The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Alice drives Edward and me to the airport for our respective flights home.
Edward's parents are in Chicago, where he grew up. Mine are in Seattle, where my dad's family lives. Charlie, my dad, moved to Charleston for college, where he met my mom, Renee, and never looked back until just a few years ago. They decided they were tired of oppressive southern summers and bought a condo back in Seattle, where they live the majority of the year.
We decided it was too early to meet the parents. Well, I sort of decided. Edward says his mom, Esme, has been dying to meet me. I was just impressed that he talks to her about me. I told him I was nervous that my dad would scare him off, but truthfully, it's because I don't want to spook him. Being in an adult relationship when you're in your early thirties means people tease you relentlessly about getting married.
We can't be having any of that around here.
So no. There won't be any meeting of the parents until we make decisions about our future. If we make any decisions about our future.
At the airport, we linger in the spot between our concourses until we absolutely have to go.
"I'll miss you," I say, standing on tiptoe and putting my arms around his neck.
"Me too." Edward's lips find mine, and we kiss, slow and sizzly but not too inappropriate for an airport. He puts his arms around my waist, and we sort of rock back and forth for a minute. "I have to go," he says finally.
"I'll see you Sunday?"
"Sunday." He frames my face with warm hands, kisses my lips once, and moves his mouth to my ear. "I love you," he whispers. Then he kisses my forehead and walks away.
I stand there stunned, just…floored…staring at his retreating form.
What just happened?
Did he actually say that? Did he actually tell me he loves me and then walk away? I want to say something, want to call out to him, but nothing happens. Instead, I just keep staring, and he just keeps getting farther away. He hikes his backpack higher on his shoulder and, just before he rounds a corner, turns and winks at me.
Edward Cullen said he loves me. And what did I do? I stood there lamely, trying to remember how to shuffle my feet and walk. Now I'm sitting in my window seat next to a man in a suit, staring at the back of the seat in front of me, alternately chewing on a fingernail and wringing my hands together.
What do I do? I fret. He loves me. Loves me. How could he just tell me that and walk away? What am I supposed to do? Should I text him? Should I call him when I land? Was it a spur of the moment thing, or was it premeditated? It reminds me of when he left me that Facebook message and then went out of town. I remember thinking back then that he was a scared little man-boy who was giving himself an out. I like to think I know him much better now. But still…
"Nervous flyer?" my neighbor asks, jerking me out of my thoughts.
I turn to look at him, and the words just fall right out of my mouth. "My boyfriend loves me."
He gives me a strange look and goes back to his paperback.
I retreat inside my head again. I have no idea what to do with this. I just need to relax. Blowing out a deep breath, I lean back against the headrest and close my eyes. Instead of worrying about what I should've done—I should've said something immediately, I should've texted him when I boarded, I should've made him come back and explain himself—I let myself relive the moment. His lips brushing against my ear. His low whisper that sent shockwaves through my body.
I love you.
Plain and simple.
Just like that.
My first instinct is to be irritated with him for saying such weighted words and leaving me there like that. But I can't find it in me to resent him right now. The more I think about it, the more I understand. It's him. It's Cullen. He doesn't do big moments and grand gestures. He doesn't draw things out. He's just not comfortable with it. I get it. What's important is…I think he really meant it.
He loves me.
My eyes flutter open as soon as the wheels bump the runway in Seattle. I must've drifted off during the incredibly stupid in-flight movie. I yank my earbuds out and reach down to stuff them into my bag as the plane taxis to the gate. All around me, cell phones are chiming to life, reminding me that I need to text my parents. I pull my phone out, and as I wait for it to switch on, the words Cullen said to me just a few hours ago wash over me again. I feel like a living pinball machine as a million different emotions zing back and forth through my body, but then a calm warmth settles in.
I half-expect to see a message from him when my phone finally wakes up, but all I've got are texts from Alice and my mom.
I don't technically have a bedroom at my parents' Seattle condo. There's a tiny guest room with two twin beds, one of which is occupied by my cousin Bree, who's also visiting from out of town. While I'm normally more than happy to share, all I currently want to do is shower away the day of travel, curl up in bed, and call Cullen. I haven't had a minute to myself. I've barely glanced at my phone since I was swept up by my parents at the airport. I snuck a furtive peek under the dinner table, but there was nothing. No missed calls. No texts. I let it go pretty easily, knowing that Cullen's probably just as busy with his family, but I've grown steadily more impatient since then.
Bree sits cross-legged in the middle of her bed, chattering away about grad school as I unpack. God, she loves to brag. By the time all my clothes are hung in the closet or arranged in the dresser drawer she saved for me, I've heard all about her perfect GPA, her perfect boyfriend, and the perfect job offer she's already managed to score. Finally, I'm able to slip my phone into my toiletry bag and escape to the shower.
As I wait for the water to heat up, I take a deep breath and check my texts. Sure enough, there's one from Cullen.
Two innocuous words send a stab through my heart—the kind that feels torturously good. I can see the exact expression he'd be wearing if he'd just asked me that in person.
It looks so good.
I rush through my shower. I don't want to text him back. I want to hear his voice. When I'm scrubbed pink and warm, I put on my pajamas and a robe and sneak out onto the balcony off the living room.
He picks up after two rings. "Hey." His voice is deep and rumbly, but he sounds relieved.
"I'm sorry," I say quickly. "I just remembered it's like one a.m. there."
"I wasn't asleep."
"It sounds like you were."
"I was too preoccupied to sleep."
"I've been pretty preoccupied myself."
I know he's teasing me, but I scoff anyway. "Cullen."
"Are we going to talk about what you said in the airport?"
"I don't know. Are we?"
"I'm being serious. I wasn't sure if you even heard me." There's a pause, and he clears his throat. "You didn't…like…react."
I didn't react?
I guess maybe it didn't look like it on the outside, but… "If only you could see inside my head." I laugh. "Wait, I take that back. Nobody needs to see that mess."
He chuckles but doesn't say anything.
"Trust me. I was reacting internally."
"You're going to have to clarify that for me."
"In a good way! I was reacting in a good way. I think."
"I mean it was a good thing. What you said. I was just in shock. It was totally unexpected, and then you were gone."
He sighs. "In hindsight, my timing probably wasn't great, and I probably shouldn't have walked off. But it felt right. It just kind of happened."
"Organic," I say.
"It was organic."
"Yeah, I guess." In my mind's eye, I can see his trademark embarrassed shrug. "I've been thinking about it for a few days. I wasn't sure if I knew what it even meant. But then I did know, and the words just came to me. The important thing is that I meant it."
I swallow, and when I find my voice again, it's a little squeaky. "You did?"
"I did. I do. I love you."
A rush of emotion surges through me. "Good."
"Yeah. I'm glad." Saying it over the phone pales in comparison to his gentle words in my ear and his sweet kiss on my forehead. But like he said, in this moment, I know, and the words just sort of happen. "I…think I love you, too."
His reaction is a little whoosh of breath paired with the cutest, most heartwarming laugh I've ever heard. "You think so?"
"Yeah." I giggle and half-sing the phrase a la The Partridge Family. "I think I love you…"
"I'll take it," he replies.
We chat for a few more minutes until he starts to drift off, and then we say a simple goodbye with a promise to talk tomorrow. When I pry open the sliding glass door, my mom's sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, watching some cheesy movie on the Hallmark channel.
"Everything okay?" she asks. "Your face looks a little red."
I touch my cheeks, and they're just as warm to the touch as his words made me feel.
"Yeah. I'm okay."
She raises an eyebrow. "There's only one person you could've been talking to if you're blushing like that."
We might live 3,000 miles apart now, but she still knows me better than anyone. So instead of saying goodnight and avoiding any mention of Edward Cullen like my first instinct told me to do, I curl up next to her on the couch and spill my guts.
A/N: Okay. So. There's really no excuse not to update a story in two years (HOW HAS IT BEEN TWO YEARS?!), but so much stuff happened at once, and I fell out of the writing thing for a little while, and then I had to get to know these characters again, and blah blah blah. So basically, I got pregnant, puked for basically six months of the pregnancy, had a sweet little baby girl, and everything else (including my freelance work) went on the back burner. She's 15 months old now and is an absolute dream. So anyway, there's that. If you're still reading this, THANK YOU SO MUCH! I promise I haven't abandoned this at all. It just literally took me years to write this one chapter. Now that she's more independent and takes predictable naps (and I got inspired again), I should be able to delve back into this story more often. Thanks again for reading, and as always, thanks to Rachelfish for her unending love and support. :)