Title: Afraid to Fall

By: Liz

Rating: M

Disclaimers: The characters are not mine, any and all music and movies used are not mine, only the plot and my words belong to me.

Notes: *sigh* Well, this took forever and I sincerely apologize for that. I'm actually working on a couple of new stories now, but this time I'm going to wait until they're a lot closer to complete before posting. I've had a really great time writing this story and I really hope everyone enjoys its conclusion! Oh, and there is a lemon in here. I was really stuck on it for awhile and I hope it turned out okay!
As always, all music is in my profile and I think it always adds to the story to listen to the songs as they are mentioned. Especially when Emmett mentions the Snoopy song! Unfortunately, I could not find the Sundance Kids song anywhere online but it's gorgeous and I highly recommend downloading it from iTunes if you can.

Special Notes: For my amazing sis, Blue Winter Angel. For your support, your creativity, and your endless patience with me. This would have been impossible without you. Wtf, mate?
For twilight-is-lovee for sticking with me through it all from my first fanfic on. And for everyone who has read, favorited, or reviewed – thank you so much for all of your support, it is so incredibly appreciated!

Chapter 8

"Alice, don't you still have, like, a closet full of clothes at mom and dad's?" Edward grunted as he, Emmett, and Rose struggled to load everyone's luggage into the jeep.

"But I've worn all that stuff before," Alice said, looking at her twin like he was crazy. "I have to have new stuff to wear for Christmas and then Christmas Day. And New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. And then there are the shoes that go with all of them. And there's always-"

Emmett rolled his eyes. "We get it, Al. You need your clothes. I'm just saying, on the way back? You're packing the car."

Alice smiled sweetly. "Whatever you say, dear brother," she chirped, hopping into the passenger seat of the jeep and slamming the door behind her.

"I don't know how you put up with someone who is that cheerful at such an ungodly hour," Bella muttered to Jasper. Jasper just grunted before climbing into the jeep and settling in the very back.

"I don't think he's awake enough for it to register," Rose replied with a roll of her eyes. "Bella, I'm guessing you want the other half of the way back."

Bella nodded gratefully. "Thanks, Rose," she mumbled, climbing in after Jasper.

It is too damn early to be as bouncy as that pixie is right now, she thought to herself as she settled into one of the corners of the backseat, adjusting her pillow to rest between her side and the window and pulling her blanket across her lap.

It was 8:30am on Friday, December 19, and the six were getting ready to begin their three day drive to Esme and Carlisle's house in Forks for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Though she was really looking forward to the trip and she knew they had to leave early given the distance they had to drive, Bella was definitely not thrilled about being up so early on her vacation. As far as she was concerned, since exams were finished, she should be able to sleep as late as she wanted.

Edward and Bella had finished their exams the previous Saturday and after crashing out for most of Sunday, had spent the next few days hanging out just enjoying each other's company. Their relationship had gone back to the easy comfort they had enjoyed before the incident at Halloween and Bella told herself she was very happy with this development, trying her best to ignore the disappointment that lurked at the back of her mind.

Rose and Emmett had finished finals on Monday morning while Alice's last one had been on Tuesday so they had had a few days to decompress before their long journey. Jasper, however, had been the last of the group to finish up with his finals, having taken his last exam on Wednesday afternoon, and his internal clock was still a little off from his rigorous studying schedule.

Finally, Edward, Rose, and Emmett somehow got everything into the car and Emmett slammed the back hatch shut. "Everybody ready?" Alice called out cheerfully as the others joined them in the jeep. Rose and Edward replied affirmatively and Bella gave a sleepy thumbs up from her corner. Jasper grunted in response, not even bothering to open his eyes as he pulled his blanket tighter over him.

"Road trip mix!" Emmett cried excitedly, plugging in his iPod and turning up the volume. "On the road again, I just can't wait to get on the road again."

Alice and Emmett began singing along enthusiastically with Willie Nelson and Bella groaned, burying her face in her pillow. Something told her it was going to be a long day.

It was a little after 8:00 by the time they pulled into the parking lot of the Radisson in Rapid City, South Dakota that night. Bella had a sneaking suspicion that the drive should have taken a lot longer than it had, but with Alice, Emmett, and Rose pulling driving duty that day and the time change halfway through South Dakota, it had taken just over 12 hours including stops for food, gas, and bathroom.

Not that she was complaining. It had been a largely uneventful ride through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota into South Dakota and she knew everyone was anxious to get out of the car. Even with music, naps, and random variations on classic car games, everyone was exhausted and a bit cranky and Bella knew she was definitely looking forward to a warm shower and a comfortable bed – though not necessarily in that order.

They unloaded their bags quickly while Alice checked them in and Rose parked the car. They rode the elevator to the fifth floor, agreeing to meet for breakfast at 7:30 the next morning before retiring to their rooms. Rose claimed first shower and Bella kicked off her shoes and flopped down onto one of the queen sized beds, barely acknowledging Alice telling her that she and Bella would be sharing a bed tonight but that Bella could have one to herself the following night. Bella was just grateful to be horizontal and she curled up under the covers, mumbling a good night to Alice before quickly drifting off to sleep.

The next morning, Edward and Emmett were unusually quiet during breakfast, both seemingly too drowsy to engage in even the shortest of conversations. Shortly after they reached the car, the girls learned the reason for their sleepiness.

"How many rooms are we getting at the hotel tonight?" Emmett asked Alice as she climbed into the front seat with Jasper who would be driving the first leg of their trip that day.

"Two," Alice responded as she buckled her seat belt.

"Al, can't we get three rooms so I can share a bed with Rose?" Emmett whined.

"No, Emmett," Alice responded, turning to look at her older brother. "I've already reserved two rooms for us and it's silly to get another room just for overnight. You'll have plenty of time to share a bed with Rose when we get to mom and dad's. Besides, we want a little girl bonding time."

Emmett groaned. "But sharing a bed with Eddie suuuucks."

"Really? You think it was a picnic for me?" Edward asked irritably from where he sat in the very back with Bella.

"You kick," Emmett said.

"Well you fart," Edward shot back.

"Enough!" Rose snapped. "This is a long enough drive without the two of you bitching at each other. If you both had such an awful night's sleep last night, then do us all a favor and sleep now instead of sniping at each other like a pair of old ladies."

Properly chastened, the boys exchanged dirty looks before settling back in their respective seats. Hiding her smile at the boys' whining, Bella handed Edward her blanket and extra pillow so he would be able to get some rest.

Edward gave her a grateful smile before shoving the pillow up against the window and draping the blanket across his body. Bella's scent enveloped him and he smiled contentedly, snuggling in to the pillow as he held it close. Of course, it would smell even better if I was actually holding her, he thought drowsily. It was with this thought and a wistful smile on his face that he fell into a sound sleep.

At Alice's insistence (following her extremely loud squeal of delight at the restaurant's sign), they had stopped for lunch at the Whitlock Stillwater Steakhouse in Columbus, Montana. Afterward, Edward had taken over driving and Bella had claimed shotgun as they continued the long drive through the state.

While the others napped, talked, and listened to their iPods in the back, Bella and Edward talked quietly or just enjoyed the companionable silence between them as the unfamiliar landscape rushed past.

When they hit Missoula, Montana, Edward reluctantly relinquished driving duties. Bella knew Edward would have happily continued driving all the way to their destination of Spokane but she wanted to do her part as well and had given Edward puppy dog eyes until he had given in and switched seats with her.

As they crossed into Washington State, they were greeted by a sign at the side of the road saying, "Welcome to the Pacific Northwest." Seeing Bella tense up a bit, Edward reached across the console and laid his hand over her right hand where it rested on the steering wheel, gently brushing the back of her hand with his thumb. Bella turned her head to see him looking at her, his smile not quite hiding the concern in his eyes. She took a deep breath and nodded, giving him a small smile in return. She could do this. As long as she had her family around her, she knew she would be able to get through this.

Emmett's voice from the backseat broke the moment between them. "Hey guys."

Edward turned around as Bella glanced at him in the rearview mirror. "What's up, Emmett?" she asked.

"How do you scare a bee?" He waited a beat before responding, "Boo-" and his finger quickly jabbed out to poke Rose in the breast. "Bee," he finished triumphantly.

From the very back of the jeep, Jasper snorted before he and Alice began laughing uncontrollably. Unable to keep a straight face, Rose quickly joined them as Emmett grinned proudly. In the front, Bella and Edward exchanged a look before they both began giggling helplessly as well. As she got her laughter under control, Bella relaxed in her seat and returned her full attention to the road in front of her. Yep, she could definitely handle this.

Twenty minutes later, she pulled up in front of The Montvale Hotel, putting the car in park and helping the others unload the car while Alice went into the lobby and checked them in.

"I hope this place has a restaurant," Emmett grumbled. Since it was still relatively early thanks to the time zone change they had hit when they reached Idaho, they had collectively decided to wait until they had checked into the hotel and gotten settled before going in search of dinner.

A few minutes later, Alice rejoined them, two small envelopes in hand. "All set?" Jasper asked.

Alice nodded. "Girls, we're in 315," she said, handing keys from one envelope to Bella and Rose. "Standard Double Queen Room. As promised, Bella, you get your own bed tonight."

"Aww, Alice, don't tell me we have to share those tiny little queen beds again," Emmett whined.

"Emmett, only you would refer to a queen bed as tiny." Emmett stuck out his lower lip and Alice rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, I managed to upgrade you boys to a suite with two beds and a pull out couch so no one has to share a bed tonight, okay?"

Edward threw his arms around his sister. "I love you, Al," he said, pretending to wipe away tears of gratitude.

Alice pushed him away. "Like we all want to have to hear you guys bitch and moan again tomorrow," she said, unable to keep the grin off her face. "320," she added, handing the boys the keys to their room.

"Awesome. Now let's get this crap inside, I'm starving," Emmett suggested.

"Bella and I are going to go park the car," Edward said. "We'll meet you guys up there." Without waiting for a response, he climbed back into the passenger side and waited for Bella to rejoin him.

Bella climbed into the driver's seat and started the jeep, pausing to give Edward a puzzled look.

"This way we can avoid being pack mules for Alice's bags," he explained.

Bella grinned. "Devious."

Edward winked. "That's me."

They parked the jeep in the hotel's garage and when they returned to where they had left their friends, found they had indeed already gone upstairs with the luggage. "Mission accomplished," Bella teased, high fiving Edward as they entered the hotel and took the elevator up to the third floor.

"I'm going to get those two fools and we'll meet you in the hallway," Edward said.

Bella nodded. "Sounds good." She watched Edward disappear into his room before turning and entering her own.

As she shut the door behind her, she sank back against it, an enormous yawn practically threatening to dislocate her jaw. She hadn't wanted Edward to worry so she hadn't mentioned it, but she was flat out exhausted. Aside from a short nap that morning, she hadn't slept in the car and between that and driving the last 200 miles, she felt ready to drop. The last thing she wanted to do at the moment was go hunting for food or sit in some restaurant.

"Ready to go?" Alice asked from the bathroom where she was touching up her mascara.

"Actually, would you guys mind bringing me back something?" Bella asked. "I seriously think I'm about to fall asleep standing up."

"No worries, Bells, we'll grab you something," Rose promised. "Come on, Alice. Let's go get the boys before Emmett decides to go all cannibalistic on your other brother and your boyfriend."

Alice grimaced and picked up her purse. "You sure you don't want to come?" she asked Bella.

Bella shook her head. "I really just want to lie down right now."

"Okay. We'll see you later, sweetie," Alice said, giving her a wave before quickly following Rose out the door.

Bella sighed, sinking down onto the queen-sized bed that held her suitcase. She pulled a pair of pajama pants and a camisole from the bag before heading to the bathroom to wash her face and change into her pajamas. With that done, she returned to her bed, pulling the covers back before flopping down on the bed and pulling the blanket back up to her shoulders.

She had just gotten comfortable and was very nearly asleep when someone started knocking on her door. Bella groaned. "Go away," she mumbled.


Bella groaned again. Edward. That meant she had to get up. She dragged herself out of bed and made her way to the door, rubbing the sleep from her eyes as she walked.

She opened the door and stood to the side so Edward could enter. "What's up? I thought you went with everyone to get dinner."

Edward only smiled before turning back to the door and picking up the "Do not Disturb" sign that was hanging from the doorknob. "Perfect," he said with a wicked grin. "This should get the message across." He hung the sign on the outer knob before closing the door firmly and dropping the chain on the door.

He turned to face Bella again and she almost gasped at the way he was looking at her. His normally clear green eyes were dark and the expression in them as he stared at her could only be described as pure, unadulterated lust. "Edward, what-?"

Edward reached forward and cupped Bella's cheek in his hand. "Do you have any idea how long I've wanted you? How badly I need you?"

Bella's jaw dropped and she could only stare at Edward mutely as his thumb gently caressed her cheek. Edward took advantage of her silence, pulling her to him as he crushed his lips to hers. Bella gasped against his lips, unable to move for a moment. Then her instincts kicked in and she wrapped her arms around Edward's neck, pressing herself even more closely against his body. Edward groaned as one hand slid to the small of her back, holding her in place as he continued to attack her mouth. His tongue slid across Bella's bottom lip and she eagerly parted her lips.

As his tongue explored her mouth, Edward turned Bella so that her back was pressed to the door. He slid a hand behind her right knee and lifted it up to his waist. Understanding what he was trying to do, Bella lifted her other leg and wrapped her legs tightly around Edward's waist.

Edward groaned again and carried Bella over to the bed she had been lying on moments earlier, his lips leaving hers to trail a path down her neck as he laid her down on the bed. He moved back for a split second, yanking his shirt over his head before joining Bella on the bed.

He held himself over her momentarily, balancing his weight on his arms as they rested on either side of her body. "You don't know how long I've wanted this." He dipped his head down, tracing his tongue along her collarbone before pulling back to look at her again. "Or how long I've waited to hear you scream my name," he added with a wicked grin.

Bella moaned and Edward's eyes darkened further. "Bella," he murmured in her ear. "Sweet, innocent Bella." He trailed his tongue lightly down the outer shell of her ear before biting softly on the lobe. "Mine," he purred. Bella mewled, arching her back as Edward continued to trail kisses down her jawline.

"Oh God, Edward," Bella breathed. One of his hands was on her left breast, kneading it through her flimsy top, his lips were attacking her neck, and she could feel every hard inch of him pressing against the inside of her thigh. She shifted, trying to hook her leg around Edward's back when she suddenly felt the mattress give way beneath her.

Bella opened her eyes as her butt connected with the floor of the hotel room. Startled, she blinked her eyes, wincing at the sudden brightness.

"Hi, Bella," came a voice from above her.

The voice was not the beautiful velvety voice that had been crooning endearments in her ear only moments earlier. The voice was familiar, however, and Bella looked up to find its source.

Rose was sitting on the bed that Bella herself had previously occupied while Alice was perched on the opposite bed. Both were looking down at her with evil grins on their faces. "So, sounds like you were having a pretty good dream, Bella," Rose said, her eyes dancing.

Bella swore she must have blushed to the roots of her hair as she recalled her vivid dream. "I, uh, I. Did you push me off the bed?" she asked, desperately trying to redirect the girls' attention.

Rose smiled. "Yes. I didn't think you'd really want witnesses where that dream was going."

Bella ducked her head, unable to look either of her best friends in the eye. "Um, so, uh, did you guys find somewhere to eat?" she managed to choke out.

Rose grinned evilly. "Nice try, but back to what sounds like a very interesting dream," she said. "Edward, huh?"

Impossibly, Bella swore her face probably turned even redder and she wished the floor would open up and swallow her. No such luck.

"Spill," Alice said, her eyes dancing. "Were you dreaming about my darling brother in the way I think you were dreaming about him?"

Bella winced. "Exactly, Alice," she said. "He's your brother."

"Uh huh," Alice said. "I'm quite aware of that. So what's your point?"

"Well, I mean, you know. You're my best friend. I don't want to do anything that's going to make you uncomfortable."

Alice smiled and shook her head. Typical Bella, always putting everyone else's feelings before her own. "Bella, yes, he's my brother. And you're practically my sister." She paused a moment, wrinkling her nose. "Well, that sounds gross, but you know what I mean.

"I love both of you so much and I've seen how you are around each other. Bella, I've never, ever seen you look as happy as you do when you're with him. And Edward, well," Alice paused again, grinning. "He's always looking at you when he thinks no one else is looking and he just lights up whenever you're around. You two have been really good for each other and there's no one I would trust more for either one of you." She paused to take a breath and smiled at Bella. "And it's about time you both realized that."

"Alice, please," Bella said. "No one has realized anything. Edward is my friend and that's all." Her cheeks turned pink again. "It was just a dream. I don't feel that way about Edward and he doesn't feel that way about me."

Alice rolled her eyes. "Still in denial, huh? And why do I think that's not the first time you've had a dream like that?" Bella's deepening blush confirmed Alice's guess and the pixie grinned. "I wonder what Edward would say if he knew the dreams you were having about him," she teased.

Bella's eyes grew wide and she grabbed Alice's ankle. "No! Alice, please don't say anything to him!"

"Relax, Bella," Rose said. "No one's going to say anything. But are you really going to keep denying that you have any feelings for him? And do you honestly think he doesn't feel the same way about you?"

Bella blushed again. "We're just friends," she mumbled. Rose and Alice looked at her skeptically. "What? We are," she insisted. "It's not like that between us. Besides, why on earth would Edward want someone like me?"

"You mean someone smart and kind and beautiful and funny?" Alice said. "Yeah, why would he want that?"

Bella's blush deepened. "Shut up," she mumbled. "I'm not. He doesn't like me like that and it would just end up ruining our friendship if he thought I did."

Alice shook her head in frustration. Sometimes she just wanted to grab Bella and shake some sense into her. Why was it so hard for her to see something that was painfully obvious to everyone else? She looked over at Rose, exasperated.

"Bella, think about it," Rose said gently. "Edward has been taking care of you from the moment you two met. And I'm not talking in the way you take care of someone who is just a friend. He is always by your side when you need him, no matter what the problem is. He stayed behind at Thanksgiving to take care of you when you were sick even though you weren't even talking to him at the time."

Bella flinched. "I never asked him to," she protested.

"Exactly," Rose replied. "Because you didn't have to. Because it was you, Bella, and Edward is always there to take care of you. And believe me, he never complained one bit about missing the holiday and I'm sure it never even crossed his mind to want to be somewhere else. His only concern was you." She stopped a moment and took a deep breath, her tone softening once more. "Edward is something special, Bella. In fact, cheesy as it might sound, he's your something special. Do you really just want to let that go?"

"You don't understand," Bella said quietly.

"Sure we do," Rose responded. "I know it's scary. You might not remember this, but I was scared when things started getting serious with Emmett. Hell, I was terrified when I realized how much he means to me. Letting someone get that close to you, letting them matter so much, it's frightening. But it can also be totally worth it. You just have to let yourself be open to the possibility, let yourself trust him."

Bella shook her head slightly. "You don't understand," she repeated. "I trust Edward. Completely." She sighed. "It's me I don't trust."

Alice and Rose exchanged a confused look. "Bella?" Alice said softly.

Bella took a deep breath. "Yes, I'm afraid," she admitted. "But that's not…" She made a strangled noise as she bowed her head, staring at her lap silently for a moment. When she raised her eyes to her friends, Alice and Rose saw the fear in her eyes. "What if Ihurt him?" she asked quietly. "What if I'm just like Renee?" Tears began streaming down her face and Alice slid off the bed to sit next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.

"Oh, honey," Alice said, rubbing her shoulder soothingly. "You're not your mom. You never could be."

"But what if I am?" Bella asked, leaning her head against Alice's shoulder as her tears continued. "I saw what losing Renee did to my dad. Edward doesn't deserve that kind of pain. I couldn't live with myself if I did that to him."

Rose and Alice exchanged a look over Bella's head as realization dawned for both of them. "Bella," Rose said gently, "I think that right there gives you your answer."

Bella looked up at Rose, the tears still slipping down her face. "What do you mean?"

"I mean the fact that you're even thinking about it and putting Edward's well being above what you might want for yourself shows that you could never hurt him like your mom hurt your dad."

Bella shook her head. "I want to believe that," she said, sniffling. "I really do. But…" she trailed off, wiping away her tears with the tissues that Alice had handed her.

Rose looked at her two best friends for a moment before seeming to come to a decision. "Bells, just because you share blood and DNA with someone, it doesn't mean you're going to be anything like them." She snorted. "Sometimes it doesn't even make them family."

Bella and Alice looked up at Rose, matching inquisitive looks on their faces. The atmosphere in the room seemed to have somehow shifted and they could tell that whatever Rose was about to share with them was important.

Rose sighed. "So, okay, there are some things you guys don't know about me or my so-called family. You know the money that I told you guys is from my family? Well, it is but it's probably not what you think. Before my grandmother died, she set up a trust for me. She knew what my mother was like and she wanted to make sure I'd be taken care of after she was gone. I was her only granddaughter and we were very close."

"What was your mom like, Rose?" Alice asked in a little voice when Rose paused momentarily.

Rose grimaced. "She wasn't abusive if that's what you're thinking. At least not in any way that leaves a physical mark." She crossed her legs, resting her elbows on her knees as she began examining her fingernails.

"I am my mother's only child. She never wanted children, as she made sure to tell me pretty much every damn day, but lucky for both of us, somehow, I got here." Rose sighed again. "No, the only thing my dear mother has ever cared about is money. Getting money, spending money – on herself, of course – it's what her life is about.

"I was all right as a pretty little doll to dress up and show off but when I was old enough to talk, I wasn't fun for her anymore so I was shipped off to boarding school in Canada as soon as I was old enough. Which meant, you know, five.

"What about your dad?" Bella whispered.

The blonde shrugged. "My dad was long gone by the time I was born and my mom never saw fit to tell me anything about him. Anytime I asked, she'd get really pissed off and start screaming at me. Eventually, I just stopped asking.

"As far as she was concerned, the only purpose in my life was to marry rich. Then I would be able to take care of her, the way she had always taken care of me." Rose rolled her eyes. "Most of our conversations were about what I should do to appeal more to the opposite sex – lose 20 pounds, get a nose job, collagen injections, botox. You name it, she thought it was a procedure I needed.

"About the only time she ever took any interest in me was when I was looking at colleges. That Forbes list of the hundred richest people is like her bible and she would send me all these emails about "eligible" sons and grandsons and nephews and where they went to college."

Rose rolled her eyes again. "She just moves from one rich idiot to the next. I don't even know what number husband she's on now. When I left home for school freshman year, I cut all ties to her. Not that she cares, but I'm pretty sure she has no idea where I am right now or what I'm doing with my life."

Bella put her hand on Rose's foot. "I'm sorry, Rosie," she said softly.

Rose shrugged. "Growing up wasn't the best time but it's the past and I consider myself really lucky now. I have all of you guys. I have Emmett." She smiled at Alice. "And your parents have made me feel like one of their own daughters since the first time Emmett brought me home. I've never actually had that before," she finished softly.

Bella squeezed Rose's foot gently and the blonde smiled, the faint look of melancholy leaving her eyes instantly. "You know, the first time Emmett told me he loved me, I had no inhibitions about saying it back. And I realized, this is real, this is the guy for me. My friendship with you all and my relationship with Emmett are the first real things I've ever had in my life. You guys are my family."

Alice jumped up and threw her arms around Rose. "And we love you, Rose. You know that, right?"

Rose smiled. "I know, Al," she said, hugging her back as she reached down to Bella's hand where it still rested on her foot and squeezed it. "I have the best family in the world. It just took me a little longer to get it than some people."

Alice sat back down next to Bella and Rose cleared her throat, quickly pulling herself together. "But you see, that's what I mean, Bells. Neither one of us grew up with what you'd call good role models in our mothers, but that doesn't mean we're going to turn out anything like them. You're not the self-absorbed airhead that Renee is, I'm not the gold digging, money hungry bitch that my dear mother is."

"Well, actually, I didn't want to say anything," Alice began teasingly.

Rose gave her the finger and Bella laughed, breaking the heavy atmosphere in the room.

Rose nudged Bella gently in the shoulder with her foot. "Just think about it, okay? You're always taking care of the rest of us; isn't it time you let someone take care of you every once in awhile?" Before Bella could respond, Rose jumped up from the bed and grabbed a styrofoam container from the dresser. "And it's probably really cold now, but we got you a grilled cheese sandwich and fries if you're hungry."

Bella smiled as she took the container from Rose and settled on her bed, completely unfazed by the blonde's sudden subject change. "Thanks, you guys," she said.

Rose and Alice were both very well aware that Bella wasn't just talking about dinner and Alice squeezed Bella's arm as she got up. "Anytime, sweetie."

Bella opened the take out container, the smell of the french fries and sandwich making her suddenly realize she was starving. Knowing she probably needed some time to herself, Rose and Alice left Bella to her thoughts as they flipped through the channels, finally settling on some ridiculous TV movie and settling in to watch.

After practically inhaling her dinner, Bella turned off the bedside lamp and snuggled down under her covers, her mind going a million miles a minute about the events of the past hour. Was Rose right? Was she really free from having to be like her mother? And what about her dream? Was that how she really felt about Edward? He was the best friend she'd ever had but that's all he was, wasn't it?

Eventually, exhaustion overtook the thoughts raging through her mind and she finally fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

The next morning, Bella sat in the very back of the jeep, sticking her headphones in and turning her iPod on as soon as she was seated. She knew it was probably very rude, but she needed the time alone with her thoughts, time to attempt to sort out her feelings for Edward. She hadn't come to any true conclusions the night before and her conversation with Rose and Alice was still at the forefront of her mind.

The day was gray and chilly out but fortunately, there was no sign of any snow yet. As she watched the unfamiliar scenery along I-90 West whip past the car, Bella felt her eyelids grow heavy. Two time zone changes in two days still weighed on her and though she had slept heavily, she didn't feel very rested. As her thoughts drifted to Edward and all they had shared in the months since they met, she snuggled further into her corner of the backseat. Promising herself she was only going to let her eyes rest for a bit, she closed her eyes, the gentle motion of the jeep and the soothing music on her iPod soon causing her to drift off.

"And I don't even know what's real
But I know I've never
Wanted anything so bad
I've never wanted anyone so bad.

If I let you love me
Be the one adored
Would you go all the way?
Be the one I'm looking for
If I let you love me (If I Say)
Be the one adored (It's Okay)
Would you go all the way (You can Stay)
Be the One I'm looking for…"

"Bella? Bella, wake up," Alice commanded. Bella opened her eyes to see the pixie leaning over the seat in front of her, Bella's iPod headphones in hand. "We're stopping for lunch. Wake my lovely twin, will you?"

Bella shook her head, trying to clear it as Alice handed her back her headphones. What was going on? Had she been-?

She panicked momentarily as her head cleared. She had fallen asleep in the back of the jeep. Right next to Edward. Oh God. Had she been talking in her sleep? Edward had featured prominently in her dreams – what if she had mentioned his name or worse? But looking around, she saw that Edward appeared to be sound asleep on the other side of the backseat and Alice had already turned back to Jasper, continuing what looked like a very in depth conversation.

She reached over and shook Edward's shoulder gently. "Edward? Wake up, we're stopping for lunch."

Edward blinked his eyes and stretched, smiling at Bella as his eyes focused. "Let me guess, Taco Time?" Emmett had been talking about his favorite taco restaurant non-stop since lunchtime the previous day and had been thrilled to find on the GPS that there was one on their route home.

Bella grinned back. "Of course."

She climbed out of the jeep, Edward following more slowly behind her. As he shut the door and turned around, Alice caught his eye and gave him a knowing look. She and Jasper certainly hadn't been too involved in their conversation to miss Bella murmuring Edward's name a handful of times while she had slept. Alice also knew full well that Edward had not been asleep, either.

Edward gave a subtle shake of his head, silently telling Alice not to push it, before he turned and followed Rose, Emmett, and Bella into the restaurant. Alice smiled up at Jasper as she took his hand, swinging their arms between them as they, too, made their way inside for lunch.

Half an hour later, after consuming three Crispy Chicken Ranchero Burritos, a Big Juan Burrito, two large orders of Mexi Fries and three apple empanadas, Emmett finally declared himself to be full and the six piled back into the jeep.

"Any idea how much further?" Bella asked as she settled into the very back of the jeep next to Edward.

"Should be about four more hours," Jasper responded from the passenger seat.

Alice grinned wickedly as she started the jeep. "And I bet I can get us there in three and a half."

Bella groaned, covering her face with her hands. "Please don't say that."

Edward thought quickly. "Hamlet or Macbeth?" he asked conversationally.

Bella uncovered her face and looked up at Edward. "What?"

"Hamlet or Macbeth," he repeated as if it made perfect sense. "Who's worse?"

Bella gave him a funny look as they pulled out of the parking lot. "I'd probably say Hamlet, honestly," she responded slowly. "I mean, I know Macbeth murdered people just to gain power for himself and his wife but Hamlet, I don't know, he's just such a horrible character. I really don't know how we're supposed to feel any sympathy for him. I mean, he really brings almost everything – excluding his father's death, of course – on himself."

Edward smiled to himself as Bella continued on, her passion for the subject quickly taking her mind off of Alice's nerve wracking speedy driving and allowing her to relax as they continued on to Forks.

Nearly three and a half hours later, Bella, Edward, Emmett, and Rose were involved in a competitive game of "Go Fish" when Alice gave an excited squeal from the front seat. Bella looked up in time to see Alice turn off the main road they had been driving on onto an unpaved road that seemed to cut right through a forest.

"The private road to their house," Rose said in answer to Bella's questioning look. "We're almost there," she added, an enormous grin on her face.

Bella felt an excited fluttering in her chest as the car drove down the road, passing quickly through a stand of trees whose sweeping branches formed a canopy over the road. Abruptly, they pulled up to a large grassy area and a large, white, three-story house loomed in front of them. Bella's jaw almost dropped as her eyes traveled over the stately older structure, taking in the beautiful architecture and the festive roping draped along the large wrap around porch. "It's gorgeous," she breathed.

Rose smiled understandingly, remembering the first time Emmett had brought her to his parents' house. "Yeah, it is," she agreed. "Wait 'til you see inside."

As Bella stared at the house, the front door opened and Esme came hurrying down the front steps, Carlisle following behind her at a slightly more reserved pace. Emmett jumped from the jeep the moment it stopped moving, meeting his mother halfway between the steps and the jeep and swinging her up into an enormous bear hug. The others quickly piled out of the jeep and followed suit, Bella hanging back a bit as the others said their hellos.

As she watched the people before her hugging and laughing and smiling, Bella was suddenly struck by the perfection of the scene before her and a humbling realization. Rose had been right. These wonderful, amazing people were her family and they wanted her here. She truly belonged here. Warmth flooded her bones and she smiled happily at the thought.

She was abruptly pulled from her musings by Esme's voice. "Bella!" Esme threw her arms around Bella and hugged her tightly before pulling back and holding her at arms' length. "It's been far too long, sweetie. Let me look at you. You look wonderful! I'm so glad you're here, it's so good to see you!"

Bella smiled as Esme managed to sound more like Alice than Bella had ever heard. "It's good to see you, too. I'm so sorry I kept Edward from Thanksgiving," she apologized.

Esme waved her hand. "Don't be silly. Edward was exactly where he was supposed to be," she said, smiling at her youngest son as he carried several suitcases into the house. "And now all six of my children are here and we can have a real family Christmas together," Esme continued as she beamed at Bella.

Bella was touched by the sentiment and ducked her head as a faint blush crept up her cheeks. "Thank you."

Esme released Bella as her husband appeared at her side. "Bella, welcome," Carlisle said as he embraced her. "We're so glad you could come."

"I'm really glad to be here," Bella said honestly. "Thank you for having me."

"You're family, sweetie," Esme said, throwing her arm around Bella's shoulder and leading her toward the house. "And families belong together during the holidays."

They walked through the front door, joining the others in the spacious, high ceilinged front room. "I'm just going to order some pizza if that's okay with everyone," Esme said as Emmett, Edward, Rose, Jasper, and Carlisle began carrying the luggage up the stairs. "I'm sure you're all exhausted after your drive."

Everyone agreed with this plan and Alice grabbed Bella by the arm. "Time for the tour!" she squealed excitedly.

Bella barely had time to look around at the open, airy room they were in before Alice was dragging her toward the back of the house. Their first stop was an enormous kitchen that had Bella practically drooling and secretly hoping she would get a chance to utilize the gleaming high tech, customized appliances. They next moved on to a large formal dining room that Alice told Bella they only used on the rarest of occasions, then a large living room with extremely comfortable looking chairs and couches, a large stone fireplace, and a big flat screen TV on one wall.

From there, Alice pulled Bella back through the room they had originally been standing in and over to the large curving staircase that Bella could only assume led to the second floor. "Oh, and that's Edward's baby," Alice told Bella as she dragged her up the stairs, pointing to a gorgeous grand piano that stood in the corner of the room by the floor to ceiling windows that lined one wall of the room. Bella barely had time to gape at the majestic instrument before Alice was pulling her forward and she was forced to focus all of her attention on not tripping up the stairs as Alice tugged her along.

Alice pointed out Esme and Carlisle's room, a large library whose shelves were crammed with books (Bella made a note to herself to return to this room as quickly and often as possible), Esme's office, Carlisle's study, Emmett and Rose's room, Jasper's room, a guestroom, and Alice's own bright, tastefully decorated bedroom complete with an antique King sized canopy bed.

Before Bella really even had time to process any of this information, Alice was pulling her up a shorter staircase at the far end of the hall. "And this is the third floor. There are two guest rooms and Edward's bedroom up here," Alice said as she hurried them up the stairs, pulling Bella with her into the bedroom opposite the stairs. "This is Edward's room," she announced as she finally released Bella's arm.

Her comment was rather unnecessary as Edward was standing in the room unpacking his suitcase at that moment and he gave Bella a sympathetic grin. "The two dollar Alice whirlwind tour, huh?" he teased. "I'll show you around for real later if she hasn't scrambled your brain too badly."

Alice threw a pillow at Edward in protest but Bella was focused solely on the room before her. Much like the front room on the first floor, the wall opposite the door was mostly taken up by floor to ceiling windows. A worn, comfy looking couch sat in front of the windows and a large bed was against the wall to Bella's left. A flat screen TV hung on the wall across from the couch and the wall opposite the bed housed a closet, dresser, and shelving units filled with books, CDs, and various framed photos.

Bella smiled softly as she looked around the room. It was so perfectly Edward.

Alice's voice interrupted Bella's thoughts. "Where'd you put Bella's bags, Edward?"

Edward smiled crookedly. "Don't worry, Al, I've got it from here, okay?"

Alice smiled. "Whatever you say. I'll see you guys downstairs. You might want to hurry if you want to get any pizza with Emmett around," she added over her shoulder as she descended the stairs to the second floor.

"Shall we?" Bella nodded and followed Edward out of his room and to the bedroom on their right. Edward stood just inside the doorway and Bella stopped next to him as she gazed around the room. It had been decorated in shades of deep ocean blue, accented with paler blues and white. The bed was large and covered with a blue and white striped comforter and numerous pillows. The desk, dresser, and shelves were done in matching cherry wood finishes and an overstuffed blue armchair sat in one corner by the bed. The feature that really caught Bella's attention, however, was the long, cushioned windowseat that ran the length of the two large windows on the wall opposite the door.

"I thought you might like this one," Edward said. "That windowseat's really comfortable and with the trees bare, you can see all the way out to the stream."

"It's perfect, Edward," Bella said softly, smiling as she happily pictured herself settled in on the windowseat reading the afternoon away. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Edward replied, his smile mirroring Bella's. They stood silently a moment before Edward cleared his throat. "I think Alice was right, we should probably head downstairs if we want any pizza."

"Good plan," Bella agreed. "I think I'm gonna change first, though."

Edward decided to do the same and he left Bella in her room as she pulled her pajama pants and a long sleeved t-shirt from her suitcase. She quickly changed into her pajamas, longingly eyeing the comfortable bed for a moment before there was a knock at her door and she opened it to find Edward standing there. "Ready?" he asked. He was dressed in blackwatch plaid pajama pants and a faded black t-shirt, his messy hair in greater disarray than usual after tugging off one shirt and pulling another on. Bella nodded, resisting the sudden strong urge to run her fingers through his hair, and followed Edward down the two flights of stairs to the living room where everyone was seated among numerous pizza boxes, paper plates, and various drinks.

The next few hours were filled with eating, laughter, and catching up with Carlisle and Esme. Bella was seated on one of the couches with Edward and Esme, fighting to keep her eyes open as the days of traveling and her emotional conversation with Alice and Rose began to catch up with her. She was struggling to focus on the conversation around her when Alice suddenly let loose a massive yawn.

"Sorry," she mumbled, leaning heavily against Jasper's side.

"Is it seriously only 8:30? It feels like midnight," Rose grumbled.

"You have spent the last three days in the car," Esme reminded them gently.

"Right. There's no shame in going to bed before 9," Carlisle teased. "We won't tell anyone."

"Good," Emmett mumbled, standing and helping Rose to her feet. "I'm wiped."

The others concurred and after saying their goodnights to Esme and Carlisle, made their way up to the second floor. Edward and Bella said goodnight to the others at their bedroom doors, continuing on toward the staircase to the third floor. Bella was practically staggering and Edward caught her arm as she almost walked into a small table in the hall.

"Do you want me to carry you?"

"I can walk, I'm fine," Bella mumbled even as she stumbled over her own feet.

Edward wrapped his arm around her waist. "Come on, love, up we go," he said, guiding her up the stairs to the third floor. He led her into her room, pulling back the covers before Bella collapsed onto the bed. "Goodnight, Bella," he said softly, pulling the covers up over her and brushing a gentle kiss against her forehead.

"Goodnight, Edward," Bella mumbled sleepily, her eyes already closed.

Edward smiled tenderly at her, gently running the back of his hand down her cheek. "Night, love," he whispered. With one last look, he turned out the light and left Bella's room, gently pulling the door closed behind him.

When Bella woke up the next morning, she took a moment to appreciate the comfortable bed she was sleeping in and the fact that she wouldn't have to spend the day cooped up in the car for hours at a time. Stretching languidly, she turned her head to the side the check the clock on her bedside table, sitting straight up with a gasp when she saw that it was nearly noon.

She jumped out of the bed and, grabbing some clothes from her suitcase, hurried into the bathroom for a quick shower. Once she was showered and dressed, she made her way downstairs, absently noting that the doors to everyone's bedrooms were open but there wasn't a person in sight.

As she was descending the stairs to the first floor, Bella heard music playing softly. Curiously, she looked around, her eyes quickly finding its source. Edward was seated at the piano, his long fingers flying over the keys as he played a beautiful but unfamiliar piece. Entranced, Bella moved closer and accidentally smashed her foot into the coffee table. "Dammit!"

Her exclamation caught Edward's attention and he quickly turned from the piano and moved to her side. "Are you okay?"

Bella winced as she wiggled her toes. "Nothing broken, I'm fine," she muttered, her cheeks flushing a deep red. She set her injured foot back on the floor and looked up at Edward. "What was that you were playing?" she asked.

"Just, um, something I, uh, something I'm trying to learn," Edward said, not meeting Bella's gaze as he stumbled over his words.

"I'd love to hear it when you're ready," Bella said. "What I heard of it was really pretty."

Edward nodded shortly. "Did I wake you?" he asked, quickly changing the subject.

His expression was guilty and Bella hurried to reassure him. "Not at all. I can't believe I slept so late. Where is everyone?"

"Um, Dad's at work, Mom ran to the store for more food – always a necessity when Emmett is home –, Emmett and Jazz went out for a run, and I think Alice said she and Rose has some last minute shopping to do."

Bella's stomach chose that moment to growl and Edward smiled. "You missed breakfast," he observed. "Let's go find some lunch."

Bella followed Edward to the kitchen where he made grilled cheese sandwiches for both of them. As they were finishing up, Edward suggested they take a walk around the property. Not usually one for outdoor adventures, especially during the winter, Bella nevertheless agreed and found herself actually looking forward to their walk as she and Edward bundled up against the cold weather.

The day was clear and cold, not quite freezing but likely only a few degrees above the freezing mark. The Cullens' home was rather secluded, tucked in what almost seemed like the middle of a forest, and Edward led Bella through the trees surrounding the house. They stopped at the stream that Bella had been able to see from her bedroom and Edward also showed her a peaceful meadow where he liked to spend time by himself as well as a large empty patch of land where Edward said his family liked to play baseball or soccer in the warmer months.

They headed back through the more heavily wooded area to get back to the house and at one point came across a large fallen tree trunk. Edward easily climbed across it before reaching back to take Bella's hand and helping her over it. He didn't release her hand once she had cleared the tree and Bella found herself enjoying the feel of her hand in Edward's much larger one immensely as they continued back to the house.

When they returned to the house, they found Emmett and Jasper helping Esme unload groceries from her car. They each loaded up their arms with several of the seemingly endless bags and followed the others into the kitchen.

"So Bellsy," Emmett began as he, Edward, and Bella began unpacking the bags while Esme and Jasper headed out to the car to bring in the last of the bags. "Any chance of you making some of that awesome chili while we're here?"

"I'd love to, Emmett," Bella replied. "I can go out tomorrow and get the stuff I need."

"We have all the stuff you need for it, Bells," Emmett said.

Bella looked at him. "Really? Everything?"

Emmett grinned. "Well, I may have asked mom to pick up some of the stuff we were missing when she was at the store."

"Emmett!" Esme had just reentered the kitchen with the last of the grocery bags and she gently smacked her eldest child upside the head. "You told me Bella asked for those things!"

Bella laughed. "It's okay. I was dying to use your kitchen anyway, Esme. If you don't mind, of course."

"Of course not, sweetie. Just let me know if there's anything you need me to do to help. Carlisle and I have the holiday party at the hospital tonight but that's not for a few hours. Plus, Alice has already informed me that she'll be helping me get ready," she added with a grin.

Bella laughed again. "I'm so glad I'm not the only one she does that to."

Esme laughed as well. "She started doing it as soon as she could talk," she confided. "She used to try to get Emmett and Edward to wear clothes she picked out when they were still in elementary school."

Edward shuddered as he continued putting up the groceries. "Don't remind me."

They continued to chat as they put away the food Esme had bought, moving to the table – and in

Emmett's case the countertop – with glasses of apple cider when they were finished unpacking. They were still hanging out in the kitchen an hour later when Alice and Rose returned from the shops and after safely storing their purchases, the two girls joined them.

Eventually, Bella got started on the chili while Alice went with Esme to prepare her for the party and Rose, Emmett, and Jasper went to play Rock Band. Edward kept Bella company in the kitchen and the two chatted comfortably about nothing much at all while she prepared dinner. When the chili was all but finished and just needed time to simmer on the stove, Bella and Edward went out to the living room to join in the game of Rock Band where they stayed for the next hour or so.

When Esme and Carlisle left for their party, the others filed into the kitchen where they proceeded to stuff themselves with chili and thick slices of bread. Emmett had just finished his third bowl when he glanced at the clock above the stove. "Crap!" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

The others only looked up at him, well used to Emmett's random outbursts by this time, and waited for him to continue. "The Grinch is gonna be on in, like, 10 minutes!" he cried.

"I really hope you mean the original one and not that Jim Carrey crap," Edward said mildly as he and Rose collected the dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

Emmett gave his younger brother a look that seemed to question his mental competence. "Duh."

Alice suggested they make hot chocolate for their cartoon viewing and Jasper pulled out six mugs while Alice boiled the water and Bella got the packets of chocolate from the cupboard. They took their mugs of hot chocolate and settled down directly in front of the TV – Emmett, Rose, Bella, and Edward on the couch and Alice and Jasper on the floor, Alice seated on Jasper's lap while he leaned against the couch behind him.

Alice squealed excitedly as the title came across the screen and Bella couldn't help the large grin that spread across her face as the cartoon started.

"Dude, how high were these guys when they made this?" Emmett asked as few minutes into the movie.

Alice shrieked, smacking Emmett's thigh. "Dr. Seuss was not high!"

Emmett raised an eyebrow. "Sure, Al," he said. "You keep telling yourself that."

They spent much of the next half-hour watching silently, though they did all jump in to sing along any time "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was played.

"Christmas Day is in our grasp. So long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand," Alice quoted along with the narrator as the movie came to a close. With a huge sigh, she fell back against Jasper's chest, holding his hand tightly in both of hers. "This movie gets better every time I see it."

"Totally classic," Emmett agreed as he stood from the couch. "I need more hot chocolate. Anyone else?"

"Me, please," Rose said, handing him her mug.

"Anybody else? Bellsy?"

Bella shook her head as she handed Emmett her mug as well. "No thanks, Em," she said. "I think I'm going to head upstairs actually."

"What are you hibernating or something?" Emmett teased. "I can't believe you could still be tired after how late you slept today."

Bella blushed and stuck her tongue out at Emmett. "No, I just wanted to do some reading before bed."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Edward said before Emmett could continue teasing Bella. He stood and offered Bella his hand, passing his own empty mug to his brother as well. "See you guys in the morning."

He and Bella walked to the stairs as Emmett made his way to the kitchen. "Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Gri-inch," Emmett sang as he entered the kitchen.

"The three words that best describe you are as follows and I quote," Jasper, Rose, and Alice added from the couch.

"Stink, stank, stunk!" Edward and Bella chimed in from the stairs.

Giggling, they made their way up to the third floor, the sounds of their family following them as Emmett protested Alice's choice of "The Nutcracker" as their next movie. "Sounds like we got out just in time," Edward said.

"Mmm, an Emmett-Alice standoff. I'll take Pride and Prejudice," Bella agreed.

"I have a ton of stuff if you want to borrow anything," Edward said as they reached Bella's room.

Bella smiled. "I'll take you up on that before we leave," she assured him. "But I'm feeling kind of nostalgic tonight."

Edward grinned. "Fair enough. Though I imagine you could recite that book from memory by now."

Bella blushed. "Maybe," she mumbled.

Edward smiled again. "Goodnight, Bella," he said, leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss to her cheek.

"Goodnight, Edward," Bella said, her blush deepening. She stood in her doorway, waiting until Edward had entered his own bedroom before finally closing her door and leaning against it. During the day, while she had been so busy and surrounded by other people, she hadn't had time to think about her feelings for Edward or what, if anything, she was going to do about them. But now, alone in her room, with the object of her thoughts mere feet away in the next room, her mind was off and running.

Stop, she told herself, trying to rein in her thoughts. It was just a kiss on the cheek, after all. Friends do that all the time. This is not the time to be thinking about that. Shaking her head as if to clear it, she pushed off of the door and made her way to the dresser, pulling out her pajamas and quickly changing into them. She pulled her copy of Pride and Prejudice from her bag and settled herself on the windowseat, a blue throw from the chair tucked around her.

She read for awhile, easily becoming lost in the familiar world of the Bennett sisters, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingham. When her eyelids began to droop, she set the book in her lap and rested her head against the window next to her, staring out over the beautiful, woodsy landscape.

It was so peaceful and Bella found her thoughts drifting once again. This time, however, they went to Charlie and the Christmases they had had together. They really hadn't celebrated Christmas in any big way after Renee had left, but Charlie had always made an effort, buying Bella presents and taking her out for dinner on Christmas Day.

Charlie had never been much for conversation when he was alive, but for some reason, Bella felt the need to talk to him right then. Focusing her attention on the stars in the clear sky above her, she began to speak softly.

"Hi, dad. It's, um, it's me, Bella." She laughed self-consciously. "But I guess you know that already, since, um, yeah, who else would call you dad." She stopped, realizing she was babbling, and took a deep breath. "I just wanted to say that, well, I miss you, dad. And I wish you were here right now. I think you'd really like everybody.

"Carlisle and Esme are really great and easy to talk to. Emmett would watch sports with you like I never did and Jasper's calm and quiet enough to go fishing with you. And I know Rose would definitely love to do some work on your cruiser." She smiled. "And something tells me Alice would have you wrapped around her little finger."

She paused again and sighed. "And Edward. He's, well, he's Edward. He looks out for me and generally keeps me from tripping over my own feet. And he likes a lot of the same stuff I do – we can just sit for hours and read together without even needing to talk. You'd like that," she added with a small smile. "And when we do talk, I know that I can talk to him about anything.

"He's just, he's there for me. Always. And he's smart and funny and sweet. He's really just an amazing guy. You'd really like him, dad," she said softly. "I do."

She stopped talking for a few moments, gathering her thoughts. "Well, you never were one for big emotional conversations. But I just wanted to let you know that I'm doing okay. I miss you and I'm always going to, but I'm okay. I have some really wonderful people who love me, dad, so I don't want you to worry about me, okay?"

She paused, blinking away the tears that had suddenly appeared in her eyes before she continued. "Goodnight, dad. I love you."

On Tuesday, Esme cajoled Edward into playing Christmas carols on the piano while she, Bella, and Emmett made Christmas cookies and fudge. Rose, Jasper, Alice, and Carlisle had gone in search of the perfect Christmas tree with very specific requests and requirements from both Esme and Emmett. The delicious smells wafting through the warm kitchen accompanied by the sound of the beautiful music coming from the front room and the anticipation of the soon to be arriving tree caused Bella to really feel the Christmasy vibe for the first time in a very long time.

That night after dinner, the eight of them gathered in the living room to play Trivial Pursuit while "A Christmas Story" played on the TV in the background. They had split into four teams of two, though Rose commented that she was the only member of her team as Emmett's attention was continually focused on the movie instead of the game at hand.

The game lasted several hours as they sat around drinking eggnog and spiced cider and eating fresh Christmas cookies, and it was well after midnight when Carlisle and Esme finally got their last piece and won the game. As a result, it was close to 11 the next morning before all of the house's inhabitants were totally awake and active.

Late that afternoon, the eight of them gathered in the front room to decorate the Christmas tree. Edward was freed from piano duty and instead, Esme turned on a local radio station that was playing nothing but Christmas carols.

After Carlisle and Rose had put up the lights, everyone started adding ornaments from the numerous boxes spread across the floor. They had been carrying on in this manner for about 20 minutes when a song started on the radio, immediately catching Emmett's attention.

"All right!" he whooped. "The Snoopy song!"

Bella smiled at the familiar tune. It had been one of her favorites as a child but it had been years since she had last heard it. As she watched, Alice unwrapped the scarf from around her neck and held it out to Emmett who wrapped it around his neck with a flourish. He then straddled the arm of one of the couches and pretended he was flying.

To Bella's surprise, Edward almost immediately sat down on the other arm of the couch and mimicked Emmett's movements. "They've been doing this since they were little boys," Esme whispered to Bella, a fond smile on her face as she watched her sons' antics. "Edward was younger so he had to play the Red Baron. It used to give him fits that Emmett never let him be Snoopy."

Bella giggled as she watched the two boys act out the song in its entirety. When it was over, she couldn't help clapping. Edward grinned, his cheeks faintly flushed, while Emmett gave a sweeping bow.

Emmett then handed Alice her scarf and everyone returned to decorating the tree. Almost half an hour later, nearly all of the ornaments had been hung when Rose triumphantly pulled a medium sized box from the bottom of one of the larger boxes of ornaments. She turned to hand it to Alice but the pixie shook her head, motioning to Bella instead. Rose grinned and turned to Bella, handing her the box. Bella was confused until she opened the box and found a simple but gorgeous crystal star nestled in among the cotton packing.

"Youngest sister puts it up, Bells," Emmett told her with a grin.

Bella had to swallow hard at the sudden rush of emotion the simple gesture and words had evoked in her and she nodded, not quite trusting her voice yet.

Emmett crouched down and Edward lifted Bella onto Emmett's shoulders. Bella was certain she would have fallen or at least swayed when Emmett stood if not for Edward's firm, steadying hand resting on her lower back. Emmett moved closer to the tree so that Bella could reach up and put the star on top.

"Perfect," Esme said with a smile as the two stepped back from the tree.

"Nice job, Bellsy," Emmett said, reaching up to high five Bella as she remained perched on his shoulders.

Naturally, the momentum made Bella's balance wobble quite a bit but Edward was immediately behind her once more steadying her. "You got her, Eddie?" Emmett asked.

"I do." Emmett leaned back slightly and Bella slid off of his shoulders and into Edward's waiting arms.

"Thanks," she said, a deep blush coloring her cheeks at the awareness of his arms around her waist and the closeness of their bodies.

Edward smiled. "It's perfect, Bella," he said, turning her around to face the tree. His hands lingered on her hips a moment too long and Bella had to fight the urge to lean back into his arms. Quickly banishing the thought from her mind, she turned her full attention to the tree before them.

Jasper leaned over and plugged in the tree and Alice squealed, clapping her hands together excitedly. "It's perfect," she said. Bella silently agreed. The large tree was full of ornaments both store bought and hand made and the lights had been arranged so that when Bella set the star on top of the tree, one of the lights behind it illuminated it brilliantly.

They stood admiring the tree for a few moments before Carlisle asked if everyone was ready for dinner. Getting a unanimous yes, he ordered a massive amount of Chinese food for dinner, since he and Esme would be spending a good part of the next morning cooking Christmas dinner. They planned to eat on paper plates and use the plastic utensils that came with the food to avoid putting anything into the dishwasher, which would no doubt be packed after the following day's food preparation.

Esme, Carlisle, Emmett, Rose, Edward, and Bella were in the dining room when they heard the doorbell. "We'll get it," Alice called back. Moments later, they heard a loud squeal and Alice came dashing into the dining room, eyes shining. "It's snowing!" she said excitedly. "We're going to have a white Christmas!"

Jasper came walking into the room a few seconds later, laden down with bags of food. "Don't worry about me," he said mildly. "I got it."

Alice grimaced guiltily as she and Carlisle moved forward to help Jasper with the bags. "Sorry, baby," she said apologetically.

"I know," Jasper said with an easy smile. "It's snowing." He kissed the top of Alice's head before moving to the table to help lay out all of the food.

After dinner, everyone grabbed a mug of hot chocolate and headed into the living room to watch It's a Wonderful Life. "Another Christmas tradition," Edward explained to Bella as he sat down next to her on one of the couches.

"Yeah, I think I know all the words by heart," Emmett added from where he and Rose were cuddled up together on the loveseat.

"I've never really seen it," Bella admitted.

Emmett's jaw dropped. "You what? Okay, you. Sit. Now."

Bella hid a smile. "Emmett, I'm already sitting," she pointed out.

"Okay, whatever, but just watch. Dude, I can't believe you've never seen it!"

Rose smacked him in the arm. "I seem to remember the first time I ever saw it was when you brought me home for Christmas four years ago," she said.

"Oh yeah," Emmett said thoughtfully. "Sorry, Bells."

Bella shrugged and Rose smiled sweetly up at Emmett. "Good. Now shut up, it's starting."

They were all quickly engrossed in the movie and aside from a few comments here and there, the living room was mostly silent. About halfway through the movie, Alice shifted slightly from her position against Jasper's side to grab the blanket that sat on the couch behind them. She glanced around the room as she spread the blanket across their laps, smiling at the sight of one pair in particular.

She caught Esme's eye and, using her eyes only, subtly motioned toward Bella and Edward on the couch. They were snuggled together on the couch, Bella's head on Edward's shoulder and Edward's arm draped across Bella's shoulders as he wrapped the two of them together in the warm cocoon of the blanket.

As the end of the movie drew near, Bella found herself leaning forward slightly on the couch, anxious to see how things would play out for George and his family. She sank back against Edward with a relieved and happy sigh as the townspeople began to flood the Bailey house.

"To my big brother George. The richest man in town."

Bella felt goosebumps rise on her arms even as she blinked back the tears that had suddenly sprung to her eyes as George's brother, Harry, proposed a toast to his big brother. Edward hugged her closer to his side for a moment as the cast began singing "Auld Lang Syne" and the movie faded to its credits.

"What'd you think, Bellsy?" Emmett asked from across the room as the credits rolled.

Bella sniffed. "I loved it," she said honestly.

"So my favorite Christmas movie," Alice agreed from her seat next to Jasper, the tears still running down her cheeks.

"Okay, well, I think it's time for bed for us," Esme said.

"Yes, I believe we both have an early morning appointment with a turkey," Carlisle said as he stood and helped his wife to her feet.

"Come on," Rose said, hauling Emmett to his feet. "You know Santa won't come if you're still awake."

Edward slowly disentangled himself from Bella and stood, beginning to gather up the empty mugs. Jasper joined him in collection and Alice bounced over to the couch to sit next to Bella as the guys carried the mugs into the kitchen and Emmett, Rose, Esme, and Carlisle made their way upstairs to bed.

Edward volunteered to clean the mugs and sent Jasper back to Alice while he cleaned them. A few minutes later, he had washed and dried the mugs and he returned to the living room and Bella. However, when he stepped into the living room, he found it empty.

Alice was seated on the arm of the couch Edward and Bella had previously occupied and at Edward's questioning look, she gestured toward the front porch with her head. She bounced up from the couch and gave him a hug goodnight. "Trust your heart, Edward," she whispered in his ear. Pulling back, she smiled at her brother before thrusting a blanket into his hands and skipping up the stairs.

Edward looked after her curiously a moment before shrugging and walking out onto the porch where he found Bella seated on the porch swing, staring out at the falling snow. "I thought you hated the cold and wet," he said with a smile.

Bella smiled back. "As long as I don't have to go out in it and can just sit here and watch, it's actually kind of pretty," she admitted.

Edward sat down on the swing next to her, tucking the blanket around their bodies. Bella snuggled closer to him and Edward wrapped his arm around her with a contented sigh. They sat there in comfortable silence for awhile before Edward finally spoke.

"You all right?" he asked softly.

Bella was well aware he was talking about more than the weather and she took a moment before replying. "Surprisingly, yeah. It's not as hard as I thought it was going to be. Being surrounded by the people I love definitely helps, you know?"

Edward smiled gently. "Holidays must be tough."

Bella was quiet a moment. "They are, I guess, but that's not really it. It's more this," she said, gesturing widely to her surroundings. Edward inclined his head, silently asking her to continue, and she struggled to explain. "Sometimes I think the hardest part is thinking about all of the things that happen in the world, the things that happen to me, that my dad will never know about. Knowing that he'll never know this wonderful family that I have here. I wish you all could have met him."

"I wish we could have, too, Bella. I think we'd all like to thank him for the incredible daughter he raised." Bella blushed even as she rolled her eyes at Edward's words and he continued before she could come up with a way to deflect the compliment. "But I know that wherever he is, Charlie is proud of the amazing woman you are."

Tears stung Bella's eyes and she blinked them back. "Thank you," she said quietly.

Bella settled back against Edward's side and the pair lapsed back into silence for another few moments while Bella got up the courage to ask Edward something that had been on her mind for most of their trip.

"Edward, can I ask you something?" she finally asked.

She felt Edward nod and she continued. "I was thinking of renting a car while we're here this week and driving down to Portland." She stopped and took a breath, continuing in almost a whisper. "I know five hours is kind of a long drive but, um, I was wondering if you would come with me."

Edward didn't hesitate. "Of course."

"Thank you," Bella whispered again. Edward hugged her tightly against his side in response.

Edward wasn't sure how long they sat out there wrapped in the blanket together, but eventually, he noticed that Bella had begun to shiver next to him.

"You must be freezing. Come on, let's get you inside before you turn into an icicle, love." The endearment slipped past Edward's lips before he could stop it and he froze. He had called Bella "love" before, of course, but he'd never done it when she could hear him and he had no idea what her reaction would be.

But Bella only smiled, reaching up to take Edward's offered hand and rising to stand next to him.

As Edward locked the door behind them, he seemed to come to a decision within himself. "Bella, can I play something for you?" he asked hesitantly.

Bella smiled. "I would love that, Edward." She glanced toward the stairway. "But won't you wake everyone up?"

Edward smiled back. "Nah. They're used to it by now. Besides, most of them could sleep through World War Three on their front door step."

Shrugging, Bella followed Edward toward the piano. She was about to go sit on one of the couches in the room, but Edward caught her hand and tugged her down next to him on the piano bench. "Best seat in the house," he teased, his eyes sparkling.

Edward took a deep breath and closed his eyes a moment, giving Bella the opportunity to study the man beside her. The Christmas tree lights were the only lights in the room and they cast an ethereal glow to his handsome face, making his high cheekbones and strong jaw even more defined than usual.

Edward crossed his fingers internally before counting off in his head and beginning to play. The notes flowed from the piano, the light and innocent melody reminding Bella of her childhood before Renee had left, when everything had been new and wonderful and sadness something she rarely, if ever, thought about.

The piece suddenly transitioned into a darker, angstier sound and Bella found herself moving closer to Edward's side. Then the third movement began, warm and comforting, and the tenseness left Bella's shoulders as her entire body unconsciously relaxed ever so slightly and she looked up at Edward. His face was serene, his eyes closed and the slightest hint of a smile tugging at his lips.

The piece built to a beautiful crescendo, coming to a smooth, sweet ending moments later. Bella was speechless for a moment as the remnants of the piece seemed to wash over her. "That was gorgeous," she whispered reverently when she was finally able to speak. "What's it called?"

Edward smiled. "I'm glad you like it. It doesn't really have a name, not yet. But I'm open to any suggestions you may have. After all, you inspired it."

Understanding dawned and Bella's jaw dropped. "You mean you wrote that?" She had known, thanks to their innumerable conversations, that Edward had played the piano, but she'd had no idea he could play like this.

"When did you even find the time?" she asked.

Edward smiled shyly. "I go over to the music school when I have a longer break between classes. They let me use one of the practice rooms there."

"Edward, that was amazing."

"Thank you," he said quietly, the shy smile still on his face. He and Bella sat staring at each other silently for a moment until Edward finally rose from the piano bench. "I think it's probably time for us to get to bed," he said, offering her his hand. "Christmas morning starts early with Emmett."

Bella grinned, taking Edward's hand and rising to her feet as well. "I can only imagine."

Edward unplugged the Christmas tree and turned out the rest of the lights, offering Bella his hand once more to lead her up the stairs. They stopped outside of Bella's room and Edward belatedly realized that he was still holding her hand. "Well, I guess I'll see you bright and early," he said.

Bella smiled. "Sounds like it. Goodnight, Edward."

Edward leaned forward to kiss her cheek but Bella turned her head at the last moment and Edward's lips brushed softly against Bella's own.

"Sweet dreams, Bella," Edward replied softly.

Blushing madly, Bella walked into her bedroom and shut the door softly behind her. In a daze, she changed into her gray and purple checked pajama pants and a matching camisole and washed up for bed. She climbed into bed, snuggling under the warm comforter as she tried to calm her still racing heart and mind. Her body, however, showed no signs of listening to her and with a groan, she picked up her iPod from the bedside table and stuck the earphones in her ears, turning the device on and hitting "Shuffle Songs." She settled back against the pillows, pulling the comforter up over her shoulders, smiling to herself as a familiar song by The Sundance Kids began to play.

"Once again I have melted in your green eyes
Been stolen and captured by a glance.
Once again I have been taken
Away from where I'm standing to
A place where I forget about me.

And you find me there,
And you wait for me to come to
And smiling back you stare.
You show me that everything will be fine.

Once again my mind has wandered into yours.
Dreaming of how things could be."

Bella sighed, pulling her headphones out of her ears and shutting off her iPod. Great. Now even inanimate objects were telling her she needed to sort out her feelings for Edward. Setting her iPod aside on the table, she sat up in bed, finally allowing the thoughts she had been trying to hold off since the morning after her conversation with Rose and Alice flood her mind. Sleep didn't appear to be coming anytime soon anyway, so she figured she might as well give in to her tangled thoughts for the moment.

Rose had been right – before they had even been properly introduced, Edward had been looking out for her. Whether it had been treating a minor burn on her hand, taking care of her during and after a terrifying rollercoaster ride, nursing her back to health from a serious flu, or protecting her from a frightening creep at a club, he had been by her side.

Alice had been right, too, she admitted to herself. She truly was happiest when she was around Edward. Her self-imposed separation from him had been one of the hardest times of her life and she knew without a doubt that she never wanted to go through that again.

What she had told Charlie the other night was true as well. Edward was always there for her. And somehow, she knew he always would be.

The feelings he evoked in her were terrifying and wonderful and completely unlike anything she had ever felt before. She felt safe with him, but it was more than that – she felt safe when she was around any of her best friends. With Edward she felt complete for the first time in her life, like he had filled a hole in her that she hadn't even realized was there.

She and Edward had a connection that was both emotional and physical. From their first meeting, she had felt the tingles that just the brush of Edward's hand could send through her entire body. And that kiss. Okay, so it hadn't really been a kiss, just the simplest brush of their lips against each other's. But it had been enough to send pleasant shivers through her entire body.

Did he feel the same way about her? Or did he just see her as a friend? Maybe what had almost happened between them at Halloween had just been a one-time thing, maybe he had just gotten caught up in the moment. After all, it wasn't like he had ever brought it up afterward.

Finally, Bella threw her covers back in frustration. Sleep would not be coming any time soon and sitting there in her bed with her thoughts continuing down this path was only going to drive her crazy. She decided to go down to the kitchen for a glass of water and maybe stop in Carlisle's library on the way back up. Sitting on the window seat reading while the snow continued to fall outside should be just the thing to ease her mind enough to let her fall asleep.

Bella quietly opened her door and stepped out into the dark hallway, pulling her bedroom door shut behind her. She stood a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, before realizing that it wasn't as dark as she had expected. Edward's bedroom door was ajar and light from his room spilled into the hallway in a thin beam of light that ended at the very tips of Bella's toes.

Bella hesitated a second, looking to the stairs before quickly coming to a decision and making her way to Edward's door. When she reached it, she paused a moment, deciding to peek in first without knocking to make sure she wouldn't be waking him.

She immediately saw that waking him would not be an issue. He was pacing back and forth, dressed in plaid pajama pants and a faded t-shirt, mumbling to himself as he ran his hand nervously through his hair.

His thoughts were running wild, consumed by the girl he thought to be sleeping in the next room. That quick brush of their lips had sent shockwaves through him. Had Bella felt it, too? And she had asked him to come to Portland with her. Did that mean anything? If it had just been a friend thing, surely she would have asked Alice or Rose, right?

He groaned to himself. These thoughts were getting him nowhere and he knew the only way he would get any peace of mind would be to talk to Bella about what was between them. But could he do that? He had promised himself that he wouldn't push anything with her, that if anything were to start between them, he would let her take the first step. But was that even possible anymore? She had turned her face to his. Had she done it on purpose? Had she wanted him to kiss her? Was she now waiting for him to make the first move after all? Could he take this risk?

A soft noise at his door pulled him from his jumbled thoughts and he turned to the door, his hand still buried deep in his hair as he tugged on it in frustration. Almost as if his thoughts had conjured her, Bella stood hesitantly in his doorway. His mouth went dry and for a moment, all he could do was stare.

"Sorry," Bella said shyly. "I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd see if you were still awake."

Edward shook his head. "I couldn't sleep, either. Please, come in."

Bella inched the door the rest of the way open and entered the room, shutting the door quietly behind her and stopping just short of where Edward had stopped his pacing. "So, um, why couldn't you sleep?" Edward asked.

"I had a lot on my mind," she said honestly. "What about you?"

"Yeah, me, too." They both fell silent for a moment as their gazes shifted between their feet and the other's face.



They spoke at the same time and stopped, smiling sheepishly at each other. "You go first," Bella suggested.

Edward grimaced momentarily and sighed. "I guess, I, um, well, I was thinking about Christmas presents," he said slowly.

Bella smiled. "Let me guess – Emmett's contagious and you just can't wait to get downstairs tomorrow morning."

Edward shook his head, a weak smile quickly passing across his lips. "Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of gifts people give themselves and what I really want for myself." Bella tilted her head questioningly and Edward continued. "My Christmas gift to myself is to stop being such a wuss and tell you the truth."

Edward took a deep breath and offered a quick prayer up to whoever might be listening before he began to speak once more. "I've been attracted to you from the moment we met. When I first saw you, dancing around in your pajamas and making breakfast, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. And then I was lucky enough to get to be your friend and over time, I got to know the incredible woman behind that beautiful face. And I fell in love with her. With you. I love you, Bella."

Edward's heart sank as Bella remained silent and he hurriedly continued. "I'm sorry. I understand that you don't feel the same way and if you want me to, I will walk away and never bother you again. And I know I'm being incredibly selfish, but I just couldn't live like this anymore, without you knowing how I feel and-"

Bella's lips against his effectively stopped Edward's nervous babbling.

The kiss was quick, only the softest pressure of Bella's lips against Edward's, but neither could deny the charge that once again ran through their bodies at the contact.

"Please don't walk away from me. I don't want any part of a future that doesn't include you," Bella whispered.

There was a mixture of hope and confusion in Edward's eyes as he looked down at her and with a sad smile at him, Bella walked over to his bed and sat down, one leg folded beneath her, the other hanging off the side of the bed. "Not that I deserve it," she muttered to herself. Now Edward's expression was one of full-blown confusion and Bella sighed. "I can't believe that even after all these months, you can't see that it truly is me and not you that is the problem," she said.

"Bella, I-"

Bella held up her hand, silently asking Edward to stop. "Please just let me say all of this before I lose my nerve." Edward nodded and Bella continued.

"I know Alice told you about my relationship with my parents. Like how when I was 10, my mom just decided she didn't want to be with my dad and me anymore. While I listened from the top of the stairs, Renee told Charlie that this just wasn't the way she had imagined her life turning out. She didn't really want to be tied down to a marriage and a mortgage and a kid – it was smothering her. Dad's pleas and my tears had no effect whatsoever on her. She walked out that door with her suitcases and we didn't hear a word from her for the next six years. Charlie tried to track her down, but she never seemed to stay in one place long enough. For awhile, we had no idea if she was even still alive."

Bella paused to take a breath and she continued in a quiet voice. "I wasn't entirely honest with Alice when I told her about all of this. The truth is, we didn't get a letter from Renee when she got remarried. One day, she and her new husband just showed up at our house." Bella winced. "They acted like the newlyweds they were and I could see how much it was killing Charlie. It was awful. Renee kept saying she knew how excited I must be to get to leave town soon and at least I wouldn't make her mistake – marry a local guy, get pregnant, and get stuck there. With anyone else, you'd say they were being deliberately cruel. But with Renee, it really just never occurred to her to think about anyone's feelings but her own. It never would have even crossed her mind that she was rubbing her happiness in Charlie's face or pushing the fact that I would be leaving home soon and he would be all alone." Bella grimaced. "In fact, she probably thought she was being a great mom by giving me that 'advice.'"

Bella was silent for a few moments and Edward finally spoke. "Bella? I'm not sure I understand."

Bella sniffed, blinking back tears as she looked directly at Edward. "Don't you see?" she asked brokenly. "After Renee left, I watched my dad die a little bit every day until there was nothing left of him. What if I learned that from her? What if it's genetic? I'd never forgive myself if I hurt you, Edward."

To say Edward was stunned would be putting it mildly. This was the real reason she had pulled away from him? Not because she was afraid of what he might do but because she was afraid that she might hurt him?

Edward sat down on the bed next to her, mimicking her seated position as he took her hands in his.

"Bella." Bella reluctantly raised her head and Edward felt his heart break at the tears that were now streaking her face. "Oh, sweetheart," he said softly, reaching over to gently brush her tears away with his fingers. When her tears appeared to have stopped, Edward took her hands again.

"Bella, when your mother left, you stepped in and took care of your father, even though you were only 10 years old. You were prepared to give up a college scholarship and stay home just so you could continue to take care of him. Ever since I've known you, I have seen you taking care of everyone else around you, no matter what you may want for yourself." He shook his head. "Your mom may be self centered and care only about her own personal happiness, but that's not you. That could never be you."

"But how can you be sure?" Bella whispered.

"Because I know you, Bella," Edward replied. "Because I love you." Bella shivered at the raw emotion in Edward's voice and she squeezed his hands gently in her own.

"You constantly put aside your own needs for everyone else," Edward continued, "and I just, I want to be there for you. I want to be the person that puts you first, always, if you'll let me.

Bella took a deep, shuddering breath and looked down at their joined hands sitting in her lap as a million thoughts assaulted her brain.

Renee walking out on her and Charlie, Charlie's drinking and depression after Renee had shown up with her new husband. Meeting Alice, Jasper, Rose, and Emmett and feeling like part of a family again for the first time in a long time. The pain, feeling like her entire world had fallen apart when she got the call telling her Charlie had been killed, and the love and support her little family had been surrounding her with ever since. Meeting Edward and all their conversations, naps, movie dates, reading afternoons, everything they had shared together that had become her world in such a short time. And front and center of all of these memories was her most cherished one, one that had happened only moments earlier, Edward saying over and over again, "I love you, Bella."

And suddenly, she saw the truth that she had been hiding from for months.

She loved him. Pure and simple, she was completely and hopelessly in love with Edward. And she knew with an absolute certainty that she had never felt before that she would never do anything to harm him. In fact, she knew she would do anything and everything in her power to make him happy. No matter what the DNA might say, she was nothing like her mother. She loved him and that was all that mattered.

Bella had been quiet a few moments now and Edward was starting to get a little worried. "Bella?"

"You're right," she said softly. "You're right, Alice is right, Rose is right. Everyone else is right, I just couldn't see it until now." She shook her head. "I don't know what the issues were between them and I don't know why Renee did what she did to my father. All I know is that I would never do that to you." She looked Edward straight in the eye. "I love you far too much for that."

Edward's eyes were bright. "Say it again," he whispered.

Bella smiled. "I love you, Edward."

Edward leaned forward, cupping Bella's face in his hands and looking at her, silently asking her permission. Bella nodded almost imperceptibly as she leaned forward to meet his lips with her own. Edward's lips brushed hers, tentatively at first, and then more firmly. He ran his tongue lightly across her lower lip and Bella parted her lips readily, intensifying the kiss as their mouths fused together, moving as one.

When they parted, Edward leaned back, his hands still cupping Bella's face, as the two smiled giddily at each other. Already missing the feeling of Edward's lips, Bella quickly leaned forward and recaptured his lips with her own. This kiss was tender, slow and searching as they began to learn the intricacies of each other's mouths, and Bella tangled her hair in Edward's hair, pulling him ever closer. Edward's hands dropped from Bella's face as he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her flush against his chest.

His lips left Bella's, trailing slowly up her jawline to the tender hollow behind her ear, eliciting a low moan from Bella. Her dreams had definitely not done him justice. One of her hands rested on his shoulder, the other on his waist, and she slowly slipped the latter beneath his t-shirt, delighting in the shiver that ran through Edward's body at her touch as she ran her fingers up his side. Without conscious thought, her other hand also slipped beneath Edward's shirt and she quickly tugged the garment up and over his head.

Edward growled softly, trailing his lips down the column of Bella's throat and across her collarbone. His hands slipped beneath Bella's camisole, slowly running his hands up her sides, bunching the top up and raising it with his hands. His hands came to Bella's breasts and he gently cupped them with his hands, thoroughly enjoying the weight of them in his hands. Bella sighed softly, leaning further into Edward's touch as his thumbs began to trace gentle circles on her breasts.

His fingers shifted slightly and he gently dragged his thumbs across her nipples. Bella gasped, reaching up to cup her hands behind Edward's head as she pulled him to her for a wildly passionate kiss. Bella moaned into his mouth, her entire body responding to his touch as he continued stroking her breasts, and Edward smiled against her lips before pulling back.

His hands slid back down to the hem of her camisole and he met Bella's gaze, making sure that this was what she wanted. Her eyes dark and clouded with a look Edward had never seen there before, Bella nodded, arching her back slightly as she raised her arms up above her head.

Edward quickly removed her top, tossing it haphazardly over his shoulder, his attention fully focused on the woman before him. He kept his eyes locked on her face as he leaned forward to kiss her again and Bella melted against him, shivering pleasantly at the feeling of their bare chests pressing together as Edward pulled her closer.

Bella's head fell back as Edward's lips once again returned to her neck and she gripped his hips tightly as she felt the heat building low in her belly and beginning to throb between her legs. Edward pulled back slightly, his eyes traveling across Bella's bare chest. "Beautiful," he murmured before leaning forward and gently swirling his tongue around her left breast. He reached her nipple and took it fully in his mouth, one hand fondling her neglected breast while his other hand was on her hip, pulling her to him with bruising force. Bella mewled softly, the sound going straight to Edward's already prominent erection, which was by now straining almost painfully against his pajama pants.

He repeated his actions on her other breast before moving his lips between her breasts and beginning to trail gentle kisses down her chest to her stomach, using his weight to ease her onto her back on the bed. He swirled his tongue in her bellybutton, making her giggle, before he pulled back to meet her gaze once more.

"Yes," Bella whispered breathlessly in answer to the unspoken question in his eyes.

Edward hooked his fingers in the sides of her pajama pants and gently slid them down her legs, dropping them at the foot of the bed without taking his eyes off of her. At the sight of the underwear she wore, Edward couldn't help smiling to himself. Black cotton boy shorts with a small pink bow on the waistband. That was Bella all over, wasn't it? Both innocent and naturally sexy without any pretense.

Edward slowly slid the boyshorts down her legs, dropping them on the floor once they were fully off. He looked up, meeting Bella's gaze with a wicked smile, before he began to trail soft kisses up the inside of her left leg, his hand gently massaging her right leg in an upward direction as well.

He gently dragged his tongue down one hipbone and up the other one. The ache between Bella's legs was by now nearly unbearable and she shifted, her hips thrusting slightly forward. "Please," she whispered.

Edward trailed his fingers gently down her hipbones, dancing softly over her skin until Bella saw him slide one finger into her center.

Bella drew in a sharp breath at the new sensation and Edward immediately stilled. "Bella?" he said, the concern evident in his voice.

"Don't stop," she rasped. "Please don't stop."

The feeling was different, but not altogether unpleasant, she decided to herself as Edward added another finger. Edward curled his fingers and began to stroke her and Bella moaned as her hips jerked forward. Nope, definitely not unpleasant. Then Edward's thumb began circling her clit and all coherent thought flew out of her head.

The pressure built to an almost unendurable level and Bella felt her legs begin to jerk slightly as she felt all control over her body slipping away.

"Just let go, Bella," Edward murmured against her stomach. A new sensation joined the numerous others that were already driving Bella out of her mind and distantly she realized that Edward's talented fingers had been replaced by his equally gifted tongue.

Without warning, Edward sucked harshly on Bella's clit and she came undone, her back arching off of the bed as she cried his name.

Edward's fingers continued to stroke Bella gently as she rode out her orgasm and when she was finished, he moved up next to her on the bed, pulling her into his arms. She held onto him for dear life as her body trembled from the after effects of her orgasm.

Eventually, her body calmed and she let out a shuddering gasp. "So that's what the big deal is all about," she murmured against Edward's chest.

Edward laughed, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "Are you all right?" he asked softly as he stroked her hair.

Bella looked up at him. "Mmmm, never better," she answered honestly. "Thank you." Edward smiled, kissing her forehead once more and pulling her tightly against his body.

Time to repay the favor, Bella thought with a wicked smile. She gently trailed her fingers across Edward's chest, delighting in the feel of Edward's muscles contracting beneath her touch. Deciding to try what he had done to her, she ran her tongue around his nipple and then dragged her teeth gently across it, smiling against Edward's skin as a groan rumbled in his chest.

Bella shifted so that she was kneeling between Edward's spread legs and leaned over him. She trailed her fingers down his sides as she continued kissing his chest, slowly moving her lips down to the top of his pants. Sliding her fingers beneath the waistband, she slowly dragged his pants down his legs, dropping them on the floor before turning her full focus back to him.

She paused a moment, taking in the sight of a fully naked and aroused Edward, his prominent erection standing proudly before her. She looked up, meeting Edward's gaze as she began sliding her hands up his legs, applying enough pressure to make the muscles in his legs tense. When she reached the top of his legs, she slowly reached over to Edward's erection, one hand encircling it as she began to stroke him gently.

A low gasp came from Edward as he thrust forward in Bella's hands as her hand traveled up and down his shaft. Praying to herself that she was doing it right, she leaned forward, replacing her hand with her mouth. Edward growled, his hips jerking forward violently at the feel of Bella's warm mouth enveloping his cock.

"Oh God, Bella," he groaned as her tongue trailed down his length. "So good." Bella increased the pressure of her mouth and Edward felt himself beginning to lose control. "Bella," he groaned, dropping his hands down to her shoulders to still her.

Bella raised her head to meet Edward's gaze, her expression confused and a bit embarrassed. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I was doing it wrong, wasn't I? Oh God."

"What? Bella, no!" Edward sat up, pulling Bella up so that they were facing each other once more. "Bella, that was amazing. You are definitely not doing anything wrong." Bella blushed even as a small smile crossed her lips. "I just want to be inside you," he added in a whisper, trailing his tongue along her earlobe before kissing the sensitive spot behind her ear. When he pulled back, Bella was still blushing but she nodded.

Edward gently shifted her onto her back before leaning down to kiss her once more. When they separated, he reached a hand out to his bedside table. "Edward." Bella put a hand on Edward's arm to stop him. He looked down at her questioningly and she smiled. "You don't have to," she told him. "I'm on the pill and, well, I've never done this before." Her eyes were trusting without a hint of uncertainty in them and Edward smiled tenderly, leaning forward to kiss her once more.

When he drew back, he met her gaze with his own. Never taking his eyes from hers, he reached down between them and gently shifted himself to enter her. Bella gripped Edward's shoulders as he entered her, her fingernails digging into his skin as he stretched her and filled her completely.

Bella couldn't stop a gasp from escaping her lips and Edward froze. "Bella?" he asked worriedly. She met his anxious gaze and he felt his stomach drop at the sheen of tears he saw in her eyes. "Oh God, Bella, I'm so sorry," he began.

Bella caught his face between her hands, forcing him to look her in the eye once more. "No, Edward, please," she said. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. It's just, I've just never…this feels so right." She struggled for the words to explain the feeling of completion that encompassed her entire being at that moment.

Edward's eyes were soft as he leaned down to kiss her sweetly. "It's perfect," he whispered in agreement.

He stayed still, letting Bella adjust until she began to rock her hips against his. Edward rolled his hips forward as began thrusting gently. Instinctively, Bella moved her hips up to meet Edward's, meeting him thrust for thrust.

Edward increased his pace, pulling out almost completely before thrusting back in, and Bella moaned as she brought her hips up to meet his over and over. Edward slipped a hand down between their bodies, his thumb finding Bella's clit and beginning to circle it with his thumb. He felt himself losing his control and he pressed on her clit as he again took one of her breasts in his mouth, roughly circling her nipple with his tongue.

"Edward! Unh, Edward!" Bella cried, her nails gliding roughly down Edward's back as her body tensed.

Edward's thumb sped up and moments later he felt her walls clenched around him, pulling him over the edge with her as he groaned her name. "Bella. Oh fuck! Bella!"

He collapsed against her, their bodies slick with sweat, burying his face against her neck as he tried to catch his breath. After a moment, he shifted himself, pulling out of her and rolling onto his side. He wrapped his arms around her, gently tugging her against his side as he kissed her forehead.

Bella snuggled against him, one hand trailing lazily up and down his back as she calmed down. "That was incredible," she finally murmured, tipping her head back to look up at Edward.

"You're incredible," he replied, leaning down to kiss her gently.

Bella sighed against his lips as she kissed him back. Her body was exhausted and she would probably be sore in the morning but what she had said to Edward earlier remained true. She had never in her life been better than she was at that moment.

They lay there together for a little while, exchanging sweet kisses and talking softly as they held onto each other. Eventually, Edward shifted back slightly from Bella. "Believe me, I really don't want to do this, but would you excuse me for a moment?"

Bella nodded, smiling as Edward kissed her once more before reaching down to the floor and picking up his pajama pants. Pants in hand, he made his way into his attached bathroom. Bella heard the water running and shortly thereafter, Edward returned to the bedroom, dressed in his pajama pants and holding a damp hand towel in his hands.

"I thought you might want to, um, clean up," he said, handing her the warm towel. Bella blushed but nodded and Edward discreetly turned his head as she used the towel. When she had finished, Edward took the towel and went to return it to the bathroom. On his way, he paused at his bedroom door and locked it. "Just want to make sure we keep out any early morning guests," he said with a grin before continuing to the bathroom.

When he returned once more, Bella was sitting on the bed, now dressed in the t-shirt Edward had been wearing when she had first entered his bedroom. Edward growled softly as he joined her on the bed, pulling her into his arms. "You have no idea what you do to me," he murmured against her lips.

Bella hummed happily against Edward's lips as she kissed him back. Without breaking their embrace, Edward pulled back his covers and shifted them so that they were lying down on his bed. He finally broke the kiss to pull the covers up over them before he had Bella wrapped in his arms once more.

Bella curled against his body, resting her head on his bare chest. "I love you, Edward," she murmured.

"I love you, my Bella," Edward replied, pressing a kiss against the top of her head.

Bella smiled. "My Edward," she whispered.

"Yours," he promised softly. "Always."

"I like the sound of that," Bella mumbled into Edward's chest. As she began to drift off to sleep, she heard Edward start to sing quietly to her. Smiling once more as her eyelids fluttered closed, she snuggled further into his embrace as he sang her softly to sleep.

"I promise no complication
So we can make the transformation
Baby, yes, it's true.
Your beauty's inspiration
So I want to make this declaration
Darling, I love you.
'Cause I've been around
But I've never found
Anybody quite like you.

I just wanna see you smile
I just wanna be your light in the dark
How I will shine for you
Until you bring another day

With your angel's smile
You fill this empty space
Well, I'll be just fine
As long as I can be with you and see your face.

'Cause I just wanna see you smile
I just wanna be your light in the dark
Baby, I will shine for you
Until you bring another day

'Cause I just wanna be with you
As long as it takes to show that
I am true
Baby, I will wait for you."

The next morning, before he even opened his eyes, Edward knew that something had changed. And it was definitely something for the better. He opened his eyes, unable to stop the enormous smile that crossed his face at the sight that met his eyes. Bella was sleeping peacefully in his arms. Her lips were swollen from their activities the previous night and her hair was a wild man fanning around her head. She had never looked more beautiful to Edward.

He tightened his arms around her, pulling her body even more closely to his. He ran his nose along her jawline, pausing to inhale the delicious scent of strawberries and freesia and Bella. This was how it should be, how he had dreamed of it being for so long. Bella was in his arms and the night before, they had shared their true feelings with each other. He felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders with his confession. He loved her and now he would be free to say it whenever he wanted. And he planned on saying it as often as possible.

Bella began to stir in his arms and Edward quickly shut his eyes, curious to see what she would do upon waking up next to him. He felt Bella begin to stretch and then stop, her body tensing as she felt someone next to her. Almost immediately, though, her body relaxed and her heard her sigh softly.

She shifted slightly in his arms and reached up, gently running her fingertips along Edward's jawline. She cupped her hand around his face, gently stroking his cheek with her thumb as she pressed her body closer to his.

"Now this is definitely something I could get used to," Edward murmured without opening his eyes.

"Mmm, and how long have you been awake?" Edward could almost hear the smile in her voice as she slipped her other arm around his waist.

Without warning, Edward's eyes flew open and he flipped Bella onto her back, eliciting a shriek of surprised laughter from her before she began giggling in earnest.

"Long enough to realize how lucky I am to be waking up with the most perfect woman on the planet in my arms." Edward smiled as Bella's cheeks turned pink. "Good morning, love," he said, leaning down to nuzzle her neck.

Bella sighed happily. "Yes, it is. Merry Christmas, Edward."

"Merry Christmas," he responded, pulling back to kiss her softly.

He shifted to lie next to her, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. "Mmm, I wish we could just stay right here for the rest of vacation," he murmured.

Bella smiled. "Sounds good to me."

"However." He sat up. "You're right. It is Christmas." He opened the drawer next to his bed and pulled something from it as Bella sat up next to him. "I didn't get a chance to wrap it," he said, suddenly feeling shy as he held the object in his hands out to Bella.

Bella gasped as she took it from Edward. It was a small wooden box with intricate designs carved into the side and lid. The top of the box had an engraving on it and Bella's eyes filled with tears as she read it. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. Pride and Prejudice. "Edward," she whispered. "It's beautiful."

"In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you," Edward quoted softly. "I thought it was appropriate," he added.

Bella laughed even as a tear slid down her cheek and she leaned in to kiss Edward gently.

When they separated, he reached out and wiped her tear away with his thumb. "Open it," he urged with a smile. Soft musical notes filled the room and Bella gasped in recognition. "It's your song."

Edward smiled crookedly. "Actually, Bella, it's your song."

"Edward, it's wonderful," Bella said, running her fingers across the top of the box. "Thank you."

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is under the tree," Edward said with a grin. "Just in case last night didn't go well."

Bella put the music box on Edward's bedside table and turned back to him. "Last night was perfect," she said softly.

Edward smiled, reaching out to cup her cheek in his hand. "Yes, it was," he whispered back before leaning in to capture her lips in a tender kiss.

The kiss quickly turned passionate and Bella moaned into Edward's mouth as she wrapped her arms around his neck, gently tugging at the hair at the base of his scalp. The combination of the sounds Bella was making and the pleasurable pain of his hair being pulled spurred Edward on and his hands dropped to the hem of the t-shirt she wore. He pulled the shirt up over Bella's head, quickly dropping it somewhere in the vicinity of the bed before his hands immediately returned to her body.

Holding her close, his lips went to her neck, gently kissing and sucking the skin there while Bella's hands roamed over his bare back.

Suddenly, a very unwelcome sound pierced his consciousness.

"Bella, are you awake?" Alice's voice came from the hallway as she knocked on the door to Bella's guestroom. Edward groaned against Bella's neck, grumbling something about damn pixies and bad timing.

"Bella?" Alice's voice sounded puzzled and Bella couldn't help giggling.

"In here, Alice," she called back.

"Are you in Edward's room?"

"Yes, Al. Come on in," Edward called back.

"The door's locked," Bella reminded Edward in a whisper.

Edward rolled his eyes. "Alice learned to pick the lock on my door ages ago. She never liked her twin having any secrets from her."

Bella grimaced. "Well, I'd really rather she not see me lying in bed with her brother while we're both naked!" she whispered urgently.

Edward grinned lazily and reached down next to the bed, picking up the t-shirt Bella had been wearing only moments earlier and handing it to her. She quickly yanked the shirt over her head and was just freeing her hair from its collar when the bedroom door opened and Alice stepped inside the room, stopping just inside the doorway. Her eyes took in Edward and Bella and the couple braced themselves for the loud shriek that was sure to come from the pixie's mouth. But Alice's response was strangely restrained.

"It's about time," was all she said, smiling triumphantly at the pair before her.

Edward smiled, making no effort to cover his bare chest as he wrapped his arm around Bella. "Merry Christmas, Alice," he said.

Alice grinned widely. "I'll say." Bella blushed and her friend giggled, clapping her hands together as a small shriek escaped her lips. "You so just made mom's Christmas!"

"We'll come down and tell her in a bit," Edward said. "Do you think you could maybe buy us some time, though?"

"Everyone's downstairs already, but I'll see what I can do to hold them off for a bit. Just don't take too long. I'll stall them as best I can, but this is your news so I'm going to let you tell them."

"Thanks, Al."

"I'm so happy for you guys!" Alice said, her eyes shining with excitement. "I'd come over and give you a hug but I don't wanna know what's under that blanket," she added with a wicked grin.

"We'll see you downstairs, Alice," Edward said pointedly as Bella turned scarlet beside him.

"I'm going, I'm going," Alice said good-naturedly.

"Oh, and could you-"

"Locking the door behind me," she told them with a grin. "Merry Christmas," she called as the door clicked shut behind her.

Edward leaned in and began to press soft kisses to Bella's neck. "I thought she'd never leave," he murmured between kisses.

"Don't we have to get downstairs?" Bella asked, hissing in pleasure as Edward gently bit the skin at the juncture of her neck and shoulder.

"Eventually. Mmm, I think I can safely call this the best Christmas ever," Edward murmured as he nuzzled her neck.

Bella gave in, not really wanting to argue the point anyway. "Mm-hmm," she agreed, weaving her fingers through Edward's hair.

"Now, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?" Edward pulled back a moment. "That's right – I believe you had less clothing on." He once again pulled the shirt off of Bella before pulling her back into his arms and easing Bella onto her back. She pulled Edward down with her, her hands quickly going to the waistband of his pants.

"Your turn," she told him, pushing his pants down his hips. Edward groaned as Bella's hands lingered on his thighs, her thumbs tracing circles on the skin there, and he quickly kicked his pants the rest of the way off.

Edward held himself over Bella, his weight resting on his arms as he leaned down and kissed her sweetly, pulling back to gently stroke her cheek with his thumb as he used his other hand to guide himself into her. "I love you, Bella," he said as he sheathed himself fully in her, his eyes never leaving hers.

Bella's heart swelled at the words. "I love you, Edward," she whispered back. She reached up and caught Edward's face with her hands, pulling him down to meet her lips with his own in a tender kiss.

A soft moan escaped Bella's mouth as Edward began rocking his hips and she wrapped her legs around his waist as she began to move with him.

Best Christmas ever, indeed.