I own nothing…this fabulous world and everything in it belongs to the very talented Stephenie Meyer…I do however, own this particular story…whatever that means!

Also Bryan Adams and the fabulous Beatles own their songs...they're just graciously allowing me to borrow them for the evening! Anything to get these two together!

Author's Note: Thanks to heartbroken1, who beta'ed this for me while under the weather! Thanks to grumpy grizzly, who helped me extensively with both chapters that are coming tonight...and finally, to Mandi1, who helped me research the details in tonight's chapters, as well as letting me borrow the idea of Esme being a seamstress in both last week's and this week's chapters! Please check out these fabulous ladies and their work! They are stupendous!

Here's Edward - enjoy! And please don't hate me...good things are coming! I promise...

Chapter 41: Cocktails with Claire

Edward's POV:

Looking out the big bay window from our living room, I noticed with relief that the sun was finally content to hide itself behind the clouds. I raced down the stairs to let Bella know, my feet barely making contact with the stairs, gracefully halting when I saw her. She was seated behind Jasper's massive desk, making her look even more petite than usual, while she held her cell phone between her shoulder and ear, riffling through lists of details for this event that she and Alice had poured so much time and energy into.

It had been a week since our little wager and even though I felt a trifle guilty for allowing Alice to stack the deck in my favor, her thoughts telling me that the highest cards in the deck were waiting for me both on the top and bottom, I was never so grateful for my sister's meddling.

Tonight, even if it were for mere minutes, I would hold Bella in my arms like the last ten years hadn't happened. The thought of touching her that way made my stomach clench with anticipation. The evening couldn't come quickly enough.

I stood there for a moment, waiting for her to finish her call, eyeing her covertly while her pen hovered in mid-air, before she scribbled notes furiously on the pad of paper in front of her. She bid a hasty goodbye to whomever she was talking to and snapped the cell phone shut. I took her moment of solitude as an opportunity to interrupt.

I knocked on the doorjamb of Jasper's study. She looked up at me, seemingly surprised to see me standing there. To keep my hands from reaching out to hold her, I looped them behind my back.

"Hi, Edward. What's up?" Her face, even in a state of surprise, never failed to take my breath away. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen and I prayed that I would continue to be blessed with being in her life even if it was only as a friend.

I took a deep breath before responding, "May I come in?"

"Of course."

I took a step into the study, trying to maintain a calm demeanor, not wanting to upset her or cause her more stress than she was already undoubtedly experiencing. "I just wanted to let you know that the sun has decided to hide behind the clouds and the weather forecast is predicting that this trend will hold the rest of the day, so you're free to leave. Would you like me or Alice to drive you over to the University House?"

She barely glanced up at me, instead shifting her focus to the piles of paper and folders in front of her. "Thanks for the weather update." Her smile was bright, but forced, and I fought to keep my face smooth instead of displaying how her indifference cut deeply. "And if you could ask Alice if she could meet me in ten minutes upstairs, that would help me out tremendously. I'll be right up."

"I'll take care of it." When I turned from her, I allowed the pain to register, but I suppressed my frustrated sigh as I headed toward the steps leading upstairs.

"Edward?" The sound of her voice made me stop instantly in my tracks and the sensation of her feminine intonation made my skin tingle.

I slowly turned back to look at her. "Yes, Bella?"

She paused for a moment, her eyes sweeping over me, making me wonder again what she was thinking. "Were you still planning on driving tonight? What I mean is, if you'd rather not come, I would completely understand. I could just ride over with Alice and Jasper and…"

Pain shot through my chest -- she didn't want me there. But instead of feeling hurt, I decided to feign confidence. I stepped back inside the office and leaned forward toward her, placing my hands down on the desk. I looked down at her, hoping that my gaze would help her understand how serious I was about being there tonight – hoping that it would register how much she meant to me, and that I wouldn't give up, even if it took forever.

I noticed that she sat on her hands, which was something she had never done before. "Bella, are you trying renege on our little wager? Don't tell me that you're trying to back out of our dance. Don't misunderstand me; I know you detest being the center of attention, but a deal is a deal. And in this house, if you don't keep up with your side of the bargain, I can find something much worse to take its place," I said with a hint of aggression, but hoping that my smile would convey my true feelings.

She tenderly bit her bottom lip and my arms ached to pull her into my embrace and kiss her – hard. "No, I have no intention of not keeping up my side of the bargain, though I'm no better a dancer than I was, well, ten years ago."

My mind went back to every dance we shared during our junior prom…how beautiful she looked, how her scent captivated me, how her lips, painted a deep pink begged to be kissed – by me.

Her voice brought me back to the present. "I just wanted to make sure that you were okay with driving the four of us over to the campus. Still up for that?"

Still up for it? Like I'd forgo the chance to have her next to me? "I wouldn't miss it. Now, unless you need something else, I'll run upstairs and tell Alice to meet you."

"Thank you, Edward. I just need to collect my things here and then she and I can head over and check on the progress of things." She looked up at me, her beautiful smile captivating my attention.

"You're welcome. I'll see you when Alice brings you back to get ready. Rosalie should be in her element by then." I smiled at her, knowing how important Bella had become to both my sisters and mother.

Alice was waiting for me at the base of the staircase, her smile wide. Her thoughts were giddy and I motioned to her to slow down so I could understand exactly what she was thinking.

"Edward, I'm going to pull a little something tonight, just before it's time to go. I just need you to play along. I thought you should take Bella to the party by yourself. That way, you can have a little bit of time alone with her. Jasper will help you wash and wax your precious Vanquish just as soon as Bella and I leave to check on the venue. Sound like a plan?"

I nodded at her, my smile widening. Leave it to Alice to find a way to not only win me a dance with Bella dressed in my favorite color on her, but to also set up a moment that I hoped would remind her of all the special times we spent together.

Bella came up from the basement, her gaze fixed on Alice and me. The look on her face was one of pure curiosity and we both broke off what we were doing to not give her more to be suspicious about.

Alice's smile was radiant. "Ready to go?"

Bella's eyes narrowed a bit before she responded. "Yep. I've got everything. Can you drive, so I can go over these lists again?"

Alice hugged me goodbye, but not before she gave me one last parting thought. "Edward, I may not be able to see what's coming tonight because of Bella's gift, but I have a feeling that something big is going to happen. Just hold onto that, all right? You two are meant to be together and not one of us is going to give up until you and she are reunited. Understand?"

I nodded at her subtly, holding the door open for them to leave, and I lingered, waiting for them to exit the drive safely before I called out for Jasper. "They're gone. Alice volunteered you to help?"

Jasper came downstairs quickly, his usual stoic expression replaced with a small smile. "Alice made me promise to help, which I would have done regardless. Come on," he offered.

We made our way out to the garage and made quick work of the Aston Martin, having her gleaming and ready to drive in no time. Just looking at the prize car in my collection made my heart feel as if it were racing with anticipation, knowing that I would have Bella all to myself for at least a small part of the evening.

I heard Bella exiting Alice's room, my nerves stretched to the very limit. Her soft voice carried down the stairs to me and my heart readied itself to finally see her all dressed and ready to go. I wouldn't let myself see her in Alice's mind, knowing that the real thing would be superior to anything I could see second hand.

She came to the top of the stairs, with a shoebox in her hands, and decended slowly. I couldn't help but smile because her delicate beauty was magnified by the splendid job that my sisters had done with her hair and makeup.

She was a vision, looking like she had just stepped off the cover of a 1950's magazine. Her hair was swept elegantly into a twist on the back of her head subtly exposing the graceful lines of her neck. That neck. It reminded me of her pulse and the freesia scent that would fill my senses as I used to run my nose along her jaw.

I remember that Alice had purchased a dress similar to this not too long after she married Jasper, but on Bella it was entirely different. The midnight blue highlighted her pale skin and dark hair and the short, full skirt made her slim legs look elegant. I smiled wider when I noticed her stocking feet, but even without shoes, she would be the most beautiful woman at the party tonight. My arms ached to hold her, but I settled for offering her my hand, so she could navigate the stairs safely without her shoes.

"You look incredible, Bella. I was right about that color looking lovely with your skin. You really should wear it more often."

The way she smiled at me made my usually strong legs turn to mush. "Thank you. You look nice, too. Ready to go?"

I tried to contain my enthusiasm, not wanting to startle her. "Ready as I'll ever be and looking forward to collecting on our little bet." I can't wait to hold her close to me.

I heard Alice's thoughts call to me. "Remember Edward, just play along. You'll know exactly what to do." I heard my sister's usually graceful step clump along the landing of the second floor. "Bella!"

Bella and I both glanced up toward the landing to see Alice limping toward the railing, a shoe in her hand. "Alice, what's wrong?" Bella asked, her voice full of concern.

Alice's usually calm demeanor looked a bit stressed, for Bella's benefit, I'm sure. "Believe it or not, I just tore my dress. Esme…" she called.

Hearing Alice's panic, Esme came running. "Alice, let me see it." Our mother inspected the damage to Alice's dress. "How on earth did you do this?" she questioned. Though her eyes were fixed on the damage to Alice's dress, I could hear Esme's thoughts. "I know something's going on here, Edward. Alice just doesn't tear her clothing everyday. You all better behave, or you'll have to deal with me later."

In her usual theatrical way, Alice waved her shoe around dramatically, her beautiful face looking distraught. "I put my shoes on and was about to come down the stairs when I caught the train with my heel, which tore this hole in it. Can you repair it?"

Esme carefully inspected the "damage" to Alice's gown. "I can, but it will take a while – at least thirty minutes. Get into the sewing room and I'll be right there. I was helping your father with his tie."

"Bella, I can't leave right now. You won't make it in time. I'm so sorry." Bella looked down at the floor, just as Alice winked at me. "Now go. Take the car and have a good time. Talk to her, Edward; reassure her about tonight. She'll be in your arms before you know it!"

"Alice, maybe I can just borrow one of the cars and drive myself over. Do you think Jasper would lend me his Mustang?"

I panicked, not anticipating this turn of events. I reached out casually to touch her shoulder, drawing her attention back to me. "Bella, I'm ready. Why don't I drive you, and that way you can look over your notes one last time before we let you release on an unsuspecting public," I said lightly, trying to ease her stress, all the while praying that she would take me up on her offer.

Gratefully, Bella nodded at me in agreement. "That would be really helpful, Edward. But, are you sure?"

Am I sure? I could think of no better way than to spend the next twenty minutes. "Bella, I wouldn't have made the offer if I wasn't. Let's head out to the car and get you there." I chuckled quietly, looking down at her feet. "However, I think you'll need some shoes. May I?"

I reached for the box in her hands, as she nodded at me quietly. I removed the lid and took out a shoe, before crouching down near her tiny feet. With great care, I placed my hand behind her knee, my hand gliding down her smooth calf, before reaching her elegant ankle, gently lifting her foot from the floor. I eased the shoe on, securing the clasp just tight enough so she would feel safe and comfortable. I did the same with the other, my hands so carefully touching her skin, as I savored every moment that I could touch her. She grabbed hold of my shoulder to maintain her balance and I glanced up at her smiling, all the while never breaking eye contact with her beautiful face.

Alice came out once more, breaking up the quiet moment that Bella and I were sharing, barking out items for Bella to check on. Thankfully, Esme came to the rescue, and I was alone with Bella once more.

I helped my angel with her coat. "I was wondering if you would mind if we drove in the Aston Martin, rather than the Volvo, since it's only the two of us. I haven't driven her in a while and it's important to take her out from time to time to keep her in tiptop condition. Would that be acceptable?" I hoped for some tiny sign, anything that would give me hope that she remembered our night together all those years ago and that I would give anything to take back the last ten years.

Her body stilled and her eyes looked like they were far away. "Sure, we can take that car. Makes no difference to me." Her tone was distant and strangely cold and I fought to keep the look of pain from invading my face.

"Come on. Let's go," I offered, though my tone no longer held enthusiasm. I was finding it harder and harder to maintain any type of confidence that I would ever be with Bella again, regardless of how anyone else in the family felt.

We made it out to the garage and I opened it to where the Aston Martin was showcased. I turned back toward Bella, only to notice that she looked like she was on the verge of toppling over, her eyes vacant. I rushed to her side. "Bella, what's wrong? What's the matter?"

She barely acknowledged me, instead pushing back against me, eager to separate us. "I'm fine. It's just these heels. I never should have agreed to wear them. I just didn't want to disappoint Alice." I knew she was lying. My Bella was never good at lying to anyone…especially me.

I helped her in the car, not speaking a word, and took off. There was no conversation between us, but I could feel the tension coming off of her. I left the radio off, knowing that if she wanted to say something, I would listen.

She grabbed papers from her bag, going through her lists and I went to turn on the overhead light, even though I knew she didn't need the assistance. "I don't need it. We're almost there anyway. Just going over a few things," she said to me coldly. I felt completely frustrated at how the ride was progressing. I had hoped this time together would relax her and remind her of happier times, but it seemed that being alone with me was generating the opposite reaction. She was getting tenser by the minute.

I continued to drive, my thoughts focused on only her. What was she thinking that make her so angry? I reflected on everything that I had learned about Bella since finding her again. She had created an entire new life and new identity since leaving Forks. In all reality, I was impressed.

My family and I were seasoned professionals when it came to packing up and leaving, having each other to lean on and get through the transitions that came regularly in our lives. Bella had been alone. Completely alone. How she had accomplished anything, much less landing not one, but two jobs? How had she purchased her home? How had she made everything work?

More importantly, how did she continue day in and day out? Knowing that she watched Grace grow up from afar, and seeing first hand how much that hurt her, I have no idea how she survived the last three years by herself. Granted, she had a home and money coming in, but she had no one else. My heart began to ache for her all over again. This beautiful woman next to me had sacrificed everything for those that she loved. Grace and Jacob Black would never understand how much Bella had given up and how much she continued to suffer everyday to help them realize their normal life.

I became conscious of it then. Bella had done the exact same thing that I had, though hers was forced. I left Forks to ensure that she had what she needed, which was to stay safe and not continue to be in constant danger. Bella had been threatened by a pack of dogs, and had no choice by to leave, but she continued to keep her distance, refusing to contact Jacob directly, allowing Grace the opportunity to have what Bella had been denied due to fate's intervention.

My knuckles tightened around the steering wheel once more, feeling rage toward myself, and Jacob Black – even wishing that Victoria were still alive, if only so I could destroy her myself. This wasn't how this was supposed to happen. It was one thing for me to suffer in pain. But it wasn't for Bella.

My angel was supposed to be happy, and there seemed to be nothing I could do to grant her that. Even my very presence seemed to aggravate her.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I almost missed our turn off the highway toward the university and I merged onto the exit at a ridiculous speed, both of us lurching sideways with the car.

We arrived at the campus and I drove around back, parking the car far from anyone else's. I jumped out and helped Bella from her seat, grateful for the brief touch she allowed me when I helped her from the car. I offered my arm, which she hesitantly took and led her toward the staff entrance.

The smell of food made me hustle her out of the kitchen and into the main space that made up the venue for tonight's event. I was struck anew by the look of the place, having only seen it in Alice's mind. It looked so much like the fifties night club that my siblings and I used to go to from time to time to relax and enjoy each others company. Alice, Jasper, Rosalie and Emmett would dance, while I would enjoy the jazz music, my mind focused on anything other than the thoughts of others.

I saw the dance floor, banked with greenery, and my hope was renewed briefly. I knew exactly when the special song I had selected would be played, as I knew the song rotation I had drafted for the evening by heart. It would take a while to get there, but my hope was that by then, Bella's responsibilities for the night would mostly be complete and I could enjoy her all to myself for the brief moments I would have with her exclusively.

I felt the need to discuss the song list with both musical groups once more, to ensure that they understood that the list needed to be followed precisely. "I'll be right back. I'll just drop off your coat and then check on the DJ and quartet. Do you need anything else?"

She shook her head at me. "Thank you, Edward." Her face looked so utterly perfect, those lips slightly parted, that I had to restrain myself from kissing her. That wasn't what tonight was about, no matter how much I wanted it.

Bella's abilities to plan an event, even with Alice's help, were overwhelming. She was this tiny powerhouse, moving from place to place, her perfect smile in place, while she continually checked on the evening's progress. I could hear countless individuals tell Bella in person or think to themselves how much they were enjoying the party and I was grateful for her success.

I was lost in my thoughts, leaning against the wall in the dark when I heard a familiar voice drift into my head. "Just go do it. Just ask him! What's the worst he can say? So, he says 'no' – you can deal with a little rejection. But if you don't ask, you will never get this chance again."

Terri was there from our Wednesday night class, moving slowly toward me. I instantly looked for anywhere else to be, but knowing I wouldn't be a gentleman if I stole away.

She approached me, a tiny bead of sweat on her forehead and shoulders, which made her subtle scent increase tenfold. "Hi, Edward. You look really nice. Having a good time?"

I took in a short breath, necessary to form the words to answer her. "You look lovely, Terri. I'm having a fine time. And you?" I held my breath again, not willing to breathe in anymore than absolutely necessary. I could hear her thoughts and was cringing internally until I realized that this young human could help me again with Bella without her even realizing it.

"Edward, would you dance with me? Just once?"Her fear, not of me, but of rejection, made my heart soften toward her.

I also heard Esme's thoughts after she heard Terri from across the room as she danced with my father. "Edward, be nice. But keep it short. Dance with the poor girl!" I could see Carlisle's face through her thoughts, his lips pursed to keep him from laughing, and quietly sighed.

I forced a small smile. "Terri, a dance would be nice. Follow me," I said to her, offering my arm. When we arrived on the dance floor, I tried to maintain a little distance, knowing that once she made contact with my skin, she would most likely repel, possibly even reconsider.

I offered her my hand, and just as I suspected she recoiled from the contact. "Are you cold?" she asked.

I smiled softly at her, using the same excuse that every member of our family used – something that wasn't entirely a lie, for the most part. "Poor circulation. A family trait, I'm afraid. Sorry."

She was a brave one, this Terri. She took my hand again and I gently glided her across the dance floor, as she tried over and over again to get closer to me. I held my breath, as her scent grew stronger, counting backwards, knowing that within just a few minutes, I could go back to my perch on the wall.

I noticed that Bella had taken a break from racing around the party and was surveying the dance floor. Please let her notice that I'm dancing with this poor human…

Bella's eyes found Terri and me and even though the gentleman inside of me was ashamed of my actions, I pulled the poor girl closer to me as the music grew slower and more pronounced.

The hard look on Bella's face made me immediately regret my actions, and I prayed for the song to be over quickly. She turned from the dance floor, disappearing into the crowds.

The song ended and another quickly took its place. I thanked Terri for the opportunity and she smiled back at me. I hoped in my heart that she would find a man worthy of her attention one day, one brave enough to take her on. Even if the poor girl didn't know it, she had danced with a vampire and walked away, alive, to tell the tale.

I searched the room, looking for Bella from the spot I had chosen on the far wall. I found her talking to Mandy, her friend from work. I heard their conversation -- Mandy's date had cancelled on her, and she looked and sounded like she was about to abandon the evening's festivities. Bella did the unimaginable.

She motioned to Alice and Jasper who had been dancing the entire evening and they immediately came over. I could hear Bella quietly beg Jasper to ask her friend to dance. Alice nudged her husband in Mandy's direction, her thoughts only of keeping Bella happy.

I could hear their thoughts in completely contradiction to the others, and chuckled to myself, knowing that Bella would owe Jasper…forever.

"If I didn't love Alice so much, I would never take this chance. How am I supposed to get through even a short song being this close to someone who smells like," Jasper inhaled deeply, "vanilla and citrus?"

Jasper immediately cut the air supply to his lungs, cursing himself for breathing in Mandy's scent. I had stood just as close to her a couple of times and knew how appealing she smelled and the excitement blooming in her made that scent headier. Poor Jasper. It was amazing how Bella could get things done, even getting my poor brother to dance with a human.

While Jasper went to the gallows with Mandy in tow, Bella hugged Alice tightly, thanking her before her head snapped up looking for something…or someone. I bent my head down, but I could see her approaching me from the side, her gait one of determination.

She reached me and I couldn't help but smile, once again overwhelmed by how breathtaking she looked. "Bella, you really look beautiful. Don't forget you owe me a dance later," I teased, wishing I had more than one opportunity this evening.

As customary for Bella, she smiled shyly, her gaze drifting toward the floor. "I have a favor to ask, and I hope that you're not offended."

"Ask away." Didn't she understand that I would deny her nothing?

Her gaze continued to focus on the floor, her hands clasped behind her back, and I could see that she was choosing her words carefully. "Well, Mandy is here alone and I was wondering if there's anyone…" she paused and I momentarily thought that might abandon the whole thing altogether before she continued, "that's thinking about her…you know what I mean." She let out a tiny sigh, its dulcet tone making my stomach flutter.

I decided to tease her just a bit, if only to keep her talking to me a tad longer. "I'm not sure I understand what you're asking me, Elizabeth," I said directly.

She rolled her eyes, as she visibly relaxed, before looking up at me. "You know…is there anyone thinking about her in a romantic way."

Smiling at her broadly, I leaned back against the wall, allowing the deafening hum of the room, the hundreds of voices and thoughts to invade my mind. Some of the things I heard made me chuckle, until I heard his voice.

John Riley.

Would I ever be free of this human? Once I heard him, I couldn't help but be angered by his thoughts. "Where is she?" I could see him imagining Bella smiling at him, and my stomach rolled with his next thought. "Once I find her, I know I can talk her into a dance."

I was finally able to dismiss his thoughts, knowing that my Bella would never willingly agree to dance with anyone of her own volition. I continued to let my mind wander, looking for someone who was thinking of Mandy, when I found him. I smiled and opened my eyes, until I could place the voice. I nodded in the direction of a tall man with dark hair and glasses.

Bella followed my line of sight and seemed to recognize him. "He's thinking of her….that she's exquisite and he would love to ask her to dance, but he's afraid she would turn him down," I explained.

Her smile was bright and excited, making her eyes twinkle. I would do that everyday for her if I could see her smile that like more often. "Thank you so much. Come and find me when you're ready to collect," she said, lightly touching my arm, which nearly made me jump with excitement.

She walked away, ready to play matchmaker with her friend. I looked at her, knowing that she had the kindest heart, one that made me want to care for it and her for eternity, if only she would give me another chance.

Bella had walked away from Mandy and her new friend Jack, when I saw her head briskly to the bar. She politely checked on their progress, flashing them a dazzling smile. It's odd to think that Bella didn't intimidate most humans, mostly due to her kindness and easy personality. I'm certain that it also helped that Bella was incredibly attractive, even if she didn't recognize it. She'd never thought of herself that way when we were together, but she couldn't have been more wrong.

Emmett sauntered over to me, his relaxed pace one that I was familiar with.

"Emmett, where's Rose?" I asked casually, never taking my eyes off Bella.

Emmett chuckled. "She's run to the ladies room with Alice. Something about a hair emergency," he said, "though I think she looks great. She always looks beautiful to me. Damn! Did you see her dress! She never ceases to amaze me."

I had seen a human lifetime of Rose's ideas when it came to apparel and this one didn't begin to compete with some of the ensembles she had chosen in the past, though one could hardly deny that it didn't suit Rosalie's personality perfectly. I laughed lightly, noticing that Bella's foot that had been resting on a bar stool, began tapping with the beat of an old Beatles song.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see John Riley approaching her. I have no idea what look crossed my face, but Emmett's hand reached out in a flash and grabbed me, preventing me from interceding. "Emmett, let go," I growled.

"Edward," he said calmly, "you know as well as I do that you can't interrupt them. If you lay a hand on that guy, he'll be dead in less than a second. Just simmer down," he directed calmly.

I took several deep breaths, willing myself to calm, before I noticed he reached out and grabbed Bella's waist from behind, spinning her toward him. My anger increased a hundred fold, and I was thrown for a moment, unsure of what to do.

Bella had every right to dance with him and her smile left me wondering if she was enjoying herself or uncomfortable as hell. His thoughts left nothing to the imagination. He wanted Bella for himself and had every intention of telling her that…tonight.

I felt Emmett's grip on me increase. I didn't bother to struggle, knowing that he could hold me in place, barely exerting himself.

"When are you going to tell her, Edward?"

I wouldn't tear my eyes off Bella, keeping my focus directly on her, in case she needed my help. "Tell her what, Emmett?" I snapped back.

Emmett's grip loosened a bit, but he didn't let go of my arm. "When are you going to tell her you love her? What the hell are you waiting for?" he said, his voice full of indignation.

I could feel my shoulders sag. "She doesn't love me, Emmett. I won't make her uncomfortable by declaring something that she can't return. I'd rather be miserable having her in my life, her never loving me back, than not having her at all. I can't go through it, losing her…I can't bear that, Emmett – not again."

"Edward, I love you, just like a real brother. And I love Bella, too. But she didn't leave you. You left her. You made all of us leave her, and I'm sure that that wasn't the right decision for any of us."

His words hit me hard, but I knew he was right. "Emmett, she doesn't love me anymore. I'm not sure she ever did. She was human then, and for all I know, that love died when she did. She had a husband, a real life -- a child that she can't see anymore. What can I possibly offer her? What can I give her that would bring her even a modicum of happiness?" I picked up the highball with the mixed drink that Bella had asked all of us to carry, a prop to help us fit in during the party. The strong smell of the amber liquid intensified, as I swirled the glass casually.

"You can give her your love. You can give her the family that she no longer has. You can give her some way to bear this existence of a life. And as for her loving you? She still loves you. We can all see it. What I can't understand is how you continue to go on believing that she no longer loves or cares about you."

I finally looked at him, surprised at the depth of sincerity in his eyes. When I left her, Emmett never argued with me, but I could see his sadness. In the very short time that he knew Bella, he had grown attached. He looked at her like a baby sister, one to protect, to tease…one to love. I hadn't just failed Bella when I left her. I failed my entire family and my guilt returned like a plague. But my heart wouldn't hear what he was trying to say. "Emmett, I wish I could believe you."

"Edward, there's something else…" his voice drifted off, as if he was reconsidering what he was about to say to me, until he looked at me straight on, "…one other thing you need to consider."

My curiosity was peaked. "What's that?"

"How long do you think she can last?"

I looked at him, my brow furrowed, trying to understand what he was saying. "What are you talking about?"

"Edward, she's survived, alone, for three years. That first year she hunted Victoria. And then what? She works basically around the clock and what do you think she does with those long, dark nights? She can't possibly have enough to keep her busy, and we all know that the solitude must be hard on her. She's still grieving the loss of Grace and those daily emails eat her alive."

"How long do you think she can continue to go on and not have a mate? How long do you think she can continue to exist by herself? You know that our kind can't survive alone, that we aren't meant to be by ourselves. I don't know what I'd do without Rose, anymore than Jasper would do without Alice, or Carlisle without Esme. How you've survived for the past ten years is beyond me! Just how much longer do you think Bella can hold out, before she either finds a mate – or worse, creates one. Especially when the one person she's supposed to be with is standing right in front of her." He looked at me pointedly.

My muscles locked in place, as the impact of Emmett's words hit home…and hit hard. He was right. Bella was lonely. It was easy to see, even when she was with us. She never let her guard down completely, always looking a bit on edge or anxious. Not being able to read her mind, my brain raced with possibilities that I wasn't willing to look at until now.

Did she have feelings for John Riley? Or some other man that I wasn't familiar with? Did she find herself so lonely that she would create a companion, like Carlisle had done with me and then his beloved Esme, after finding her years later, so close to death? Granted, Carlisle waited almost three hundred years, but Bella had already lost so much. It wasn't inconceivable that she would attempt to find someone to share the rest of her existence with, someone to help ease the solitude and grief. I so wanted that person to be me, but I had no claim to her.

"And Edward?"

I looked back at Bella, as Emmett's words sunk deeper into my consciousness. "What?" I questioned, afraid of what he was about to say. His clarity this evening was unnerving.

His expression was shy, but determined. "Bella's been here for more than two years. How long before she has to leave and start over, just like we'll have to in a few years time? Do you expect her to just follow us around for the rest of her existence? You know that Bella's too proud for that. What will you do then?"

My idea of having ample time to win her back shriveled when faced with Emmett's surprising logic. He was right. I was running out of time and I had to do something – and quickly.

I looked up just in time to see John Riley hustle Bella away to the far side of the dance floor, away from prying eyes. He held her in an intimate embrace and my jealousy roared ferociously, as I tried, in vain, to extricate myself from Emmett's grasp.

I could hear John Riley's thoughts, and his conversation with Bella. "I have to try. I need to tell her – no, I need to show her how I feel about her." I could see the image in his head of him kissing her and my rage helped free me from Emmett's grasp, while I felt the glass I was holding shatter in my other hand, sending shards of broken glass to the floor, while the dark liquid ran down my fingers. I would put a stop to this now.

"Edward, don't hurt him. Stay here until you calm down," Emmett whispered to me, but I was off across the floor.

I moved as quickly as I dared, darting between the bodies locked together, dancing and enjoying their evening.

I heard John Riley's words, "Holding onto a moment, Elizabeth. I'm trying to hold onto you," while his thoughts finished his sentence…"if you'll let me." I could see Riley moving in, and although his back was to me, I'd seen that stance thousands of times.

Bella's eyes widened, and fear raced through my system. As he leaned in, about to kiss my Bella, I saw her turn her face away from him, as his mouth made contact with her cheek. I was relieved, but still furious.

This was my Bella. I loved her and I should be the one holding her…kissing her. I could hear her give him a stern warning, though her eyes seemed tender. She was attempting to allow him his dignity, which didn't surprise me. She looked up and caught my eye, her heading jerking back, showcasing her confusion. I didn't slow my pace until I caught up with them, just in time to hear Riley apologize.

Without realizing it, I reached forward and took Bella's arm, instinctively pulling her close to my body, but much more roughly than I anticipated, which I immediately regretted, but my temper refused to simmer.

Even though the song I had chosen hadn't come yet, I would wait no longer. "Elizabeth, I'll claim that dance now."

John Riley decided to play the hero, stepping in front of me, before he had the gall to address me. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

Did I just hear him correctly? This was my Bella. She belongs with me. "Excuse me? What do you think I'm doing?" I knew my voice was harsh, but I was beyond regaining any type of serenity until I removed Bella from the situation.

Bella stepped between the two of us, mumbling something that my mind couldn't comprehend, as my anger continued to navigate me through this mess.

Without thinking, I wrapped my arm around her slight shoulders, taking her hand in mine, before I steered her out to the middle of the dance floor. I couldn't put enough distance between us and HIM.

Instinctively, my hand slid down her arm, the lace of her dress creating a friction that brought me back to why I was here. My fingers found her delicate elbow, and I gently spun her toward my embrace. When Bella's slight hand found my shoulder, I reached for her other hand and instead of holding it politely, I fidgeted with it until my hand held hers the very same way it did all those nights ago – I just couldn't get enough contact with her milky skin.

My hand slid to her waist and a song that I had heard overplayed on radio stations and in the minds of people started to play. The words were familiar, and I started to sing along with them quietly, much like I did that day in the meadow. Without realizing it, my hand slid to the small of Bella's back, pulling her closer to me. Surprisingly, she didn't pull away; even more shocking, she cuddled closer to my chest, and I could feel the tension melt from my body.

I wanted this moment to go on forever and felt I could face anything with her by my side – endless years of high school, long nights, any crisis that might come along in the never-ending years ahead of my existence.

Not caring how it might appear or how much it was bound to hurt later, I let my guard down…completely. I wanted to bask in the feeling of holding her, to remember every nuance – her scent, the rise and fall of her chest, the feeling of her hand in mine. I placed her hand over my stilled heart, covering it with my own, as I continued to sing along with this silly love song.

The words began to register in my brain and I was surprised at the irony of the situation. This wasn't the song I had intended to dance with her to – instead, this song talked of forgiveness and eternal love, something I wished and ardently prayed for with this beautiful woman in my arms; something I hoped for but had little faith in ever regaining.

My cheek rested against hers, her soft skin and beautiful scent calming every part of me. Her face slid from mine, coming to rest on my chest. Instead of feeling disappointed, I was relieved, when I felt every muscle in her body relax against me. To make the moment even better, she pushed herself flush against my body; now there was no space between us and I allowed myself a moment of fancy, thinking that she couldn't get close enough to me – that she wanted this moment to go on forever, just as I did.

Bella turned her head toward me until our eyes met. I still missed her dark pools of brown, but those topaz jewels called to me, reminding me that there could still be a second chance for us. It wasn't what I wanted for her, but it wasn't up to me anymore.

I had made a horrific mistake in leaving her, not consulting her in regards to her wishes. I thought I knew better than everyone else and I had made everyone suffer with my self-righteous assumptions. Without taking my eyes from hers, I leaned my forehead against hers, knowing that I only had precious seconds left to this moment that I would remember as being perfect in my still heart, no matter what happened after this night. Even if I wasn't being honest with myself, this moment felt like the last ten years hadn't happened.

I leaned toward her, my heart ignoring my head and forcing my body to do something that it had yearned for since I left her all those years ago. Her movements echoed mine and I knew where this was going, though I tried to stop myself. The last thing I wanted was to make her uncomfortable, knowing that she no longer loved me.

She started to pull away from my embrace, but my hand instinctively tightened at the small of her back, refusing to let her go. "Bella, please," I breathed in a small whisper.

My lips met hers, the shock making me feel completely alive, jolting my cold, strong body to vibrant life. Knowing there was no turning back now, I moved forward, still moving gingerly, realizing that she would pull away in a matter of seconds, most likely slapping me for being so forward, but my heart wouldn't listen. I needed this. I needed to feel her against me, her lips moving with mine.

I deepened my kiss, increasing the pressure, my mouth open on hers, tasting her delicious scent on my tongue. Just as I feared, Bella started to pull back, and without my permission, my hand released hers, and I gripped the back of her head, my fingers lacing themselves through her hair, as I pulled her closer to me, not willing to let her go.

Those precious seconds went on and before I knew what was happening, Bella surprised me, just like she always had.

She kissed me back.

Her lips moved in tandem with mine, the soft edge becoming rougher, as if wanted this as much as I did.

My heart sang, though my mind was telling it to be cautious; that something could change in a moment's notice. She pressed herself against me, before I felt her fingers run up my arms, finding their way to my hair. She grabbed a handful with such intensity, an unspoken thought -- like we only had this one moment, though I started to hope that this was it – that she did love me and would give me that second chance that I didn't deserve but wanted more than anything else.

We'd stopped dancing, and I fought to block out the thoughts of those around me. Especially my family, who by now had noticed what was happening; their thoughts were happy and joyous – I pushed them from my consciousness, wanting to be alone with Bella completely, regardless of the hundreds of people surrounding us.

If this was real, there would be plenty of time for celebration later. I wanted only to focus on her – on us.

For the first time since that horrendous day behind Charlie's house, days after that terrible party, I felt complete again. I hadn't just left Bella behind that day…I had left my heart with her. Even after feeling like a partial being for so many years, I found completeness with Bella -- only to have my stupid decision tear us apart. I finally felt like I had come full circle.

I finally felt whole.

I continued to kiss her and smiled internally when I heard Debussy's Claire de Lune begin to play, the piano-only piece that I had listened to with Bella that first day in the Volvo. I couldn't wait to spend time with her listening to this piece of music again, holding her in my arms and telling her how much I loved her. This was the piece of music I had planned on using when my chance to dance her with her came, hoping to stir those memories from our past.

The crowd in the ballroom started to still and my heart began to lock up. I could feel Bella stiffen, her lips starting to pull from me. No. It was my imagination playing tricks on me. I had kissed my Bella and she had kissed me back. This was our new beginning and I wasn't willing to see it as anything else. This perfect moment wouldn't be ruined by my overactive imagination.

But then, I felt Bella's hands release my hair, as her palm found its way to my chest. I locked my gaze on her, waiting for her next movement, believing that she just needed a moment. I would whisk her away and we could talk and I could beg her to forgive me…we would start again and everything would be just as it should have been. I would have her with me and eventually, I would ask her to be my wife. I would care for and protect her, never letting my stupidity come between us again.

The force of her hand pressing against my chest increased, her strength a constant surprise to me. I still had difficulty remembering that she was a vampire now, and that her physical power was close in strength to mine. Suddenly, it was more than strength. I felt a force moving me away from her, realizing it was her gift, what Bella had been "blessed" with when she entered this new life. My heart screamed when she added to the distance between us, while I willed my face to remain calm, not knowing if I was successful.

She started to step away from me, and I reached out for her, to assure the both of us that I was here and nothing would separate us again. She turned on her heel, just out of my arm's length, before I noticed that her eyes filled with fear and immense sadness, as if there was a battle raging in her head. I just hoped that we would win, no matter what her head was saying to her ravaged heart.

She turned completely from me, and the crowd parted. She ran, her delicate high heels making a hasty retreat from me, balancing on the balls of her feet, as she headed for the closest exit. Even though there were dozens of other couples surrounding us, all I could see was her form getting smaller as she continued to put distance between us, before she disappeared completely, running out a side exit, the door shutting with a heavy click.

I could hear the mental hum of my family members, mostly expressing their sorrow for me, but one voice was screaming at me. The one voice above the others broke through, her strong, clear tone rousing me from my bemused state.

Esme's voice called me to attention, telling me what I needed to do. "Edward, run – find her. Don't let her go -- not this time. Go to her, now!"

Listening to my mother, I didn't hesitate. I headed for the exit, running faster than I normally would – when I found her, I would tell Bella everything…After that kiss, I wasn't going to let her go.