The Seven Deadly Sins Twific Contest

Title: Liquid Fire

Sin Chosen: Gluttony

Word Count (without header): 11,676

Summary: Two people. Who, on normal circumstances, would probably never meet, find each other in the most unlikely of places. Alcoholics Anonymous. AU/AH/OOC.

Warnings: This story is rated MA for extreme adult content. Including: alcohol abuse, language and explicit sexual content.

Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.


Liquid Fire

(Bella)

I will not throw up. I will not. Nope, not this girl. My stomach is made of steel and talking in front of a group, even one as small as this one, doesn't scare me.

"Ahem. Hi, I'm Isabella, and I'm an alcoholic."

"Hi, Isabella."

Two days before...

I woke in a haze. One that I had been in for most of the week.

I turned my neck to see where I was. Because, honestly, I wasn't sure. My spine, yelling at me while it was smashed against something hard, told me I was on the floor...again.

Once my vision semi-cleared, I could see Alice laying on her side a couple of feet away from me with half her clothes missing and a hairy male arm around her stomach. I also saw various piles of trash with a few syringes in the mix.

This was by far the most run down, sketchiest place I'd found myself at.

My throbbing head stopped me from thinking for so long that I thought I might've passed out again.

I ventured to fully sitting up when I thought it was safe enough.

I numbly patted my jeans down in search of my phone and dug it out of my stupid tight pocket. I cringed as I pressed the name I really didn't want, Charlie's, and brought the phone to the side of my face. I waited, the ringing sounding much louder than it probably was.

"Hello," a gruff voice answered.

I licked my lips, trying to prolong the inevitable. "Hey, dad."

"Bella? Where the hell are you?"

I winced, rubbing my temple. "Um...I'm not sure."

The other side of the line was so quiet, I feared Charlie had hung up on me. Finally I heard a heavy sigh. "Bella," was all he said, and it was enough. All the disappointment the world could load on me was packed into that one word. I stayed silent, knowing nothing I could say would matter at this point. I'd let down my father—I continuously let my father down. And if I was being honest with myself, I probably wasn't going to stop any time soon. "I'll come get you, but you have to get help."

"I will."

"No, I mean for real this time."

"You don't mean..."

"Rehab? You better damn believe I do."

"Dad."

"Don't dad me. You're killing me Bella, every day."

That was like an uppercut to the chin to hear.

"Can't I just do AA? I mean, I'm really not that bad off." That wasn't true, but I was hedging my bets.

Again, the line was really quiet. "Fine. But if that doesn't work, you're going to rehab, and that's final."

"Okay."

"I love you, baby girl."

"I love you, too."

.

.

.

I sat in awkward silence with my father as we drove home after dropping Alice off at her older sister's house.

I'd covertly look at Charlie's face casted in dark shadows. He couldn't look me in the eyes, and I really couldn't blame him. I was a full blown wreck, from head to toe. I highly suspected I had vomit in my hair, and I didn't even want to start on my breath.

How I got this way, I wasn't precisely sure.

I'd like to say I had a horrible childhood, but besides my mom hightailing it, my young life was pretty good. Charlie surely tried the best he could. Kind of overcompensated at times.

I'd like to say that I was pressured into drinking, but I'd done equal amounts of coercing my friends. Alice and I had a sort of/kind of buddy system going. We tried to look out for each other.

I went through all of high school without going to a single party. The end of college was when I let loose, not to the extent I was now, but that's probably when it started. Finals were exceedingly stressful that year, and the booze helped relax me tremendously. The more I drank, the sweeter the release.

At first, it started off just being a weekend thing. Then drinking bled into the weekdays. I wasn't a social drinker. I could drink with or without people. I didn't care. One drink won't hurt, I'd tell myself after finishing my homework. One turned into two. Then two turned into three, and so on and so forth. I liked the hard stuff, straight up, and I wasn't picky.

Now, here I was at twenty-three, at a dead end job, with my daddy driving me home. I'm glad I hadn't driven my car this time because I sure as hell wouldn't be able to remember where it was.

When we finally got home, Charlie slammed the car door and marched into the house.

I got out much slower, closing the door softly because my brain was already pounding from Charlie's aggression release.

Walking into our small, quaint home, I heard no sign of my father moving around. Shrugging, I climbed the stairs to my room and passed out on top of the covers of my bed.

.

.

.

Two days later, Monday morning, my father and I sat at the small, round table of our kitchen, eating cereal in that awkward silence we seemed to have worked down to a T.

Finally, Charlie cleared his throat to get my attention. I looked up from the newspaper I wasn't really reading to meet his eyes. "Do you need me to drive you tonight?"

I shook my head. "No. It's okay. Thanks, though."

He nodded.

I nodded back as I stood to bring my bowl to the sink to wash it. "Well, I have to get ready for work," I said, drying my hands on a towel that was hanging from the stove handle.

He nodded again, his back still turned from me.

I went upstairs without another word. I moved back in with my father a month ago. I had been leasing an apartment with Alice, but with most of our combined income going into our liquor consumption and just plain forgetting when rent was due, we'd gotten evicted.

So, yeah, I was a loser, living with my daddy because I couldn't keep my shit together.

Work was its per-usual boring self. I was a secretary for a divorce attorney in Port Angeles, which was also where I'd lived all my life.

My boss, James' workload kept me busy, but it was a mindless kind of busyness. For me it was, at least. I liked it. I liked not having to think. Not that I was stupid. I'd graduated from Peninsula College with honors. I just liked being able to shut my head off for a couple of hours. It helped when I had a bitch of a hangover, like this morning. I had the mother of all hangovers. I was pretty good at hiding it though. I actually had a fixer-upper kit in my purse: a little bottle of Tylenol, mints, eye drops, and a small tube of Preparation H for when I had puffy eyes. I also drank coffee like it was going out of style to keep myself from snoring on my desk, which was right by the front door.

James came out from his office, looking fresh as a daisy with slicked back blond hair and a killer smile. He was what the other two women that worked here, Jess and Tanya, liked to call a fox. Despite being well into his thirties, he didn't look a day over twenty-five and had a personality that was difficult to not get along with.

"Good morning, Bella," he greeted rather loudly.

I fought back my cringe and forced my lips to smile back. "Morning, James."

"Did you have a good weekend?"

I nodded. "Sure did. You?"

His smile brightened. "It was great! Victoria and I took the kids sailing."

Victoria was his redheaded goddess of a wife who was months away from turning thirty—sorry twenty-eight. (Insert winky face.) They had three kids together. All the same age. Yep, a triple threat, all boys to boot. You wouldn't be able to tell that Victoria had pushed out three good sized heads only five years ago.

I'd only been working here for about a year now and was treated like family. I liked my job—I really did. I just didn't see myself getting very far in it. The law wasn't my thing. Truthfully, I didn't know what my 'thing' was.

I was ambitious once, but that felt like a lifetime ago now...

.

.

.

Later that night, I stood in front of a bunch of strangers at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Honestly, I found the title of this group kind of misleading. I felt no anonymity at that moment. No, I felt completely exposed. Though, knowing I wasn't the only one did make me feel somewhat better.

I cleared my throat after my introduction, having absolutely no idea what to say. A handful of people had gone before me with some hellaciously sad life stories that I had no chance of even coming close to. I felt like an even worse person for thinking that this was some sort of contest, but I couldn't help it. Mostly, I stupidly worried about them judging me. Poor little girl, drinking her nonexistent sorrows away.

I opted for keeping a good chunk of my past to myself. "I've been sober for two days."

This elected applause as if I'd just announced that I'd brought peace to the world.

I looked to the group host, Mike Newton. He nodded encouragingly at me. I didn't have the slightest clue what he was prompting me to do. I nodded back, then looked out at the group.

"Um...I was drinking heavily for about two years. This Saturday morning, I woke up having no clue where I was and had to call my father to come get me and my friend." I kept going even though I was screaming inwardly at myself to shut the fuck up. "I didn't realize how far off the deep end I'd gone until I saw the sheer disappointment on my father's face." I trailed off, unable to look anyone in the eyes. I kept a steady eye on my chipped fingernails as I finally went on. "Alcohol felt like a lover to me. It would hold me in its warm arms, giving me a release I'd never felt before." I braved looking up and saw a surprising amount of understanding faces. "It's constantly whispering my name."

I walked away as I felt my eyes watering, taking a seat all the way in the back.

"Thank you, Isabella, for sharing," Mike said, taking my place in the front. "We're all glad you've decided to join us."

Everyone nodded, turning around to smile at me.

I cursed my eyes to suck it up as I pulled my mouth up in an imitation smile.

Thankfully, everyone's attention was brought back to the front as Mike asked, "Does anyone else want to share?" He looked around at the group, seeing no volunteers.

"I will," said a deep, low voice from the corner in the back of the room.

I had to stop myself from jumping since he'd scared the shit out of me.

Mike smiled. "Edward! Come up, come up. It's been awhile."

"I know," Edward mumbled, walking up to the front and passing me by. I got a whiff of a woodsy aroma as if he'd been chopping wood all day. Further inspection of his clothes showed more evidence of this guess. Chips of wood speckled his gray Army shirt and jeans.

He looked at us without seeming to really be seeing anyone. His eyes were remote but beautiful. The prettiest shade of green I'd ever see. Pretty seemed like a strange word in comparison to his built body, but it fit when it came to his peepers. His hair was an explosion of copper and gold, the strands twisting and turning away from each other as if they were in a tiff.

"I'm Edward, and I'm an alcoholic."

I murmured my, "Hello, Edward," with everyone else.

"I've been sober for ten months."

I clapped along with the group, finding myself completely unable to look away from his chiseled face.

He went on, leaning his elbows on the wooden podium and puffing out air. "I started drinking after I got back from Afghanistan four years ago. I can't ever go back because of this puppy." He stuck out his right knee and patted it. "A bomb went off and the explosion blew me against a building, shattering my knee." He looked around for a moment.

He'd said all this with an offhandedness that I found slightly odd. But I couldn't even remotely imagine what he'd been through, so I furiously berated myself for judging him at all.

"I've been a bum, had the shit kicked out of me too many times to count, gotten a girl pregnant and had her abort the baby without me even knowing. I've stolen, sold drugs to keep up my vice, and lashed out on all of my loved ones...My eyes finally opened when a little boy, no older than seven came up to me on the street and dropped a quarter into my coffee cup. He looked so deeply into my eyes as his mother was trying to tug him away. Then he called out as he fought against his mother's pull, 'Never give up!' He implored to his mother to stop, saying, 'He's a hero, mom. I saw his dog tags'." Edward laughed bitterly. "Hero? Yeah, I'm some hero. If he only knew..." He didn't elaborate anymore. Finally after a long silence, he shook his head.

"Anyway, I cleaned myself up and found this place. I've fallen off the wagon twice. Mike here was the one who helped me get back up." He looked to Mike, who smiled in return. The man was a cheery thing. It was annoying—at least it was to me. But I wasn't in the best mood to begin with.

Edward looked down for a moment before continuing, "I live alone and in isolation to clear my head. Being outdoors helps. Also, the fact that I don't have a car and it takes a good hour and half's walk to get to the closest liquor store helps deter me." For the first time since he'd come forward, Edward looked me straight in the eyes.

I couldn't move, even if I had wanted to, which I didn't. I felt sort of idiotic staring at him in the doe-eyed fashion I was certain I was showcasing. But I couldn't bring myself to care. Not with Edward's eyes so thoroughly latched onto mine.

"I haven't come to a meeting in over a month. I had been doing relatively well, until just recently..."

And with that, he left, down the makeshift hall of metal folding chairs and out the door, leaving us all on the edge of our seats—at least he'd left me on the edge of my seat. I wanted to know so much more about this person, when I had absolutely no business wanting that.

.

.

.

"How'd it go?" my dad asked when I arrived home.

"It was okay," I answered, not bothering to eat dinner since I'd made a pig of myself at the dessert table after the meeting. Sweets appealed to me like they never had before these last two days. "I'm tired. I'm going to sleep. See you in the morning," I said behind my back as I made my way up the stairs.

"Okay," Charlie said, standing at the bottom of the stairwell. "Goodnight."

"Night," I said before closing myself in my room.

Sitting at the foot of the bed, I looked out of my small, lone window, finding myself wondering about Edward again. I wondered if he was still walking home or if maybe Mike had driven him home. I wondered what the war was like for him. I wondered what he thought about me. I wondered about him until I was sick and tired of wondering.

After shedding clothes and dressing in boxers and an old high school gym shirt, I rummaged inside my bedside table drawer. My hand came out with a new Tylenol PM bottle my father had so kindly bought for me.

He'd found me at three this morning, sitting in his recliner. I had told him I was having some trouble sleeping, that it was no biggie. I'd found the bottle on my bed after work today and had told him thank you and that he didn't have to go through the trouble. He grunted a response of just trying to help. I'd shrugged and went to my room to change into more casual clothes for the AA meeting.

I sent my father another silent thank you as I popped back two blue pills. Sleep came sooner to me than it had last night, which was around midnight this time around.

To say I had a peaceful or even decent night's rest would be a lie. I'd woken up in a cold sweat with pain raking through my whole body. I tried to be as quiet as I could, but apparently it was pointless because Charlie would rush in with a panicked expression each time. He'd hold me, soothing my hair back with a wet rag.

"You're burning up," he said the third and last time I'd woken him up, unable to hold back the anxiety in his voice.

"What's happening?" I asked. My voice sounded so far away while the room swirled.

"You're detoxing. It's okay. I'm here."

"I'm going to throw up—" And I did, all over Charlie's white shirt. "I'm sorry," I said weakly.

"It's okay. Lie down." He lowered me down and covered me with a thin sheet. "I'll be right back." I saw him walk away as he took his shirt off and threw it in the small bathroom we shared before he disappeared down the stairs. I heard him opening and closing cabinet doors, then his heavy footsteps rushing back up the stairs before he appeared shirtless with a large pot with napkins lining the bottom. "One sec," he said after placing the pot on the floor right under my face. Then he jogged to his room.

A shiver ran through me, and I curled into myself as my throat announced that another round of vomiting was close by. Charlie returned with a fresh shirt on.

"Do you want me to turn the fan on?"

I shook my head as I tried to answer through chattering teeth. "I-I-I'm c-cold n-now."

He was quick to cover me with my purple comforter. Pulling up the chair he'd rocked me in as a baby next to the bed, he went to lower himself down when he halted with his ass inches away from the wood. He zipped out of the room into the bathroom. I heard the sink running then turning off. Charlie returned quickly with a glass of water. Getting two more blue pills and hunching down by my side, he lifted up my neck. "Take these and drink."

I let him put the pills in my mouth and sipped from the glass of water he brought to my lips, though that wasn't what I or my body clearly wanted. After depositing my head back on the pillow and placing the glass on my bedside table, Charlie took a seat. His eyes were zoned in on my face when he asked, "Do you feel like you're going to throw up again?"

I swallowed roughly before saying, "I did a little while ago, but I think I'm okay."

He nodded. "Okay. I'll be right here."

"You don't have to—"

"Yes, I do."

I let it go as drowsiness took over. I grabbed onto sleep like it was a lifeline.

.

.

.

I woke up that morning to see my father sleeping on the rocker with his fist holding up his head at an uncomfortable looking angle and his elbow propped on the arm of the chair.

I quietly got myself out of bed and tip-toed to the bathroom.

I felt like shit. And it wasn't just because of the hell I'd been through last night. My dad didn't need this. Fuck, he didn't deserve this. He'd been through enough. He was honestly the best human being I'd ever met. After Renee left, he raised me without a single qualm. He'd also managed to stay the sheriff. I was always so proud to be his daughter. It was beyond sad to realize that he couldn't possibly be proud of me anymore. He didn't outright show it—well, not since three days ago—but I knew he wasn't. How could he be? What was there to be proud of? Nothing, I answered my question as I looked at myself in the mirror.

The person that looked back through the reflective glass was a stranger that looked like a dull replica of the person I used to be. Had I looked like this while I was still drinking or was it because of how sick I was last night? I turned away, really not wanting to know.

I slowly descended the stairs to prepare breakfast.

Even though I tried to be quiet, I woke Charlie. He came down when I was almost done browning the sausage patties.

"It smells good," he commented, while pouring himself a mug of coffee and rubbing his neck.

"Thanks," I said over my shoulder as I turned off the burner.

After piling our plates with scrambled eggs, sausage and toast, I brought his considerably larger plate to him. He took it, smiling a little. The expression was awkward on his face, but my father wasn't big on smiling. "Thank you."

"No thanks needed," I said as I took my seat across from him. "You deserve a hot meal after last night."

That had him looking at me with the oddest expression for an extended moment. Surprise was the only thing I could gauge from his face before he cleared it by shaking it. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

"I wish you didn't have to," I muttered, getting pissed at myself again.

Charlie reached out and grasped my hand, startling me enough to where I jerked a little. I looked into his eyes, which were so open and compassionate I wanted to cry. "I know you're ashamed, but no one's perfect, and at least you're trying. And I'm proud of you because of that."

I couldn't hold the tears back after that, but I was happy for the first time in years.

"Oh, baby girl, don't cry," Charlie pleaded, coming to me and holding my head to his hard chest. I rested my cheek there, imagining I was a kid again and that my daddy could make everything better. Even though I knew he couldn't, it didn't stop me from indulging in the fantasy.

Two months later...

I was sitting at another meeting, partly because it did help, but mostly because I wanted to see Edward again. He hadn't shown for the last six meetings since my first one, so I didn't know why I wasted time hoping he would. But, God help me, I couldn't stop wishing he would.

I had also found a sponsor, Sue Clearwater. She was in her late forties or early fifties (I didn't ask how old she was because of the fact that it was undoubtedly rude to do so.) and was part of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. She lived on the outskirts of the reservation.

She was completely natural and timeless. I'd marvel at how untouched her beauty seemed to be. Women all over the globe would dish out good money to look like her. She was also very patient and kind toward me. On multiple occasions, she'd invite me to lunch or over to her house to help around if I wanted. I'd eagerly go, finding it absolutely tranquil to be with her and the serene surroundings.

She had been married, but lost her husband to a fatal heart attack a couple of years back. She also had two children close to my age, Leah and Seth, but they lived in different states with their families now. She was mostly alone, like me. I felt oddly and strongly close to her, something I had only found with Charlie thus far. I didn't voice this to her because I was sure it would freak her out or make her feel awkward.

I'd also taken up swimming at the indoor pool at the local gym since my sweet tooth only seemed to be getting worse. I did lap after lap until my limbs hurt so much I forgot for a second how much I wanted a drink.

I was pulled back to the present as Mike cleared his throat to get our attention. Right when Mike was opening his mouth to speak, the door opened and Edward stepped in. Excitement rushed through me at his appearance. Settle down, girl. Jeez, get a hold of yourself! I forced myself to face the front as Edward stood at the corner he had the last time he was here.

"Okay, well, welcome everyone," Mike started.

"Welcome," we said together. Even Edward did. I knew because his voice seemed to echo over the crowd and cause the hairs on the back of my neck to rise.

Neither one of us volunteered to speak this time.

I looked at the people while they spoke, but I didn't hear a thing they said. My attention was hyper alert to everything it could catch about the man behind me. Any shift or sound he would make would ring in my ears. My skin nearly vibrated from the intensity of it. Alert was not something I'd describe myself as being lately. But now, I felt like a freaking bloodhound. My behavior was pathetic and appalling, but hopefully I wasn't being too obvious.

I left right after the meeting was over, making myself pass up the dessert table. I had also made sure to eat before each meeting so I wouldn't be as hungry. Edward was long gone, leaving much more quietly than he had arrived.

As I was driving home, I saw him walking on the side of the road. Well, that answered my question about if he walked or not. I debated with myself for a millisecond before I slowed my car down next to him. "Hey!" I called to him as I rolled my window down.

He glanced at me but kept walking. "Hey."

"I'm Bella. You know? From the meeting," I said when he didn't respond.

"I know who you are," he said, very terse.

"Oh." He was throwing some serious leave-me-the-hell-alone vibes, but I kept driving slowly by him anyway. "Um...do you need a ride? It's getting dark."

He stopped abruptly, forcing me to slam on the brakes. I gripped the wheel to keep my body from slinging forward.

Edward leaned into the window, scowling. "Why would you offer a total stranger a ride?"

I stared at him in dumbstruck silence before shrugging.

Groaning, he threw open the door and climbed in. "Fine. Whatever," he said while slamming the door shut.

I just looked at him, taken aback by how rude he was.

He looked at me, his lips pressed tightly together. "Well, are we going to stay here all night?"

That had me blinking. I instantly wanted to tell him to get the fuck out, but somehow restrained myself. Looking away, I pressed the gas pedal. After driving for about ten minutes in silence, I glanced at him. He was looking out the window blankly.

I cleared my throat. "So...where do you live?"

"Keep driving. I'll tell you when to turn."

"Okay." I drew the word out, thinking dick to myself.

I turned the radio that was connected to my mp3 on. Pardon Me by Incubus started playing. I let the music flood my brain to the point where Edward's presence was only slightly overpowering.

Him saying, "Good song," surprised me. I'd expected him to stay stonily silent until he had to give me directions.

"I know. I love this band."

He hmphed, still looking out the window. "I hadn't pegged you as an alternative rock chick."

The statement was slightly offensive, but I let it go. It was almost like he was intentionally trying to piss me off. "What kind of chick had you pegged me for?"

He looked at me then, uncaring eyes looking me up and down before he looked away again. He took so long to answer, I figured he had decided to drop the subject. I focused my attention back on the road as Days Go By by Dirty Vegas played.

"I honestly don't know," he said after such a stretch of time I'd almost forgotten what he was talking about.

My eyebrows rose. "If you had to guess, what do think it would be?"

He twisted his mouth in thought, looking alarmingly sexy doing it. "I don't know. Maybe...indie."

I pursed my mouth, nodding. "I do like some indie stuff."

"Like?" he asked, sounding and looking interested for once.

"Obviously Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men."

He looked at me without any recognition of those names on his face. "You seriously have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

He shook his head. "No, I don't listen to music anymore."

My mouth popped open. "Ever?"

He shook his head. "Never."

"Wow," was all I could think to say. I pushed the seek button until Little Lion Man came on. "This is Mumford and Sons."

He listened, closing his eyes and leaning the back of his head against the seat. I stayed quiet, allowing his first moment with them to be uninterrupted. When the song ended, he looked at me, eyes a bit brighter than they were only moments ago. "I like them."

I nodded. "They are good," I said, as another song by them came on called Broken Crown.

"They're better than good," he said vehemently, closing his eyes again.

"I can burn you a copy of their songs, if you'd like."

He looked at me with only one eye. "Thanks, but I have nothing to listen to it on."

"I have an extra old boom box. You can have it," I blurted, feeling extremely stupid and embarrassed for being so eager to please him.

"Uh, okay," he said, sitting up and looking uncomfortable.

I mentally slapped the shit out of myself. Dumbass. He obviously lives in solitude for a reason and here you are, fucking that all up.

I went to say never mind, when Edward saying, "You're going to need to turn soon," stopped me.

I slowed down as Below My Feet flowed out of the speakers. "Which way?"

"Right," he answered.

I nodded as I drove further.

"The next street."

I nodded again, then turned when the street came up.

"Keep going until you come to a big curve, then turn on the next right."

I did as he said as we listened to all the Mumford and Sons songs I had in silence.

Once I took the right, woodlands surrounded us. It was sort of creepy but beautiful too.

I parked in front of a small log cabin. It looked like a novelty getaway for married couples.

He got out. At first I thought he was just going to walk away, until he ducked his head back through the window after closing the door. "Do you want to come in for a little while?"

I couldn't have held back my surprise even if I'd tried, which I didn't. "Sure," I finally said after a moment.

With that he turned away, expecting me to follow him clearly. Killing the car, I got out and rushed to catch up. Childish fear of what things could be lurking in the dark woods all around us, just waiting to snatch me up was too overbearing to ignore.

I nearly smacked into his back when he'd paused to unlock the door. He gave me an odd look over his shoulder as he opened the door. "You okay?"

I swallowed as the aftershocks of nerves slithered over my body. "Me? Yeah. Never better."

Shrugging, he pushed the door fully opened and walked inside.

I followed and paused after I closed the door. My suspicion about this being a couples retreat was verified by the inside. The cabin was an open floor plan (the bathroom was the only thing secluded by walls) with a rustic decor. A king size bed took up most of the space with a small kitchen area tucked in the corner. I was half surprised there wasn't a heart shaped Jacuzzi in the middle of the room. There was no television and only one love seat.

Edward walked to the kitchen. I followed and sat at the table.

"Do you want something to drink?"

"Yes, please." Cotton candy vodka came to mind without my consent, and I had an extraordinarily hard time fighting back the sudden roaring craving that had become a constant, dull ache over the last couple of months.

"All I have is tap water."

"That's fine."

He nodded as he got glasses and an ice tray. He twisted the tray until chunks of ice fell into the glasses. After refilling the tray and cautiously placing it over another one in the freezer, he poured chilled water from a pitcher into the glasses. He handed me my drink before putting the pitcher away.

"Thanks," I murmured.

"No problem," he said as he sat down next to me.

I took a sip. It tasted different from the bottled water I was used to, but it wasn't in a bad way. "It's good."

He nodded. "I've always preferred well water."

I nodded, looking at the ice swishing around the water, coming up blank in the conversation department. Which was out of character for me. I was usually the queen of small talk.

Him asking, "Can I ask you something?" had me looking into his eyes.

"Go ahead."

"I'm really curious as to what possessed you to pick me up."

"That wasn't really a question."

He smirked. Actually smirked. Jesus, his mouth was sexy enough without it curving. I think my brain might of short circuited for a second.

"What made you want to pick me up?"

I took a hefty gulp to give myself time to think. "Well, I know you have a long walk..."

"And?" He asked me this as if it was a very important question.

I looked at him, wondering what answer he could possibly want.

"And...I don't know. I just wanted to help you out." My answer was obviously not what he was looking for.

He said nothing, just frowned at his glass.

"What? You aren't accustomed to human kindness or something?"

His wide, shocked eyes snapped to mine. "Of course I am."

"What's the matter then?"

He blinked at me for a while, before saying almost inaudibly, "I just don't think I deserve it."

I nodded. "I understand."

"Really?"

I nodded. "Sure."

"This is the first time I've gotten that kind of response."

"What kind do you usually get?"

"Different variations of 'Of course you do'."

I nodded, figuring that much. I was wary about the next question I wanted to ask. "Do you feel unworthy because of what happened when you were at war or because of what happened when you drank?"

He looked at me like I was the strangest thing he'd ever seen, but it wasn't a disgusted look. It was more...awed, I guess was the best description. "Both," he admitted.

I finished off my water until ice hit my tongue. I wiped the droplets of leftover water off my lips with my fingers. Edward's eyes followed the movement, causing my skin to catch fire. We stared at each in electrifying silence. The world could've ended right then, and I wouldn't have noticed or cared.

Me asking, "How hard is it for you?" broke the spell.

He looked down at his still full glass. The question didn't need to be clarified to him. He knew what I was asking. "The want is always there," he said after a moment. I nodded but stayed quiet. "Sometimes, it's so muffled, I can almost forget about it. Other times, it's so loud, it's all I can hear."

"I feel the same way." It was kind of disheartening to realize that time didn't help. I felt bad that it relieved me to realize I wasn't alone in this area. I had gone months thinking about how weak I was. I looked at Edward. Outwardly, he defined strength. Inwardly, he seemed to be as damaged as me—if not more. If this man sitting before me still struggled every day, then maybe there was still hope for me. This train of thought made me feel ashamed. The fact that it helped immensely only made it worse. "Do you think it ever gets better?"

"You mean the want?"

I nodded, really wishing he'd chosen another word. Because now all I could think about was wanting him to want me.

"I doubt it does."

That dampened my mood considerably.

"But," he was quick to add in. "I think it becomes easier to...control it with time."

"I hope so."

He went to say something, then stopped himself. He did this another two times before finally saying, "If you want, we could exchange numbers...in case we find ourselves...struggling." It was cute to see him having a hard time getting his words out.

"You have a phone?" I asked in shock.

He chuckled, sending shivers down my spine. "I'm not a total hermit."

I looked around the room. "Well, you don't have cable, so in my book you are."

He laughed out loud to that. Then we exchanged numbers. I left reluctantly shortly after. For the first time in ages, I had a restful sleep dreaming about Edward's arms holding me.

.

.

.

We spent almost every day together after that.

Calling him one night when I was having trouble sleeping again started it all.

We talked about likes and dislikes; some things were serious while most were trivial things. The last was the best, though I was touched that he'd share his inner demons with me. I also liked that I felt comfortable with him.

"What do you do for money?" I asked, feeling stupid for not wording it better, but it was too late to take it back.

His chuckle on the other end was sexy as hell. "Wood work."

"Like furniture?"

"I carve and whittle stuff too. But, yes, that's mostly what I make."

"That's amazing. I'd always wondered how it was done. It seems so difficult."

"It can be, but it's just like everything else. It takes practice. Some things come easy while others don't."

"I'd love to see how it's done." Again I wished I'd chosen my words better. I was a fountain of word vomit today.

"You can watch anytime. I'm actually scouting out good wood tomorrow if you want to tag along."

"Damn skippy, I want to." I actually slapped my hand against my mouth for saying that, closing my eyes in disgust.

Edward chuckling had my eyes popping open. "Love the enthusiasm. See you tomorrow."

"See you."

.

.

.

"Is that a Woodpecker?" I asked after we'd been hiking for an hour.

I was slightly worried that we'd get lost, but Edward seemed confident so I didn't fret about it...much.

He looked up, then nodded. "Sure is."

I pulled out my phone and clicked on the camera, stretching my arms out as much as I could and zooming in until the bird came into focus. I snapped the picture. The phone made a sound as the flash came on. The bird flew away, making a blur appear on the picture where it should've been. I frowned at the screen.

"Let me see it," Edward said with his palm up.

I handed it to him and watched him tapped the screen a couple of times before returning it.

"I muted it and turned the flash off," he said, answering the question in my eyes.

"Will it ring?" I asked, tapping the screen when it turned black.

"Not until you turn the volume up. It's better if you have vibrate on right now anyways, in case you get a surprise phone call."

That was true. "Thanks," I said, deleting the useless photo.

"Don't mention it," he said as he bent to brush dead leaves and dirt off of a fallen log to inspect it.

He braced himself, squatting and grabbing a hold of the log's bare end. He puffed his cheeks out as he exerted all his strength into unearthing the large source of wood. I tried to force my tongue to stay in my mouth, too transfixed by him to help. He lowered the log carefully, wiping his hand on his jeans as he stood.

He looked at me, tilting his head at my odd expression.

I turned away, pretending to be interested in something other than him.

A towering tree covered in moss caught my attention. This thing couldn't move, so I'd probably have better luck getting a good shot of it.

After walking back far enough, I crouched down, angling the camera slightly up until the whole tree was in view. Right when I snapped the photo, sun rays filtered through the branches. I looked at the photo and was amazed that I'd just taken something so beautiful. Pride welled up inside me.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the woods until dusk came.

I went over whenever I could after that, which was quite often.

I'd take and edit pictures on my phone as he treated or carved pieces.

Watching him was the best part of my day. Seeing his arms move back and forth as his muscles flexed was priceless.

I felt free for the first time in a long time. I usually always felt some kind of pressure. Pressure to drink or not to drink. I loved my father, but I felt permanently guilty around him. Sue's presence was easing as well, but not as much as Edward's. With him I felt...nothing—well, nothing doesn't properly explain it. I felt like nothing could touch me. Everything was left at the door, so to speak, when I was with him.

I often found myself wishing I didn't have to leave.

.

.

.

I tried and tried to contact Alice for months with no reply. I texted, called, even Facebook messaged her. Still nothing.

I finally called her sister as a last resort, really starting to worry about my friend at this point.

"Hello," Heidi answered.

"Hey!" I almost shouted. "This is Bella."

"I know. What's up?"

"Um...I was seeing about Alice. I can't get a hold of her."

"She moved."

"Moved?"

"That's what I said."

I gaped at the phone, too thrown to snap back at Alice's bitchy sister. We'd never gotten along, which was the main reason why calling Heidi was a last resort thing. "Where?" I asked when I finally could.

"Somewhere in Seattle with her new boyfriend."

"New boyfriend?"

"Yeah. They've been dating for a month now."

"And she just up and moved away with him?" I shouted this time, too upset to care if it hurt Heidi's ears.

"Yes," she answered slowly, elongating the syllables as if I were slow. I wished it was possible to strangle something through a phone line then.

"Do you have a number, address or anything so I can get in touch with her?"

"No."

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Heidi groaned loudly. "Because I'm not my sister's fucking keeper."

The line was dead before I could cuss her the fuck out.

My whole body shook as anger and anxiety took over me.

By some miracle, Edward called me right at that moment.

"H-hello," I answered.

"Bella? Is something wrong?" he asked, his voice alarmed.

"No. I can't find Alice. And her sister was no fucking help."

"Easy. It's going to be okay. Do you need me to go meet you? I can call a cab."

I shook my head then answered him when I realized he couldn't see me. "No. I'll come to you."

"Okay. I'll be waiting."

.

.

.

When I arrived, I found myself in his arms almost instantly and enjoyed it too much to wonder what it could possibly mean.

He pulled away after a moment to look into my eyes. "Did you get any information?"

"Only that she's living in Seattle somewhere with her new boyfriend. I have no idea how to find her. I tried typing her name into Google, but that was a bust."

He rubbed my back soothingly. "I can help."

"Really?" I asked, shocked. "How?"

"I have a...friend who's good at finding people."

"What kind of friend?" I asked skeptically.

"Just a friend."

His crypticness obliviously meant his friend was a spy. It was kind of creepy to think about, but I let it go if it meant I'd have help finding Alice.

.

.

.

His "friend" found Alice in a day. A day. This thoroughly scared the shit out of me, but I pushed it back far, far away to a place I didn't dare go.

We drove up to see her.

When I was finally at Alice's door, I paused right before knocking on it. What if she didn't want to see me? Why else would she just up and move without a word to me? I looked at Edward and made myself knock. He'd wasted his day to ride with me for the two hour trip. I refused to wuss out.

I waited. No one answered.

Edward knocked harder, and still no one opened the door. I couldn't even hear approaching footsteps. There was an unfamiliar vehicle parked in front, so someone had to be home. It was also well past lunch. They could've been napping.

"Should we just wait?" I asked Edward.

He frowned, then walked around the house.

I stayed put as shivers worked their way up my spine.

"Bella!" Edward's alerted voice had my feet moving before I could command them to.

I skidded to a halt right before I ran into him, looking in the window he was peering into to see Alice lying down on her belly in her own vomit.

"Break the window!" My loud voice sounded too pitchy as my heart hammered in my chest.

Edward was already on it, ripping his shirt off and wrapping it around his hand to punch the window. The glass shattered after his third try. I touched his hand when I saw blood.

He pulled it away. "I'm fine." He gave me a boost, climbing through after.

We ran to Alice together as I called 911. I told the operator what kind of state Alice was in and the address as Edward gently turned her over and checked her pulse.

"Her heart's still beating...faintly."

That had me breathing somewhat easier, but tears were steadily streaming down my face as I brushed hair out of her eyes.

Her lips were the darkest shade of blue.

Edward took her face and slapped her lightly. "Alice, Alice."

"What are you doing?" I spat.

He looked at me with the calmest expression. "She's overdosed. I'm trying to get her to wake up."

"Why?"

"To see what she's taken."

I started shaking her shoulders. "Alice, Alice, wake up!"

Edward held up a finger for me to be quiet. I shut my mouth as I watched him watch her chest moving up and down minutely.

"Shouldn't you do CPR?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Not until she stops breathing."

It blessedly didn't take the ambulance long to arrive.

Edward stepped away, taking me with him as I had a death grip on Alice and certainly wasn't planning on letting go.

We followed the ambulance to the hospital after they made sure no one else was in the house. Edward drove since I was in no state to.

We sat in the waiting room for what felt like hours. I called Heidi ten times to give her the news, but she wouldn't answer. I left her a not so nice message on the last try.

The doctor that treated Alice finally came out, and I rushed to him.

His face was serious but not sad. That gave me a little hope. I clung to the hope for dear life.

"She's going to make it," Dr. Jacob Black said with a hand on my shoulder. "We had to pump her stomach, so she'll be weak. If you hadn't showed up, she wouldn't be as lucky."

I nodded, not so sure she'd feel all that lucky. "When can I see her?"

The doctor paused. "Usually it is only immediate family allowed to see the patient."

"I'm the closest thing to family she has."

He nodded. "I'll let you know when you can."

I nodded then sat back down, grabbing Edward's hand and not letting go.

.

.

.

"Oh, Alice," I said sadly as I took in her ghostly face. She looked too small compared to the bed.

I sat down on the edge of the squishy mattress, taking her hand. "I'm so sorry."

She didn't respond, but the sound of her heart beating healthily was enough for me.

"She should wake up in the next couple of hours," Dr. Black said at the foot of the bed.

"Thank you," I said as my eyes stayed glued to Alice.

"You're welcome. If you need anything, just buzz the nurses."

I nodded, not turning around to see him leave.

Edward walked on the other side of the bed, coming into my view.

"Do you want me to make a hotel reservation?"

That had my head snapping up. "Oh, no. I couldn't ask you to stay here."

"You didn't. I offered."

I just looked at him for a moment as that strange feeling took over me again. The feeling was showing its face more and more frequently, and I'd thought that I was having a minor heart attack at first, until I'd realized I'd be dead or at least in critical condition by now if it was.

He stayed standing, just looking at me. Waiting, like he could stay that way for days.

I finally nodded, swallowing through a dry throat. "Sure. I'll probably stay with her tonight, if they let me. But you should get a good night's rest at least."

"I can stay with you, if you need."

Again my heart jumped with equal parts pleasure and pain. "No, thank you. I'll be fine."

"Okay. What do you want to eat?"

"I'm not hungry."

"You haven't eaten all day, Isabella."

Ooh, full name. Someone was upset. "Fine. Not too much though."

I called Charlie when Edward left.

"Do you need me to come up there?" he asked, sounding very upset and anxious.

"No, Edward's with me. Thank you though. I'll keep touching base with you when I get news."

"Send Alice my love."

"I will." My voice broke at the end.

"You blame yourself." It wasn't even a question.

"Um-hmm."

"Honey, don't. You were getting yourself together, and I know you tried to contact her. You did all you could."

I looked at the bruise like circles under Alice's eyes. "But it wasn't enough."

"She's alive, isn't she?"

I hiccuped a little. "Yes."

"Then it was enough. I love you, baby girl. And I am so proud of you."

"Thank you. I love you so much."

We hung up. The conversation made me feel much better, but I wouldn't be fully at ease until Alice woke up.

I called James and gave him the gist of what was happening, asking for a couple of days off.

"Take all the time you need," he said instantly. "If you need anything, don't hesitate to call."

I hung up, realizing that I had a really great support group while Alice had none. Again the guilt hit me like a ton of bricks. I vowed to get her help and called Sue immediately.

"You can't make her do anything she doesn't want to, Bella."

"I know, but I can beg her."

"You can do that, but don't build up your hopes."

"I won't. Will you still help?"

"Of course."

.

.

.

I was just about to fall asleep around midnight when a small voice saying my name had my eyes opening instantly.

I rushed to the bed, grabbing Alice's hand.

"Alice?"

"Are you really here?"

"Yes, yes I am."

I pressed the alert button and told the nurse she was awake when she answered.

Two nurses were in the room in a heartbeat.

I stepped away as all the lights were turned on and they examined my friend. I texted Edward that she was awake.

"I'm on my way," was his prompt response.

"You don't have to," I sent back in a hurry.

"I want to." And I was so grateful that he did.

"Okay."

Alice's eyes stayed glued to mine. "Please stay."

I stepped closer, taking her free hand. "I'm not going anywhere."

.

.

.

Alice accepted help, and actually went to rehab.

I visited her as much as I could, glad to see her recovering every day.

When I returned from a visit, Edward was waiting for me at his front door.

I kissed him before I could think to stop myself.

He stayed frozen for a beat. Then something in him unleashed, and he was kissing me back with such fire, I almost let myself be completely consumed when he pulled away.

"Is everything okay?"

I nodded, still holding onto him because I knew my legs couldn't hold me up.

"What was that for?"

I shrugged. "You've just been so...great to me, and I just couldn't help myself."

I pulled away when I registered his discomfort.

"I understand." My voice sounded wrong, too rough. "You don't have feelings for me. I get it. It's cool."

Edward grabbed my arms swiftly, pulling me closer. "That's not it."

I looked at him, searching his face. "What is it then?"

"You've just gone through a lot of stress in a short time. I don't want to take advantage of you."

Of all the times to be noble...

"You're protecting my virtue." I almost laughed, but found it inappropriate.

He frowned. "Yeah. What's wrong with that?"

I kissed him again, unable to help myself. "You're such a sweetie."

"Sweetie?" he repeated, not even trying to hide his dislike of my word choice.

"Yes, sweetie." I kissed him again.

He smirked. "I can deal with sweetie."

"You better," I murmured against his lips as we backed up into his cabin.

We cuddled all night, discovering each other in new ways, but not going all the way.

I woke up the next morning feeling more refreshed than ever before.

Three months later...

(Edward)

I was listening to Ghost That We Knew by Mumford and Sons on repeat on Bella's blue boom box as I laid in bed. I was thinking about how she'd slowly gotten under my skin these last months.

I tried to force myself to stay away after first seeing her and failed miserably. I was completely transfixed by her and her overcast brown eyes. When she'd said that alcohol was like a lover to her, I so totally understood what she'd meant. Until that point, I never thought I'd be able to relate to someone again. And did I ever relate to her. And want her. Fuck, did I want her. With every waking breath, my passion for her only grew. I sweated bullets when I was around her—which was as much as I could be—trying to stop myself from jumping her. I'd find myself shaking with the desire. It was almost worst than the drive for alcohol. Almost.

Life and the time I spent away from her was faded and dull. Colors literally seemed to be brighter, and the world around us in general seemed better in her presence.

My cell ringing snapped me out of thoughts about Bella. I reached for it. Only a handful of people had this number, and I was glad to see it was Bella. Happiness was new for me. Even small amounts of it. They were fleeting moments, and it only seemed to come around when anything pertaining to Bella came up.

"Hello," I greeted her, unsuccessfully trying to hold back my excitement.

"Edward." Usually her saying my name would turn me on Johnny-on-the-spot, but not then. Her voice was strained. Something was wrong.

"What's the matter?" I asked as I sat rim-rod straight.

She made a small mewing sound. "I'm in the liquor section."

"Oh, Bella." At that moment I cursed myself for not having a car, keeping me from being able to get to her fast enough when she needed me most. "Do you need me to call Sue?"

"No," she said softly, sounding anything but sure. "Just talk to me."

"Okay. I'm listening to your CD."

"What song?"

I told her.

"That's my favorite." I heard the smile in her voice.

"Mine too."

The line was so quiet. I feared she'd hung up. "I want it so bad. It's gut wrenching."

"I know." It killed me to hear how much pain she was in and not be able to hold her.

"Ugh, this makes me want to become a hermit with you."

"Anytime."

"You mean it?" she asked so softly I barely heard her. So much yearning and doubt was packed into that question.

"Yes," I answered immediately and sincerely.

She laughed a little. "You're a good man, do you know that?"

"You tell me it so often it's hard to disagree with."

"It's hard to disagree with because it's a fact."

I chuckled, still not sure of how much of a fact it truly was, but I didn't want to upset her anymore than she already was. "Thanks."

"Anytime."

"Are you still by the alcohol?"

"Um-hmm."

"Standing or sitting?"

"Standing."

"Do you think you could walk away?"

"I really don't want to."

I closed my eyes, knowing what this felt like for her. Telling yourself over and over again that you didn't want it when you really, truly did. "I made you something."

"You did?" This surprised the shit out of her.

"Yes, ma'am. I made it by hand. I was going to wait until next weekend to give it to you for your birthday."

"What is it?"

"I can't give away the whole damn surprise."

"You sneak," she accused; the laughter in her voice was good to hear.

"Come meet me, and I'll give it to you."

"Okay." The line went quiet again.

"Are you there?"

"Yeah."

"Which one are you looking at?"

"Parrot Bay."

I sighed, at a complete loss. All I had to offer her was myself. "I'm here, Bella. Waiting for you."

I heard her footsteps then. "I'm coming."

.

.

.

Thirty minutes later, she was knocking on my door, and I hurried to open it for her. Before I could even think to stop myself, I kissed her. She gasped, latching her arms around my neck and licking the inside of my mouth. I nearly exploded as I hitched her up and closed the door roughly and turned the latch to lock it.

It took every hard-born cell I had in my body not to rip her clothes off. I brought her to the bed, lowering her down carefully like the treasure she was. She smiled up at me while slowly reaching to lift her shirt up. My eyes slid up from her belly button to the promise of her breast clad in a white lace bra before I forced myself to grab her hands to stop them.

"You don't have to do this," I labored out.

She stretched up to kiss me in an extremely persuading way. "I want this."

That unglued me. I took my clothes off as if they'd spontaneously combusted, almost falling a couple of times and electing the sweetest giggles from Bella.

Remembering I needed a condom, I zoomed to the bathroom like that damn Mexican mouse cartoon character. I returned and froze to see that Bella was gloriously naked. I almost blew my load right then. She was so fucking beautiful. After clumsily putting on the condom, I climbed into bed, kissing the arch of her foot and working my way to the outside of her hip.

I paused, looking up at her. "Are you sure?"

She groaned. "I'm going to hit you. Of course I am!"

I chuckled, licking her sensitive peak lightly.

She sucked in air, grabbing on my hair roughly. I remotely heard the same song still playing as I fully took her with my mouth.

"Edward, FUCK!"She moaned loudly, probably waking up all of the little creatures in a five mile radius. I loved it. I loved being able to draw such a reaction out of her. I loved that she seemed to want me as much as I wanted her. I loved her. The realization didn't freak me out nearly as much as it should've.

I pulled away, making her protest until I settled myself between her legs and pressed opened mouth kisses all over her breast. I sucked the tiny rosebud into my mouth, causing her to stop breathing all together. I rubbed her sides until I felt her ribcage moving again. I smiled as I moved to the other nipple so it wouldn't be jealous. "You can't even imagine how badly I've wanted this," I said, resting my face between her perfect cleavage.

"How long?" she asked dazedly.

I looked up into her questioning, cloudy eyes. "Since I first met you."

She blinked at me in utter shock. I had a moment to think, uh-oh before she said, "I wanted you like this since then too."

I kissed her like I was silently pledging my life to her, which I honestly was. In that moment, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I'd do or be anything this woman needed. I also somehow knew that just being me would be enough for her. The need snowballed as we caressed and tasted each other. The head of my dick would tease her clit, but I wouldn't push further. I wanted to prolong this moment as much as I could.

Bella groaned in frustration, nipping at my neck and pushing me closer to the brink. "I swear to God! I'm going to kill you, if you don't move."

I chuckled, licking up the column of her neck and whispering before I embedded myself fully inside her, "Anything you want."

"FUCK!" we called together as her walls protested against my invasion. It was almost too much. Almost. She was so tight, but slick at the same time, inviting me to keep going.

I started to move slowly, looking down into eyes that held all kinds of possibilities and my future inside them.

"I love you," I said without a thought as I lost control of my rhythm.

Her eyes widened in shock again, her mouth open in a precious little o.

I thrusted up hard and fast, smiling when her eyes flashed then rolled in the back of her head. "You don't have to say anything back," I said between huffing breaths. "I know this is all really fast."

She pressed her fingers to my lips, efficiently shutting me up. "I love you too."

That literally made me come. Hard. It was damn near like an avalanche, crashing over me relentlessly and exhilaratingly. I threw my head back, calling out her name as I rode the downpour. I felt her jerking under me and her hands scratching my back as her own release took her.

I kissed each of her closed eyelids, then her lips adoringly, still connected and wishing we could stay like this. She wiggled her bottom, making my hyper sensitive dick twitch. I bucked a few times, shaking from head to toe before I pulled out.

I rolled off of her. "I'll be back," I promised as I kissed her. It was meant to be a chaste one, but I got distracted with how soft her mouth was and how good she tasted. I tore myself away and walked to the bathroom.

After taking the condom off and tying it in a knot, I pitched in the small trashcan by the toilet. I cleaned myself with a dry rag as I soaked one for her with warm water. Pulling jeans on because I didn't want to chance lying naked with her, knowing where that would likely lead, I went back to her.

She reached for the rag, saying, "Thank you."

But I didn't give it to her. She looked at me in confusion until I knelt beside her and slowly wiped from her knee to the inside her thighs. Her eyes dilated and her breath hitched when the towel made contact with sensitive flesh, a place I had rigorously marked only moments ago and wanted to do again. Very soon. Now, soon.

After making sure every nook and cranny was cleaned, I dropped the towel and laid down next her, picking her up and laying her on my chest.

She sighed contently, curling closer, melding herself to me.

I rubbed lazy trails up and down her arm as my eyes got heavy.

"You said you made me something," she said suddenly, startling me out of sleep.

She lifted herself up, pressing her hands on my chest and giving me the most spectacular view of her breasts. "I did," I said, moving to get her closer nipple in my mouth.

She slid away with a sly look. "I'd like to see it."

"Now?"

"Yes, now."

I yawned, scratching my stomach. "Okay, okay, wait here."

She beamed, wrapping herself up and looking like an angel sent to me right from heaven.

After grabbing the wrapped gift at the other side of the room, I returned to her, snuggling inside the sheets so I could feel her skin against mine. I placed the rectangular present in her hands.

"What is it?"

"Open it and see."

She carefully unfolded the cloth until the smooth dark wood showed itself. My nerves rattled when she turned it around to see what I'd made. Your strength isn't from bronze or metal. Your strength isn't from clamoring to battle. Your strength isn't larger than life. Your strength is quiet. It is constant. Steadfast. Your strength is the most beautiful thing. The words were carved in the best cursive I could manage with swirly designs all around it.

I watched as she traced the words, and then I saw teardrops fall. I went to grab it. "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—"

She pulled it away before I could get a grip on it, cradling it protectively as she sniffed back the rest of her tears. "No, I love it." She kissed me. "I love you."

I smiled, feeling happier than I had ever before. "I love you, too."

She allowed me to take the gift so I could place it down on the floor and pull her to me.

We made love again and again until I couldn't go anymore. I woke her the next morning with kisses and words of love before sliding into her, where I fit so perfectly.

Epilogue

Two years later...

(Bella)

I sat next to Edward across from Esme, his mother, and Carlisle, his stepfather; Charlie and Sue were at my side. They'd met through me and had hit it off. Sue had been the one to pull away, worried their growing relationship would bother me. I had dragged my protesting father to her house. He'd grumbled the whole way, saying that he didn't want to go against her wishes. She'd opened the door with wide, shocked eyes.

"Here," I'd said, pushing my father to her.

He'd stood frozen in front of Sue. "This wasn't my idea, I swear."

She'd smiled nervously.

"This doesn't even remotely bother me. You both deserve to be happy and need to give this a shot."

I'd left them with that and here we were, them being married for just under a year, and all of us eating Thanksgiving dinner together as a family with Edward's family.

Edward had been clean and sober since I'd met him. I'd relapsed once. No judgment, only understanding came from him. I really couldn't imagine being where I was without him.

We lived together in his cabin, him making and selling beautiful furniture and me still working for James and finding a calling to photograph nature and Edward. But the photos of him were only for my eyes.

Edward, clinking his sparkling grape juice, reverted my attention to the present. Everyone looked at him with inquisitive eyes, including me. He cleared his throat, pushing his chair back.

I watched as he lowered down to one knee right on his parents' floor. My heart hammered as he took my hand and looked up into my eyes. Esme squealed with excitement as Sue, Carlisle and Charlie smiled brightly.

"Bella," he started. "You've made me not regret my mistakes because they've brought me to you and made me the happiest man alive. Will you marry me?"

I breathed deeply, looking at everyone's happy eyes then Edward's nervous ones. "Yes. Yes."

He kissed me, holding my face lovingly as everyone clapped.


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