After a massive wait – the next chapter. Anybody still out there?

Thanks to Mycrookedsmile for cleaning up behind me and for her Twitter support when I was having a bad day.

Thanks to ZephyerSky for pre-reading so many weeks ago. I adore you, bb.

As usual, I don't own. Nor do I make any money from this little endeavor.

One quick note. A couple of terms that will make this chapter easier to understand:

FRG = Family Readiness Group, basically a group that provides support and information to family members of Active Duty soldiers, especially important during a deployment

MWR = Morale Welfare & Recreation, agency that provides creature comforts for soldiers & their families, in combat zones they often provide spaces with computers with internet, phones for community use, etc

We're now caught up to the Prologue, which takes place after the last chapter and before this one.

From Chapter 20:

Before either of them was ready, dawn began to break through the window. Edward rubbed his eyes, ignoring the sandy feeling of staying up all night, and kissed Bella awake.

They made love again, soft and slow, and they both wept when it was over.

Reluctantly Bella got up to shower and Edward checked his bags again.

It was time to say goodbye.

Chapter 21

To: Edward Cullen

From: Bella Swan

Subject: Are you there yet?

Edward,

You've not even been gone a full day and I miss you so much I ache. I have no idea when you'll get this, but I couldn't stand the thought of you checking your email and not having one from me waiting for you.

I love you forever plus one day.

Bella

o - o - o - o - o - o

To: Bella Swan

From: Edward Cullen

Subject: RE: Are you there yet?

My sweet girl,

I'm in the USO lounge at the airport in Bangor. I've only got a couple of minutes since there are so many of us wanting to check email one last time. I wanted you to know again how much I love you and miss you already.

I don't know what my internet access will be like when we arrive in country. For now, it would probably be better to do the snail mail thing. I promise I'll call as soon as I can.

I love you to the moon and back.

Edward

o - o - o - o - o - o

Dear Edward,

One night down, approximately three hundred and sixty-five to go.

Alice has been kind enough to let me mope for the last day and a half, but I don't think her patience is going to hold out much longer. She's left me one message this morning and I think I'm going to have to call her back unless I want her to subject me to some kind of harsh punishment. Like going to a paint-your-own pottery place or something.

I miss you so incredibly much. I've never known my apartment to feel this quiet and empty. Even the neighbors have been quieter than usual. Part of me wonders, if I never leave this room, will the world somehow pause in its rotation until you come home? It is incomprehensible to me that the people around me continue with their lives as if nothing has changed. I cannot believe that I am expected to continue with my life as if there has not been a huge hole blown through the middle of it.

For a brief moment, I considered completely ripping this letter up and starting a new one where I use my words to paint bright pictures of sunshine and rainbows for you. But I don't think you want that, do you? I don't think it would be right to try to keep reality from you. Honesty before all else, right?

Please, please stay safe. Watch your six. (See? I did learn something from those military movies you always make me watch!)

I love you forever plus one day.

Bella

o - o - o - o - o - o

Dear Edward,

One week since you've left and I've heard nothing from you. Not one email or thirty-second phone call. Kelly, my point of contact from the FRG, assures me that everyone, including you, arrived there safely. But it would put my mind at ease if I heard it from you.

Classes are going okay. I find myself distracted a lot, wondering where you are. You know that I have another class with Alice this semester, right? She and Jasper have been amazing, making sure that I don't mope around too much or get too morose.

I couldn't stand the silence in the apartment anymore, so I went to a secondhand store and bought a small television. The reception is terrible and I refuse to pay for cable, but I usually leave it turned on low just to have some kind of background noise. For some reason, I find it very comforting; even when I can't see the characters through all of the fuzz.

There is still a part of me that doesn't believe that you'll come home to me.

I guess I should put this away for now and actually go do some homework. I have to meet my study group at the library later too.

Stay safe. Don't forget your six. I miss you.

I love you forever plus one day.

Bella

o - o - o - o - o - o

Dear Edward,

Really? You really couldn't find a piece of paper or a phone or a computer with a working internet connection in the two weeks since you left? You know, you're not really helping to assuage my fear of abandonment.

Rosalie calls me every single day. It seems that she hasn't heard from Emmett either. The first words out of her mouth are always "Did you hear from him today?" When I respond that I haven't, she sighs and says, "Me either." With that ritual out of the way, we have long conversations about everything from politics to religion to pizza. And, of course, there is much conversation about the baby.

I went to my first FRG meeting with Rosalie and Alice a couple of days ago. I finally got to meet Kelly, whom I've talked to on the phone and gotten email from several times. She seems very nice, if a little bland. She tried to explain the difference between a platoon, a company, and a battalion, but it made no sense to me and I'm pretty sure my eyes glazed over halfway through. Of course, there wasn't much actual information given out. I think it was more of a social event than anything. Apparently the FRG has a lot of social events during a deployment. I don't know how involved I'm going to be. Some of those women frighten me.

I found one of your shirts buried in my laundry basket. I've taken to wearing it to bed, even though I know that soon it will smell like me instead of you. It helps me sleep when I feel like I've got part of you wrapped around me.

Once again, stay safe.

I love you forever plus one day.

Bella

o - o - o - o - o - o

Bella laid her pen down on the table and carefully folded the letter. She slid it into the waiting envelope that she'd already addressed in her neatest handwriting. After sealing it closed, she set it aside and then let her head fall forward until her forehead thumped against the hard surface.

Her nerves were extremely frayed after two weeks of no communication from Edward. It always surprised her when she would lash out in anger or burst into tears with the slightest provocation. Even Alice took care to tiptoe around her in case Bella's wrath became aimed at her.

She worried slightly about the level of honesty she was displaying in her letters so far. Some of the wives at the FRG meeting the previous week had been very vocal about keeping things from their soldiers. They threw around words like morale and insisted that the war fighter wouldn't be able to concentrate if he thought his spouse couldn't cope back home. But Bella truly believed that her relationship with Edward would be stronger if they were honest about what they were experiencing emotionally.

The truth was that, even as uncensored as she'd been, she still held some back. She didn't tell Edward about the nights that she cried herself to sleep. Or on the flip side, the nights when she didn't sleep at all because she was obsessively searching the internet for news from his side of the world. She chose not to mention that there were days when she completely forgot to eat and she didn't report about the day she was so distracted that she ended up lost on campus and missed her noon class.

Bella trusted that these things would resolve in time. She would get accustomed to Edward being gone. She believed that soon he would be back in regular contact with her. She was counting on the fact that the days would begin to pass faster and life would resume its normal speed.

Tilting her head slightly to glance at the clock, Bella groaned and then sat up. She twisted her hair into a knot at the base of her neck before slipping Edward's letter into her bag. Shifting things around, she pulled her history book out and flipped through until she found the chapter she was supposed to be reading.

Resolving to put thoughts of Edward aside for a while, she settled in to read.

o - o - o - o - o - o

To: Bella Swan

From: Edward Cullen

Subject: I haven't forgotten

My sweet girl,

Sorry for not having written or called. There's at least a 2 hour wait every day for the computers in the MWR tent and longer than that for the phones. I've made friends with a commo guy though, so hopefully he can sneak me in to use one of the official phones in the next couple of days.

Don't feel like you have to be a part of the FRG if you don't want to. Some of those groups are legendary for their troublemaking.

I am glad that you've been hanging out with Rose and Alice. Tell Rose that Em's fine and will call or email as soon as he can. He's much busier than I am since he's the team leader, but he's doing well.

If it helps, the progression goes like this. Starting with the largest: Corps Division Brigade Battalion Company Platoon Team

I am coming home to you. I will tell you over and over again until you believe it.

I love you to the moon and back.

Edward

o - o - o - o - o - o

Bella slowly trudged along the long path to the campus library. She was already ten minutes late to meet her study group, but couldn't find the motivation to make her feet move faster. The grass on either side of the walkway was peppered with students soaking up the warmth of the unexpected sunny day.

Just as she reached for the door, her phone vibrated in her back pocket. She stepped back to let the students behind her enter and slid the phone out, realizing as she checked the display that she didn't recognize the number.

"Hello?" Bella took a few more steps away from the door, using her finger to plug her other ear so that she could hear better. "Hello?"

For a few moments there was nothing but static on the line. Then, just as Bella was ready to hang up in frustration, she heard Edward's voice.

"Bella? Bella, don't hang up; I think there's a satellite delay. Are you there?"

Her knees sagged and tears welled up in her eyes. It had been three weeks since the last time she'd heard his voice and the relief threatened to overwhelm her.

"Edward! Hi! How are you?"

He laughed. "I'm fine, sweetheart. We're at risk of losing our connection, but I wanted you to know I miss you and I love you and I'm safe."

Bella sighed, unable to stop the grin from spreading over her face. For just a moment, everything felt normal again.

"I love you too, Edward! I miss you so much! How are things going? Are they keeping you very busy?"

"Yeah, we've been very busy, out on…" Static cut into the line for several seconds. Bella checked the display to make sure the call hadn't dropped. Finally the static cleared and Edward's voice rang through again. "…but I'm fine. We're all safe and missing home. How are you? How are your classes going?"

"They're fine. I'm fine. I just miss you! I'm actually going in now to meet my study group. I can't wait until this semester is over." She laughed.

"That's great, sweetheart. I'm so proud of you. I was wondering –"

The phone squealed in Bella's ear and she jerked it away before it caused permanent hearing damage.

"Hello? Edward, are you still there?"

Bella checked the phone display again, swallowing against the disappointment when she realized that the call had dropped.

"Come on, Edward. Call me back," she muttered. Tears slid down her cheeks as she continued to watch her phone. "Please, baby, please call me back."

Glancing up, Bella noticed that she was beginning to attract the attention of her fellow students. She moved around the corner of the building for a little privacy. Leaning her head back against the wall of the building, she gave in to her tears for a few minutes.

Finally, she straightened up and swiped her hands across her cheeks to dry them. She pulled a mirror out of her bag and checked her makeup. Realizing she could do nothing about the fact that her eyes were red and puffy, she put the mirror and her phone away and went inside to meet her group.

Bella jogged up the library steps and down the hall to the study room where her group was meeting. Attempting to slip in unnoticed, she cracked the door open and tried to slide through. Unfortunately the strap on her bag caught the door handle and jerked her back against the door, causing it to slam behind her.

Every member of her group turned to stare. Bella's cheeks burned as she unwound her strap from the door and slid into a vacant seat beside her friend, Lucas. The group leader, Eliza, glared at her briefly before continuing with what she was saying.

Lucas leaned towards Bella. "You okay?"

His breath tickled over her ear and Bella shivered. She sent him a quick smile and shook her head.

"Edward."

Lucas smiled brilliantly and reached over to squeeze her hand, understanding immediately since the two had often talked about Edward over coffee after class.

They turned their attention back to Eliza who was expanding on each person's role in their project. Bella kept one hand on her phone so she wouldn't miss it if it vibrated again, but Edward didn't call back.

o - o - o - o - o - o

A/N

I'm just going to stop promising the next update because I never seem to be able to get it out on time anymore. You guys have been so awesome about reviewing and I'm so, so appreciative of every single one.

Just know that I'm not giving up on this story. My RL has been particularly shitty lately, topped with massive writer's block. But I'm trying. I promise.

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter. You can also yell at me there if I take a long time to update: PangeforPrez

Love you all. {{{hugs}}}