Is it sad that I had to re-read my own story to remember where the heck I was? Yeah, it's pretty sad. I've had this chapter written for many many months, sent it out to HMonster and WTVoC months ago… got feedback and edits months ago… but just couldn't get myself to post it. I suck, as a matter of fact when I repeatedly opened this chapter I hear a huge sucking vacuum sound. I know. Please forgive me. As I have said about a hundred times, I will not abandon the story and I'm quite sure you don't want to know what's been going on in the last 18 months as to why I haven't posted, suffice it to say there's been a lot.

Honestly I spent months going back and forth on this chapter, felling that it was almost to upbeat for the Bella in APoW. I had to literally fight with her in my head to justify it. How could she just be happy? It seemed OOC for her and it took me months to finaly reconcile where she was, which was off my outline... so I'm going with the voices in my head on this one and hoping I don't end up getting committed :)

So… words. First off, as mentioned above, thank you to HMonster and WTVoC for beta-ing the chapter for me. Let me tell you how wonderful these ladies are and how wonderful it is to get a file back with 283 comments (WTVoC LOVES her comments button) which range from my total inability to properly use a comma's…. someday I WILL get it, I'm quite confident, to 'you've done it perfectly' and 'awww'. To hear these words of encouragement from these two wonderful writers just makes me find the confidence I needed to post this chapter after all this time.

I'd like to also thank Isabel who faithfully emails me asking how I'm doing and wondering if I'm ever ever going to update. Believe it or not I love these emails, thanks for staying on top of me.

Lastly, not that I'm sure any of you really find me all that interesting but I do have a formspring (.me/tnuccio) and a twitter account tlnuccio. Feel free to ask me a question or stop on by to say howdy.

I've been advised that I should include a recap since it's been a decade or so since I've updated so I'm going to give this a try:

Previously on APoW…

Bella wanders into a bar to have a drink to celebrate something we don't know yet, sad and morose. Edward is singing, she sees him, listens, is drawn to him but leaves. Edward see's Bella on a train (queue the Journey song here…) and he recognizes his own loneliness in her eyes but she leaves before he can say anything. We discover Edward is a doctor with a very precocious teenage girl patient who has CF, enter Hope. Jasper drags Bella out one night with his girlfriend Alice. At the bar we meet Rose who Alice knows through work; Rose is married to Emmett who is Edward cousin. Edward and Bella finally meet. Edward talks, Bella storms out, running away. Bella decides to help Rose plan her wedding (which Rose and Alice have used as a guise to get Edward and Bella to at least talk to each other), angst ensues and they slowly get to know each other. And… we have Pie. All kinds of Pie. Christmas comes, Edward and Bella get stranded during Blizzard Carlos and we're on the 18th floor balcony when she finally kisses him and we begin to find out why Bella is so afraid to trust. So we open with a balcony, snow and a long awaited morning after.

This chapter was inspired by the song Near to You by A Fine Frenzy.

Chapter 17 – Near to You.

The city was covered in snow. It continued to fall as I stood at the balcony, watching as the city struggled to wake up.

I walked back to the lounge chair with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, the snow dancing in front of me, landing gently on my cheek. The cold contrasting with the warmth I was feeling.

Just last night I kissed Edward on this very chair. I'm not sure it was the right thing to do, but I just couldn't fight it anymore. I had tried for so long to just be his friend. I had tried to keep him at arm's length. But no matter how hard I tried, I was never able to push him away far enough so that he'd stay away for good. It almost seemed as if I'd push, but not let go. I was a contradiction in myself.

When I had awakened this morning my arms had been clasped so tightly around him that I was surprised he was able breathe. The odd thing was, his arms were just as tightly wound around me. My head had been nuzzled between his neck and collar and his face rested against my head, our bodies entwined as if we were two magnets, drawn to each other.

I lay like that until it was clear my bladder would tolerate it no longer. I managed to wiggle myself out of his grasp, with much effort and pushed my pillow up to where I was laying to try and compensate for my absence, hoping that Edward would stay asleep. I really needed a few minutes to get myself together before I faced him again.

And so, there I sat, in the chair where I could have made either the biggest mistake of my life which would cost me the only happiness I'd found in years, or where I may have finally found a place to start again.

Starting again.

I was sick of being alone.

But it would be a huge risk. If-when-this goes south; I'd lose all of them. Even though Jasper and Alice were my friends first they were so close with Emmett and Rose now. I'm sure Jasper would try to hold on, but in the end, he'd go where Alice went and I'd have to walk away from them as well. I know it doesn't seem like much, but having Jasper was a least having someone.

I got up and walked over to the balcony railing. Absentmindedly I pushed the small pile of slowly building snow over the edge and watched as it fluttered to the ground. There was a doorman shoveling the sidewalk below me. It all seemed so futile. No matter how much you shovel, the snow continues to pile up. Why keep pushing it away?


I took a big breath, inhaling the crisp air. It felt good to live again.

Things are different this time, I assured myself. They were different; my life was different.

I turned toward the doors and looked at the lounge chair, smiling as I thought of last night's kiss. I couldn't believe I was so bold… Even with Jake, I had never initiated anything. He had been all too happy to take the lead; and I didn't have it in me to resist. I always thought the key to making my life right again was to let him take me there. I always felt with Jake, and the numbness had subsided.

By telling Edward the story about Renee saving me from my high school embarrassment it all became so clear.

You'll know because on the coldest of nights he'll keep you warm and on the darkest of nights, he'll be your light. You'll feel him when he's not there, you'll hear him when he doesn't speak, you'll know him because he'll make you want to dance.

In the past few months, so much had changed. As much as I tried to push Edward away, he'd stayed. He made me smile, he made me laugh.

He made me… happy.

He gave me Hope, both figuratively and literally.

This both scared me and invigorated me.

I'd been alone for so long, no risk… no risk of being hurt, no risk of being abandoned, but along with that security came the numbness, the late night train rides trying to make everything disappear.

My thoughts turned back to the snow as I turned back toward the street and watched a plow come down the road. The door behind me opened and I smiled as I felt Edward wrap his arms around me from behind.

"Aren't you cold?"

Tightening the blanket around me I sighed. "It feels nice."

Hs kissed my head, "So do you," he whispered.

I turned around in his arms to face him then opened my blanket and pulled him into the warmth.

He wrapped his arms around my waist inside the blanket and I rested my head on his chest. "I woke up alone and it was very… disconcerting," he said playfully as I felt him squeeze me gently.

I lifted my head and laughed at him. "I'm sorry. We're kind of snowed in here. Not too many places I could go, you know?"

His voice didn't show the nervousness that I saw in his gaze as he looked down at me. "I just... I wasn't sure. After last night, if you..."

He thought I was going to run.

Was I?

"Edward." I pulled away from him and took a small step back. "I can't promise you anything. I don't know if this – if us – if…"

"Bella." he closed the small space I'd put between us. "I told you last night. I'm not asking for anything that you're not ready to give."

I pulled the blanket back tightly around me effectively putting it between him and me and nodded my head. "Okay." Edward turned to walk back to the room.

"Edward," I called out. He turned to face me and even though he gave me a smile, I knew he was still questioning where my thoughts were.

"I can make you one promise."

He looked at me questioningly. "Bella, you don't have to promise me anything."

I walked over to him. "Yes, I do. I promise I won't run. Whatever this is," I motioned between the two of us, "I promise, I won't run from it. I can't promise you much else, but I'm done running. This is the only home I have. I don't have anywhere else to go, so no running."

He closed the two steps between us and lifted my face with his warm hands and looked in my eyes. "Thank you."

I leaned up as he leaned down and we met in the middle, my cold lips meeting his warm ones. He wrapped his arms around me and lifted me off my toes. He walked us backwards until he hit the lounge chair, then he pulled me down, smiling as he continued our kiss.

"Think they'll let me buy this chair?" he asked between kisses. "I've grown rather fond of it during our stay."

I pulled away and laughed as he continued to kiss my jaw, moving lower down my neck.

When Edward kissed me, the world disappeared. We were no longer sitting on a balcony eighteen floors above the snow covered streets. It wasn't twenty two degrees in the middle of a blizzard named Carlos, and there was no one else.

I'd never quite felt like this, it was so different, so new. I decided that I was tired of justifying every feeling I had.

He makes me feel …

I pulled away from him and sat back, he looked at me and then reached out to push a lose strand of hair behind my ear. "You okay?"

I nodded and smiled at him. "Yeah, I'm… okay," I hesitated.


"Thank you, Edward. For, well, for everything. For more than I can tell you, just, thank you."

He looked confused as he sat up farther in the chair and opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Looking from me to the door, then back to again, he sighed.

"That would be room service. I wasn't sure what you'd want so I just ordered their breakfast specials and figured we could share?"

As I stood up from the chair I held my hand out; he reached up and grasped it, pulling me back down into his embrace. "They can wait. This can't."

He turned slightly so that he was almost on top of me and then lifted my chin. "You're welcome, for anything and everything you can and can't say. But, more importantly-thank you, Bella. Thank you for letting me be part of your life. Thank you for giving me a reason, and thank you for letting me do this." He leaned down and kissed me softly. I smiled into his kiss and he smiled in return. Then he gently pulled my bottom lip with his teeth into his mouth.

There was a knock on the door again. "Room service…"

Edward growled but released my lip and lifted himself off of me. He held out his hand and pulled me to stand but didn't release my hand. "One second," he yelled toward the door.

I let go of his hand and walked to the bathroom door. "I'll be right back," I said and he nodded as he reached for the door handle.

As I closed the door I heard Edward talking to the server. Looking in the mirror I noticed the pink of my cheeks, and I smiled as I took in the vibrant blush on my face. Trying to replicate feeling of Edward's teeth on my skin I gently bit my lip then rolled my eyes at myself and this silliness. I looked at my image in the mirror.

When was the last time I'd felt this silly?

When was the last time I'd felt this alive?

My mind suddenly started to question what I was doing and I quickly shook my head. No… I'm not going to question this. I'm just going to go with it. I'm not going to think…

I quickly exited the bathroom and nearly walked right into Edward. I was startled by his presence and stumbled back. He reached out as I started to slip, laughing as he apologized. "Sorry about that."

He turned toward the food that was now set out on the table near the balcony doors. "I hope you're hungry," he said as he motioned to the overflowing table. "I didn't realize I ordered so much food."

We sat down and passed plates back and forth, working methodically and silently.

There seemed to be no need to fill the air with senseless chatter and neither of us seemed to mind the peacefulness that filled the room. Edward passed me the morning paper and I skimmed until I found the Arts and Entertainment section. Passing it back to him he pulled out the Local News section out.

I sneaked a couple of peeks at him while we ate, all the while pretending to be interested in the paper as I turned each page. It was an odd sensation.

Contentment? Happiness?

I couldn't quite place it.

Suddenly my mind wandered back to other mornings filled with breakfast meals. Happy times, not so happy times, times I had thought were times of contentment and comfort but now knew better.

I remembered one particular breakfast right after I'd turned ten.

Charlie and Renee were sitting at our old, hand me down, maple kitchen table. Renee scratched absent-mindedly at a quarter-sized blotch of pink fingernail polish that she had spilled on it when she was eight and that no amount of scrubbing, lemon-scented Pledge, or nail polish remover had ever been able to get rid of. My dad was dressed for what was considered a normal Saturday morning - jeans, a flannel, and old, scuffed work boots. His fishing pole was resting in the nook next to the back door, tackle box sitting right next to it.

They didn't know I had come downstairs yet and my mother was still in her worn, light-blue terry cloth robe. The coffee pot sputtered to a stop as the steam and scent wafted to the hallway where I stood watching. Renee got up to bring the coffee pot to the table stopping to pour Charlie a cup on the way. As she stood in front him his eyes never left her face as he snaked his hand around her waist. She rolled her eyes as he pulled at the tie on her bathrobe.

"Charlie, you've got to stop this. You're already late. Billy's not going to wait all day for you," she laughed while slapping his hand away.

"Let's see," he said as he pulled her down onto his lap. "Fishing in the cold river with an ornery Billy Black," he nuzzled his nose into her hair, "or spending the morning trying to get you out of this – "

"Bella!" my mother said as she noticed me in the hall and stood from my father's lap. "You ready for breakfast, hon?"

My father casually leaned forward and took the morning newspaper off the table and propped it across his lap.

"Are you done with that?" Edward asked as he reached for the section of the paper I had let fall to rest on the table.

I lifted my eyes to his. "I haven't read the funnies yet."

He smiled and pulled his chair closer to mine. "Well," he said as he opened the section up to the comics, "there's little else in the paper that I find as interesting as the funnies, so how about we just sit real close and read them together?"

I rolled my eyes at him. "The cheese factor was just raised…"

He gasped and put his hand over his heart. "Bella, I'm offended."

"I highly doubt it. Can you pass me the toast, please?"

As we read the paper the snow continued to fall, slowly filling in the footprints we'd left on the balcony just minutes earlier. Occasionally, Edward's hand would brush up against mine and I'd feel the sensation of his skin against mine down to the bottom of my stomach.

Another breakfast came to mind.

It was a few months after the funeral and I was lying in the small bed we'd managed to wedge into Jake's even smaller room. I held onto the stuffed Gund bear my father had given me for Valentine's Day the year I turned twelve. It was battered and worn, but it was from my father.

I absentmindedly stroked the bear's ear, not really paying much attention to what was going on around me.

I had heard Jake come in, so I didn't start as he sat down on the bed. I was numb to everything going on around me; numb to everything but the tattered bear I held in my hands.

"You need to eat, Bells. You didn't eat any dinner and you didn't come out for breakfast."

I crinkled my brow and had to try and remember if he was right. I lifted my eyes to look at him and noticed he had a bowl in one hand and a cup of orange juice in the other.

"Please, Bella, just please. Eat something."

I turned away from him and resumed my rubbing of the worn fur of the once white bear.

"Not hungry, Jake."

"You know what, Bella. You need to stop this. I understand you're hurting, but you can't close everyone out."

"I'm not hungry, Jacob."

"Darn it, Bella. You make me so angry. I know you feel like you're all alone, but you're not. I'm your best friend. I'm not going anywhere, and I'm not going to let you disappear. You're going to eat this cereal, and then you're going to get out of bed today. You're going to get back to living because I need you to. You need to. I can't watch you do this. Charlie and Renee wouldn't want you to do this – "

"Stop it, Jake. Just - stop it. I'll eat your damn cereal, but stop talking about them. I don't want to talk about them. I just can't."

I sat up and he pushed the bowl of cereal toward me. I took the bowl and spoon, using it to push my Cheerios down into the milk.

"I'm not going anywhere, Bella. I promise I'll never leave you alone. It will always be the two of us."

Edward and I finished eating and put the trays out into the hall. The snow hadn't slowed by check out and the weather channel indicated that the night wouldn't be any different.

We decided to stay another night.

I called Jasper to let him know I was fine and where we were while Edward made his calls to the hospital and Emmett.

We stayed in our pajamas and decided to light the fireplace around noon. The television reception kept going in and out so we took a walk down to the gift shop and found a few travel games which I insisted on paying for since Edward had already given his credit card for the room.

We were sitting on the floor playing Scrabble and talking about Edward's past adventures with Emmett when he decided I'd avoided the subject of my childhood long enough.

"Okay, Bella. I've told you about the snake I put in Esme's car, Emmett's run-in with my neighbor's twin daughters, and subsequently their father. I told you about my first girlfriend and my first fight over said girlfriend. Don't think I haven't missed the persistent questions but lack of reciprocal information from you. So spill. Where would you like to start?"

I kept my eyes on the board and my tiles. "I'm not so sure I understand what you mean, Edward. I haven't avoided, you just haven't asked me anything."

I looked at my tiles one more time and added an I-A-L to his D-E-N.

He raised his eyebrow at me. "Trying to tell me something, Swan?"

"Nope, just playing the hand that was dealt to me, Cullen."

I reached for the bag of tiles at the same time he did and our hands brushed against one another. That same sensation ran through my veins, finding its now familiar home in my stomach as tension filled the air again. I had no other way to describe it than energy zinging through my body. It tingled like a shock but lasted much longer.

I'd never felt like that before.

With Jake, I'd always felt – comfortable. At ease, never vibrant or electric.

I looked at Edward as he reached over and grabbed the bag of potato chips we had bought down in the gift shop.

Had I ever felt like that for Jake?

I was seventeen when my friendship with Jake had started to morph into something… else. I had recently taken up residence in the twin's bedroom since they were off at college and even though the room was now mine, I still felt like a trespasser. The borrowed room in the borrowed family.

I'd wake up at night shaking and sweating, unable to recall the dream that always seemed to bring me to this precipice.

When I'd shared a room with Jake, more often than not, I'd wake up with him holding me and I'd know that for that moment everything would be okay.

Now I woke up alone.

Always alone.

I'd sit and shake through the memory that skirted my mind's eye. I tried to be strong. I tried to face my fears on my own. Then I would remember the night it all ended and I wouldn't be able to take it anymore.

The dream lingered as I stifled the scream that threatened to escape. My mother was reaching her hand out to me. My father came up behind her and put his arm around her shoulders, holding her back as they continued to look at me.

The shame in my father's eyes was all I saw as flames engulfed them both.

I sat up and shook as tears racked my body.

"I'm sorry daddy… I'm so sorry."

The bedroom door opened as I cried out for my parents. I felt Jake put his arms around me.

"It's okay, Bella. It's okay."

I shook my head. "It's not okay, Jake. It will never be okay again. I'm going to be alone forever. It's my fault, it's all my fault."

I kept rambling, finally telling someone. It was my fault they were dead.

I was becoming hysterical as Jake squeezed me. He grabbed my face with both hands and pulled me to him.

Next thing I knew Jake's lips were on mine. He held my head and kissed me. His face was wet with tears, and at first I thought they were mine.

When he stopped I noticed his tears continued to fall. I heard him whispering to me, "I promise Bella, you won't be alone. I'll never leave you. I've loved you my whole life and I promise I'll never go anywhere. I'll love you forever. Please let me in…"

He kept kissing my face and slowly, my tears stopped.

Even then- the first time I let someone in- I didn't feel anything but hesitation. Jake had made the voices stop, but still- something was missing.

I tried to remember all the times we hugged, all the times we held hands and walked through the woods. All the lingering touches, all the times we made love, all the times we sat and said nothing.

There was contentment, silence, comfort.

Never… passion. Electricity, vibrancy.

There was warmth and there was companionship.

Jake was my best friend.

Was he ever anything else?

Did I ever really love him?

I looked up at Edward as he moved his tiles around and added an O-R-K to the 'd' in 'denial'. He peeked up at me from under the hair that had fallen into his eyes.

"Don't judge," he said smiling mischievously.

I laughed and pushed the letter bag toward him. "If 'den' and 'dork' are the best you can come up with, Doctor Masen, I am so winning this."

"Well," he started, "you are an English major. Did you seriously think I had a chance?"

"You're a doctor!" I laughed. "If I recall correctly, that requires some pretty intensive schooling."

"Yeah, like, sciences and… stuff." He reached in and grabbed three more tiles.

"Yes! I got the wild tile. I'll wow you with something wonderful now."

The day turned to night and once again we found ourselves reclining in the lounge chair, staring at the pink night sky.

We were covered in the blanket that sat at the end of the bed and we each had a glass of wine in our hands. My head rested on his chest and his free hand wound through my hair.

Every time the tips of his fingers touched my scalp I felt tingles from the top of my head down to the tips of my toes. I was quite sure I'd never had feelings like this before.

My hand lazily dragged up his thigh and back down to his knee where it stayed. I sighed in contentment. Silence had never seemed so peaceful before.

The snow had stopped and the streets were once again quite. I finished my wine and set the glass on the table next to the chair then reached my hand behind me and found Edward's hair. Slowly I ran my fingers through the soft curls forming at his neck.

I heard him sigh and he put his now empty glass next to mine on the table.

He wrapped his arms around me and shifted a little, trying to reposition by body.

"Am I making you uncomfortable?" I lazily asked as I felt him move below me.

"Um, no," he quietly chuckled. "Quite the opposite, actually. I just need to… move around a little."

Another minute passed and Edward asked, "Are you tired, Bella?"

I shrugged. "I could sleep. It's just so beautiful out here. I don't want this night to end."

He slowly pulled the hair back from my neck and I felt his warm breathe caress my skin. "Neither do I."

His lips gently pressed warm kisses on my chilled skin. My heart skipped a beat in my chest as I closed my eyes and decided to throw all caution to the wind.

This had to mean more. It had to. He was everything my mother always said I'd find. He took away the nothing and sparked life into my world of fading blacks and dingy whites.

I turned to look at him and he tilted his head looking down into my eyes.

There was nothing to say. There was no way to express the fear in my heart, no way to tell him I was ready to risk the very thing that nearly ended me.

He slowly raised his hand and wiped my cheek. "Bella," he whispered, "what's wrong?"

I shook my head. "Nothing." It was then that I realized there were tears slowly rolling down my cheeks.

"Why are you crying?" he asked me.

"I didn't know I was."

"Are you okay?"

I nodded silently.

"Do you want to go inside?"

Shaking my head I whispered, "Not yet."

He raised his hand and cupped my face, "okay."

I rested my head on his shoulder and was immediately enveloped in his arms, his scent, his warmth.

He was different.

This was different.

I closed my eyes and trusted this - the night, the feelings. Him.

Next thing I knew I was wrapped in warm blankets in a very soft bed. I heard whispering as I stretched and turned to see Edward holding a tray with covered dishes.

He hadn't noticed me yet, so I took advantage of his preoccupation with what I assumed was breakfast since the sun was once again streaming through the balcony door. I watched the muscles in his chest and arms flex as he moved toward the table by the balcony.

He wasn't wearing a shirt and his flannel pants were hanging low on his hips. His hair was a mess and his feet were bare.

He nearly lost the tray as he knocked into the small vase of flowers that rested on the table and I heard him curse as he righted the vase and placed the plates down.

"Good morning," I said and he jumped, knocking over the vase again. I laughed as his shoulders slumped and he sighed.

"I hope you weren't fond of these flowers." He picked up the flowers and put them back in the vase.

"I'm not much of a flower girl." I said seriously. "I've recently discovered that the way to a girl's heart is through pie. Flowers have nothing on pie."

He turned around and walked toward the bed. "Pie, huh?" He crawled up the bed slowly and I slouched back as he came closer.

I nodded as he hovered above me. "Well, I'm sorry to say that it's not pie under those pretty silver domes. I guess I'm going to have to improvise and hope I can find another way to your heart for the morning."

"Is that a fact?" I asked as I pulled the blankets up to my chin. "And how do you plan on doing that?"

"Well," he paused, "I thought I'd start with something like this." He leaned down and kissed me.

"Then," he continued, "I thought maybe I'd try this." He nuzzled his nose under my ear lobe and gently nipped my skin, while slowly pushing the blankets down.

"And if that didn't work, I thought maybe…" He ran his hand through my hair, effectively leaving my neck exposed, "I'd try something like this." He trailed light kisses from my ear to the hollow at the base of my neck.

By this time my body was flushed in places I'd forgotten I had. The blood pulsed through my veins like lava streaming from a volcano.

I reached up and dragged my hands up his muscular back and he slowly lowered his body onto mine.

He lifted his head and kissed my chin, then my nose and finally my forehead. He slowly lifted off me and whispered, "In case that didn't work, I ordered you French toast."

Then he was gone. I opened my eyes and watched as he walked back to the table and took the top off the plate as if nothing had happened.

My chest was heaving and I struggled to control my thoughts. Edward Masen was going to be the death of me.

He looked back at me over his shoulder and smirked. "Hungry?"

Licking my lips and stared at him. "I could eat."

I sat up feeling flushed and pushed the covers back hoping the air would cool my skin. "I'll be right back." I said as I walked to the bathroom to cool myself down.

Once again I stood and stared in the mirror. Had it only been one day since I did this very same thing? Less than thirty-six hours with Edward in a hotel room and I was left a heaving mess in a sleep number bed as he walked around half-naked trying to win my heart with French toast.

This had to be a dream.

If it was, I never wanted to wake up.

So...there it is...5k words in 18 months. I hope you enjoyed it and I promise to get back to writing this and updating well before the next 18 months! No seriously, I'm going to make a very big effort to try and wrap this story up in the next 6 months which means more writing for me. I've recently changed jobs so I should have more time and it's summer, which means no school or soccer for the girls, just college visits for Ally.

If anyone's still out there, feel free to drop me a note and say howdy. I'm curious to see what you thought of Bella's POV and her change of heart...