I'm sorry. I'll just lead with that, mmmkay?
The delay was due to a couple of things, the first being RL work, children, and responsibilities...boring, boring let's move on.
Next it's because, well, IDK...this chapter is so short and doesn't conform to the template I inadvertently type every single chapter in. So I sat on it waiting for inspiration to hit and fix it.
But today I re-read it and bawled my fucking eyes out. Yes. I said fucking in an author's note...that's how serious I am ;)
So...IDK, it still feels short and nonconforming but...here it is.
I hope it hits you as hard as it hits me. I say this with love for you and for these characters who may as well be my children I love them so freaking much.
I forwarded the entire stack of documents via email to my father over the weekend. He had our lawyers look at them, amend a few things, finally, approve them, and send them back to me. Ryan was given the amendments. The documents were meticulously redrafted and sent back to me. I cross-referenced them with the copies of the email my father sent me and then verified them officially. It was exhausting. Thank fuck we only planned to do this once. Orchestrating a mortgage for two relatively unemployed twenty-something's with prospective but technically non-existent high-paying employment, when the parties existed on opposite sides of the country…was grueling.
First thing the following Friday morning everything had been signed with Ryan as our witness. So why the fuck three hours later were we still sitting in the stifling, re-circulated air penthouse office suite on the tenth floor of the Melbourne Tower in downtown Seattle? The walls were a deep sage green, covered with framed awards of various kinds, the floors were a rich mahogany hardwood covered with expensive-looking Persian rugs and we sat on a plush cream-coloured sofa holding hands and nodding like good little clients while Ryan droned on and on about various points of concern and highlights he wished to illustrate. All the while in my head on repeat was a steady, silent plea for him to shut the fuck up, congratulate us, and hand us our keys so we could get the hell out of there. The day promised bigger and better things than the view of the Market from the pretentious real-estate teams' office.
An hour later, the elevator pinged and finally closed, shutting us off from the hours spent in the confining office and releasing us into the wild again together. We both took a slow, deep breath as the elevator hummed downward toward the lobby floor, releasing the air slowly, puffing out our cheeks, our heads both a swarm of information. We were pressed against opposite sides of the lift with our eyes glossed over, staring without actually seeing anything at the tile pattern on the floor.
"Uhm… We have a mortgage now. Like, a really big one," Bella whispered in a shrill voice that was much higher than natural as her throat constricted with both anxiety and excitement.
"I know!" I laughed nervously and jammed one hand into my jeans pocket while the other drummed against my thigh just for something to do.
"And…neither one of us are technically employed," she added jokingly with widened, horrified eyes. "Could pose a problem."
We laughed together as the doors opened and hand-in-hand we clicked our shoes against the high-gloss marble lobby floors. We exited into the beautiful, crisp summer day and the bustling streets that mirrored the bustling thoughts drumming on silently inside both of our minds. The air and the sun and the noise around us all screamed both west coast and home to me. I knew Bella felt the same. And from that moment on, home was going to have a different meaning than it ever had before for both of us. It no longer meant Forks. It definitely didn't mean anything outside of Washington. It didn't mean our parents' house, the places that we grew up and still referenced as "home" whenever we were at school and spoke of "going home for a few days". It was going to mean something so much more. Something solid and tangible. Something that was purely me and Bella and nobody else. Our home. Our life. Our beginning.
Bella finalized all her book contracts late that spring. I had a letter from the Seattle Children's Hospital confirming my future employment as part of their on-site medical psychology team, beginning in the fall, complete with projected salary earnings. Together, though technically unemployed, our projected income was going to be more than sufficient to become home-owners. Tricky, but that was what we paid Ryan for. My student loans would be paid off in no time, and we were going to begin our life at 10302 North East Country Club Road in the Port Blakely district of Bainbridge Island, Washington.
The island held a special sentiment for us. It was the little place we stopped to have a picnic lunch on our way to The Woodmark years prior. While we ate on the beach overlooking the Sound with the sun nearly blinding us in a delicious sort of way as it reflected off the water, we discussed how beautiful and quaint the tiny island was, given that we circled it twice before deciding on a place to stop and eat. The island was a domestic dream. Small, with a real sense of community, schools and parks all within walking distance from any of the residential nooks along the beatifically crafted streets complete with lampposts and an old-fashioned feel. It was listed at one of the top five places in the world to live and it was easy once you set foot on the tiny island to appreciate why. We saw all the island had to offer and thought it was gorgeous. It hadn't been the right time in our lives to discuss it any further, we were still drowning in school and distance and a secrecy that seemed heavier than gravity itself, overwhelming us. But we both knew what we were thinking as we sat and ate the sandwiches my mother packed for us. I remember grimacing as always when I unwrapped Bella's peanut butter and pickle. It was a different time. And while time itself felt as if it dragged, it actually didn't. And now…here we were.
The home backed onto the Sound and had a gorgeous view of the water and the Seattle skyline on the other side. A long, illuminated cobblestone driveway twisted its way to the house and the lawn hugged it from all sides, stretching out forever with endless opportunities for landscaping and children's play equipment in the future. The exterior was a deep slate grey with a matching stone façade and a dual door garage that ran in an L-shape off the front of the house, wrapping around the top of the driveway.
I was a little ahead of myself, but as we pulled up with the keys in our hands, I couldn't help the visions of future, friendly basketball games that would take place there. Mounting a backboard against the pristine siding would be one of the first things I planned on doing. I would enjoy every minute it took me to drill irrevocably into the wood above the garage doors, marring it forever. I doubted it was what the architect had in mind when he planned the elegant home, but it would only be the first of many signs of life we would give the house over the years, making it ours.
There was an old basketball hoop attached to the side of the garage at my parents' house. It had been reinstalled several times once Emmett became tall enough to practice slam dunking the ball over my poor sports-inept head every time he challenged me to a game. I looked forward to continuing the tradition even if it meant a lifetime of embarrassment every time he kicked my ass.
The front porch wrapped around the side of the house and two large stone pillars held up the doorframe. The inside was over five thousand square feet with four large bedrooms and enough bathrooms that no matter how many children we filled the walls with, we were sure to avoid that particular argument every morning. The hardwood floors and soaring ceilings, French doors leading into every room, the stainless steel appliances, and the exquisite sweeping staircase somehow managed to work together with the large stone fireplaces in the living rooms and master bedroom to make the elegant house feel warm and not cool, inviting and not overly stuffy despite the formal details.
The kitchen was a dream and I had more than one impure thought of ways Bella and I could entertain ourselves against the marble countertops. The walls were a mix of luxurious yellows and creams with white glossy woodwork. The master bedroom overlooked the backyard and sundeck, while down the hall, two bedrooms bookended a shared bathroom, even though another bathroom was just down the hall. They reminded me immediately of the bedrooms Alice and I occupied as children, and the bathroom we shared. Memories waiting to be made for children who didn't exist yet but weren't that far away.
"Bella," I breathed so quietly to myself I wasn't even sure if she heard me or not as we stood in the foyer and looked around at the expansive elegance that was our new family's home.
"Is it overkill?" she responded to my plethora of unspoken thoughts that I somehow infused into that one word. Both our eyes swept the rooms we could see from where we stood glued to our spot.
"Yes," I broke out into a robust laugh, holding my sides. It was in fact, ridiculously overkill. The point was just that neither of us cared.
She turned on her heel and gave me a half apologetic half amused face. "I know, Edward. But I didn't want to wait any more. We could have moved into an apartment downtown, and then a smaller place in Kirkland or something after that, and then eventually, when our kids are in school, found a place that was big enough for all of us but…" her words trailed off quietly as her thoughts ran away inside her pretty little head. I was already one step ahead of her, and as always, I knew what she meant.
"… but I want to make this ours and never move again. I want to be in our family's home right now. Lord knows we've earned it," I finished her thoughts for her.
We both took deep breaths and started touring the house, silently leading each other by the hand from room to room. It felt different than it had the day before, and probably the many times before that when Bella visited the house without me. This time, it belonged to us. Our laughter was going to fill it, our pictures were going to cover the walls, the kitchen was going to be filled with Bella's amazing cooking, and the sheets in the master bedroom upstairs were going to smell of coconut and sugar. Our feet were going to scuff the immaculate flooring and one day our children's sticky little hands would rub the corners of the staircase knoll post raw and muck up the beautiful paint on the walls. The inside of the bedroom closets at the far end of the house were going to have pencil marks ticking off a child's height, and the closet off the front room would be filled with all things Parker Brothers and Hasbro. There would be no pretentious Persian carpets, or look-but-don't-touch furniture. Instead, there would be stuffed animals trailed everywhere, cabinets of toys, and bookshelves with books no one happily had the time to read. The backyard would be filled with Little Tykes slides and playhouses and I would get my brother to help me build a sandbox in the corner by the deck and the dogwood tree.
There was a nook upstairs nestled against a corner window above the stairwell that overlooked the front yard and the lower level of the house. It was going to be the perfect place for a low bookshelf filled with tattered, loved paperbacks, and a place for Bella to read and write until her heart was content, all the while never feeling secluded from the rest of our home and our family in an actual, enclosed office. She could look down over the pony wall and see the entire main floor and through the front windows into the driveway and yard. Everything about the house was going to be comfortable, lived-in, relaxed, and perfect. It was going to be me and Bella.
"Wanna order pizza," Bella asked with a huge grin, legs swinging in the air as she sat on the corner of the island countertop in the kitchen.
"You read my mind." I couldn't help smiling back at her in answer.
"Do we even know a number for a local pizza place?" she asked, chewing on her lower lip and puzzling her brows.
"Isthere even a local pizza place here, I don't remember seeing one?"
"Shit. We're not in the city anymore," she whispered nervously and looked down at her swinging feet.
I closed in on her and nestled myself between her legs. My palms cupped her cheeks and I gently lifted her head to meet her eyes. I lowered my mouth to hers but once our lips met I didn't kiss her right away. I just wanted to feel her against me.
"Thank God for that, Isabella."
I felt her smile against my lips. And then I kissed her.
It turned out there was a local pizza place just up the road from us. It wasn't a chain restaurant and somehow we both like that. When the pizza came Bella saved the coupon flyer that was stuck to the top of the box, and threw it into a drawer in the kitchen, closing the drawer with a firm nod and a proud smile.
We took the pizza box and a six pack of soda out through the French doors leading onto the back deck. The night was warm, the promise of a lovely summer lingering in the air, and the sky seemed to stretch on forever, black and speckled with flecks of diamonds. We both knew it was only a matter of time before there was furniture everywhere indoors and out, but for the moment, there was nothing but us. We walked down the three small steps until our bare feet touched grass and we sat on the step side-by-side with the pizza box behind us on the top step. The sky was inky perfection, unmarred by any city lights. The Sound lapped at the dock below our property and the city twinkled from the perfect distance away. I reached inside the pizza box to dole out a piece to either of us. We ate in a comfortable silence, allowing our swarming minds to breathe a little as the peaceful night slowly worked its way into our bodies and minds, unwinding us. Or, rather…
I had never been more relaxed. I had never been more on-edge. I had never been more happy. I had never been more antsy.
For every emotion I felt another one counterweighted it at the opposite end of the spectrum just as strongly. I couldn't eat more than one piece of pizza before my stomach threatened to riot on me, tied in knots and flip-flopping all over the place. I shoved the pizza box away and waited for Bella to finish eating. She didn't seem to notice that I was no longer as relaxed as I was when we first sat down. I swear to god she had never chewed so slow in all her life. My heart accelerated faster the longer we sat there in silence. It felt like it was killing me. Finally, unable to quiet my bustling impatience any longer, I took a deep breath and blew it out, steeling my stupid unnecessary nerves.
"Hmm?" She didn't look at me. Her eyes were huge and they were on the sky and the stars and the Sound and the city across the water that held my brother and his wife and his children and the road to our parents and my sister and everything we had ever known. She was slowly chewing while a droopy piece of pizza hung in her hand. It was almost comical had I not been about to spontaneously combust. Did she not hear the strain in my wavering voice?
I swallowed and it took more effort than I had expended over the previous eight years in all of my university studies with my throat closed tight. I tried again.
This time her head tilted in my direction and then a second later she broke her gaze from the stars and redirected it to me. Mercifully. I smiled at her and it wasn't forced. It was the most natural thing I had ever done. Loving Isabella. Living my life with her. Belonging to her wholeheartedly. My nerves lessened just a little as I took a moment to collect my thoughts, my mind cleared just by looking at her and her soft smile back at me.
When Charlie first proposed to Renee they were barely out of high school. Apparently, the old man just knew what he wanted even back then. Thinking back on it, I supposed it made sense that he had grown weary of me over the years as they ticked by and I failed to act on my love for his daughter. Charlie had a wonderful, sorrowful appreciation of time.
In the early days of their life together, Charlie worked at the local gas station training at night to join the police force in the small town, a town he was born in. The ring he originally gave to his love was small, a tiny token of the great love he had for her. He always wished he could have given her more. Never one for romance, even then Charlie swallowed his own discomfort as he asked Rene to be his wife and professed to his love that he would have strapped a star to a loop of gold and presented it to her if he could have.
Ten years later, she was sick. His heart was breaking. His life was tail-spinning and the future he thought he had was disintegrating right before his eyes and there wasn't a damn thing the man, a man who prided himself on his authority, could do about it. Regrets were piled high behind him even though his family would be the first to tell him he shouldn't have any at all. One of them he was determined to fix before…well…he could fix it.
On their ten year anniversary, Charlie took his wife to a nice restaurant in Port Angeles where he gave her a gift. It had a little gold bow on the top and fit in the palm of his hand as he offered it to her. It was a little black box with plush velvet both on the outside and on the inside cushion. Renee gasped and clapped her weak hand over her mouth and Charlie rubbed his sweaty palms on the table cloth before handing it over to her. He wasn't sure what she was going to think of the gift.Renee and Charlie lived simple lives, in a simple house, with modest careers, and they did so very contentedly. They started out quite young and had always worked hard for anything they ever needed or wanted. Their only child was the centre of their universe.
Renee, hand clasped over her mouth gingerly, scarf tied around her head beautifully, frail little hand over Charlie's large paw where it held the box atop the table in Port Angeles, she cried before she even took the box into her own hands. He cried. Minutes passed and a million thoughts were shared. Eyes connected and conversations of regret and loss were silently had. Dreams slipped away and all they had was every minute they were living in together and the ticking on the clock was almost so loud it was deafening because every minute was something to cherish.
And then she opened it.
The box was empty.
Charlie gulped loudly, hoping the romantic advice he was following given to him by my mother wasn't a mistake as he read the confusion that weighed clearly in his love's tired eyes. She wasn't saying anything so he figured he should cough up an explanation.
"I just…Well, I always wanted more for you, Renee." He choked on the words because he hadn't meant them to, but they held so much more meaning than what he intended. "More than what we have, more than what I gave you." He rubbed his thumb over the tiny chip on the gold band that rest upon his wife's finger. It spun around easily, much larger on her than it once had been. "But hell if I know what to pick. I want your wedding ring to be everything you ever dreamed it to be. So, I want you to design it yourself and I'll have it made. Just for you. From…me." He nodded as he finished speaking, eyes bouncing from his thumb tracing the ring on Renee's finger to her eyes which were now brimming with tears. The energy it took to hold them back was overwhelming in her weakened state and so she gave up and let them flow freely.
Renee adored the idea. She adored the man who offered it to her. She studied ring brochures every night after dinner, curled up in her rocking chair in the living room beside the fire even though it was the middle of summer, a blanket over her legs and a daughter curled atop the blanket as they oohed and awed over each page. Together, they sketched ring after ring every night until they had it perfect. Together they made memories more than jewellery. It was made on a rush order. No one said aloud why. And when it was brought home for the first time Renee refused to put it on until her daughter came home from school to see it get slipped onto her finger for the first time, since she was just as much a part of the process as the man and woman the ring joined.
Their daughter came home that afternoon, bright-cheeked and big brown-eyed as usual. She was speechless when her father popped open the box and, in a rare display, professed his heart to his wife in front of his daughter. Then, when he went to place the ring on her finger, Renee stopped him. Confused, Charlie stood. Renee took the ring from its place against the black velvet cushion and called Bella closer with a hoarse voice. She turned the ring over and, much to her husband and her daughter's surprise, showed them a part of the ring no one had known would exist except for Renee. At the bottom of the ring, on the outside of the band, lay a row of seven deep blue Sapphires set into the band, one for every year Bella had lived thus far.
Renee sat on the edge of the rocking chair and Bella drew closer. "See these stones, Bella. These are Sapphires, you know what that is, right?" Bella nodded, she knew they were her birthstone. "You are the most precious thing that has ever happened to me, Isabella. To your father as well. Your smile brightens my entire world, your laugh fills my very soul with joy, and your eyes paint pictures that I feel blessed to have ever seen. You will unite me and your father forever, no matter what. I want you to always remember that and always be near me, even when you aren't."
There were a lot of tears that day as well.
Balanced in the centre of my open palm, I held the very same little black velvet box. To my own surprise, my hand didn't tremble even slightly as I pulled the ring from it. I knew it would be exactly what she wanted. Anything other than this ring in my fingers in this moment would be a disappointment, a betrayal, a little less special. I would never do that to her.
The ornate twisting of diamonds, so carefully constructed many years before by a mother and daughter, gleamed even with nothing but starlight to guide it. The the tip of my finger felt the rough row of Sapphires on the underneath side of the ring as I held it and slipped down to the grass below Bella and on to one knee. Perhaps an unnecessary formality, but it felt right.
Her face was the most beautiful blank thing I had even laid eyes on as her lips parted but did nothing more and her eyes took frenzied survey of what was happening.
"You…" My throat tightened but I didn't look away, I couldn't. She was everything I had always wanted and everything I always had, sitting right in front of me. I would never look away. "You are the most precious thing that has ever happened to me, Isabella," I began, reciting the words as had read them quoted a hundred times before in Renee's journals to her daughter, my voice steady and sure, but low and laden with more emotion than one man was ever meant to contain. "Your smile brightens my entire world, your laugh fills my soul with joy, and your eyes paint pictures that I feel blessed to have ever seen." I paused for a moment, licked my lips as I thought before I merged from Renee's words and into my own. "I have loved you with everything I have since the day you were born. I helped you up every time you scraped your knees, I killed spiders in your bedroom for you, and held you in my arms any time you needed it. And I guess, later on, times when you just wanted it." I paused to arch a cheeky eyebrow at her. She cracked a smile and the movement caused tears to pour down her cheeks. "I've been there every time you needed me. Even though, I swear to God that for every time you've needed me, Bella, I've needed you a hundred times over. But never…never for anything I could ever put into words that would make any kind of sense. I just…need you.
"And I loved you all the times I fell against a pillar inside an airport terminal and cried like a sissy feeling broken and detached from my life line. Every time my heart broke being pulled away from you, knowing that yours felt the same. I can't even breathe right when you aren't near me. Everything that I am is connected to you somehow. And, it's so goddamn cheesy but, Bella, I'm so excited for whatever the future holds for us. You're my best friend, and you always will be. I've never once thought I would live my life any other way, but if you'll have me, I will never leave your side again. Will you be my wife, Bella?"
Always a question.Unnecessary, but a sign of respect.
She reached out and took the ring between her fingertips and stared at it for a long time. She didn't know I had it. She couldn't have. She didn't know her father still had it. No one had ever mentioned it. I doubt she ever forgot the ring, but she assumed it had been buried with her mother just as nearly everyone else had. Only I knew because I asked my own mother years ago if Renee was in fact buried with her wedding ring on. When she replied that no, she hadn't, and a trace of a sad smile lifted the corner of her mouth, I had no doubt as to why she hadn't been. Sometimes my entire life felt preordained and yet, I would never change a single detail of it.
Bella made a few gasping, breathy sounds while staring at the ring. Unlike my steady palm when I offered it to her, her small hand shook almost violently. My heart was slow and steady, balancing hers out. I wrapped my hands around hers hoping to still them a little. I couldn't imagine the pain mixed with excitement that she was being smacked with. I always knew this moment was going to be devastatingly bittersweet.
The panting noises she was making almost sounded like the word 'how' being repeated over and over, but I wasn't sure. If she wanted me to hear her she would find a way. Until then, I was content to kneel before her and hold her hands in mine and wait.
After several minutes, I felt compelled to answer what I figured was her first thought. "I didn't figure you'd want anything…" I let my words fizzle out, shaking my head. Her eyes looked up at met mine. They burned brightly as tears poured down her cheeks, dripping from her chin and landing on my wrists as they continued to cradle her hands inside my own on top of her lap. I used the heel of one hand to gently brush the streaks from her face while she continued to blink and chase her own thoughts.I knew she battled a little inside herself both the feeling that the ring was not hers, all the while longing to put it on her finger and be near it once again. "It belongs to you," I whispered quietly, nodding at her. "Trust me." And I knew she did.
She handed me back the ring and nodded through tears. Her teeth dug into her lower lip around what was almost a smile. Her eyes looked past me into the black night and the sparkling stars. She licked her lips, sniffed, and looked back to me. In her eyes I read a hundred thousand thoughts. Every single one of them centered around love.
Gently, I brought her left hand from her lap and held it in mine. The ring slipped on her finger where it fit perfectly. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and held tight, burying her face and crying into my shoulder. I wrapped my other arm around her and slid my hand up her back to cradle her head against me.
"I love you," she whispered and I felt her fingernails dig into my shirt, clenching the fabric as she held tighter.
I imagined the moment more times than I could count. I rehearsed the things I wanted to say, I thought about the way it would feel–liberating and exhilarating. But in reality, my heart was heavy for the woman who would soon be my wife. I knew her pain as if it were my own. I appreciated the depth of the moment. It wasn't as simple as some couple's had it. But that was life. And we proved every day since childhood that together we could withstand life. That love never fails.
"So…is this a 'yes'?" I asked chuckling lightly, a million years of anxiety coming out in shaky laughter and watery eyes.
She pulled back, smiling the smile that melted my heart and soothed my soul. She was my entire life, sitting there wiping tears of pain and joy off her cheeks and nodding frantically.
"Yes, of course, you idiot, yes." She shoved me gently in the shoulder and I reached out to steady myself with the edge of the white wooden railing that framed the porch steps. I was immediately grateful I had because a moment later she squealed and hurtled herself at me harder. My fingers slipped and we were on our backs in the grass beneath the sky giggling and wiping each others tears. She wrapped her every limb around my neck and waist until we were as intertwined as two human beings could ever be. Forever.
Please tell me I'm not alone in how emotional this chapter is, right?
Now that we're past all of this the block in my brain should be gone. Here's hoping.