I hate this part because I don't want it to end.
First, I got some lovely recs for y'all before we part ways:
+Divergence of Nature by Maplestyle
+Taste of Ink by Hotteaforme
+The Freshmen by LayAtHomeMom
+Little Lovebird by assilem33
+when we were young by meguhbot
+Six Degrees of Separation by aushapasha
THANK YOU to everyone who read, reviewed, and rec'd this story! Y'all blew my damn mind with all the love, and I feel so fucking lucky. Seriously. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I also have so many wonderful women to thank! Mich, Sobhanya, Kimberly, Liv, May—you've all pre-read at some point, gave feedback, and talked me off the ledge. I cannot thank y'all enough for the help. And SO much love goes to Lizzie for her amazing banner and beautiful teaser photos. Love you, ladies.
Last but not certainly not least... Hadley. You've helped me complete two fics in the last 9 months that had been in my Google Docs since 2013 (!). I appreciate you so fucking much, and literally cannot do this without you. Thank you for everything. And for letting me keep a few sentences that start with 'and.' ;)
See y'all soon.
When I arrive at the beach overlooking Puget Sound, it's full of people soaking up the last days of summer. The sun is an hour away from setting and casts everything in gold.
It's the perfect day to celebrate what would've been Charlie's 58th birthday.
I weave through crowds of families and frisbee players until I find my own rowdy crew posted up by the barbecue pits.
A handful of Charlie's old friends greet me. Some immediately come over to say hi; others merely smile and wave. I spot Em standing off to the side, patiently waiting.
When I'm finally alone, he closes the distance. His skin is like leather, permanent smile lines surrounding his mouth. I've never known him to not have pepper-gray hair, a cheerful attitude, or a beer in his hand.
"You're growing like a weed," he says, smirking.
"I'm a grown-ass adult, Em," I laugh as he pulls me in for a side hug. "You don't have to say that every time I see you."
But he does. And he will. He's said it as a way of greeting since before I can remember. And if I'm being honest, the familiarity brings a certain sort of comfort.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm just saying it's been a minute. Haven't seen ya since Christmas, kid. You've been busy with work?"
"Pretty much, yeah." I slide my sunglasses onto my head, waving to someone who just arrived. I glance past them, hoping to see Edward, but I don't. "My boss and I have been busy opening a second flower shop on the east side, near Bellevue. I'll be the manager starting mid-October unless she comes to her senses before then."
He looks proud. "No shit? On your own?"
"Yeah. I guess Esme trusts me or something," I tease, downplaying how excited I am.
"Hope you got a pay bump."
I breathe out a laugh at Em's forwardness. It's one of the main things I like about him—he doesn't bullshit. He asks what he wants to, when he wants to, but it never feels intrusive.
"Yeah," I tell him. "I'll be getting a raise."
Em grins. "Hell yeah, brother!"
He also likes to quote Hulk Hogan. It's one of the more endearing things about him.
"I was going through some old pictures the other day, and I found this…" Emmett pulls something out of his back pocket.
It's a photo of him and Charlie, sitting at this very beach. Probably at this very picnic table. Dad has a can of Rainier in one hand, the other holding me. I was maybe two or three years old. I smile at the photo.
"Wow," I muse. The edges are worn, and the color is slightly faded, but I love it. "You always seem to find a new photo of him to give me every year."
Em clears his throat, expression softening just the slightest. "Somethin' to look forward to, I guess."
"Thank you." I slide it into the back pocket of my jean shorts. "Speaking of things to look forward to, you bring your beer bong today?"
"No, ma'am." He juts out his chin. "I'm classy now and don't do beer bongs anymore."
I give him a doubtful look. He's pushing sixty, and I've never witnessed an inkling of responsibility or class. But that's the other thing that makes him endearing.
"Really." He turns to the picnic table behind him and holds up a funky-looking champagne glass. "I do Chambongs now."
"Wow, Em. Classy doesn't even begin to describe it," I laugh.
"Wanna do one?"
He points at me with the glass. "I'm gonna hold you to that."
"Oh, I know you will."
I weave through a few more people and dig in one of the ice chests until I've found a beer I want. When I glance up, I see Edward walking toward me, a blindingly cute smile on his face.
It's been four months, but I still get that little flicker of excitement in my stomach when I see him.
"Hey, baby," I say, standing on my toes to kiss him.
Before I pull away, he kisses me once more, like the one I gave him wasn't enough. "Sorry, I'm a little late."
The plan was to meet at home and ride together, but he texted an hour ago, saying to head here without him.
He keeps a hand on my waist, holding me close. "My last appointment kept psyching themselves out, so it took a little longer."
I crack open the beer, hand it to him, and grab another for myself. "Worse than when I panicked during the peonies tattoo?"
"Yes," Edward laughs. "Worse than that. And I wouldn't say you panicked..."
I did panic—sorta. The feeling of the needle on my ribs was too much, and it took him twice as long to finish it because I kept asking him to stop. He tried his best to coach me, reminding me to breathe through the pain and giving me a heads-up when the excruciating parts were coming. But, at one point, he told me to suck it up. At first, I was mad, but eventually, his tough love was helpful, and I was able to get through it.
Emmett makes his way back over and eyes Edward up and down.
"Who's this, Bell?" Em asks.
"My boyfriend, Edward. Edward, this is Emmett," I say. "He and my dad were besties." I purposely say it to rile him up.
"Well, don't make it sound so juvenile," Em snarks, and my job here is done.
"Good to meet ya," Edward says politely, and they shake hands.
"How long have you two been together?" Emmett asks, ignoring all pleasantries.
I look at Edward, and I'm about to answer when he says, "Four months."
"Huh." Emmett nods at this.
"And I moved in with him like, two months ago," I add.
Edward had been hinting that we should move in together. First, it started with him saying all my stuff was at his place anyway. Then he kept making adorably obvious comments about how much my rent was for someone who never stayed there. Eventually I just straight up asked him if he wanted me to move in. He said yes. So I did.
Emmett whistles, keeping his eyes on Edward. "That's quick."
"You can stop with all the intimidating bullshit, Em. Edward's a good one."
"I'm not doing anything," Em argues. "I just have to say if you hurt her, you're dead. I know people. They probably wouldn't find your body—"
"Charlie would want me to say that," he insists, shrugging. "Anyway, now that that's out of the way," he claps his hands together, "we can have fun."
I roll my eyes, but thankfully Edward doesn't seem too freaked. I mean, he's been hanging out with my family for the last four months. If they haven't scared him away yet, I think it's safe to say he's in it for the long haul.
Emmett and Edward get to know each other a little, talking tattoos and music. Emmett starts to warm up a bit when he hears Edward's in a band. I knew they'd hit it off, and it only further confirms that Charlie would've loved Edward, too.
I'm listening to them banter back and forth about a band in town when I hear someone call my name. I peer past Edward, and my heart swells.
I tell Edward and Em I'll be right back and make my way over to Renee. She gets stopped by some people a few times before she's close enough for me to hug her. From the expression on her face, I can tell she's kind of nervous, so I hug her harder.
"I'm so glad you came, Mom."
"Me too." She glances back toward everyone. "It's weird but good. I haven't seen some of these people in… years. Ten years?" She shakes her head in amazement.
Months ago, when I told her she should come, I didn't think she would. I figured she'd think it would be too weird. I'm not sure what changed her mind, or why she decided to come this year, but I'm so thankful she did.
Her eyes land on Edward and Emmett.
"Oh, no. Is Edward okay with Em?" she asks, laughing lightly.
"He's fine. Emmett got his threats out of the way, and now they're bonding."
"Oh, good." Another nervous smile plays on her face.
"No Phil or Liam?" I ask, glancing past her as if they'll suddenly appear.
"No. I wanted to come alone. Phil understands."
I smile. I know he does. It only makes me love him that much more.
"Let's get you a drink," I tell her.
She links her arm with mine. "Let's."
As the night drifts on, someone starts a bonfire, and everyone slowly gathers around, drawn to the camaraderie. It's the part of the night we really dedicate to my dad, when everyone's feeling toasty and sentimental.
Some people share stories about Charlie. Some just say his name, toasting as they take a shot or sip of their drink. With every new story I hear, I feel I learn a little more about him, and the emotion wells that much deeper in my chest.
When the stories stop, the music begins.
Emmett makes his way over and holds out a guitar to Edward.
"That's okay," Edward says, politely declining.
"I thought you played," Em argues.
Edward pulls on the back of his neck. "I do."
"Well, then you're playing with us," Emmett tells him.
"Okay," Edward amends and takes the guitar from him. "I guess I'm playing with y'all."
I lean over and whisper, "Sorry. He's a bit pushy."
"It's okay," he says, surprisingly at ease despite being forced into playing with strangers.
I smile at him and watch as he tunes and strums while everyone talks over one another, arguing about which song to play first.
They decide to play one of the Midnight Ramblers' old songs, and even though Edward doesn't necessarily know it, he tries his best, strumming in key as Emmett sings.
During the second song, the one that's tattooed under my collarbone, Edward catches my eye, his smile so fucking sweet and sincere.
I watch him the entire time.
My heart hammers in my chest, and as if I didn't already love him enough, seeing him play with Charlie's old band only further solidifies everything for me.
Tequila happens, and it's Emmett's fault.
He busts out a bottle of Charlie's favorite, and by the end of the night, every last drop is gone.
Eventually, people start to leave, and I get caught in a flurry of goodbyes. Edward goes missing for a bit, and I keep glancing around, trying to spot him. I find him past the bonfire, near the water's edge.
"There you are," I tell him, just as he slips a cigarette butt in his pocket. I move closer and wrap my arms around his waist, locking my hands behind his back. I stare up at him.
He smirks. "You're so short."
"You're just tall."
He breathes a laugh through his nose, holding me a little tighter. "Sorry I left. You were kinda busy, and I didn't wanna interrupt to tell you I needed a smoke."
"You're not an interruption. You're my boyfriend. My charming and insanely sexy boyfriend who everyone fucking loves. Including… me."
"You're drunk," he laughs, pressing a kiss to my temple.
"I really am. But that doesn't make what I said any less true." I search his face. "No tequila for you tonight?"
"Someone's gotta get us home safely, you know?" His tone is playful, and I kiss his chin.
"We could Uber."
"Nah. I don't wanna leave both cars here overnight."
"Fine." I let go of his waist and smooth my hands up his chest. "Are you having fun?"
"I am," he promises. "I really like everyone. Emmett's funny."
I grin. "He's something, that's for sure."
"You wanna hang a little longer?"
"Mmm…" I pretend to think about this and tug on his collar until he's dipping his head and we're kissing. "No. It's time to go."
"You sure? We can stay."
"I'm sure." I give him one more kiss, lips parting, tongues brushing. "Take me home."
"Okay." He kisses me again, a little more chastely than I kissed him, and his hand stays on the small of my back as we make our way back toward the group.
We say goodbye to the few people still hanging out. Renee left earlier, before tequila happened, but Emmett is still here, sitting by the fire, and laughing it up with a couple other people. I make my way over to him and squat next to his folding chair.
"We're gonna jet," I tell him.
He looks disappointed, and I lightly punch his arm. "It's late. I'm drunk. And that guy over there is gonna take me home."
Em follows my gaze over to where Edward is helping someone clean up. He's stuffing garbage into a black bag, and tossing bottles into another.
"You were right," Em agrees. "That guy over there is a good one. And I think he's gonna come jam with us sometime."
This both surprises and excites me. "He is?"
"Maybe he's just indulging an old man, though."
"Edward doesn't indulge people," I tell Em. He only does what he wants and says what he means.
"Kind of like Charlie," Emmett says, and it causes a pang in my chest.
Edward walks over to us and I stand, the combination of tonight plus tequila and Em's words making me feel emotional.
When Edward catches my expression, he doesn't comment on it, but brings a hand up to the nape of my neck, fingers brushing gently.
"You're good to drive?" Em asks Edward as he rises from his chair.
Edward nods and slides his hand down my back, fingers curling around my waist. "Definitely. I stopped drinking an hour ago, and only had two beers."
"Are you good to drive?" I say pointedly at Em.
"Hell no. I'm Ubering," Em says, and we laugh. "Well, drive safe." He looks at Edward again, then me. "Precious cargo, and all that."
"I will," Edward tells him seriously.
"And don't forget—"
"That you know people and my body would never be found," Edward interrupts, amused. "Trust me. I got it."
"I was gonna say don't forget we should jam soon, but that works too."
Edward breathes out a laugh. "Shit. Right."
This little moment they're having is kinda sweet, even if it's a tad morbid.
We shoot the shit a little longer, prolonging our goodbye. Eventually, we hug and make promises to catch up sooner rather than later. And with one last Chambong, we toast to Charlie, and call it a night.
"So does Emmett threaten all of your boyfriends or just me?" Edward asks when we're back at our loft.
"Are you kidding? Just you."
"How special," he says flatly, a spark of amusement in his green eyes.
I slide out of my sandals and lay in bed, on top of the comforter. "You should feel special. You're the only boyfriend he's felt the need to threaten. Probably because you're the only one he's met who he thinks can hurt me."
The amusement in his eyes is quickly replaced with sincerity.
"Well, I'm not gonna hurt you," he says quietly. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Damn straight you're not. Your body won't be found, remember?"
Edward laughs and sits on the bed, pulling my feet into his lap. "Thanks for inviting me tonight, baby."
"Of course. I'm so glad you were there."
"I loved seeing everyone celebrate your dad," he murmurs, gently squeezing the arch of my foot. "But it kinda made me feel like I don't do enough for my mom, I guess."
"No way. Your mom would love the way you honor her year after year," I promise him. "The only thing I guarantee she wouldn't be thrilled with is how your dad treated you during those times."
He sighs. "Yeah."
"Next year will be different," I say softly and swing my legs around before straddling him. "We can do something really fucking fun in her honor."
"Okay," he murmurs, meeting my eyes, but I sense some anguish there, maybe as he remembers his father will no longer be part of that day.
We had dinner with Dr. Cullen a couple of months ago. It wasn't nearly as bad as the first time, but it did feel awkward and a bit stilted. It seemed like, without berating or putting down Edward in some way, Dr. Cullen didn't have much to say. He tried in his own uptight way to be friendly, I guess. The entire dinner was off-putting, but we made it through. It felt like a win, but it was deflating that a win would come in the form of Edward not being insulted.
A month later, when his dad invited us to dinner again, Edward suggested he go alone. It didn't bother me, I kind of loved that he felt confident enough to go by himself. I encouraged him that this was a step in the right direction. If they were going to heal their relationship, they'd need to do it without a buffer. The entire time he was gone, I was a nervous wreck.
When he came home, he didn't say much at first. Eventually, after a little coaxing and a lot of whiskey, he opened up. Apparently, without me there, Dr. Cullen reverted to his old ways. It's like Edward needed to see for himself if his dad was either changing for the better, or if he was just putting on a show for me.
In the end, Edward decided having a strained relationship wasn't worth it. He told his dad he was done. And I respected his decision.
I still do.
"What are you thinking about?" Edward asks, pulling me from my thoughts. He runs his hands up and down my back, and I shiver under his touch.
His lips press together in a satisfied, sweet smile. "What about me?"
"That we'll make do without your dad," I say simply. "You have me. You have my family now."
He swallows, searching my face before leaning in to kiss me. "Why are you so fucking good to me, Bella?"
"Because I love you," I murmur against his lips. "You're stuck with me, homie. Better get used to it."
"You say it like it's such a hardship for me," he laughs deeply and buries his face in the crook of my neck, exhaling. "I love you, too." He presses a gentle kiss to my collarbone. "And I fucking love that you're mine." When he rolls me onto my back and stares down at me, his gaze is so fucking sincere. "Sometimes I still can't believe it."
"Sometimes I still can't believe you reached out on Instagram and talked shit to me," I laugh, and his eyes narrow playfully.
"I didn't talk shit."
"Yes, you did! You told me 'I thought you had better taste than that' regarding my coffee preference, Masen."
"Well?" He laughs again. "I did think that, Swannie."
"And then I went and chose you. So, what does that say about my taste?"
He thinks about this. "Clearly I have no game."
I laugh, pushing him away, only to have him move closer and kiss me.
"That's not necessarily true. You have some game," I tell him. "I mean, I'm here, so…"
With a calculated smirk, his warm hand slides up under my shirt before he lifts it and dips his head, lips grazing along the peonies tattoo across my ribs. I shiver; melt. His mouth moves down my stomach. Just above my shorts.
With each kiss to my skin, he's telling me how happy he is that I'm here. How much he loves me. And that he gladly accepts the invitation into my eccentric, but loving, family.