"You're not ready," Emmett snarled. "You're just not ready."
Bella stood in front of her older brother, her arms folded in front of her, and waited for him to finish throwing his fit.
"Don't look at me like that, Butterbean," Emmett grumbled. "You and Edward are not ready to live on your own yet."
"Yes, we are," she said, automatically bringing her hands up and signing as she spoke. Almost a year and a half had passed since she regained her voice, and she still hadn't been able to break the habit of signing as she spoke.
"No, you're not," he whined, falling back on the couch with a groan.
Bella huffed and looked to Esme for help. They'd been arguing about this very issue for the last three months, ever since Edward and Bella announced that they had been accepted and had decided to go to college at the University of Washington in Seattle. Both Edward and Bella had put off college for a year, but they were ready to move on. Emmett wanted them to commute back and forth, but Bella refused, saying it was ridiculous to commute three hours every day for school when they could get a small apartment as a part of student housing. Of course, married housing was hard to come by at UW and there had been a waiting list, but Bella and Edward had just received news that a spot had opened and it was theirs if they wanted it.
"Em, you're being an asshole," Esme said, shrugging her shoulders as she fiddled with the zipper on her purse. "Goddamn it! Why won't this thing work?"
Bella smirked as she reached out and snatched the purse from her sister, pulling the zipper back before sliding it closed, causing her sister to glare at her.
"And you're being a bitch, Butterbean," Esme groused, taking her purse back as she stood up. "I've gotta run, or I'm going to be late, but here's my two cents for what it's worth. Em, we can't hold them back just because we're worried about them. Yes, it's kind of soon, but it's not like they're moving to Paris. Butterbean, cut the asshole some slack. The last eighteen months hasn't been easy for any of us, and he's just worried about you because he loves you." Esme crossed the living room and opened the front door. "Love you, see you later. Wish me luck!"
"Good luck," Carlisle called out from his place on the stairs. He and Esme had come down while Emmett and Bella were in the middle of their disagreement. Bella sighed, worried about her sister. Though the news about Mr. Greene's behavior had cost him his job, her decision to take to the media to solve her problems had been keeping her from gaining a new position. She'd had dozens of job interviews, everything from the public library, the community college library, several high-chain book stores, and an administrative assistant, none of the jobs had come through past the interview stage. Bella knew Esme had tried to be strong, but it was harder with every subtle rejection.
Bella turned back to Emmett, who was glaring at the floor. "Dad would let me go."
Emmett flinched, and she felt horrible for using their father against him. Charlie's condition hadn't changed; he was still lost inside himself, still just a memory of man who once held her tight. She missed him. More now than ever, but she couldn't keep putting their lives on hold while her father slipped away. Charlie Swan would have wanted more from his daughter.
"I know," Emmett murmured, shifting his eyes up to hers.
Bella sat on the couch next to Emmett, sliding her arm inside his and laying her head on his shoulder. "I'm scared, too, Em. But we have to grow up."
"Growing up is overrated," he grumbled, turning and pressing his lips against the top of her head. "Fine. I won't stand in your way, if you're sure this is what's right for you and Edward, Butterbean."
"I am," she said, tilting her head back and looking at her older brother. "Thank you."
The front door opened and they looked back, finding Edward shuffling inside with an armful of broken down, cardboard boxes tucked under both arms. He paused and looked at Bella and then Emmett before shuffling upstairs to their bedroom.
Bella huffed and turned back to Emmett. "This is getting stupid. Just apologize, for fuck sake!"
"I didn't do anything wrong!" he argued, waving a hand in the air.
Bella snorted before she stood up and headed for the stairs, ignoring the way Emmett called out to her that he was innocent. Innocent and Emmett didn't go together right now, not after the way he had been treating Edward. Emmett blamed Edward for their decision to leave Forks, saying that he was too weak, too fragile to be the man Bella needed him to be. She'd never been so pissed at her brother than she was at that moment. Edward struggled enough with his health, with the fact that his heart wasn't as strong as they wanted it to be a year and a half after surgery. Though the doctors claimed there was nothing wrong, Edward often complained of tightness, sometimes to the point of being painful. They'd run every test known done and nothing showed that he was rejecting the heart, or that the heart wasn't functioning perfectly. And for Emmett to use his heart against Edward was cruel, and it just fueled Bella's decision that they should accept the married housing. They needed a chance to be a normal married couple, and not two sick kids, who were barely living.
"Hey," Bella said as she walked into their bedroom. Edward was sitting on the side of the bed with a roll of packing tape in his hands and box at his feet. "Need some help?"
"Sure," he told her, pulling the tape. "Can you hold the box still?"
"I can try," she laughed kneeling in front of him and holding the box up. Edward pressed the tape along the seam, long ways, and then along each side. "He finally gave in. Said we can move."
Edward nodded, but didn't say anything as he reached for another box, folding it so that was in the right shape.
"I've been thinking," she said, covering his hand with hers, causing him to look up at her. "We need a name for our place."
"A name?" he chuckled. "For our apartment?"
Bella nodded. "Yeah, you know like, Brickside Manor, or something. I don't know. Just something that represents us."
"Hmm, okay," Edward said, taping the second box before reaching for the third. "How about 'Too poor to afford real housing'?"
Bella frowned. "That sounds like a mouthful. Can you imagine inviting Alice and Jasper to 'Too poor to afford real housing' for dinner? It would never fit on the invites."
"I just wish I could give you a real home, with a yard and walls that aren't connected to other people."
"One day, when we're done with college and have real jobs, we'll be able to have a house like that. But for now, this beats living with family, right?"
Edward nodded before reaching for another box, but she grabbed his hands, pulling them toward her. "Maybe he's right."
"Who? Emmett?" she asked, her eyes widening when he nodded. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"I don't know," he said, sounding like he was making a confession. He brought his hand up to her face, caressing her cheek. "I love you so much, Bella. So much. And the thought of leaving you alone, scares me."
"Me, too," she whimpered, leaning into his touch. "But we're in this together, remember? You and me, forever."
"And ever," he murmured before capturing her lips with his in a heated kiss.
Bella stood in the middle of her bedroom. Correction: the room that had once been her bedroom before she married Edward and moved into his house. It felt odd to be back there with a pile of boxes at her feet.
"You okay?" Edward asked, pulling her attention to him.
Bella nodded. "Just not sure what I want to take. I never realized how much shit I had."
"You don't have to get everything today," he said. "It's not like we're never coming back, right?"
"True." She walked over to her bed and picked up the picture of her with Emmett, Esme, Charlie, and Renee. Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared at the smiling, happy faces of a family who'd been ripped apart too many times. First with the fire and the fall, then when Charlie came back to them, only to be locked away inside of himself after an attempt to remove a tumor that was killing him.
Edward wrapped his arms around her, pressing his lips against the side of her neck before sliding his hand up over hers and pulling the picture from her hands. "We should definitely take this."
"Yeah," she agreed, watching as he wrapped it in newspaper and placed it into one of the boxes. With a sigh, she grabbed one of the boxes and began to place items inside. Books that she'd read over and over, a bunch of CDS that had gotten her through Hell. It wasn't until she picked up a small, leather journal that she paused and sat on the side of the bed.
"What's that?" Edward asked, sitting next to her.
"Some of the songs I wrote," she told him. "God, these are horrible."
"I'm sure they aren't that bad," he scoffed, reaching for the book, but she pulled it away. "Let me read one."
"No," she laughed.
"Then sing me one," he suggested.
Bella pressed her lips together as she shook her head. He was always trying to get her to sing for him, ever since the night he took her the theatre in Port Angeles and she stood on the stage and sang for the first time since cancer stole her voice. The night they made love for the first time. She could remember the way he felt that night, the way he fit just perfectly inside her.
"Why are you blushing?" Edward asked, smirking.
"No reason," she lied.
"You're thinking about that night, aren't you?"
Bella nodded. "I still can't believe you did all that for me."
"For us," he said. "If you're not ready—"
"When I found myself really struggling to handle my emotions, I'd lock myself in this room and cry. I didn't have to worry about anyone hearing me, worry about hurting them with my grief. I'm ready to let go of this room, Edward. I'm ready for a life with you."
"Okay," he said, kissing her cheek. "Then we'd better get the rest of these boxes filled, huh?"
Bella smiled as she tossed her song book into the box at her feet.
"Can't believe you're actually leaving," Jasper groaned, flopping onto the bed next to Bella, who had been attempting to put some makeup on, and now had a stream of mascara down her cheek.
"Yeah, well, believe it," she said, rushing into the bathroom to wash the black mark off. When she walked back into hers and Edward's bedroom, she found her best friend sitting on the side of the bed. "Port Angeles is like skip, hop, and a jump away from Seattle."
"Yeah, I know," he murmured. Jasper had flat out refused to go to college, saying that he wasn't the scholarly type. Alice had been accepted to an art program in Port Angeles, so they were planning on moving in a few weeks once Jasper had a job. Funny how Emmett wasn't concerned about the two of them living away from home, though. "I got a call for an interview today."
"That's great! For which job?" Bella asked.
"That tattoo parlor over on tenth," he said. "They liked my sketches, said we could talk about an apprenticeship. Said they could help me get my license."
"And being a tattoo artist is something you want to do?" Bella asked.
Jasper shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what I want to do. Just know that I want to be with Alice, and she's going to Port Angeles, so . . ."
Bella nodded and sat back down on the bed. "Okay."
"Don't say anything to anyone yet, though. I don't want them to know until it's a sure deal."
"My lips are sealed," she promised.
A few minutes later, Jasper headed back to Alice's room, leaving her alone. Bella tossed her mascara into her make-up bag, deciding not to bother. What was the point? She'd be in tears by the end of the night, anyway. She and Edward were leaving for Seattle the next morning. Emmett had insisted on one last dinner at Garrett's.
"Hey, you ready?" Edward asked, walking into their bedroom with another empty box in his hands. He placed it on the desk and began to pack the last few items left: a couple books they'd been reading, the CD of Bella's singing that Edward loved, a couple of notebooks they were using to keep a record of when Edward felt the tightness in his chest.
"Yeah," she said, softly, sliding her feet off the bed and into a pair of black flats. "Are they downstairs?"
Edward smiled and shook his head. "Pix and Jasper are, but I told the others that we'd meet them there."
"Thank God," she breathed, watching as he opened one of the notebooks and made a note. "You had another episode?"
The smile left his face, replaced by a frown. "It wasn't as bad as the others. More of a pressure than a tightness."
Bella nodded and picked up her cell from the nightstand.
"I'm fine," Edward said, walking over to her and sitting on the bed, next to her. "I promise."
"I know," she replied. "I just worry. Like you do when my throat tickles a little."
Edward sighed. Every time she had a bit of discomfort in her throat he worried, both that the implant would suddenly fail and that the cancer was growing back. She'd just had a check-up last month, at Phil's instance before he would give them his blessing to move, and her scans had come back clear. She was still cancer free. For now, anyway.
"We'd better go before they come looking for us," Bella laughed and stood up, grabbing his hand and pulling him to his feet. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "I love you."
"And I love you," he whispered.
Alice didn't say anything as Bella and Edward joined her and Jasper in the living room. Bella had assumed that Alice would struggle with their move, but surprisingly, she wasn't upset. She encouraged them to follow their hearts and not let Emmett keep them from being happy. Though a woman of few words, Alice had grown a lot in the last eighteen months. She smiled more, laughed, and ate without being prompted most of the time. She and Jasper were good for each other.
When the four of them walked into Garrett's, Bella groaned. There was a large banner hanging in the back with their names across it and a big 'Bon Voyage' under it. There were streams and balloons, tacky decorations. Not only were Emmett, Rose, Carlisle, and Esme there, but so were Tanya, Phil, and of course Garrett.
"I can't believe you did all this," Bella groused, pointing her finger at Esme.
"How'd you know it was me?" her sister asked, laughing.
"Oh, please. Tacky décor? I'm pretty sure these are the same table cloths Mom used for your sixteenth birthday," Bella scoffed.
"They are," she admitted. "Stop whining and be grateful we care, Butterbean."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," she mumbled, sitting at the table they usually sat at. Garrett laughed as he walked around the counter and started filling their usual drink order. Twenty minutes later, they were enjoying their food.
Once they were done, Carlisle picked up his glass and turned to Edward and Bella. "I, um, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're proud of you. Of how hard you've worked over the last year and a half. It's hard to let you go, but we are with the faith that when, or if, you need us, you'll call. Anytime, day or night."
"We will," Edward promised.
"And you'll be safe," Emmett added. "You'll be mindful of how you feel, and you won't miss your appointments."
"We won't," Bella huffed. "You act like we're irresponsible." Emmett pressed his lips together, which just pissed Bella off more. "You said we could go!"
"I know I did," he grumbled. "But I don't have to be happy about it."
"No, instead you choose to be a jerk about it!" she snarled, pushing away from the table and grabbing Edward's hand. "We're not the freaky, mute-girl and the heart transplant boy anymore. We're Bella and Edward, the married students. We're just Bella and Edward, for fuck sake, Em!"
And before Emmett could mouth off again, she pulled on her husband's hand and led him out of the diner. Tears burned her eyes as they climbed into the car and drove back to the house. They headed straight for their bedroom and locked the door behind them. As Bella stood in the middle of the nearly-empty room, her knees buckled and she crumbled to the floor, sobbing. She was terrified of leaving her family, of being on their own, but she'd spent too many hours struggling to regain her life to let it pass her by because she was scared. All they had now were whispered hopes of a future worth fighting for.