Epilogue: Under the Willow Trees
a collective noun
Middle English copys; Old French copeiz
derived from terms coper and couper meaning to cut
commonly in use: 16th century England esp. 1578
a thicket of underwood,
small trees, or shrubs
We're very happy together, the three of us. Life is moving along in its rapid pace and every day gets better than the last. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to the beginning. This is the story of how I got a ring on my girl.
We were sitting in the car, preparing to go shopping for a ring. Before I turned the key in the ignition, I glanced over to gauge her mood. The sun had reached that ten A.M. slant in the sky, and I captured her hand to see her eyes before she had a chance to hide them behind her sunglasses.
"You know it's okay if you're freaking out a little, right?"
Big changes are never her strong suit. Slow and steady has been the plan all along.
So why ring shopping today?
We've had a few weeks to adjust to life after the sex-a-thon; we haven't had any new or weird issues crop up; we got an appointment at Tiffany's.
Enough! Why do I have to justify anything? We're ready.
Is she definitely ready?
I certainly hope so. Is she freaking out?
I peered over at her as she clipped the seatbelt and again witnessed the turmoil she'd been trying to conceal all morning. Her twitchy response when I'd helped her with a sweater and her sweaty palms were indicative of a case of amped nerves. Bella was always somewhat energetic, but this was more than normal.
"Edward – we've discussed this at length. My days of freaking out over frivolous matters like money are over," she responded before sighing and folding her arms in front of her.
"Oh, come on! You just used the words 'frivolous' and 'money' in the same sentence. You have to be freaking out a little bit," I prodded, wanting her to be honest about her feelings.
There it is – that pouty expression that means she's fighting her own nature. Just let her freak out. You are the calm one – it usually helps. One of us gets to freak out about something and the other is supportive.
Be supportive; don't be insecure.
It's not about you. It's not about you!
Of course it's about you.
No, it's not. She's the product of a train wreck divorce – that makes her act irrationally toward marriage sometimes.
My issues have nothing to do with this. Just let her be. In fact, shut the hell up.
I moved my seat to the furthest position and lowered the backrest until I was slightly reclined. Once comfortable, I waited – looking at her but not pressuring her with words. It didn't take long.
"I refuse to admit to any feelings of freakage or any other potential anxiety-driven emotions."
She didn't look over at me when she made that declaration. I waited another beat, knowing there was more.
"Which Tiffany's location are we going to?" she asked quickly, shifting in the seat to face me.
"The closest one is on Rodeo Drive," I responded.
"Is this the Rodeo Drive that's in Beverly Hills?" Her gaze moved to the scenery outside.
"There's only one in this area. Yes, we're going to Beverly Hills. Still not freaking out?"
You know you want to tell me what's on your mind. Open up to me.
I reached over and lifted her left hand for a gentle kiss. She seemed to blink back into awareness of me, and possibly into awareness of my love for her.
"Do you want a number?" There was a resigned note of acceptance in her tone.
"From one to ten?" I inquired, helping her along.
"Yeah." She took a deep breath while lifting an index finger to her mouth. I stopped her from destroying a cuticle.
Here we go. The dam of silence breaks. Thank you for letting me in, Bella.
"We're going shopping as a newly engaged couple – which means we're going out in public that way. We'll answer questions about our relationship. Most of that is good – you'll call me your fiancée; I like that. Shopping of course sucks, but you're always fun."
She wrapped a hand around mine before continuing. "And I'm going to wear a big rock on my finger." She looked down at our hands. Combined with mine, her fingers seemed smaller than usual.
Pay careful attention to the size of that rock.
She apparently thinks I'm going to lob some giant boulder onto her hand.
"We'll be doing this shopping in Beverly Hills, more precisely, Rodeo Drive – one of the most expensive places to shop on earth."
I unbuckled the seatbelt she'd fastened and hauled her onto my lap.
There…there. Shift a little – better.
Now I could cuddle, kiss and caress anywhere I wanted. Her words were slowing down already. I was kissing the skin leading toward the V-neck of her t-shirt and sweater.
"Sometime in the future…" her anxious tirade paused as she moaned out, "Mmm, Edward, in the future–"
"My life-long, loving future with you?" I shifted the slight weight of her hip off my emerging erection.
"Yes, that one. Now where was I?" She sounded thoroughly disoriented. I'd just plumped one of her breasts out of her bra and clothing to suck on a nipple.
"Oh, my fucking – Gah, Edward! One of your renegade sperm troupers is going to invade my uterine castle, and we'll be p-p-parents." She was panting.
"Is that the future where I come inside you over and over until you're pregnant with my child?"
"I think…?" She gasped and moaned, loudly. I glanced around to make sure we were still alone in the carport. Not a soul was near. This space was at the end of the row, sheltered by palm trees.
"Where there's no birth control, no condom, just you and me and lots and lots of fucking and love-making and my fingers right about here?"
My hand was on the outside of her clothing, gently cupping and rubbing the heat I felt developing between her thighs. Her hips tilted forward, seeking. I held her firmly, not wanting to get her fully naked in our very public parking space. However, her nipple was ever so distracting. I continued to manipulate it until it was pink and distended.
"I haven't even started thinking about the…oh, that feels so good…" I pulled harder at her pebbled bud.
"Thinking about what?" I prompted.
"The um, the wedding. Um, no. I'm not freaking out. I'm totally fine - one hundred percent Zen."
Cue the laugh track.
"That bad, huh?" I commiserated. She gripped my hand tightly and nodded in response.
"Can you do three, no four, things for me?" she breathed against my shoulder.
"Yes. What would those be?" I removed my hand from her womanly softness, with reluctance.
Put your hands on her hips. Tuck that fuck-hot tit back where it belongs.
One more lick, one more suck.
Stop perving on her tits, already.
"You have to hold my hand the whole time." She leaned up to kiss my jawline.
"That's a given. Next," I prodded. She wiggled her hips against my straining erection. I groaned.
"God, Bella – If we didn't have an appointment at this place!" I tried to conceal the sexual frustration in my tone, but failed.
"I know. This is not how we usually spend a Sunday." She went back to kissing my jaw and then paused again. "What time is it?"
"It's a little after ten. At this time, I usually have one of your ankles behind my ear, and I'm fucking the sleepy right out of you. It's a good place to be. No, strike that; it's an excellent place to be. Do you want to skip this? We could just look through one of those thick magazines and then hire a personal shopper."
Say skip it. Say skip it.
I vote for hard dick in wet pussy.
Put it in and then slide it back out. Then ease it in again before gliding back out, so that the flesh of the sensitive side is dragging on the…
Fuck – stop thinking about it.
You're here to stake your claim. Get a ring on her. You've waited twenty-two days to do this.
It's not about your cock; it's about her ring finger.
Not about my cock?
When is it not about my cock?
Shut the hell up. You need an amorous repellent. Think, think, think.
I got nothing.
Think some more.
Maybe this one. Okay, female a body builder who tans too much. She tans so much she looks like an oompa-loompa with scary bulging muscles and veins popping out. She's wearing a very skimpy bathing suit.
Bathing suit? Skimpy? Lots of girl skin?
Shut up. The overall effect is still gross.
I shook off my distracting but necessary thoughts. Bella was calling my name.
"Edward, are you listening?" she said. "I'm being ridiculous, and I know it. That's why I'm so jittery. I want to govern my reactions, but then I just end up spazzing out all over you."
You still have a hard on; take her back inside.
No, better yet, get her naked and then get back inside her.
"Let's go back inside. You can spazz out under me, or over me, or in front of me. How about with your leg angled back over my thigh?"
She looked at me patiently and then sighed before tapping my seat back, silently urging me to get ready to go. I helped her back into her seat before starting the engine and adjusting the seam of my jeans to the other side of my aching hard on. She grew quiet for a moment as I let the car warm up. I forced myself to think of another amorously repellant image.
One of the two fat ladies is stirring three sticks of butter in a large urn. Her third chin jiggles as she discusses the importance of thoroughly cooking the bacon in melted butter.
Gagg. Fat cooked in vats of fat.
Bella was looking over at me and talking again. I focused on the disturbing images until my annoying erection was gone.
"Remind me to breathe. I might actually freak out; you can't just throw me on the couch like you usually do and scramble my brains with sex. I'm pretty sure Tiffany's doesn't have a couch for neurotic fiancées."
Affecting my own expression of mock seriousness I swayed her thigh gently.
"You never know, Bella. Tiffany's is very accommodating. They could have a …"
"A what?" she questioned with a skeptical huff. I scratched the hair at the back of my neck, considering.
"An emergency couch. A supply room? You know, we've never done it standing up in a bathroom before. I'm game. Are you game?"
"Hush, you." She kissed me, grinning, knowing I was kidding for her sake.
Grinning is much better. Hard on is gone. Stop mentioning sex, now.
"Alright. What's the third request? Should I write these down on a sticky note?"
"I'm not even responding to that, mister eidetic memory. Oh, last one! Do that thing where you kiss my neck and whisper something totally distracting in my ear. I pretty much dig that one all the time." She clicked the stereo on in the car and began channel surfing.
"Something distracting? Maybe something from the ancient Romans? Anything else?" I pulled my seat back into a vertical position. She fastened her seatbelt, and I put the car in reverse to maneuver out of the complex.
"Please don't let anyone tell me how much anything costs. I don't want to know."
"The ever so discrete staff at Tiffany's would never do such a horrible thing to you." I couldn't restrain a man-chuckle. I glanced over at her – her hands were relaxed, and there was no leg-bobbing in sight.
"Immensely. You just brought my ten point four down to a two. This is actually manageable now. Maybe you can pick the size of the rock. How's that sound?"
"We'll decide rock size together," I assured her.
"Together. Okay." She sounded like herself again.
Bella and I walked at an easy pace toward our destination. The stone footpath took us up and down little hills before we approached the gleaming storefront of Tiffany's. A store attendant was stationed at the front door to help direct guests.
"Good morning, my name is Austin. Are you here to browse, or do you have an appointment with a consultant?"
"I'm Edward Masen, and this lovely creature is my fiancée, Bella Swan." I answered happily. Bella nudged her forehead into my shoulder, no doubt embarrassed at my compliments.
"Mr. Masen, Ms. Swan. Here, allow me to get the door." Chrome, glass, and lush carpeting heralded our entrance to the posh establishment. I shook hands with Austin. He gestured for us to walk toward the back of the store.
"I spoke with Kate Marshall on the phone. Is everything all arranged?"
Bella didn't walk forward to look in any of the cases. She stayed by my side, comfortably holding my hand.
"Yes, sir. It's my job to personally attend to every detail. Let me know if there is anything else that you need," he responded deferentially. "Kate is waiting to help you ahead at door number three."
We walked around the glass display cases, winding our way toward the back wall. Bella tugged on my hand to ask me a question. I stopped walking and leaned down to her level.
"We won't be in the open room?" She stood on tiptoes to whisper in my ear.
"I thought a little seclusion would be more comfortable. These are the rooms used for celebrity clients." We continued walking until we found the correct door. I gestured for Bella to walk in ahead of me.
"Wow," Bella breathed.
All of the soft surfaces in the room were white. The velvety chairs were the color of fluffy clouds. The thick rug that mimicked the square shape of the room was a creamy color. Two of the intersecting walls were mirrored, and an elaborate crystal chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling.
Interesting design choices. No extraneous color to distract from the brilliance of the diamonds?
A woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties entered the room. She had red hair in a short style ending at her chin, and she was wearing a tailored white suit.
"Good Morning, Ms. Swan, Mr. Masen. My name is Kate and I'll be helping you today. Do you have any questions before we begin?" Her voice was calm and soothing, and she appeared happy to work with us.
I looked down at Bella as she glanced up at me. "Need anything?" I inquired, squeezing her hand gently.
"I'm good. I don't have any questions, yet." Bella pulled us forward to the two chairs. After she was seated, she slid her chair right next to mine.
Kate set out three white velvet jeweler's boards and a matching rectangular box about the size of a laptop.
"This will be easier than you think," began Kate.
It had better be. I told them to streamline this part.
"I'm going to ask you a few questions, Bella, and I want you to say the first thing that enters your mind, okay?"
Bella nodded her head in assent.
"Clouds or sunshine?" Kate inquired with a pen poised over a small binder of papers.
"Um…. sunshine?" Bella responded with a questioning tone. Kate made a quick notation.
"Okay, the next one will sound a little strange," she warned.
Bella huffed out a laugh. "The first one was strange," she said aloud and then smacked a hand over her mouth. Bella's flabbergasted expression had Kate and I both suppressing smiles.
"Here's the next question," Kate prompted.
Bella tilted her head from side to side as though preparing to box an opponent. She cracked a few knuckles and said, "Hit me."
"I want you to pretend that you're buying a house," Kate looked at Bella expectantly, and Bella nodded, but looked down at her hand instead of at Kate. Bella was scrutinizing her left hand, flexing her fingers.
"Buying a house…" Bella repeated slowly.
"Yes. You've narrowed your options down to three locations, and the swimming pool is the deciding factor," Kate continued.
Something's not right. When Bella avoids eye contact and hunches her shoulders, something's up.
"Excuse us one moment?" I interrupted quietly. Bella was already getting up and walking toward the corner.
"I'm being a total doof, Edward." She made her way over to where the mirrored wall met the plaster of the unadorned wall.
"Naturally, Bella. Nobody does doofy quite like you do. Now what's the deal? Do you need a Latin phrase? Or, there might be a couch behind that door – I bet I could get you to relax?" My voice trailed off innocently as she rolled her eyes and pressed a hand over my mouth.
"Quit it, you. Or, I'll take you up on that offer, and I'll be really, really loud."
An image of us naked and entwined on a white velvet chaise flashed into my head. Bella's mouth was open in a scream of ecstasy, and my hips were pistoning into hers in a steady rhythm.
Fuck me. Is that idea hot or embarrassing?
It's embarrassingly hot in your case.
I rested my forehead against Bella's and tried not to moan. Shifting from side to side, I decided she needed to be as turned on as I was.
I rubbed my hands up and down her sweater covered arms. Leaning down, I whispered into her ear.
"Mens sana in corpore sano." She shuddered and released a sigh. Her hands crept around my torso.
"No fair, getting me all turned on. We need to finish this ring thing." She peeked her head around my shoulder. "Kate's gone. She must have stepped out to give us a moment." Bella shifted her attention back to my face. "What does that one mean?"
"It means that you have a sound mind in a very sound body. So let's get your sound mind back to the lumps of carbon over there." She pursed her lips in response to my suggestion.
"Hey! What sent us to the dunce corner in the first place?" I inquired.
You're losing your touch. You usually lead with desired information.
"I told you it was stupid." She sounded a little disgruntled.
"I'm fond of stupid. Tell me anyway, and no mumbling the answer into my chest." Bella pressed her nose into my sternum and did exactly that.
What was that? Did she say something about a dreamy mouse? No, that has to be wrong.
Bella lifted her head and rolled her eyes.
"It's a simple question, Edward. I should be able to answer it."
"You still haven't explained whatever it is," I reminded her.
"We won't be buying some house in Brentwood or Santa Monica, Edward," she began patiently.
"We won't? Wait, you've thought about us buying a house?"
I swelled with a sense of pride at her confidence in our relationship.
"No, not really." Her voice was very matter of fact.
I deflated completely at her answer, but she wasn't done speaking.
"You see, Edward, you're going to go on an expedition for a plot of land with Emmett. There's just no way you'd allow us to buy a tract home."
She knows me well.
"You have a point, dear. I hate those."
I may have even given a shudder of distaste.
Emmett goes with me? He'd better not dress like Jungle Jim to take a brief hike in the hills.
Wait, how does she know this? Has she spoken with Alice or something?
"So, you'll have to find some idyllic plot of land somewhere."
My attention was redirected.
Hills….Valleys are good too. I could always buy an entire valley. No neighbors.
Get back to the point at hand.
Yeah, my fingers are itching to unroll some drafting paper. I think I already know the bones of this house.
Engagement rings, Edward. You could be done shopping right now. For that matter, you could be moving your morning sex with Bella to early afternoon.
I gave Bella a quick smacking kiss and directed us back to the chairs. Before we sat down, I decided to confirm her ideas.
"Bella, that's exactly what is going to happen, and then I'll be designing and building our house from the foundation up."
At that moment Kate returned carrying two bottles of water. She handed one to each of us and waited patiently while we both had a drink. Bella took the initiative to get everything back on track.
"Sorry about that, Kate. The house question threw me a little. We won't be buying a home. We're going to build one – a custom design. Does that affect the question?"
Kate blinked and then smiled.
"The house part was just the setup. Here's the important part. Your backyard will have a lovely swimming pool." Kate raised her eyebrows in question to ascertain if this was correct. Bella and I looked at one another before nodding our assent.
"Well then, Bella. Would you rather see a round Jacuzzi with beautiful blue tiles, a square pool for swimming laps, or a kidney bean shaped pool straight out of the 1970's?" Kate leaned a fist against her cheek and waited for Bella's response. Both Kate and Bella appeared to be having fun with this predictive questioning.
"May I select more than one?" Bella pursed her lips and glanced toward the mirrored wall. I wrapped an arm around her shoulders, wondering what she was thinking.
"Absolutely," returned Kate.
"The round Jacuzzi will be on the private deck off the master suite. I think that will have to be fiberglass because of building code. Edward will also want the square pool for laps." Bella seemed content with her answer.
Kate made a few notations on her steno pad and then looked up again, with a mischievous grin.
When exactly do we get to the part where we talk about jewelry? This is weird.
"The last question is for both of you." Kate turned three pages in her notebook and seemed to be running her finger down a list of some sort. I tried to read upside down. She glanced back up and caught me.
"This last question is about the purchase of a vehicle. Are you likely to buy a luxury vehicle, a compact fuel efficient vehicle, or an SUV?"
Bella playfully nudged me with her shoulder.
"This one's all yours, mister. I don't speak Car and Driver."
Before I could answer, Kate fired a response to Bella's comment. I sat back to observe.
"Your input on this is more important Bella, but let's let Edward start the conversation."
We're sitting in a very posh jewelry store chatting about cars.
You told them unconventional was better than straightforward.
I didn't think they would take me literally.
"We bought an SUV about a week ago, Kate," I began.
"Oh?" Kate responded, a tone of surprise in her voice. "Do tell," she prompted.
"We bought a luxury Land Rover for a trip up the mountains. It's Bella's primary car, now."
Thank God she has a new car. The old one was not worthy of her.
"Is the model you bought the midsize SUV or the full size version?" Kate had her pen poised on that sheet of paper again. Bella answered for us.
"It has room for five passengers plus cargo – so is that midsize?" she asked, looking at me.
I nodded in confirmation. Kate scribbled her last series of notations into her folder.
"Well," began Kate. "I've gathered the information to show you the two or three rings I can recommend."
"Really?" asked Bella. She sounded excited. Perhaps she was twisting her hands together in eagerness instead of nerves.
What the hell? She's excited now? What was with the dread earlier, and now she's eager? This woman continues to confuse me.
"I'll be right back, then," Kate replied.
As soon as the door closed with a soft click, I turned to Bella.
"I already know what you're going to ask, Edward," Bella began with a smug look on her face.
"There is no way you could already know what I'm about to ask," I said with confidence.
"Yes, there is a way. You are always so attentive towards me. Well, that and you looked shocked a second ago. You could only be shocked about one thing." Bella sounded very certain about her idea.
"And what would that one thing be?" I asked, tangling my ankles with hers. She entwined her legs around mine before disentangling herself and standing and climbing onto my lap. She was settled into her "spot" before she answered.
"Me," she responded with a decisive nod of her chin.
"Absolutely, Ms. Swan. You tend to display very very shocking behavior," I said suggestively. She rolled her eyes at me, and then grew serious.
"I'm happy because that was fairly painless, and you made it that way."
I interjected to compliment Kate and the Tiffany's staff.
"No, no," she continued. "They would never have taken such a quirky approach if you had not told them to."
"I did give them some direction," I admitted.
"I like what she did with the weird questions – getting me to choose the color of the gold and the shape and size of the stone – very clever."
"What?" I asked, puzzled. She began to repeat herself.
"I like what she did with the –"
"You understood what she was doing the whole time?"
I still don't get it, and I'm not lacking in intelligence.
"Well, I didn't follow her line of reasoning until she asked us about buying a car, and then it clicked. She made me choose between white and yellow, and I had to state a preference on shape, albeit the shape of a pool, but it's a shape nevertheless," she said with a shrug.
"I'm also happy because I think she'll show me the right ring, and I won't have to shop and agonize looking at hundreds of different things. That sounds overwhelming. The more I think about it, I'll get hung up on details. What we're doing now is going to work. I don't know how, but it will. I have faith, Edward."
"Who are you and what have you done with my fianceé?" I questioned in a suspicious tone of voice.
"I'm her. There, I said it. I'm your fiancée, and I'm not wigging out about money."
I lifted up a section of her hair, pretending to check if she was really Bella. I may have peeked down her shirt as well. She giggled and squirmed.
"What? I'm checking if it's genuinely you. What if you're a fembot or something?" I asserted while sniffing her neck. "You smell right. Yep, it's definitely you." I sighed, still confused. "How come you were tense this morning and now you're fine?"
She got up off of my lap and adjusted her chair to face me directly before sitting down with one leg hiked up on the seat cushion. Her other leg was swinging back and forth.
"I'm not even going to know how much this stuff costs, and I just have to pick from whatever she shows me. You're never going to tell me, so I'm good. Nothin' doing." Bella snapped her fingers like she was a 1920's gangster.
"You know," I broached nonchalantly, "those Latin lovers in Rome had a little to say on the subject of money." I pretended to brush lint off of my chest and looked up at the ceiling. With folded arms, I sneaked glances at Bella out of the periphery of my vision.
She straightened in her chair. Her leg stopped swinging. The leg that had been hiked up slowly lowered to the ground. She crossed one leg over the other, appearing to squeeze her thighs together.
Holy fuck. Her sexual responses to me are almost Pavlovian. I'll bet she's wet
Dammit, I want to check if she's hot and wet.
Get it together. She's waiting for her Latin phrase.
Gazing directly into her eyes and leaning forward, I focused on speaking the syllables slowly and affected my deepest tone of voice.
"Pecunia si uti scis, ancilla est; si nescis, domina."
The last syllable ended on a whisper. Her head fell back onto the seat back and she looked as though she'd melt into a puddle. One hand went to her forehead, and she emitted a soft moan.
"Fuck, Edward." She glanced over when she said that. "Dare I even ask what it means?"
I repeated the Latin phrase again slowly. This time I put a warm hand on her thigh.
"It's not even sexy, is it? The phrase translated into English?" She was mulling over the phrase, slowly repeated the syllables silently as she looked up from her reclined position.
"Nope, not even slightly sexy," I confirmed.
"Can you say it one more time? I love it when you talk Latin to me," she urged.
This time I got out of my chair and hovered over hers. She closed her eyes and smiled that tiny grin I love so much. I leaned completely into her space, but stopped short of touching her anywhere.
"'Pecunia si uti scis, ancilla est; si nescis, domina' means, 'If you know how to use money, money is your slave; if you don't, money is your master.'"
She opened her eyes, her mouth a small moue of surprise.
"That sexy sounding phrase is about money?"
"Yes," I answered succinctly, sitting down.
"Slave and master?" she sputtered out. "That sounds like bondage kink stuff! That was totally sexy! I call foul."
I bust up laughing.
You dirty girl, you.
Patiently, I repeated the translation.
Here eyebrows went up when she finally allowed herself to comprehend the expression.
"That was very clever, using the Latin phrasing to prove a point about money and finance. Yes, that was absolutely pivotal, Mr. Masen."
Dammit…not that last name nonsense again.
I took hold of her left hand and wove our fingers together snugly.
"Mr. Masen, Bella?" I tilted my head in question. She knew exactly what I meant. She wiggled her fingers until I released our threaded grasp. She got out of her chair and walked around my chair slowly. One small knee landed on the upholstered patch of cushion between my thighs. I gulped and sat up straighter. Resting her weight on that one leg, she leaned entirely into my space.
Fucking goddess sex kitten – do me.
Licking her lips and pressing her arms toward her breasts, she purred her response at me. I was blinded by glistening lips and bursting cleavage. I counted the pulse of every heartbeat in my now throbbing cock.
"That was very, very clever, Edward." She stretched out the syllables of my name right next to my ear. I shuddered and grew impossibly harder.
"Oh my God, Bella." My voice sounded decidedly strangled.
"Can I give you two another minute?" Kate's quiet question broke the bubble of lust surrounding us. I tried valiantly to shake off the arousal.
Bella had already scurried back to her chair.
I adjusted the position of my seat and slid an assessing glance in Bella's directly. With a furrowed brow, I was pretending to make sure my seat was placed just so. In actuality, I was gaining a visual of two pointy nipples directed ever so innocently at Kate.
Bella is just as furiously aroused as you are.
That helps a little – at least I'm not suffering alone.
Bella discreetly crossed her arms over her chest. Kate didn't display any outward awareness of the two of us. She quietly arranged her jeweler's tools to their best advantage. She pressed a ring onto the stand embedded on each velvet display piece. Three gorgeous rings in yellow gold winked at us under the strategic lighting.
The first ring was called The Tiffany Embrace. It had a plethora of diamonds set into it. The center stone was huge – three carats, at least. I glanced over at Bella. She was shaking her head.
"Too big?" I whispered, leaning in her direction.
"Ginormous," she whispered back. "Major bling; I won't get any work done with that."
The second ring was a round brilliant cut stone and had channel set diamonds in the band. Bella slid the ring onto her finger.
"What do you think?" I offered, after she'd perused the ring on her hand from different angles.
"It's a definite contender," she stated.
Bella took the ring off and placed it back on the display stand, and we both directed our attention to the final ring before us.
"This is the square one?"
"Princess cut," Kate clarified. "We call this The Tiffany Grace. It has a 2 carat center stone and an additional carat of channel set stones on the band."
I held myself back from saying anything, wanting Bella to come to a decision on her own, without any influence from my end. Both of the smaller rings were quite striking. I would be happy to have either ring on her hand.
Just choose one, Bella – so we can get out of here, and I can get you naked.
"I think the round cut is the winner," she replied shyly.
I took the ring and slid it onto her finger. It didn't need sizing – it was an exact fit. I couldn't restrain what was probably an ear-to-ear smile from consuming my face.
There. It's done.
She's now wearing a symbol for the entire world to see that she is taken – yours.
She's wearing your heart on her hand.
Whew! That was sappy. You should go lift some weights, do some bench presses.
Ah, shut up. My girl is wearing my ring. I'm allowed to be sappy.
Bella threw herself into my embrace and we hugged for several minutes until we noticed the staff had once again left us alone for another private moment. After thanking Kate for her help, we gathered our belongings. Dazedly and grinning like idiots, we ambled out of the private viewing room and into the main showroom. Several attendants looked up when we exited.
"We did it!" Bella yelled, holding up her hand. She was beet red and giggling. The attendants chuckled in response and clapped. There was even a scattering of hoots and hollers from other guests in the store.
Leaving the store was a blur. I took her left hand in mine and we began to walk past the display cases.
"You already paid, Mister Sneaky?" she asked as we walked.
"I took care of that last week when I made the appointment," I explained.
We continued to talk as we walked toward the parking structure.
"So I get to design our house, huh?" I said, thinking about her insight into our future house.
Things just keep getting better and better; I love today.
"Don't get too cocky, Edward. I can already see the wheels turning in your head," she said wryly.
"Oh, so you intend to rein me in if my ideas are too elaborate?"
"Let's approach this next step rather like the car you bought me," she suggested slowly. She put her hands out in the air much like a movie director frames a scene with his hands.
"Think… midsize, okay? We don't want a house so big that intercoms are a necessity."
I quickly put a fake expression of horrified shock onto my face.
"So, no cage for the lions? What about rings of fire for the front entrance?"
"Now you're just trying to irk me. We will not be residing at Caesar's Palace, you goofball."
"But the Roman Columns, Bella – think about the opportunity we have here – mirrored ceilings, red velvet draperies, cherubs! Thousands of frescoed cherubs…"
I watched as a slightly sick look crossed her face.
"Cherubs?" she asked weakly.
"We can do a combination of Roman architecture and celestial accents – you know, angels demons. I can design a truly hideous mess that we'll never want to live in."
"Ugh. You suck! You're totally messing with me, aren't you?" She gave me a solid thump on the shoulder with her small fist.
"You can bet your rotunda-hating ass I'm messing with you. I already gave myself limits, love. It won't exceed 4,000 square feet, and you get to choose the design aesthetic. I'll do the logistics on the blueprints. We can look at pictures and decide if you want a Georgian Manor or a Tudor – a Spanish Hacienda; whatever you think would be cool."
"How long have you been thinking about this, Edward?" She sounded very curious.
How long have I been thinking about this?
Hmm. I don't really know. It seems like forever.
"Consciously thinking about this or subconsciously?" I asked, thinking aloud.
"Huh? How can you think about this in your subconscious?"
She's not following your scattered answers. Explain better.
"I didn't admit it to myself until recently. I've been shoving the thought aside, distracting myself from contemplating our house too deeply. But, if I'm completely honest? I probably started dreaming, literally dreaming while I'm asleep, about our house after you read that running book and helped me for the first time. I started to have hope for the future, so I probably started thinking about it then."
Her mouth fell open.
"You've known that long?"
"If it was in my subconscious, then I haven't known. It's just something hanging around the edges of my conscious thoughts. Look at it like this. Have you ever woken up and known you were dreaming, but you couldn't load the dream into your alert brain?"
"Yes! That is so frustrating."
I love that she gets me.
"I think I've done that. This house may be mostly drafted in my dream-self's head. I can't wait to load my drafting software and see what happens."
We continued our discussion all the way home, talking, and dreaming, and laughing.
After I got a ring on her finger, things just seemed to click into place. We easily agreed that we didn't want an enormously opulent wedding, so we decided to have a small ceremony in the valley I purchased as the building location for our house. Construction on the pool house had finished and the drive had been paved.
We were married under a copse of beautiful willow trees with our family and friends around us. The small dinner reception at Café La Boheme was in the private garden patio. It was low-key and intimate, and exactly what I'd hoped would happen. I will always treasure the moment when Bella gazed tearfully into my eyes and promised to love and cherish me for the rest of our lives. It was especially satisfying to recite the promises I'd held in my heart for so long.
For our honeymoon, I took her to a small island off the coast of Italy. We stayed for two weeks – longer than we originally planned – not to see the sights, but to have more time alone together. The island was gorgeous – blooming with bougainvillea, and smelling of orange blossoms and lavender. Frankly, I have no idea what else on that island. I vaguely remember a fishing village and an open air market – we hardly left our villa except to take in the extravagant sunset each evening.
Oh, and our house turned out to be gorgeous. Bella has excellent taste. Her house, because I designed it for her really, has five bedrooms and bathrooms with a Southern Antebellum styling. She wanted the wrap-around porch and the wooden details in the railings.
We love to spend time at home in the matching antique rocking chairs she found at a flea market, and the view of our California sunset in the valley is lovely – truly exquisite. It's a frequent reminder of that sunset walk home that began our journey together as a couple.
Flash Forward Three years.
"Are you done yet?" I hollered with a complete disregard for my disgust with hollering fools.
She didn't answer.
I paced back and forth over the rectangular disks of light filtering in through the French doors in our master bedroom. The hardwood floors echoed with my footsteps as I glanced yet again at the door leading to the master bathroom.
It's 3:17. That's one minute beyond the last time you looked. Stop looking at your damned watch and calm down.
"How about now?" I asked, walking closer to the bathroom door. "I still don't understand why I can't be in there with you. I've seen you pee before, you know."
The door swung open in my face. Bella looked supremely irritated.
"Seriously, Edward? Go away. You're stressing me out, and I wasn't even stressed out about this. It is what it is. Now go fondle some measuring tape and leave me alone to pee in silence. I can't even do this with you hovering on the other side of the door. I'm having performance pee anxiety!" She shooed me out of our bedroom and down the hall to my office.
"I promise to come get you. When I find out if your baby snot is in my uterus, you will be the second person to know! Now go away. Shoo!"
She shooed me. She shooed me out of my own bedroom.
I've never been shooed before.
That fucking sucks.
This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me - apart from when we got married.
This is an earth-shattering moment! I'm getting shushed and shooed?
Fuck that. I'll break down the door if I have to.
She just told you to back off. She might take exception to your destroying a door.
I can just make another door. I still have a tool belt and a table saw.
Sitting at my drafting table, I allowed the idle idea to play out in my head.
The door slams open with a crash. It slides slowly to the floor with a thud. I stand in the doorway, shirtless, my chest heaving.
Dude, why is your shirt off?
I have no fucking idea. Leave me alone.
Bella runs to me, carrying a small bundle in her arms. It is a teeny-tiny armful of baby, all snuggled up to her womanly curves. I hold her close to me and kiss her on the forehead. The baby gurgles, and a bubble clings to those perfect lips.
Without knowing what I've done, I've been sketching the scene at my drafting table. I began shading in the light, the shadows, and the character lines while I waited.
And waited some more.
Good grief. How long does it take to pee on a stick?
"I have something for you," she said quietly.
Immediately, I spun around in my work chair, an expression of anticipation on my face. Bella was standing before me with a white gift bag in hand. I looked at her and then at the bag.
What is this all about?
Reaching into the bag, I pulled out a yellow hard hat.
"Read the front of it, here," she said, directing me to turn the hat over.
It's a custom designed hard hat that says, 'Daddy'.
I'm going to be a daddy, with Bella.
I'm going to be a daddy!
We were hugging and crying and laughing all at once.
What a great memory.
So, we're truly content. Our lives are filled with satisfying work. My architectural firm is making a profit on its own. Bella works in publishing for now. She edits manuscripts from her office on the second floor. She's still toying with the idea of switching careers to teaching or writing. We have our entire lives ahead of us. I'm sure she'll change careers as the inclination strikes her.
Christopher Masen is a handful. He's cute, and he knows it. He wound up with my crazy hair and Bella's brown eyes. When he's misbehaved, he runs to one of us and tries to distract from whatever mischief he's committed. He frequently gets away with these shenanigans by saying something charming in his emerging toddler language. I love him so much it hurts.
It's a big house for only three people and a housekeeper. I'm working on that, however. Did I mention we have five bedrooms? Bella is adorable when she's pregnant, and hot - smokin' hot. When she was around four months gone with Christopher, she must have jumped me six times in one day!
I could have handled eight, but she needed her rest.
Those were good times. I wonder if she could use a break right about now.
You're going to disturb her while she's working? Disturb her for sex?
Damn straight, I am. Since when is Bella ever disturbed when I rub my cock against her ass? Those perfectly rounded cheeks are like a homing beacon. Whenever she's in my vicinity, her hips head straight for my cock and begin to…
"Edward!" I hear my name from the other side of the door. "Could you use a break? I could really go for some sex right about now. Christopher is asleep." Her voice trails off.
I vault out of the chair, taking out a wastepaper basket in my haste. I fireman-carry her out of the hallway and straight toward our bedroom.
Life is definitely good.
This has been such a rewarding experience for me. I hope it was enjoyable for you too. It was wonderful to connect with so many of you, and it was wonderful to become a part of something. I regret that I didn't find this awesome community sooner.
I can remember the early days of writing this story – approaching scenes I never thought I would ever have the guts to write. What a learning curve! TwilightMomofTwo has been my sarcastic sidekick through all 193,000 words. That is a huge act of kindness, taking on a novice writer and showing her the ropes.
Those of you who did not send me hate mail for my lapses in posting are to be commended as well. Thanks for that. During one of my write-fail periods, Xtothey and AmyDee both graciously acted as pre-readers in the hopes of pulling me out of my writer's block. They were both super supportive and jumped at the chance to help.
I'm chewing on the idea for another story. If I get my act together, you may see a teaser for it posted on Fictionators.