AN: Hello again! I was asked to fill in as a "Pinch Writer" for this year's FAGE (Fic Awesome Gift Exchange), so I wrote this for the amazing and lovely DeJean Smith. If you've never read any of her works, go check them out! She's a superb writer!
Many thanks as always to Chaya Sara for excellent beta'ing skills and mariescullen for the adorable banner she made for this. This fandom has blessed me with so many wonderful people that I'm surrounded by.
FAGE 12. Never Too Late to Start Anew
Title: Going Home
Written for: DeJean Smith
Written By: KitsuShel
1. Between Hell and Amazing Grace – song by Big and Rich
3. Older, more mature characters
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(A C2 will be set up for all FAGE 12 entries, and details will be posted on the Facebook
The place that I know where they all know me
I've gotta get back now to the ones who love me
Wrap myself around you, never let you go
There's nothin' in the world that feels like
Coming Home by Keith Urban
"So, Bella, when are you going to put Dr. Cullen out of his misery?"
Bella Swan smirked as she poured Mrs. Cope's cup of coffee. "Just as soon as he leaves Esme, Miss Shelly."
The three ladies sitting in the corner booth laughed. Mrs. Banner reached out to stroke Bella's hand. "You know exactly who Shelly meant, Isabella. Edward's been sweet on you since his hell-raising days."
Bella blushed, trying to not let herself fall down that rabbit hole. She'd had a crush on that man since they were kids, but Edward had always been up to some mischief or another and too busy to notice her. These days, though, he was her best friend. She'd grown up in Forks, Washington, with her dad, the chief of police in their small town, but moved to Florida with her mom and step-father when she graduated high school. After attending Florida State, she started a job as an intern with a little entertainment magazine that took off in popularity. She had spent the past decade traveling the world and writing for that same magazine. That is, until six months ago when she moved back home to help take care of her father, who'd had a stroke.
Edward's father, Carlisle Cullen, was the only doctor in town and well-loved by everyone. After doing some growing up and learning of his own at Washington State University, Edward had decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor. He'd been the first person she ran into when she rushed to Fork's Hospital to check on her dad. Later that same night, he held her as she cried her eyes out in relief knowing that Charlie would make a full recovery with the right care.
Over the past few months, they'd grown closer and spent more time hanging out. They met every Monday and Wednesday afternoon at the Starbucks on the edge of town to have drinks and chat, not to mention all of the times that Edward randomly stopped in to the diner when Bella was working a few shifts a week to keep her from boredom as her father became more independent again. In just a handful of months, Charlie was well enough to go back to work on light duty. It wouldn't be much longer until he was full time once again.
Bella wondered what that would mean for her once she was no longer needed in that capacity. Everyone assumed that she would just pick back up traveling and working for the magazine, but the more she thought about it, the more she didn't want that. She wanted to have a house of her own and lay down roots—preferably here back home. While she wasn't in a rush to get married and have kids yet, she was definitely ready to settle down and take it easy for a bit.
"Well, well," Mrs. Molina exclaimed. "Look who it is!"
Bella turned just in time to see Edward walking in the front door of Cora's Diner. He caught her eye and waved. She turned to the older women and hushed them.
"Behave, ladies, or I'm going to switch you to decaf."
"Better settle down, Mildred. She looks like she means it."
Bella sighed as she made her way over to the booth that Edward had sat down in.
"Hi, Bella." He greeted her with a smile.
"Hey, stranger." She slid into the seat across from him and smiled back. "Whatcha up to today?"
He shrugged nonchalantly. "I just finished up with our last patient and was wondering if you'd had lunch yet."
"Well, you arrived just in time. I was about to take a break, but I have a feeling you knew that already, didn't you?"
Edward grinned sheepishly. "I may have called and checked with Waylon before heading over."
She pulled a notepad out of her apron pocket. "Okay then, what will you be having? I'll put our orders in."
"A burger and fries is fine with me."
She jotted a few lines down on the paper and winked at him. "I'll just run this in to Waylon. Chocolate shake?"
His eyes lit up as he nodded excitedly. She shook her head and laughed as she walked their order into the kitchen. Waylon Forge was waiting by the swinging door, wearing a shit-eating grin.
"Don't start, old man," she warned.
"Who, me?" Waylon asked innocently.
Bella rolled her eyes and slid the order slip into the metal holding strip. "Don't play with me."
"You and young Cullen look awfully cozy out there."
Bella flipped him off and strode out of the kitchen.
Cora looked up from the register as her husband's laughter followed Bella into the dining room.
"Everything all right in there?"
"Yep. Just Waylon being Waylon."
Cora nodded. "Sounds about right."
When Bella returned with their shakes, Edward folded his hands on the table.
"So, I was wondering if you had any plans for tomorrow."
She drummed her fingers on the tabletop. "Well, it's Friday and Valentine's Day, so I was planning on staying home in my pajamas and binge-watching Lucifer. Someone has been trying to get me to watch that for months now."
"Because it's awesome," Edward replied vehemently. He paused to gather his thoughts for a moment. "Would you consider hanging out with me? We can do the same things, just share each other's company."
Bella grinned. There was no one else she'd rather spend her time with.
"That sounds great, actually. Your place or mine?"
It didn't escape her notice that his cheeks tinged with pink when she asked that last question.
"How about mine? I'll make dinner, and you can bring some snacks for the binging."
"Oh, that's so sweet. You really don't have to go through the trouble of making me dinner, Edward."
"It's no problem, really. I have to eat anyway, you know?"
Bella shyly returned his grin. "Okay. It's a date, then."
Her eyes widened at the slip of her tongue. "Well, I mean, it's not a date date or anything."
"What if you had it right the first time?" he asked with a blush.
Cora chose that moment to interrupt their conversation, placing plates in front of the pair.
"Here you go, kids."
Bella lovingly rolled her eyes. "We're in our thirties, Cora. I doubt we qualify as kids anymore."
Cora placed her hand on Bella's shoulder and squeezed gently. "Sweetheart, I changed both of your diapers at some point. You'll always be kids to me."
Edward watched with an amused look on his face as Cora walked away. "That was… interesting."
"Mmhmm," Bella mumbled in reply, stuffing her face with a huge bite of burger to stop her from commenting on the date remark.
The rest of their lunch was spent in silence until Bella groaned and patted her full stomach.
"Ugh, I'm stuffed. Waylon makes the best burgers in all of Washington."
Edward nodded in agreement as he placed his napkin on the plate. "Yeah, he does. I guess I'll be heading out so you can get back to work." He stood and offered Bella his hand.
She placed her hand in his and stood, feeling a warm tingling sensation drift up her forearm. His gaze searched hers intently.
"Are we still on for tomorrow?"
She nodded with a smile. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
Edward grinned and kissed her softly on the cheek. "See you then, Bella."
Enraptured, she watched as he walked out the door and waved at her from the window. As she gave him a wave back, she heard snickering from a few tables behind her. She turned and raised an eyebrow at her favorite trio of septuagenarians.
"Really, ladies? Are you still in high school?"
"No, but we can definitely see when someone is in denial, young lady," Mrs. Banner remarked.
Bella leaned her hip against their table and sighed. "Maybe you are right…"
"Ha! No maybes about it, girlie."
Mrs. Cope's face turned serious as she reached for Bella's hand. "We tease because we love you, Isabella. I hope you know that. I still miss Jerry every single day, and he's been gone for three years now. Life is too short, sweetie. Grab that boy and be happy."
Bella felt her throat well up with emotion and decided Mrs. Cope was right—she would take a chance to see where things went. Maybe she'd get her happily ever after, after all.
When her shift was over, Bella made a stop at the grocery store to pick up ingredients to make brownies and some other treats for tomorrow night. She dropped off her ingredients in the small kitchen and made her way to the bathroom, where she'd shower and shave in anticipation. Things between her and Edward may not have gotten that far, but she was sure as hell going to be prepared for that possibility.
A few hours later, Charlie got home and went straight to the kitchen.
"Something smells amazing, Bella. What have you been up to?"
He slid off his jacket and hung it on the back of a kitchen chair before going into the fridge for a light beer.
"Nothing much." She lied through her teeth. "Just some snacks for hanging out with Edward tomorrow."
Charlie raised an eyebrow before taking a swig of his beer and grimacing.
"Man, this stuff tastes like watered down shit."
Bella shook her head. "Well, the doc wanted you to cut it out altogether, and this was the compromise because you refused."
Charlie frowned. "Don't remind me." He turned his attention back to the containers lined up along the countertop.
"That's an awful lot of snacks for just hanging out. Having a party?"
Bella glanced at the bowls nervously. She had made brownies, cookies, and some cupcakes. Looking back, she could see how she'd gone overboard.
"No, it's just us. Too much?"
Charlie eyed his daughter speculatively, trying to figure out what was going on in her head. He'd only ever seen her bake like this when she was nervous about something.
"Maybe just a tad. I could always take something down to the station tomorrow, if you'd like to share."
Bella sat down at the table and gave him a grateful smile.
Her father slid into the chair across from her and leaned back. "This thing with you and Cullen, is it romantic or just friendly?"
Bella leaned her elbows on the table and ran her fingers through her hair as she leaned forward.
"That's the thing, Dad. I don't know. He's always a little flirty, but I've never gotten the feeling that he wanted more than friendship. Then today, he was so sweet and kissed me on the cheek and offered to make me dinner tomorrow. I'm just really confused."
Charlie weighed his words carefully before responding. This was one of the things that Bella loved and missed the most about her dad. He didn't pry, but he was a great listener and usually gave damn good advice.
"I think it sounds like you need to talk to him. Wait." He interrupted her as she was about to cut him off. "Hear me out first, okay?"
Bella nodded and motioned for him to continue.
"Edward is a good man. Sure, I had my doubts when he was raising Cain back in high school and giving me premature gray, but he's grown up well. Everyone in town loves him and for good reason. Did you know that he takes Esme to mass every Sunday because Carlisle volunteers his medical expertise out on the Rez?"
Her eyes widened with that gift of knowledge. She was surprised that she hadn't known that.
"What if I'm reading it wrong, and it makes our friendship awkward? Or what if I'm not, and he's just stringing me along?"
Charlie cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips in thought. "Do you honestly believe any of that? Or are you just psyching yourself up?"
Bella looked deep into her father's brown eyes which mirrored her own and saw the truth in them.
"No, I guess not. I know he wouldn't do any of that. It's partly why I love him."
Her eyes widened at the realization, her hand flying to cover her mouth. "Oh, fuck. I love him," she murmured.
Charlie let out a booming laugh. "Anyone with two eyes can see that between you two knuckleheads."
Her gaze flew up to meet her father's eyes. "You really think he feels the same?"
Charlie smiled. "You're going to have to ask him that, but I have a strong hunch that he does, and you know my hunches are never wrong."
He looked up at the clock on the wall. "It's getting late. Why don't we turn in? I'm sure you have a lot to process."
Charlie got up and tossed his bottle into a recycling container and gathered up his things from the chair. Bella walked over and hugged him tightly.
"Thank you, Daddy."
He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her back with his free arm. "Anytime, baby girl."
She had just started to put the lids on all of the containers when she heard him holler down from the top of the stairs.
"If I don't see you before then, have fun tomorrow. Be safe, you hear?"
Bella's cheeks flushed bright pink. "DAD!" she yelled. "RUDE! And unnecessary."
She chuckled as he laughed before shutting his bedroom door. She was so thankful for the close relationship she and Charlie had. It was just another bullet point on her mental "Reasons To Stay" list. She loved her mother dearly, but they'd never had the kind of relationship that Bella and Charlie had. Renee had always been more like a roommate than a mother.
Not too long later, she tucked herself into bed and tried to get some rest, provided that the butterflies in her stomach would allow as much.
The next evening went off without a trace of the awkwardness Bella had been expecting. The feeling sank into her brain that this was just she and Edward—there was nothing to be nervous about. He cooked a delicious steak dinner, which he served along with a Ceasar salad and a bottle of wine. Their idle dinner chat had been the highlight of her week so far; it was easy to be natural and comfortable around him.
After dinner, they both changed into pajamas to settle in the living room with the snacks that Bella had brought. She sat nervously on the couch, waiting for him to return with another bottle of wine from the kitchen. She ran her fingers against the soft texture of the new silk pant and shirt set she'd bought earlier in the day. It made her feel sexy without showing off her body. She wanted first and foremost to be comfortable. Edward returned wearing a pair of flannel bottoms and a plain white t-shirt which stretched across his chest, distracting her from her wandering thoughts.
He refilled their glasses and set up the show to play on Netflix before lounging casually next to her. About halfway through the first episode, Bella was fidgeting and unable to focus on the screen in front of her. Edward gently placed his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him.
"Is this okay?" he whispered in the semi-darkness of the room.
She melted against him and got cozy. "It's perfect."
She turned her attention to the screen and got lost in the show.
A few hours later, they took a break as the first season ended. Bella stretched and quickly covered a yawn with her hand.
"I'm so sorry. It's getting late. Do you want to call it a night?" Edward asked, sounding a little sad.
Bella turned to look at him and knew that leaving was the last thing she wanted to do. "No, I'm good. This has been the best night ever."
Edward grinned. "Yeah, Luci sucks you right in. You still have three more seasons to catch up on."
Bella swallowed her nerves and decided to just throw her feelings out there. "Yeah, the show is great, but I mostly meant being here. With you."
The expression on his face shifted, and she thought she saw a spark of hope in his eyes, so she reached out and slid her fingers over his cheek to cup his jaw.
"Bella," he whispered as he smiled brilliantly, then leaned forward to press his lips against hers. He pulled back and rested his forehead against hers.
"Tell me I'm not dreaming—that we didn't fall asleep on the couch and that this is all real."
She laughed and ran her fingers through his silky, auburn hair. "God, I hope it's real, because I do not want to let you go."
Edward shifted and pulled her sideways onto his lap, content to just hold her for the moment.
"I've wanted to do that for months, Bella. I was always so nervous that you'd shoot me down."
"Why would I do that? You're a pretty amazing guy."
"I—I didn't know if you'd be interested in a temporary relationship. But then the more time I spent with you, the more I knew I'd be lucky with whatever time you'd give me before you left."
Bella sat back and looked at him in confusion. "What are you talking about?"
He smiled ruefully. "I've never seen your father in any official capacity, but I am a doctor in the same practice as my dad. I know Charlie's almost fully recovered. Hell, I think half the town is taking bets on when you'll be heading off into the sunset again."
She wanted to be annoyed, but the sadness in his voice tore at her heartstrings.
"What if I wasn't going anywhere? I mean, what if I wanted to stay permanently?"
He eyed her warily for a moment, not wanting to get his hopes up. "Why would you do that? Give up your life to stay here?"
She rolled her eyes. "It's not like I can't still travel and do work for the magazine. I don't have to give up anything. I love it here. It's home. Why did you decide to stay here?"
He nodded in understanding. "Because it's home. I get it. I'm sorry for making assumptions."
Bella shifted herself so that she was straddling his lap, face to face. "You didn't answer my question. What if I didn't want to leave?"
His eyes were bright with happiness and desire. "I'd say that I love you, Bella Swan, and I want to be by your side, no matter what."
She felt elation fill up her soul as she leaned down to kiss him passionately.
"I love you, too, Edward Cullen," she murmured against his lips. "Now, why don't you show me what your bedroom looks like?"
She felt his lips turn up in a smile before he startled her by standing up. Bella yelped in surprise and wrapped her legs around his waist. He slid his hands under her bottom and began walking down the hallway.
"As my lady wishes."
The next day, Bella's favorite trio of customers sat at their usual table, having breakfast and people watching.
"Well, would you look at that," Shelly Cope exclaimed, pointing out a young couple walking down the street, hand-in-hand.
"Aww, it's about time those two got their heads out of their asses," Mildred Banner added.
"I want to be a flower girl," Jennifer Molina sighed.
Mildred and Shelly turned to give their friend exasperated looks.
"What?" Jennifer asked. "I always wanted to be a flower girl."
The other two ladies laughed and continued on with their normal gossip. Edward and Bella continued on their walk, happy to enjoy the beautiful weather and each other's company.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the Twilight characters, just the ideas to put them in different (albeit most of the time fluffy) situations.