I do not own Twilight

Chapter 16

EPOV

Well, it's official. I'm in love. Fuck, how did I let this happen? How did this beautiful stranger manage to wiggle her itty bitty way inside my brain? I thought my heart had closed up shop for good after Tanya, but here I am, totally consumed, and totally at her mercy.

Shit.

After our not-so-romantic night on the beach, and the calamity of errors it detonated, the four of us finally called a truce. No more stupid pranks; no more bullshit. I'm glad all that's over now, but trust me, it wasn't easy getting there. Rose and Em milked the guilt card as long as possible, but they eventually came around, and now, all is right in the world.

All except for the dark, ugly cloud of Bella's departure that still looms on the horizon, that is.

In just two days, she and Rose are headed back to their real lives—wherever that may be—while Emmett and I will be forced to endure another week by ourselves. What the hell am I going to do when she's gone? How can this place still be considered paradise when Bella's not here to make it so? I don't know what the fuck to do about it. I guess there's nothing I can do. We all knew this would come to an end sooner rather than later.

I know it's been on her mind, too. In the last day or so, she's become quiet, contemplative—almost to the point of being withdrawn. Which is fucking killing me, by the way. All I want to do is soak up every second of her smile, her laugh, but our time is coming to an end, and I haven't seen her truly happy in over twenty-four hours. My world has grown a little darker because of it.

The girls are on their way over now, and I hope, more than anything, we can at least have one more day of normal before the end begins. When I hear Emmett greet them in the other room, I yank on my shorts and slide my feet into a pair of boat shoes. Slapping a ball cap on my stupid, crazy hair, I leave my room, and all my worries drain away when I see Bella standing in the kitchen, smiling at me. It's not my smile, no. It's not the one that touches every inch of her face and brightens the whole room, but it's still more than I can expect.

"Hey, you," I say quietly and lean down to kiss the top of her head. She tenses up ever so slightly under my touch, and I try not to panic as I move along to the fridge to grab some water.

Shit, this is it, isn't it? This is the end. I can almost feel the goodbye bottled up inside her, held under pressure, ready to explode at any second and obliterate everything in its wake, my soul included.

"So, what's it going to be today? The pier? The beach? I'm up for anything," Emmett says, smiling at Rose.

I don't get it. They're both just as googly-eyed as the day they met. Aren't they sad at all? Don't they realize what's coming in just forty-eight hours?

"I have an idea," Bella says with the most adorable smirk, looking at each of us. "It's a little crazy, though."

"I love crazy. Whatever it is, I'm in," Em says, slapping Rosalie's ass. They've made it blatantly clear by now that they've finally done the deed.

Many, many times.

When Bella looks at me with a brief but genuine smile, I melt. I would literally do anything for this girl. "Me, too. I'm in," I say, although blindly agreeing to things has never served me well in the past.

Her smile grows, lighting up her face and smothering the lingering darkness inside me. "Great, I'll drive."


"Edward, you've been talking about doing this for, what, a year now? What's the problem?" Em says, making me want to slap him.

Bella's crazy idea turned out to be a tattoo parlor, and I'm starting to panic just a little bit. Don't get me wrong; I love tattoos. I think they're great. It's the pain I'm leery of. And the needles. Lots and lots of needles.

And I'm supposed to be med student soon …

Bella takes my hand. "Don't listen to him. This is permanent. If you don't want one, don't get one. But will you at least sit by me while I get one?"

Marry me.

I clear my throat and shake misplaced thoughts of matrimony out of my head. "Of course. Yeah, sure. And I do want one. I just didn't expect it to be today, is all," I say, glaring at Emmett.

"Come on, bro, it's about time you got the Cullen crest, don't you think? It would make your old man proud."

Bella's eyebrows draw together. "The Cullen what?" she asks with the hint of a smile.

I laugh a little and scratch the back of my head. "Uh, my family's crest. Yeah, we're very Irish, if you couldn't already tell," I say pointing to the weird, red-ish hair sticking out from under my cap. "I'm the only male in the family over eighteen who hasn't been branded with it yet."

"Wow, sounds serious," she says.

"You could say that," I say with another embarrassed laugh. "It kind of means a lot to my dad. Pretty lame, right?"

"Not at all. I actually think it's really cool."

"You do?" I ask. I've always been slightly embarrassed by my family's enthusiasm regarding our heritage.

"Yeah. I mean, I know nothing about my roots; although, I'm sure the Swan family crest would have an angrily twitching mustache on it along with the words 'My house, my rules' emblazoned underneath."

Rose cracks up and drapes an arm around Bella. "Gotta love the chief."

I smile because she's smiling. I laugh at the jokes that are lost on me and wish I knew more about Bella's life. I wish I knew everythingabout her life, actually. I want to know what Rose knows. I want to meet this Chief and his mustache and reassure him that, as long as she allows me to be in her world, Bella will always be the center of mine. As long as I was around, she would always be safe and taken care of.

That will never happen, though.

I'll never get the chance to meet her family, or become friends with her friends, or take a personalized tour of her hometown. I'll always remain at the edge of her existence, clinging to the periphery of her memory until I'm eventually swept under the rug of her consciousness and forgotten about.

"Who's up first?" says a tall man with rail-thin arms covered in tattoos. "We can take two at a time."

"You guys go. I'm not sure what I want yet," Rose says, flipping through a thick book of tattoos.

Bella shrugs and steps forward. "I'll go."

"Me, too," I say, and the smile we share gives me all the courage I need.

After emailing TJ, the wiry tattoo artist, a picture of my family's crest, he gets everything transferred and prepped, and Bella and I sit in long black chairs across from each other. I decided on the inside of my left forearm for the location, and Bella gets hers in the same spot. She's finished and out of the chair pretty quickly and comes to sit by me as I grind my teeth through the scorch of the needle.

"What on earth is that?" I say with a teasing nod toward the squiggly line that's now a permanent part of her body.

She holds it out and smiles down at it. Her cheeks darken with a blush, and if I wasn't gripping the edge of my seat so hard, I'd love to reach out and feel its warmth.

"It's an ocean wave. So I'll always remember this place," she says softly.

I look up at her, and as her eyes search my face, her smile falls. It's heartbreaking the way she looks right now—like she wants to say something but can't. Or won't. Or doesn't know how.

I clear my throat and look back down at her arm. "Yeah, now I see it. Actually, it looks just like the wave that took us out to sea. Look, there I am about to drown," I say, lightly touching her arm. I try to produce some semblance of a smile for her, but I don't think I'm very successful.

Bella abruptly stands. "I'm sorry, I have to—" she says, fleeing the room before she can finish her thought.

I wish I could run after her. I wish I could kiss her and hold her and tell her my entire life story so she knows everything about me. So she knows I no longer care about the stupid rules, that none of it matters anymore because I've come too goddamn far.

But I don't because I'm stuck here in this chair, on the edge of her existence.


Aww, sad face! Thanks for reading, guys. I really appreciate you sticking around while I play hide and seek with the end of this story. I want to give a huge shout-out and big tackle hugs to my stand-in beta, Alice's White Rabbit, for taking the reins on this one. Fran spent the week in FORKS for the tenth anniversary and Bella's birthday weekend, and I can't wait to hear all the juicy deets. Especially since she got to meet SM! Ugh, I'm so jealous.

Anyway, thanks again, and I'll see you next time!

XOXO,

AshesAshes