Story Title: Only You Can Save Me
Vamp or Human: Human
"Damn it!" I screamed and kicked the tailpipe of my recently acquired 'divorce settlement'; the one thing that Jacob didn't want me to have.
My Harley Sportster.
For all his insistence that I learn to ride while we were married, he also didn't want to let it go when we separated. However, there was no way I was allowing the home wrecker to set so much as a fingernail on it.
She already had enough of what was mine.
Jake and I had only been married for three years, but I had never expected things to turn out this way. If anyone had told me five years ago that I would be a twenty-three year old divorcee with nothing more to show for it than a motorcycle that wouldn't even start, I would have laughed in their face.
We had been perfect together since high school. Both being from single parent homes-and single fathers at that-Jake and I had bonded easily over our very common ground, our upbringing. We had grown up fishing, camping, and climbing trees, everything we had enjoyed doing together over the course of our relationship. He taught me how to do an oil change on a car, tighten the leaky pipe underneath our kitchen sink and re-caulk the bathtub. Yet when it came to determining why my bike wouldn't start so I could get to work on time; that part was somehow overlooked.
Just as I was hanging up with my boss to call out for the day, I heard a horn honk and quickly turned, catching sight of a familiar black pick-up coming to a stop behind me in the driveway.
"Hey Bells, what's going on?" Seth asked in his jovial voice as he jumped out of the cab.
I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, placing a smile on my face. It felt so strange to socialize with Jake's friends from the reservation still at times, even though they had also been a part of my life for so long and I adored them. Some however, had seemed to distance themselves from me since the divorce, and I had half-expected Seth to be among them.
"Seth. Hey, what brings you out here?" I replied, making my best attempt to appear calm and relaxed. I had moved back to Phoenix to be close to my dad after the separation, so the surprise at seeing Seth out here was nothing short of astounding.
Apparently, my unease was more transparent than I had thought and he approached me, placing his hands on my shoulders.
"You really didn't think I would run with the majority, did you, Hells Bells?" he replied with a friendly smile and I laughed beside myself. He had coined that name for me the first time Jake and I had taken the bikes out with him into the desert, shocking them both when I took to it easily and didn't wipe out once.
Good times. Happy times. That now seemed an eternity ago.
I merely shrugged in response and he pulled me into his arms, hugging me tightly. I stiffened slightly in his embrace but eventually relaxing and wrapping my arms around him as well. Seth had been one of my closest friends outside of Jake for so long, and the thought that I had lost him too was something that had struck me deep.
"It's gonna take a lot more than this to keep me away. Jake was a fucking idiot to let you go," he growled and I laughed softly through the building tears. Not that I found his statement particularly amusing, but more at his tone and the fact that in all the years I had known him, I had never heard Seth curse once. "And don't even get me started on my sister. I've missed you, Bella."
I hugged him tighter around the waist, allowing myself one more moment of comfort before pulling away. "I've missed you too, Seth. It's good to see you."
Seth resumed his infectious smile, leaning back against the seat of my bike. "So what did she do?"
I glanced at him briefly before returning my glare to the bike. "You mean besides making me regret selling my car even more and causing me to miss a day of work that I really can't afford to, and still keep said job?" I sneered as I rambled, folding my arms over my chest and leaning roughly against the space next to him. While financially, I was doing fine, the fact that I had a huge article due that I had barely even begun would not sit well with my boss. I let out a heavy sigh and my eyes fell to the ground, shaking my head. "It won't start and it's not exactly as if I have my own mechanic anymore."
I felt Seth's arm come around my shoulders, pulling me against his chest and running his large hand in circles on my back. Once again, I welcomed the gesture. I had never felt as alone in my life as I had since all this happened and I couldn't even figure out what I had done wrong to deserve it. As if hearing my unspoken question, he kissed my forehead and hugged me tighter.
"You're way too good for that, Bella. Never allow yourself to think any different," he said gently before pulling back to look at me. "Besides, I know of a far better mechanic who would not only do a better job, but also won't charge you an arm and a leg because you're a woman."
I tilted my head and pursed my lips at him in annoyance only to be met with him holding his hands up in defense.
"Don't give me that look! It's a well-known fact that most mechanics will charge a woman more, assuming they don't know any different and won't haggle," he replied and I rolled my eyes. "But trust me, he's been my mechanic for years and he's kept my baby purring."
"Fine, give me his name and number and I'll give him a call," I sighed in exasperation and began walking toward the house.
"I'll do better than that. Come on, I'll take you there," Seth replied, knocking the kickstand with his foot and rolling it over to the bed of his truck. "Might as well use your day productively, don't you think?"
"Seth really, you don't..." I started as I walked toward him but stopped short when he pulled the ramp down from his tailgate to roll the bike onto the truck.
Closing it, he walked around to the passenger side and opened the door. "Never know. It could be something minor. And better to know now, right?"
"I guess," I replied, sighing heavily as he lifted me into the truck. He had a point; this was my only mode of transportation now so immediate attention would be required. I needed a way to get to work and I didn't have many friends here in Phoenix, and my dad worked ungodly hours at the police station. Therefore, it left me with few options.
Seth chattered happily on the way to the shop, leaving very little space for my input, which suited me fine. It was always nice to be around Seth for this reason, and I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed spending time with him above all of Jake's other friends. His smile was contagious, as was his jovial demeanor, easily allowing you to forget whatever had been bothering you, if only for a little while.
He suddenly turned off the road and the truck jostled as we crossed the unpaved parking lot, stirring up a cloud of dust around us. When we finally came to a stop and the dust began to settle, I felt as if I had just stumbled one of those roadside gas stations in old sixties films. It certainly didn't look like much... a whitewashed building with a small shop off to the side, loud rock music echoing out of the open garage door.
This was Seth's mechanic?
He blared the horn of his truck in a strange melody and my head spun toward him with wide eyes, but he didn't notice as he jumped out of the cab.
"Hey Cullen!" he called out loudly and my eyes fell to my lap.
Men are so obnoxious, I thought to myself and shook my head, startling slightly when the door next to me opened and Seth reached up for me.
"Seth, long time no see, man. How's it going?" a deep but smooth voice responded, not at all the harsh, gravelly one I'd been expecting.
When Seth lifted me down from the cab, my eyes rose to find a man walking toward us who also didn't seem to fit the voice I had just heard. He certainly looked like a mechanic; disheveled hair, unshaven face, tight faded blue jeans and a white muscle shirt with grease stains scattered across it, showcasing his muscular arms and shoulders. He was wiping his hands on a rag as he moved toward us and I half-expected to look back up to find a cigarette dangling from his lips instead of the toothpick situated in the corner of his mouth. Despite knowing better, I could help but stare.
He was the epitome of a man.
"Not bad. My friend here seems to be having some difficulty with her bike, so of course, I had to bring her to the best," Seth chuckled and the man rolled his eyes with a smile, shoving the rag into his back pocket. "Edward Cullen, this is my friend, Bella Bla-."
"Swan," I corrected abruptly, earning an apologetic look from Seth. Old habits die hard, I thought, even having had to correct myself a time or two since reverting back to my maiden name following the divorce. "Bella Swan."
"Nice to meet you. So what seems to be the problem," he asked in a professional tone, nodding toward the bed of the truck where my motorcycle rested against the side.
I shrugged and shook my head. "I don't know. It just wouldn't start this morning."
"Sounds like a pretty big problem," he replied with a smirk and then turned to Seth. "Help me get her into the garage and I'll take a look."
I stood back and watched as the two men rolled it back down the ramp, but my eyes locked on him as they brought it inside the building.
He appeared to be in his early to mid-thirties, and my best guess would be about six feet tall… without the boots. Long slender build and the most amazing arms I think I have ever seen on a man, with a tattoo of a string of Chinese characters encircling his left bicep. My gaze trailed down to his hand that was now gripping the handle bars of my bike, shocked to find no ring or even so much as a tan-line or indentation of one. Finally, my eyes settled on the rag sticking out of the back pocket of his jeans, covering his tight....
"Miss?" His voice caught me off-guard and I felt my heart begin to pound in embarrassment that he had just caught me admiring his ass. What the hell has gotten into me?! "Key?"
"Oh right. Sorry," I chuckled uncomfortably, digging my keys out of my beat-up jacket pocket and handing them to him.
He gave me a small crooked smile and then nodded behind him. "Why don't you two wait inside? This should only take a few minutes."
I nodded and Seth took my arm gently, guiding me into the shop. As I began gazing around the walls and inhaling the amazing strong scent of leather, I realized exactly how much I didn't own for someone whose only mode of transportation now was a motorcycle. I had the basics; a helmet and an old leather jacket of Jake's that he outgrew in the tenth grade. Boots, gloves and even chaps to protect my legs had never seemed to cross Jake's mind.
"Shoulda told me you were back on the market, Bells," Seth teased, poking my hip gently as he moved to my side.
"I what?" I replied, still slightly disoriented but shook my head quickly as he raised his eyebrow. "Oh. No, why would you think something like that? I've had more than my fill for a long time to come."
"Please," Seth scoffed, rolling his eyes. "You were just eyeing Cullen like an oasis in a desert."
I laughed nervously, shaking my head as I concentrated on my fingers running over the remarkably soft leather of the gloves in front of me. "Seth come on, don't be ridiculous. I can't look at a man without someone automatically assuming that I am ogling him?"
"Bella, 'looking' doesn't entail getting more familiar with his ass than his Levi's are," Seth shot back and scooted out of the way before my fist came in contact with his arm. "I'll save you some time, sweetie. He's thirty-four, single but not on the market. Really kinda keeps to himself outside of the shop."
"Huh," I replied somewhat distractedly, my hand falling to my side and I turned my attention back to Seth. "Nothing to worry about then, right? Besides, he's way too old for me anyway."
"Doesn't mean you should bury yourself away forever. Nice to see you at least scoping what's out there, you should. You're far too young to give up completely because of someone else's mistake."
I jumped slightly at the sound of Edward's voice coming in the door, and he paused for a moment as he wiped off his hands.
"I don't know how long it's been since you last had that looked at, but the air filter is clogged and the fuel injector pump is shot. That's why it wouldn't even turn over," he said in a business-like tone, and returning the rag to his back pocket. "Not a complicated fix, but I wouldn't be able to get to it until later on this afternoon or even tomorrow morning."
My jaw clenched as he spoke and my fists tightened. Jake had assured me that the bike was in good running order when he dropped it off not even two months ago. Lying son of a bitch, I growled mentally. Not only was this an expense I hadn't planned on, but I also may have to look into an alternate way to work.
"So how much?" I asked matter-of-factly, folding my arms over my chest and he raised an eyebrow at me. "Approximately."
"Well, the air filter is not that much but the pump with labor," he paused, scratching his jaw with his hand. "That's probably going to run you somewhere around $350."
I sighed heavily, bringing my hand up to my forehead to rub the stress from it. I definitely had the money; never in my life had I been so thankful to have grown up with a frugal and simplistic father. I never spent money on frivolous things, and just such occasions as this were an excellent reason why.
You never know when an unexpected expense might arise, Bella. Best to be prepared, my father used to tell me whenever I would ask for something extravagant and unnecessary when I was growing up. Never had that life lesson been more useful than right at this moment.
"Okay, that's fine. Whatever it takes," I replied, taking my keys from his outstretched hand, removing the one for my bike from the ring and handing it back to him.
"Uh, Bella?" he called out as I began to walk toward the door. I turned to find him smiling and looking at me expectantly. "Can I have your number?"
"My what?" I gasped with wide eyes, realizing this beautiful-and unavailable-man had just asked me for my phone number.
"Your number. So I can let you know when the bike is ready," he replied with an amused smirk on his face.
I must have turned fifty shades of crimson, my eyes cast to the floor in humiliation. Obviously, he would need my number for that. "Oh, right."
Reaching under the counter, he pulled out a carbon pad and began writing until finally handing it to me. "Here, just fill in your information and leave it by the register when you're done. I need to get back to work. I should be giving you a call tomorrow afternoon at the latest."
I nodded, keeping my eyes on the pad in front of me while searching desperately in my jacket for a pen until one was waved in front of my face.
"All you have to do is ask," he said in a soft voice, and turned to make his way back to the garage. "I'll see you tomorrow, Bella."
His voice faded though the door until it finally closed behind him, but not before my eyes caught one more glimpse of what was hiding beneath those Levi's.
"You're hopeless," Seth laughed beside me and I punched him in the arm again as I continued to finish up the work order. "Hey, if you need a ride to work tomorrow, I'd be happy to pick you up in the morning."
"Oh no," I replied casually and then let out a heavy sigh, realizing that I really had no other option. Any friends that I once had, with the exception of Seth, were forfeited with the divorce and I hadn't exactly put a whole lot of effort into being social since then. "Actually, I would really appreciate that, Seth. Thanks."
"What friends are for, Bells," he replied, draping his arm around my shoulders and leading me out to the truck.
I felt a chill race up my spine suddenly and looked over my shoulder, spotting Edward standing in the garage doorway. He was leaning against the doorframe, his eyes locked...
Was he staring at my ass?
When his gaze shot up to mine and his hand came up to the back of his neck, rubbing it roughly before quickly turning back into the building, I smiled slightly as I received my answer.
He's unavailable, Bella, I reminded myself as I climbed into the truck. And you're not interested, even if he was.
The next day at work, my mind was so far from focused on the column on my screen that I should have been working on rather than sitting here staring at my phone waiting for his call; the deadline being tomorrow afternoon. Edward was consuming my thoughts and definitely not in the form of a mechanic repairing my motorcycle, although those musings were not entirely unappealing either. The image of him lying underneath the bike, wrench in hand... a sheen of sweat and smears of grease covering his muscular....
God I needed to get laid.
Around two o' clock, my phone began buzzing on my desk with an unknown number, and I answered it quickly. "Hello?!"
"Hel-lo. This is a courtesy call to inform you that your home may be eligible to qualify for...."
Fucking telemarketers, I growled internally at the automated voice, pressing the end button and tossing my phone back onto the desk. Running my hands through my hair, I leaned back and spun my chair slowly.
What the hell had gotten into me? Hadn't I just gotten out of a three year, dead-end marriage? Why would I thrust myself back into that, to yet another equally unavailable man? I needed to take a step back and regroup... to get this man out of my head... to...
The buzzing of my phone broke into my thoughts as my arm draped over my eyes.
"Bella Swan," I answered blandly.
"Miss Swan, this is Edward Cullen." I heard his voice filter through the phone and I immediately shot up at the sound. Not helping the regrouping effort, I thought. If anything, he sounded more masculine and enticing than yesterday. "From the repair shop?"
"Yes of course," I breathed out heavily in an attempt to compose myself after realizing that I had never acknowledged that he'd said anything.
"Just wanted to let you know that your bike is done. You can pick it up whenever you're ready," he stated, resuming the businesslike tone I remembered from yesterday.
"Oh right, um," I replied, glancing down at my watch. "What time are you open until today?"
"The garage is open until five, but someone will be here in the shop until nine. So don't worry if..."
"No I'll be there," I cut him off quickly, a little louder than I had intended, catching the attention of several of my co-workers in surrounding cubicles. I ducked my head slightly and shielded my face with my hand. "I mean, I'll talk to my boss. I'll be there soon."
"I'll see you then, Bella." I swore I could almost hear a chuckle in his voice as he replied, but even that didn't prevent the shiver that ran down my spine at the sound of my name from his lips before he hung up.
Holy shit, was I fifteen? I cursed myself and pushed up roughly from my chair with a frustrated groan, sending off a text to Seth.
Fortunately, my boss, Angela, had no problem with me leaving early for the day after assuring her that I would come in early the following morning to finish the article. By the time I got downstairs, Seth was already waiting for me outside the front doors.
During the short drive to the shop, my thoughts were swarming. Maybe Seth had been right yesterday. I was twenty-three, it had been almost two years since I separated from Jake, and several months since the divorce was finalized. Why should I be the one sitting alone in my apartment night after night because my ex-husband couldn't keep his dick in his pants. Why should he get the happily ever after? Why was she getting mine?
I had played by the rules. I'd married my high school sweetheart, began setting up our home for our future family, and getting our feet planted firmly on the ground. Had been completely devoted to my husband and our marriage.
They had followed none of them, and she was living in what was once my house, with my Jake, having what, by all rights, should be my child.
Where had I gone wrong? Maybe I really should listen to Seth and begin to move on. Get back to my life; get my happily ever after with a man who loved me and wanted that life and family with me. Concentrate on my future rather than dwelling on my past.
"You're awfully quiet today, even for you. Penny for your thoughts?" Seth remarked and I turned my head to find him smiling at me.
I smiled back slightly and shook my head, my eyes falling back into my lap. "Nothing. Just been doing a lot of thinking about what you said yesterday, and I think you're right. I've been moping for far too long over Jake."
"Please don't tell me this sudden revelation has anything to do with Cullen," Seth replied with a sigh. I shook my head slowly while I fiddled with my fingers and picked at my pant leg. "Bella, seriously. Just don't go down that road. I think it's great that you're ready to move on, but it's serious baggage with Cullen."
"I appreciate your concern, Seth. But really, I'm not interested."
Even I could hear the half-truth in my voice even before I felt his disbelieving gaze upon me. He let out a defeated sigh as we pulled into the dirt parking lot and came to a stop. He reached over to take my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Just don't. 'Kay?"
I nodded silently as I opened the door and jumped down onto the ground, hurrying inside the shop and asking the man standing at the front counter for Edward. He quickly disappeared into the garage and I took a moment to really look at the small area as I waited. Yet only one thing behind the register caught my eye.
A framed photo of a little girl on a small motorcycle, with goggles over her eyes that appeared to take up half of her face and a helmet with ram horns poking out of the sides. It was the most precious thing I'd ever seen and I was so entranced that I startled slightly by the sound of a motorcycle pulling up in front of the store. I gazed out the window of the door, watching as my bike came into view, slowly pulling into the parking spot with Edward astride it; and the sight gave me chills.
It's serious baggage with Cullen, Seth had said and I knew that should be a huge warning sign to turn away...
But god did he look good on my bike.
"Oh and Ellie called. She sounded pretty upset and urgent," the other man spoke to Edward as they entered and I felt my stomach drop unexpectedly.
And absurdly. Seth had told me yesterday that he was single; yet that could change at any time.
"Thanks. Won't be long until I find out why, I'm sure," Edward replied quietly and then moved behind the counter, bringing his eyes to mine. "Good as new. Though if I can make a suggestion, I would find a new mechanic."
My eyes widened as he spoke and I shook my head. Was he really diverting business away from himself? I had never heard my motorcycle sound as good as it just had since the day I bought it. Even more so, that would mean never setting foot in this shop again. "Excuse me?"
"Whoever did the last work on that beautiful piece of machinery had no business even being in the same room with it. No appreciation for it whatsoever, not to mention any knowledge of its proper upkeep," he replied and while stunned by the slight hint of bitterness in his tone, I was relieved that he was in fact not referring to himself. "They are very delicate and particular, despite their name."
"Oh okay. Do you think that you would be able to take care of my needs?" I spoke without thinking, my jaw dropping and my eyes closing in embarrassment as I realized how that might have sounded. And Seth's snicker beside me was not helping the situation. Hadn't he just finished warning me away from this man not even five minutes ago? I took a deep breath and straightened my shoulders. "So, how much?"
He silently slid the work order across the counter, obviously trying to hide his smirk, and I lifted it up to look at it. Slightly more than I thought, but still under $400. I pulled my checkbook out of my purse and cursing under my breath when again I couldn't find a pen, giving me no choice but to look back at him.
"Could I borrow your pen again?" I asked and with a small smile, he reached behind his ear for his pen and handed it to me. Quickly writing out the check and sliding it across the counter back to him, his fingers brushed mine minutely but enough for me to gasp at the calloused texture of them. Although it certainly fit with the rough, masculine exterior of this man, I had somehow been expecting the softness of Jake's. For all the work he had done with his hands, he had never felt like this and definitely never been this appealing. We both pulled away suddenly as though we'd been burned and he leaned over the counter to complete the work order. The silence was deafening and my gaze drifted back up to the frame behind him. "I love that picture."
His eyes rose briefly to glance at me and then turned to look over his shoulder, returning his attention back to the task in front of him a moment later. "That's Ellie," he said softly, his gaze never rising again. "My daughter."
I took a soft, sudden inhale of breath in surprise, taking in his features briefly before my attention returned to the black and white photo again. What little I could see of her face, the similarities were amazingly striking. The square set of her jaw, the full, pouty lower lip, almost identical to the man standing in front of me. The long fingers on the small hand on the handlebars of the bike also bore a striking resemblance to the ones that had just a moment ago brushed against mine.
Was this the baggage that Seth had spoken of? A child? Being a single father was not what I would consider 'baggage'.
"Dad!" A voice called from the doorway and all three of us turned our heads toward it, the sound of a school bus pulling away outside echoing through the door. A tall brunette girl looked at Edward and my brow tightened, but I didn't have a chance to put too much thought into it before she spoke again as she came to his side. "I need a ride to the store."
"Ellie, can this wait just a moment? I'm in the middle of something here," Edward replied calmly, looking at her with gentle yet still firm eyes.
The desperate tone of the girl's voice seemed to take both men by surprise, indicating to me that this was obviously not typical behavior.
"Allison Elizabeth, that's enough," Edward said sternly, his features instantly morphed into a look I had yet to see. At that moment, he took on the appearance not of a sexy mechanic, but that of a father. "We can discuss this in a minute, when I am finished with this customer."
"Dad, this can't wait!" she replied hastily, pausing to cast a brief glance between the three of us and then hurrying around the corner. She rose up on her toes as high as she could, tugging gently on his arm to pull him down closer to whisper in his ear. "I got my period, I need to go to the store now."
While attempting to keep her voice down, the anxiety lacing it raised it enough that both Seth and I heard every word. Yet, even if we hadn't, Edward's blanched expression spoke volumes. His eyes instantly moved to Seth, who held up his hands.
"No way, don't look at me, man. This is precisely why I don't have kids. You're on your own with this one," Seth said, shaking his head.
"Oh, for the love of all that is holy. You'd think it was a deadly epidemic or something," I groaned, rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of these two men and walked around the counter to stand beside the young girl. "Hi, I'm Bella. I'd be more than happy to take you since it's obvious that these men are wimps."
The young girl smiled softly at me and shook my hand. "Ellie, nice to meet you," she replied, her blue eyes sparkling at me and then turned to her father. "Is that okay, Dad?"
Edward looked between us apprehensively, clearly feeling uneasy about trusting an almost complete stranger with his daughter.
"I'll take Seth's truck, and leave him behind as collateral." I smiled casually at Edward, hearing Ellie chuckling softly behind me.
"Bells, you can't drive something that big," Seth scolded, folding his arms over his chest.
I narrowed my eyes at him, placing my hands on my hips. "If I can drive Jake's behemoth red beast to Tucson and back, then I can certainly drive that a quarter of a mile!" I pointed out the window to his truck and then held my hand out for his keys. "The girl needs to go to the store, and you men are babies. So come on."
Seth gingerly placed his keys in my palm and I turned back to Edward, gazing at him expectantly and he nodded slowly with wide eyes. I placed my hand on the girl's shoulder and guided her outside, disengaging the alarm as we reached the truck and climbed in.
Ellie was staring at me somewhat gapingly as I started the truck, and when I met her gaze she shook her head. "Sorry, I've just never seen anyone leave my dad speechless, and never a girl."
"Well sweetie," I replied as I buckled my seat belt. "I learned the hard way that if you let a man talk down to you, they will walk all over you. A man who isn't your father, by the way."
I saw the small smirk she had obviously inherited from her father, but with a deeper set of dimples. I shifted the truck into gear before I could think any more on it and pulled out of the dirt parking lot. I could feel her gaze on me the moment we hit the paved road, and I was almost afraid to meet her eyes. Being an only child myself, I knew that I used to view women coming into my father's life-though never romantically-as threatening my one sense of security. And from what I could gather from the brief exchange I saw in the store, the two were far closer and more open than I had ever been with Charlie.
"So," her voice suddenly sounded through the expanse of the cab and I glanced over at her briefly, surprised to find her smiling slightly. "My dad's fixing your bike?"
My eyes widened slightly at her friendly tone, and then quickly brought them back forward to meet the road. "Umm, yea, actually I was just picking it up."
A gasp sounded from across the seat and I felt the seat bounce as she turned. "You own the Sportster?" she said in disbelief and when I nodded, she sighed and fell back against the seat. "Oh god that thing is hot! I totally want one of those when I turn sixteen. My dad already promised me a Harley as soon as I can drive. The next three years can't pass fast enough..."
I bit my lip to suppress a chuckle at Ellie's sudden animation at the mention of motorcycles, and it continued all the way through the store, through the brief bathroom trip and until we were finally walking back out to the truck.
"So have you seen my dad's monster?"
I choked on my soda at her sudden question, and my eyes widened. "Excuse me? His what?"
"His motorcycle," she replied, clarifying her statement and I closed my eyes, quickly collecting myself and chalking up a mental reminder that I was speaking to a teenage girl.
"Oh, no, I haven't had the chance to see his motorcycle. I've only talked to him for about five minutes between yesterday and today," I replied as we climbed back into the truck.
Her face lit up again as she began talking about her father's Fat Boy, and I felt myself smile at her enthusiasm. Must be genetic, I mused as she talked excitedly all the way back to the shop and suddenly falling silent as we came to a stop in the parking lot. I turned to look at her and her face had fallen slightly, the smile that had been gracing her features all this time now all but gone as she stared at her lap.
"Are you alright, Ellie?" I asked her softly when she made no motion to get out of the truck.
She nodded and drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly before turning her eyes back to me. "Is Seth your boyfriend?"
My eyebrows rose at the unexpected question and I let out a breathy laugh but her gaze never left me. "No, definitely not. We're just good friends."
Her smile returned ever so slightly but her eyes returned to her hands on her lap. "It's just that... I really liked talking to you, Bella. I don't get to talk to many girls, and none of them come into my dad's shop. And my dad..." she paused, shrugging her shoulders with a shake of her head. "It's just me and my dad, you know. He doesn't have girlfriends and my mom... she's been gone for a long time. And I'm 'the weird biker girl' in school. And you don't seem like you mind talking to me."
I watched as the smile slowly faded from her face again as she spoke, feeling my heart clench tightly for this young girl, who already seemed to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. I reached across the seat to rest my hand on hers and she looked up at me again.
"I don't think you're weird at all, Ellie. I think it's kinda cool to have another girl to 'talk shop' with," I replied, giving her a wink and causing her to giggle.
"Will I see you again, Bella?" she asked timidly after a moment, taking my hand in hers and giving it a gentle squeeze.
"I have no doubt about that," I said reassuringly and after apparently taking a moment to assess my expression, she bit her lip as a slight blush came across her cheeks. "I'll tell you what. If it's alright with your dad, I'll stop by after work tomorrow and you can help me pick out a new riding jacket."
Her eyes rose to meet mine with a distinct twinkle to them, nodding quickly and jumping out of the truck to run toward the shop. "Dad! We have to stay tomorrow!"
After a soft chuckle at her excitement, I remained in the truck for a moment, resting my chin atop my arms on the steering wheel in thought. Her demeanor in the last few minutes had both intrigued and saddened me. There was no doubt in my mind that she had a father who loved her very much, and with the reverent way she spoke of him during our conversation, it was obvious that they had a very close bond. Yet I knew from experience that no matter how loving and attentive a father may be, there were times when a girl just really needed a mom. A woman around to talk to about things that men just didn't understand, or as displayed earlier by her own father, became really uncomfortable with.
He doesn't have girlfriends and my mom... she's been gone for a long time.
I looked up to see him standing in the doorway waiting, staring at me still sitting in the truck. I couldn't help but wonder why he was in fact single. He was quite possibly the most beautiful man I had ever seen. What had caused him to close himself down from everything but his daughter? Bad relationship? Bad divorce? Had he had a similar experience to mine, that no matter how hard you try, it's never quite enough?
Finally extracting myself from the truck, I began walking toward him. His expression was difficult to read, and I quickly lowered my gaze from his.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overstep..."
"Thank you," a soft whisper of his voice cut me off and my eyes rose back to his, that were now downcast and a slight unease apparent in them. "For being so great with Ellie. She hasn't exactly had it easy... here... just... thank you."
"She's a great kid," I replied in awe of this man; so rough on the exterior, yet so gentle when it came to his little girl. "She just seemed so upset before, and..."
He looked at me again, his eyes locking with mine and I was momentarily speechless. I felt them penetrating through me, as if I were transparent to his gaze and my heart began to pound through my chest. Just as his lips parted to speak, the door behind him swung open and Ellie took his arm.
"So Dad, is it okay? Can we wait for Bella tomorrow, please?" she pleaded with her father, her tiny hands circling the muscle of his bicep and hugging herself against his arm. "I promise, I will do all my homework tomorrow back in the office before she gets here. Please?!"
Edward looked to me again questioningly and I nodded minutely. And another one of my father's old sayings came to mind.
Save your money for a rainy day. And I was starting to see many cloudy days in my forecast.
The next day, I could not force the smile from my face. I had received several odd looks from my co-workers when I not only arrived two hours early at 6:30 in the morning, but I greeted each of them cheerfully before settling into my chair. I was eager to get my day started and my article finished, and not entirely because I would be seeing Edward again today, though that prospect wasn't exactly disappointing.
I was actually looking forward to spending time with Ellie this evening. It had been enjoyable talking with her yesterday and it hadn't bothered me at all that I was looking forward to hanging out with a teenager. In some ways, she was everything that I wished I had been growing up. Vibrant, energetic, vivacious and with such a radiance about her, I couldn't imagine anyone not taking immediately to her friendly disposition.
On the flip-side, I also saw a lot of me in the young girl. The loneliness and seclusion of being the only daughter of a father who was the embodiment of a 'man's man'. Where my childhood was filled with hiking and fishing at Lake Havasu, and baseball games on the television every night over the spring and summer, she seemed to have been born on a motorcycle; into a man's world as well. Yet, we'd both adapted and embraced our lifestyle, despite the lonely times.
Finishing my article in record time, I was done by lunch and beginning work on next week's assignment. Angela had stopped by my desk around mid morning, the look on her face clearly stating that she was a little concerned for my mental stability. Did she think I had finally snapped after all these months of closing myself off after the divorce? Of blaming myself for the mess my life had become?
If she did, she was right. I was done.
She finally returned to my desk at 2:30, explaining that I had put in my eight hours for the day and should start my weekend early. I considered protesting for a moment, but decided against it when I realized that this meant that I would be there all the earlier to meet Ellie.
An inexplicable excitement coursed through me as I quickly thanked Angela and gathered my things to leave for the day.
The wind blowing through my hair as I walked out of the building toward the parking lot tempted me to take advantage of there being no helmet law in Arizona, and experience the freedom of it as I sped down the freeway. But if just my riding a 'death machine' was enough to give Charlie a stroke, I could only imagine what that would do to him if he ever found out.
When I arrived at the shop, the only discernable noise around me was the occasional sound of a drill from inside the garage and the rock station now blaring 'Pour Some Sugar On Me'. Curiosity got the better of me and I made my way to the open garage door, folding my arms as I leaned against it to silently watch him at work.
So focused on his task, if it was possible for him to be any sexier, he may have just managed it. His face contorting with every move of the wrench as he lay beneath the Harley he was working on, the ever present toothpick clenched tightly between his teeth. I watched the muscles in his arm flex and release with each movement, and his long legs bent and the toe of his boot tapping to the music.
I felt the smile tugging at my lips as I walked over, standing over him to catch his attention. He paused mid-motion as his eyes caught mine, before setting his wrench aside and starting to sit up.
"Hey. Uh, Ellie's not out of school yet," he said, a hint of nervousness in his tone. "She should be here soon, you can wait inside if you like."
"Can I wait in here?" I asked softly.
"It's pretty dangerous. You could get hurt," he replied, and as I raised my eyebrow at him, he sighed. "It's really loud and it smells."
"Are you trying to get rid of me?" I retorted challengingly, unsure of where this newfound confidence was coming from; but I liked it. Especially with the reaction I was getting from him.
He shook his head, running his hand through his hair and pointed to a wheeled stool a few feet away. He then laid back on the hard cement to continue working on the bike as he cleared his throat.
"Be my guest," he mumbled softly, refusing to meet my eyes again as he resumed his task, his voice monotone as he spoke. "If the music is too loud, you can turn it down."
I settled onto the stool, leaving the radio untouched and continued watching him. "I don't mind the noise, or the smell. I grew accustomed to it. I even miss it sometimes."
His brow furrowed slightly so I knew that he had heard me, and I rested my elbow on my knee to prop my chin up with my hand. "Hard to picture you in a place like this," he said suddenly, and then closed his eyes with a shake of his head and mumbled under his breath.
"Well, not exactly like this. My ex-husband, my 'former mechanic'," I teased slightly with a small smirk. "He used to do a lot of work on cars and the bikes in our garage. Obviously he wasn't very good at it, but we spent a lot of time in there. If there's one thing I miss, it's that."
He paused his motions again, his eyes moving over to me slowly. His silence was unnerving as he continued to stare at me, but I could almost see the thoughts racing through his mind. "Black," he said distantly, as if to himself, but his gaze was still locked on me. "You're Jacob's ex?"
My eyes widened at the mention of Jake's name, and from him. Did everyone know about what happened between me and Jake? I sighed heavily, lowering my head and nodding. So much for the confidence. "You know him?"
I heard the turning of the wrench resume and I raised my eyes again to look at him, his jaw tightened and his hand gripping firmly to the tool he was holding. "No," he said tightly, finally standing up and brushing his hands on his jeans. "Only through word of mouth from Seth. And I have no desire to."
The anger lacing his tone was puzzling; he didn't know Jake, and he barely knew me. It didn't make sense. His leg swung over the motorcycle and he pulled the key from his pocket, sliding it into the ignition and then kickstarting the bike until it roared loudly through the garage. Turning the throttle, it growled angrily until finally coming to a halt again and only the radio in the background hung in the air. He leaned forward on the handlebars before bringing his gaze back to mine.
"I have no respect for a man who displays such a blatent disregard for what he has. What he did... that was just inexcusable. Don't take the vows if you're just going to break them," he stated firmly as he climbed off the bike and began cleaning up the workspace. "Its fucking ridiculous for him to go looking for a piece of ass while he had...someone like you waiting at home."
I let out a breathy laugh, feeling my skin flush slightly and looked down again. It was quiet between us for what seemed like several minutes, and when I finally looked up, he was running his hand through his hair in an uncomfortable gesture again. It was such an endearing motion, but also one of the sexiest things I'd ever seen.
You really need a life, Bella.
"What I meant was," he started again, folding his arms over his chest and looking down. "I heard a lot about you from Ellie last night when we got home. She really doesn't connect well with women, not since her mother. And I'm finding it hard to imagine how anyone could willingly hurt someone so sweet and loving, everything I heard and saw yesterday."
I gazed at this man in amazement for what seemed to be the millionth time in the last few days. It still seemed so difficult to wrap my head around this soft-spoken man buried underneath the scruff and muscle... and that tattoo around his bicep. He lifted his eyes to meet mine again and we stared silently for a moment before we were both startled slightly by a voice behind us.
"Bella! You came!" Ellie shrieked from the doorway, dropping her bag by the door and rushing over to us.
Edward stepped back from me and walked across the garage. However, it wasn't difficult to mask my disappointment with the excitement radiating from the girl beside me.
"I think I found the perfect jacket for you last night, Bella. Come on," she exclaimed as she took my hand and pulled me toward the shop, my gaze locking with Edward's one more time as we exchanged a smile before he disappeared from my line of sight. "You would look so hot in this. You have to try it on."
I laughed uncomfortably, but her enthusiasm was contagious as she took the jacket down from the rack and held it out to me. The bell ringing behind us signaled Edward's entrance into the shop and my head instinctively turned toward the sound. Blushing slightly, I turned away again and discarded my jacket, removing the one from the hanger and sliding my arms inside. I looked into the mirror, pulling my hair out from underneath and smiling. Ellie had a point, it did look good on me and fit me a hell of a lot better than Jake's old jacket.
"Now that is what I'm talking about," she appraised with a smile, meeting my eyes in the mirror before turning to look to her father. "Dad, doesn't Bella look awesome?"
I bit my lip nervously as her small hands took my arms and turned me to face Edward who was standing a few feet away. His eyes ran over me and he cleared his throat, rubbing his hand along his jaw.
"I think you might want to try the next size up," he replied in a somewhat gravelly voice and came to stand behind me at the mirror. My eyes widened as he tugged gently on the back of the jacket that was resting comfortably around my waist. "It's a bit too short."
Ellie sighed dramatically beside us and rolled her eyes. "Dad, it's supposed to be like that. You know that!"
"Oh, right," he replied deeply before backing away from me again. "Yea, looks great."
Ellie and I glanced at each other as he walked away, and bit our lips to restrain the laughter.
Over the next several weeks, I began making regular trips to that shop. Most of the time, Edward preoccupied himself back in the office while Ellie and I visited, but when he was out with us, he rarely said a word.
In fact, he hadn't spoken to me much beyond the customary greeting upon my arrival and occasionally a goodbye, since that day in the garage. Though I did occasionally catch his eyes lingering on me through the crack of the office door, or when we passed the garage as he worked, or from across the table when Ellie had convinced us to all go out to dinner a few nights ago.
And today, I didn't see him anywhere when I pulled in after work. His motorcycle was mysteriously absent, and Ellie was sitting on the ground with her chin resting in her hands. I took off my helmet and dismounted my bike, hurrying over to her.
"Ellie, what's going on? Where's your dad?" I asked worriedly, crouching down in front of her and placing my hands on her knees.
"Home," she replied softly, never raising her eyes to meet mine. "He just left a little while ago. I had to convince him to let me stay and wait for you."
"Is he okay?"
I had to admit, I was more than a little surprised to not only find him gone before six, but allowing Ellie to stay behind. My initial fear was that he was ill and had to leave, since beyond that, I couldn't imagine why he wouldn't be here with her.
And when she shook her head and a tear escaped her eye, my concern only grew and I sat beside her. Wrapping my arm around her shoulders, I hugged her gently as she leaned her head on my shoulder. We sat silently for several minutes as she cried into my shirt. It was strange to see Ellie with anything less than a brilliant smile on her face, so I allowed her to take her time.
"Every year, I keep hoping it will get better and it never does. He's always like this, every year," she said in a barely audible voice, until she finally raised her tear-filled eyes to mine.
"It's my mom and dad's wedding anniversary."
My curiosity was piqued by her sudden revelation, but I kept my questions at bay. This was the first time since the day we met that she had so much as mentioned her mother, and even then it had been an extremely vague statement of her mother being "gone".
"My mom died, Bella," she answered my unspoken question and then sighed heavily, looking down again. "Ten years ago. I barely even remember her, except for the pictures my dad keeps in the living room. He told me she got really sick and died a few months later. But he's still just been so sad for so long."
My heart constricted as she told me the story of her mother and her father's seeming inability to move on. It made me sad for them both; the loneliness each of them exhibited at times was palpable, but I had never imagined that it was caused by a tragedy such as this.
I felt her fingers playing lightly with the zipper of my jacket and I looked down to find her concentrating heavily on it.
"Bella?" she whispered nervously and I hummed softly in response. "Do you like my dad?"
"Of course I like your dad, Ellie. He's a wonderful man," I replied, slightly taken aback by her question.
"No, I mean... do you like like my dad," she clarified, her blue eyes gazing up at me curiously. I shifted slightly and lowered my eyes to the ground beside us, my free hand drawing indistinct patterns in the dirt.
I obviously couldn't deny that I found him extremely attractive, and watching him with Ellie was enough to make any woman's ovaries ache. But whenever possible, I tried to suppress the attraction I had to him, heeding Seth's advice to not venture down that road. So I really wasn't sure how to answer her question.
"Bella, I see the way you look at him. I saw it the first day I met you," she said, hugging me gently around the waist. "And Dad actually smiles now. A lot, even at home. Whenever we talk about you. I haven't seen him smile like that in as long as I can remember, and I miss it on days we don't see you. I really think you guys would be perfect for each other."
I looked back into her hopeful eyes, and sighed. Over the last few weeks, I had really come to love Ellie and she even stirred my own desire again to have children of my own someday. But Edward still seemed to be battling so many of his own demons, it left so much up in the air.
"I don't know, Ellie," I replied softly and ached as her face fell in disappointment. "Not that I don't 'like like' your dad, but there's a lot more to it than that. He's obviously still grieving for your mom and sometimes, that takes a long time to come to terms with. Regardless of the circumstances. My dad, Charlie, was a lot like your dad for a very long time. My mom left when I was four, and he was hurting for so long over that. But just last year, he finally married his girlfriend, Chri, after almost twenty years of being alone. And he's finally happy. It was worth the wait, and I have no doubt that it will happen for your dad too. He's an amazing man, but it needs to be at the right time for him. And I still have my own problems too."
"Jacob," she growled under her breath, sounding so much like her father at that moment, I couldn't help but chuckle. "Scumbag."
"Ellie!" I exclaimed in shock, but still couldn't contain the laugh.
"What?! He is! I have ears, and Seth was really mad about that when he was talking to my dad about it," she replied with a shrug and I sighed heavily, biting my lip and shaking my head. "You're way too good for that, Bella. And my dad would never hurt you like that."
"I know," I replied honestly and began pushing myself off the ground. "Come on, let's get you home."
She took my outstretched hand and pulled herself up in front of me. "Will you at least think about it, Bella? I don't want my dad to be miserable anymore. And if I could pick a mom, I'd pick you."
"I'll think about it, Ellie. I promise," I assured her, attempting to restrain the tears welling at her heartfelt admission.
As soon as she ran into the store and returned with her helmet in place, we got onto my bike after she gave me quick directions. When we arrived at the house, I was surprised by the simple yet beautiful structure with his motorcycle parked in the driveway.
"That's weird," Ellie said with a furrowed brow. "Dad never parks outside the garage."
With the nervous edge to her voice, I removed my own helmet and walked her inside to make sure he was alright. A sharp gasp from her direction caused me to turn my head to her suddenly, and then follow her gaze across the room toward the couch.
Three beer bottles set on the table and another rested in the hand of a sleeping Edward, tilted sideways toward the floor. A small puddle had seeped into the carpet from where it had spilled and I looked at Ellie, who had tears in her eyes.
"It'll be okay, Ellie," I said reassuringly, placing my hand on her shoulder. "Get me a towel and then I'll go make you some dinner."
She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving her father until she ran down the hall to grab a towel from what I assumed was the bathroom.
Taking it from her, I moved toward him and gently removed the bottle from his hand where I noticed a simple gold band on his finger. His wedding ring, I silently mused as I set the bottle on the table to soak up the puddle beneath it.
After making a quick dinner of french toast for Ellie, I sat across from her as she picked lightly at her food, but never took a single bite. She lifted her gaze suddenly and set her fork down, her eyes locking with mine.
"I'm really not hungry, Bella. Would you mind if I just went to bed? I'm really kinda tired," she asked in a soft voice, biting her lip.
"No, of course not. You go ahead, I'll clean up here," I replied calmly, nodding toward the door.
She stood up and began walking away, pausing in the doorway for a moment before turning her gaze over her shoulder at me. "You'll take care of him, right? This really isn't like him, I swear. He never drinks."
"I will, I promise," I replied with a nod and she gave me a sad smile before disappearing through the door.
Once the dishes were done, I made my way back to the living room, sitting down in front of him on the couch in the darkened room. I gazed down at him, admiring the sheer beauty of this man, even in his slumbering yet still visibly distraught state. I couldn't resist the urge to brush aside the strand of hair hanging loosely over his forehead and smooth it back. He leaned into my touch and I quickly pulled my hand away in fear that he was waking up.
"Sam," he whispered in his sleep as he rolled onto his side, hugging the throw pillow under his head against his face. "'iss you, bab'."
My lips pressed together tightly, the anguish in his voice tugging at my heart. I stood up carefully and moved down the couch to remove his boots and pulled the blanket from the back over him. His hand grasped mine at his shoulder, pulling me down to him and I thought for a moment that he had woken up.
"Sorr' Sam," he mumbled deeply and I turned my hand in his to give it a gentle squeeze, subsequently causing him to release his grasp. As I turned to stand, a framed photo sitting on the table in front of us caught my attention and I took it gently in my hands.
Edward Cullen and Samantha Wheeler
October 12, 1994
My finger grazed the small brass plate at the bottom of the frame and my eyes rose to the photograph of a much younger Edward in a tuxedo, his lips pressed against those of a beautiful brunette. Their eyes stared adoringly into the other's as his hand cupped her face, sharing their first kiss as husband and wife.
"Bella..." his voice startled me, and I quickly set down the frame and looked over to him.
His eyes were still closed and his lashes flickered in his restless sleep, and I ran my fingertips along his creased forehead. It relaxed subtly and I gently stroked his hair as his breathing evened out again.
I sat in the chair beside the couch for hours, just watching him. Hearing his voice in my head over and over, saying my name. He never spoke again for the remainder of the night and I eventually dozed off myself.
I awoke to a gentle shake of my arm, and I forced my eyes open to find Ellie standing over me fully dressed. "Bella, you stayed."
"What time is it?" I asked groggily, sitting up and rubbing my eyes with the heels of my palms.
"Umm, it's only seven, but I'm heading out to soccor practice and saw you still here. I didn't want you to worry," she whispered softly, glancing over to her father who was still sleeping soundly on the couch and then back to me. "Thanks."
I nodded in exhaustion, stretching slightly. "Go on, you don't want to be late. I'll stick around until he wakes up and make sure he's okay."
Ellie leaned over and kissed my cheek, smiling slightly as she pulled away. "He takes it black with one sugar."
I breathed out a laugh as she hurried for the door and waved over her shoulder on her way out.
Standing from the chair, I twisted out the kinks in my stiff back and made my way into the kitchen. I smiled at the tiny post-it on the coffee pot with Ellie's scribbled writing on it.
All set, just press on
I pressed the button and stood awkwardly in the kitchen for a moment, unsure of what to do. Should I make him something to eat? Would he want anything? Should I really be snooping around his kitchen to begin with?
Shrugging, I grabbed the leftover french toast from the refridgerator and placed it in the microwave to heat and began my search for a frying pan, forgetting where Ellie said they were the night before.
"Bottom shelf, beside the stove," a deep voice rumbled from behind me, and I shrieked slightly in surprise as I quickly turned to find Edward standing in the doorway.
I nodded and bent over to the cabinet to retrieve the frying pan and set it on the stove. "Coffee's brewing. Are you hungry?"
"No, I'll just grab some coffee, thanks," he replied, walking toward the coffee pot where I slid a mug toward him, made exactly as Ellie had told me.
His brow knitted together as he turned to look at me, and when I met his eyes, I gave him a small smile. "A little birdie whispered in my ear this morning. Black with one sugar."
"A little birdie with brown hair and stands about so high?" he asked, holding his hand against his chest to approximately Ellie's height and I nodded, turning back to my task on the stove. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched his hands rest on the edge of the shelf and then finally removing his wedding ring and put it into his front pocket. We remained in an awkward silence for another moment before his voice filtered over to me again. "I want to apologize for last night. I have no idea why I did that, knowing that Ellie would be coming home. I can only imagine what you think of me now."
"I think you're a man grieving over the loss of his wife," I replied softly, looking down into the pan and then over to his confused stare. "Ellie told me about her mom, and what yesterday was."
Edward brought his hands up to his face and rubbed them roughly over his skin. "Fuck."
He didn't utter anything else, but his hands also never fell from his face.
"Hey," I said softly, moving toward him and gently taking his wrists in my hands, pulling them from his face. His bloodshot eyes raised up to meet mine and I gently traced his rough cheek with my fingertips. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. I wish more men were that devoted to their wives after this long."
He was silent for another moment and I began to fear that maybe I had crossed the line, lowering my hand from his face slowly until he caught it with his to hold it in place.
"We'd been trying for another baby. Since about a year after Ellie was born," he whispered once his eyes closed, leaning slightly into my touch and I couldn't remove my gaze from him. "We thought when she missed her period that she had finally gotten pregnant. She looked so happy when we went to the doctor that day. But when the test came back negative and they couldn't find a heartbeat, I didn't think it could get any worse than that. God I was so wrong."
I took his hand in one of mine and his coffee in the other, guiding him over to the table to sit down and crouched in front of him. He drew in a deep breath to steady himself, still never meeting my eyes. "Edward, you don't have to..."
"I want to. She went for an ultrasound a few days later, thinking maybe it was ectopic or something. And they found a... mass, in her uterus. We went to doctor after doctor, but it was just too far progressed," he choked out, a tear finally escaping his eye. "No treatment was effective, and it just kept spreading. And she was gone in three months."
His hand squeezed mine gently and I rubbed the back of it with my free hand, composing myself after that heartbreaking story. "You can't blame yourself for that, Edward. You did all you could, and couldn't have done any more."
"I should have known," he whispered softly, staring down at our joined hands. "But that's not what got to me last night. Why I came home and acted that way, when my little girl..."
He groaned agonizingly, releasing his hold on my hand and driving both of his into his hair, leaning forward on his knees with his elbows.
"God what kind of a fucking father am I?" he growled self-deprecatingly, clenching his hair tightly in his fists.
"You are an amazing father, Edward. No parent is perfect," I replied firmly, unlocking his grasp and taking his hands back in mine. "You have raised a little girl from the time she was three years old, by yourself. And she is a beautiful, intelligent and respectful young lady. You did that. You should be proud."
He lifted his chin, his brow furrowed, his eyes wide and searching. I felt a shiver move through my body at the intensity of his gaze, as if he were seeing me...as if he were seeing through me. He shook his head slightly, picking up a pen on the table and toying with it distractedly.
"I.." he began, tapping the button at the end on the table as each click released and retracted the pen inside. "Thank you. I mean that, thank you. I needed to hear that. And thank you for staying here with Ellie last night."
I reached my hand over to cover his, stalling its movements and removing the object from his hand. My gaze remained there for a moment before lifting to his face and our eyes met again. "Never doubt that, Edward," I whispered softly, my fingers absently stroking his.
His eyes fluttered closed as his fingers flexed slightly beneath my touch and the increased pace of the rise and fall of his chest matched my own. This was the most we had ever touched in all the time we'd known each other and every brush of our skin was causing my heart to race.
Then he took me by surprise when his hand suddenly met my cheek in the most delicate of touches. I closed my eyes, relishing in the rough texture of his skin against mine for a moment until the softest murmur escaped his lips. "I'm such a coward, Bella."
My eyes flew open to stare up at him and were met with a look I had never seen before on any man. His gaze was soft and gentle, but his forehead creased slightly as he traced my mouth with his fingertip. My lips parted and I felt light-headed, soon coming to the realization that I wasn't breathing. I exhaled shakily and swallowed hard before daring to bring my eyes back to his. "I don't think you're a coward, Edward."
"I've felt numb for so long. Ever since Sam... my wife..." he choked out softly, and began pulling his hand away until I repeated his actions from earlier and held it in mine, pressing it against my cheek. He pinched his eyes closed, but even as I moved my hand to rest on his forearm, his never left my face. His thumb began to trace my cheek as a tear escaped his eye and trailed down his face. "I couldn't be there yesterday. Not yesterday. I thought I'd be able to but I couldn't."
His body began to tremble slightly with restrained sobs, and my heart broke with the conflict clearly visible on his face. I raised up on my knees and slid my arms around his waist in a gentle embrace, resting my chin on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Edward. Do you want me to go?"
One hand weaved gently, yet still somewhat desperately into my hair while the other slid around my back, holding me closer. "No, Bella. I don't want you to go," he whispered emotionally into my hair as he held me, and I ran my hand soothingly over his shoulder. "And that's what scares me the most."
I pulled away slowly to look at him, his eyes still closed and I ran my hand through his hair. "Edward? Look at me," I whispered, waiting for his gaze to meet mine and shook my head. "There's nothing to be afraid of. I won't leave if you don't want me to."
As we held each other's gazes silently, I began to see more of the man beyond the sexy, rugged exterior. Not wanting to be alone, but terrified of moving on. The hesitation in his eyes as they lowered to my lips, the shakiness of his breath.
"I want to live again, Bella. I'm just not sure that I know how," he replied in a tortured voice, resting his forehead against mine. "But you've made me feel as close to it as I have in a very long time."
My pulse raced at his words and the feel of his fingers running through my hair. The air felt charged between us, our holds on each other tightening minutely as his head tilted slowly and I felt the delicate brush of his lips against mine. That one small gesture caused my skin to tingle in a way that I had never experienced before. It was more than arousal or lust, I had felt that before. This was something so much more.
It was completion. As if I had found exactly what I had been looking for all this time the moment I walked into that shop so many weeks ago. A man who wanted me, who needed me. I could see it in the way he looked at me, feel it in the way he touched and held me. Despite the reluctance we both felt for our own reasons, I wasn't afraid.
I was quite comfortable in the realization that I was in fact falling in love with Edward Cullen.
"Let me show you," I whispered against his lips, staring into his eyes.
His hand left my hair to rest on my waist, pressing his forehead more firmly against mine and pulling me closer. I pressed my lips against his and his grip tightened on my sides, slowly deepening the kiss. My fingers returned to his hair, arching my back to press myself against him as his arms wrapped around me. He lifted me onto his lap, my legs straddling his and our lips never parting. His hands ran up the back of my shirt, the feeling him touching my skin making it feel as if it were on fire.
"Edward... Ellie," I panted against his lips and without a word, he lifted me into his arms and stood, carrying me effortlessly through the house to his room.
Setting me down on the ground after closing the door, he lifted my shirt from my body and I followed suit with his. He took me back into his arms and recaptured my lips, backing me toward the bed until my knees hit the side and gently lowering us down onto it. I could feel his physical desire for me as I hitched my leg over his, unable to get close enough as his hand ran along my thigh and rested on my hip. I shifted slightly to press more firmly against his prominent erection and his body stiffened, his lips tightening against mine before parting from them.
"Bella, I can't," he whispered breathily against me, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, I just can't."
My eyes took in his tortured expression as he rolled off me and onto his back, driving his hands into his hair. I turned my gaze to the ceiling for a moment before sitting up and moving to the edge of the bed. Was he rejecting me? Rejecting this? I couldn't be sure, and I didn't know that I had it in me to discover the answer. Beginning to stand to retrieve my shirt, I felt his hand take mine and I froze. Chancing a look in his direction, I found his fingers pinching the bridge of his nose as his other hand tightened its hold on me.
"Please don't go," he said softly and then sighed, his hand falling to the side of his head. "It's not that I don't want you, Bella. God knows I do. I just... I'm not ready for that. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have..."
He closed his eyes, thrusting his head back into the mattress. The anxious sound of his voice combined with the moment of panic he displayed a moment before suddenly made perfect sense. So much had changed between us in just the last half hour, the rush of it was easy to become caught up in. But more than he needed my body, he needed my patience. Conquering everything he was still battling with inside was something that was going to take time. There were parts of him that still needed to heal, to adjust to another woman beside him. We needed to take things slow.
I laid back down beside him, placing my hand on his chest. His eyes finally opened again to look at me and I placed a gentle, chaste kiss on his lips. "I'll wait. As long as you need. We'll work through this, I promise."
He gazed at me for a long moment and then brought his hand up to cover mine, raising it to his lips and brushing them softly against my knuckles. "Thank you. Don't know what I've done to deserve it, but thank you."
"You're you. That's the only reason I need," I whispered, giving his hand a gentle squeeze and kissing him once more before resting my head down on his shoulder. His arms wrapped around me and held me against his side, while my fingers traced along his bicep. And a question that had been lingering in my mind since the day we met suddenly resurfaced. "Edward?"
"Yea?" he replied in a calmer voice.
"What does this mean?" I asked, my finger running along the string of characters of his tattoo.
He looked down to his arm briefly and then turned back to look down into my eyes. "December 23, 1996. Ellie's birthdate," he said softly and my eyes widened at the unexpected response, returning to the tattoo. I honestly wasn't sure what I was expecting, and regardless of his obvious affection for his daughter; that was certainly the last. I felt him chuckle softly beneath my head at my ridiculous response, and he began playing with my hair as he seemed to drift away slightly again. "The day she was born, I was on cloud nine. We hadn't known what we were having, and I was hoping for a little girl. And the first time I held her, I was wrapped around her little finger, before she even opened her eyes."
I turned in his arms, lifting my head to look down at his face and he looked as far away as he sounded. But he was smiling, even through the hint of tears forming in his eyes and his gaze finally met mine again. I felt like I was seeing him for the first time, in a whole new light; and it was just as beautiful. And I felt myself falling for him just a little more.
"So once she and Sam were asleep for the night, I left and had a friend of mine tattoo the date on my arm. Sam was a little angry at first, since she had finally gotten me to even remove my earring when we got married. But it grew on her, and I've never regretted it. It was, by far, the best day of my life."
My fingers continued their path, running over the line of characters back and forth, overwhelmed by all that I had learned this morning about this beautiful, complex man. He had shared so much with me in so short a time, trusting me though we'd spoken so little before this. He deserved my faith and my patience.
"Thank you," I whispered as I rested my head back against his chest, hugging myself against his side.
"For what?" he asked, confusion evident in his tone.
"For this," I replied simply, closing my eyes and unwillingly falling asleep in his arms.
Two Years Later...
The breeze was blowing through my hair, with the Grand Canyon spanning out behind us, as we stood staring into each other's eyes.
"I do," Edward said softly with a smile, in response to Seth, who had been ordained specifically for today. The day that would changed both of our lives forever.
The day I became Mrs. Edward Cullen.
"I do," I whispered, biting my lip to tame the grin tugging at the edges of my mouth.
With a ring placed on his finger and one on mine, he cupped my face in his hands and lowered his lips to mine in a gentle kiss. "I love you."
I smiled at his soft words and raised up on my toes to brush his lips with mine once more. "I love you too."
An hour later, we were alone standing at the railing, Edward standing behind me with his arms around my waist as we overlooked the Colorado River. Edward's parents had flown in from Chicago and after a tear-filled goodbye, had taken Ellie to visit with them for a week up north. Giving Edward and I some time alone as newlyweds without an over-anxious, excitable fifteen year old hovering in our first few days of marriage.
I felt his lips brush against my neck as his hands began running over my abdomen and my smile grew.
Three days ago, I walked out of our bathroom to find my sleeping fiance unmoved from where I'd left him only minutes before. Slowly crawling across the bed, I kissed his chest, to his shoulder, up his neck and along his jaw, and finally his lips. "Baby?"
"Mmm?" he hummed groggily, his face contorting slightly.
"For what?" he mumbled, his eyes still closed.
I held back a laugh and inhaled deeply to compose myself before speaking again. "Edward? I'm. late."
His brow furrowed for a moment before he opened his eyes to look at me, and after taking a moment to become more alert, comprehension dawned on his features and a smile began tugging on his lips. "How late?"
Having missed my period the week before, I had gone out to buy a pregnancy test while he was still at work, wanting to wait until I was absolutely sure before I told him. I pulled the test from behind my back and held it up with a smile. "Very late."
He held my gaze as he took the test from my hand, and then lowered his eyes to find the plus sign clearly displayed in the window. He let out a soft breathy laugh before looking back to me with misty eyes. "We're having a baby?"
"We're having a baby," I barely confirmed before he pulled me into his arms, rolling me onto me back. His lips met mine and discarding my robe, we made passionate love that morning.
Lacing my fingers with his now, our hands rested together over our baby. Everything I had ever wanted and dreamed of had come true and then some...
I had a man who loved me more than life itself.
I finally had my family with Edward, Ellie and the beautiful life we created together.
I finally got my happily ever after.
And it was all worth the wait.
Thank you so much everyone who has encouraged and supported my through this. Ericastwilight, thank you so much for the idea in the first place. Christina, Lindsey, Karla, Chri, you guys rock and I couldn't have done this without you!