A/N: I'm so sorry. Life happened.
Worth the Risk – Chapter 24
"What is all of this junk in my cart?" Alice asked. In the two minutes that she'd spent talking to the man behind the deli counter, her shopping cart had been filled with slim jims, ice cream sandwiches, spicy Cheetos, and four different six-packs of beer.
"Supplies, woman," Jasper said, as he leaned onto the handle bars of the cart.
Alice rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. "Supplies for what? We have all of the ingredients ready for Bella's going back to school party. What do we need all of these random things for?"
"These aren't for the party, Darlin'. These are for the house. We don't have any man food," Jasper said calmly.
Taking a step closer, Alice said in a soft but deadly voice. "About that, when did we decide that you were going to move in? It's like all of a sudden, all of your shit is filling up my apartment. I don't recall that we discussed our living arrangements like grown adults, so I don't know why all of your stuff is crowding mine."
"Darlin', if we'd had a conversation, it would have ended up like this. That's why we didn't have one. I was wondering how long it would take you to notice and say something," Jasper said with a calm shrug of his shoulders.
"Jasper! What kind of adult are you?! You can't just decide to change a person's living arrangements all on your own. You just assumed that I wanted you to live with me. What if I don't want to live with you?" Alice said. She could feel herself on the border of hyperventilating, and she had to keep reminding herself that she was in the middle of the grocery store.
The time had finally come, Jasper thought to himself. Stepping away from the cart, Jasper walked to Alice and put his hand on her elbows. Drawing her closer to him, he said softly, "Mary Alice, let's be serious for a second. You and I have been playing these games and doing this dance for months now. I'll be the first to admit that it's fun as hell to fight with you. You're pretty fucking sexy when you're all worked up and spittin' fire, but we have to be honest for a second."
When Alice just huffed, he continued, "I love you, and my god, I hope you know that I love you. I was not looking for you, and I didn't expect you in my life. But I wouldn't trade you for all the cougars in the world. You turned me into a fucking manther, and I am damn proud of that. I'm proud to have you as my lady. I'm not going anywhere, Mary Alice Brandon. I'm in this for the long haul as long you'll have me."
Quicker than he could blink, Alice launched her little body at Jasper, and clung on for dear life.
When Emmett rounded the corner to see where Alice and Jasper had gotten lost, he saw Alice wrapped around Jasper right in front of the deli counter.
"Why did you stop?" Rose said, as she came around Emmett's bulky frame to see around him. When she saw their friends, she just shook her head. "What is with this place? There's got to be pheromones being pumped through the air ducts or something."
Emmett threw his arm around Rose's shoulders and pulled her into his side. "Babe, if it weren't for this place, we'd never have met. It's responsible for three love stories. Hey, maybe we should change the wedding venue and get married here. We'd be able to have the wedding and the reception all in one place."
"And what, go shopping for the honeymoon in the contraceptives aisle?" Rose deadpanned.
"Nah, you get the shot, we're all good," Emmett said, dodging the elbow coming his way like a pro.
Bella sat next to Edward as they drove to the Cullen's house. As she watched the world go by outside, she took a deep breath, and turned to Edward. "I know you took off for a week to stay home with me, and you were off for a long time when you got hurt. Do you still have time left to take?"
Edward didn't expect the question and turned to see the look on Bella's face. He knew by the tone in her voice that she was nervous. Reaching over, she took her hand in his and squeezed gently. "I have a few weeks left. What's on your mind, Baby?"
With her eyes locked on their entwined fingers, Bella said softly, "I want to visit my dad in Florida. I want to introduce you to him before we get married. I know it's stupid, but it would mean a lot to me."
Even though they were a couple of blocks away from his parent's house, Edward pulled over to the curb and put the car in park. "Bella, it's not stupid that you want me to meet your dad. I'm sorry that I didn't think of it and offer. I should've. Let me know when you want to go, and I'll take the time off. We can stay and visit with your mom and Phil too if you want."
Bella brought Edward's hand to her lips and placed a kiss to the back of it. "I love you, Edward Cullen. You are the best man for me."
Edward laughed. "Damn right, and I better be the only man for you."
Laughing, Bella felt the weight on her shoulders dissipate. "I don't know about that, Cullen. One of my little boys, Aaron, asked me if I would marry him when he turned 25. He said he'd buy me a house, and a dog, and a pony."
"Pssh. Woman, I told you, I have more money than I know what to do with. I'll buy you an island with a mansion, puppy brigade, and a stable full of ponies. I'll even throw in an antique library filled with first editions and a gourmet kitchen."
"Be still my heart," Bella said with the worst Southern accent ever heard. "Say no more, Mr. Cullen. I am yours!"
A couple months later, Bella found herself walking through the green grass of the cemetery where her father was resting. She had Edward's hand grasped tightly in hers, and she could feel the tears choking her. She hadn't been back since before she'd left Florida, and she could feel the emotion catching up to her.
When she got to her father's tombstone, she read the words that had been tattooed to her heart:
"Charles Swan, Beloved Husband and Father"
Edward could feel Bella starting to lose it. He stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her. Pressing her back to his chest, he said softly in her ear, "It's okay, Bella. He knows you're here. He can see you from Heaven. Do you want me to give you a few minutes?"
Bella couldn't speak, so she just nodded.
"I'll just be a few feet behind you by the tree. Just turn around if you need me, and I'll be right here," Edward said. With one last squeeze, he stepped back, and left her with her father.
After several deep breaths, Bella knelt down and placed her knees in the soft grass. Reaching forward, she ran her index finger over the letters in the tombstone. Over and over, she traced her father's name. As the tears streamed down her cheeks, they landed on the tombstone, and her fingers ran through those as well.
When she felt like she could talk, Bella said softly, "Hi Daddy. I'm sorry it's been so long since I was here. I hope you're not mad at me for moving to Phoenix and leaving mom. But she had Phil, and she had this whole new life. I couldn't stay. I know what you wanted for me. You wanted me to be happy, to have a life that I could be proud of, and to find joy even if you weren't here to share it with me. But I couldn't do that if I stayed here. I wouldn't always felt like something was missing, like you were missing.
"But I did it, Dad. I just finished my first school year in Phoenix, and I love it. I love my school and my students. They make every day so much fun. I'm challenged, and I'm inspired by those little faces. They mean so much to me, and I love going to work every day. I made two best friends at school too. I feel like a little kid telling my daddy that, but I have great friends, Dad. They're like the sisters I always begged you for, and I can't imagine how I ever made it without friends like that.
"The man that brought me here is Edward. Dad, I know that if you could've picked a man for me, that it would have been him. He's everything that I always dreamt of when I would daydream and tell you about my prince charming. He's so incredibly kind, and he's brave. He's strong, but he has such a big heart. Dad, he takes such good care of me, and he's just perfectly imperfect. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I'm so excited to spend the rest of my life with him.
"He's a firefighter, and he faces danger every day. Just like you did. He's already given me one good scare, but I've given him one too. So I guess that makes us even. I still worry when he's at work, and I get scared when I know there's a fire that he has to fight. But I'm so proud of him, just like I'm proud of you. I'm lucky that I have two courageous men that stand up for everyone else."
Bella stilled her hand and placed her hand flat on the granite stone. She could feel the warmth of the sun radiating through, and it was a nice feeling. Turning her head, she saw Edward stand up from his spot leaning against the tree.
When he walked up to her, Edward could tell by the clarity in Bella's eyes that she was just fine. Smiling, he said, "May I have a word with your dad?"
Bella just smiled and stood up. After placing a soft kiss to Edward's cheek, Bella walked over to stand in the shade of the tree.
Edward knelt down and cleared his throat. "Chief Swan, my name is Edward Cullen, and I sincerely apologize for not coming here to ask for your permission before proposing to your daughter. I promise you that I will spend the rest of my life trying my best to make her happy. There's nothing that I wouldn't do for her, and I hope you believe that.
"I know that making her worry every other day that I might get hurt in the line of duty isn't exactly making her happy, but being a fire fighter is part of me. It's who I am, just like I'm sure being a cop was a part of you. Please know that I say a prayer before I go into any situation that I'll make it out for her. Your daughter is my reason for being, and I wouldn't do anything unnecessarily to jeopardize that. As it is, I don't know if forever is long enough to spend with her.
"Bella is an incredible person, Chief Swan. She is the strongest and bravest person I've ever met. She has a heart of gold, and she has the most generous spirit. I want to be a better man every day because of her, and I will never stop trying to be the best man that I can be for your daughter. We will make a good life together, and I promise I will not let you down."
As Edward stood, a gust of wind blew through the trees. When Edward looked up to the cloudless sky, he felt Bella come up to his side. Wrapping his arm around her, Edward felt her burrow in closer to him.
"I think that was dad saying that he approves," Bella said softly.
Smiling, Edward rested his cheek on Bella's hair, and said softly, "Me too."