Thank you to my loves, Erika, Brandi and Suzy. I'd be so lost without you.
~In Too Deep~
Chapter 18- Adorato
The days drag in that endless month before Christmas kind of way, where everything merry is forced in my face, despite the silent (and some not so silent) protests that I make. I decide that I hate Santa, and I loathe Rudolph with his perpetually stupid red nose, and those fuckin' elves make me want to punch something. Hard. Don't even get me started on how December is most decidedly not the most wonderful time of the motherfucking year.
Forgive me, but I might be a little irritable. I finally get why the suicide rate is so high this time of year. It's not because people are depressed. It's because they can't go on another day hearing about silver goddamn bells and fucking roasting chestnuts. Who the hell even likes chestnuts?
Though, a little light in the darkness comes unexpectedly my way. I come home from work one night to find a little table top Christmas tree on my doorstep. It's potted, decorated with little glass ornaments and a gold star on top. When I bring it inside, I look for a note or anything to see who it's from, but there's nothing. I plug it in, watch the lights, and try to remember the meaning of Christmas.
Jesus, love, and family.
Once finals are done and classes end, I work long hours at the store so I can afford to buy a few gifts without dipping into what I have left of my meager savings. Since my father cut me off, I've taken out school loans which I don't have to pay back until I graduate. But the extra bills, like Cable and internet and fucking heat and electric are killing me slowly, eating my entire paycheck with nothing left over to put away.
The gifts I buy are simple and on the inexpensive side; just little thank you's to the people who've been there for me. I pick up something small for Bella, a plastic reindeer that craps out jellybeans, because I know she'll find it hilarious, and when I see a charm bracelet that has little silver hands which spell her name in American sign language, I buy it, too.
I know it's weird giving my ex a Christmas gift, but I don't really give a shit. I want her to have something from me.
On Christmas Eve, I get the day off, so Lauren and I meet for brunch at the diner. When I hesitantly ask about my dad, Lauren says he's never ever home anymore, even on the weekends, and she and Esme both think he's having another affair. Esme is miserable and she's still spending tons of money on stupid shit just to have something to do. Lauren says she hears her cry a lot. Even though I can't stand Esme, I genuinely feel bad for her, now.
Later on as I'm getting ready to go to dinner, I talk to my mom on the phone for a long time, holding the gift that she'd sent in my hands as I stare at it in awe. Round trip tickets to Italy, set for June, after I graduate. She'll be there with the Philharmonic on tour, and even though she says she's aware it's not the most ideal vacation spending two weeks abroad with your mother, I haven't seen her in almost a year and a half. I can't wait. Part of me wishes it was right now.
But there aretwo tickets. She's clearly unaware that Bella and I have broken up. I am completely surprised that Lauren hasn't mentioned it to her yet.
While we talk, I debate over coming clean about the Renee thing before my father has the chance to poison her image of me, even though I've done a damn good job of wrecking that myself. It feels as though I've been through so much at this point that I can't bear to lose anyone else in my life, so I decide being honest is better than not. Once the news is broken, she's crushed and hurt, obviously. But she's mostly angry at that woman for taking advantage of me, even though I told her exactly what happened. My mom tells me that regardless of what I did, there's nothing I could do that would make her not love me, which makes me cry like a girl. She adds that in a way, she's also glad I did it, because my father is a fuck who deserves to have his balls and his dignity hung from the rafters. That makes me laugh.
Dinner is at Allie's parents' house. I'd been reluctant at first but they insisted, so I conceded because I really, really didn't want to be alone for the holidays. Her family is small, so things are quiet, and on the boring side, with the exception of Garrett's excitement and incessant questions about Santa and the magical mechanics of his sleigh. I've never made up more shit in my life, trying to answer some of his inquiries. The kid is ridiculously smart. At one point, I mutter, "I'm in pharmaceuticals, dude, not quantum physics." He nods thoughtfully, like he understands that and changes the topic to the Tooth Fairy.
After we eat, I watch an old Rudolf Claymation movie with him, and because my mind wanders, I find myself thinking of Bella way too much. Missing her.
As a distraction, I convince Allie and Jay to let Garrett open the electric Polar Express train set I've bought him. My insides actually warm when I see the look on his face as we set it up and watch it run the track. He's so fascinated and I'm so glad I spent the extra money on it. After all, it's not as though I have anyone else to spoil.
Later that night, after all the gifts are opened and dessert is had, I head home… just incredibly sad. Feeling weird and bleak, I take a chance at stopping by Bella's to give her the gifts I got her, though I know she's at her dad's. Her living room lights are on but her truck isn't in its designated spot. Since I've nowhere else to go, I wait in my car out front, listening to Christmas music and wallowing in my sadness while the heat blasts. I must fall asleep, because I'm startled awake by knocking on the window.
"Hey," she says, her voice all muffled through the glass. She's coat-less, in a red dress, holding her arms tightly around her middle as little snowflakes swirl around her short hair. I roll down the window, disoriented, heart racing a mile a minute. "What are you doing out here?" Her smile is sad but her eyes are warm.
My breath is smoky against the chilled air. "I…I don't really know."
"Well, come inside, you're gonna freeze!" She wrenches the car door open before I can even reply. I grab the gift bag off the seat, hesitantly following her in the house. It takes me a minute or so to move from the front entrance because it's so strange being back here. She's painted the living room walls a deep blue, hung some funky art over the fireplace, and made the place look more like a home. Idly, I wonder what other changes she's made and if the attempt had anything to do with trying to rid the place of memories of me.
As I toe off my wet shoes, she asks if I want hot chocolate. I say, "No thanks, I shouldn't stay long," even though I desperately don't want to go home.
"Oh, come on. Hang out with me for a while," she says with that beautiful smile of hers melting my insides. "Unless…you have somewhere else you should be?" She says it cautiously, like I might have a girl waiting at home for me. I roll my eyes. Really, Bella?
"I have nowhere else to be," I concede. And nowhere else I'd rather be.
She runs upstairs to change, coming back down dressed in pajama pants patterned with snowflakes and a long sleeved red shirt. She looks so Christmassy and cute.
While she makes us drinks, I notice the newly framed pictures on the side table of her dad and Seth. There's a few from Fire Island, with Bella looking all tan and smiling in her bikini top with the girls surrounding her at the surf. And in the back, buried almost behind the others, is one of her and me from a day at Adventureland. We'd just rolled back in from a ride on the rollercoaster and our faces are pressed together as I held my arm out to get us both inside the frame. You can see a bit of Em and Rose behind us, laughing and disheveled from the ride. Bella's summer freckles are splattered all over her sunburned nose, and my hair looks completely untamed, but we're all so fuckin' happy. It's unmistakable how deep in love Me and Bella are. My chest aches.
Bella approaches with two steaming mugs, watching as I stare at the photo a second more before I place it down in that back where I found it. I almost put it up front, but I stop myself.
She's not over me, but she's trying to be.
"Do you remember that day?" she laughs lightly.
"Yeah of course, that was a great day." I nod, smiling along with her. We'd gotten high in the parking lot and devoured twenty five dollar's worth of funnel cake in a matter of minutes. My black tee shirt was covered in powdered sugar.
"They were all great days," she says quietly as I take one of the mugs from her, sipping at the cocoa. It's creamy with a bit of a kick, like she's spiked it with some sort of alcohol. Bailey's probably.
I hiss at the unexpected burn in my throat. "You trying to get me drunk?" I joke.
"No, I'm trying to get you to warm up. You're trembling." I glance at my hands, deliberately trying to still them. I tried to hide it when I'd taken the mug from her, but it's not because I'm cold. She's very perceptive.
Bella sets a plate of homemade Christmas cookies on the coffee table before sitting on the middle of the couch, tucking her socked feet underneath her. I'm on the end, not knowing if I'm too close when all I want is to be closer.
The fireplace is the only light in the room other than her Christmas tree's white twinkle lights. Outside, snow is falling; occasionally the wind of the impending storm rattles the windows. There is a definite sense of comfort and peace about us. It's also very intimate, though I know it isn't intentional. This is probably just how Bella relaxes at night. I'm nervous but so happy to be here and not alone, even under these circumstances. In the background, familiar soft holiday piano music plays. It's my mother. I've been looking for the CD for weeks, not realizing I'd left it here.
"Your hair," I say reaching out to touch her cropped ends. She brings her hand up self-consciously at the same time, her fingers brushing mine, so warm from the mug of cocoa.
"I needed a change. You know," she rolls her eyes and shrugs, "post break up makeover. I'm not crazy about it, so I'm letting it grow back out. It didn't really change anything but the time it takes to blow dry it." She looks at me, smiling softly.
Immediately, I hear the underlying meaning in that statement, but I pretend to ignore it. It hurts too much.
"Well, I like it. It makes you look so much older, though. Sophisticated."
"Thanks. How have you been? How's the new place?"
"I'm good; the same I guess. Working crazy hours until winter session classes start next week. I'm planning to graduate in June but I have to bust my ass to do it. I'm tired of living below poverty level. And uh…my apartment is nice. It's cool to have my own space, you know? Oh, and," I add with a wry smile, "I uh…I got a little Christmas tree. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?" I quirk an eyebrow.
"Me? Nooooo." She hides her smirk in her mug.
"Really?" I laugh. "I thought for sure it was Allie."
Bella shrugs. "I just…I saw it and I know you aren't the type to decorate or anything. I wanted your first place to feel special, I guess." She says the last part like she's sad. We both know that her home should have been my first place. "I asked Em not to say anything when I got your address from him. I'm surprised he didn't at least tell you I called him."
"Nope, he didn't mention it. But thank you. It was really nice of you." I glance over to her entry hall table where I left her gift. "I got you a little something."
"You did? You didn't have to do that," she says, but I can hear her trying to contain the excitement in her voice as I rise to get it.
"I wanted to," I say with a shrug, handing her the bag while making myself comfortable on the couch again. She cracks up at the stupid reindeer, laughing in disgust as I eat the root beer jellybean trail it "poops" out on her coffee table. When she gets to the bracelet, she's quiet, obviously holding back tears.
"Eddie, thank you, so much. It's beautiful." I help her clasp it on her wrist, really happy that she likes it. She holds her wrist out, shaking it as the charms jingle against one another. It didn't cost much, but I wanted her to know I was thinking of her. That I'm always thinking of her.
"I got you something, too. Well," she says, scrunching up her nose, "actually I made it." Bella reaches her hand out, tugging me up. Warm fingers lace through mine as she leads me into her kitchen, standing us both in front of the fridge. I don't want to let go of her hand.
She whips open the freezer with a flourish. "Tada!"
"You got me… leftovers?" I say, before I realize that all the little plastic containers, uniform in size with their red see - through tops, have labels on them in her elementary teacher- like handwriting. Fettuccini Alfredo, lasagna, baked ziti, chicken Marsala, stuffed peppers, beef stew, and more.
"No," she slaps my arm playfully, "I made you dinners. Rose said you looked really thin the last time she saw you and I figured you weren't eating right."
"Bella, this is…wow." Incredulously, I scan all the titles. It looks as though she made one huge batch of each item and portioned it out into individual meals. I could eat for two months straight. "Why would you go to all the trouble to do this? It must have taken forever." Though I am flattered and moved that she would go to this extent for me, I'm flabbergasted by the gesture.
Her lips purse as she looks down, shuffling her feet. "I did it…" I hear her breath catch, and as she exhales, I know before she even swipes her cheeks that there are tears in her eyes again. "Because…you don't have anyone to take care of you and because…I love you." The last part comes out very quietly.
It's such a simple statement and the honesty behind it breaks me. "Christ." I crush her to my chest, stroking her hair soothingly while she sobs into my shirt. Pressing my lips to the top of her head, I remember how good it feels to hold her and I am overwhelmed with emotion. "I love you, too. But I don't need anyone to take care of me," I say softly. "I'm okay, Bella. Really." The thing is… that I'm not, but I am at the same time. It's strange. But I definitely don't want her to feel guilt or god forbid, obligation toward me. I want her to be with me because she can't live without me, not because she feels like shit knowing I'm not doing well as a result of our breakup.
"Bullshit," she says all nasally, wiping her nose on the back of her hand. "You're skinny and pale and you have dark circles under your eyes. And I know you aren't eating or sleeping, because I'm not either and…god, this is so fucked up. Why can't we just…." She smooshes her hair back erratically, looking up to the ceiling as if it will open up and give her some answers. "Why did this happen?"
"I ask myself that every damn day, Bella. I don't have any answers, but I do know that when it comes down to it…. I fucked up and you aren't able to be with me because of it. It's really very simple."
"No, it's the most complicated fucking thing I've ever experienced in my life, Eddie. All I think about is you. I wonder what you're doing and where you are and if you're happy or safe or sad, and I just want to be there with you and Goddamn it, I hate my mother, I fucking hate her!"
I go to reach out to her, but she's angry and shrugs me away. My hand moves habitually to the back of my neck. I lean up against the kitchen counter, not knowing what to say, so I grab a napkin and hand it to Bella. "Sorry," she mutters, blowing her nose. "It's been a long day. Are you hungry? I brought leftovers from my dad's." My mouth opens, because I am actually a little hungry. "No meatballs, I promise," she says with a sniff, rolling her eyes.
The mood lightens somewhat. "Well, I'm glad you're able to find some humor in my demise. Stupid fuckin' meatball." I say it seriously, but there's a smile on my face.
"If I don't laugh, I'll cry," she says gesturing to her tearful face. As she slides a heaping dish in the microwave, she says, "My therapist told me it was okay to make fun of a shitty situation, that if I could find some humor in it, it would help the healing process or something like that. I don't listen to what she says half the time, so I don't even know why I even bother going."
I sigh at her words, running a hand through my hair. "Shit, Bella. You're seeing a therapist?" Now I feel like a douchebag. I should probably offer to pay for the sessions, since she's there because of me.
"Yeah, I've been going for a few months. Mainly for the estrangement with my mom. I felt like the girls got tired of hearing me cry over our breakup, and I didn't want to be a burden to them, so I sought out professional help. Plus, I've been really down, and I know I've lost weight, too." She looks down at her chest, chuckling darkly. "My damn boobies shrank. This whole thing had been so unexpected and…I'm trying to get on with my life the best I can. But the truth is that I'm not really doing that well. So that makes two of us." Bella shrugs as the timer dings. She sets the plates on the table, but I've lost my appetite. Apparently so has she, because she picks at her food, until it's nothing but mush.
"I don't think your boobies shrank," I say stupidly. She stifles a smirk and I add, "Trust me, I would know."
The mood in her kitchen is somewhat weird. It's lightened up, but there's still this oppressive, underlying air of burden between us. We both remain quiet, but I know she has more that she wants to say. I do too, but I can't quite find the right words.
A glance outside shows that the snow is coming down hard, now. "I should probably go," I say, startling her as I set my fork noisily the plate. "The Volvo needs new tires and I don't know how it handles in the snow yet."
"It's so shitty out tonight. You could… just spend the night here," she says quietly. "If you want." Shy brown eyes peer at me, pleadingly.
"Why would I do that?" I ask, scoffing. The words come out a little more abrupt that I would have liked them to. "I mean, what would even be the point of that? You just said you're trying to move on with your life. What is it that you want, Bella?"
She pauses. "I really don't know. I'm just so fucking…I don't know." We sit there in awkward silence because Bella doesn't say anything else after that. She rests her chin in her hand, elbow propped on the table, staring at the glass doors leading outside. Frustrated with her indecision, I rise out of my seat, placing the mostly uneaten plate of food on the counter and walk to the living room to get my coat and shoes. I really want to stay the night, like she asked, but I don't have the strength to handle the rejection that will inevitably coincide with her confusion.
My wool coat is damp and sends a chill down my spine as I push my arms through the sleeves. I turn around and she's there, tugging on my lapels, pulling and sliding the coat off my shoulders.
She moves closer. "Don't go." It's a whisper. "Please…just…stay with me. Stay the night."
Her chest presses against mine, warm and soft. My body immediately reacts to the contact and my hands move instinctively to her waist. "Don't go," she whispers again, this time her lips brush my shirt, seeking skin.
"Bella…I…." She's got three buttons open on my shirt, brushing her lips back and forth over my skin. While it feels amazing and oddly innocent at this point, I'm fuckin' scared. All I keep thinking, is, 'Pleasedon'trejectmeagain.Ican'thandleit.'
"Shhhh," she whispers, pulling my shirt from its tucked spot inside my pants. "I need to try, just please let me try." Once it's off completely, I don't know where to put my hands. I keep them on her waist, moving them slowly up her back where I can feel the prominent bumps of her spine because of the weight loss.
When I feel her hands move up my chest, around my neck, I duck my head to meet her mouth. I press my lips to hers, but she moves her mouth way, kissing and nipping along my jaw line. It sends tingles throughout my whole body and I moan a little, unashamed. There's so much confliction sparring in my head. As much as I don't want her to bail again, I'm guessing she needs to do this to see if she can be with me without freaking out. I have to let her try, even if the end result is epic failure. I have to at least show her that we can try this again. That what we have is worth the effort.
Finally, having grown frustrated with her inability and to kiss me properly, I cup her head in my hands and kiss her. Really fuckin' kiss her. It's long and languid, wet tongues and teeth gently biting and scraping. Everything is on fire; I can hardly breathe and I feel myself trembling again. She doesn't stop kissing me or touching my face, fingers tracing the line of my jaw. Carefully, I walk us back toward the couch leaving not an inch of space between us. I sit on the arm with Bella situated between my legs and then as her hands skim my shoulders and my chest, I let my hands feel. I want to devour her, eat her alive, be inside of her and under her skin and everywhere all at once.
I am gentle though, taking my time, appreciating every inch of her…waiting for her to freak out and send me home. I am gentle taking off her shirt, tenderly touching and kissing her breasts. As I pull down her flannel sleep pants and underwear, I kiss my way down her stomach while she kicks off her clothes into complete nakedness. I've missed this body so much.
"Eddie," she whispers, looking at me seriously, "you haven't been with anyone else, have you?"
I pause, suddenly alarmed. "What? No, no. H - have you?" She shakes her head, smiling softly. She hugs me tight, bare breasts against my heated skin.
My body is screaming to consume her with reckless abandon, but I control the need, slowing the movements down into reverent caresses. Her thighs are smooth as I slide my hand up and down, settling between her legs where she's wet and warm. She makes that sound, that little mewl of pleasure that I love, holding on tight to my neck.
And because I have to know, I whisper, "Are you okay?" Areweokay?
She answers with a searing kiss, which tugs and pinches my bottom lip igniting a fire in me that I swore I'd never feel again. As I suckle a breast, my fingers stroke her flesh until she takes my hand and moves it to where she wants it inside of her. I fuck her with a finger, then two and three until she's screaming and her legs are trembling. When she finishes, she kisses me hard, moving to open the belt and top button on my pants. I stand to get out of them, pulling the chenille blanket hanging on the arm of her couch, bringing us to the carpet in front of the fireplace where I lay it out. She rolls on top of me, and before I know it, we're moving together, slowly, gently. Then I'm inside of her, feeling the smooth skin of her ass slide against me. I guide her hips pacing myself, but she's too eager and I just want this to be about her, to let her do whatever it is she has to do to make things normal again.
Honestly, I can't believe this is happening right now. Every moment feels like she's gonna suddenly realize what she's doing and run.
But, no. I come just after she does, hard and hot, white spots in my vision and sweat coating my body. We lay side by side, the two of us unable to contain the silly, astonished smiles on our faces. There is such a sense of joy and utter relief that passes between us, unspoken in juts the touch of our fingers on one another.
Famished and hotter than hell, I walk naked to the kitchen to reheat the plates of food left uneaten on the kitchen counter. Bella follows, looking fucking sexy as hell wearing just my shirt, the buttons left open on purpose. I feel like her prior fears have abated for the moment, because she's behaving like she used to with me…uninhibited and completely comfortable, with the exception of a few shy smiles between bites of food. She touches me a lot, telling me about Christmas Eve at her dad's and the fact that she was planning to stay the night but something told her to come home. We scrape our plates clean, laughing and feeding one another. I feel like I am high, living in a dream.
As we snuggle by the fire, watching its bright orange embers die down, we are quiet and reverent. I wish she was still naked, but it was too cold to stay undressed. She's gotten me a pair of sweats and a tee shirt that I'd left here, that she never bothered to get rid of. That little gesture means so much to me. I think both of us are afraid to let go of the moment as it feels like it could disappear any second.
"What changed this time?" I ask, stroking her cheek.
"I don't really know. I guess…when you were walking out that door, I realized that the best part of my night was coming home to you unexpectedly. And then…then you were leaving and I knew that I couldn't let you go, no matter what. I mean, that icky feeling…it's obviously not completely gone. I don't know if it will ever be completely gone…" She looks at me sadly, like she feels guilt for it, but I appreciate her honesty, regardless. "But every now and then when it niggles at me, I push it away and try to just remind myself how I feel about you, how much I love you and how happy you make me just being here…and it's gone. Being without you has taught me that I want to be with you, not that I need to be with you. I just want you so much and I hate not having you in my life. It feels like everything is shit without you. Things are gonna be weird I guess, but…if we have to see someone together, would you be willing to do that…if it gets tough?"
"Yeah," I say smiling so brightly my cheeks hurt. "I'll do whatever it takes. Whatever you need. I just want things back to the way they were before, if that's even possible."
"Anything is possible," she says smiling. "So…I think we should take things slow this time around, aside from tonight, obviously." She leans on her elbow, resting her chin on my chest. I run my hand through her shortened hair, tucking a piece behind her ear.
"Are we really doing this?" My voice shakes.
"Yeah," she kisses my lips softly as my fingers close around her hand.
I take a deep breath. "You should know that I'm really scared. And I'm tender and fragile," I say, dramatically pouting my lip while fighting a smile to mask the seriousness of the sentiment.
She laughs lightly. "I'm scared, too. But we have to try. Besides, you are in desperate need of someone to take care of you."
I roll my eyes. "I told you, I'm fine."
"Yeah, I see how fine you are."
"We're really doing this." I'm astonished. This is so not how I expected the night to turn out.
Her lips press softly against mine once more. "Yeah."
"I love you." I want to thank her for giving this a shot and being brave enough to face her fears, but I don't want her to think I'm thanking her for sex.
"I love you, too. So much."
I slide my hand up her ribs, stopping on her breast. "Bella?"
"Just so you know, your boobies definitely did not get smaller."
She giggles, snuggling into my side. "Merry Christmas, Eddie."
Turns out the holidays aren't nearly as bad as I thought. Sometimes if you wish hard enough, and you are a very good boy, Santa brings you a miracle when you least expect it.
We're having lunch at an outdoor café in Florence, having just come from visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and the Tomb of Michaelangelo. This country is absolutely beautiful, with its amazing food, rich culture, and gorgeous scenery.
Speaking of gorgeous scenery…across the table, we are holding hands while Bella makes moon eyes at me. Her hair has grown out and grazes her shoulders, so pretty, and she's put some weight back on, giving her cheeks that healthy roundness they had before. We've consumed a lot of wine this afternoon, and our lunch is rich and decadent. I remind her to save room for gelato, because I know they must have cannoli flavored somewhere.
An elderly couple at the next table glances at us, smiling, and telling each other they like the way we are so sweet with one another. The lady asks if we are honeymooning and I tell her with a wry smirk, "Non ancora," which means notyet. Bella blushes. Little does she know.
With the exception of this afternoon, we've been sightseeing mostly with my mom and her Italian boyfriend, Marco as our guide. He's a few years older than her, sophisticated and well read. Mom's got a glow about her, and truly, I love to see her this happy. She instantly falls in love with Bella, the two of them chatting endlessly, mostly about me. It's rather obvious that Bella craves the warm mother daughter relationship she never had with Renee. I love her and I want her to be happy, but it's a very awkward position to be in. I never, ever mention Renee and neither does Bella. Only on the few occasions that I've accompanied her to therapy has the name been brought up and Bella insists that her life has a definite sense of peace without her mother in it. Maybe it is better off this way.
We'll see how complicated things get once we're planning a wedding. I guess that will be the true test.
I still have no relationship with my father, but unlike Bella and her mom, I do miss him, despite the things that were said and done. I'm seeing my own therapist twice a month, to cope with the loss of most of my family, who have become estranged since my father disowned me. I understand where their loyalty lies, but it hurts. I still manage to catch up with Lauren for occasional IHOP breakfasts and on the phone at least once a week. Bella and I will be driving her up to her university at the end of the summer. I can't believe she's in college. It's a much healthier environment to be in then my father's house.
Esme has filed for divorce, and from what Lauren tells me, my father is absolutely devastated. The funny thing is, that in the end, he wasn't having another affair. He was just seeing a therapist and didn't want Esme to know. For some unknown reason, I feel sorry for him. Karma's a bitch, but I believe everyone deserves a second chance. Sadly, he's already gotten a third and fourth chance and this time, he's the one that was hurt.
Things between Bella and I haven't been perfect or completely easy when it comes to the residual thing with Renee. Every aspect of our relationship is great, with the exception of when Bella has these rare, often unpredictable moments when she'll get outrageously made at me for something ridiculous, and I have no idea if she's remembering what happened or if she's just genuinely pissed at me because she's premenstrual or because there's a full moon or because CVS was out of Snickers bars and she really, really wanted those damn Snickers bars. But I let her be pissed and I tell her much I adore her, and it usually passes without much of an argument. She always apologizes for her weirdness and I always tell her it's all right. Because it is, and it's worth dealing with little mood swings to have her with me.
I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to distinguish between her being mad at me for Renee and just being mad at me because she's a girl and if there's one thing I know for sure it's that girls are nuts. So even if we didn't have this thing between us, chances are I'd still never really understand her motives for random, angry tirades. And that's okay, because I get it. Mostly. I do my best to be patient and understanding. Because one day, hopefully someday soon, she'll get over it.
At least that's what I tell myself when I'm wondering what the fuck I did.
When we get back to the states, Bella is selling her townhouse. It was her idea, but we've decided that together, we'll buy a nice little house where we can get a fresh start. Most of the time, she spends nights at my apartment, preferring the change of scenery. After graduating, I've gotten a job at another branch of CVS as their head pharmacist, making quadruple what I was earning before. It will just be a stepping stone to something bigger, but knowing I can support myself and Bella while I pay off my school loans and hopefully pay for a wedding, means everything to me.
In truth, I am happier than I have ever been. It kind of scares me, though. Honestly, I never thought it could happen, but things are really, really good. Well, as long as I have Snickers bars and it isn't a full moon.
I reach across the table bringing Bella's hand to my lips. We leave money for the bill, holding hands as we stroll along the bridge over the Arno River.
Bella smiles, tugging me anxiously ahead. "There it is! Come on!"
We stop at an area where the ornate iron fencing on the bridge, rusting and oxidized in spots, is adorned with several small padlocks. On each of them, there are two names written in permanent marker. Some are newer, others have been there for years, the names worn away by sun and rain and fingertips touching them reverently. Bella smirks, as she pulls out a small pink Master lock from her purse.
"What's this about?" I ask, holding the lock in the palm of my hand. She's written EddieandBella in black Sharpie over the smooth surface. She's also drawn a heart between our names.
"Well, the tradition is thatlovers," she draws out the word, batting her eyelashes dramatically, "write their names on a padlock, attach the lock to the fence on the Arno River bridge, then throw the key into the river, so the lock can never be opened." She rocks back on her heels, so pleased with herself.
I smile, kissing her temple. "That's really cool, very symbolic. I gotta give you props for all the research you've done for this trip," I say, attaching the lock to the fence. With a turn of the key, it clicks into place and I dislodge it from the keyhole.
"You do the honors," I say, dangling it in front of her.
"This officially seals our love forever," she says, pressing her lips to the surface of the metal. She offers it to me as well, and after I obligingly kiss the key, Bella tosses it into the river.
I chuckle as she leans over the edge, watching the key disappear into the ripples of water. There is no more perfect time than now, I decide.
"No, I think this officially seals it," I say nervously, bending down to the concrete on one knee, with the engagement ring proffered.
Her eyes bug out of her head. "Oh…my…God…."
"Bella, I love you more than anything and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you be my wife? Will you marry me?" I'm not even able to get the full sentence out before she's on her knees, tears running down her cheeks. Her eyes close, the two of us are laughing and crying together. I press my forehead to hers, my shaking hand finding her left finger to slide the ring onto.
A quiet round of applause rings out over the bridge, though I'm still waiting anxiously for her answer. There are people watching us, but we are oblivious to them, lost in our own moment of time.
And even though it isn't always perfect, and there are things that will need to be worked out over time, we have what really matters.
"Yes," she whispers, holding my face in her hands. "Yes, yes, yes."
Someone in the distance yells, "Bacio! Bacio!"
Laughing, I close my eyes and kiss her with all that I have, and all that I am, and all that she makes me. If I've learned anything from this experience, it's that I can't take anything for granted; that I need to treasure and appreciate every gift I'm given in life, every little unexpected miracle.
I kiss my fiancée like I am the luckiest man alive, simply because I am.
This story did not necessarily have a happy ending in its original plan. It was the kind of thing where I had intended to leave it vague, where you decided for yourself if they ended up together or not. But like any story as it unfurls, sometimes things happen where the characters take on a life of their own and they write the story. Apparently, Eddie was hell-bent on finding his way back to Bella and I am a HEA girl at heart, despite the torment and angst I put them through before they get there.
Because of the original Non HEA, I have an alternate ending written for Beegurl13, already three quarters finished, that shows what path their lives would have taken if Bella had not shown up to her townhouse on Christmas Eve. Though, I have no idea when I'll post it.
A million thank you's and a pooping reindeer to everyone who has read and reviewed and tweeted and blinkied and bannered and whatever. Thank you to my beta's, prereaders, and idea bouncer-offers. I adore all of you guys and I am privileged to be a part of a fandom that is so awesome. As of right now, I have a few new stories in the works, (the angsty Amish thing that I started working on a year and a half ago, as well as the 1990's based drug dealer thing) but unfortunately, I'm putting them aside for a while. Three years of back to back Twilight stories has burned me out, and I need to focus on some new characters. I'll probably still do the fandom charity stuff, though, just because I don't think I'll ever truly get rid of Bella and Edward.
Thanks for being there.