"Nobody's ever made me feel the way you do. I love you with all my heart, but you cannot throw around accusations or say hurtful things like that to me and expect me to stay. It's a deal-breaker."
They say your life flashes before your eyes just before you die.
My heart stops with Bella's ultimatum.
Every moment we've ever spent together and conversations I've had about her flood my mind.
"You love her, Edward," mom says, patting my hand as she sits bedside in my hospital room. "That's what you're feeling."
My dad chuckles, and she turns to look at him.
"Why is that so funny?" she asks.
"Just remembering a conversation he and I had not too long ago about 'falling in love'," dad says. "What was it you said again?" He looks up at the ceiling and back down again. "Oh, yeah… I'll never be pussy-whipped like you, Dad."
Mom turns back to me with a look of shock.
"Did you say that?"
"Thanks a lot," I mumble and send him a glare, wincing when my mom thumps my bandaged leg. "Ouch, Ma."
"Well, you shouldn't talk that way about your parents."
I raise a brow.
"Even if it's true?"
Her scowl turns into a slight smile.
"Yeah, even if."
Once my dad leaves for the airport to go back to Florida, she turns to me.
"I know you didn't just fall in love with Bella in the short time you were on assignment. Why don't you tell me the whole story?"
Charles sits in a chair across the room and folds his hands behind his neck.
"Well, let's hear what you have to say about what's going on between you and my daughter."
I sit up as carefully as possible in the hospital bed so I can look him in the eyes.
"I love her."
He stares at me, contemplating my words.
"No, you don't." He scoffs. "You're infatuated with a beautiful, naive girl who's crushing on you."
I shake my head.
"You're wrong, Charles."
"So, what's your plan? She's going off to college soon. How's it going to work between you two? 'Cause don't think for a minute she's running off with you and not going to school."
I send him a glare.
"I'd never stand in Bella's way of doing anything."
"That's good to know." He sits up straighter and rests his arms on the sides of the chair. "So, you're just going to what? Sit back and wait for her for four years?"
He shakes his head and chuckles darkly.
"I guess we'll see," he says, standing. "I'm gonna let this thing play out, 'cause I don't think it'll last. And if it doesn't and you hurt her, expect me to be knockin' on your doorstep."
"What if it does?" I interject.
"Tell you what, Cullen. You let my daughter finish school without breaking her heart or knocking her up, and you'll have my blessing."
He walks to the door and stops.
"I mean it, Edward. Do right by her."
"That bitch is crazy," Jasper says. "I can't believe I fell so hard for her."
Agreed. From all the stuff he's just told me, it sounds like Alice was one step away from boiling bunnies.
"You think Bella knows?"
Hell no, I don't think she knows what her friend's done. I think Alice is playing her, too.
"No, I don't."
"You sure about that? She's lied before."
I give him a "Come on now. Be real" look, and he raises his hands in surrender.
"I'm just sayin'," he says.
"Bella wouldn't condone that shit."
And I plan to tell her everything when I get home.
He nods, and we finish our pool game.
We're on our way back to his car when he stops me.
"You're serious about her, aren't you? Bella, I mean."
"Like marriage serious?"
"Yeah. One day, if I don't fuck it up."
"What do you mean?"
I blow out a long breath.
"I'm in deep. I'm so fucking far in that it scares the shit out of me. I have this fear someone else is gonna come along ‒ someone better ‒ and steal her away. There was this kid back in Forks she used to hook up with before we met. It took all I had to not throat punch his ass every time I saw him."
He gapes at me like I'm an idiot.
"You better control that, Ed. Caveman shit doesn't work in the real world."
I lean forward and wrap my hand around the back of Bella's neck and into her hair, pulling her close and looking into her eyes.
"I'm so fucking sorry for hurting you, but losing you would destroy me, Bella. I swear to God that I'll work on my issues. I'll go to counseling or whatever I've gotta do. Just don't fucking leave me without letting me try and fix this. Please. I love you."
"I love you, too, but I'm serious."
I wipe away her tears with my thumbs and then kiss her lips, hoping like hell she'll give me a chance to make this right.
Florida - New Year's Eve - Two years later
I grin and wink at Charles.
He and my mom's friend, Siobhan, have gotten close in the week he's been here for Christmas, and I know for a fact he didn't sleep in his own bed last night. His room was empty when I went to get him for a round of golf this morning. A quick phone call and twenty minutes later, he pulled up in a cab and met me out front.
He tilts his chin in acknowledgement as I pass by him.
He asked me earlier not to tell Bella he didn't come back to the house, and I seized the moment to make my own deal.
I walk up behind Bella and kiss her shoulder, startling her.
"Why so jumpy, baby?" I chuckle and kiss her skin again.
"You never know, Detective Cullen."
God, I love it when she calls me that.
When we're in public, it's her way of letting me know I'm getting laid when we get home.
Or to the car.
Or in the‒
Get it together, Edward. Stay focused on your mission.
"Take a walk with me."
I grab her hand, and lead her outside to the back porch and away from everyone else.
Reaching into my jacket pocket, I grab my great-grandmother's ring and pull it out.
Bella's eyes widen when she realizes what's going on.
"My dad's going to kill you," she whispers.
I smirk in confidence, because when I asked Charlie this morning for his blessing, he gave it to me. He knows I love his daughter, and even though it's taken some time, he's realized she isn't a little girl anymore.
No, it hasn't been four years. Yes, Bella's still in school. No, she isn't pregnant. Yes, we still plan to wait until she's finished to actually marry and start a family; neither one of us is ready for that, yet. We've talked and made plans, and we're on the same page. I told her a while back that I'd propose when she least expected it.
I slide the ring onto Bella's finger, because I know she'll say yes. I kept my word. That brush with death in the car two years ago was my 'lightbulb' moment. I saw the fucking light and got my shit together, and despite the occasional argument over something completely stupid ‒ like misplacing car keys, running out of gas, or losing remotes ‒ we've had a great couple of years.
"No, he won't." I wink at her. "Trust me."
She rolls her eyes.
"Okay, but you've gotta do it right, Edward. You can't just assume I'm going to say yes."
She takes off the ring and hands it back to me.
You've gotta be fucking kidding me.
I quickly glance back at the patio doors, making sure no one sees how I've managed to screw this up. Seeing I'm in the clear, I get down on one knee and hold out the ring to her.
"Bella, will you marry me?"
With tears in her eyes, she says, "Of course I will."
Thanks to all the readers who've stuck by me as this story unfolded. I know it took way too long to finish, but your continued support via messages and Facebook meant the world to me when I was there and while I was absent, especially while I was gone, occupied with real life stuff. You never gave up on me, and I wouldn't still be here without you.
Thanks to the bloggers, facebookers, and tweeters who spread the word and continually did so every step of the way - EVERYONE at The Lemonade Stand and FicSisters, Nic, Iris, and PFK_FF.
Thanks to everyone who ever recommended this story.
Thanks for the chats, emails, and picspirations you all shared with me on Facebook and Tumblr. They were much appreciated.
Thanks to May and Iris who took precious time out of their days to help make this story even better. I wouldn't be at this point without you.
Special thanks to Christag Banners for the perfect story banner.
To future readers, thank you in advance.
HUGS and LOVE,