Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or its characters. No copyright infringement intended.
I sit in my car and talk to myself like a crazy person, trying to figure out what I'm going to say to my father ‒ a man I don't remember and haven't seen in twenty years.
He's my only hope, and if he turns me away, I don't know what I'll do. I need his help. He's a cop and can surely protect me in case my ex-boyfriend ever finds me. My mom's useless. She's the one who introduced me to James, insisting he was the perfect man, which he wasn't.
He was a monster, and I carry the scars as proof.
A knock on the window makes me jump, and I look up into the face of a familiar stranger ‒ my father, Charlie Swan.
Instead of rolling down the window, I pull the door handle up, and he steps back as I swing it open.
"You've been sitting out here for a while. Do you need help?"
I falter slightly as I realize he doesn't recognize me.
"I... I'm Isabella, your daughter."
I didn't mean to blurt it out that way, but nothing ever went as I planned.
He gives me the once over from head to toe and nods.
"You look just like Renee."
I do, but I have his brown eyes.
"Well, it's chilly out here. Better come inside."
I nod, following him along the walkway up to the two-story house that looks like home.
Today, I have hope.
Over the next few hours, I spill my guts to Charlie, telling him my life's story. I figure he needs to know everything in order to understand the magnitude of my mother's incompetence. More than once, I'm interrupted when he apologizes, and he cries along with me.
It's not his fault my mom ran away in the middle of the night and took me from him. He's not to blame for the awful, disgusting things that happened to me as a child right under her nose. It's neither his fault nor mine that I can't hug him or any other man without feeling repulsed.
Days pass, and we fall into a comfortable, daily routine.
While Charlie works, I clean and cook, but it's not enough to keep my wandering mind occupied. Today, he's arranged a meeting with the owner of a local diner for me. They're in need of a waitress, and I have serving experience.
I'm okay with talking to people as long as it's at a comfortable distance. My phobia isn't as bad as it used to be, and I've learned to adapt in the work environment, but I have anxiety meds in case of an extra bad day.
An hour later, I'm happily walking to my car after getting the job. Training begins tomorrow on the day shift.
Life feels good today.
For the next week, I work lunch shifts at the diner, serving the same people every day. Slowly, I'm learning everyone's faces, names, and usual orders. On my first day, Mrs. Banner announced aloud to the entire diner that everyone had better be nice to me or else. Apparently, they took her seriously, because most have been pleasant ‒ some more so than others, such as Doctor and Mrs. Cullen, who come in every Friday afternoon. They've become my favorite customers. Not only do they tip well, but they haven't once treated me as if I were an outsider.
"That's a lovely perfume you wear, Bella," Mrs. Cullen compliments as I deliver their food today.
I smile, but my heart aches a bit when I think about my former co-worker, Evelyn. She'd been the one who encouraged me to leave James. I'd always commented about loving her perfume, so she gave me a bottle as a parting gift.
"Thank you. It was from a friend."
"It's Chanel No. 5, isn't it?"
"I thought so." She smiles warmly and then turns her attention to her food.
"If there's anything else, just let me know."
After my shift, I drop off Charlie's lunch and dinner at the police station. One of his men is out sick, and he has to work a double shift.
Once I'm home, I take a nap and then soak in a hot bath for a while, trying to relax. However, afterward, I'm still antsy. Glancing at the clock, I see that it's nearly ten at night, so I decide to go for a walk. Charlie assured me his town is safe, so I'm holding him to that. Still, I grab my mace for self-assurance.
I'm walking along the riverside, lost in thought, when an abandoned, old, stone bridge comes into view. Thankful for a decent place to rest before I head back home, I continue ahead, walking to the middle of the bridge, and lean on the railing.
I'm enjoying the soothing sounds of the water below when a sound makes me turn my head.
I suck in a breath, and my heart begins to race when I see a male figure standing at the opposite end of where I entered. He's wearing dark jeans and a hoodie with the hood pulled up over his head. He's motionless, hands tucked inside the pockets of his jeans. He appears to be staring directly at me, but it's hard to tell because his face is hidden from view. We're in some weird standoff, both frozen in our places.
At times like this, I wish I were a mind reader. Slipping my hand inside my jacket pocket, I tightly grip my mace.
The more I stare and focus, the more I realize his stance is lax and non-threatening.
"Not all men are bad, Bella."
I repeat my old therapist's words in my head while staring at him.
After a few minutes, I feel as though I've invaded his territory and should leave. I gather the courage to move my legs, realizing that if he were going to attack me, he would've done so by now. When I reach my end of the bridge, I look back over my shoulder and find him in the same position.
For the next three nights, I return to the bridge at the same time, standing in the exact same spot, hoping he's not a figment of my imagination. Like clockwork, a few minutes after my arrival, he appears and always remains in the same place.
For now, I've conveniently named him Ghostman.
Every night, I tell myself I'll speak to him, but when the time comes, words fail me.
My unwarranted hesitancy frustrates me.
Mrs. Banner calls me the following morning and asks if I can switch to evenings. Apparently, her full-time waitress has gone into premature labor and can't return to work. I'm mildly disappointed I won't be able to visit the bridge as often, but duty calls.
Nine hours later, I drive to the diner, where Mrs. Banner introduces me to the other server, Jessica, and to Jacob, the night cook. She makes sure things are in order and then leaves when satisfied.
In between customers, I make small talk with my co-workers.
Ten minutes before closing, I'm sitting at the counter, filling saltshakers, when the front door opens, triggering the bells. Jessica approaches, asking if I'll handle the to-go order while she goes to the restroom. I nod my head in the affirmative, continuing with my task.
About the time she steps through the doors leading to the back, Jacob sets a bag up on the pick-up shelf.
"Hey," he whispers. "Don't stare for too long, okay?"
He tilts his head up, gesturing behind me.
Looking over my shoulder, I see a familiar figure standing by the front door, looking back at us.
I swing my head back around and pick up the bag before walking to the cash register.
When I reach the counter, I glance down at the ticket for the price before raising my eyes. His hood is drawn up as usual, but at least now, I can see his face, as well as his bright, green eyes. The scar on his cheek makes me gasp; it's long and deep, yet somehow doesn't take away from his appealing features. His beard is neatly trimmed, which adds a certain rugged appeal to his appearance.
He slams a five-dollar bill on the counter, making me jump.
"I'm sorry," I say, realizing he's probably mad because I'm doing exactly what Jacob said not to do. "I didn't mean to stare."
He snatches the bag when I slide it over to him and then leaves without a word.
Jessica enters from the back and locks the door behind him.
"Thank you, Bella. He scares the shit out of me."
"Because of his scar?"
She shakes her head no. "He's completely mental. He went off to war and came back all messed up. Seriously. He's nuts. He tried to kill his ex-girlfriend's fiancé. It's a shame, too, because he used to be hot as hell. Now, he's a walking freak show."
Dismissing her disrespectful and cruel insults, I ask what I've been dying to know since the first night I saw him.
"What's his name?"
"As in Doctor and Mrs. Cullen?"
"He's their son."
The need to know more consumes me, but I'm not asking her. I want the answers to come from him.
Now, I'm determined.
Three nights later, I'm off work.
I watch the clock all night, and finally at 10:00 p.m., I tell Charlie I'm going for a walk and then beeline for the bridge. When it comes into view, I see a lone figure standing in my usual spot.
My heart speeds up knowing he's there.
He doesn't move as I maneuver my way under the barricade. I take a few quiet breaths and then slowly head toward him, stopping a few feet away.
For the next few minutes, I steal glances while trying to think of something to say. And then, I think of the simplest thing.
"My name's Bella."
He doesn't respond immediately, but he eventually speaks while staring straight ahead.
"You should stay away from me."
I look over at him.
"I'm sure Jessica Stanley and Jacob Black have filled you in by now."
I shake my head at his defeated tone.
"I try not to make assumptions based on other people's opinions. Jessica's too judgmental, and Jacob gives me the creeps."
Way more than you do.
Jacob's asked me out no less than three times this week, and his persistence doesn't sit right with me.
Edward quietly chuckles before turning and walking down the cobblestone path.
"Do you come here every night?" I ask.
He doesn't answer as he continues toward his end of the bridge.
I watch until he's out of sight before I leave.
As I head home, I realize something's shifted.
For the first time in years, I'm proud of myself.
There's a damp chill in the air as I walk along the riverside. Charlie says that before too long, there will be snow and lots of it for several months. I've never seen snow, and I'm looking forward to the new experience.
When I reach the bridge, Edward's there, sitting in his usual spot.
I've been coming here every night I'm off work for the last couple of weeks. Edward's picked up a few more to-go meals from the diner, and each time, I'm the one who handles his order. I'm cordial but not too much; it's nobody's business if we're friends.
I haven't told Charlie about knowing Edward. I hate that I'm keeping a secret from him, but honestly, Edward seems harmless. I've heard all the stories and rumors at the diner, but I don't see him the way they do.
I refuse to believe he's anything other than a good person who had something bad happen to him.
Just like me.
There are questions for him I've pushed aside, waiting for a better time. The last thing I want to do is make him mad; he's my only friend. Our conversations are the highlight of my days.
"Hi," I say, walking up and sitting a few feet away from him.
A shiver travels throughout my body as the coolness of the stones under me seeps through my jeans.
"It's getting colder," I say, sticking my hands inside my coat pockets.
"When does it usually start snowing?"
He shrugs. "Sometimes about now. Sometimes not until Thanksgiving."
"Where do you go when it gets too cold?"
"You just stay at home?"
He moves his shoulders, something I've noticed he does when he's uneasy.
A few minutes later, a misting rain moves in, and I inwardly curse.
I don't want to go home.
"Do you want to‒"
"I'm not ready to‒"
We speak and stop at the same time, and I chuckle at the awkward moment.
"What were you going to say?" I ask.
"Nothing," he mumbles. "We should probably go before the rain gets any heavier."
"Edward, please," I say softly, studying him. "Tell me."
His hood is pulled up, shielding his face.
I hate that he never looks at me when we talk.
He stands and silently walks a few feet toward his end of the bridge, but then he stops and turns around.
"Do you want to go to my house?"
My heart pounds in my chest as I consider his words.
I'm not afraid of him, but I'm unsure of his intentions.
"Right now?" I ask, standing.
"If you want." He slowly nods his head when I don't answer right away. "I get it. It's okay."
"No. I just…" I blurt out when he starts walking backwards. "What are we going to do there?"
He shrugs. "Same thing we do here."
My nerves spike as I follow Edward around to the back of his house, which is actually like a miniature mansion. We didn't have to walk far from the bridge. At best guess, he lives a quarter mile away.
"Watch the steps," he says, ascending the spiral staircase. "They might be slick."
I nod, heeding his advice, halting my steps when we reach the top.
He opens the door, gesturing for me to enter, but I don't. I can't. The room is dark, and that's one fear I haven't conquered yet.
"There's no light," I whisper.
"Sorry," he says, entering and switching on a lamp, illuminating the room to a level suitable enough for me to proceed.
We've been in his room for a few minutes now. I don't know exactly how long, but the rain has turned heavy enough to hear on the roof. We're sitting across from each other on the floor between the end of his bed and the wall; it's a comfortable distance that separates us.
Edward's hoodie is gone, now hanging in his closet, as is my coat. Like I've always suspected, he doesn't look as intimidating without it. Actually, he's quite the opposite. Here in his private space, he's vulnerable and seems a bit nervous.
We're so much alike, it's kinda scary.
Jessica Stanley was wrong.
Edward isn't crazy.
He's damaged, like me.
He's still an attractive man whose prominent scar shouldn't define him.
We all have them; some just aren't visible.
"There's something I want to ask you, but I don't want to upset you," I say, toying with the bottle of water he gave me earlier.
"Ask me whatever you want."
"Did you really try to kill Garrett Parker?"
At least a minute later, he finally answers.
"If I wanted to kill him, he'd be dead."
He looks serious.
"So what happened?"
"You didn't ask your dad?"
I shake my head.
"I want to hear the truth from you."
He studies me for a few seconds.
"My fiancée was screwing my best friend while I was off fighting for my country. No one told me until I came home. As you can imagine, I was pissed. I confronted Garrett and hit him hard enough to knock him out with one punch. He tried pressing charges, but my parents persuaded him down to go with a restraining order instead. So, for the next three years, I'm not allowed within 300 yards of him, Lauren, or their families."
"That's… I don't know… That's horrible." I rest my head against the end of his bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Is that why you don't go out much?"
I imagine he means that the people in town have already or would treat him badly. Not all, but enough to count. I'm too chicken to ask him, though.
"So what's your story, Bella?"
He catches me off guard by saying my name. It's the first time he's said it, and I like the way it sounds coming from him.
"How much time have you got?" I mumble jokingly.
For the next hour, I tell Edward Cullen some of my deepest secrets. When I'm finished, he asks if he can hug me.
"I can try."
I slightly flinch when his arms gently wrap around my shoulders, but I never feel sick, and the longer he holds me in his arms, the more at ease I feel.
"You were out late last night," Charlie says at breakfast the next morning. "Who brought you home?"
He's never questioned my whereabouts before now, and I wonder if he already knows the truth.
He stares at me a bit too long for my comfort.
"I've been seeing him. Well, not seeing him, but talking to him for a while now."
"Where?" He frowns. "How?"
"I met him one night at the stone bridge when I went for a walk."
"That's probably not a good idea, Bella. He has a lot of issues."
"I've heard the stories."
"And you're not scared of him?"
I shake my head.
"What do you do… with him? I mean, what do you two‒"
"We just talk. That's all."
He blows out a deep breath and shakes his head.
"I can't tell you what to do; you're an adult. But I can advise you to be careful. I, personally, have nothing against the kid. He's been through a lot, though. Just let me know if he gets even a little bit out of line."
"Bella, dear, how are you?" Mrs. Cullen asks me in the cereal aisle of the grocery store on a Sunday in mid-November. "We missed you at the diner on Friday."
"I'm feeling much better now. Thank you." I smile. "It was just a little cold."
"That's good." She steps a little closer and lowers her voice. "I was wondering if you and I could have a private chat. Maybe tomorrow afternoon at my house?"
Her unexpected yet gentle-toned question confuses me; we've never spoken outside of the diner.
"I don't… I..."
She reaches out and gently pats my arm.
"Edward won't be there. He has a doctor's appointment. Is 1:00 okay?"
Her comment renders me speechless, so I nod.
"Good. See you tomorrow."
She walks away, leaving me with a frantic heart rate and an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"Would you like some hot tea?" Mrs. Cullen asks when I follow her into the kitchen.
"That'd be great. Thank you."
"Go ahead and take a seat at the table while I finish getting it ready."
I pick a chair, and once I'm seated, my toes begin to nervously wiggle in my boots.
She hums happily while she works.
"I think this should be everything we need," she announces, carrying the full tray over and setting it down in front of me before sitting in the chair directly across from mine. "So, Bella, tell me about yourself."
"I, um… Why am I really here?" I whisper.
"Why?" she repeats, pouring hot water into both cups. "I'm just trying to get to know the young lady who's been spending nights with my son."
My eyes go wide, and I drop my spoon on the table.
As far as I knew, my visits were a secret, but I've never asked Edward if he told his parents, either.
"He told you?"
She shakes her head, swirling her tea bag in her cup.
"He didn't have to. I wash his laundry, and I smelled your perfume on his comforter."
"It's not like that with us. I swear, Mrs. Cullen. We just talk. That's all."
She smiles and sips her tea.
"My son's been through a lot, Bella. I'm not mad at you. Quite the opposite, in fact. I've seen a change in him over the last month. He's slightly more relaxed, but he still has a long way to go before he'll be the same boy I knew before he was hurt so badly."
"I wasn't talking about that injury."
"I think you could be good for him. I really do, but I'm worried for you, too. Edward has these dark moments, and it can leave you feeling so helpless." She sniffles. "I'm sorry. I just want to make sure you take your time and really get to know each other before you get too involved. I love my son more than life itself, and I desperately want him to be happy. But beyond that, I want him to heal."
The rest of the afternoon, we talk about Thanksgiving. I learn that my dad sometimes joins them if he's not working.
Before I leave, I make two promises to Esme Cullen: the first is to come for Thanksgiving dinner, whether or not Charlie does; the second is to try to convince Edward to join his family for the big day.
"I had tea with your mom today while you were at your appointment," I tell Edward once I'm settled into my usual spot on his floor.
He raises an eyebrow.
I nod, staying silent.
"I didn't know you two knew each other."
"Your parents eat lunch at the diner every Friday."
"And she invited you to tea out of the blue?"
"She knows I come over here."
He narrows his eyes.
"She smelled my perfume on your bed."
After a few moments of silence, a small chuckle comes from him.
"What's so funny?" I ask.
"She asked me the other day if I started wearing a new cologne."
"Yeah." His tone is more serious. "So, what did you talk about?"
"She asked me what my intentions were with her son."
He leans his head against the wall and barks out a laugh. It startles me at first, but then it has me following suit.
"She also invited me to Thanksgiving."
He clears his throat and sits up a bit straighter.
"Do you think if I come that maybe you would, too?"
His eyes meet mine.
"I could try."
Thanksgiving arrives, and the Cullens greet me and Charlie at the door. Esme thanks me for the green bean casserole I bring with me and the wine Charlie hands off to Carlisle.
"Bella, dear, do you think he'll come down?" Esme whispers as she takes my coat.
"He said he'd try," I answer honestly.
I'm introduced to Edward's cousins, Alice and Emmett, and their spouses. Everyone seems friendly. I'm polite and answer when spoken to. Meeting new people is still a hard thing for me, and so I mostly stick by Esme's side. Every few minutes, she glances toward the stairs. I know what she's waiting for, and it tugs at my heart. Just when I decide I'm going to go to Edward's room to see if he's coming or not, Alice gasps beside me before quickly walking away.
When I turn around, Edward's hugging his cousin.
His eyes meet mine, and he smiles.
"The new meds must be working," Carlisle murmurs to Emmett.
Edward greets and hugs each of his family members. He seems at ease, but there's still a slight, underlying hesitancy. Maybe I'm the only to notice it, because I know what he's going through.
Charlie shakes Edward's hand.
"Edward. Good to see you, son."
My eyes widen at the endearment my dad's just used. Or maybe he's always called him that… Just when I think I've figured things out, something like this confirms I still have a lot to learn.
Edward leans in and kisses my cheek. Collective gasps from the women in his family fill the room. He takes my hand in his and turns around.
"Dinner ready, Mom?" he asks.
She nods, wiping her eye with a handkerchief.
"It sure is."
Edward and I are holding hands as we lie side by side on his bed with a good three feet between us. This is as far as we've physically progressed in the last couple of weeks. To most people, it might seem silly, but for us, it's just right. There are days when I think I'll be brave enough to grab his face and kiss him breathless, but I always chicken out. For now, I'm content with his hugs and his kisses on my cheek.
"Sometimes, I get this loud ringing in my ears," he says as his thumb strokes my forefinger. "I hate when it happens, because the meds for that knock me out for hours. I've lost an entire day a few times."
"Does this new medication you're taking not help with that?" I ask.
"No. That's only for my anxiety and mood swings."
He sighs, and I squeeze his hand.
"Looks like I'll be a pill popper for the rest of my life."
He knows about the secret stash I harbor on standby.
"What a pair we make, huh?" he asks.
I turn my head and find him staring at me.
"I think we're pretty good together."
He bends his head, lifts our intertwined hands to his lips, and brushes his lips across my knuckles.
The urge to kiss his mouth suddenly consumes me.
He raises his head, his eyes meeting mine.
"Oh, shit. Was that not okay?" He quickly releases my hand. "I'm sorry, Bella."
"Can I kiss you?"
"Like a real kiss?"
I nod and slowly sit up.
He does, too.
"Just stay there, okay?" I say. "I'll come to you."
"Are you sure? You don't have to."
"I know." I scoot a few inches closer to him. "I want to."
My heart thumps wildly as I lean forward and press my lips to his.
On the third go, he gently threads his hand into my hair, holding me in place until my eyes close and I relax into his hold. While our kiss intensifies, his hand massages my scalp.
All first kisses should be just like this.
The perfect moment brings tears to my eyes.
"Bella," he says, pulling away.
"I'm okay," I whisper and smile. "These are good tears. I promise."
A week before Christmas, the weather turns worse, and it starts sleeting just before I leave to visit Edward.
"I don't think you should be on the road," Charlie says, stopping me at the front door.
"It's not that far."
"I can drive you."
"That won't be awkward or anything."
"I just want you to be safe."
"I'll be fine."
He concedes with a nod and opens the front door for me.
"If you need me, just call."
Edward looks surprised to see me when I open his balcony door.
"Is this a bad time or something?"
"No." He shakes his head and jumps off his bed, walking toward me. "I figured you'd stay home. You shouldn't be driving on the bad roads."
I roll my eyes and take off my coat.
"You sound like my dad."
"I'm surprised he let you out."
"I'm an adult, Edward. He can't stop me." I grab his hands and put them on my hips. "I don't want to think about him right now."
His eyes widen, and his grip tightens around me.
"Bella, wake up."
My eyes flutter open to find Edward smiling down at me.
"Hey," he whispers. "We fell asleep, and it's pretty bad outside now."
I clear my throat.
"What should I do?"
He sits up.
"You should probably call your dad. I can set you up in the guest room down the hall for the night."
I blush at the thought of staying over.
"Or I could stay right here. With you."
He frantically shakes his head.
"Uh, no. Not a good idea."
Well, that hurts.
He lifts my chin with his finger.
"It's not like that, Bella."
I take his hand in mine.
"How is it, then?"
He blows out a deep breath.
"I have episodes at night sometimes. Not all the time, but they can get bad."
"Then I'll sleep on your sofa."
He looks over at said object.
"Call your dad. I'll take the couch, and you can have the bed."
Loud murmurs wake me from a deep sleep.
I sit up and scan the dimly lit room, finding Edward moving his arms in his sleep.
I soon realize he's having a nightmare.
He's talking, and it's hard to make out what he's saying from here, so I leave the bed and walk over to him.
"Edward," I whisper, lightly shaking his shoulder.
When he doesn't wake, I try again, this time a bit harder.
His eyes open, and his arm collides with my cheek.
Cupping my throbbing face, I stumble backward until I'm braced against the opposite wall.
I know it wasn't on purpose, but that doesn't stop the panic that races through my body.
Across the room, Edward looks around.
When his eyes meet mine, he frowns and instantly moves toward me.
"Don't!" I yell and then lower my voice. "Don't come near me right now. Please."
He freezes halfway.
"What the hell happened?"
I lower my hand and show him.
"I tried to wake you from your dream. It's my fault."
He slowly walks back to the sofa and sits down.
"I hit you?"
His sullen tone and sorrowful eyes send a shocking sting straight to my heart.
I swallow hard and start crawling, stopping at the end of the bed.
"You didn't mean to."
"Doesn't matter," he says, standing. "This won't happen again."
He moves toward the door, but I grab his hand.
"Edward, please wait."
He shakes out of my grasp.
"This," he says, motioning his arm between the two of us. "This whole thing is over."
When he opens his bedroom door, his mom is standing there.
Her eyes zero in on me and grow wide the moment she sees the damage.
"It was an accident," I whisper as the tears flow down my face.
"Are you sure about this?" Charlie asks for the tenth time today.
He's worried that making an appearance at the Cullens' Christmas Eve party will trigger some horrid memory and I'll freak out. He doesn't understand how Edward ending us hurt way more than the hit to the face. I don't plan on causing a scene in front of his family. That's not who I am.
"Yes." I put on my coat and gloves. "As long as you keep your word."
It took a lot of begging and convincing to calm him down the morning after the Edward incident. I also made him promise he wouldn't mention it.
"I doubt he'll even be there."
Out of his room, at least.
Charlie shakes his head.
The Cullens politely greet us when we arrive, but their surprise is hard to disguise.
"You look lovely, Bella." Esme kisses my cheek. "I'm so glad you came."
I'm disappointed but not at all shocked Edward isn't down here with his family.
Three glasses of wine and a few uncomfortable conversations later, I summon the courage and plot my escape.
After using the upstairs bathroom, I slowly walk toward the end of the hall and up to the third floor. I don't stop until I'm in front of Edward's door.
"I know you're in there," I say. "We need to talk about what happened."
I try the handle, but it's locked, so I place my ear and both hands palm-side up on the door, hoping to hear something from the other side. "I miss you." I close my eyes and continue my desperate plea. "I need you. Please don't shut me out." I'm suddenly dizzy and brace the doorframe for support, but I have one more thing to say. "I love you."
I turn my head toward Esme.
She and Charlie are at the end of the hall, watching me with concerned eyes.
"Is he even in there?" I ask.
Esme nods. "As far as I know, yes."
I look back and start pounding my hands against the wood.
"Face me, you coward!" I yell.
I fight against the hold that embraces me from behind.
"Calm down," Charlie says. "You're scaring the hell out of me, kid."
"Bella, please," Esme pleads next to him. "Calm down."
"Let her go, Charlie. I've got her."
My dad releases me, and Edward wraps his arms around me. I fist his shirt and sob into his chest as he walks us into his room.
I wake with sticky, sore eyes and Edward's body spooning mine. Our hands are linked together at my waist, and his breath his hot on my neck.
"You awake?" he asks.
"I'm sorry, Bella."
"I thought staying away was the best thing for both of us."
I squeeze his hand.
"I know." He inches impossibly closer to me. "Everything you said through the door… I feel the same about you."
I turn over to face him.
His eyes glisten as he gazes into mine.
"I've missed you every minute you've been gone, and I've needed you here every day."
He takes my hand and kisses my knuckles.
"I love you, and I can't stay away from you."
"What do we do now? How do we fix this?"
"I've started taking new meds for the dreams. They should work."
I raise my head and kiss his lips.
We quickly fall back into our usual routine.
A few days later, we toast to the new year as we're surrounded by family and friends.
My hands tremble as I stare into the long mirror in Edward's bathroom. I'm scared to death of how he'll react when he sees what I'm wearing. The blue nightgown isn't too revealing, but it's much more than the usual t-shirt and pajama pants I normally wear.
Since January, we've been sleeping in the same bed on the nights I stay over. And since then, my urges to be more intimate with him have gotten stronger. Edward does a good job of restraining himself, but he never refuses me when I move his hands to where I want them.
He has the patience of a saint, and it's making me crazy.
I blow out one last breath and open the door.
Edward's mouth gapes when he looks up from his book.
"What the hell are you wearing?"
He doesn't look mad, so that's a good sign.
"Do you like it?" I ask, walking over to him.
"Yeah, but why?"
I ball my fists at my sides with frustration.
"Edward, really? Do I have to say it out loud?"
He tosses his book on the nightstand and swings his legs over the side of the bed.
"I thought we agreed to take things slow… until you're ready."
"I am ready. Not next week. Not next month. Now. Here. Tonight."
"Okay," he says, his hands gripping my waist.
I let out a sigh of relief.
My insides quiver as he peppers kisses over my stomach and his hands move to my shoulders, sliding the straps down my arms. I relax as the silk pools at my feet, leaving me in nothing but a pair of blue lace panties.
Edward stands up and weaves his hands into my hair, smashing his lips to mine.
My heart races, but it's not out of fear.
This first time will be different.
The way it should be.
"Hey, you!" I shout from my end of the bridge. Edward waves but doesn't move to meet me like he usually does. "Are you okay?"
"How was work?"
I frown at his avoidance and odd behavior.
"It was good. How was your day?"
He kisses my cheek.
"Better now that you're here."
I'm thankful to hear that.
Since he had his medication adjusted, he doesn't have a lot of bad days anymore.
"It's a beautiful night," I say, snuggling up to him and looking at the river below us.
He moves me in front of his body and rests his chin on my shoulder, trapping me between him and the railing.
"We met here a year ago tonight."
"I know. I remember."
"When I first saw you, I thought you were an illusion, a side effect from all the drugs I'd taken that night."
Something about his words puts me on alert.
His arms tighten around me.
"I wanted to end all the suffering, pain, and humiliation my family had to endure day after day. I wanted the nightmares to stop haunting me every night, and I needed to stop hearing my mother's cries."
Tears slide down my face as he continues.
"I came here that night to die. But you saved me."
I try to turn, but his hold is too tight as I'm forced to hear the rest.
"Right after you left, I puked up all the pills, and after that, I couldn't get you off my mind. Despite your past, you never once looked at me like a monster or acted scared to be near me. You don't know how much I needed that and didn't even know it."
My chin trembles as the tears flow faster, knowing he's just revealed probably his darkest secret. Unfortunately, it's one we both have in common.
"You're breaking my heart, Edward, and I'm scared for you."
"There's nothing to fear, Bella. I haven't felt that way since then, but I couldn't do what I'm about to do without telling you all that first. I'm sorry if I scared you, but you have to know what you mean to me."
I'm somewhat relieved but still a whole lot of confused when he reaches into his pocket and holds out a small box in front of me.
"I can't live without you," he says and opens the box, revealing a diamond ring. "Marry me, Bella."
My head begins to spin as the realization sets in.
I nod my head.
Every year, we celebrate two anniversaries at the stone bridge.
The day we met here.
And the day we married here.
Edward still believes I saved his life, but I say we saved each other.
This was originally supposed to be part of the Fandom for Soldiers campaign last year. Sadly, I did not finish it in time, but I couldn't leave it alone. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Special thanks to those who helped me along the way - Midnight Cougar, May, Karen, and Iris for the pre-reading and edits. And to Mina Rivera for the absolutely perfect story banner, which can be found on my Facebook.