A Snowfall Kind of Love
Summary: There's one thing on my grown-up Christmas list, and while it includes a number of specifics in varying degrees of dirtiness, it really all boils to the one thing I've wanted for a year and a half: a do-gooder with unruly hair and a Mister Rogers sweater, and a lifetime of nights that would land me squarely on the naughty list.
Epilogue: New Year's Eve
As it turns out, Boxing Day gifts are not a thing. Plus, the shopping mall was the absolute last place I wanted to be when I had Edward sitting beside me in our small kitchen that morning, his wrinkled dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck, his hair in wild disarray. There was still a faint line from the couch cushion on his cheek, and brown sugar stubble dotted his newly bare face, and I felt warm and syrupy with love as I watched him chat with Jasper over coffee at the tiny two-seater table in Alice's and my kitchen. We had all fallen asleep in the living room: Alice sprawled across Jasper's lap in the armchair, me nestled into Edward's side on the sofa, the fireplace roaring and It's a Wonderful Life looping on the television. All the lights were off and the room danced in the combined light of fire and screen and Christmas tree twinkle lights, and when I woke at some point in the night to see that Alice and Jasper had vanished into her bedroom, I glanced up to find Edward's head tipped back and resting on the back of the couch. The television was off, the fire had been reduced to embers, and the only real light in the room came from the Christmas tree still glowing in the corner.
Everything in me wanted to wake him and drag him into my bedroom – into my bed – but there was also something so softly lovely about the way he looked with the remnants of Christmas all around him. Instead, I slid down the couch, pulling on him gently. He stirred, briefly disoriented, and for a fleeing second, I panicked that he would wake fully and make an excuse to leave, but he simply let me tug on him until he was lying lengthwise on the sofa with me sandwiched between his body and the back of the couch, that threadbare plaid blanket spread over both of us.
He hummed, content, a sound I'd never heard from him, and I let my head rest on his chest, the soft whisper of his breathing and the steady thump of his heart lulling me back to sleep.
The next morning he left shortly after that rumpled cup of coffee to go back to Grove House, and in the week since, we've been trading quick kisses and fleeting caresses and moments of wonder, when it seems neither of us can quite believe the other is there. The most wonderful thing of all is the fact that nothing has really changed, with the obvious exception of the kissing and the touching and that special sort of giddy euphoria that comes with getting exactly what you want. Until this week, I'd never really seen Edward giggle, and the first time I did, I wanted to catch the moment in a butterfly net and never let it go. He looked so…happy. So uncomplicatedly, simply, completely happy. That it mirrored perfectly the way I was feeling was the icing on the already too-delicious-to-be-believed cake. But beyond that, things stayed the same. He still teases me. I still give it right back to him. We still banter and pester and…generally act like us. And we still talk. About the House, about our childhoods, about the tough stuff. The nice change there is, now when I get upset, he doesn't hesitate to scoop me up in his arms and hold me, silent and patient, just waiting until the blues pass. There's something so plainly wonderful about that: having someone who knows not to try to fix it, or talk it away, or troubleshoot it, or analyze it, but how to just sit with it and let it be. Similarly, when I see the shadows cross his face, now I don't have to stop myself from wrapping my arms around him and resting my head against his chest, affording him the privacy of not looking at his face, but wrapping him up in my arms and my love and letting him feel that I'm here. That I'll be here. Always.
And, sure, there have been tiny, blink-and-you'd-miss-them road bumps. Already. But I know where they come from. Considering all that he's accomplished, there's still a large part of Edward that's still the kid nobody loved enough. The kid determined to make it on his own. The kid who felt broken by things that weren't his fault, and powerless to slip out from under the weight of them. That kid has grown into a man who doubts what he deserves. He questioned why he was gifted a home with the Cullens. Now, he doubts that he deserves this. With me. Which, I tell him, is asinine, even though I get where it comes from.
But here we are. We've had a week of that euphoric, beginning bliss. Seven days of soft smiles, heart-bursting happiness, faint disbelief.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying that it's New Year's Eve, he's taking the first night off since Christmas, and we're going to a New Year's Eve party at Rosalie's house. And hanging on the back of my bathroom door is the purchase I made at Victoria's Secret three days ago. It's not red, and there's no Santa hat, but I'm hoping he likes it all the same.
I'm standing in front of my closet, gazing at the little black dress I picked out when I went shopping with Alice yesterday. It's all black sparkles that catch the light with every shift of the fabric; it looks like the sea at midnight, beneath a moonlit, star-dappled sky. It's beautiful, and I feel comfortable in it, and yet all I can think about is my other wardrobe for this evening. All I can think about is Edward seeing me in my other wardrobe for this evening, and nerves rise in my chest like champagne bubbles.
"These," Alice says, appearing in my doorway. "I knew I had them somewhere." She holds out a hand, and sitting in her palm much like the Swarovski globes from a week ago – was it really only a week ago? – are a pair of crystal drop earrings shaped like starbursts. Or fireworks.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course." Her eyes shift to the dress. "I would normally give you shit for picking black, but damn, Bella, that's one hell of a dress. I can't wait to see his face when he sees you."
It's the opposite of my dress from the night of the departmental dinner: despite the long sleeves, it's form-fitting, and it stops far higher on my thigh than I'd thought I'd be okay with. Paired with the sparkly pumps with taller heels than are generally advisable for me, I'm pretty sure it's going to look spectacular. Provided that I can avoid slipping on ice and flashing the goods before that we even get to part of the evening, or otherwise humiliating myself.
"Me too," I admit. Because I liked the way Edward looked at me last time I dressed up. And I like the way he's been looking at me over the past week, something heated and hungry behind his normally placid gaze.
"Tonight's the night, right?"
I look back at my friend. "The night?"
She smirks. "Going to ring the new year in with a bang?"
Her smirk upgrades to a grin. "Thought so. Frankly, I'm surprised you haven't done it already."
"Yeah, well, we've been…busy." The holidays make life at the House a little crazier for Edward, with the guys home all the time and only a skeleton support staff. His opportunities to get away for a few hours have been practically nonexistent. Until tonight.
"I'll be staying at Jasper's, so y'know…don't feel the need to keep it quiet." She's back to smirking, and for a tiny little innocent-looking schoolteacher, Alice has a surprisingly dirty mind. And non-existent filter. "Or…contained. Or anything."
"Really take him for a spin. See what he can do. I was pretty impressed at the way you tangled yourselves around each other on that couch; he must be pretty flexible."
She's grinning again. "Come on, Bella. Be excited. It's okay."
"I am excited." I am. Very. But it's also tempered by a healthy dose of terrified. As if I spoke that confession aloud, Alice's smile dims.
"What is it?"
"I just…it's so perfect. Everything's so perfect. Even the imperfections are perfect, because they're him. And us. What if…what if this is the one thing that isn't perfect? What if I screw it up?"
"Bella, men like sex. What's that they say, that it's like pizza: even when it's bad, it's good." But I don't want it to be bad. Off my look, Alice sighs, half-sitting on the edge of my bed. "Remember when we talked about loving him? How it wasn't about the romance stuff, but just about being with him, regardless of what you were doing?"
"Yeah." I sit beside her, still gazing at my dress. It catches the dull lamplight of my room, sparkling despite the dimness. Like wishing stars.
"Goes for the sex, I think, too. Even mediocre sex with somebody you're crazy about is better than great sex with somebody who's just a fuck-buddy."
What I don't tell Alice: I've never had a fuck-buddy. I've never even had sex with someone I wasn't in a relationship with, and the number of men I have had sex with can be tallied on one hand with fingers to spare. And they've all been…good. Never mind-bogglingly awesome, but never bad, either. Just…good. Nice. But I also never loved any of them like I love Edward. "Yeah," I say simply.
"Bella, it's going to be fine. Better than fine. Just…let yourself relax and enjoy it. Try not to put too much pressure on it. It's the quickest way to take yourself out of the moment."
Her face turns faintly wicked again. "Plus, your headboard has posts. If all else fails, tie him to them and take matters into your own hands."
"Alice!" I shriek, even as the very thought – Edward, naked and shackled at the wrists – makes heat flash through me.
She laughs. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it." She stands. "Jasper went out to grab a couple of bottles of champagne. Do you think we should take anything else?"
I shake my head. "Rose said she's set with food and booze."
"Okay." She glances at the small clock on my nightstand. "Edward's coming at eight?"
I nod. "As soon as Sam gets there."
"Okay. I'll get in the shower." She pauses in the doorway. "Let yourself enjoy it, Bella. Don't overthink it. It's sex. And love. They go together."
"Yeah," I say, and the truth of it settles around me like a warm blanket. It's sex. And I love him. I can't imagine it not being good, just because I love him that much. Does the Tab-A-into-Slot-B part of it even matter that much?
Yes. And no.
I shake my head, resolving to stop obsessing. It will be fine. Out of nowhere, the memory of him shaking rock salt over porch steps slides into my mind: the visual of him, silhouetted against the light, capable and manly and strong. I try to imagine him not being just as competent in bed, and find that I can't. A small shiver of anticipatory pleasure slides down my spine, and I rise, making my way toward my dress.
Here we go.
It's a strange dichotomy that exists on New Year's Eve: nostalgia paired with anticipation. Tonight, I admit, my anticipation is a hundredfold. Not for the new year, not even for tomorrow, but for tonight. For what happens after the ball drops. After the midnight kiss. After the party's over. I can't bring myself to make big plans for 2016 or promises to myself about what I will and won't do; all I can do is picture this evening, that dark blue slip and Edward's dark green eyes when he sees me in it. And out of it.
"Whoa," he says as I open the door. I wonder, as cold air swirls in, if opening the front door to him will ever not be accompanied by memories of that Christmas night, and him dressed up in a soft gray suit with a red gift bow pinned to his lapel. I hope not.
"Hi. I meant to say that first. Hi. But also…" Here, his eyes sweep me from head to toe. "Whoa."
I laugh. "Good-whoa, or 'Whoa, those shoes are a baaaaad idea,' whoa?"
He echoes my laugh. "Definitely the former. Although, now that you mention it, I'll be sure not to let you traverse any sidewalks solo. I honestly don't know how on Earth you girls walk in shoes like that."
"Carefully," I reply, stepping backward to usher him inside. "Alice is still finishing getting dressed."
"Can I…take your coat?"
"Sure." When he slips free of his thick winter coat, my heart trips in my chest. Because paired with his black slacks and shiny black shoes is a smoke-gray half-zip sweater with black elbow patches. The zipper is only partway zipped, and I can see a white dress shirt and a black tie peeking out beneath his Adam's apple.
"Whoa," I echo.
He grins. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. Hell yeah." If I could have dressed him myself, I couldn't have constructed something more perfect. More sexy. More…him.
He fidgets with the knot of his tie. "I…wasn't sure. How dressy. I haven't been to a New Year's party in…well, ever, really."
"I mean…college. But those were really just…booze-fueled hook-up parties. Not…like this." I don't really know what to say to that. As if misinterpreting my silence, he hastens to clarify. "I mean, not me. I wasn't hooking up. I didn't really…that wasn't really…my thing. I just meant…people in general." He looks flustered, and I want to leap in and rescue him from himself almost as much as I want to draw this out, watching the faint stain in his cheeks darken.
"It's okay," I say, and he looks relieved.
"Hey, New Year's Eve is about the future, right?" He still looks slightly doubtful, and I step closer. "Edward, your past doesn't concern me, except in as much as it made you who you are. It's your future I care about."
He snags my fingers with his. "My future is yours. As long as you want it." Forever, I want to say, but we're only a week in, and that's crazy talk. "I, uh…have something for you." He pulls a little black velvet box from his pants pocket. My eyes widen, but he doesn't notice. "This was…supposed to be seven."
"The whole…twelve days of Christmas thing. The other five days…well, they were mostly simple stuff. Tokens. But this…this was going to be seven. And I really wanted you to have it." He cracks the lid, and there, gleaming against the black velvet cushion, is a crystal necklace charm. Of a swan. When I don't say anything, he laughs nervously. "Seven swans-a-swimming, right?"
"Edward," I breathe, and he shifts his weight on the carpet.
"You don't have to wear it tonight, obviously. I know you guys pick your outfits out carefully and everything. But I just…wanted you to have it." Another flash of that boy in the snow, his heart in his eyes, and I'm so wholly, completely, foreverly his.
"I'd like to. Wear it tonight."
He grins, handing me the box, and I hand him back his coat as I take it out carefully, opening the clasp of the chain and fastening it around my neck. I don't care if it isn't the type of necklace you wear with this neckline, I don't care if it doesn't totally match my earrings, I don't care about any of it. "I love it," I say, that tiny two-letter word a sorry substitute for the three-letter one I want to put in its place.
He beams. "I'm glad." His eyes drop to the charm, sitting just below the neckline of my sparkly party dress, and they darken. "Is it awfully primitive of me, to like the way you look wearing something of mine?"
"Probably," I admit. "But I'm not at all averse to that type of primitive."
He grins. "Terrific."
Alice chooses that moment to appear, her gold dress shimmering and her honest-to-God tiara-style headband glinting in the soft lamplight. Her own heels make mine look tame, and Jasper hovers nearby, one can only assume to catch her when she inevitably lists to one side. "Hi Edward," Alice chirps, fastening her earring. "Sorry. I'm always the hold-up."
"Not a problem," he says, shaking Jasper's hand. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year," my friends echo, and we all don coats before making our way – carefully, because heels – down the sidewalk and across the parking lot to Edward's truck and piling into it like a bunch of circus clowns in overly festive formalwear.
"So," Jasper pipes up from the tiny excuse for a backseat once we're on the main road. "Who's got New Year's resolutions?"
"Ugh," Alice replies. "New Year's resolutions are crap."
"People tell themselves they're going to make all these big changes in their lives, all around one arbitrary day on a calendar. The gym is always packed on January 2, and guess how long it takes to become a ghost town again with the same old pack of steady regulars? About a week."
"Wow," I say. "I don't think I've ever seen this side of you, Alice."
Edward is suspiciously quiet, but when I look at him, his lips are pursed, and I can tell he's chewing on the inside of his cheek. "Edward?" I prompt.
"The date is pretty arbitrary," he agrees carefully, flicking a glance at Alice and Jasper in the rearview mirror. "But I think there's value in the attempt at self-improvement, however successful or unsuccessful it may be. The simple act of acknowledging your shortcomings is valuable in itself."
It's in these glimpses of that side of him – counselor-Edward – that I'm reminded of just how much I respect him. Just how much I want to be like that, to be that good at this. I hope I never forget just how much I was amazed by the professional side of him before I fell head over teakettle for the rest of him.
He's quiet again, but I know that look. Leaning over the center console, I murmur, "What's yours?"
His eyes slide to my face, illuminated once again by the dashboard lights, and I will forever love him best like this, bathed in the memory of our slow dance in the snow. "To share my life."
I weave our fingers together and let the city streets slip by, warm in the cocoon of his car and his promise.
The party is alive when we arrive, drinks flowing and guests wearing sparkly hats and eyeglasses in the shape of the coming year and, in more than one case, headbands with what look like silver pom-pom antennae sticking straight up. On no other holiday do people give themselves over so completely to sparkles, and it occurs to me to wonder whether it's a nod, however unconscious, to the glittering possibilities of a new year. A fresh start. But with Edward's hand warm in mine, I can't help feeling nostalgic for the year that hasn't even ended yet. There's no way the coming year can bring me more than this year already has, no matter what happens tonight, after the clock strikes midnight. Still, the sparkles of my dress blend into the sparkles all around the room, and our little party of four weaves itself into the fabric of the party.
Mere minutes after our entrance, I spot Rosalie and Emmett standing in the far corner of the room, and I pull gently on Edward's hand to lead him in that direction. As we approach, Rose and Emmett both glance our way, spotting our joined hands at the exact same moment. Rose grins and Emmett's eyes widen only enough for me to notice.
"Bella! Edward! I'm so glad you guys came!"
"Thanks for the invitation," I reply, holding aloft the bottle of champagne. "We come bearing bubbles."
"Fantastic. Thank you," she says, accepting the silver-wrapped bottle. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year," I say, my eyes shifting to Emmett, who appears to be having a silent conversation with Edward. Almost immediately, he snaps to, extending a hand in Edward's direction.
"Happy New Year."
Edward returns the greeting, and if there's a tiny little thread of awkwardness still lingering, we all seem to agree to ignore it. "Bella, let me get you guys a drink." She links her arm through mine and leads me into her small kitchen, where a makeshift bar is set up along one wall. She sets the bottle of champagne near a row of others and turns to face me, a knowing smile on her painted lips. "Guess he liked the watch."
I grin. "He did indeed."
She's silent for a moment, twisting a ring around her middle finger. "So…you and Emmett. He said you used to—"
"Yeah. We used to. Not for very long."
"Was it…I mean, you guys seem…okay, now." It isn't phrased like a question, but her eyebrows are raised, as if awaiting confirmation.
"We are. As it turns out, we were always better friends, anyway."
"Oh." She doesn't say anything more, but she also doesn't reach for the stack of plastic cups just beside her right elbow.
"He never really looked at me like he was just looking at you."
"What?" But she's blushing, and I grin.
"It's totally cool. If you guys are into each other. It's cool with me, if that's what you're trying to get at."
She looks relieved. "Really? I mean, we're going to be working together. And we're friends. And I just…didn't want to start something with that much potential for awkwardness."
"Zero awkwardness," I promise.
"Okay," she says, blowing out a breath so that her pink-blushed cheeks puff out. "Okay then. Thanks, Bella."
"Thank you. For letting me talk out…the whole Edward thing."
She smiles. "Anytime."
The man of the moment appears at my elbow, and Rosalie tips her chin in greeting. "Hey, Edward. Can I get you a drink?"
"Just a Sprite would be good for me," he replies. While Rose busies herself making the drink, I lean into him.
"We can always call a cab."
Another head-shake. "I'm really not a big drinker. That beer at your dinner was the first one I've had in probably two years."
It's amazing, how I can feel like I know so much about him, and then something like this – some tiny, arbitrary detail – can make me feel like he's brand new. "Really?"
He looks at me, face serious for a minute. "My mother was an addict. My father was a drunk. I don't think I have either of those tendencies, but I don't really feel the need to test the theory. And I like…having my wits about me." Suddenly, he looks embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Not to be a buzzkill."
"You're not," I say immediately. "Of course you're not. I just…I like knowing things about you. I'm sort of surprised I didn't know that."
He shifts his feet. "It's not something I broadcast," he says simply, as Rose hands him a cup of soda, bubbles rising just like the champagne that will be flowing later. "What can I get you?" she asks me.
"I'll…have the same," I say, and she nods, turning away again.
"I'm not," I cut him off. "I just…don't want to miss a thing tonight."
After a searching look, he nods once. "Okay." And I love how he just lets it be. Because sure, it would be fine for both of us to be loose-lipped and lazy-limbed with liquor, not even drunk but just pleasantly buzzed, the world fuzzy and soft at the edges. But this – him, in sharp focus, and the way his touch lifts goose pimples on my skin – it's even better. And later, when the party is a memory and we're alone in the darkness together…I don't want anything about those moments to be blurry. I want them razor-sharp. "We lost your friends," he says, sipping his soda, and I glance around.
"That's okay. Alice is a hummingbird at parties."
At that, he laughs. "Just at parties? Seems to be a pretty apt comparison in general."
I grin. "Yeah. Probably."
"So. What's yours?"
"Resolution." His grin turns faintly saucy. "I showed you mine." I blush, stupidly, and his grin stretches. "I like that."
"Your blush. You used to do it…before. But I never knew why."
I look up at him. "You didn't?"
He gazes back down at me, and it's like we're in our own little bubble, the party carrying on around us. "No. I hoped. But then, I tried not to. I thought it was just…you."
"It's you, actually. It's me, around you."
"I like that. That I do that to you."
"I like that you do, too."
He smiles, and I'm just thinking once again how much I like that this part of us hasn't changed when he leans in and says, "I admit, I was sort of sad to see the Michelin Man coat sidelined for the evening."
"Yeah, well, tire company mascot wasn't exactly the look I was going for with this dress."
"Clearly." It's his turn to blush, and I grin.
"You're much more…oil slick."
His eyes widen. "Or…car body?"
"Okay. Uncle. I've dug a hole, I admit it. I blame the dress; it's made me stupid. Please help me."
I gaze up at him, too tempted to keep teasing him to let my face soften. Flustered Edward, whom I had rarely seen before Christmas night, is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I rise to my toes – not far to go, in these heels – and lean in to whisper in his ear. "Tonight, Edward, I'm the engine. Cut the brake line."
Everything about him darkens: his eyes, the flush in his cheeks. And sweet baby Christmas Jesus, I'm going to need midnight to hurry the hell up and get here, pronto.
It amazes me, as the night crawls forward, how much sharper everything is without the softening effects of a good buzz. The party guests are aglow with hope and as glittery as their accessories; the air of possibility and anticipation is palpable. The massive flatscreen television mounted on the far wall is muted but shows the crowd at the city's first Chi-Town Rising event, dancing in their own glittery finery as various musical acts perform on a stage with the river in the background. The looming countdown is a focal point for everyone in the room but me; my countdown is focused on what will happen after the star rises and the calendar flips and Edward and I slip back into his truck and return to my apartment.
And yet, I let myself melt into the simplicity of a night out with him. We mingle, talking to party guests and Rose and Emmett, who gives me a single arched eyebrow in question, which I return with a small shrug and a smile I can't stop. When he grins and nods, I feel like we're finally, finally there: friends. At last. And when he puts a gentle hand low on Rose's back and I see her lean ever so slightly into it, my own smile grows.
After a loop of the room, Alice and Jasper find their way back to us, and we spend the last hour leading up to midnight chatting and laughing. Edward's hand on my back, his arm around my waist, his fingers threaded through mine, his breath in my ear…they're all having a far more potent effect on me than anything Rose could have poured me in her kitchen, and if I keep checking the clock counting down the minutes in the corner of the TV screen, I let everyone think it's midnight I'm waiting for. Only Edward knows the truth, if the knowing, smiling, smirking looks he keeps shooting me are any indication.
Alice is pleasantly toasted, leaning into Jasper's side in her insanely high heels, her sparkly tiara slightly crooked. "I want to get married on New Year's Eve."
Laughing, Jasper looks down into her face. "What?"
Alice gestures at the crowd around us with her drink, which only barely manages not to slosh over the rim of her plastic "glass." "The entire city is dressed up. The city itself is dressed up. I want fireworks. And champagne. And…we should just do it. A year from now."
Jasper's grinning. "Okay."
"Next December 31. Make an honest woman out of me."
His grin grows. "Okay."
Alice jabs a finger in Edward's face, then mine. "Witnesses. Slash maid of honor."
"I'm flattered," Edward says, smirking. "You should know, though, that tea-length isn't my best gown." He leans in, as if sharing a secret. "Hairy shins, and all."
Alice beams, and turns to me. "Oh, I like this one."
I beam right back at her. "Me too."
She turns serious, or as serious as the cocktails flowing through her will allow. "I mean it, though. Maid of Honor. You're it. Okay?"
And I sort of missed it the first time, but it hits me now, the depth of what she's asking. "Of course, Alice. Of course I will. Thank you."
We hug, and just as we're pulling apart, Emmett appears with a handful of half-filled plastic champagne flutes. "Here we go, guys. For midnight. Try not to guzzle it all before then."
"I make no promises," Alice half-bellows, snatching her glass and shimmying slightly to whatever pop hit is coming from the now-unmuted television.
Emmett laughs. "Of course not." He hands glasses to Jasper, Edward, and me, and when he glances into my face, he grins, that same grin that made me like him instantly when I met him in my program, and then more when I found out he was Jasper's brother. The grin that tells me he knows what I know – this is where we were meant to be. Then he's gone, presumably back to the kitchen for more champagne to distribute, and our little quartet turns its attention to the screen counting down the last few minutes of the year. The bubbles in my champagne flute mimic the rising of the enormous glittering star on the TV, sliding gracefully up the side of the Hyatt Regency's West Tower, and I'm reminded of all the wishes I spent the past month making. All of the moments I spent wishing for this very moment, and this very man. I remember the star glowing softly in Esme Cullen's upstairs window, and how it felt later, when I realized that, without even telling me, Edward had taken me home. To the only one he'd ever had that felt safe to him. To the one he's tried so hard to recreate for the other lost boys of Chicago. I think about those boys tonight, and what their wishes might be, what they might be dreaming for themselves. I think, too, of the lost girls roaming those city streets, and there's a tiny little starburst of an idea there that I put gently on a shelf in my mind, knowing that I won't be able to wait too long before pulling it down and turning it around and showing it to Edward to see what he thinks.
But here, in this moment, there are no lost boys and no lost girls. There are only the two of us, and the last minutes of this beautiful year slipping slowly away. People begin chanting, counting, and Edward half-turns so he's facing me, gazing down into my face, the small smile on his lips filling me with want.
Five. I think about what it took to get me here. To this moment, and this man. Forks, and losing Charlie. Phoenix, and Renee. Seattle, Chicago. I think for a split second of my dad, and how much he would have genuinely liked Edward. Respected him, yes, accepted him, certainly, but liked him, too.
Four. I think about how truly lucky I feel, not only because I'm here with Edward, but because I'm here with Edward and Alice and Jasper and Rosalie and Emmett. And I'm in a city that has Shelly Copes and Sams and Pauls and the Grove boys and sure, a lot of lost kids, but a whole hell of a lot of people just waiting to help them be found.
Three. I look back up into Edward's face, this face I've adored for the past year and a half. The face I love, respect, admire. Bearded, stubbled, clean-shaven. Smiling, frowning, smirking, sleeping. I love it in all its incarnations, and I could spend every waking minute just staring at it and never tire of it.
Two. He takes my left hand in his right and traces gentle fingers along my jaw, and it will never, never cease to amaze me how someone who so easily could have been rough is so heartbreakingly, achingly gentle.
One. Those eyes. The deep green of home. The soft green of Christmas trees. The jeweled green of him. I've never had a favorite color, but for the rest of my life, it will be green.
Happy New Year. His lips. Warm, soft, perfect. He tastes like sugar. Then his tongue, and I feel his hand slide from my jaw to the base of my skull, cupping my head as he deepens the kiss. His other hand is still holding mine, and the difference – the innocence of our joined hands combined with the borderline indecent dance of our tongues – makes me want to screw him silly and cuddle him softly all at the exact same moment. My head spins, and I'm glad beyond words that I'm completely sober.
He pulls back, and we clink our flutes and each take only a tiny sip, a small toast to what lies ahead. In this year. In this night. In this love.
His eyes are bouncing between mine, and he's slightly breathless, and oh, the million and one ways I want to keep stealing his breath make me giddy with anticipation. As if he's read my mind, he leans forward, his words tickling the shell of my ear. "Let me take you home, Bella."
We say our goodbyes to Rose and Emmett, and after Jasper assures us that cabbing it home was his game plan all along, we exit into the cold night.
I can focus on next to nothing on the drive home, save the feel of his fingertips dancing along the bare skin of my kneecap, raising goose bumps in their wake. I'd think he was unaware of his effect on me, if not for the tiny curl at the corner of his mouth.
At a red light, he glances at me. "So…what happens when Alice gets married?"
"Uh, she'll have a husband?" I give myself a mental high-five for that one. He may be turning me to horny Jell-O, but he doesn't have to know that.
He smirks. "Brilliant. What I meant was, what happens with your living situation?"
"Oh." I frown. "I don't know. I guess I'll look for a new place. Or…a new roommate. I'm not really sure what her plans are." He nods, glancing around as he waits for the green light. "Well. That's a conversation for another night, I guess. But…I'd like to have it. With you."
The light turns green, and he steps on the gas. "Okay," I say, grateful for a reason I can't articulate that his focus is on the road. Because the mere idea of having that conversation with him makes my stomach flip, and I'm already dealing with enough intestinal somersaults tonight without thinking about the possibility of cohabitation.
"Okay," he echoes, and, in true Edward fashion, leaves it at that.
When he pulls into my driveway and helps me out of the car, I try desperately not to grin at him like a ten-year-old who just won a sack race. But he's smiling at me, and I will never not be affected by the way his smile – his real smile – lights him up from within.
He follows me up the walkway, up the stairs, and just inside my front door, where we shuck our coats. Wordlessly, I take him by the hand and lead him through the darkened house, up the stairs and into my bedroom. He hesitates slightly in the doorway, and I flash back to the thought of him, standing on my doorstep in the cold. The thought of him, standing in Esme's foyer. That lost boy, suddenly found and still faintly disbelieving. But he's smiling, as if he finally, finally gets it. I step in front of him and he draws me in, both hands on my hips, but I want to change before I get too carried away to break away from him.
"Just…give me a second, okay?"
I feel his hands let go of my sides, and he steps back. "Sure." He doesn't ask, and I can see that he figures this is one of those girl-things: take a minute to make whatever preparations are necessary. I'm beyond grateful, suddenly, that we had the "I'm-on-the-pill-I'm-clean" conversation before the heat of the moment was upon us.
In the blinding light of the bathroom, I stare at the scrap of fabric on the back of the door, price tags still dangling from it. It's the color of midnight, a navy blue so deep it's almost black, and the way it catches the light as it shifts reminds me of the Pacific beneath a moonlit sky. I've never been one for lingerie, but I remember the way Edward's eyes caught on the store window when we went Christmas shopping, and there's a truth to this moment that I can't deny: I want to give him something to unwrap.
I kick off the death heels and wiggle my toes in relief against the plush bathroom rug as I run a nervous hand through my hair. Shedding my sparkly, festive party dress as well as my bra, I unhook the straps of the slip from the hanger and pull the tags off carefully. There's a tiny line of lace trim along the top and bottom edges and a tiny bow between my breasts – my own allusion to his red sparkly lapel decoration. I pull it over my head, enjoying the cool slide of the silk against my already heated skin.
Glancing at my reflection in the mirror, I take a deep breath. My eyes are bright. My cheeks are rosy. My hair is loose.
I look like exactly what I am: ready. Lifting my hand, I gently touch the swan pendant resting against my breastbone, and there's no amount of money in the world that could make me take it off for tonight. It's the first piece of jewelry a man who wasn't my father has ever given me, and when Edward slides this gorgeous silk number up and off me, I want the only thing left on my body to be his. This thing he bought me when he didn't know if he'd ever get me. It seems too perfect to be true, that just as he's my wish come true, I might be his.
Flipping the light switch, I step out into the hall, sending a quick, silent thank-you to Alice and Jasper for making themselves scarce. When I reach the doorway to my room, Edward is sitting on the edge of my bed, watching the door. As I cross the threshold, he launches himself to standing, eyes and mouth wide. He hasn't removed a stitch of clothing, and the idea of unwrapping him fills me with an anticipation so strong it chases my nerves away.
"Whoa," he says again, and I laugh, a high, girlish, nervous giggle.
"If this is our new hello, I think I like it."
"It will be, if you keep showing up in outfits like tonight's." His lips are making the words, but the jest never quite makes it to his eyes, which are sweeping me from head to toe and back up to head again, pausing more than briefly on the swan necklace.
I prop a hand on one hip, masking my nervousness with bravado. "They were all sold out of the Santa hat set." A lie, but I couldn't quite bring myself to make anything about tonight a joke. Not when it's so very much not.
"What Santa hat?" he asks, eyes still running over me like questing fingers.
"From the store window."
He shakes his head. "This is better." Then, his eyes find mine. "You're better." I don't for one second believe that I'm sexier than Miranda Kerr, but then I think about how I'd take him any day over Ryan Gosling or Robert Redford or any other Hollywood stud, and I realize that sexy is nice and all, but sexy with a chaser of smart and lovable and kind and selfless and flawed is pretty damn close to perfect.
This moment – a week, a month, eighteen – in the making. I don't think I've ever been in love with someone before having sex with him – in fact, in this moment, I find myself doubting I've ever really been in love before – and the sheer anticipation of what lies ahead is more potent than any Christmas morning, any New Year's night. As much as it seems like an overstatement, it's the gateway to the rest of my life. To everything that comes next.
"Bella…" he murmurs into the not-quite-darkness, stepping closer.
"This does it for you?" I half-tease, and he groans, a soft, rumbly sound that makes me want to curl up on the couch with him again almost as much as I want to slip between the sheets of my bed with him.
"You have no idea," he mumbles, hands finding my hips again, thumbs sliding over the satin. "I…haven't done this in a while," he says in a low voice, eyes pinging from my face to my necklace and back up to my face.
He groans. "That doesn't really help me."
I smile, but the arousal of mere seconds ago yields to something infinitely softer. It hadn't really occurred to me, that he might be just as nervous as I am. He appears to be waiting for me to start the ball rolling, so I slide both hands up his chest, to the zipper of his sweater. That sweater. That so-very-Edward sweater, with its elbow patches and its soft wool and its warmth. I think, fleetingly, about all of the nights I spent imagining that I'd ever be here, be permitted to do this very thing, and joy sweeps through me. I pull the zipper down slowly, feeling each of its teeth as they separate, and when I look up, those green eyes are trained on my face, lids already heavy.
And I know it just from that look, that he loves me.
Lifting his arms just long enough that I get a glimpse of those dark elbow patches, he tugs at the neckline of the sweater and pulls it up and off, ruffling his hair in the process. I reach up and slide the knot of his tie free, dropping it on top of the sweater he let fall to the floor. His hands once again find my hips, and this time, he uses them to pull me flush against him, ducking his head and pressing his mouth to mine. As we kiss, I tug the bottom of his dress shirt free of his pants before sliding my hands up and under it, feeling the warm planes of his torso. He grunts softly into my mouth, and I start working on his row of buttons.
"It's sort of unfair," he says as he pulls away, faintly breathless, and I peer up at him as I free the first button.
"What is?" Second button.
"That I'm wearing so many clothes and you're just in…one."
"Well, two." Third button.
"Two," I confirm, thinking of the matching midnight blue panties he hasn't even seen yet.
As I slide the fourth button free, he groans. "Shit," he breathes, and I grin up at him.
"Now who's got the dirty mouth?" Fifth button.
"Trust me Bella, my mouth has nothing on the thoughts going through my mind right now."
Heat licks through me as the sixth button is undone. "Excellent. Besides, you know how I feel about Christmas."
"Well. Consider this the best Christmas present ever, and know that I intend to fully enjoy unwrapping it." When the seventh and final button is undone and I see Edward, bare-chested and beautiful, my stomach flips. "Whoa."
He grins. "Yeah. I agree with you. I'm a fan of 'whoa.' I think we should see how many times we can make you say it." And with that, he scoops me up, bridal-style, and carries me the few short steps to my bed.
"A man on a mission." I'm no longer sure of what I'm saying, only that I desperately want to keep up with him in every possible way tonight, witty repartee included. With me deposited on the bed, Edward straightens and reaches for his belt buckle. I prop myself up on my elbows to watch. As he pushes his slacks off his hips, my pulse races. I can see the outline of him through his gray boxer briefs, and…well, holy shit.
"You should know that this is another whoa moment for me," I tell him.
"Excellent. I'm going to need you to keep track. I plan to be otherwise occupied."
He crawls toward me, smirking devilishly. "You always were very efficient."
And the allusion, however vague, to what we once were to each other only makes me more grateful that we found our way here. That we weren't destined to remain intern and supervisor. Friends.
"You have no idea," I reply, and even I'm not entirely sure what I'm implying, but he grins in appreciation anyway. Then, as his eyes roam my body, he shakes his head. "What?"
"You're so beautiful. This—" here, he gently fingers the lacy hem of my slip "—is so beautiful. I don't want to take it off you, but at the same time, I desperately want to take it off you."
I grin up at him. "Take it off me. I can wear it again." And I'd been so consumed by the thought of this – our first time – that I hadn't really thought to imagine all the times that will come after it. The times I'll wear this, or something else, or nothing at all. I shiver in anticipation, and as if taking it as a cue, Edward's gentle hands find the hem and start sliding it up. "Ah," he says, as my lacy underwear comes into view. "Two."
"Two," I agree, sitting up slightly so that he can pull the slip up and off.
"Whoa," he barely whispers, eyes on my chest, and it's such a typically guy moment that I laugh.
He shakes his head. "I thought I liked the way that necklace looked earlier, but now…" He trails off. "Just…whoa." He gazes down at me in silence for a beat before those capable hands find the waistband of my panties. "Okay?"
"Okay." He slides them smoothly down my legs, and by the time he's dropped them off the side of the bed, his eyes are darker than I've ever seen them.
"Bella," he whispers, sliding his hands back up my legs and cupping my hips. "Jesus, you're gorgeous."
"Ditto," I murmur, finding his own waistband with my thumbs. "Now…your turn." And when he shucks his shorts, I suck in a surprised breath. Because, damn. But also…whoa. I'm immediately regretting my "straight trunk" comment from the Christmas tree lot, because apparently, I may have inadvertently offended him. But Edward's clearly not thinking of Christmas trees right now – or anything other than the naked chick sprawled beneath him – and I sigh in relief as he lowers his mouth to the soft skin of my stomach.
And, perhaps for the first time since I've known him, I lose my words. His mouth travels all over me – up, to neck and shoulders and breastbone and nipples – and down, to hips and thighs and softest, pinkest skin – before finding my mouth, with kisses hungry enough to bruise. "Edward," I whisper into the night, and he hums in response, groaning as my hand finds that long, heavy, so-very-male part of him. I spread my legs wider, because as much as I'm enjoying the foreplay, we have time for that later. Now, right now, right the hell now, I want him.
He needs no further encouragement, and it's been just long enough since the last time I did this that I can feel everything about the moment he slides into me. "Edward." It's all I can say – gasp, really – because it's the only thing in my mind.
It's Edward doing this to me. With me. In me.
The man with the Mister Rogers sweaters and the rock salt and the Scrooge complex and the gentle, gentle heart.
I want to say a million things – about how I love him and want him and love him and respect him and need him and like him and adore him. About how I think about him all the time, even when I'm not thinking about him, and how the stupidest, most irrelevant things make me think of him, even when they have nothing to do with him. About how I've been reduced to the fifteen-year-old version of myself: imagining my first name and his last printed together on white linen stationery, and picturing myself round-bellied with his babies. About how I want to know all of his stories, even the ones he thinks I won't want to know, and about how I want to heal the parts of him that scarred over years ago, even though I know I can't. About how he's enough, more than enough, more than any woman could possibly want or deserve, and that he doubts it only makes me love, want, like him more. About how I'm so overjoyed, so euphoric, so utterly relieved that he showed up on my doorstep on Christmas night and gave me the best gift I've ever gotten: him.
But I can't say any of it out loud, because he's sliding slowly in and out of me, and I've never, never felt anything like it. I wrap my legs around him and he moans, and the sound of it – a sound I've never heard him make – is nearly enough to push me over the edge all by itself. "Yes," I whisper, and he pulls back just enough to gaze down into my face, his hips still moving.
"Bella," he breathes, and I wonder if his mind is lost in the same utterly useless, entirely wonderful place as mine. I tip my head back as I feel him find the right spot inside me with somewhat alarming accuracy, and when I moan, low and long, he takes the cue and keeps hitting it, pace quickening and breaths shortening as he pushes up both up, up, up and over.
And as I fall, nothing – no illuminated star, no sparklers, no glittery celebratory accessories – could be nearly as bright as the firework display going on behind my own eyes. I feel him follow me over the edge, groaning and going still, pulsing where we're joined, and if I'd had any piece of my heart left in reserve, it'd be gone now, in this moment, when his eyes fall closed and he becomes wholly, completely, irreversibly mine. His head drops to my shoulder, and I press kisses to his temple, his hair, the shell of his ear.
I'm completely loose with love and lazy with the last vestiges of lust, and thank God he's not trying to bring the banter right now, because I'd have to concede.
"Sorry," he murmurs into my collarbone.
"Sorry?" I echo, trailing my fingertips over his shoulders, the nape of his neck, his shoulder blades.
"Hardly a record for stamina," he mumbles, but, blissed out as he is, he doesn't sound overly disappointed.
"Stamina is overrated."
"I'm a fan of efficiency." At that, he lifts his head, smiling down at me.
I push his hair off his forehead. "And then some."
He grins, and presses his mouth to mine. And we lose ourselves there, in my twisted sheets and my darkened room, as the rest of the city celebrates its own new beginning. His kisses are soft but determined, and I feel another part of him becoming less soft as our lips and tongues slide against each other. "Edward," I whisper, and, as if I've broken the spell, he rears back.
I prop myself up on my elbows as he stands, and even as aroused as I am, as utterly adoring as I am, it's sort of hilarious when a guy with a hard-on stands up and props his hands on his hips. "Whoa," I say with a grin, and he smirks back at me, but he seems suddenly, inexplicably distracted.
"Stand up for a sec."
"Okay. Different position? I'm game." He groans, but instead of bending me over the bed like I was half expecting, he pulls the comforter off my bed and bunches it up under his arm before grabbing me by the hand.
"Um, what the—"
"Come on," he says, pulling me out the bedroom door and along the darkened hallway and down the stairs.
"Shh." He drops my hand when we get to the living room, and I watch as he spreads my comforter on the floor right next to the Christmas tree. When he turns back to look at me, he looks a million things I've only ever seen in flashes: pleased and embarrassed and hopeful and turned on and happy. "Get over here."
I do as I'm told, and the minute I'm standing in front of him, his fingers thread through my hair. "You've been trying to get me to like Christmas for two years," he murmurs, punctuating the comment with a soft kiss on my lips.
"Well, getting to have sex with you beneath a Christmas tree would go a long way toward helping you achieve that goal."
"Done. Jeez, Edward, if I'd have known that last Christmas, you'd have saved me a lot of time and effort." But my attempt at snark is utterly derailed by the way he rather effortlessly picks me up and wraps my legs around his waist before lowering us to my puffy comforter.
And this time, stamina isn't even remotely a problem. He slides back into me, and if I had any reservations about his sexual competence, the unerring immediacy with which he finds that spot inside me erases it all from memory. "Fuck, Edward," I hiss, spreading my legs even wider, as if it could be possible to get him any deeper inside me.
"Yeah?" he asks, but it isn't really a question and we both know it. "God, Bella, I wanted you for so long."
"I wanted you, too."
And even if he acted like this was for him, the way the lights make his features glow, the fact that we're doing this, here, beneath my tree…I know, even if he didn't admit it, that it's for me, too. My best gift, quite literally beneath the tree. I don't know how long we're there, slowly loving each other beneath Alice's and my Fraser fir, but when he sends me shattering into orgasm for what has to be the third time and then follows me, I realize that as much as I love Christmas – and will always love Christmas – no future yuletide will ever hold a candle to this New Year's Eve.
When Edward slides out of me and collapses beside me on the blanket, the colored fairy lights sprinkling our skin like rainbow confetti, I turn to gaze at his profile, lost in a haze of bliss and adoration and love.
"So…I stand corrected."
"Hm?" He's blissed out, dots of light on his skin, long lashes casting tiny shadows on his cheekbones.
"About the tree. And the euphemism."
"What on Earth are you talking about?"
I roll toward him, nestling into his side, running a hand over the soft skin of his stomach. "The straight trunk. I was wrong about that."
He cracks an eye and gazes sideways at me through its slit. "Oh?"
"Yup. Call it inexperience. I can absolutely admit that I was 100 percent mistaken."
A slow, satisfied smirk spreads over his face like warm honey, and I love all his looks, but this – so utterly, completely pleased with himself and so boyishly cocky with it – makes me shiver. "I'm thrilled I could correct that highly flawed misconception."
"Honestly. I don't know why more dildos aren't shaped like…well, you."
At that, he laughs out loud, all vestiges of post-orgasm bliss chased away. "Well, there it is. You found your dream job – exterior Christmas light decorator – and I've found mine. Dildo model."
"Not a chance, bucko. I waited long enough for this to be all mine; I'm not about to share it now."
He's still smiling when he rolls toward me, but it's tempered by something more serious. "I'm sorry. That you had to wait. That we had to wait."
I shrug. "It was worth it. You were worth it." I slide my hand down his stomach and gently trace my fingernails over the skin beneath his belly button. "This was certainly worth it."
He rolls back onto his back, gazing up at the tree lights, grinning. "I'm delighted to hear it."
"I have a confession, though."
"Hit me with it."
Pressing my lips to the muscle of his shoulder, I say the words into his skin. "I lost track. Of the whoa moments."
He's still grinning, but when he looks back at me, it's softer somehow, his green eyes a near match for the tree above us. "Me too." His hand finds mine on the blanket between us, and he weaves our fingers together. "And…not just tonight."
"Yeah," I say, swallowing against the knot that formed at the base of my throat. "Not just tonight."
We gaze across the barely-there space between us for a few seconds before he blows out a breath and pulls me toward him. "So…serious question now."
"Which holiday do I have to pretend to hate for you to let me seduce you in a bathtub?"
I grin. "How about New Year's Day?"
Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it's exactly twelve o'clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year's Eve.
Maybe I'm crazy to suppose
I'd ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations you received
Ooh, but in case I stand one little chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doing New Year's Eve?
(Ella Fitzgerald, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?")
Thank you, as always, for being so unfailingly awesome. Here's hoping that 2016 brings each and every one of you the thing your heart hopes for most of all. And lots of "whoa moments." xo