Well...I know...It's a long slow torture I'm providing here. I'm sorry. RL, ya know?
We're wrapping things up. It's happening. Someone start a support group, I'll need one more than anyone.
This chapter brings the time circle to a complete close.
OMG DONT GO REREAD THE PROLOGUE OKAY
Well fine...if you must, but...understand that somewhere after chapter two this story took on a new life. One of it's own. One I had to surrender any control over. The continuity is shoddy at best. Go with it, okay?
I mean... ONE SHOT...? Guh.
I'm super emotional right now. This isn't the last chapter make me stop blubbering we still have two more.
Thank you, to everyone who reads, pimps, reviews, discusses, tweets, facebooks, PMs, and...loves. Love is a tale worth telling. And I love you all.
Be brave. Enjoy.
It wasn't that we didn't appreciate the house. Our house was amazing. Pure architecture artistry. A perfect blend of ancient fairy tale meets modern-day fantasy. But something felt right about the moment we shared in the grass under the stars after Bella agreed to be my wife…so we went with it. Over the past decade we had learned nothing if not to go with whatever felt right when it came to one another. Simple. True. Like laying in the grass together.
"Hang on a second." Bella's words sprang up energetically from beside me after a long time spent in blissful silence. She beamed as she shoved herself off me and got to her feet. I laced my hands under my head and smiled back, a subtle nod to let her know that I would always "hang on" much longer than that.
I watched her bound up the porch steps, propelling herself forward with her hand on the banister. She paused at the glass doors to brush grass from the bottoms of her feet before fading into the golden light of the kitchen. I turned my attention to the sky as I waited for her return. It was black and intoxicating. The stars blinked down brightly at me and my eyes glazed over, allowing the pinpricks to smear together against the dark and engulf my vision. I had never, ever in my life, been more at peace than I was in that moment. The smile on my face wasn't broad, it didn't stretch from ear to ear. It just simply…was. It was there, it was slight, it was content. It felt permanent. The idea of cementing my status with Bella–having bands of declaration around our fingers, announcing to the world that we were tied forever to the one person who brought balance into our existence–that made my insides fucking giddy.
I heard the front door bang shut for the second time and lifted my head, attempting in vain to stare through the walls of the kitchen to the front of the house to see what Bella was doing. It was futile; I gave up and returned to studying the stars. She would come out when she was ready. In the meantime, I was certain the night sky burned brighter and appeared more majestic than it ever had before.
Moments later, she returned with the heavy wool blanket that was always stored in the trunk of the Volvo draped over her arm, still smiling. We lay the blanket out on the grass and snuggled in close to pull it tight over us, burritoed inside its warmth. We spent our first night at our new house cuddled together in the grass underneath the stars exactly like that.
The blanket had seen us through many moments in the past. Thrown around our shoulders on the cold bleachers watching my brother's football games, high school bonfires, and late-night pep rallies. On the hood of my car every Christmas while we drank hot chocolate outside the Port Angeles "Street of Dreams" and Bella collected donations in her little tin box. Laid across the sand for New Year's Eve picnics destined to end in a shower of tears as we faced another impending separation. We cheered with that blanket, wept with that blanket, and made love on that blanket. We made a life on that blanket. And now we lay, wrapped around each other in silence as the crickets sounded and the water lapped at the dock and welcomed the first night of many great ones in our new home, as a family.
"How long have you known?" she asked quietly. Her head rest in the dip of my shoulder and our fingers played with one another's suspended in the air–intertwining, twirling, teasing. I didn't have to ask her to clarify; I knew exactly what she meant.
"Years." Was my simple answer.
"Really? But how?"
"I asked my mother."
"Oh. Did my mom do it on purpose, do you think?"
"I don't know. I mean, yes, she left the ring for you. Whether or not she left it for me to give to you, who knows?" The idea made the small, comfortable smile on my face widen a little as I envisioned Renée.
"Makes you wonder," Bella whispered. Despite the dark I could tell her thoughts and eyes were gently glazing over, drifting.
I recalled the many times in high school when friends gave us curious glances as we wandered late into class together. Or Rosalie's penetrating eyes that I was certain had never been fooled for a moment. The jackass remarks I recently learned my brother made intentionally to goad me. My mother's instincts were unparalleled. Renee requested that Charlie hold on to her wedding ring. It was quite possible it had all been in the stars for much longer than I was conscious of. In the stars.
I blinked slowly as a comfortable silence lowered itself over us for a few minutes, until, "I think she's happy." Her voice was small but I would always hear her.
My fingertips moved down the length of her fingers until mine could slide easily slide between each of hers. "I know she is, Bella."
"Hmm…" she hummed thoughtfully.
I rolled to hover carefully over her, balanced on my elbows, the blanket still draped across my back. I blinked down at her in the quiet while thoughts and emotions moved between us without a sound, before slowly dragging my nose along her neck, jaw, and ear–perfectly placed kisses punctuated the words I wasn't saying but she heardnonetheless. Clothing was shed slowly and reverently. My fingers found hers again above her head and gripped as I planted our hands firmly into the ground for leverage. If the pressure was uncomfortable on her delicate wrists she didn't let on. Every other touch was careful, gentle, slow. Balanced. Her thighs fit perfectly against my hips and her body tucked neatly into mine as I moved inside her. My lips brushed over hers with each pass. Touching, not kissing. Breathing into one another. Intimacy. Our movements were precise; each thrust was important. Emotions welled and poured over. The build of climax wasn't the only fulfillment. I wasn't trying to reach an end. I cherished this. And when it was over, I held her tight enough that once my arms were no longer around her, she would still feel their promise.
A noise that was half humming and half purring came from just below my chin as fingers trailed their way up the centre of my chest and then back down. Her hand snaked across my ribs to hug me. "I can't believe you have to leave again," she groaned. "How are we not over this, yet?" It didn't escape my notice that her arms squeezed my torso tighter as if she could physically hold me back. Well…she absolutely could. Except, I was three weeks away from defending my dissertation in a huge fucking lecture hall in front of my opponent, the evaluation committee, the chairman of the public defence, and my principal adviser. Not to mention most of my former instructors and colleagues, some students, and the judging committee. I had a meeting to turn in my work the following afternoon. I didn't want to tear myself away from the comfort of Isabella's arms, the scratchy wool blanket against our bare flesh, the Washington air, and our new home any more than she wanted to see me walk away, but by the end of the following month I would be packing up my shit from the rat hole apartment that had been my sorry little home-away-from-home for the last nine years and returning to Washington indefinitely.
I smoothed my palms against both sides of her body that was straddled above mine, my fingers meeting at the middle of her back, over her hips where I kneaded the flesh. "I know, but I'll be back before either of us knows it." Lies. "And then that'll be it. I'm all yours." I arched an eyebrow dramatically in a failed attempt to lighten her spirits.
She scoffed and then sniffled. Her fingers slipped away from mine as she wiped her cheeks roughly and when they returned they were wet. "Before I know it," she repeated scathingly.
"Well…" I left it at that. What more could I say? She was right. We both already felt the tear between us and we were still wrapped around each other's naked bodies. But I had to get up and get dressed if I had any hope of catching my flight.
I lay there for another forty minutes anyway.
Lay there. Made love to my fiancé one last time. Semantics.
Then, I truly had to haul balls because I was already pushing it to leave New York at such a crucial time in my studies, but I needed to meet with the attorneys alongside Bella for the house to finalize properly. However, missing my return flight would be detrimental. The visit to Washington was as short as I could feasibly make it within the flight timetables. I didn't have a chance to see most of my family members over the thirty-eight hour period before I was literally sprinting through the airport to the security line after throwing a wad of cash at the cab driver and running from the car without properly closing the door behind me.
Once I reached security, panting and sweating, I fervently begged and bribed the lady at the front of the line to allow me to cut in front of her. The line bled back and forth zigzagging along the black temporary barricades all the way down the long hall. If I waited in that shit I would definitely miss my flight. If I missed my flight I would miss my 4PM advisors meeting. The final one. The one where I handed in everything I worked so hard on over the last decade of my life. Everything that not only I, but Bella as well, sacrificed for. Everything our lives had been put on hold for. I wasn't missing that fucking meeting. My nostrils flared as I fought to catch my breath and beseeched the woman in front of me with my most convincing look. Sweat trickled down my spine and my bag kept slipping off my shoulder.
She stared back at me as if I had asked her to skin a kitten or some shit. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a security guard take note of our exchange and begin to approach us. I had approximately fifteen seconds before he would be all up in my shit and ruin everything.
"I just waited for nearly two hours in that line, young man," the elderly lady shouted at me. Several of the people around us scoffed and snorted loudly in concurrence. "Why exactly should I allow you to bypass it and waltz in front of me? Because you're young and irresponsible? Because you have poor time management skills? Because your generation is filled with a blind sense of entitlement?" She crossed her arms over her chest and several indignant eyes were on me and the security guard was three strides away from grabbing me by my shoulder and throwing me into the back of the line where I would miss my flight and my meeting.
I huffed loudly and looked pathetic and then words flew from my mouth in desperation using every molecule of oxygen in my straining lungs. "Because I had exactly one day I could afford to miss from my doctorial dissertation which I hand in this afternoon in New York to come home and ask my girlfriend who has been my best friend literally since the minute she was born to be my wife and give her her dead mother's wedding ring while signing the papers for the house we just purchased together. Did I mention I'm going to officially be a doctor sometime in the next few weeks and save lives?" Sort of. But the emphasis worked well in my favour to discredit her "irresponsible" theory.
I was out of breath and my words smashed into one another by the time I finished but I made my point effectively while still panting in front of her. The elderly woman uncrossed her arms from her chest and returned her palm to just over her heart and gasped. I recognised the gesture as something my mother often did when she was incredibly touched. The people who had been glaring at me were now eyeing me with a mixture of scepticism and marvel.
"Is there a problem here?" The security guard's voice was low and authoritative behind me. My eyes widened in silent plea.
"Absolutely not," the woman scoffed as if offended by the guard's intrusion, "I was just giving my grandson hell for taking so long looking through the shops that he damn near made us miss our flight!" She shoved me brusquely by my shoulders toward the open security table. I smiled widely at her. A guy behind her shook his head as if he wasn't buying my sob-story for a second but what the fuck did I care? I wasn't going to miss my flight and I'd had sex twice this morning and it was only seven AM.
Miraculously, I was settled into my spot after stepping over a man's knees awkwardly when he refused to acknowledge my attempts to get at the window seat. Passengers were still trickling onto the plane so I figured I had a few minutes before I had to turn my cell off. I hit speed dial one.
"Uh oh," her scratchy voice sounded through the receiver. I woke her up. "Don't tell me you missed it…no wait! Tell me you missed it." Her voice perked up.
"No, I made it. I had to beg, borrow, and steal but I'm on the plane."
"I wish I wasn't," I offered. Stupid words.
My turn for silence.
"Hey?" she asked sleepily.
"Can I come back out in a few weeks? I wanna help pack up and say a proper goodbye to the place?"
I really liked the sound of that. A proper goodbye. "If you can take some time then come as soon as you can. Now go back to sleep and I'll call you when I land."
"I love you, Edward," she murmured, already half asleep.
"I love you too, baby."
I ended the call and looked down at the new picture on background, smiling affectionately until some sharp words punctured my fuzzy gaze and demanded my attention.
"You never mentioned what she said?" the woman asked with a smirk and her hand on her hip. I couldn't tell if she was grinning because she thought I was romantic or if she thought I fed her a load of shit earlier so she would let me cut in line. I chuckled to myself and flipped around the phone in my defence, ignoring the grunts of annoyance coming from the man beside me as my elbow came within an inch of his nose.
After the proposal, and after hours of lovemaking under the stars, Bella and I lay twisted together under the blankets talking slowly about things like the wedding, the house, the things we hoped to fill it with, children, names we liked and so on. Our fingers traced invisible, lazy lines along one another. At one point she grabbed her cell, hugged herself against my chest and snapped a picture. Our hair was out of control, the grey wool blanket was visible under my head and the grass just above it was in the shot. Our shoulders were clearly bare, our chests pressed together, and a blanket was just barely visible at Bella's lower back in the bottom of the picture. Her hand cupped my cheek proudly displaying her mother's ring. The flash bounced off the diamonds in exaggerated radiance. Our pale skin was overblown by the bright flash but our flushed cheeks were noticeable, as well as our cheesy grins. Bella's eyes were on the camera while mine were downcast at her.
The woman bent over the man next to me and peered closer. "Well I've never…" She shook her head and smiled at me. "Isn't that just the sweetest little picture I have ever seen? Lovely ring and even more lovely girlfriend…ah…fiancé you have there, 'grandson'." She winked conspiratorially at me.
"Thank you," I smiled proudly.
An agitated line was beginning to form behind the woman but I didn't dare say a word.
Just when I thought she was going to continue on to her seat she smacked her hand against the knee of the man next to me. "Up you get. Twenty-nine C, that's your new destination," she said looking down at her own boarding pass to confirm the seat number. The man began to protest before she silenced him. "You're in a suit with your computer on you knees. You're on this flight alone and you are just going to spend the whole time giving yourself permanent retinal damage so what difference does it make to you whether it's here or there? Now move it."
He slammed his laptop shut and stood, glaring daggers at the elderly woman in front of him.
"Save it, honey. I have five sons, with five wives, and twelve grandchildren, that look means diddly squat to me," she called back to him and she situated herself calmly into the seat beside me, smoothing out the tops of he pants and adjusting the collar of her shirt.
I was full-belly laughing by the time the line of passengers continued moving past us to their seats.
"I hate flying; it bores the snot out of me. I have a million and one things I need to be doing and instead of doing any of them I'm stuck sitting in an uncomfortable chair for seven hours studying the back of a stranger's skull. I figure you owe me a good story."
I spent the next three hours talking her ear off. Sure, I had my own laptop in my bag at my feet and I had been just about to pop it open when she interrupted me, but she was right, I did owe her. I started at the beginning and spent over two hours talking about the four-minute Ferris wheel ride in Santa Monica one summer that changed the entire path of my life. Or maybe it was only the catalyst for what was likely a predestined trajectory. The woman was much softer at heart than she appeared outwardly and was fascinated by every minute detail of my slow discovery that I was madly in love with my best friend.
I told her about the way the neon lights from the carnival below lit Bella's hair with a pink halo. How we were sharing a bag of cotton candy, our fingers fighting for pieces at the same time as the wind whipped her hair wildly around her face and her cheeks hurt from smiling so wide and my belly ached with laughter. I couldn't recall the jokes we were telling as the ride went around, all I could remember was that time seemed to have stopped. The hum of the people, the shrill alarms from the games, the squeals of laughter…they all faded away as the dark night hugged us in our isolated little bucket and something warm and unfamiliar bled through me for the very first time. My toes tingled and my chest constricted. My fingers wanted to catch the hair whipping around her cheeks and hold it in place for her. My lips were suddenly very dry and my throat parched. Words died somewhere between my brain and my tongue that felt too big for my mouth, and her laughter and happiness was the only thing I could focus on. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I wanted hug her. I was afraid if I did I wouldn't let go. And if I couldn't let go…then what?
Panic and fear flooded me just as our bucket came to an abrupt stop and the sullen kid our age popped open the door latch and mumbled some shit about enjoying our ride as he helped Bella out without ever once actually noticing her. I was frozen in my seat wondering how in the hell he could hold her hand and steady her onto the shaky metal platform and not feel the pulsing current that shot through my body every time I looked at her, never mind actually fucking touching her. Was that not normal? Was it just me? I blinked stupidly for a few more seconds until Bella's face reappeared, ducking down to make eye contact with me.
"Are you following me or what?" she giggled. And she had no fucking clue. I was slowly making plans to follow her to the ends of the Earth. As much as our friendship had grown over the years, our real journey began in that moment of adolescent confusion.
I told the woman about how I spent the next several months bouncing between panic attacks and bouts of anger. I felt betrayed somehow. As if I had this amazing best friend and now it was all fucked up and there was nothing I could do about it–it was going to be ruined one way or the other. She nodded and offered me a sad, knowing smile as I told her about the first little taste of bitter distance that Bella and I had in the months following Santa Monica. I glossed over the Christmas party we abandoned together and the night that solidified our newly defined relationship parameters.
After that I slowed down and remembered my manners. The woman shared her own love story with me. A story that was still being written as it were. She was in Seattle visiting her youngest son and his new baby. She showed me pictures. I told her about my nieces. She asked about my PhD and told me which of her sons had continued their education and which of them hadn't and how that had worked out for them in the long run.
The time passed quickly and I was grateful to her for that. If she hadn't sat down next to me I knew from experience two things would have happened. First, I'd have dragged out my laptop only to fire up my notes and stare at them blankly, frustration at not being able to focus bubbling angrily in my chest while my heart and my mind lingered elsewhere. Secondly, somewhere above Texas I would abandon any pretence of work and stow away the laptop, giving in to my fantasies about Isabella, trying to envision what she was doing at that exact moment, what she looked like, how she felt, and all the things I wished I could say and do with her instead of being on the stupid fucking plane.
By the time the flight bounced around on the JFK tarmac I thanked the woman beside me genuinely and told her it had been a pleasure. She wished me a future full of happiness. I told her she could count on that.
Two hours after landing I was shaking my advisors hands one by one as I made my way down the boardroom table, nodding enthusiastically as they congratulated me. Of course, they had three weeks to review my work, match me with an opponent, and I still had to stand before them and defend it before anything was official, but to even make it to the podium was an honour in and of itself worth congratulatory praise.
I felt free as a fucking bird, floating buoyantly along Amsterdam Avenue, having just left Shermerhorn to submit my request for a lecture hall, making my way back out onto the chaotic streets of the city toward my apartment for one of the last times. Technically, I still had quite a lot of work to do. I had to research my opponent and solidify my argument. I had to make arrangements to sell or give away two thirds of the shit in my apartment because it was disgusting and there was no way I would allow it to enter the new house. And I was sure my roommates were planning some sort of farewell fuckery celebration. After much debate, the guys decided they couldn't afford to resume my father's lease after I left and that perhaps it was time to join the real world, get their own places, and maybe even jobs. I had to meet with the landlord to settle the paperwork, hopefully securing my father's security and damage deposits despite the few bumps and bruises we gave the place over the last nine years, but first I needed to fix the gaping hole in the wall behind the front door before the man did a walk-through in a few weeks time. It was going to be hectic three weeks, but the reward in the end was going to be everything I had ever wanted.
The days ticked by.
Unfortunately, as always when I spent any amount of time alone in the city, my spirits slowly depleted. The buoyancy I experienced after finalising my PhD seeped out of me the longer I was away from Bella and my family, and in its place it left behind a bitterness that was hard to escape. Sometimes, my stupid mind had a way of locking down the darker feelings and holding on to them no matter how hard I tried to shake them.
The day my family arrived I should have been bouncing off the walls, and certainly, a part of me was. However, there was another piece of me that was still in turmoil. Maybe it was because the ache in my heart had been so all-consuming the final weeks I spent alone? Perhaps it was the way Bella strut nonchalantly down the terminal hallway joking and giggling with my family and winking at me. But more likely than anything...it was the knowledge that only she and I were privy to as she sidled up next to me along with everyone else, wrapping her arms around me and congratulating me with a coy smile on her lips as I peered down at her. The thin line of silver at her collarbone managed to gleam even in the dreary overhead fluorescent lights of the airport, highlighting the necklace she almost never removed from around her neck since the moment I gave it to her one New Years Eve night what felt like a lifetime ago.
It was funny how our lives seemed that way to me; compartmentalized. Childhood. The beginning of our new and undefined relationship, wrought with uncertainty. Followed by a solidity we painstakingly reached somewhere along the way.
Our childhood was filled with crayons melting in the sun in Bella's backyard, a rope swing at the lake, birthday parties, scraped knees, bike rides, Lego towers, and mud pies. Tragedy, and companionship, and solace; dark corners and tears.
Our teenage years carried so much frustration and yet pure perfection. Secrets that felt so important to keep. Surely, parents wouldn't understand, how could they? Had anyone in the world ever felt what we were feeling? Assuredly not. Youth is naive.
Separation burns. It was my own personal fiery hell. Torment beyond repair and if it had lasted even a moment longer I would have succumb to its depths and never again resurfaced. She saved me. We saved each other.
Still, we had secrets. Why? Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Living in the moment is confusing as hell. Disrupting the status quo can be terrifying. It felt like there was so much at stake that to risk it would have been foolish. And who knows, perhaps it would have been. I would never regret a single second of our past. How could I? Every baby step and misstep led us to our 'happily ever after'.
Adulthood. Responsibility. Commitment. Clarity.
It was time. The compartments were our past and our future was wide open and honest.
Back in the apartment, Bella followed me into the bathroom silently. I felt her behind me. All I had to do was open my heavy eyes and look in the mirror and I would have seen her reflection behind me. Instead, I inhaled deeply thru my nose, blew out a steady breath through my lips, and smiled softly as I felt her hands slide along my sides and wrap around my belly, laying her cheek against my back as she hugged me.
"You okay?" she asked in a whisper.
"How can I not be?" I opened my eyes and found hers in the mirror peaking out from behind my shoulder. She understood my sincerity.
I turned around and slipped my index finger under the chain around her neck, pulling the necklace from under her tee shirt to lie openly against her chest. The ring hung beautifully next to the locket. I stared at it for a long time.
"Can I put it on now?" she asked in a quiet voice, her eyes downcast on my thumb and forefinger as I held the band in between us.
"Tonight. I made us dinner reservations. We can have a little 'coming out' party," I joked.
She simply smiled. I was overcome with emotion. Not soon enough, I would be referring to her as my wife.
Oh, my wife loves that restaurant... I have to get home, my wife is waiting for me... This is a gift for my wife…
Bella stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to mine. I'm pretty sure she meant to give me a simple kiss before returning to the small living room not fifteen feet from where we stood, but it had been a long several weeks and an emotional morning. I quickly deepened the kiss. She let me. I dropped my hands and gripped her hips with a purpose. I felt her hesitation for a brief moment as her lips paused over mine before she quickly conceded and her fingers twisted into my hair; a silent permission.
Unfortunately, we were too loud to go undetected and I was left even more emotionally unstable than when I began the day, despite finishing myself off in the very unsatisfying manner I had become accustomed to in Bella's absence. My release did nothing to abate my anxiety. I just wanted to get through the afternoon so we could sit around a large table as a family and talk openly.
For as much appreciation as I had for the past and the process of discovery and adventure that eventually paved the way home...I was so fucking anxious to fast forward through the next several months of my life. Through our announcement, through the looks of "well no shit" and congratulations, through the razzing from my siblings for what seemingly everyone but Bella and I thought was an unnecessary deception. Through months of planning and stress. Through the move and my first overwhelming few months of beginning a practice at the hospital in Seattle. Through the exhaustion and the nerves and the heavy nights where my drained body and mind would barely make it to the mattress before I'd be unconscious, praying Bella felt the overwhelming love I had for her whether or not I had the energy to bring it into fruition.
Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. You have to move through every moment whether you want to or not. A point aptly highlighted by my brother's crassness.
"Bro, we aren't as dumb as we look." He laughed and went about throwing CDs roughly into a box.
I was just on edge enough that he pissed me off. I shot a quick look to Bella, trying to discern which detail exactly my oaf brother was referring to. Her cheeks flamed and she smiled more to herself than to me as she looked down and continued to wrap things and place them gently into a box beside her.
Almost everything was packed already, only the everyday stuff was left out, knowing I would have a small fleet of ready-to-help Cullen elves at my disposal. Sure enough, by mid-afternoon nine years of shit was boxed up to the ceiling with different handwriting in Sharpie labelling the boxes for the contents depending on who packed them. Most of it I highly doubted would ever see the light of day again, but my mother insisted we had a large house to fill and a mortgage to pay for and we should pace ourselves. It would be irresponsible to try and fill it with new stuff right away.
I stood next to a stack of boxes and smiled warily, tracing my hand over the loopy letters that read "clothing" in Bella's script. Beneath that was a box with Em's shoddy chicken scratch that read "pompous shit". I assumed it had the grad books stuffed with weathered papers and research reports that had been on the coffee table and the bookshelf beside it.
"So, dinner tonight, eh?" The oaf himself appeared at my side, placing his arm over my shoulder and jostling me roughly.
"Yep," I murmured noncommittally rubbing the back of my neck without looking up at him.
"Aight," he chuckled and shoved me before retreating. I leaned my head against the doorframe of my bedroom, looking out into the living room at my family laughing and interacting energetically in front of me with a smile on my lips.
"Let's get dressed for dinner," a soft voice whispered from beside me. I could see her leaning against the opposite side of the door out of the corner of my eye. I smiled at her, sure she was studying my face and that she would see it whether I lifted my head to meet her gaze or not.
"I don't want to wait a whole year," I blurted out because apparently my mouth didn't have a filter. My eyes were still on my parents and siblings.
Just as sure as if she had a roadmap to the chaotic meanderings of my mind, Bella nodded, understanding exactly what I meant though I gave her very little to work with. "Me either," she whispered. "Who says weddings have to be in the summer?" She shrugged and her fingers found the edges of my tee shirt, pulling me toward her.
"I thought you wanted to do in my parents' backyard?" I asked.
I knew she had visions of a flowing dress, white flowers, and white lights. Simple. Natural. Like us. A dance floor under a tent blanketed in stars and wrapped in warm summery air. Peaceful and natural, like us.
"Yeah, well..." she shook her head lightly without finishing her sentence. I lifted my eyes to hers. The backs of my fingers followed the soft skin in a line from her ear to her jaw and down the side of her neck as I cradled her with my gaze, trying to finish her thoughts in my own head. She leaned into my touch and closed her eyes.
"Don't compromise. I want it to be everything you want it to be, Bella. I'm just being obnoxious. I don't know why I'm in such a weird mood. Ignore me." I hoped she would. She deserved the world. I would wait forever for her. I already had. What was another twelve months or so?
"Edward...," she drew my name out making it many more syllables than it needed. The end of it sounded like a question.
"What if..." she began thinking aloud. "What if we didn't take a year to plan it? I mean, it's not like we need to book a crowded venue or anything, right? And actually, on that note...we could always do it in our backyard. We could spend the summer getting it appropriately landscaped and you know your sister and Mom can throw together an event with much less time than this, and we want something simple anyway. It would be cool. Like the ultimate house-warming party." Her eyes were distant as she envisioned the scene her mind was actively conjuring up. She nodded lightly to herself as if she was growing to like her own idea the more she thought of it. I was instantly in love with it.
My palms found the sides of her face as I smashed my lips to hers to show her how much I loved her idea. She giggled against my mouth but didn't try to move. I pressed her against the door jamb and kissed her with everything I had. I knew four pairs of eyes were surely on us, regardless of any prior knowledge, mouths would be agape at seeing such a blatant display after so many years of discretion.
I didn't care. I kissed the beautiful, perfect woman in front of me fervently, gripping her head as if I could physically hold her to me for the rest of my life that way. Our kiss ended faster than I would have liked under different circumstances, but possibly a bit too long considering the reality. As our movements slowed, I pulled back slightly, my lips still touching hers, grinning. My wide eyes stared straight into hers, confirming. Her hands crept up my front slowly. When she got to the centre of my chest she shoved me back, giggling.
"You're easy to please," she joked through her laughter, her cheeks quickly coloring.
A throat cleared loudly behind us. "And... On that note maybe we should all clean up and get ready for dinner?" My father, with amusement in his voice.
Without looking back at them I tugged on Bella's hand, her fingertips were still lightly resting on my stomach, and pulled her into my room kicking the edge of the door shut with the heel of my foot. It closed with a loud click and my brother shouted something obscene from the other side. Though his words were highly inappropriate, the ideas weren't all that bad.
On our side of the door, I leaned against it and narrowed my eyes at Bella as she sat against the foot of the bed regarding me. I waggled my eyebrows suggestively.
"God, I wish we could," she groaned, squeezing her thighs together and twisting her body seeking friction. "Some of us didn't exactly get a chance to get off earlier." She crossed her arms against her chest and scowled, though I knew she didn't really begrudge me anything.
"Please," I muttered sharply, closing the distance between us. "As if that did the trick." The heat was still a demanding fist in the middle of my belly–the tops of my thighs and the base of my spine were coiled tightly. Only Bella could reach in and unravel everything.
"Later," she whispered and spun on her heel disappearing into the bathroom with her undergarments before I could get my hands on her. "I have to get ready," she called over her shoulder just as she closed the door behind. The next thing I knew the shower was running as she washed away the remnants of travel and a dusty day of packing leaving me in the middle of my own bedroom frustrated yet again.
I grabbed the pair of slim cut black trouser pants my sister brought back for me the last time she was in Italy and yanked a long-sleeve white and lavender button-down off a hanger from inside my closet, fighting only for a moment with the busted-ass accordion door before forgoing it and leaving it open. I was about to slip the shirt over my head when another thought occurred to me.
Bella's forehead rest against the shower wall opposite the spray of hot water, bent arms above her as the heat loosened her muscles. She looked over at me with a roll of her head as I pulled open the door. Her dark hair snaked around her neck and shoulders and down her back. She smirked as if she was expecting me.
"Mmm... I like those pants on you," she murmured, giving me a once-over.
I didn't answer. I reached up and diverted the shower head to the far wall. Then, with my hand at her hip, I gently pushed her in the same direction. She resumed her prior position exactly, the only difference being the way her head lolled back as her entire body relaxed and waited for what she knew was coming. Not caring to take the time to remove my pants, I hastily rolled the hems up and stepped in, leaving the door open so I could stand as far away from the water as possible.
I gathered her wet hair in my hands and freed it from its knots, laying it between her shoulder blades. I left my fingers against her skin and opened my hands to trail my palms down her back and over the dip above her ass. I gripped her left hip firmly to hold her exactly as I wanted her and let my right hand continue down the path of her body, along the rise of her ass cheek, slowly over the swell of it and then under. I rotated my wrist and slid two fingers between her legs, making several sweeps back and forth, top to bottom, listening to the sounds she made as they floated up with the steam and found my ears.
I pushed my fingers inside her and dragged them back out purposefully, the position allowed me to easily glide across the most sensitive parts of her insides. Her body shook. I pushed and pulled a few more times slowly until her right hand fisted into a ball against the tiles above her head. My fingertips squeezed roughly into the slippery flesh of her hip, silently demanding that she come. I made a few more passes, pushing deeper, sliding out slower, but I couldn't reach her front to grant her any friction.
Her fist opened and dropped down the wall in several jerky movements, meeting me at the juncture between her thighs. She rubbed while I pumped and in seconds she was clenching around my fingers. Her knees threatened her and her moans bounced around loudly between the shower walls. I removed my fingers from the warmest, wettest, most perfect place they ever visited, and moved my hand back up her spine to her shoulders, keeping contact the entire way. She was immobile save for the aftershocks of her orgasm still trembling through her, her cheek pressed to the tile.
Her back rose and fell rapidly as she came down from the high and I watched with rapt attention until she seemed to stabilize. My hand pushed the water against her skin as it glided over her right shoulder and gripped around her collarbone, pulling her back slightly toward me so I could avoid the spray. "I love you," I whispered coarsely in her ear with a kiss and then stepped out of the stall, closing the door behind me, vaguely registering the garbled murmuring of her reply.
I quickly finished getting dressed– loosely rolling up my shirt cuffs, shoving them up my forearms and throwing on a dark grey vest. I spent all of four seconds on my hair before giving up and then grabbed some socks and shoes and made my way into the living room. Only Allie was out there, surprisingly the first ready to go. I sat next to her on the couch eyeing her dramatically. She knew what I gawking at.
"Oh, shut up. I don't always take forever," she joked. When I laughed loudly in reply she added a grumbly "whatever" and bumped her knee against mine.
I brought my foot up to the coffee table in front of us and pulled a sock on, still laughing at her. As I lifted my other foot she noticed the bottoms of the expensive dress pants she scrupulously selected for me were all wet.
"Why are your... Ugh. Never mind." She shook her head to clear her thoughts and made dramatic gagging motions.
I continued laughing with a cocky smirk until I realised something. "Seriously, this coming from the girl who likes to help dress up my girlfriend in slutty lingerie for me? Really?" I cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Yes. Well…I have good taste and lots of practice at it for myself, so... You're welcome, by the way," she remarked and proudly crossed her little arms across her chest.
"Ugh!" It was my turn to violently shake the thoughts from my brain. My little sister giggled obnoxiously at me. "So, so wrong…" I muttered as I shook.
"What's so funny," my mother's usually comforting voice sang as she exited one of the rooms from down the hall.
Allie and I looked at each other with wide eyes, then back to my mother and choked out the word "nothing" through a fit a giggles. Mom smiled at us and continued into the kitchen to rummage through her purse, leaving us to our secrets.
"Seriously though, that trench coat idea was hot, right?" Allie whispered in my ear to further madden me.
"Shut up!" I abruptly stood and shoved her in the back of the couch with a throw pillow to her face, appalled. I mean, it was hot, but still...
"So, where are we going?" my brother asked, rubbing his palms together eagerly as he emerged from the hallway. "'Cuz I am star-ving."
"You're always starving," Alice scoffed under her breath fixing her hair with her fingertips.
"Yeah, well, you're always irritating, but we still love you," Emmett fired back, unfazed.
"She is irritating, isn't she?" I chimed in, nodding enthusiastically and earning a swift smack to my shoulder from the one in question. I kicked her playfully and she scowled.
"Hey, hey, enough. Honestly, do you two need to be separated?" my mother scolded with a smile just as I heard my bedroom door open behind us.
I turned around, still muttering with laughter, until I sputtered to an abrupt stop and my heart lurched at the sight of Bella. She had on a short red dress and the black heels from earlier, the ones she once had to retrieve herself from the bottom of my closet. I smirked at the memory coupled with the earlier conversation with my sister.
The dress itself was red lace overtop an exposed black lining. The neckline was an innocent heart-shape with a black band at the waist. The red lace hem hung an inch lower than the black lining and her legs were ten miles long beneath that. It suited her perfectly. I noticed the black ring I gave her on one finger and the engagement ring around her neck, which was now exposed for all of the world to see, though I knew neither of us planned on acknowledging it until we were seated at the restaurant.
"If you get drool on my Blahnik's I'll murder you," Alice whispered loudly, intending to sound menacing and not at all discreet. I quickly composed my facial features and blinked stiffly a few times. From across the room my brother let out a loud cat-call, ever the gentleman.
"Oh, Bella, you look lovely," my mother exclaimed with her hand over her chest as she looked up from her purse to see what the commotion was over. I immediately crossed the room and met Bella, but not before noticing my mother's eyes as they silently surveyed the jewellery adorning Bella's chest before averting. I smirked crookedly at my fiancé as I approached her, sliding my arm around her waist and leaning back so I could drink in the sight up close.
"'Lovely' is an understatement," I whispered to her, my eyes locked on hers as she looked up at me bashfully through her lashes, blinking them a few times, clearly a little uncomfortable with all the attention. My fingertips pressed firmly to the divot at the base of her spine as I spoke, not wanting her to shy away.
She quirked her lips to the side and bowed her head to look down at her dress before meeting my eyes again. "You don't think it's too much? I just figured, you know, given the occasion and all…"
"You're perfect," I interrupted, because she was. I toyed with the ring that fell just above the neckline of her dress and my eyes pricked with heavy emotion.
I was so fucked. If I could barely handle standing there looking at this woman in a red cocktail dress with my ring, her ring, around her neck, what the fuck was going to happen when she came down the aisle in a white gown and I placed the ring on her finger in front of hundreds of people?
We had a table booked at New York's iconic Russian Tea Room, which in itself would have been an indicator that the night was about more than celebrating my PhD. No one just goes to the Tea Room. The place didn't disappoint, from the moment we walked underneath the signature red awning and through the doors we were immersed in extravagance from floor to ceiling. I gave the hostess our name and she graciously led us into the Bear Lounge, highlighting a few of the notable historical points regarding the restraint in what was more than likely a bogus Russian accent as we walked.
The walls were a deep green with brightly painted gold mouldings. The sides of the room were flanked by prism cut mirrors with gold candelabras mounted against them and red leather U-shaped booths. At one end of the room stood a tall bronzed pear tree with vibrant blown-glass pears dangling from the bare branches, while at the other end stood a smoked glass bear on his hind legs made to resemble an ice sculpture juggling shiny brass balls. The ceiling was glass tiles with blue and gold ambient lighting projecting down from them, dancing off the walls of mirrors and bathing the entire room in a muted technicolour. A row of large round tables draped in white cloth ran down the centre of the room, one of which we were directed to.
Some time later, a bottle of 2002 Louis Roederer was chilling in a tall ice bucket beside our table and my father raised his glass in toast. The rest of us followed suit obediently. Surprisingly, all eyes were not on me alone as he spoke the way I would have thought –they bounced between me and the woman beside me whose hand I was openly holding atop the table. I could see her magnificent smile out of the corner of my eye as I nodded to my father and Bella beamed proudly at me.
"To Edward," everyone murmured after my father's little speech.
"And Bella," Alice squeaked, promptly shoving her champagne flute to her lips as a cover up while I narrowed my eyes at her. "Oh, just get on with it already." Her eyes chastised me from across the table and her little hand rolled impatient circles in the air, prompting me to finally address the oversized elephant sharing the table with us.
I cleared my throat and smiled at Bella. Her slow blink and gentle return smile told me she wanted me to proceed.
"Alright. Well, first of all, thank you. I mean it, without you guys I would have never made it, not even close. I don't mean to be corny or whatever, but you guys really gave me the strength to get through such a long, hard time away from home when I didn't have the strength myself. I would have easily drowned without you. But now….I feel like I can finally breathe a little easier, you know? Like everything is lining up exactly the way it's supposed to be." I paused and looked down at my fingers where they laced through Bella's. Her hand looked so small and delicate inside mine. My thumb crossed over the top of hers and rubbed the top of her middle finger slowly while I chose my words. I didn't lift my eyes from our hands as I continued. "I don't think I ever really belonged out here. If I would have been smarter a long time ago I never would have come. Even the best moments out here were tainted because I couldn't share them with any of you, or my friends, or the people I consider my family that, case in point, couldn't even be here tonight. I should have never left my home, but I did, and I can't bring myself to regret that now because…well…I fought really goddamn hard for this. For all of this." I squeezed Bella's hand lightly.
My parents unknowingly interrupted my speech to reiterate their pride in me, how they never once doubted me or the greatness they were sure I was meant for. Of course they didn't, they were truly the most loving and supportive parents any kid. Alice and Bella exchanged knowing grins as my parents spoke, knowing I was waiting for them to finish before I went on.
"And…" I began again. "I realise Bella and I haven't been fooling anyone for a long time now, and whether you get it or not," I shot a pointed look to my sister, "it was important for us to work at our own pace. There was just…so much at stake. So, thanks for that as well." I paused, unintentionally being dramatic as I looked at Bella and raised her fingers to my lips.
My mother and sister had smiles that split their faces. I wasn't sure if they already knew or if they thought I was going to be as lame and cheesy as to propose at the dinner table. Either way our secret was out.
"I asked Bella to marry me." The words came out quieter than I meant them to. It didn't matter, they heard me. My mother clasped her hands one on top of the other over her mouth as tears instantly sprang to her eyes. My father nodded. Alice squealed and clapped bouncing in her chair.
"You do realise, we knew about that shit already too, right?" Emmett joked once the standard round of congratulations died off.
I shrugged. I figured as much.
My soul was light. My smile was unshakeable.
"Well, Charlie may have mentioned something to your father and I a few months ago, but technically we had no idea when you would do it," my mother confessed looking unnecessarily sheepish. "Well, that is, until I saw that ring around your neck earlier." She nodded in Bella's direction.
"Al told me," Emmett boasted with a wide grin. My sister tried to glare at him but ended up giggling instead, bubbling over with excitement.
I just laughed. I found the parallel to the pretence of secrecy that already surrounded our relationship funny. "And who exactly told you?" I turned my attention to my little sister, already knowing the answer to my question.
In a rare moment of silence she mashed her lips together and shrugged, her eyes twinkling as she refused to make eye contact with me. I noticed my mother smiling in my direction, only her eyes weren't exactly on me, they were looking at the blushing woman beside me.
"You told her?" I gaped at Bella, only pretending to be surprised. "So much for our deal, Miss Swan." I playfully narrowed my eyes and shook my head, enjoying the idea that I wouldn't be able to call her that for much longer.
"Oh, c'mon! You don't really expect a girl to get engaged and not run and tell her best friend do you?"
Her words warmed my heart. My family was her family, long before any documents would make it official. Back when my parents loved her parents. Back when our mothers held one another's hands in the delivery room. When our father's watched sports together and drank expensive scotch. When we comforted and protected. When we cherished and encouraged and grew together. When we laughed. And cried. When we celebrated and mourned. When we fought to stay whole. Every one of us were connected. We have always been family. We were blessed enough to consider one another friends.
"Well, you didn't run that directly, as I recall," I mock-whispered, giving her the cheekiest smirk I could as I silently reminded her of our naked bodies rolling around in the backyard under the stars…multiple times. I winked to drive home the highly inappropriate point, chuckling to myself.
"Oh my God. The next day, whatever," she grumbled, glowering at me. The entire table stifled their laughter and Bella glared at me until her cheeks and the tips of her ears matched the red lace on her dress. I considered us even.
"So, if you're all done with your crude comments… Can I put this on my finger now, or…?" She delicately twirled the ring where it hung at the bottom of the chain around her neck.
"Please do." I couldn't have meant it more.
Bella turned her back to me and gathered her hair to the side, allowing me access to the clasp of the locket. I unhooked it and carefully slid the ring from the chain as Bella repositioned herself to face me again. Her eyes were shining and her cheeks were still flushed as all eyes were on us. I left the locket on the table and held the ring between my thumb and two fingers.
Bella bit her lip as she looked at me anxiously, emotions I knew by heart swimming in her eyes. She blinked and both eyes spilled over. I cocked my head to the side and gave her an understanding, yet amused grin.
"I can't help it," she whispered, swiping at her cheeks and sniffling. She swallowed thickly and then looked back to me.
"Get on your knee, asshole."
"I already did that, Emmett, thank you." I spat back at him, only tearing my eyes from Bella for a quick second.
"Yeah he did," Alice confirmed in an excited whisper. I had to roll my eyes at her and wonder just how detailed of a report Bella offered her.
"Will you guys be quiet," my mother scolded them, always my saviour.
I sighed and turned my chair so I could properly face my fiancé. "Bella?" Her name rolled off my tongue naturally, the way it always had since the first time I said it twenty-six years before. I looked up at her from under my eyelashes, my face angled down at the ring I held between my fingers. "Will you please never take this ring off again…as long as we both shall live?"
More tears happily ran from her eyes as she smiled and nodded. I slid the platinum circle of diamonds and sapphires and memories onto her finger where it looked to me as if it had always existed. She whispered a single word before pulling my face to hers for a kiss.
Don't be afraid.
But this is just about it.
I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.