Wow. It has been a while, and for that, I apologize. I can't give you a hard and fast update schedule, although I can say that it won't have the quick turnaround like 'Twice in a Lifetime.' If you are bothering to read this, then you do have patience, and I thank you very much!
Eons ago, Twisherry, valenid16 and myheroin1 looked over this for me. Any mistakes that are left are mine.
The world of Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. What happens to her characters here is my fabrication.
I woke up to an empty bed. My phone was next to me, as was a note written in Edward's neat script.
I stayed until you were asleep. I could barely pull myself away, but I know that we will have a great time this evening. Dress in shorts and a t-shirt, and bring a hoodie. I will pick you up at 6 o'clock. We have a short drive, and then we can check another thing off your list.
You are stunning when you sleep. I adore having you in my arms.
I thought that my face would split in two from the smile that formed there. Love notes? Swoon! Despite the fact that I just woke up, I felt all giddy, as if I might just bounce right off the bed. I rubbed my eyes and immediately realized my mistake in not taking out my contacts. One of these days, I would learn.
I grabbed my phone as I slid from my bed and padded across the antique wood floors to my bathroom. It was already 4:30, and I needed to make a phone call before he came by to pick me up. I was feeling surprisingly refreshed from the short nap. After I changed into a pair of shorts and a shirt, I ditched my contacts, headed downstairs with my glasses, and dialed my grandma.
"Hi, GramMarie!" I said when I heard her answer the line.
"Well hello yourself, Bella Marie! How's Washington? Your mom showed me the pictures of your place, honey. It is beautiful! I can't wait to visit!" my grandma began chattering at me.
"You're going to visit? When?" I asked. This was news to me.
"Oh, your dad mentioned something about coming up for a football game in the fall. I figured that I would join the party!"
"GramMarie! Nothing is for sure yet! Heck, it was just mentioned in passing, I think. Gosh! Remind me to tell Daddy and Jake to keep their mouths shut!"
My grandma just chuckled. "You know how Jakey gets at the mention of anything having to do with football, honey. I think he's just excited. I saw him earlier in the week. He said that your landlord is a nice fellow and offered to let him and your dad watch the Cardinals and the Seattle team from the penthouse seats his family has."
It was my turn to laugh. "I think they are called Sky Box seats, not penthouse seats, GramMarie. And Emmett did offer, but nothing else has been mentioned."
"Well maybe not to you, but Jakey and Emmett have been emailing back and forth like mad. Those boys were born to be friends!"
I suppressed a giggle as I thought about the morning conversation about Ninja Warrior and the obsession Emmett had with the show. Maybe my grandma was right.
"Tell me about work, sweetie. Do you like it? Are you making friends? It's a small town, isn't it?" she fired away.
"Things are really good, Gram. I have met some wonderful people, both at work and around town. I work with Emmett's dad and brother. They are both doctors. His sister owns a clothing shop in town, and her fiancé is a lawyer here. Emmett's fiancée is the real estate agent that I dealt with. We all had brunch this morning at Emmett's parent's house."
"And are there any cute boys? I only ask because I'm getting old and would like to see a great-grandchild before I leave this earth, Bella," GramMarie said in a half-mocking tone.
"Oh, Gram. Stop it! If I tell you before I tell Mom, I will never hear the end of it!"
"So there IS someone!"
"It's new, Gram. I've been here for a week, and he's thrown me for a complete loop. Please don't mention anything to Mom, okay? I know she means well, but she can be kind of pushy. I think I need your perspective on this," I said, feeling my palms begin to sweat as I fiddled with the pictures that Alice gave me this morning. My heart began to beat faster as my eyes settled on the picture of Edward and me together looking happy and in love.
Gram's voice was smooth and caring as she talked to me. "How can I help you, sweetie? My infinite wisdom is at your disposal."
My lips curled into a smile and my heart ached a bit to be in her arms at that moment. As much as I prided myself on my independent ways, nothing quite compared to being wrapped in GramMarie's warmth. She was a perfect combination of my father's level-headedness and insightfulness into the human mind and my mother's emotional, heart-on-her-sleeve gusto.
"Emmett's brother? The one I work with? His name is Edward. He's, well, he's perfect for me, GramMarie. Not perfect. I know nobody's perfect, but he and I just seem to get each other. We have spent a crazy amount of time together since we met last Tuesday, and it is like I have known him forever. It's like I have lived here in Forks forever. I just feel so at home here in this house, in this town. I can't explain it. It doesn't make a lick of sense."
Gram listened patiently to me through my babble and then spoke.
"Do you love him?"
"Um, I, uh don't really know…" I stuttered.
"I call bullshit," Gram said. She never was one for mincing words.
"It's just too soon to know, isn't it? I mean, six days? Six days is hardly enough time to know."
"And who told you that? Your friends? Cosmo? Google? I know you, Bella. You research and study and plan everything down to the last detail. And that has its merits. It has served you very well. You have created a fantastic life for yourself. You have seen and done so much in your years that a woman of my time could have only dreamed of."
"Why do I sense a 'but' coming?" I asked with a laugh.
"Because there is! But, my darling, there is no perfect amount of time for the heart to fall in love. It doesn't follow your schedule or research or plans. Some believe in love at first sight. Some feel that it takes months or years. You have spent all of this time focusing on things within your control, but Bella Marie, love is no more under our control as any other force of nature."
I knew she was right. I knew that in all of my planning, it was ridiculous to even to try to factor in a relationship, let alone love. But playing things by ear was never my strong suit. Forks and Edward were changing that, though. This past week, I had made more spontaneous decisions in my personal life than I had in a very long time. I smiled as I thought about how good it felt to let go of some of my more rigid instincts when it came to my heart.
"I know you're right, Gram. You always are. I am just so scared to take a chance. What if I get hurt? Mike really hurt me, and I still have six really long months here," I reasoned.
"First of all, Mike wasn't right for you, and if you search, really search your heart, you will find that you knew that all along. Use the reason in your noggin that you rely on for everything else and convince yourself that he was part of the journey of your self-discovery. Or you can just think like the rest of us, that he was an arse, not worth your time, and that you are far better without him."
I smiled as I thought about what would have happened had Mike ever met Gram. All within a two-mile radius would have witnessed a fairly awkward situation, Gram being neither subtle norparticularly discriminating with whom she insults. She was right, as usual. I wish we had had this conversation years ago.
"You are correct, oh learned one," I said with a sigh. "Hindsight is always such a bitch, isn't it?"
"Not always, dearie. Sure, it was miserable living through it, but all of that brought you to Edward, right? Tell me more about him. And send me a picture of him, will you? Make an old woman happy while she's playing the back nine down here in the geriatric wonderland of Arizona. I want to fantasize about what beautiful babies you will make."
"Oh, Gram, shut it! It's bad enough that his mom said the same thing this morning at brunch!" I chastised as I clicked away on my laptop, bringing up the files that Alice had sent to me while I napped, and sent a few pictures to my grandmother. "You should have your pictures momentarily, Miss Nosy."
"Goody! I'll go and kick over my machine then. So you and he work together? That should be fun. I hope there isn't one of those silly non-fraternization policies there. That could make things difficult. Ahhh, let's see. Here's your email. Click. Loading… scanning for viruses…and bam! Whoa! Bella Marie! He is handsome! Just adorable! Are those green eyes? And, oh my, look at how he is looking at you, honey."
"Gram, please don't show that particular one to Mom, okay? I wanted to show that to you to see what you thought. He tells me what he feels for me is different from anything else he has ever felt, and I can honestly say that it is the same for me. I have only had three boyfriends, and he has only had one girlfriend. We are both pretty driven when it comes to work, but now we are at a point where we want to settle down. We click. There is a lot to discover, but the chemistry, or whatever you want to call it, is definitely there."
"Are you being safe? Are you being honest with each other? Are you happy?" Gram asked. It was like the trifecta of relationship questions. Someone had been watching too much Dr. Phil.
"Yes to all three," I said as I continued to gaze at the pictures.
"So I don't see what your hang-up is, dearie. You are both consenting adults. Follow your hearts. If it's love, then so be it. If it isn't, then it's not. Nothing worse than a lifetime of wondering 'what if.'"
"I love you, Gram. You might not think that you have helped me much, but sometimes I just need the obvious pointed out to me, you know?"
"I love you too, Bella. Just trust your heart. It knows. Now tell me more about Washington!"
We talked for about another twenty minutes about the house and how Edward was just around the corner and how practically everything else was not. We chatted about everything and nothing. It was wonderful. My grandma was one of the best friends I could ask for. Her honesty cut through a lot of the teen angst that I had and helped me gain perspective as I headed into adulthood. I often heard from various teachers and other adults that I was wise beyond my years, an 'old soul,' or ahigh schooler who had hit middle age about twenty years early. If any of that were true, it was a reflection of the fantastic guidance given to me by GramMarie.
By the time I had finished my call with Gram, it was twenty minutes until Edward was due to arrive. I finished straightening a few things, ran upstairs to check my hair one last time, gave my teeth a quick brushing, and headed for my front porch. My swing was calling to me.
After grabbing my hoodie from the banister, I put my phone into a small tote and stepped onto the porch, locking the door behind me. Focusing on the swing, I couldn't help but smile at what I found. At some point during my nap, a gift had been left for me in a simple red gift bag. I sat down next to it, grinning like a fool, and began to look around as if the person who left it might be watching surreptitiously. I pulled out a hardcover book and opened the enclosed note.
I hope you enjoy our Pacific Northwest summer breezes and the company of some local authors! Both are something to be savored on your porch swing.
Meeting you today was a treat, even if I was, as Edward claims, "out of control" with the mimosas! I look forward to getting to know you better. Please don't be a stranger!
The book was a collection of essays written about the Pacific Northwest. Many looked to be about the Olympic Peninsula and the Native American heritage of the region. It was such a thoughtful gift! When did she have time to drop this by? Good Lord, she was further in the bag than I was! Dr. Carlisle must have some good medicine. All right, that was officially too weird a thought to continue. Eeew, Bella. Just, eeew!
As I flipped through the pages of my new book, I looked up to see Edward's car pull around the corner and into my driveway. I stayed where I was, lazily swinging and enjoying the view of Edward coming up my walk.
"Good evening, pretty girl," Edward said with a smile that mirrored my own. I found myself hoping that little things like these smiles would always be a part of 'us,' because they conveyed so much. "What have you got there?"
I looked down in my lap at the book that Esmehad left for me and smiled. "Your mom left me a little something to read on these perfect summer nights when I'll be missing you," I said, holding up the book and patting the space next to me on the swing. He sat down, the swing dipping under his weight and bouncing a little, and kicked us back. In a very smooth move, he then wrapped his arm around my shoulders and kissed my temple, slowly and innocently, but with promise of things to come. It was heaven.
"I don't want you missing me too much, love. Hopefully we can get Glenda to work the schedule to our advantage."
I rested my head on his shoulder as we continued to swing back and forth. "That would be nice, but I don't want special treatment. We'll be fine, sneaking time in supply rooms and call rooms, don't you think?" I asked, giggling.
Edward tightened his arm around my shoulder and buried his face in my neck, his lips doing delicious things to me. It was a warm day out, and the rain earlier in the day had only served to make the day even more humid. I turned my face to his, smiling as I touched our lips together.
"Dr. Cullen, I could stay here all night on this swing with you, making out like a teenage girl, but I believe you promised me a date this evening."
Edward gave me one last lingering, closed mouth kiss, complete with a moan that made my girly bits want to smack my brain around a little for mentioning the date when there was a perfectly good bed waiting upstairs for usto enjoy. That was when he took note of the book that his mother had dropped off for me. He smiled widely.
"I should have known that she would give you a copy of this. It really is quite good. Bring it with us. I'll tell you the story behind it."
I folded the gift bag and put it through the mail slot in the door. The book and the card went into my tote, while my hand slid into Edward's like it had always belonged there. I thought about Gram's advice. Edward was not Mike. Not by a long shot. Taking a deep breath, I squeezed his hand and we made our way to his car.
Ever the gentleman, Edward made sure I was tucked in, buckled into my seat before he shut my door. Then he jogged around to the driver's side. As we headed down the street, we passed Camille at her shop, sweeping the walk in front of the store. Edward gave a friendly tap of his horn as we turned the same way we went this morning when we went to brunch at his parents.
"Is our destination still a mystery?" I asked as I looked at our hands resting comfortably on his thigh. He could have been driving me in circles for all I knew. I was so unfamiliar with my surroundings, and my attention was somewhat diverted from the road as I cataloged how good looking Edward was, wearing his Ray-Bans and the outfit from this morning in which I eye-fucked him in front of his mother. I still had no shame about that. The man looked good.
"Yes, it is, although in a minute or two, you will have it figured out. You're a quick study, Swan," Edward said and threw a lopsided smile my way, which made my heart speed up a little. All of these new feelings just felt so good - the smiles, the touches, the adrenaline rush of knowing that he felt the same way. The physical reactions had to be the best, though. After so long of going without, it felt so damn good to arouse and to be aroused. And I definitely couldn't wait to do more of that.
We came to a familiar T in the road. A right turn would lead us to Carlisle and Esme's, and a left turn would take us to "The beach! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Edward! I am so excited!" I squealed as I bounced around in my seat.
Bella's exuberance was very endearing, and it made me laugh out loud. I was finding that nearly everything she did evoked some sort of emotion from me. Like I admitted to my dad this morning, I was falling fast. His advice? Enjoy it. Be smart and reasonable and mature about things, but enjoy love, because it is a gift. I was beginning to understand what he meant as I spent more time with Bella.
We talked more about our schedules for the week as we made our way the short distance to First Beach. I was on twelve-hournights Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, while Bella had Monday and Tuesday off. She was working a twelve on Wednesday, but the opposite shift from me, so I would just get to see herat the change of shift. We both had Thursday off, but worked twelve-hournights together on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For night shift, even though the holiday fell on a Monday, for scheduling purposes, Glenda always considered the holiday shift to be the day prior, since typically, you sleep through the actual holiday when you work nights. All in all, I couldn't complain. I was going to be able to see Bella a lot, both at work and at home.
I pulled the car into the parking lot nearest tothe surf as we arrived at First Beach. I noted a few other vehicles parked around us. It seemed the rainy weather had chased people away for the most part; however, it was shaping up to be a glorious evening. The date gods were on my side tonight.
"Are you getting hungry, love? I figured we would havedinner before we explored the beach some. And the clouds have cleared out just in time, so I hope that we can see a spectacular sunset for your first time at the Pacific."
Bella was all smiles as she looked around us, taking in our position slightly above the beach. Off to our right were the cliffs from where the locals liked to dive. I had never been, but had always heard that it was a total rush. I preferred to get my adrenaline going in other ways. To the left, there were tall cliffs and rock walls that seemed to form a bit of a labyrinth through the tidal pools and sand. In front of us were the ocean and a beach strewn with driftwood and other debris from the storms earlier in the day. The sun had warmed the top layers of sand somewhat so that it wasn't totally waterlogged for our picnic. The wonder that shone in Bella's face told me she didn't care one bit, and that sent my heart soaring.
"Can we set up camp and then go exploring a bit?" Bella asked. "I don't care how cold the water is, I want to go wading in the waves!"
"Absolutely! Anything you want, pretty girl," I said, and unlocked the trunk from my place in the driver's seat. Bella had already gotten out of the car, tote bag in hand.
"Oh, look at those little girls playing in the sand! They look so cute! Their daddymade the castle taller than they are!" she giggled. Our beaches weren't made of super fine, luxurious sand, but sandcastles were easily constructed, and apparently, the little girls were in heaven as their father piled buckets-full all around his girls.
Bella and I gathered our provisions from the trunk and made our way down to a spot about thirty yards from the princesses and their castle. Their mother was sitting in a beach chair, heavily pregnant with a rather complicated looking camera, snapping pictures of her family. She looked up from her task and gave a polite wave, then went back to capturing moments.
"How does right here look?" I asked as I turned in a circle.
"Perfect! Where's the blanket? I can spread it out for us," Bella said as she kicked off her shoes and buried her toes in the warm, wet sand. The sun's rays were strong still, and there was little wind to dissipate the humidity of the beach and the storm. I could tell she was itching to go splash like a five year old.
"Well, behold, an Alice Cullen Original. When she was in college, one of her design projects was this beach blanket. But you know Alice. It is not just any blanket. Her brother is an architect, and her mother is an interior designer. So she came up with a blanket made from a waterproof, and more-or-less sand-proof membrane that goes against the sand, and a supple, quick-drying microfiber for the top to sit on. Her lawyer connections helped her get a patent on it, as well as the anchors that secure it to the sand. Voila!" I said with a flourish, and spread our blanket out.
"Alice is amazing. Is there anything that she can't do?"
"She has great difficulty minding her own business," I snarked as I anchored the corners and sides into the wet sand and placed our picnic basket on the edge. After removing my own shoes, I grabbed Bella's hand and bent to her ear.
"You have a five second head start, Swan. If you don't make it to the water before I get to you, you're getting wet."
She blushed slightly as she peered up at me, then raised up on to her tiptoes to whisper back to me, a wicked smile in place.
"You always make me wet, Edward. What are you going to do about it?"
I stood there stunned for about a second as she ran, then laughed loudly as I watched her dash for the waves. This beautiful woman was quickly becoming the focus of my life. There was no fighting it. She made me feel happy and alive. For the first time, I imagined myself having the kind of relationship that my parents had. Smiling, I took off after my girlfriend, grabbing her by the waist as she began to splash in the water. I pulled her body to mine and placed kisses on her neck.
"The water isn't as cold as I thought it'd be! Now I just have the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean and whatever they're calling the ocean down by Antarctica these days to splash in and I will have hit them all!" Bella laughed as I twirled her around, finally sitting her down in the water that was up to her knees. She grasped my hands and we swayed with the waves a bit as they broke gently around our legs.
I knew I shouldn't take it personally, the fact that Bella's mind was always thinking ahead to her next placement, her next job, her next adventure. For so long, that is how she had become accustomed to living. A big part of me, however, wanted her to put down some roots here, only leaving here to travel with me for pleasureand returning to a home that was ours. The thought of her time here being limited was something I that I was going to have to change.
"It must have been fabulous growing up with this so close to you," Bella said as she stayed in my arms, looking over to toward the tidal pools. It looked like the tide was low, so I started walking us toward the steep rock walls where the pools were hidden.
"It was. This part of the country has something for everyone, really. If you are into science, the biodiversity is huge: ocean, river, forest, and mountain. Sportsmen can hike, fish, or surf. Artists can paint or draw. Photographers can do their thing. Writers can just come to commune and find a nice place to get into their zone. There is a huge cultural history with all of the Native American tribes. I never say never, but it would be difficult for me to leave here permanently. College was just about all I could stand. I would have returned to Seattle even if the position here in Forks hadn't opened up," I told Bella honestly as we entered the chasm between two towers of stone, a path of sand our guide through.
"You should write that down for the department of tourism, Cullen, because it sounded pretty convincing. I do see what you mean, though. I was just telling my grandmother that Forks has a bit of a pull on me already. She told me that I need to find a place to settle down and be happy and enough with this running around. To quote her, that aspect of my life is 'played out' and I need to get serious with my living and make a life."
"Wow. She sounds like quite a lady," I said, silently cheering GramMarie and wondering how I could thank her for those words of wisdom.
"I hope you get to meet her, Edward. She's such a hoot. Apparently Jake and Emmett are planning a get together when the Seahawks and Cardinals play this fall, and Leah, Dad, Mom, and GramMarie are coming along for the ride," Bella said with a bit of an eye roll. She squeezed my hand and hopped up onto a rock that brought her face level to mine.
"Oh, I think it would be fun to meet everyone! Even though your father carries a firearm for a living, I'm sure that he and I could find plenty to talk about."
Bella smiled and kissed me softly. The sky was bright behind her, shadowing her face a bit. When she smiled, a few of her freckles kind of merged into a larger one on the bridge of her nose. I loved noticing all of these little details about her, committing them to memory for recall when we were apart, whether it be when our shifts were out of sync or something more distance- inducing.
"Seeing everyone in the fall would probably be a lot of fun, especially if I am not able to get any time off for Thanksgiving. As a traveler, sometimes the holidays are not always afforded to me, which is fine, but since I'm in a new place every holiday, I am always the low man, so no seniority conveys. Some places include me in the regular holiday rotation. I never know. To plan something fun like that here would be really nice."
"I agree. We'll have to ask Emmett what he has been cooking up with Jake. Something tells me that those two could get themselves into a bit of trouble if left to their own devices. I mean, Emmett actually used to email Johnny Knoxville ideas for stunts on Jackass when we were in college. You'll have to ask him about the time he actually saw the group perform one on the show. It brought a tear to his eye."
I gently tugged on Bella's hand and brought her alongside me as we walked to one of the larger tidal pools. We looked in, noting the brackish water and the sea life within. We kept walking for a few more minutes before turning around, heading back to our spot on the beach where our dinner was waiting for us.
"I want to come back here again! I need to take pictures of the pools and the walls. It's all so beautiful! I have never seen anything like it before. It's like a little hidden treasure trove. I can imagine pirates hiding chests of gold and jewels there," Bella said with the wide eyes of a child as she took her shoes offand lowered herself onto our picnic blanket. I did the same and began to take out our food.
I loaded our plates with cold fried chicken, pasta salad, fresh strawberries and cantaloupe, and some cheese and crackers. I figured they would be decent picnic food, and to tell the truth, this was my first time doing anything like this for a woman, so I was a bit clueless. I had brought bottles of water and homemade lemonade. For dessert, I had simple Duncan Hinesbrownies from a box mix. I nervously watched as she began to eat her dinner.
"This chicken is delicious, Edward! Cold fried chicken is one of my favorite things. It reminds me of my dad, of when I was little, and he was working around the clock as a patrol officer. Sometimes Mom and I would meet him for dinner when he worked second shift, a picnic just like this. One of his favorite meals to have was fried chicken, but my mom's is nowhere near this good!"
I smiled as Bella remembered good times with her parents and complimented my culinary skills. The recipe was one I had gotten from my Uncle Adam, the food critic. His shelves were overflowing with countless books, cards, clippings, and scraps of paper with recipes written on them. He loved comfort food; this chicken was at the top of his list and had become a family favorite.
"I will be happy to share the recipe, love. I am so glad that you like everything."
We continued to eat in relative silence, Bella occasionally moaning a little as she savored her food. I may have sat up a little straighter with pride knowing that I had done well. There was a bit of a breeze still blowing in from the ocean, but it was still quite warm. The sun was sinking lower in the sky, and after we packed up the remnants of our meal, I pulled out the brownies.
"Cullen, there is no way I can eat anything else right now. I am stuffed! I'm actually a little embarrassed at how much I ate in front of you. It certainly wasn't ladylike," Bella said as she moved to sit next to me on the blanket. We sat side by side, watching the waves come in while the family that we had seen earlier continued to play in the sand.
Bella stretched out and laid on her side, her head propped on her right hand. It was in irresistible invitation, and I did the same, essentially spooning her as we both took in the world around us. There wasn't anything overly sexual about our position, but it felt intimate. It felt right. I brought my left hand up to her shoulder and lightly drew it down her arm until I found her fingers. She tangled hers with mine and drew them to her stomach, holding us together.
It was several minutes before she broke the comfortable silence.
"That couple has a beautiful family. Have you noticed the way the he is the moon and the stars to them? To all of them? And even though the wife is fifty feet away, there is nothing that could ever break the bond she has with her husband. The candid photographs she is taking must be reflecting so much love and adoration. It's touching." Bella's voice was soft, with just a hint of longing.
"The way they act, they remind me of my parents," I said as I lightly brushed her stomach with my fingers. "Even now, after thirty-five years of marriage, there is still that connection. I have been fortunate to have such great role models."
Bella turned her face back to mine and smiled as she placed a lingering kiss on my lips.
"You know, my parents broke up for a while. I was about seven," Bella said after we parted and she settled once again against my chest. "I was crushed, thinking it was something that I had done. Typical kid stuff, you know? GramMarie was a big help. It was summer, and I stayed with her most of the time while Charlie and Renee worked things out. It wasn't a matter of infidelity or anything like that. They just lost their connection for a while, as my mom tells it, and they had to find their way again."
I squeezed Bella gently as she relived her sad times. I couldn't even fathom my parents splitting up, even temporarily for a summer. It was as strange to me as a purple sun or a whale in the sky.
"And how did they find their way? Obviously they did."
Bella's smile grew out of her solemn face. "GramMarie told them that if they had decided to split eight years prior, she would have been upset, but she would have gotten over it. However, with a child in the picture, they owed it to me to try like hell to fix things. And truly, not much was broken. Communication failure, taking the time to realize that the most important relationship was the marriage, not the parenting. It wasn't some great, epiphanic moment where Renee and Charlie ran toward each other, arms outstretched."
Bella laughed aloud to herself then.
"You will understand when you meet Charlie. He is definitely not an emotional guy. I think he has only run toward the refrigerator with his arms outstretched for a beer."
"So you spent a summer with GramMarie, and your parents figured out how to keep it together?"
"Yep. Mom quit teaching until I hit high school. Dad made detective a few years after that summer with GramMarie, so his schedule became a little more predictable, and things were a little less stressful for my mom, since he wasn't on patrol and in the line of fire all of the time. They have their moments just like any other couple, but I think for the most part, the separation really helped them to refocus on them. They are stronger having gone through it."
"How many people can say that?" I pondered aloud. I knew that the statistics for divorce among physicians was higher than among the general public. The thought of not committing to something as permanent as marriage was unacceptable to me. The woman I married was going to be it for me. I looked at Bella, knowing that she was special, thinking that she could even possibly be The One. It didn'teven scare me one bit to admit that to myself.
The family we had been watching continued to enjoy their evening as well. The girls were kicking a ball across the uneven sand, while their parents watched from the blanket where the mother sat between her husband's legs, her body leaning back into his chest while he caressed her swollen belly.
"Do you want children, Edward?" Bella asked abruptly.
I pressed my nose into her neck and hummed a bit. The question caught me a bit off guard, but there was practically nothing I wouldn't share with Bella.
"Yes, very much so. I hope that I can have a houseful of them," I admitted softly. "I know that's not the typical male response, but I love kids. Their optimism and ability to love so honestly without prejudice is so refreshing. Who wouldn't want to come home to that after a hard day at the hospital?"
"Cullen, I knew you were a big softie!" Bella said, turning her body so that she was facing me, fitting our fronts together as they were made to be, her leg slightly hitched over mine, her petite frame cradled by my larger one.
"What about you, Bella? Kids?" I asked, silently hoping that our views on the subject were the same.
"Oh, I don't think I'll be having eight or anything, but I'm not opposed to three or four. Being an only child was a bit lonely at times. I look at your family, like at brunch this morning, and the controlled chaos was thrilling. Your mother looked like she was happy to have a houseful of people to dote on. I look forward to that one day. Big holiday gatherings, birthdays, impromptu sleepovers, teenage boys running amok. I know I am romanticizing it a bit, but that all sounds heavenly to me. Someday."
Bella's eyes searched mine, as if looking for those very same visions. I hoped that she was able to see them.
We sat for a few more minutes, just cuddling as the waves crashed, before deciding that it was time to tackle the brownies.
"Thank you so much, Edward, for all of this. It has been a most extraordinarydate. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun!"
"It has truly been my pleasure, sweet girl," I said, cupping her cheek and kissing her. She slowly took my bottom lip between hers and nibbled gently. I savored the flavor of Bella and chocolate as I coaxed her mouth open with my tongue. Remembering that we were in public with small children nearby, I kept my kisses as PG-13 as I could. We kissed and ate brownies as the sun continued its slide into the sea. The family we had shared the beach with packed their things and left us, the only people on the beach to witness a spectacular sunset.
"This is really why I brought you here, Bella," I whispered in her ear as I sat behind her with my arms wrapped around her snugly. "One of my favorite things is seeing the sun drop below the horizon. One second it's there, the next, it's gone. When I was little, it would worry me so much that I would beg my parents to wake me for the sunrise the next morning."
"The colors are breathtaking, Edward," Bella sighed.
As the last of the sun dipped below the Pacific, Bella turned to face me, straddling my hips as my leg remained in a V.
"Thank you for sharing your sunset with me, Edward," she said, resting her forehead on mine.
I pulled back a bit and smiled. I searched Bella's eyes, taking in the lovely brown with their flecks of topaz and umber. I heard my dad's voice telling me that love is a gift. And if my job had taught me anything about life, it was that the next day wasn't guaranteed. While we might not be ready for declarations of love quite yet, I did feel comfortable with what my heart was telling my head to say.
"I'd share anything with you, sweet girl," I said as I brushed my hand across her cheek, stroking my thumb across her lower lip.
"I feel the same way, Edward. Talking withGramMarie today was just what I needed. She helped me to realize something."
Bella smiled and ran her hands up my arms lightly, resting them on my shoulders.
"Have you seen the picture that Alice took of us? The one where you're looking at me? I showed it to GramMarie. She thinks you are the bee's knees, by the way."
I let out a laugh and placed a peck on her nose. "I guess all the Swan women have a soft spot for me, yeah?"
"Very funny, Cullen. I suspect that's true. Actually, she helped me to understand that even though our time together has been short, it does not mean that the feelings I have for you are any less significant than if I had been here for a year. You know the picture I'm talking about, don't you?"
I grinned at Bella because Alice had sent me the pictures as well. In the photograph, the silly smile on Bella's face was the result of me asking her if she ever went naked under her personalized Snuggie. We had been bantering and flirting back and forth, and I remember thinking, at the same time the flash went off, that she and I just clicked so well. We worked well together, as was demonstrated by the rather urgent nature in the delivery of Janie's baby. My friends and family liked her. There was something familiar about the way we acted. It reminded me of my parents. When that flash went off, I remember thinking that maybe, just perhaps my search could be over, and that my soulmate could be right in front of me.
"I know the picture. I like that picture very much."
"I think about you all the time, Edward. I enjoy talking to you. I look forward to working with you. Your touch makes me feel things I have never felt," Bella said with a shy smile and the pretty blush that had won my heart. She then looked at me, speaking in a hushed but sure voice, "It is most definitely not a part of my plan, but I am falling in love with you, Edward. That plan of mine is irrelevant."
All I could do was smile at her for what seemed like forever. I must have looked like an idiot.
"Are you going to say anything, Cullen? It's kind of rude to leave a girl hanging after she bares her soul like that."
I leaned in and kissed her lips. "Oh, Bella, my pretty girl. How is it that I found you? I can't stop thinking about you either. Leaving your side today so that you could rest tested my will. I find myself wanting to know everything about you, and I know that six months isn't going to be nearly long enough for me." I took a deep breath, but I wasn't nervous about what I was about to say. It just felt right. "This is love, isn't it? I mean, I have never been in love, and I have never felt so strongly about anyone. Even the feelings I had for Tanya were different. I feel so many emotions with you, Bella, and they all seem to overwhelm my heart, in the best possible way. Is that love? Do you feel that too?"
Bella was smiling, and then she placed her hands gently on my face, looking into my eyes.
"That is a perfect way to describe it, Edward. My heart is very full. And I'm tired of wondering if it's too soon, or what others will think. It's not like I wasn't happy before I got here, because I was. But I just feel like that little piece that was missing for so long found his way to me," she said.
"Yup. I won't pull any of that 'You complete me' bullshit, but you kinda do, Swan. It's all girly and embarrassing." She inched her hands up into my hair, scratching my scalp and making me feel amazingly relaxed and horny at the same time.
We stayed there like that, kissing on the beach blanket as the waves crashed and the daylight slipped farther into dusk. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so thoroughly with my clothes on. The temperature began to cool somewhat; the breeze picked up, and Bella began to shiver. It was time to pack up and bring our evening at the ocean's edgeto a close.
"This has been such a wonderful night, Edward. I hope we can spend a lot of our free time here. There is so much to explore!
We stood and shook out the blanket and folded it, packing it into its pouch. I wrapped my arms around Bella as she stood taking in the sight of the surf one last time. The wind had blown her ponytail away from her neck, inviting me to kiss up and down her skin. These weresimple, sweet moments, full of promise.
"Edward," Bella said in a dreamy voice as she leaned into me, her ass ever so lightly rubbing my groin.
"Mmmhmm?" I answered, continuing to nip and kiss, now behind her ear, trying to see if my voice and my mouth could drive her crazy being that close to her ear.
"Are you going to say it first?"
I froze. Then the sappiest, most wonderful thought entered my mind. I had never told another woman that I loved her, other than family or as a friend. I turned her in my arms, and then spread my legs a bit, lowering my height so that I could look her in the eyes. She was smiling a huge smile that I couldn't help but match.
"Are you going to say it first?"
I froze. And then the sappiest, most wonderful thought entered my mind. I had never told another woman that I loved her, other than family or as a friend. I turned her in my arms, and then spread my legs a bit, lowering my height so that I could look her in the eyes. She was smiling a huge smile that I couldn't help but match.
"I love you, Bella Swan. God, it feels so good to say that!" I said with a laugh as I grinned at my girl in the waning light, the stars popping through the fabric of the night sky.
"And I love you, Edward Cullen."