I was hoping to take another pass by the buffet table and snag another slice.

The small band was tuning up now. We had several men who played guitars, a banjo, a violin, and harmonica. It was a nice mix. The area for dancing was set up well away from the eating area. It was surrounded by lanterns held up on tall posts so the dance "floor" was clearly defined. I sighed quietly and waited for Jessica to ask me for a dance.

My first offer surprised me, though. The little boy who had lost his kitten in the tree dragged his 10-year-old sister over to me. "Mistah Cullen," he said, "would you dance with my sister? She'd really like it."

I looked over at his sister, who was now blushing scarlet. "Would she now?" I asked, gently teasing.

"Yes," he affirmed. "She's been sayin' so all night."

"Oh, all right," I said and stood up. I looked over and saw couples now populating the dance floor. I bowed a little and said, "Miss Emma, may I have the pleasure of this dance?"

She nodded and tucked her little hand in mine as we walked toward the dancing. When we arrived, I picked her up in my arms and swung her around in time to the music. We had our arms sticking out to the side like a "real" couple. Emma was having a fun time, giggling as I swung her around to the fast song.

My heart gave another little twinge as it longed to be a father and have my own children. I stuffed the emotion down deep inside so I could enjoy this time with Emma. She was an adorable little girl who deserved all the happiness in the world.

As I delivered Emma back to her parents and kissed the back of her hand, she immediately flew to her mother's side and buried her face in her mother's skirts. I hoped I hadn't embarrassed her.

I walked back to my table to find Virginia Stanley to take a turn on the dance floor, if she wasn't already dancing with her husband, and discovered Jessica and Isaiah were already on their way there.

I also saw Emmett dancing with Rosalie Hale, the only daughter on Levi and Ada Hale's ranch. They appeared to be having a splendid time and didn't have eyes for anyone else.

After taking a few more turns on the dance floor, I decided to sit out the rest of the evening. It appeared Jessica was getting along well with Isaiah. Jessica was practically beaming. I couldn't help but be happy for them – another happy couple in our small town.

As the party was winding down, I took myself back home, locking the store's door behind me.

Lighting a lamp in my home above the store, I looked around, going into each room. There were three bedrooms in addition to the main living room and kitchen. Angela had made it beautiful before she had passed away and I'd kept it exactly that way. We were going to have two beautiful children and fill this house and make it a real home. Now that had been snatched away. I felt melancholy tonight and I didn't want to feel this way. I normally kept these feelings at bay by doing things for the community or working.

Why did it seem there was someone for everyone but me? I could only ask that question heavenward as I blew out the lamp beside my bed and slipped in between the cool sheets to drift into a dreamless sleep.

Heaven in the Real World - Chapter 1 (September)

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but I'm grateful to Stephenie Meyer for her dream/vision.

Edward POV

The enticing aromas coming from the boardinghouse breakfast table were tantalizing my nose this morning. Thankfully, Jeremiah Stanley must've felt the same as his blessing of the meal was short. The hot pancakes with golden maple syrup and churned butter, fluffy yellow scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, and thick crisp bacon were loaded onto plates around the table as we all dug in with gusto.

Most of those gathered around the table were miners who worked in the gold mine in our small town of Gold Run, California. Rounding out the table were Jeremiah and Virginia Stanley, who owned The Stanley House boardinghouse, along with their daughter, Jessica.

I must've been engrossed in inhaling as much good food as possible as I soon felt Jessica's hand on my arm. "Edward, haven't you heard a thing I've said?"

"Pardon me, Jessica. It appears I have not," I said as I finished swallowing a bite of food.

She said, "I was saying, I may have some free time available later if you'd like to go for a walk." I had to refrain from sighing. Jessica was forever trying to get me to spend time with her and court her since she was 22 to my 26 years of age. I simply was not interested. Since my wife, Angela, died in childbirth three years ago along with our child, I hadn't been in a hurry to find another wife. I knew the good Lord would provide one in His time if He felt that's what I needed.

I responded, "I'll see what my time is like later today. I don't want to make a promise I can't keep." I went back to my savory breakfast as I heard her huff quietly in frustration beside me. I wanted to chuckle in amusement.

Other conversations were going on around the table when I heard Virginia whisper to her daughter, "Honestly, dear, you need to stop chasing after Mr. Cullen."

With that, Jessica picked up her plate from the table, pushed her chair back, and swished off to the kitchen in a flurry of skirts. I looked over at Virginia, who looked back apologetically with a wink and we finished our breakfast.

After breakfast, I walked down the dusty main street in this beautiful September day in 1866 to my store. Angela and I had come west five years ago, to the dismay of our families, to open a general store. My parents said I'd never be successful, but I'd done pretty well for myself. I wasn't the richest man in town by any means, but I was happy.

Suddenly, a little boy came darting out between two buildings, fat tears dripping down his face. He spied me and came running over.

"Mistah Cullen," he said between the gaps of his missing teeth, "can you help me? My kitty is up a tree and I can't get her down."

Taking my handkerchief out of my pocket and drying his tears, I said, "Yes, I can help. Where's your mother?"

"Gettin' my sistahs ready for school," he said, bottom lip still quivering.

"All right," I said, taking his hand in mine and we walked in the direction of the kitten and tree. Along the way, I borrowed a ladder from the side of a building.

He stopped me in front of a small tree and I could see the grey kitten lounging against a branch just out of my reach. I would be able to reach her easily with the aid of the ladder if she didn't move up any further. How is it cats could look at home in almost any environment?

As I placed the ladder against the tree and began to climb, the kitten appraised me with her eyes. "Here, kitty, kitty," I said soothingly. As my hand drew closer to her, she stood up and stretched. Then she sniffed my hand and must've not felt any danger. I drew her into the crook of my arm and spoke softly to her. I was rewarded with a loud purr.

I carefully made my way back down the ladder and gave the contented kitten back to her owner. I loved seeing the smile on his little face, even if he was minus a few teeth. In that moment, I was missing being a father something fierce. "Thanks, Mistah Cullen," the boy said as he raced away, kitten firmly in hand.

As I replaced the ladder and continued on to the store, I looked down at myself. I brushed a few scuff marks off my black trousers and white shirt. My black string tie was still tied around my neck. I didn't look any worse for the wear after my unplanned side trip.

Wearing one of my worn shopkeeper's aprons, I swept off the boardwalk in front of the store. I looked up and saw my favorite two old codgers coming down the street toward me.

Aro and Marcus usually spent their days in the chairs I placed outside the store, playing checkers or just gossiping like old women. I was tempted to think their wives kicked them out of their homes everyday just to have some time away from them, but I never asked. They usually provided some much-needed levity for me and some of my customers, so I didn't mind the distraction.

In this small town, I was the proprietor of the only general store within quite a distance. There were a few saloons, a church, a blacksmith with a livery attached, a barbershop, a medical clinic, a bank, and a newly-erected telegraph office. The town was waiting for our new telegraph officer to arrive any day now. Mr. Isaiah M. Swan from Arizona was to be taking over that position as soon as he arrived with his brother.

There were farmers and ranchers in the area. Most of the men who lived near the settlement were here for the gold mining. There weren't many women who lived in this neck of the woods and certainly none by themselves. It just wasn't done. Some of the farmers and ranchers were married and I only saw their wives and children on their infrequent trips to town. The women who lived in town shopped in my store more frequently, of course.

Since I had put everything in order inside my store the night before, I stood out on the walkway and watched as Aro and Marcus sat down and placed their markers for their first checkers game of the day.

Marcus took a long drink from the coffee cup he brought with him and spoke first, "Morning, Edward. I hear the new telegraph operator is coming today. Aro and I had to help change beds in the living quarters yesterday, with two brothers coming instead of a married couple. Darn inconvenient." He rubbed his lower back as if the effort of the day before was still paining him.

Aro spoke up next, "I wonder if the other Swan brother has a firm offer from one of the ranchers to work on their ranch. Seems like he'd do better working in the mine."

"Maybe mining isn't his calling," I added. I was glad for the telegraph operator's arrival. I would be able to move the mail to his office and add a display for selling additional items in the store.

The two grunted in agreement and got started on their game. I retreated into the store as the first customers of the day arrived.

I was busy throughout the day. Jessica begrudgingly brought me a lunch of a ham sandwich on thick-sliced sourdough bread with potato salad, baked beans and a sliced dill pickle when it was determined I was unable to get away from my duties at the store.

It was nearing the end of the workday and I was bringing the produce which hadn't sold throughout the day inside the store for the night. I looked up as I heard a wagon approach. I saw a dilapidated wagon filled with all manner of earthly belongings and two weary riders. As they got closer, I saw it was two men – one was built large and the other was slight.

The wagon stopped in front of the store and the larger man said to me, "Good evening. Could you tell me where the telegraph office is? We are the Swan brothers just arrived from Arizona. We'd like to get our things unloaded before nightfall."

I hurried down off the boardwalk to shake their gloved hands. "Hello and welcome to Gold Run! We've been waiting for you to arrive. I'm Edward Cullen. I run the general store," I said and then pointed to the two old codgers still sitting in front of the store, "these two are Aro and Marcus. We will help you unload."

"There's no need, Edward," the larger man spoke again. "By the way, I'm Emmett, and this is my brother – Isaiah." He indicated the slight-built man sitting next to him.

"We insist," I repeated and led them down the street a ways to where the telegraph office was situated.

Isaiah/Isabella POV

"I thought they would never leave!" I said to Emmett.

"I know, Bells," Emmett replied, using my favorite nickname our pa used to call me. I missed our parents so much. They had both perished in a fire in our barn in Arizona while we in town getting supplies. "Don't forget, you need to keep your hat on until Edward returns. He's bringing us dinner from the boardinghouse."

I sighed loudly. I wondered if this stupid charade was going to work. We'd stayed in Arizona as long as we could. I'd been able to learn about the telegraph system from a kind old gentleman in Phoenix who taught me everything he knew. Emmett had worked at a ranch until he'd been caught gambling with some of the other ranch hands. Then he'd been unceremoniously banished from there.

The man in Phoenix showed me other telegraph officer positions available in the newspaper and I'd quickly applied. Not one wanted a single woman. I'd come up with an alternate name – Isaiah – and answered the advertisement for Gold Run, California. I was offered the position at once.

Now, here I was, at 18 years old, being forced to look and act like a man every single moment I was out in public. I'd never be able to attend church as men were required to remove their hats inside the building. As it was at this very moment, my face was itching from the coffee grounds I'd rubbed on the lower half of my face and neck just outside of town to look like I had a shadow of whiskers.

Finally, Edward returned with our dinner and Emmett and I were able to eat without visitors. I was able to have my hair down for the first time that day. I couldn't wait to heat up some water on the stove and have a bath in the tin washtub just for that purpose.

The next morning, our living quarters were starting to look a little more home-like. Ma's old quilts covered the beds, there were rugs on the floor, I had hung some pictures – it was starting to look like someone actually lived here.

I was able to make a proper breakfast of bacon, eggs, biscuits, and coffee, after the nice lady from the boardinghouse had included those items along with our dinner. We had foodstuffs and I was hoping to be able to unpack them today in addition to getting the telegraph office up and running. No doubt Edward had other items I could purchase at the store.

Emmett rode out soon after breakfast to look for a job at one of the ranches. I started to work in the telegraph office. I put my hair up once again and wore it under a newsboy cap. The blasted coffee ground stains were in place on my face and neck. I was dressed in trousers and a loose-fitting shirt and jacket. Thanks to my small figure, no one could see that I was actually a woman.

And not a moment too soon, I discovered, as Edward came bounding through the office door. "Good morning, Isaiah!" he said in greeting with a smile.

"Morning, Edward," I responded, taking care to deepen my voice.

He seemed to focus on my hands as they were placing various office items in order. No, my hands weren't those of a man's. I did keep my nails short as would keep up the ruse, but there was no other way I could disguise my hands. When I'd shook his hand last night and as we worked, I'd kept an extra pair of Emmett's gloves on.

"Is there something I can assist you with?" I asked.

"Oh yes," he said as he seemed to remember what he came for. "I would like to move the mailboxes from the store to the telegraph office now you've arrived."

"Seems like a fine idea," I agreed.

"So," he looked at me quizzically, "you'll help me move them?"

"Yes, of course. Let me get my work gloves." I found them immediately and followed him out the door.

As we set about to move the solid mass of boxes, I grunted under the weight of them. "Isaiah," he said, "you'll have to get some weight on you in this mountain town. We'll just move these out to my wagon, and then the horse can move them down the street."

I flashed him a small grin and lifted again. If it was only going to be a short distance, I think I could manage it.

Finally, with us working together, the mailboxes were in their new location in my office and looked like they were made to be there. "Thank you, Isaiah. Have a pleasant day," Edward said as he gave me a grin that seemed to come out crooked.

Oh, Edward Cullen, you are going to be a problem, I thought to myself. I have never seen so much attractiveness in one man!

As I went to sit on the stool behind the counter, a severe pain shot through my abdomen and I cried out in pain. I didn't care if I sounded like a girl in that moment. I clutched my stomach and nearly vomited from the pain.

Barely two moments had passed and Edward was back through the door. "Isaiah? Are you well?"

My skin felt clammy. I was likely pale as a sheet. I just looked at him.

"Can you walk?" he asked. I attempted to stand up from the stool and nearly fell over. Then he scooped me up in his arms.

I hissed in my least-likely male voice, "What are you doing?"

"Taking you to the doctor, Isaiah. You are light as a feather," he responded.

He didn't carry me the way a man would carry a woman. He carried me the way a man would carry his brother. I was in too much pain to feed into any kind of fantasy my mind could conjure up at the moment and kept my arms from around his neck.

In only a few moments, we were at the medical clinic. Not that I'd noticed before that moment, but Edward had long legs which could carry him anywhere at a great rate of speed.

"Doc Black," Edward said, "this is Isaiah Swan, the new telegraph operator. He is having some pain." He gently laid me on the exam table in Doctor Black's office.

I clutched my abdomen again as soon as I was horizontal. I pointed weakly at Edward and said gruffly, "Edward, you need to go."

He glanced at Doctor Black and said, "I'll be at the store if you need anything." Then he was out the door, closing it behind him.

"Doctor Black," I said weakly, seeing that we were alone, "I need your absolute secrecy."

"Of course, Isaiah," he replied. I carefully lifted the newsboy cap from my head and removed the pins from my hair. Surprise radiated from every feature on his face. "You're…you're actually a woman?"

"Yes," I said. "I would appreciate it if you would keep that secret between us."

"Yes, certainly – doctor/patient confidentiality. What is your real name?" he asked.

"Isabella. I've just had a terrible slicing pain in my abdomen," I said.

"Let me examine you," he stated and got to work efficiently.

After his examination, he said, "I would like to do an exploratory surgery on you. It sounds as though you have had an ovarian cyst rupture. Is there anyone we can notify?"

"My brother, Emmett, is out looking for work at the surrounding ranches," I said tearfully.

Doctor Black patted my hand. "It's all right, Isabella. My wife, Leah, will go to the telegraph office to leave a note for him if he comes back in the middle of the day looking for you. Then she'll come back and assist with the surgery."

I was prepped for surgery and the next thing I knew was blessed blackness from the ether.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Takin' a break...

I'm taking a break from writing fan fiction for a bit. I'm getting some ideas for a new story together and doing some research.

Take this time to check out other authors. Put me on Author Alert, if you'd like. I'll be back again when the next story is ready to go! See you then!

Saddle Up Your Heart - Chapter 13

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight, but I'm grateful to Stephenie Meyer for her dream/vision. Please don't steal my original work.

Epilogue – 10 years later

"Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate."

~ Psalm 127:3-5

Bella POV

Every time I'd been in the family way, I'd been filled with wonder at God's awesome work inside my body as He knit together a new little person. It started with Anthony a little over ten years ago and had swelled to include Jane Elizabeth, John Michael, Rebecca Ann, Peter Benjamin, and Emma Rachel.

Unfortunately, as soon as Emma was born, I began hemorrhaging and Dr. Cullen had to perform a procedure to stop the blood flow. Now I'm no longer able to have children. Once I finished grieving about that and realized I could still have a full life with the beautiful family God already blessed me with, I haven't looked back.

In fact, just this week, Dr. Cullen released me to go back to my normal household duties. I'll be glad to take some of the work off Gran's shoulders. I know she would do anything for our family, but she's not getting any younger.

Several years after Edward, Gran and I moved to Washoe Valley, Dr. Cullen and his family followed us. There were several doctors in Virginia City now and none in our immediate vicinity. Prior to their move, if someone was injured or in need of a doctor, they had to go to Virginia City or Carson City. The only one not happy about the move was Ali. She liked being near us, of course, but she missed Jasper. They wrote each other letters almost every day.

One day, Jasper came to visit Dr. and Mrs. Cullen and ask for Ali's hand in marriage. Jasper would be moving to Carson City to work in the capitol building. He was very interested in the political process since his father had been mayor for so many years. Dr. and Mrs. Cullen knew he and Ali had formed a strong bond over the years and agreed to the marriage. I was honored when Ali asked me to be her matron of honor.

Their wedding was the first in our new church which was also used as a school house. A kind pastor and his former school teacher wife moved to our community and were blessing us by being our spiritual guidance and our school teacher. It was unheard of at the time to hire an already-married school teacher, but our tiny community couldn't pass up the opportunity once we met the couple. They fit in so naturally, as did their three children.

Our best friends remained Garrett and Kate Cooper. It was so nice to have Kate to spend time with when our husbands drove cattle to market in Carson City or Reno. When that happened about twice a year, she and her brood of three would stay at our house. She had Tanya and two sons, William and Henry. Anthony and Tanya had already taken to teasing each other mercilessly – I could see where that was going to end up in a few years, no matter how much his father wanted to deny it. Mothers know these things.

Ben and Angela Cheney remained in Virginia City. Angela wasn't working as a dressmaker as much as she was previously after having twin boys. They kept her busy, as she told me in her sporadic letters. My own letters to her were few and far between. Being a mother of six didn't leave one much time for letter-writing!

Papa and Mom continued to live in Chicago. They were planning another trip to Nevada when Papa had a heart attack. His doctor told him he should limit any undue stress in his life and the trip was cancelled. Dr. Cullen disagreed with Papa's doctor, citing new research about diet contributing to heart attacks and not just stressful situations. The trip was never rescheduled, so Papa and Mom have not been out to meet their grandchildren yet.

Eli and Rachel Cope have been taking it easy the last couple of months, letting Mike and Jessica Newton take over the running of the boarding house. Yes, Mike and Jessica finally married. Eric Smith took over as sheriff when it became certain Mike would be taking on the boarding house full-time. Eli and Rachel thought Mike and Jessica would make fine innkeepers. Jessica had already been helping out since I'd been there, so it was nice to see her get this well-deserved promotion.

We recently received a letter from Emmett McCarty. His father, Patrick, found a large silver vein in one of the mines and became wealthy almost overnight. Mayor Isaac Hale found it in his heart to let his daughter, Rosalie, date Emmett after that occurred. I wanted to grit my teeth in frustration. It was obvious, even when I was their teacher; those two children were sweet on each other. Why not let them date because they love each other – not because of one's status of wealth?

I didn't know what I was going to do with Sam, Paul, and now Embry, our newest ranch hand! They spoiled our children something fierce. It seemed as soon as one of our children could walk across the floor, the next day, I'd see them riding around on a horse in the front yard for a bit with one of those men. Honestly – you'd think those men were teenagers! They do protect the children as well. Having six offspring, you can't be everywhere at once. I'm certain all my children have avoided bodily injury in one way or the other because one of those men was looking out for them.

Gran is such a comfort to me. I don't know how I would've gotten through all those early years on the ranch or child-raising without her. I know Edward certainly would not have made it through his bout of typhus without her. Her relationship with Edward is really something to see. They just adore each other – it's written all over both their faces. Although she's thriving here in northern Nevada, I know she won't live forever. But until that day comes, I'm going to enjoy every moment with her.

And then there was Edward – my patient, romantic, loving, handsome husband. Thankfully I wasn't blushing as much as when I was a new bride, but he could still cause my stomach to turn to butterflies when he gave me a certain look over the dining room table or caressed my cheek with his hand. He was always so good about showing affection and showing me in a thousand different ways he loved me in addition to always saying the words. He never faltered in the "teamwork" approach to marriage – he ran every major decision through me. If it was something I didn't know a great deal about, such as the cattle, he would patiently explain the history of the situation so I could come to my own conclusion.

I happened on a conversation the other day between Edward and his father – he was pushing his father to release me to go on an anniversary trip to Carson City without the children. It's barely been six weeks! I can't leave my baby! Dr. Cullen agreed – but only if we take the Emma with us. Edward grudgingly agreed.

This morning, we are packed and Dr. and Mrs. Cullen are coming to stay while we are away for two nights. The children love it when their grandparents come to visit.

Once we were on the road, I asked, "Edward, what was the rush to get away?"

He sighed and said, "I just needed some time with you alone. All day, the children are pulling at your skirts, demanding your attention." His lower lip stuck out, pouting.

I put my hand up to his face and pulled it toward me to kiss away his pout. Thankfully, Bear knew the way to Carson City as it was quite a long kiss.

"And you, darling," I reminded him, "have cows demanding your attention all day. But I still love you and will always love you, Mr. Cullen."

I threaded my arm through his as he kept them securely on the reins and put my head on his shoulder. He hummed in contentment. "We need more of this, Bella – just you and me."

"All right," I agreed. "We'll send the children to bed earlier and we can have more of this." He agreed and we continued on. We laughed about various things the children did – how our girls could pout just like him and when they called him "Daddy" along with the pout and the bat of an eyelash, they could get just about anything they wanted. I don't know where they learned that – must've been from their father.

When we arrived in Carson City, we checked in at a hotel and then went to visit Jasper and Alice. Jasper was at work. Alice hadn't seen Emma and wanted to spend some time with her. Edward told her we'd be back in a few hours.

I had no idea what his plan was until we arrived back at the hotel. "Oh, Mr. Cullen," I told him as we entered our room once again and the door shut behind us, "you are devious."

"Devious?" he said as his eyebrows shot up. "You used to say I was romantic!"

"You are, my darling Edward, you are," I said, as I pulled him to me, crushing his lips and body against mine.

The End