A/N: Hello there! This story started off as an entry for the May To December Romance contest, but RL didn't let me complete this O/S in time for the submissions. So, then, I decided to start posting this only once I had finished writing the entire story. But, today I woke up to the most pleasant surprise... I won 3rd place in the Favorite Undiscovered Author in the Fanatic Fanfic Multifandom Awards! It is the first time I've won something in the fanfic world... I couldn't just let the day go without posting something to thank all you wonderful readers for your support.

Long story short, I am still working on this story, so I cannot promise you regular updates at this point. That said, I should have some free time after my exams, so hopefully, I can write more then.

I'm always grateful to Dazzled Eyes22 for pre-reading and giving me her valuable feedback!

Twilightfanatic85, aka Melissa, is my lovely beta who wielded her red ink on this one ;)

Thank you for paying attention to my ramblings. Now let's go meet my Olderward!

I plopped down on the couch in the doctor's lounge, exhausted beyond measure. I'd been at the hospital performing back-to-back surgeries for fifteen hours. Now finally, all the casualties from the massive multi-car pileup had been brought in and the last few were being operated upon.

I'd been trying to muster up some energy to grab myself a much needed bottle of water when the door opened behind me. I didn't have to look to see who came in because a giant paw cuffed me on the back and I had to brace myself to keep from pitching forward with the weight.

A voice I knew all too well boomed, "You done already, Dr. Cullen? No more brains that need fixing?"

"They're all done," I answered him without opening my eyes. "What about you?"

"Just repaired a broken hip. The remaining are all bumps and bruises. Dr. Crowley can handle those. I'm ready to get out of here."

"Me too," I sighed. "Hey Em, can you grab me some water?"

I heard the fridge door being open and shut and two seconds later, I grunted as a chilled bottle hit me in the chest.

Finally, I opened my eyes to meet the twinkling blue ones of my best friend. I opened the seal and chugged down the glorious liquid, all the while glaring at him.

"So, about getting out of here," he started. "What do you say to a boys' night out? You, me and Jasper. Let's hit some clubs! We need to get you some pussy."

I let out a frustrated groan. "Why do you have to be so crude?"

"Man, you gotta pull that stick out of your ass!" He shook his head at me. "How long has it been since you got laid? We're going out tonight."

"I can't, Emmett. I'm beat. Some other time."

He was silent for a minute, then sighed and took a seat across from me. "What the fuck happened in Forks, Edward?"

My eyes widened as I looked at him in shock.

Emmett just rolled his eyes at me. "Did you think I wouldn't make the connection? I may act like a goof, but I'm not an idiot. You've been a moody fucker ever since you got back from there. You didn't want to talk about it, so I respected your privacy and left you alone. But it's been more than a year, Edward."

I had to look away from his concerned gaze.

I knew how long it'd been. Exactly one and a half year. No, I hadn't told anyone about Forks. It was not something I wanted to talk about. One and a half years ago, I'd made a decision, one that I'd immediately regretted. I couldn't do anything about it now. I'd done irreparable damage to someone I probably lo—

My eyes squeezed shut as I blocked that thought. I'd not allowed myself to think about it all this time because I knew I'd tumble down an abyss of pain if I let my mind go there.

Emmett continued. "You went there to, in your own words, clear your head after the divorce. I thought that when you returned, you'll get back in the game and be my wingman again. But you came back even more sullen than you'd been with Ice Queen Irina. What happened, man?"

I'd regained my composure while he spoke, so I turned to him, my usual mask of indifference firmly in place. "You're making a mountain out of a mole hill, Em. Nothing happened. I went to Forks to spend some time with my parents and for a much needed change of scenery. I'm just not ready to start dating again. And no, I don't want a meaningless fuck," I added, anticipating his next argument when he opened his mouth to speak.

He huffed. "This isn't about Irina, is it? You're over her?"

He couldn't have been further from the truth. "This has nothing to do with wanting to get back with Irina. But she cheated on me, Emmett. I need time to get over that."

"Well, I think this has gone on for too damn long. You need to talk to someone if you're not able to work it out on your own. If not me, talk to Jasper. Or a therapist. Whatever works. But do something about it, or I will. I won't let you waste your life over that selfish bitch."

I cracked a smile. "I'll think about it. I will," I asserted as he still looked at me dubiously.

Finally, he sighed. "Alright. Enough of the heavy. But I'm not going to let this go. Remember that."

I shook my head, exasperated at his persistence. However, some part of me was glad to have such a loyal friend in my life.

He left me alone as we both moved to our lockers and changed out of the scrubs into our own clothes.

"Where is Jasper anyway? He told me he was done an hour ago," Emmett asked me as we walked out of the room.

"I have no idea. Maybe he got pulled into an emergency."

Just then, my pager buzzed. I looked at it and frowned, wondering why I was required at the nurses' station in the ER, but I headed in that direction and Emmett followed.

"Dr. Cullen! Thank God!" Nurse Stanley sighed in relief. "I've been trying to get hold of Dr. Whitlock for the last twenty minutes but he's not answering his pages. Not taking calls either. Do you know where he is?"

Em and I shook our heads. "No, we've been looking for him, too. He hasn't been pulled into a surgery, has he?"

"No, doctor. I checked the records. He's not in any OR. The EMTs are bringing in another victim. The girl had been trapped under a lot of debris and they didn't even know she was there until one of them heard a low groan. She's bound to require a general surgeon and everyone except Dr. Whitlock is busy. The ambulance will be here any minute now," she fretted.

I took out my phone and tried calling Jasper, but there was no reply. There was only one place he could be, if he wasn't in the OR, though.

"On-call room," Emmett muttered, voicing my thoughts.

Ever since Jasper had started dating Maria, the new Peds resident, they'd been fucking at every opportunity they got. For two weeks, I'd heard him gloat about her voracious sexual appetite and how he was making the most of it.

There was nothing like TMI in Jasper's life.

"They're here!" Jessica's exclamation interrupted my train of thought, as did the sirens of the ambulance.

I quickly turned to Emmett. "You go look for Jasper, I'll examine the girl." He nodded and hurried away.

Jessica handed me a trauma gown that I quickly put on and we rushed toward the doors just as the ambulance pulled in.

I recognized the EMT that got out first. "Hey Mitch. What do we got?"

He nodded in greeting and narrated the patient's vitals. "Dr. Cullen. 19 year old female with extensive crush injuries, BP 90 over 60, pulse is 65, pupils equal and reactive, pulse ox is 96…"

I backed up a bit as another paramedic began helping Mitch in getting the stretcher out. Once it was settled, I turned my attention to the patient and my world came crashing down.


I froze, every cell of my body locking in place as my eyes roamed over her features.

Her soft, mahogany locks I'd run my fingers through.

Her clear, pale skin that I'd brushed with the pad of my fingers.

Her bow-shaped lips that I'd kissed with all my heart.

Her soulful, brown eyes that I knew always revealed her emotions.


And then, I registered the circumstances that had made it possible for me to see her again.

She was lying on the stretcher, her neck firmly secured, to avoid any further injury if it was broken.

Her dark locks were tangled and matted with blood.

Her delicate skin was marred by bruises that covered almost all of her face.

Her lips were slightly parted, but they were pale and dry.

And her eyes…They weren't sparkling with life. They were closed.

Because she'd been unconscious ever since she'd been rescued from underneath—

"Edward! Dude, are you alright?" Emmett's panicked voice finally broke through the haze that surrounded my mind and I started.

I blinked rapidly, trying to make sense of what had happened in the last couple of minutes.

Emmett grabbed my shoulders and shook me hard. "Calm down, Edward. You're going to hyperventilate. Relax."

I forced myself to focus on the sound of his voice and try to comprehend what he was saying.

Eventually, my breathing slowed and I became more aware of my surroundings. I looked around wildly, but there was just the two of us in the ambulance bay now.

"Bella!" I gasped. "Where is she?"

I attempted to go inside, but Emmett frowned, not loosening his hold on me. "What are you talking about? What the fuck is going on?"

"Where's the patient who just came in? Where's Bella?" I repeated desperately, as I felt tears prick at the corner of my eyes.

"They took her in. Trauma room. Jasper's working on her. Edward-"

I shoved him away and ran in, heading for the trauma room.

The blinds were not drawn, so I peeked in through the window. I didn't dare to go inside because I knew I'd only hinder the doctors and nurses who were trying to save her life.

My breath hitched and a sob ripped through my chest as I saw them shock her with the defibrillator.

I heard Jasper's voice ring out loud and clear.

"Charge to 200. Clear"

Her chest rose and fell once, but the monitor still beeped with a flat line.

"Push another epi. Charge to 300. Clear."

I didn't look away from the monitor as her heart was jolted with another shock. There was no change for three more seconds and my vision blurred with thick tears rolling down my face.


I let out a strangled breath as the monitor came to life, her heart starting to beat on its own again. It was still quite slow, but it would give the doctors time to assess her injuries and take her into the operating room.

My eyes squeezed shut and I turned around, my head falling back to lean against the glass. I took in a shuddering breath and let it out slowly, trying to come to terms with what was happening.

I wiped the tears from my cheeks and opened my eyes when I heard footsteps come to stand still in front of me.

For the second time in the day, Emmett was looking at me with deep concern in his eyes. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words would come out. My knees gave out and I staggered. Emmett steadied me and began to speak, but just then the door opened and my eyes met nurse Shelley's as she quickly pushed Bella's gurney towards the OR. The other orderlies followed her.

Jasper came out then. He shook his head and let out a deep breath. "Shit! That was touch and go." He looked at me and whatever he saw made his eyes widen and his mouth fell open. "Edward? What's wrong?"

"How is she? What's happened to her?" I choked out past the lump in my throat, my voice hoarse and unrecognizable to my own ears.

Jasper frowned. "Who are you talking about? The patient?"

I nodded.

"You know her? Who is she?"

"Just tell me what's wrong with her Jasper. Please," I begged.

He blinked once, registering the desperation that must have been clear in my eyes and replied, "From what I could see, she's covered in bruises and lacs, but there's no sign of head injury. I couldn't ascertain more because she coded. We shocked the heart back into rhythm, but pulse is still low. Abdomen was rigid, possibly due to internal bleeding. I am taking her in for an exploratory laparotomy. We'll do an ultrasound in the OR."

I vaguely registered Emmett's hand on my shoulder, but my attention was focused solely on Jasper as he described Bella's condition.

"Take care of her, Jasper. You have to fix her. She can't die. Please, you can't let her die," I said, trying to sound forceful, but my voice shook with panic.

"We're ready for you, Dr. Whitlock." We turned at the nurse's voice and Jasper nodded at her.

"I'll do my best, Edward," he said before walking away, still confused about my behavior, but reassuring me nonetheless.

I sat in one of the chairs in the waiting area, my hands fisting in my hair as the last few minutes replayed in my head.

Emmett came and sat beside me silently. I didn't acknowledge him and within a few minutes, his patience ran out.

"Edward! For God's sake, will you tell me what the hell is going on? Who is this girl?"

Finally, I raised my head to look at him. "That's Bella. Isabella Swan. I met her in Forks a year and a half ago," I choked out past the lump in my throat.

Em raised his eyebrows as my words sunk in. "And? It was obviously more than just a meeting. Am I wrong to assume that Isabella Swan is the reason for your emo routine this past year?"

I sighed.

"That's what I thought," Em continued. "There's a story. Even if it's best case scenario here, Jasper is going to be occupied with her for a couple of hours at least. So, you better start talking."

He looked at me expectantly and I could see from the determined set of his mouth that he was not going to back down.

Reluctantly, I cast my mind back to the day I met Bella Swan for the first time.

"Good morning, Mom," I said as I descended the stairs of my parents' home.

My mother, Esme, was busy setting the table for breakfast. She turned at the sound of my voice and greeted me with a bright smile and a warm hug. "Good morning, sweetheart."

I relaxed in her embrace, the familiar smell of her shampoo comforting me like nothing else could.

This was why I'd taken a leave of absence from the hospital for the summer. I needed to clear my head of Irina's clusterfuck. The divorce had been finalized, but the image of my wife being fucked from behind by her assistant when I'd dropped by to surprise her at her office for lunch, was still burned into my memory. I'd needed to get away from New York for a while, and what better place than this tiny, rainy little town in Washington.

"I'm so happy you're here, Edward," Mom said, pulling back to look at my face. "You haven't taken a break in years. It will do you a whole lot of good. And I'm especially glad that that bitch is out of your life now. Good riddance."

"Mom!" I gasped. I could count on my hands the number of times I'd heard Mom swear in all my life.

"What?" she shrugged lightly. "She hurt my baby. I don't care how old you are, I'll always be protective of you."

I chuckled. "I'm glad to hear that, Mom. I just needed to get away from everything for a while."

"You know you're always welcome here, sweetheart."

I smiled and squeezed her hand gently. "Thank you. So, what's for breakfast?"

"Why, your favorite, of course! It's been too long since I got to feed you that," she said playfully, pinching my cheek as I sat down to eat.

I bit into the bread and moaned at the deliciousness that was my Mom's French toast.

"Love you, Mom!"

She laughed in response just as Dad walked into the kitchen and kissed her good morning. I smiled wistfully as I looked at them. I'd grown up watching my parents fall more in love with each other every day that they spent together. That was what I wanted for myself. I'd hoped that I'd found it when I'd married Irina, but that relationship had brought me nothing but misery.

Maybe someday.

Dad and I wished each other a good morning as he sat down to eat across the table from me. I noticed that dark circles under his eyes and frowned.

"Dad, have you not been getting enough rest lately? You look tired."

He sighed. "I'm fine, Edward. It's just that the last few days have been a little more hectic than usual at the hospital. Dr. Gerandy has been ill and Dr. Snow has been busy with his daughter's wedding. Nothing I can't handle, though. Don't worry." He gave me a reassuring smile.

"Well, why don't I help you out then? I can take a few cases off your back, at least."

"No, son. You're here on vacation. I don't want to bother you with this. Just relax. Like I said, I can manage."

"Yes, I'm on vacation, but what will I do with all my time, Dad? I can finish touring the entire town in an hour or less. There's nothing else to do. I'd love to work at the hospital while I'm here. I already have the license and I'm sure you can get me the hospital privileges."

Mom came and sat beside him, placing her hand gently on his shoulder. "You've been working late every day for over a week, Carlisle. Just last night, you were telling me how the kids would be getting in all sorts of trouble now that school's out for the summer. Let Edward help you. Don't worry. I'll make sure he takes enough time off to relax." She winked at me, making me smile.

Dad sighed, knowing he would not be able to talk his way out of it once Mom was involved. "I appreciate it, son. Thank you."

I quickly finished my breakfast and got dressed.

Twenty minutes later, I was introduced to the nice but nosy, old receptionist of Forks General Hospital, Lauren.

"It's so nice to meet you, Dr. Cullen," she said enthusiastically as she shook my hand and then held it tightly in her wrinkled ones, not letting go for a few minutes as she prattled on about how much of an asset my Dad was to the hospital and how glad she was that I'd decided to come work there too.

Dad, who was stifling a laugh at my expense throughout the one-sided conversation, finally took pity on me and interrupted her. "There, there Lauren. Edward's just here for the summer. He's taking a break from his busy schedule in New York. I'll need you to get me the documentations for granting him hospital privileges for the duration of his stay."

Lauren went on to express her disappointment over my short-term stay, but Dad deftly reminded her of the patients and she finally told him about the appointments he had for the day.

"Oh! Before I forget, Dr. Cullen, Ms. Swan is here. She's waiting for you in your office."

"Alright. Thank you, Lauren. Please send in the patients when I ring the bell."

Giving the old lady a polite smile, I walked with Dad to his office.

"Ah, Bella! Your plans in Florida didn't materialize, I presume?" Dad asked as he entered.

"No, Dr. Cullen. So, here I am, bright and early," I heard a sweet, low voice reply.

Dad moved toward his desk, and that was when I saw her for the first time.

It was her hair that caught my attention first. Long, dark, tresses with a gentle waviness. Her skin was almost as pale as mine, delicate, unblemished. Her eyes met mine as she looked away from Dad and I saw bottomless, brown orbs framed by dark lashes.

She blinked once, and her cheeks turned an adorable shade of pink as I stared unabashedly.

"You haven't met my son, have you?" Dad asked her and I snapped out of the trance her beautiful face had put me into. I realized I was still standing at the door, so I walked toward her and put my hand out in greeting.

"Hello. I'm Edward Cullen."

"Isabella Swan. It's nice to meet you." She placed her hand in mine and I gently squeezed it, the warmth of her soft skin making me feel…something. A sort of warmth. It wasn't the clichéd "current" travelling up my arm. It was inexplicable, but it was something.

Isabella bit her lip and looked away, quickly dropping my hand and left me wondering if she'd felt it too.

Dad's voice broke the daze that I'd found myself in. "Bella has just completed her junior year. She's the smartest kid in this town and plans to become a doctor. So, when she asked me if she could spend her free time during the vacation here, I gladly agreed."

"Thank you, Dr. Cullen. I know I hardly have any knowledge about the medical field, but I just want to see how things work here. I won't get in the way, I promise," Bella said earnestly.

"I know you won't, dear. You're always welcome to learn. But, as Lauren just informed me, I have three surgeries scheduled for today. I won't be in the clinic, and I don't think we should start your first day with a trip to the OR." Dad turned his gaze to me. "Do you think you can take Bella with you while you work in the clinic, Edward?"

I nodded with forced casualness. "Sure."

"Thank you, Dr. Cullen," Bella said to me, a soft smile tugging at her lips.

"Please, Bella, call me Edward."

"Edward." Her voice caressed my name.

Together we walked to the clinic. I was only handling Dad's cases, so there were many post-operative patients who'd come for a follow-up.

Bella took a seat in the corner of the examination room, notebook and pen in hand.

And so it began. A never-ending stream of patients came and went. Every examination I did, I explained some of the basic anatomy to Bella. Her pen flew over the pages as she diligently took notes. Her eyes lit up when I described the practical aspects of medicine, like the procedure of administering an injection and taking samples for lab investigations.

A couple of hours later, we took a break. I tried to know more about this anomaly of a teenager.

"Tell me something," I questioned. "How come a high school student decides to spend their summer in a hospital?"

I'd hoped that Bella wouldn't be offended by my question, and was relieved when she smiled before answering, "Being a doctor has always been my dream. My Nana was a pediatrician and she loved it. She inspired me. The way she described it made it all sound almost magical. Everything she said about serving people, saving lives, it stuck with me. It's what I want to do with my life," she said. Her face was determined, eyes serious. "I'm not your typical high school kid, I guess. Parties don't interest me. I'd much rather spend some time learning here. I enjoy it and it'll give me an edge over others in med school." Suddenly, she giggled and rolled her eyes. "I'm such a geek."

I chuckled. "Well, I think it's great that you know exactly what you want in your life. Not everyone is able to find where their passion lies at a young age."

Her face lit up with a bright smile and I was lost in the beauty of her shining eyes, until someone knocked on the door, breaking the spell and dragging me back into reality.

"Then what?" Emmett interrupted my narration.

I looked at him and he was leaning forward in his chair, both elbows on his knees and hands cupping his chin. With wide, curious eyes, he looked like a little kid enthralled in a movie.

I shook my head and shrugged. "Then there was more of that for the next four weeks. She'd come with me to the clinic every day and we'd talk. About medicine and about other stuff. We became friends. Everyone here treated me differently once they heard about the divorce and the reason behind it. Bella didn't eye me with pity or false concern. With her, I found myself again. I got back the parts of me that I'd lost after Irina's betrayal. We chatted about nothing and everything. Most of the time, we played This or That and Twenty Questions. She said it was the best way to get to know someone. We had hour long discussions about which was better- Coke or Pepsi, Ketchup or Mustard, Pringles or Lays." I smiled wistfully as I pictured Bella bouncing in her seat, excitedly firing questions at me and the faces she'd make when she didn't agree with my choices.

"She helped me forget, Em. She took me to a lighter, happier place where there were no nasty comments or pointless arguments or fights over who will get what share of the joint account."

I stopped talking for a while, lost in fond memories of my time spent with Bella.

Eventually, Emmett broke the silence. "It wasn't just friendship though, was it? The way you reacted today… She's more than just a friend to you," he said in an uncharacteristically soft voice.

"I thought she was beautiful ever since the first time I saw her," I whispered. "But I didn't allow myself to think further along those lines because I knew nothing good would come out of a 32 year old man being attracted to a 17 year old girl. I'd suppressed any such feelings I had toward Bella. Or so I thought."

We'd just reached the hospital when Dad's cell chimed with a message. He looked at it while I parked the car.

"Oh, it's from Bella," he said and my ears perked up. "She's not coming in today. Something came up."

"What something?" I frowned.

"She didn't say."

We got out of the car and he walked to the entrance as usual, humming a happy little tune. I, on the other hand, was freaking out over the "something" that had kept Bella occupied.

She didn't say anything about not coming in today. What could have happened in a day? What if something was wrong? Maybe she was sick…

Dad stopped and turned when he realized I was still rooted to the spot beside the car. "You coming, Edward?"

I quickly pulled out my phone and pretended to check it. "I, uh, I just got a message from a friend. I need to go see him."

"Oh, alright. No problem. Take the car. I'll catch a ride with someone."

"You sure, Dad?"

"Yes, of course. Go and have fun. You've been helping me all month. This is the last week you're here. Enjoy yourself," he said and smiled.

I bid him goodbye and quickly got into the car. I spent the drive to Bella's house fretting over what-ifs. It was probably an overreaction on my part; Bella was not obligated to spend every day at the hospital, after all. Yet, I couldn't calm the part of my mind that sensed that something was wrong. That nagging voice in my head would quiet only once I'd seen her with my own eyes.

It was only when I reached Bella's driveway that I thought about her dad. I had no explanation to give Chief Swan about why I was there. I breathed a sigh of relief when his police cruiser was nowhere to be seen.

I rushed to the porch and rang the doorbell, but there was no response. I waited for a few more minutes, rang it again, but no one answered.

I sighed and grimaced, shaking my head at myself.

Bella was probably just out with her friends.

Dejected, I walked back to the car. Just then, I heard a soft whimper. I looked around but there was no one to be seen. I dismissed it as my mind playing tricks, but a second later, I heard it again. This time the sound was more pronounced.

Frowning, I circled around the house to the backyard. The forest stretched out beyond it, but there was a distinct cleared path in between the trees. Curious, I followed it and twenty steps later, I stood in a small, beautiful meadow. It was almost circular, covered in wild grass and flowers that fluttered in the wind. The sunlight shone through the dense canopy of the surrounding trees. Sitting in the middle of the little piece of heaven was Bella. The sight made me smile.

My face fell when I got closer and realized that her little frame was shaking with sobs. She sniffled and whimpered, clutching an old blanket in her hands.

"Bella?" I whispered softly, trying not to startle her.

She jumped anyway, gripping the blanket tighter in her hands, but relaxed when she saw it was me.

"Hi, Edward," her voice broke and she cleared her throat. "What are you doing here?" She wiped her tears roughly.

I folded myself into a sitting position beside her, checking for any signs of injury. "I got worried when Dad said you weren't coming in today," I admitted. "I wondered if you were sick. I couldn't help but come to check on you. I was about to go back when I saw the empty house, but then I heard something…" I trailed off.

Bella looked away and sniffled.

"What's wrong, Bella? You aren't hurt, are you?"

She shook her head, not saying anything.

"Do you want me to leave?" I offered quietly.

She sighed. "No, please stay." Her voice was small.

I tried to smile reassuringly. "I'm right here."

She looked at me gratefully, her little hand reaching out to take mine. I gave it a gentle squeeze, but didn't say anything else. Hard as it was, I managed to be patient and not push her to talk.

Several minutes passed in silence. My eyes were fixed on her face, and finally, she returned my gaze.

"My Nana… Today's her death anniversary. She's been gone for two years now, but the pain of losing her is just as raw today as it was then," she said in a broken whisper.

"Oh Bella." My chest constricted as fresh tears rolled down her face. I covered her hand in both of mine, trying to offer what little comfort I could.

"Nana was the one who raised me, Edward. She was everything to me… my mother, my best friend, my sister. My mom, Renee, took me away from Charlie and Forks when she got bored of the small town life, but, she had no means to take care of a child on her own. So, we moved to Philadelphia and started living with Nana. Renee had always been flighty and Nana knew it. She took it upon herself to care for me while Renee struggled to keep a steady job and tried to land herself a sugar daddy." She grimaced and shook her head.

"When Nana got sick, Renee had recently started dating Phil Dwyer, a minor league baseball player. She got her shit together for a while. But, there wasn't anything we could do. It was last stage cancer. Nana decided to spend her last days at home in her bed and we stayed with her throughout. When she was gone—" Bella broke off with a sob.

I pulled her to my side and wrapped my arms around her. She buried her face in my chest and continued to weep, while I gently rubbed her back.

"Shh. You don't have to talk about this, Bella," I murmured.

"I want to," she said after a while, regaining her composure but keeping her face hidden against me. "I haven't talked to anyone about her in years. Charlie is not exactly a conversationalist," she muttered and I smiled slightly.

Taking a deep breath, she continued, "A week after she was gone, I heard Renee talking on the phone. She was telling Phil about how she should probably stay with me for a while since it'll take me some time to "get over it". I realized that she'd planned to travel with him for his games and though she didn't say it out loud, her tone implied how I could now put a kink in their plans. That very day, I called Charlie, asking if I could stay with him for the remaining of my schooling years. He was ecstatic with my decision and I moved to Forks."

My arms tightened around her protectively as she told me about her poor excuse of a mother. I suppressed my indignation at Renee's selfishness, focusing on heart-broken girl in front of me.

Bella pulled back a little, looking me in the eyes. "When Nana passed away, I'd promised her that I would continue her legacy. I'd promised myself that I'd become a good doctor and a good person, just like her, and do my part to make others' lives better. I knew I had to get away from Renee in order to do that, to get some stability. It's not like she was miserable about it anyway," she shrugged, but the pain was clear in her eyes. "That's why I'm not like others of my age. I know exactly what I want to do with my life and I'm prepared to work as hard as I have to in order to achieve that."

I smiled at her fortitude, gently brushing away the last of her tears. "I'm sure your Nana is very proud of you, Bella. You are a wonderful person and I have no doubt you'll be a great doctor."

"That means a lot to me, Edward. Thank you. For saying that and for listening." A small but genuine smile lit up her face. "I'm sorry you got worried. I didn't even realize what date it was today until I happened to look at the calendar this morning. Otherwise, I would have made up some excuse yesterday."

"No apologies necessary." I looked around, trying to change the subject. Bella's anguish unsettled me in ways I didn't understand and I'd never wanted anything as much as I wanted to take away her pain. "You never told me about this meadow."

"It's my secret spot. Well, not much of a secret now that Charlie has cleared the path. But, you get the point," she winked and I chuckled, glad to see that her playfulness was back. "It's where I come when I need some peace."

"You're kind of an old soul, aren't you?"

Bella shrugged. "I've been called that before. Nana always said I'll be completely skipping my teenager phase and Renee will be living hers for the rest of her life."

"She sounds like a very wise woman."

"She was. And loved to spread the wisdom around, too. Too bad she couldn't reach through to her daughter though. Anyway." She dragged out the word and changed the subject. "Now it's your turn."

"My turn?"

"Yep. To spill."

"What are you talking about?"

"I just revealed my deepest, darkest secrets to you. Don't you think you should return the favor?" she glared at me, one eyebrow raised. "In fact, it is the ground rule of this meadow."

"Since when?" I returned the cocked eyebrow.

"I'm establishing it now. If you want to share my meadow, you're going to have to tell me your secrets."

"I have no idea what to say. There's nothing to spill," I insisted.

Her face softened. "Come on, Edward. We've talked every single day for a month, and I barely know anything about you other than the fact that you're a neurosurgeon living in New York." Pursing her lips, she eyed me speculatively for a few seconds. I fidgeted under her sharp gaze. "You're different now, you know."

I frowned. "Different?"

"Yeah. I can't describe exactly, but, you seem… happier now than you were the first week I met you. At that time, you seemed subdued, like the weight of the world rested on your shoulders. That's not the look of a man on vacation, is it? There's something else that drove you to spend the summer across the country."

I looked away to hide my shock at how easily she'd figured me out.

"Okay, fine. Don't tell me, Shepherd."


"Yeah. That's what I call you in my head. You're exactly like Derek Shepherd. Hot shot New York neurosurgeon, check. Secrets, check." She spoke in a matter-of-fact tone and ticked boxes in the air.

I couldn't help the snort that burst from my lips, leading to a full blown belly laugh, until I had tears in my eyes. The dumbfounded look on Bella's face at my reaction was priceless. I laughed for a good couple of minutes while she looked on impatiently.

It'd been quite some time since I'd laughed that hard. I thought about what she'd said about the change in me and realized that she was right. I felt lighter and freer now. I felt that I could finally start trying to put my shitty past behind me. Bella had made all the difference in the few short weeks that I'd known her. She deserved to know the truth.

"Cheating wife, check," I said softly.

She gasped. I smiled ruefully and told her about Irina's affair with her assistant, Laurent, and the messy divorce that followed.

"Oh Edward. I'm so sorry," she whispered, her soft voice full of compassion.

"We'd been arguing about little things for months. I didn't want to give up on our marriage, though. I thought I'd surprise her, try to bring back the spark. Instead, she surprised the hell out of me. She apologized, but after that betrayal, I couldn't ever look at her the same way. However, that didn't stop her from trying to get a share in every single thing I owned after the divorce."

Bella's jaw dropped. "Even after what she did to you? That's terrible!"

I grimaced. "I saw a whole new side of Irina throughout the process. Thankfully, I have good lawyers. After it was all settled, I was mentally exhausted. That's why I came here. I have good friends there, but I've never been one to share everything with everyone."

Bella giggled. "Oh, trust me, I know."

I mock-glared at her and she giggled more.

"As I was saying, I haven't talked about this to anyone outside my family. You're right, I do feel much better now than I was when I came to Forks. And you've played a major role in that, Bella. Talking to you about nothing and everything has been the highlight of my days. Thank you," I said sincerely, looking straight into her wide eyes.

She smiled shyly, her cheeks flushing a beautiful shade of pink.

It was as if my hand had a mind of its own as it rose and my fingers reached out to brush lightly against her rosy skin, skimming along her cheekbone, stroking the soft skin. Her eyes were locked with mine and I was lost in the way they twinkled in the sunlight. Rich, coffee-brown with just a hint of hazel near the rim.

Her lips parted and she took in a shaky breath as I felt her hands reach up and cup my jaw. She looked at me so intently that all thoughts of propriety and reason flew from my mind and I could feel nothing but the warmth of her skin beneath my fingertips and the desire to test it with my lips.

She must have read the hesitation in my eyes. Slowly, she moved closer and like a magnet, I followed until I could feel her breath on my skin. Her eyes flickered to my lips and finally, she closed the tiny gap between us and pressed her mouth against mine.

As natural as breathing, my lips parted to accommodate hers. My hands framed the back of her head as our lips glided against each other. Her fingers tangled in my hair and she pressed herself closer to me.

Soft, warm, sweet… Our lips molded against each other perfectly, but it wasn't enough. I wanted more… no, I needed to feel more of her. Tentatively, I parted my lips further, my tongue reaching out to trace the curve of her lower lip, a little fuller than her upper one. She stilled for just a second, and then, opened her mouth in invitation, which I gladly accepted and deepened the kiss.

Her taste exploded in my mouth as her tongue gently stroked mine and my fingers knotted in her hair, pulling her onto my lap. She whimpered, her hands fisting the cloth of my shirt as she pressed her chest against mine, our tongues languidly rubbing against each other's, evoking sensations unlike anything I'd ever felt before.

I suckled on her bottom lip, feeling her breath as it pushed into me, delighting in the sweet, sublime taste of her. I could feel every single part of my body tingle and react to her touch, her smell, her taste as our lips came together, again and again and again…

And then, Bella moaned loudly and shifted on my lap, grinding against my hardening erection. Seemingly unaffected, she continued to press her lips to mine in fervor, but that little action sent sparks of undiluted pleasure down my spine, and the realization snapped me back to reality.

What the hell had I done?

Immediately, I pulled back from Bella, gently but firmly pushing her onto the ground and away from me. She looked at me with dazed, hooded eyes, flushed cheeks and swollen pouty lips, blinking rapidly in confusion.

"What- What's wrong?"

"I can't do this. I can't do this, Bella. This is wrong. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have done that," I stammered.

"What?" It was a whisper, but so full of anguish that I looked away in shame.

"I'm sorry, Bella. So sorry. I didn't even—"

"Stop. You-you regret this?"

Swallowing hard, I looked at her. "Don't you?"

She just gazed at me silently.

"I can't-We can't do this, Bella. I live across the country, I have a lot of baggage, as you know. And most importantly, I'm fifteen years older than you." I shook my head in despair. "You're still in high school. This-This is wrong. I can't –" I broke off.

A single tear made its way down her cheek and I fought the desperate urge to wipe it off. The pain was back in her eyes as she looked at me, with a hint of anger too. That was good. Anger was good.

I could feel my resolve crumbling with every moment I spent in her presence.

Slowly, I rose to my feet. "I'm sorry, Bella. I'm really sorry," I whispered and backed away, turning around only once I'd reached the edge of the meadow.

I ran to the car, holding back the tears pricking at the back of my eyes, feeling the loss of a part of me that I knew I'd left with Bella. I didn't deserve to cry. I didn't deserve to let out my pain after the way I'd hurt the beautiful girl who'd done nothing but be good to me.

I was too fucked up for her goodness, though. I would only tie her down and prevent her from achieving those goals she'd set for herself since when she was a little girl. I didn't deserve her.

Not then. Not ever.

Emmett was looking at me with wide eyes, his mouth hanging open in shock.

"So, you made out with the girl, and then left her?"

I sighed despondently. There was nothing to say.

"What the fuck, Edward? She kissed you back willingly, didn't she? Please don't tell me you thought you took advantage of her or something and freaked the hell out!"

"I don't know!" I groaned. "Maybe it was that. It was also the fact that I was 32 and she was 17, Emmett. For God's sake, she was in high school! With me here and her in Forks, what good could possibly come out of a relationship, huh? I thought… Girls that age, they have crushes, right? I thought that's just what it was. That's why she kissed me back. She'd get over it with time."

"And what about your feelings?" Emmett shot back.

I swallowed. "I packed up and left Forks two days after the… incident. I didn't realize until I'd gotten back to New York how deep my feelings for Bella ran," I said. "It wasn't until I was alone in my huge apartment, that I started seeing her in everything I saw or did. I didn't realize what she meant to me until every little thing started reminding me of her. It wasn't until I had lost her that I realized how much I needed her." I rubbed away the tears that slipped down my face.

"You love her," he said, his tone no longer biting, but soft.

I nodded, acknowledging the words for the first time.

"I didn't let myself think about it, though. Every time the thought came to my mind, I'd chase it away. I knew that once I'd accepted how I felt about her, I'd drown myself in an endless sea of longing, guilt and pain. But, never had I thought that the next time I'd see Bella she'd be—" I sobbed, unable to hold back my emotions any longer.

Emmett cupped my shoulder in silent support as I wept and prayed for the life of the girl I loved.

I paced, clutched my hair, bounced my leg up and down until Emmett cursed and grasped my knee to stop the movement that rocked the entire row of chairs, but time crawled as I awaited the news about Bella's surgery. I declined Emmett's offer to go down to the cafeteria, so he went and got me a bottle of juice. I drank, not even tasting the damned thing through the worry that tinged my entire being.

Hours later, I caught sight of Jasper's blond hair and shot up from the chair, waiting impatiently as he walked toward us.

"Tell me," I choked out when he reached us.

"She'll be alright, Edward. She had a massive splenic bleed and I just couldn't get it under control. So, I did a splenectomy. She's lost a lot of blood, but other than that, she should make a full recovery. She was very lucky they found her when they did, or else she could have bled out at the accident site. She'll be fine, Edward," Jasper said. I looked for any hint of doubt in his voice or expression, relaxing a bit when I found none.

"Oh, thank God." The words left my mouth as I fell back onto the chair, my legs giving out as a sigh of utter relief left my lungs. "Thank you, Jasper. Thank you." I raised my hand and he reached out to shake it.

"Now, will someone please tell me how the hell you know this Isabella Swan?" Jasper muttered, glaring at Emmett and me.

"Oh, dude," Em said, shaking his head. "I can't even—" He broke off when we heard a shrill, feminine voice yell at the receptionist.

"Do I have to spell it out for you? I already told you, I'm here to see ISABELLA SWAN! I got a call that she was brought in after an accident. Where is she?"

Jasper walked over to the petite, dark-haired woman to intervene before she threw something at the receptionist, who couldn't seem to get the computer to work to find the records.

I watched as he talked to the girl, no doubt updating her on Bella's status. A minute later, a hopeful smile stretched across her lips as she put forward a question to Jasper and he nodded. She squeaked and jumped into his arms, muttering "Thank you!" over and over, loud enough for everyone in the waiting room to hear.

Jasper patted her back awkwardly, and then led her away, toward the ICU. I followed, keeping a safe distance. I heard her say that her name was Alice and she was Bella's roommate.

Roommate? So Bella had been living in New York? Did she attend college here? Why didn't she come see me?

The answer to the last one was simple. She didn't come to meet me because she didn't want to. Of course she wouldn't want anything to do with me after I'd hurt her so badly. She'd probably have forgotten me by now.

I ignored the uncomfortable tightening I felt in my chest at the thought, as I'd reached the ICU where Bella lay. Jasper and Alice were already inside and the blinds were open, so I was free to look inside.

I knew what to expect and yet, the sight of Bella, unconscious and hooked up to monitors and machines, her face and arms laden with cuts and bruises, brought tears to my eyes.

She's alive. She's alive, that's what matters. I chanted in my mind, trying to maintain my composure.

I watched as Alice tucked a lock of Bella's hair behind her ear and bent down to kiss her forehead. Jasper said something to her, and she nodded. He walked out of the room, looking unsurprised to find me there.

"I've told Alice that she needs to take care of some paperwork. She wants to sit with Isabella for a while, but then she'll go down to the nurses' station," he told me, looking at me pointedly and I immediately understood the underlying meaning in his words.

"Thank you," I whispered, my voice thick with unshed tears.

He nodded in acknowledgement. "I'm going to see Emmett. Apparently, he has a story for me," he said, clapping my shoulder and walked away.

I grabbed myself a bottle of water and drank it as I paced across the corridor, waiting for Alice to leave, so that I could have a few moments alone with Bella.

She was so close, and yet so far. My patience was wearing thin, but finally, almost an hour later, Alice did walk out of the room. I didn't waste a second, and almost ran in as soon she walked a few steps away.

I walked to Bella's bed and sat down on the stool beside it. Gently, with a shaking hand, I stroked her face, my fingers gliding over her pale skin. I took care not to touch the bruises.

My hand itched to hold hers, so I lifted her right hand and bent down to press a soft kiss to her knuckles.

"I'm so, so sorry, Bella," I whispered, pressing her hand to my cheek, my eyes squeezing shut as I relished the warmth of her touch.

I was startled when I felt thin, delicate fingers conform to the angles of my face and cup my jaw. My eyes snapped up and I gasped out loud when I saw dark brown orbs staring at me through a thin sheen of moisture.

"Ed-Edward?" she rasped.

"Bella! Oh God, Bella! You're awake," I exclaimed, my heart pounding hard and fast at the sound of her voice.

I looked into her eyes, wondering if she was still under the effect of the anesthesia, but they seemed alert, looking at me in shock as thick, hot tears rolled out from them.

"Edward," she whispered again, her voice a little clearer and I watched, flabbergasted and amazed as a beautiful smile slowly lit up her face. "Oh Edward! Are you really here?" This time, her voice was laden with hope and it made me smile as all the emotions I'd kept buried inside me rushed to the surface.

I loved her. I loved Bella Swan with all my life, with all my heart.

One and a half years ago, I'd made a decision, one that I'd immediately regretted.

I wouldn't repeat the same mistake.

"Yes, I'm here, Bella. And I'm not going anywhere," I promised and I meant it. I'd stay right by her side for as long as she wanted me.

This time, I wouldn't make the decision for her. If she didn't want me, I'd walk out of her life again, but if she asked me to. But, if there was the tiniest of chances that she could accept me again, I'd do anything for a chance to beg for her forgiveness.

Yes, this time, I would keep my promise.

A/N: It's a hopeful ending, right? I hope you guys won't mind waiting a little bit for more.

Oops... forgot to mention earlier something we all already know... The Twilight Saga and its characters belong to Stephenie Meyer and I'm just playing around in her sandbox. No copyright infringement is intended.

Thanks for reading and as always, I'd love to hear what you think :)