Guys – you continue to blow me away! Your feedback to the last chapter was AMAZING! Thank you all – if I didn't have your support I wouldn't have been able to finish this.
As always thanks to the girls that make this readable: Mariahjile, Marly 582, Sparklymeg, and Iklepixie.
Chicago, a few years later...
My hair whips around my face as it succumbs to the wind, and I instinctively pull my jacket tighter around me to brace myself for the chill. After years in this city, I still struggle at the start of each winter. As much as I love it here, part of me will always crave the beach.
I look up at the graying sky, the dark clouds rolling in thick and fast, and I hope I can make it home in time before the heavens open. At this time of year, you can never be sure if it'll be rain, hail, or sleet — none of which are desirable at this current time.
"Goodnight, Miss Swan."
Claire, one of my students, is leaving with her mom and is all bundled up against the cold. Her jacket is zipped right to her neck, and her mom has dressed her in a matching hat.
"'Bye, sweetie." I look up and smile at her mom. "So what are you doing for the holidays?"
"I'm going to see Grandma. She's old, so I don't see her much."
"You'll need to tell me all about it when we get back after the holidays."
"I will, Miss Swan. Promise."
As the raindrops begin to fall, her mom picks her up and rushes to their car. "Bye, Bella. Have a great Thanksgiving."
I wave to them, even though they're no longer watching.
"Great," I mutter as the rain gets heavier. I tuck my hair into my jacket as much as I can and lift the collar high. Before I can take another step, a car horn stops me in my tracks.
I look up and grin before running to Edward's car. The passenger door is thrown open, and I slide in as quickly as I can, closing it promptly behind me.
"I figured you could use a lift." He leans over the console and kisses me quickly before driving away.
"You figured right." I throw my bag in the back and shrug my jacket off. "Not that this isn't a pleasant surprise, but how come you're here?"
Edward works at a school on the other side of the city. After the success of our group at the library, he changed his plans slightly, focusing more on teaching. While I knew I wanted to work in kindergarten from the start, Edward spent a little longer at school so he could be more flexible. He comes home happy every day, so I know he's made the right choice for now. He was torn about teaching music, but found tutoring lessons during the week enough.
"Principal Greene sent us home early. The storm is set to get worse as the day goes on, and with a lot of the kids staying out of the city, we were getting calls from irate parents." He shrugs. "I guess it's not such a big deal with the holidays starting, anyway."
"Mmm. Makes sense, I suppose. And I definitely appreciate the lift." As I watch the people on the street battling the wind and rain, I'm very glad for my thoughtful boyfriend. The commute home would have been a fight that would have taken all the energy out of me.
"So, what are the plans tonight?" Normally we'd be rushing home and packing before making the long drive to his parents', or to the airport to visit my mom. This year, with work being so hectic and buying our own place, we decided we would do our own thing. I think both our moms were upset but couldn't argue it.
"Well, I was thinking we could go out and celebrate the holidays. I'm not sure I want to venture out in this again, though."
I shake my head. "We can stay in. We should really unpack."
He glances at me in horror. "You want to unpack on a Friday night? Babe…"
I laugh. "I said we should, not that we have to."
"Good." He pulls up outside our place. "Go in and I'll park the car."
Our place is small, but it's perfect for us. In a first-floor apartment, we're surrounded by couples of a similar age and a few that seem to be closer in age to our grandparents. We're more likely to be disturbed by a neighbor knocking on the door asking to borrow some sugar than a frat party, and that works for us.
I get in and hang my jacket over the closest door, and leave my boots next to the heater. Our small hallway leading to the lounge is swamped by boxes that I maneuver my way around. Most of them hold junk that we haven't needed yet, hence why they're still in boxes.
I slip into the bedroom and change into a pair of yoga pants and one of Edward's old hoodies before making my way to the kitchen, the one room in the place that is box-free.
As I open a bottle of wine and pour myself a glass, I hear the door opening. The usual sound of him kicking his boots off echoes down the hall before he calls my name.
I hand him a beer, which he places back on the counter. Instead, he wraps his arms around me.
"Hi," he murmurs.
"I love coming home to you."
My answering grin matches his. "It's growing on me."
He shakes his head. "I get you to finally say yes, and you still make me suffer."
I kiss him softly. "You don't suffer."
He keeps his lips on my skin, trailing them from my mouth, down past my neck. "No, definitely not suffering." His hand tugs on my hoodie. "Even if you do keep stealing my clothes."
I step back and take a sip of my wine while my thundering heart calms down. "You let me borrow this."
He smirks. "Borrow, yes. As in, you were meant to give it back."
I look down and pout. "But it's my favorite."
"Don't. It was my favorite. I want it back." He smiles, knowing full well he's already lost before it's begun. We've had this argument several times. It's a moot point.
"But…" I put my wine on the counter and step closer. I trail my hands under his shirt, internally grinning when his muscles contract under my fingers. I love that even with the simplest of touches, I can still garner a reaction from him.
"You said you liked me in your clothes."
"I like you in nothing but one of my shirts and your sexy glasses when you're playing the part of a slutty librarian."
My stomach does somersaults as I remember that particular night. "Mmm... That shirt is one of my favorites, too."
He gulps and his gaze drops to my lips.
I reach up on my tiptoes, granting his silent wish. Even after years of dating, I know I'll never get tired of kissing Edward Cullen. He makes it feel like the first time every time, setting off a new round of butterflies in my stomach as his lips brush mine.
"So, can I keep it?" I murmur against his lips.
"You win, woman."
"Yes!" I laugh in triumph and go back to my wine. "It looks better on me, anyway."
He laughs and rolls his eyes. "You know, I hope you're not this stubborn when I propose."
"And he's not said anything since?"
I shake my head. "Nope. I mean, he's made jokes about how long it took me to say yes to moving in, but he hasn't mentioned anything about weddings or rings or proposing."
Alice takes some nachos from the plate between us and chews on them thoughtfully. It's a Sunday night, and we're both making the most of the fact that we don't have work in the morning. We're a few margaritas down as I tell her about my weird conversation with Edward a few nights before.
"But you wouldn't say yes?"
"You'd say no?"
"You'd say yes?"
"Wait. I'm confused."
She rolls her eyes. "You're confused?"
I lean forward, resting my forehead on the table. "I don't know," I mumble.
"Have you guys talked about it?" She tugs on my hair, and I sit up.
"No. It kinda hung between us for a few moments, and then when it was clear I had no reply, he turned the conversation to dinner." I take another drink. "I've been too scared to bring it up."
"Why? I mean, he mentioned it first."
I shrug. "What if he didn't mean it?"
She leans over the table and takes my hand in hers. "Sweetie, when have you ever known Edward to say something he doesn't mean? If he mentioned proposing to you, then he's definitely thought about it."
"Yep." She grins and picks up more nachos. "And by that shit-eating grin on your face, you already know what you would say."
Edward and I don't talk of his slip about proposing. It's no longer awkward; it's just not an issue. I refuse to overthink things, knowing that Edward is it for me no matter what, and it wouldn't matter whether he proposed next week, next month, or next year.
The fact that he's even thinking about it causes the best kind of flutter in my stomach.
Thanksgiving passes in a blur, and we're quickly back at work, looking forward to our Christmas holidays. My kids are in continuous high spirits, making my work easy, although leaving me drained almost every day. Even now, on the last day of class, I give up and let them play as we all count down the hours.
I make it home before Edward and decide to call my mom. I feel guilty for not visiting like I do most years, but she's reassured me it's okay, and she and Phil are even going away.
"That's great. Where are you going?"
"It's a surprise, sweetie. Isn't that exciting? All he's told me is to pack for somewhere cool, so I think we might be going somewhere in the mountains."
"Awww, that's so romantic."
"I know. I can barely focus. We're leaving soon, so I'm glad you called. Since I don't know where we're going, I don't know what the reception will be like."
I sit down in my favorite comfy seat and tuck my feet under me. "That's fine. We can catch up after."
"So, tell me about your holiday. It's just you two, right?"
"Yeah." I laugh. "I think Edward's looking forward to a quiet holiday, for a change."
"And you don't think he's planning to ask you anything?"
"A Christmas engagement would be so wonderful, honey."
Just then, I hear the front door unlock as Edward arrives. "Mom, Edward's home and I'm not having this conversation. Have a great time; I'll talk to you when we can. Love you." I don't give her a chance to reply before I hang up. I roll my eyes and chuckle softly. That woman...
""Who was that?" Edward appears in the doorway, looking flushed from the cold and wonderfully windswept.
I smile and stretch up as he comes over to kiss me. "Just Mom. She was saying bye before her trip."
He lifts me quickly as he slides underneath me, before placing me on his lap. "She excited?"
I roll my eyes. "You've met my mother, remember?"
He chuckles and wraps his arms around me. "So I know we're not doing anything tonight, but I made plans for us tomorrow night."
I turn to face him. "You did? Where are we going?"
He kisses me and smiles against my lips. "It's a surprise."
"Taking a page out of Phil's book, are you?"
"You could say that."
Edward keeps the details of the date a mystery, even going as far as leaving mid-afternoon to finish his plans, stating he'll be back later to pick me up. I contemplate getting more information out of him, but the extra sparkle in his eyes stops me. If he's so excited about this, I can wait a few extra hours.
Instead, I spend the hours alone pampering myself. I take a long, hot bath, put a face pack on, and spend some time doing my nails. Edward's so used to seeing my hair scraped back for work that I use the extra time to blow-dry and curl my hair, leaving it in long waves down my back.
As the day darkens, I pick out my outfit, settling on a plum-colored, knee-length woollen dress, black tights, and black ankle boots. Warm for the weather, but still dressy enough for a date.
As I'm putting on the final touches to my make-up, there's a soft knock on the bedroom door.
"Hey, you ready…?" Edward steps into the room as I turn, blushing as his gaze covers my body. The heat in his eyes makes me feel naked instead of being covered by a thick dress. "You look beautiful."
"Thanks. You look great, too." As always, it's an understatement for how good Edward looks. Dressed sharp but casual in black jeans and a black v-neck sweater, he still makes my heart pound. There are times when I wonder how I managed to land someone so good-looking and genuine, but they pass quickly, and instead of focusing on how, I'm just glad I found the courage to ask him on a date.
"What're you thinking about over there?" He smiles, his eyes showing nothing but curiosity.
"Our first date."
He grins. "The one you asked me out on."
I roll my eyes. "Yes, the one I asked you out on. Are you ever going to let that go?"
He wraps his arms around me. "What? That the girl I kissed at a party and then chased for weeks asked me out? Nope."
"But aren't you glad I did?"
His smile softens. "Every day."
I can't help but smile when I figure out we're going back to the scene of our first date. The sounds from the pier fill the air, and I'm instantly thrown back to that night a few years ago.
"What? Out of ideas, are you?" I joke as Edward leads us around the pier.
He rolls his eyes and slips his arm around my shoulder, holding me close. "You're meant to find this romantic." He kisses my forehead, and I swoon a little. "You're meant to be thrown back to that night, and remember how wonderful I am and how lucky you are to have me in your life."
I wrap my arm around his waist and duck against his side. I don't need a flashback to our first date to know how lucky I am. "It's perfect."
Due to the time of the year, the pier is quieter than the previous times we've been here, but we take our time enjoying it anyway. Given the winter weather and chilly temperature, we don't stay long or go on any rides. Instead, we hold each other close and enjoy the leisurely walk to the end of the pier.
I sit on an empty bench, snuggling up to Edward once he joins me. "I wish we could do this more often."
"Me, too. Although it wouldn't be as nice as this if we do it all the time."
A gust of wind hits us, and I cuddle into his side, feeling more content than I ever have.
"We should go inside soon."
I shake my head. "A few more minutes."
He laughs. "You, Miss 'I Love Summer', is happy to stay out in the Chicago winter? Who are you, and what have you done with my girlfriend?"
"I told you before. It's grown on me."
He turns to face me, his face serious. "It really has?"
I smile softly and cup his face with my hand. "Of course. You know that. Chicago's my home. You are my home."
He nods and covers my hand with his. "I just wanted to make sure before…"
I frown. "Before?"
He smiles nervously, kissing me softly before unwinding his arm from around me. "Just give me a minute, okay?"
I gasp as Edward slides from the bench and onto one knee in front of me. His smile is no longer nervous. Instead, he's now beaming at me. My hands begin to shake uncontrollably, and the only sound I can hear is my blood pounding in my veins.
He leans forward, taking one of my hands in his. "Shhh…" He smirks, soothingly rubbing my hand with his thumb. "Let me do this properly, please."
I laugh softly. "Okay."
"Bella, I… You…" He grips my hand and shakes his head. "God, I had this whole speech planned out, and now… I've forgotten it all."
I shake my head and laugh. "It's okay. This is perfect. Keep going."
He gives me my favorite crooked grin, and I can't help but smile with him. "I… Ever since that night you stumbled into my room, I've been yours. Every smile, every laugh… and every tear." He reaches up to wipe away the unknown, stray tears that have fallen. "You'll make me the happiest man alive if you say yes."
He lets go briefly of my hand to reach into his pocket, pulling out a small box. He reaches for my hand again, and I nod slowly as he slips a beautiful ring onto my finger.
He looks up, his eyes vibrant and more alive than I've ever seen, and I know I'm the luckiest girl alive. "Bella Swan, will you marry me?"
I pull my hand from his and fall to my knees in front of him, wrapping my arms around his neck.
"Yes! Of course I'll marry you."
I've barely said the words before Edward captures my lips in a soft, searing kiss. I hold him to me as tight as I can, unable to let him go at this exact moment. Instead, out here on the Navy Pier, days before Christmas, I enjoy my first kiss with Edward Cullen as my fiance.
Lost in our own little bubble, we remain by our bench on the pier until the cold becomes too much. Even as the icy wind causes tremors to wreck through my body, I don't want to leave, only succumbing to Edward when he tells me there's a second part to our night.
We walk slowly back through the pier before catching a cab and heading back into the city.
"We're going to Mario's?" I ask eagerly when he gives the driver our destination.
He grins. "Yeah, I have a surprise planned."
The city passes us as we weave throughout the streets, but I barely notice. I'm torn between looking at the man next to me and the ring that graces my finger.
"Do you like the ring? You keep looking at it… I can change it if—"
Brushing my fingers against his lips, I tell him to be quiet. "It's beautiful. You're not changing my ring."
He beams at me and kisses me softly. Pulling back, he cups my face and looks at me in wonder. "I can't believe you said yes."
This time, I kiss him before pulling away. "I can't believe you thought I'd say no."
Mario's is in darkness when we pull up, yet Edward still gets out of the cab before walking around and opening my door.
"Edward, I think he's closed."
"Nope. I booked us a table."
"I don't know—"
Grasping my hand he pulls me forward. "Would you just trust me?" He links his fingers with mine, and we walk to the front door.
I try it, not shocked in the slightest when it doesn't budge.
"Edward…" I trail off as he pulls a key from his pocket and opens the door.
I smile softly, feeling it grow when he grins at me. "What did you do?"
Like a little boy caught with his hands caught in the cookie jar, he grins at me. "I don't know what you mean." He steps back and gestures for me to enter first. "After you."
I enter slowly, trying to get used to the darkness. I feel Edward stop close behind me. He wraps his arms around me, and I lean back into his embrace.
"Are you ready?"
I turn to face him. "Ready? Ready for what?"
"Surprise!" All the lights come on, and a mixture of our friends and family jump out from behind tables, chairs, and the bar.
"What? Who? What's going on?"
Edward chuckles and steps forward. "I was kinda hoping you'd say yes, so I organized a small thing with a few of our friends."
"A small thing? A few of our friends?" I echo, looking around the restaurant. The tables have all been pushed to the side, creating an open space in the middle. Low music plays quietly in the background, and I can see some waiting staff moving around with trays of champagne flutes.
"You hate it."
I look up to him. "No, baby. This is just my surprised face."
He brings me into his arms again. "Good. I just want to tell everyone you've agreed to be the future Mrs. Cullen."
A giggle escapes my lips at the use of my soon-to-be name. "Wow. I never thought of that. Bella Cullen…I like the sound of that."
His lips brush mine ever so softly. "Me, too. Very much."
"Bella? Bella, honey!"
I look around Edward. "Mom?"
"Ah! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! So romantic! Tell me. How did he propose? Where were you?" She yanks me out of Edward's embrace. "Ooh, let me see the ring. Wow! Oh, honey. It's beautiful."
I laugh and hug her. "I can't believe you're here."
She shakes her head and laughs. "Me, either. Phil was in on it, of course. Apparently, I couldn't be trusted." She jokingly narrows her eyes at Edward. "Although I can see why, 'cause I would've said something on the phone if I'd known. You know me and secrets."
I giggle, 'cause yeah, I do.
She takes two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter and gives me one. "He's the one, then?"
I watch as a crying Esme almost strangles Edward in a hug. Even from here I can see her joy reflected in his face.
"Yeah, Mom. He's the one."
The night passes in a blur of hugs, champagne, and happy tears.
Friends and colleagues congratulate us and gush over my ring. Edward's dad and Phil man the bar, celebrating our engagement the way most men do, while our mothers are almost giddy and spend a vast majority of the night huddled in a corner together, no doubt already planning venues, dresses, and flowers.
The smile doesn't leave my face, and by the end of the night, I'm dancing in Edward's arms on the makeshift dance floor.
He rests his forehead against mine, and I close my eyes. I've enjoyed every second of tonight, but I've hardly been able to spend any time with Edward. Now, as the party wears down and guests start leaving or dancing with their own partners, I finally get some alone time with my new fiance.
He takes me into his arms and then slips them around my waist. I go willingly, loving the feel of his body against mine.
I look into his eyes, smiling when I see the same light reflected in his. "You're happy?"
I tighten my arms around his neck and twist my fingers in the hair there. "Blissfully so."
He trails his fingers up and down my back, making me shiver. I step closer, desperate to be as close to him as possible.
"I'm glad you didn't give up on me." I think back to those years and how close I came to losing him before I even had him.
"I couldn't give up on you, even if I wanted to." He kisses my forehead, before leaning down and whispering in my ear. "You belong with me."
I smile, letting the words of the song playing quietly in the background wash over me.
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart.
I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweet.
Wow. I can't believe I'm away to hit the complete button. I really hope you enjoyed this last chapter!
That's it for these two and I hope you enjoyed the ride, I really enjoyed writing it :) Huge thank you to everyone who has read, favorited, alterted and reviewed along the way. For mentioning it on twitter and/or facebook and for pimping it on blogs – I owe you all so much and I wish I could hug every one of you.
At the moment, I have a few plot bunnies that I *might* look into, but I'm currently writing a collaboration with SparklyMeg for the Beneath the Mistletoe contest – a Christmas contest I'm hosting. As I'm a host and Meg is a judge this won't be judged or open to the voting, but we will be posting to the contest page. If you'd like to read the entries the link can be found on my favorite authors.
If you'd like to read the entries the link can be found on my favorite authors.
Thank you all again
*hugs* until next time, Karen xox