Bella Swan stared at the text message she had just received, trying to decipher how she felt. The words 'your father' and 'found dead' seemed odd, yet there they were in black and white. Her father was dead and she was being notified via text message.

"Bella, have you seen my sunglasses?" Alice Brandon asked as she burst into the kitchen of their two bedroom condo. "I swear they were in my purse, but now, they're not and I'm beyond the term 'running late.' I should not have gone out for drinks last night with James. Motherfucker kept insisting that he buy me one more. Before I knew it, he had me bent over the sink in the bathroom while plowing me from behind. If the man didn't have a dick as thick as a soda can, I wouldn't bother, but damn, he feels good inside me."

Bella swallowed against the lump in her throat as she shifted her eyes from her phone to her best friend, who huffed and looked at her in irritation when she didn't respond. "He's dead."

"Who's dead?" Alice asked, yanking the phone from her hand. Her eyes widened as she read the text. "Oh, my God, Bella, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah, me too," she murmured, taking her phone back. "I, um, I don't even know what to do."

"Well, I guess you'll have to go home, won't you? I mean, someone has to take care of everything, right?"

Bella hummed, but didn't respond. Going home was easier said than done. When she left ten years ago, she made it clear to her father that she wouldn't return, and she hadn't. She'd left that part of her life behind her and started new. Or she had tried to, anyway. But Alice was right. She had to go back and take care of things. There was nobody else going to do it. Her father had pushed away everyone who had ever cared about him, her included.

"Sweetie," Alice said, drawing her attention back to her. "Give me an hour to get things settled at the office and we can head out, okay?"

"You'll come with me?" Bella asked.

Alice frowned. "Of course I will. That's what besties do. Look, why don't you take a shower, pack our bags. You know what I like and don't care for. I'll get us a flight out. Just be ready in an hour, okay?"

Bella nodded, unsure what else to say. As Alice bolted out of their condo, Bella walked into her bathroom, stripped off her pajamas, climbed into the shower, and cried. Her father was dead.


Seven hours later, Bella and Alice's flight touched down at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It had taken some wrangling and more money than Bella wanted to admit, but Alice had managed to get them on a flight two hours after Bella received the text message about her father. Now, loaded with their luggage, they were walking through the airport to meet the car Alice had reserved for them. Bella, who hadn't cried since being in the shower, felt like she was on auto-pilot, her movements almost robotic. Logically, she told herself she shouldn't grieve for the man who had done everything he could to control and manipulate her life, but a part of her ached for him. Once upon a time, he had been her hero.

"Okay, we're looking for a red Camaro. Convertible, of course," Alice said, gripping Bella's elbow as they push their way through the crowd of people waiting.

"Of course," Bella quipped. Her friend was nothing if not predictable. "Think that's it over there," she added, gesturing to where a tall, thin man around their age stood. Behind him was a cherry red Chevy Camaro. "Surprised you didn't reserve a limo."

"Thought about it." Alice grinned as she peered over the top of her midnight blue sunglasses. "But thought that might be going a bit too far. Anyway, if we're going to be here, might as well be comfortable, shouldn't we?"

Bella smiled. "Supposed that's true."

They thanked the man waiting with the car for stowing their luggage in the trunk, and after giving him a hefty tip, Alice slipped in behind the wheel while Bella took the passenger seat. Once they had their seatbelts on, Alice started the car, cranked up the radio, and headed for the interstate.

Two hours later, Alice drove past the city limits sign of Blue Ridge, Georgia. Bella, who had been awkwardly quiet compared to her louder, more outgoing friend, felt her stomach twist into knots as she directed Alice toward the town's medical center, where she knew her father would have been taken. The small, tourist town hadn't changed in ten years. They catered to the travelers who made the two hour journey from Atlanta for a bit of small town life. Antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques lined the charming downtown district. As a teenager, Bella would spend her weekends roaming the city, anything to get away from her father and his rules.

"Take the next left. It's the building on the right," Bella said, quietly as she pushed her sunglasses on top of her head.

Alice pulled parked the car in front of the brick building, but didn't make any effort to get out. They sat in silence. Nobody but Alice understood how hard it was Bella to come back. Well, that wasn't true. He would understand, but he wasn't around anymore. Blowing out a deep breath, Bella grabbed the door handle and pushed the passenger door open and climbed out of the car. Alice followed her into the building, down the hallway to the medical examiner's office. The door had been left open an inch, so Bella reached out and pushed it the rest of the way open. There, laying on the metal table, was her father.

Even in death, Charlie Swan was a handsome man. His dark hair had started to grey, Bella noticed, and wrinkles bit into his skin around his eyes and mouth. She told herself it was from grief, from losing her, but she knew that wasn't true. Charlie Swan hadn't cared about her any more than he did anyone else in his life. She had simply been an asset he was stuck with for eighteen years.


At the sound of her name being called, she turned toward the doorway of the room, finding Jasper Whitlock standing there with a frown on his face and his arms loaded down with file folders. His blond hair was shaggier than he had worn it ten years ago, back when they were friends.

"I, um, wasn't sure you'd come back," he added before clearing his throat and rushing across the room and dropping the files on to his desk. He turned and looked back at her. "You look good."

"Thanks," she murmured, nervously. Alice gave a soft 'hmm' and Bella almost laughed. "This is my friend Alice. Alice, this is . . . well, an old friend."

"Jasper," he said with a grin. "Nice to meet you, Alice."

"It might be," she purred, and Bella almost snorted at the situation. There they were standing in the morgue with her father's dead body just feet away and Alice was flirting.

Jasper grinned bigger and shifted his attention to Bella, his lips wavering before the smile dropped altogether. "It was a heart attack. He went quickly. Probably didn't feel anything."

"He never did take care of himself," Bella quipped. "So, what happens now? What do I do?"

"Well, I wasn't sure you were coming back. You know, after everything that went down and all, so I took the liberty of calling the funeral home. They're sending someone by in the morning for him. Um, they said he had everything arranged already. After your mom . . . I mean . . ."

"Yeah, sounds like him. Always with a plan," she whispered, almost to herself. "Well, I guess I'll give them a call in the morning, touch base or whatever."

"Yeah, all right." Jasper cleared his throat again. "I was about to lock up for the night. I can give you a few more minutes, though. You know, if you need to, I don't know, say goodbye or whatever."

Bella shook her head. "That won't be necessary."

"Are you sure?" And when she nodded, he sighed and added, "I was going to head out to the O. Want to go with me? Get a drink?"

And when she shook her head, he said, "Come on, Bella. It's been ten years. Just have one drink with me. You know, for old time's sake."

Though Bella wasn't sure why, she found herself saying, "Okay, fine. We'll meet you there, though."

With a plan set, Bella shifted her attention to her father once more before grabbing Alice's arm and dragging her out of the room, down the hallway, and out of the building, her heart beating wildly against her ribs.

"Bella, honey, are you okay?" Alice asked, slipping her arm from Bella's grip and wrapping her arm around her waist. "Who was that guy?"

"He . . ." Bella shook her head as she shifted her eyes from Alice to the building and back. "He used to be my best friend. One of my only friends. After . . . after my dad . . . Well, things got fucked up and, you know, how I left things."

"Well, maybe this is your chance to make things right," Alice suggested.

"Yeah, maybe," she whispered. "Or it might be too late. Way too late, in fact."

"It's never too late." Alice tugged Bella toward the car. "Come on. We can check into the hotel before we head out to the O. Whatever that place is."

"The hotel?" she asked.

"I didn't think you'd want to go back to his house, honey. We can if you want, but . . ."

"No, no, you're right."

The last place Bella wanted to go was back to the house she once shared with her father. The house he destroyed all her dreams.


An hour later, Bella had directed Alice through the small town to the Oasis, or the 'O' as they called it. The Oasis was a small bar on the outskirts of town, where you could find cheap drinks, good music, and no one checking your I.D. Bella had spent more nights inside that dinky bar than she cared to admit.

"Wow, look at this place," Alice laughed as she pulled the keys out of the ignition. "It's fucking adorable!"

"Adorable?" Bella scoffed as she climbed out of the car, using her hip to push the door closed. Once Alice was out, Bella placed her hands on her hips and shook her head. "This place isn't adorable, Alice. It's . . . Well, it's a shithole, but it was the only place in town where I wasn't Charlie Swan' little girl. I was just Bella."

"You sure you're okay, Bella?" Alice asked for at least the tenth time since they left the morgue. "We can go back to the hotel. Tell that Jasper guy to go suck a dick if he has a problem with us not showing. I'd be happy to be the one to call him."

Bella smiled. "You would, huh? You don't have a little crush on him, do you?"

"No!" Alice denied, but even though the sun was setting and twilight was starting to settle, Bella could see the way her cheeks darkened. "I'm just worried about my bestie."

"Mmhmm," Bella scoffed and took a step toward the bar. "I'm fine. Just want to get shit settled here so we can go home."

"Okay, if you're sure. Just say the word and we can leave. Promise?"

Bella nodded, though she wasn't sure she believed the words coming out of her mouth any more than Alice had. She didn't want to be there, be in that town, or even the state of Georgia. She had vowed never to return, yet here she was, back again. With a heavy sigh, she hooked her arm in with Alice's and led her across the parking lot to the front door.

The thick, wooden door opened with a loud creak, drawing the attention of the dozen or so people inside, including Jasper. Seated at the far end of the bar, he looked toward the back room before sliding off his bar stool and hurrying over to Alice and Bella, a smile pulling at the corners of his lips.

Jasper leaned down and wrapped his arms around Bella, his lips pressing against her ear and whispering, "I didn't think he'd be here tonight."

Before Bella could question the simple, yet odd statement, the sound of glass breaking echoed throughout the room and Jasper took a step to his left, causing Bella to gasp. Standing in the doorway leading from the back room to behind the bar stood the one person she'd never expected to see again.

"Bella." he said, his voice firm yet soft at the same time.

"Hey, Edward," she replied, the two words thick with emotions. "Long time."

"Ten years," he quipped, tossing the plastic tray that had once held the glasses he had just dropped and shattered on top of the bar. "Surprised to see you here. Thought you weren't ever coming back."

"Didn't plan on it," she said, coolly. "Thought you were never speaking to me again."

He grinned. "Didn't plan on it."

Bella rolled her eyes. Once upon a time, Edward Cullen had been the love of her life.

"Heard about your old man," Edward added, clearing his throat. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" she scoffed, aware of the way Alice was watching her. Edward had been the only part of her life that she hadn't shared with her best friend. "Somehow I doubt that."

"May not have liked the man, Bella, but that doesn't mean I wished him dead." Edward reached inside the back room, pulling out a broom. As he started sweeping up the broken glass, he added, "Not recently, anyway."

Bella almost laughed. "Yeah, me either."

Edward smiled, his head tilting back so he was looking at her. "Can I get you a drink? If I remember correctly, you're a fan of tequila."

"Not anymore," she lied, feeling Alice shifting her eyes toward her. Tequila had been her drink of choice since she, Edward, and Jasper high jacked a bottle from her father's wet bar when they were fifteen. Only took a few shots each before all three of them were drunk off their asses. Her father caught them, and it was just the start of Charlie Swan' hatred of young Edward Cullen began. "Besides, I can't stay."

"What? Why not?" Alice asked, pulling Bella's attention to her. "Babes, we just got here."

"I know, but I . . ." Bella shook her head and stepped backward, hitting the door. "You stay, but I . . . I just can't." She shifted her eyes to Edward before whispering, "Sorry."

Grasping the door handle, Bella yanked the door open and took off outside, gasping for air. Before she could get more than few feet away from the door, a hand wrapped around her arm, pulling her to a stop. Bella didn't have to look back to know who had grabbed her. She knew the feel of his hand on her skin, the feeling she got every time he was close to her.

"I hated him," she whispered, gently pulling her arm from his grip and looking back at Edward. "I hated him for what he did to you, to us. I fucking hated him, Edward."

"Me, too," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "You know that I didn't do it, right? I mean, you know that now, don't you?"

Bella nodded. "I knew it then, too. I just . . ." She sighed. "I never thought he could be that cruel. By the time I realized what he had done, it was too late."

"Too late for what?" he asked. "I was always here, Bella. Always."

"But after the what I said, how I called you a liar . . ." Bella brushed her hair out of her face, trying to keep her tears from falling. She'd never been much of a crier, and hated that her emotions were getting the best of her at the moment. "I'm sorry, Edward. I wish . . . Well, I wish a lot of things, but I can't take back what I did."

And before he could stop her again, she turned and walked away, by passing Alice's rental car, and heading back to the hotel. Some bridges couldn't be rebuilt.


Bella tried to keep herself together as she made the three mile walk through town to the hotel, a charming little bed and breakfast type place that charged three times as much as big chains simply because they could. Alice called several times before Bella powered her phone down, needing the silence to deal with the ache in her heart. She hadn't expected to see Edward again. Last she heard, he'd left town and was living in Alaska. It had taken all her strength not to run after him, to beg him to forgive her. She hadn't, though, because she didn't deserve his mercy. After all, it had been her fault that Edward spent a year in prison.

Tossing her room key on her bed, Bella walked straight into the bathroom, needing to wash away the shame and guilt she had been feeling for the last ten years. It didn't help, of course. Even when in Los Angeles, she merely moved through the motions. She went to work, bought groceries, paid bills, but that was the extent of her life. She didn't date and with the exception of Alice, she didn't have any friends. It was easier, she told herself. Better not to get attached just to be hurt. Or do the hurting.

With a sigh, Bella turned off the water, wrapped a towel around herself, and stepped out of the shower. She used a second towel to wrap around her wet hair, and walked out of the bathroom, unsurprised to find Alice sitting on the edge of her bed. Her legs were crossed at the knee and her hand clasped and laying carefully on her legs.

"So," Alice said, clearing her throat. "Not sure what the hell happened tonight that made you run off like a freak and leave me in a seedy bar with people I just met."

"I'm sorry," Bella murmured, grabbing her suitcase and digging out a pair of panties and her favorite T-shirt. The Blue Ridge Football tee had been Edward's, but she stole it from him the night they made love for the first time. They were seventeen and it was at the end of their junior year of high school, just months before everything she thought she knew was torn apart by her father.

"Are you okay?"

Bella thought about it for a moment. It would have been easy to say yes, to insist as she had been for the last ten years that she was fine, but she was tired of lying.

"No, no, I'm not okay. I'm far from being okay," she said, slowly slipping her clothes on and tossing the wet towel on the floor. Bella climbed onto her bed, grabbed one of the pillows, and hugged it against her chest. "Edward . . . Edward and I . . . It's complicated."

"Complicated?" Alice asked with a nod of her head. "Does he have anything to do with your relationship with your father?"

Bella felt her shoulders tense. "He's the reason I didn't have a relationship with my . . . my father." Bella unraveled the towel from around her head and tossed it onto the floor with the other towel. Using her fingers, she combed through her hair.

Alice stood up and walked over to her bag, pulling a hair brush out. She climbed onto the bed behind Bella and said, "Talk to me, babes. I've never seen you so fucked up like this, not even when your dad showed up and banged on our dorm door for an hour freshman year."

"I don't remember a time in my life that Edward wasn't there. Growing up, we were best friends. Me, him, and Jasper. People used to say that you never saw one of us that the other two weren't far behind. When my mom . . . when she got sick, Edward and Jasper were always there. My father was so wrapped up in trying to save her, trying to buy a cure, that he forgot that I was losing my mother. After she died, my father changed. He became cruel and heartless. Everything became about how much money he made, how people looked at us. I was expected to be a proper Swan, not the girl who broke her leg after falling out of a tree because Edward and Jasper dared me to climb it in the first place. My father didn't tell me I couldn't be friends with them, but he started suggesting that I meet other people, talked about sending me to boarding school. I didn't see it at first, the way he regarded them as being unworthy of being my friends."

Bella paused. "During my freshman year, Edward started dating this girl named Rose. She was a sophomore and a complete bitch. She hated me and the feeling was mutual. I couldn't understand why she bothered me so much. I mean, Edward was my best friend. I should have wanted him to be happy, right?"

"You were jealous."

Bella nodded. "Insanely. I didn't realize that my feelings for Edward had morphed into more until he started dating her, but I loved him, Alice. Loved him so much my heart ached. I kept my feelings to myself, though. Never even told Jasper, though he said he knew. But then, just before our Spring Sadie's Hawkins Dance, Rose dumped him. Said she was done wasting her time with trash and within a day, she already had a new boyfriend — one with money.
Edward's father worked nights at the local factory, and his mom ran a daycare out of their home. They didn't have much, but they were happy," Bella murmured with a smile. "Jasper and I were always welcome at their house. Always."

"They sound like amazing people." Alice shifted so that she was laying against the pillows behind Bella, who moved so that she was facing her best friend.

"When Rose broke up him, Edward, Jasper, and I skipped the dance. He didn't want to be around a bunch of couples, and I didn't want to be there without him.
I stole a bottle of tequila from my father's liquor cabinet and we went out down to the pier. We took turns taking shots. It didn't take much before we were drunk off our asses. Jasper had wandered away after a seagull, leaving me and Edward alone. I . . ." Bella laughed and brought her knees up in front of her. "I don't know what gave me the courage to do so, but I kissed him."

"No!" Alice gasped with a laugh. "You?"

Bella smiled. "I wasn't the same Bella you meet at UCLA, Alice. I was fun and adventurous. Never met a dare I wasn't willing to do, especially if it came from Edward or Jasper. I was terrified that he'd push me away, that he'd tell me he didn't feel the same way, but I knew I had to take the chance, so I kissed him."

"And? Did he feel the same?"

Bella felt her cheeks warm as she nodded. "He kissed me back, but before he, or I, could say anything, my father caught us. Turns out Jasper had leapt out in front of his car, and knowing that Edward and I were close, because were one of us was, the other two were always around, he found us. He wasn't happy, of course. I assumed it was because we were drunk, but later, I realized it had little to do with my drinking his bottle of tequila and more to do with his hatred for Edward."

"Why would he hate Edward?"

"Because Edward was a nobody, whose parents were nobodies, and that's all Charlie Swan cared about. I was supposed to be with someone with money, someone with power, and status. I was the daughter of Charlie Swan, who owned the town and ruled it with an iron fist. He expected me to live up to the family name, and I didn't. I was the girl who climbed trees and spit off the end of the pier. I was the girl who wore sneakers with her prom dress and dyed my hair bubblegum pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month. I was the girl who loved the son of the poorest people in town. I fell in love with him; madly, passionately, deeply in love with him. For two and half years, Edward and I were happy. We planned to get married after graduation, to leave Blue Ridge, and never look back."

"Why didn't you?"

Bella sighed. "Edward's parents were killed in a car accident just before our senior year started."

Alice gasped.

"Carlisle and Esme were good people." Bella wiped the tears off her cheeks. "Edward took their deaths hard. They were really close and when they died, he was left with nobody. No grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. He became angry and pulled away from me, from Jasper. He started drinking a lot, and I didn't like the person he became when he was drunk. We fought all the time about it. I wanted him to stop, to get help, and eventually, he agreed. But it was too late."

Bella climbed off the bed and started pacing. "Two weeks before we were supposed to graduate, someone burned my father's office building to the ground." Stopping, she turned back to Alice. "The police arrested Edward the morning of our high school graduation."

"What? Why would he do that?"

"He didn't," Bella whimpered. "My father framed him for the fire, said Edward had threatened him after he refused to give him money. Said Edward threatened my life. Edward, of course, denied it. Said he hadn't had anything to do with the fire, that my father was lying. I didn't know who to believe, because even though I knew my father didn't like Edward, I never thought he'd be so cruel."

Bella sat on the edge of the bed. "I ended things with Edward, calling him a coward for going after my father like that. I didn't learn the truth about my father until I was getting ready to leave for school. I'd gone into his office at the house, looking for stamps, when I found an insurance claim for the fire. The policy had been dated two days before Edward was supposed to have committed arson. The payout had been tripled. It just didn't add up. What are the odds of Edward going after my father like that just two days after he increased the value of the policy?

"I confronted my father. He didn't even deny it. Said Edward was a loser, said he had done me a favor by ridding him from my life since I was too weak to get rid of him myself. I didn't understand how my father could be so cruel, so heartless. I packed my bags that night, but before I left town, I told the district attorney what I had found. I'd taken pictures and gave them everything. They didn't have any proof that my father had actually burned down his own building for the insurance money, but it created enough doubt about Edward that they released him. I went to L.A., and last I heard, he was living in Alaska. I never thought I'd see him again."

"Why didn't you go to him?" Alice asked. "It's clear you still have feelings for him."

Bella shook her head. "How could I? I called him a liar, accused him of going after my father, of trying to destroy my family's name."

Alice stood and walked around the bed, placing her hand against Bella's cheek. "Because when you saw him standing there, your eyes lit up and for the first time in the ten years I've known you, I saw you happy. Don't let him go just because your father was a manipulative, greedy son-of-a-bitch, who threw you away for a few dollars."


Bella was awoken the next morning when she felt the bed shift beneath her. Her head ached from lack of sleep. Alice had fallen asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, yet Bella tossed and turned for hours before sheer emotional and physical exhaustion pulled her into vivid memories of Edward's hands touching her, loving her. Memories that had haunted her as she tried to rebuild her life away from Blue Ridge, Georgia.

"Alice, it's too fucking early to be awake," Bella groaned, rolling from her side onto her stomach.

A deep, manly chuckle echoed throughout the room, and Bella, who hadn't expected someone other than Alice, gasped and scrambled out of the bed. When she turned back, she found Edward leaning back on his hands, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips.

"Nice shirt."

Bella crossed her arms in front of her, inwardly smacking herself in the head for wearing the old T-shirt. "What are you doing here?"

"You and I need to talk," he said, standing up. "Thought we could do it over breakfast."

Sighing, Bella shook her head. "I can't."

"Yes, you can," he told her. "After everything that happened, you owe me a conversation, Bella."

"Owe you?" she scoffed.

"Maybe that wasn't the best word to you." Edward shoved his hands into the front pockets of his blue jeans. "Please, Bella. I just want to talk. Clear the air between us."

Bella sucked the inside of her bottom lip between her teeth. "Fine, whatever."

Edward smiled. "Thank you." And when Bella didn't move, he added, "I'll wait for you to get dressed."

"Oh, um, yeah." Bella hurried across the room and grabbed her suitcase. When she turned toward the bathroom, Edward was seated on the edge of the bed again. "How'd you get in here, anyway?"

"Your friend let me in when Jasper picked her up for breakfast."

"Oh," Bella said with a laugh.

"He's quite enamored with her. Haven't seen him like this in a long time. Not since he dated Hannah sophomore year."

"Hannah," Bella murmured with a smile. "They were so cute together. Remember when she took him home to meet her parents? He was so nervous."

"No shit," Edward scoffed. "Spent hours talking him off the ledge, only for them to break up a week later."

Bella frowned. "He was heartbroken before Hannah and her family had to move."

"He loved her," he said, drawing Bella's attention to him. "Losing the love of your life isn't easy."

"No, it's not."

And without another word, Bella walked into the bathroom, closed the door behind her, and tried to prepare herself for the confrontation that no doubt was about to go down. She only wondered how she was going to walk away from Edward Cullen again.


Half an hour later, Bella was seated in a booth inside Hal's Diner. Edward was seated across from her, his body angled so that he was leaning against the wall and facing the opening of the booth. His arm was slung across the back of the booth while his other hand was clutching his porcelain coffee cup.

Their waitress had already taken their order, leaving them alone to talk. Yet, neither of them had said a word in the three minutes since she left. Bella leaned forward and picked up her glass of water. Her stomach was nervous enough without adding coffee to the mix.

"I'm not sure where to start," Edward said before she could take a drink. "I've imagined having this conversation with you since the police hauled me away."

Bella frowned and leaned backward. "Me too."

"How could you believe that I'd go after your dad like that? After you?" he asked.

"You changed," she said, quietly. "After your parents' died, you changed, Edward. And I understand why," she added with haste. "But you changed. You were so angry."

"I was," he admitted. "I was eighteen years old, my parents . . ." Edward cleared his throat and shifted so that he was facing her. "We were going to leave this place, remember? We were going to get married and settle down together. You and me. Why would I risk all of that just to go after your old man?"

Bella shrugged her shoulders. "You hated him, and the feeling was mutual."

"It was," he once again agreed. "But I loved you. I never would have done anything to hurt you, Bella. You were all I had left."

"I know," she whimpered. "I knew what kind of man he was. How ruthless he is . . . was," she amended. "He was my father, Edward. I just never thought he could be so cruel as to take away the one person I had in this world."

"Can't say I saw that one coming, either," he quipped. "But even after . . . after you knew, why didn't you come to me? You just left, Bella. Why?"

"How could I stay?" she asked, leaning forward and placing her elbow on the table. "I'd betrayed you, called you a liar. I wanted nothing more than to run back to you, beg for your forgiveness, but I didn't deserve to have you back. So, instead, I left Blue Ridge and started over."

"You did, huh?" Edward asked, picking up his cup and taking a sip of his coffee. "Sorry, sweetheart, but I call bullshit."

"Excuse me?"

Edward smiled ruefully. "You can't fool me."

"I'm not trying to fool anyone," she argued.

"Again, I call bullshit," he said. "You may have moved on from this town, gone to college, started your career, but you haven't started over. If you had, you wouldn't be sitting across from me right now."

"I'm only here because you begged me to have breakfast with you," she groused, falling back against the back of the booth.


"It's not bullshit," she snarled, louder than she intended. Several people turned and looked at her. Bella cleared her throat and lowered her voice. "Why are you here, Edward? Why do you even care? I left you, remember? I threw you away and left you behind, so why are you here?"

Edward frowned. "I left Blue Ridge, you know? Headed to Alaska, thought putting a few thousand miles between me and this place would, I don't know, give me the peace of mind after spending a year in prison. But it didn't."

"Why not?" she asked, knowing all too well the why. Los Angeles hadn't given her peace of mind, either.

"You weren't there," he confessed.

Before he could explain, their waitress placed their breakfast in front of them. A stack of pancakes four inches high for Edward, while Bella ordered a bowl of oatmeal and half a grapefruit.

"Need anything else?" she asked, her southern accent lacing each word she spoke.

"No, thank you," Bella replied quietly.

"Let me know."

Bella waited until she was out of earshot before she turned her attention back to Edward, who was still looking at her. "Foods going to get cold."

"Good thing I like cold pancakes," he said, but picked up his fork. "And you can't sit there and pretend I didn't say what I did."

"Oh?" she hummed and mixed maple syrup in with her oatmeal. Pausing, she sighed. "I don't know how to respond to that. You say you left Alaska because I wasn't there, but I wasn't here, either."

"Maybe not in person, but you were in spirit." Edward smiled. "We'd sit in this booth every time we came in here. Remember?"

Bella opened her mouth to refute his statement, but, as she looked around, she realized he was right. Every Saturday morning, they'd meet at Hal's Dinner for breakfast. Every single Saturday. "Oh."

"I came back to Blue Ridge, because while I couldn't go to L.A. and be with you, at least I could have my memories of you here."

"I don't know what to say."

"Say you're still in love with me."

Bella's eyes widened. "I . . ." But the words stuck in her throat. "I can't."

"You can't what?" Edward asked. "You can't tell me that you love me?"

Shaking her head, Bella scrambled out of the booth, whispered another apology, and bolted from the table. The door to Hal's Diner slammed shut behind her. Her heart ached, her eyes burned with tears she struggled to keep from falling, and a scream raced to the tip of her tongue. Before she could get more than fifty yards from Hal's, a hand wrapped around her arm, jerking her to a stop. Spinning, she barely had time to take a breath before Edward pressed his lips against hers.

"Holy shit, Bella!"

Startled, Bella pushed Edward away from her and turned around, finding Alice and Jasper strolling toward them, both of them smirking. The tears she had been fighting fell freely as she stumbled away from all of them, and cried, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

And without giving any of them a chance to stop her, Bella took off running, her tears sprinkling against her skin, and her heart breaking. She should have never come back to Blue Ridge.


Bella found herself standing next to the cold, metal table where her father's body still lay. She reached out and pulled the sheet off him. Unsure of what she expected, she cringed at how old he looked. His dark hair was streaked with grey, his skin wrinkled, and pale. He reached out to her numerous times over the last ten years. First by trying to force her to need his money. She struggled to pay for school without his help. Second by playing on her feelings and telling her that he was dying. She hadn't cared. Or so she told herself. He'd betrayed her and she turned her back on him.

"He wasn't the same man at the end."

Bella tensed as she looked over her shoulder, finding Jasper leaning against the doorframe.

"I know it doesn't change anything, but he was different. Kinder, generous. One would almost say loving."

"Loving," Bella scoffed.

"It's true," he said, and a moment later, he nudged her with his shoulder. "He missed you. Asked me all the time if I had heard from you. Of course I told him no, because you left me behind, too."

"I'm sorry."

"I don't blame you. Hell, I would have left town, too, if my momma hadn't needed me."

Bella smiled at the thought of the fiery woman, who raised her son on her own. She worked three jobs to give Jasper everything he needed and most of what he wanted. Then just before they started high school, she was diagnosed with Lupus. The years hadn't been easy on her and her heath declined quickly, but she was always a fighter.

"How is Momma Janie?"

Jasper frowned. "She passed last year."

"Oh, my God," Bella whimpered.

"Don't," he said, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "She fought hard. Lived three times longer than they expected her to last. She was ready."

"I should have been here for you."

"Edward was here," he said, dropping his arm. He reached out and pulled the sheet over Charlie Swan. "He was the one who found him, by the way."

Bella gasped.

"You father reached out to him a few months ago, asked him to sit down and talk. Edward was reluctant, of course. Said the son of a bitch could burn in hell for taking you away from him."

"Can't say I disagree," Bella snarled.

"Maybe," Jasper said, leaning against the table where Charlie Swan lay. "But your old man is . . . was stubborn, and wouldn't let it go. Eventually, Edward agreed. Said he figured Charlie would try to sell him on whatever bullshit scheme he was peddling and then Edward could tell him to fuck off. But he didn't. Your old man apologized."

"He did?"

Jasper nodded. "Said he knew he would never be able to make up for the pain and suffering Edward went through because of his selfish behavior, but that he was sorry. Edward wasn't sure he should believe him, but—"

"But then I thought of you."

Bella gasped and turned around, finding Edward and Alice standing in the doorway.

"I thought about how amazingly kind and forgiving you are. So I swallowed my pride and made an effort with the old man. He called two nights ago, asked me to meet him for breakfast. Said it was important. When I got there, I found him sitting at his desk with pictures of you and your mom covering his desk. He also had this," Edward added, pulling out a white piece of paper from his back pocket. He held it out to her. Their fingers brushed each other's as she took it from him. "Bella."

But she didn't say anything as she unfolded the paper, finding her father's handwriting scrawled across it. Her first instinct was to crumple it and throw it away, but she found herself reading his words out lout.

"Bella, there's so much I want to tell you. So many mistakes I made over the years. I was a stupid, selfish man, who allowed his anger and grief to lead me down an unrighteous path. Foolishly, I thought I was being a good father by pushing you to find someone better than Edward, someone more successful. I now realize just how naïve that was. Success isn't determined by the amount of money in one's bank account, but by the people who love you, and Edward loves you. Even now, I see it in his eyes. I was a jealous, foolish man. I made terrible mistakes that I'll never be able to take back. My only hope is that one day, when you look back in your memories, you won't remember me as the bastard I once was and remember me as the father who loved you, who loved your momma. My hope for you, Bella, is a life full of love and happiness, tears of joy and not sadness, and the comfort of a life you deserve. I love you, Bella. Always have, always will. Your loving, yet foolish father, Dad."

It wasn't until a pair of hands gripped her hips, sliding across her stomach so that arms were wrapped around her that Bella realized she had been sobbing. Tilting her head backward, she looked up at Edward, her lips trembling as she spoke. "Why couldn't he have been this understanding ten years ago?"

"I don't know, sweetheart," Edward whispered, gently turning her so that she faced him. "All I know is that he loved you."

"Why are you here?" she asked, placing her hands on his chest. "After the way I left, why are you here?"

Edward smiled and slid his hands up her arms, cradling her face. "Because you're my person, Bella. I love you."

"Edward," she whimpered, leaning toward him.

"I love you," he whispered again, his lips just millimeters from hers. "I love you, Bella. I love you. Always have, and always will."

"I love you, too."

And before the words were out of her mouth, Edward's lips were once more pressed against hers.