Disclaimer: All characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I own nothing.
So, these past three months have been crazy. Architecture is tough, I kid you not. I barely had time to eat and sleep. My break just ended today and finally I have a chapter for you. I am afraid this story has come to an end. I would like to thank every single person who has been with me since the beginning, those who abandoned it and those who started it recently.
I'm planning to write an epilogue next. But this is the final regular chapter. Thank you everyone.
Special thanks to my beta who saved me when I was in the middle of bad grammar and tense mistakes. She beta'd only ten chapters. I haven't heard from her since the earthquake in Chile and I hope and pray that wherever she is, she is well. You are truly wonderful, Mariana.
Sunday evening I left my house with my heart feeling lighter, guiltless and a smile on my face. Although I felt my heart breaking when Esme clung on to me, I comforted myself with the promise that I would visit her again, very soon.
I drove back to the city with a greater spirit. Visiting Esme had been a fantastic idea. Being in my childhood home reminded me of the little boy I used to be. He seemed like a stranger to the bitter and cynical man I have become. Now that I had gotten a peek into my younger self, I longed to be carefree and happy like I was at that age. I was tired of finding faults in everything. I didn't enjoy pushing people away from me. After that accident, it just came as second nature to me. I felt like I had to build a protective shield around myself so that no one else could get close to me. I was under the impression that isolating myself from the people surrounding me would help me lead an uncomplicated life; a life where I had no expectations to fulfil. Not anymore. I was not going to be that person anymore.
Very few of us get a second chance in life. There must be a good reason why I survived that accident on that New Year's Eve. Esme moved on with her life after Carlisle's death because of me. I have to do the same.
I had wasted four years of my life moping and I wouldn't want to live that way anymore. Did I honestly think giving up on life would make Angela happy? She'd be devastated if she saw me like this. I realized I needed to start living again.
I walked into my apartment in better spirits than I left it. I quickly took a shower and made a split second decision, thinking it was now or never. I whipped out my cell phone and called Bella. As the phone rang, I kept hoping she didn't have any weekend plans.
After three rings, she answered, "Hello?"
"Um, hi, Bella?" I asked.
"Edward! What's up? Are you back?" she asked.
"Yeah. Hey I was wondering, do you have any plans tonight?"
A pause. Then she answered. "No, not that I know of. Why? What do you have in mind?"
Here was the moment. I could do it. "I was thinking I would take you out to dinner, if that's okay," I said, running my fingers through my hair which was still damp from the shower.
She responded almost instantly. "Sure. I'd love that."
I stood frozen in shock and stared at my phone for a full minute after he hung up. He wanted to take me to dinner. Tonight.
At that moment, all those scenes from chick-flicks flashed through my mind where the heroine raids her entire closet, looking for something good to wear on her date. While I was sure this was nothing more than a friendly dinner, it didn't make me feel any more calm. I quickly pulled out a blue sweater dress with sleeves right above my elbows and a height that came up to my knees. To break the monotony of the all over blue, I put on a brown leather belt around my waist. I paired it with black tights and black peep-toes. I have never been a fan of too much make-up so I went with a little eye-liner and lip gloss.
Just as I came downstairs, I saw both my parents eyeing me suspiciously. My mom asked, "Are you going somewhere?"
I nodded just as the doorbell rang. "Edward's taking me out to dinner."
My mom smiled and my dad cleared his throat and placed the newspaper he was reading on the coffee table.
I opened the door and there he stood all nervous smiles and slightly fidgeting. He was dressed in a blue-grey shirt with a black jacket over it and dark pants.
"Hi." I said shyly.
"Hey, Bella. Was I supposed to bring flowers? I'm sorry. I haven't done this since high school."
I laughed, immediately feeling at ease. "Don't be silly. We are way past flowers and candy. Come in."
As he stepped inside, I saw my parents assessing him. My mom appraised him with a small smile on her lips and my dad with caution in his eyes.
"Dad, this is Edward and Mom you've already met him" I croaked out, mortified at how nervous I sounded.
"Of course. It's so good to see you again," my mom said. My Dad just nodded.
I shot him a look that said, 'be nice.' He got up and shook Edward's hands.
"It's really nice to finally meet you both. And your house is lovely," Edward said politely.
My dad crossed his arms over his chest and nodded, unimpressed. "Have her back before midnight." I rolled my eyes.
"Most definitely, sir," Edward said, looking clearly terrified.
As we got in his car, I burst out laughing. "You should have seen you face!"
"I am officially scared of your dad," Edward said as her started the engine.
We settled into a comfortable silence after that. I stole quick glances at him, wondering what brought on this change in him. He seemed different, for a lack of better word. At first glance it would be hard to notice. But I have had months' worth of practice of reading his face.
"So how's your mother?" I asked.
"Great. She was delighted to see me. I suppose I should thank you for talking some sense into me and making me take that trip," he said with a chuckle.
"So is this dinner your way of saying 'thanks'?" I asked, teasing him.
"No!" He said, looking horrified. "I just realized that I wouldn't want to spend my weekend with anyone else." He replied with a smirk.
"I'm glad. Just so you know, I am not exactly opposed to spending my weekend with you either."
"I can see that. Which is why you are here," he said with a laugh.
"Where are we going anyway?" I asked.
"Just this little Italian place I like, on Tenth Avenue. I figured you could never go wrong with Italian food."
It was a short car ride from my house in Bronx and soon the car stopped in front of a building with large square glass windows. The entrance was flanked by two square red-brick pillars and in between each storey, was a black panel with the words 'Del Posto' written on it.
As Edward held out the door for me, I finally recognized the name and gasped.
"Is something wrong?" Edward asked.
"Edward! You brought me here? This place is crazy expensive!" I exclaimed.
He laughed like it was no big deal. "Think of it this way. I haven't eaten out at a nice place in ages. So I'm overdue in indulging myself in expensive Italian food."
"Oh so this is about you, huh?" I teased him.
"God, no! I just wanted to take you somewhere nice and this is the first place that came to my mind and I thought you might enjoy the décor and the food.." he kept on rambling.
I laughed out loud again. "Edward, I wasn't being serious. I'm sure I'll love it no matter what."
Edward was right about the interior décor part. As soon as we walked in, I was met with this great view of the whole place that was decorated in light, warm colours. The floor was wooden and reflected the ceiling lights. The ceiling itself was white with dark wood panels set in vertically and horizontally, creating little squares in between. The furniture was of the same dark wooden colour. The chairs were of deep red leather that matched the curtains.
The maitre d' greeted us in Italian and led us to a table at the corner. As soon as we were seated, she left and we were greeted by the hostess.
*"Buona sera," she said. "Benvenuti a Del Posto. Lo sarò il vostro ospite per la serata. Spero che ti piace la vostra cena qui."
"We would like to place our orders please," Edward said.
"Sicuro," she said and brought out two menus. She then gave us a few minutes to choose our orders.
I eyed Edward over the opened menu in front of me. He really did seem different. The usual frown was missing and so were the lines on his forehead. For once, he seemed relaxed. The trip must have gone really well. He caught me staring and his face curved up into that heart-warming smile.
"Do you know what you want?" He asked, still smiling.
I blushed at his words. The obvious answer would be 'you' but I'm sure that would send him running for the hills. Besides, I was pretty sure he was referring to the food.
By this time, the hostess had reappeared.
"Yeah, I'll have Spaghetti with sliced jalapeno, crab and minced scallion."
Edward chose a Gorgonzola Dolce with black truffle butter and handed back the menus to the hostess who assured the food will be ready in half-an-hour.
I sat back in my chair and rested my arms on the armrest. I looked around at the diners and then finally rested my eyes back on him. He was looking back at me with a small smile.
"Well, this is different," I commented after a while.
He burst out laughing, as if to prove my point. Since when does he laugh?
"I guess I just go tired of being miserable all the time," he said.
"You? Being miserable? Jeez, what are you talking about?" I teased him again.
"Ha, ha, you are hilarious," he said.
He remained silent for a few moments. Then he looked up and started speaking.
"I haven't treated you right, Bella. I was so wrapped up in my own misery, that I was blind and didn't see what was right in front of me. You are sweet, kind and wonderful and I was an ass to not see that. I should have done this dinner thing a long time ago. But I'm glad that you didn't give up on me and stuck around and gave me a chance even though I don't deserve it."
My jaw dropped. What was he saying?
He took a deep breath and started again. "I had made a mess of my life. I gave up my old house and moved into a cheap apartment in Brooklyn. I stopped seeing the only family I have left, my mom. I stopped playing the instrument I loved so much. I thought if I deprived myself from all the things that I loved, the guilt might somehow lessen," he said, with his voice getting smaller. "But that didn't happen. Instead, my nightmares continued. I started eating less, lost a lot of pounds and I think also grew some grey hair," he said with a mirthless laugh.
He then paused and took a sip of water. He ran his fingers through his hair once and continued.
"And then you came along. I started feeling better, less stressed and a whole lot happier than I had been in a long time. And Bella, I know I pushed you out at first but I was wrong. I though….that maybe after knowing about my past, you would want to stay away from me. So I had to tell you about my history before you took things forward. You wouldn't believe how relieved and frigging ecstatic I was when you didn't run away screaming after knowing about all that."
My head was spinning. He had always been so cryptic about what he felt. So what brought on this sudden candidness?
He cleared his throat awkwardly and fidgeted a little with his napkin. "You seem awfully quiet."
I took a lungful of air and exhaled and tried to come up with something to say. "I know. It's just that….you've never said….that's a lot to take," I finished lamely.
He nodded with a frown marring his flawless features. "I understand that." He suddenly looked up. "Oh God, Bella, I didn't mean to kill your appetite with all that heavy talk. I should have kept my mouth shut until we had eaten."
"No, no, it's fine. Actually, I am glad you let it all out. Sometimes, well, most of the time, to speak the truth, it's not easy to read you. Okay, since we are being honest here, it's very difficult to know what you're thinking. I feel like I am walking on egg shells whenever I am around you." It felt good to speak out loud about what had been bugging me since the beginning.
He looked down at his lap and nodded again knowingly. "I guess I am to blame for all that. I built this wall around me and it might have looked like I was pushing everyone out, truth was that I was petrified of letting anyone else in. But you….you broke through that wall and with you I could finally be myself again." He finished, smiling for the first time since he started the conversation.
I felt my own face breaking into a similar smile and was a second away from saying something ridiculously mushy. However, I was saved by the hostess serving our food.
"Enjoy your meal," she said, with a thick accent.
The food was unsurprisingly good. The spaghetti had just the right amount of tomato sauce and was sprinkled with jalapeno and went extremely well with the red wine we ordered.
"Is the food alright?" he asked after we began eating.
I hummed appreciatively with a forkful of spaghetti in my mouth and nodded my approval. "It's delicious."
He grinned and suddenly looked like a younger version of the twenty-nine year old man I knew.
We finished our food in silence. I declined his offer for dessert because I was full.
He paid the bill quickly and soon we were out of the restaurant. We walked side by side, keeping a few inches distance between us. It wasn't a cold night but not very warm either. It was the perfect weather for a night stroll, which I was sure what he had in mind as well because he didn't stop when we passed his car. I looked at him questioningly and he said, "I wasn't quite done talking back there."
I nodded. The next moment, our hands grazed and he gently entwined his fingers with mine. "Is this okay?" he murmured. I rolled my eyes. Of course it was.
I could be dramatic and say my heart was beating so hard it felt like it would burst out of chest. But I would be lying if I did say that. Truth was I felt nothing but a calm wash over me and spread all over, starting from my head to the tips of my toes. His hands were slightly rough but very much warm.
"Bella, I don't think I have thanked you for bringing this change in my life." He came to a stop as he said this and I was pulled by his hand to face him. He grabbed my other hand and brushed my knuckles with his thumbs. I suppressed a shudder that went through me at his touch.
"I can feel the change in me. I no more scoff at people who are nice to me," he said, with his eyes at our joined hands. I grinned at this. "I have started eating well; I feel like doing things that make me happy, you know? Like playing the violin or teaching those kids soccer with more enthusiasm than I had before. I realized how lucky I am to be alive and I am positive I wasn't given a second chance to live so that I could mope around." He knitted his eyebrows adorably at this and I lifted my hands to brush a stray hair from his forehead. He lifted his eyes to meet mine. Okay, now my heart was beating like crazy.
My fingers lingered on his skin. He grasped them and held them against his cheek. "I am still not all flowers and sunshine and rainbows. I still am slightly broken inside and I think that part of me can never be mended no matter how much I try. But I want you to know, I want you in my life. You are an amazing person and I want you to be happy. Even if you walk away from me now, I would wish nothing but your happiness, no matter who you are with."
I frowned. "You know, for a smart person, you can be really dumb sometimes." And with that, I didn't give him a chance to respond. Standing on my toes, I pressed my lips to his.
His arms immediately went to my waist and he lowered his head so that I didn't have to stand on my toes. My hands went around his neck and I kissed him with a newfound fervour. He wanted me to be in his life. Granted, he was still unclear about his feelings for me but I would give him time, because he was worth it.
I shut my brain off before the voice in my head started to sound any more like a L'Oreal commercial. I pressed myself further into his chest and gasped when he moaned at the sudden contact. He sucked on my bottom lip before slipping his tongue inside. This time it was me who started to make embarrassing noises and I gripped the hair at his nape.
We broke apart as soon as I realized we were on a pavement and were most likely giving passer-bys a show. Thankfully, when I looked around, I didn't see any creepy pedestrians nearby.
We were both breathing heavily. I looked up to see Edward still had his eyes closed. I giggled and he opened them at the noise.
"It was that good?" I asked, still laughing.
"You bet," he said and winked.
"Did you just wink at me? Very classy, Edward." I crinkled my nose in mock disgust.
"Admit it, Swan. You can't resist my charms," he said with a shrug.
I didn't disagree at this. He held my hands again as we walked back towards his car.
It didn't matter that I couldn't utter the 'L' word yet. I didn't mind that he wasn't being clear about his feelings. All I knew was that, deep down, a part of him was still unhealed and would remain that way for quite some time. But I wasn't in any rush. The thing that matters most is that I can see him getting there. And maybe when he's ready, I'll tell him.
*Translation: "Good evening. Welcome to Del Posto. I will be your hostess for the evening. I hope you enjoy your dinner here."
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