When Love Was New Contest

Title of Entry: She Gives Me Love

Your pen name: colleen5182

If you would like to see all the stories that are a part of this contest visit: When Love Was New C2 Community
http://www(DOT)fanfiction(DOT)net/community/When_Love_Was_New_Contest_Entries/73614/

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EPOV

One year, six months and twenty-two days ago, I walked to the new cupcake/coffee shop across the street from Mt. Sinai Hospital during a break in my shift. One year, six months and twenty-two days ago, I saw her - the brown haired, brown-eyed beauty who took my breath away. One year, six months and twenty-two days ago, my life changed.

My baby sister, Alice, had told my parents and me a few months prior to that fateful day that her and her old college roommate, Isabella, wanted to open their own bakery. To be honest, the idea of Alice being her own boss, hadn't really surprised me. She was an extremely independent person with a go-getter attitude. People met her and were instantly taken with her. They wanted to know her, to be her friend. She exuded warmth and comfort, just like our mother, but she was also tough as nails and had a keen business sense. She could sell snow to an Eskimo, as the saying goes.

I had no doubt that Alice would be successful in whatever she did.

What I did doubt, however, were Alice's skills in the kitchen.

Alice couldn't cook or bake to save her soul. When we were teenagers, my parents had implemented "date nights", which meant that once a month, Alice and I were left to fend for ourselves as far as dinner was concerned. One night in particular, Alice decided she wanted mozzarella sticks and thought it would be a good idea to cook them in the toaster oven on a paper plate. I was upstairs in my bedroom doing homework when I smelled smoke. I rushed downstairs to the kitchen to find Alice trying to fan the toaster oven with a kitchen towel while flames shot out from the inside. I quickly ran over and unplugged the toaster before throwing the damn thing into the sink and dousing it with water, getting the small kitchen fire under control.

Needless to say, that officially marked the end of Alice's cooking career and cost her forty dollars when my mother made her replace the now defunct toaster.

So, when Alice informed me of the type of business her and Isabella were opening, I wanted to be supportive...hell, I was supportive. Cookies and cupcakes were my Achilles heel, but I couldn't help the fit of giggles and laughter that escaped me at Alice's expense. She swiftly smacked me on the back of the head, called me a jerk and then explained that she would, in no way, be a part of baking any of the pastries they would be selling. I'll admit, I felt a little better about being one of their customers.

Alice explained that she would be in charge of the day to day business operations while Isabella would be in charge of the menu and production. Not having ever met Isabella, Alice was quick to inform me that she was a master in the kitchen. She was constantly thinking of new ideas and recipes and would then spend hours in the kitchen making batches upon batches of new creations until they were just right. Alice had said countless times that Isabella was a perfectionist, much like myself, and could give me a run for my money.

I'd like to see her try.

I was shocked when Alice said their company was going to be based out of New York City. Alice and Isabella had gone to college at the University of Massachusetts and I just assumed that they would remain in Boston. Their friends were there and Alice's boyfriend, Jasper, lived there, so to me, it had made the most logical sense. But, Alice believed that New York was the place to be. She was right, of course. New York was an amazing city that was bursting at the seams with people, business, art, culture and history. It was also home to some of the most famous and fabulous restaurants and bakeries known to man, so trying to break on to the scene, so to speak, would be no small task for them. It would take a lot of hard work and determination, but Alice was smart and saavy, and it seemed that Isabella was extremely creative and talented. They were both passionate about two very different things, but when combined, really had the opportunity to do something great with their individual talents.

Oddly enough, there was an empty space available in the lot across the street from Mt. Sinai. Since Isabella was still tying up some loose ends back up in Massachusetts and literally wouldn't be moving up here until the doors to bakery opened, Alice was left to procure a location. She squealed in delight when she saw the space, proclaiming that the combination of starving and sleep-deprived doctors, as well as waiting family members was the perfect combination for a lucrative business. I'd be damned if she wasn't right.

Two months later, Red Velvet opened its doors.

I had been working non-stop at the hospital and hadn't been much help in getting Red Velvet off the ground. I hadn't seen my parents in three weeks and I never got the chance to meet the famous Isabella. On break from a seventy-two hour shift at the hospital, I decided to walk over to congratulate the girls. When I left work, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a line outside of the bakery that went all the way down the sidewalk for about two blocks and wrapped around the building on the corner. Alice was standing outside by the door greeting each customer as they entered, her bubbly personality the perfect welcome for new guests. I smiled as I watched Alice in her element, having never been more proud or happy for her.

I put my two pinkies to my mouth and blew into my hands, making the sound of a high-pitched whistle that I knew would catch Alice's attention. As soon as the noise reached her ears, she turned her head towards the hospital and saw me. She waved at me excitedly and motioned with her head for me to come on over. I quickly made my way across the street and reached Alice, giving her a tight hug.

"Edward," she greeted as she released me from the hug. "So, what do you think?" She gestured to the store looking like Vanna White.

"Well, the outside looks marvelous, Alice," I chuckled. "And, judging by the line, I'd say you and Isabella are an instant success."

The smile on Alice's face was blinding; she was so excited. "It's amazing, isn't it?" she asked.

I nodded my head enthusiastically as she tugged on my arm to enter the establishment. "Come in, come in," she said. "I'll get you a cup of coffee on the house."

I followed Alice into the bakery and inhaled deeply as the delicious scent of coffee and baked goods washed over me.

I was blown away by the look and feel of the inside of Red Velvet. It was so warm and welcoming. Three of the four walls were painted a muted brown, with candid black and white photos of different couples looking so in love adorning them. A lounge area was set up towards the back end of the bakery, overstuffed couches and chairs placed sporadically throughout. A brick fireplace was set in the far back wall.

People were sitting and relaxing, reading, talking, enjoying each other's company, as well as a large cup of coffee and a succulent pastry.

Behind the counter, a woman of small stature was hustling around. She had a huge smile on her perfect face and she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Her long, luscious, mahogany hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, small wisps here and there framing her delicate face. Her eyes were the color of chocolate and they were big and wide and sparkling with life. Her pale, creamy skin looked so soft and delicate and was begging to be kissed and caressed.

I felt the breath leave my body as I watched her move about, totally enthralled with the Angel before me.

I felt myself being shaken and was immediately snapped out of the trance this woman had put me in.

"Edward, are you feeling okay? You look like you've seen a ghost?" Alice asked, standing beside me looking concerned.

"What? Oh, I'm fine Alice. Hey, Alice, who's that behind the counter?"

"Edward that's Bel....Oh!" A knowing look washed over her face as she gave me a small smirk. "Come on, I'll introduce you two."

I was stunned. That's Bella?

I felt Alice pull on the sleeve of my scrub shirt as she tugged me towards the front of the store. Working her way through the crowd, she stopped in front of the customer counter to grab Bella's attention.

"Hey, Bella. Come here for a second. I want you to meet someone."

My heart was racing and I felt my palms become clammy as I was about to come face to face with the woman spun my world upside down just by looking at her.

Bella walked over the front of the counter, her beautiful smile lighting up her face. She extended her hand out to me and said, "Hi, I'm Bella."

I just stood there, not moving, not making a sound, my mouth hanging open. I was honestly surprised drool hadn't started to drip down my chin. The image before me was perfection and the moment she opened her mouth to speak and I heard her voice, I felt a sense of peace wash over me.

I briefly saw her eyes dart to Alice, probably wondering if I was okay or if I had a small stroke in the two minute time span I had been standing before her. A sharp strike to the side of my ribs from Alice's sharp elbow brought me out of my trance.

"Uhm...hi...hi, Isabella. I'm...uhm...I'm Edward," I stuttered, sounding like a complete fool. This beautiful stranger had shaken me down to my very core and I had never felt so unglued in all of my life.

I heard Alice chuckle beside. She tried to cover up the sound by coughing and moving her hand in front of her mouth to shield the wide grin from my view.

I rolled my eyes and internally groaned at my stupid introduction as I extended my hand to shake Bella's.

The moment our skin touched I felt a wave of electricity pass through me, a thrumming current that set my skin on fire. I could tell she felt it, too by the look of shock on her face and the faint blush that spread over her delicate facial features.

She was beautiful.

I knew I should have let go, should have withdrew my hand and questioned everything that I had felt in the last five minutes, but I couldn't. Her touch made me feel more alive than I had in years and I just wanted to relish in the sensation for a bit longer. I squeezed her hand a bit tighter, trying to silently reassure her that whatever had just happened was okay.

She squeezed back and let go of my hand. I immediately felt the loss of her tiny hand in mine and felt my chest constrict the tiniest bit.

"Edward?" she questioned. "Alice's brother, Edward?"

"The one and only," I said, giving her my most dazzling crooked smile.

She let out the cutest little giggle and I knew that I would be perfectly content if I could hear that sound for the rest of my life. "Well, it's very nice to finally meet you, Edward, but please, call me Bella. All my friends do."

Friends...

I was sad and disappointed with her use of the word. It should have been good enough since we had just officially met less than ten minutes ago. But, I immediately felt that being her friend wasn't enough - that it would never been enough. I instantly wanted more.

It was crazy, and I knew that. I didn't know anything about this girl, but I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know her favorite color, favorite food, and shoe size. I wanted to know what drove her crazy, what made her tick and what made her smile. I wanted to know where she grew up, what her family was like, about her past relationships and I wanted to know the ins and outs of her body in the most intimate form.

She was sunshine and flowers and goodness. She was everything I was looking for in a woman, but didn't know I wanted.

Unfortunately, my job was very demanding and left me with little to no time for a social life. I didn't have the time to devote to this goddess before me, and she deserved my undivided attention. She deserved more than I could offer her.

Friends would have to do, and even though I felt like it wasn't enough, I'd take what I could get. With every fiber of my being, I knew that I needed this woman in my life, and if friends was what we were destined to be, then I would have to be happy with that.

Although, it did kind of suck.

"Nice to finally meet you, too, Bella," I said as I pushed my hands in my pockets and rocked back and forth slightly on the balls of my feet.

She smiled brightly and I returned the gesture.

"Well," I sighed as I glanced at my watch and noticed that my break was almost over. "I have to be heading back to work ladies. I just wanted to stop by and congratulate the two of you on your success." I turned to Alice and leaned down to give her a peck on the cheek.

"I'll talk to you later?" I asked.

"Oh, you better believe it, Edward. We have lots to discuss." I could see the smile in her eyes and knew I was in trouble. Alice never missed a thing and I was sure she knew that I was completely consumed by Bella within the first minute of meeting her. I wasn't going to deny the attraction I felt towards Bella when she asked, but I needed to make it clear to Alice that Bella and I were only going to friends. It wasn't what I wanted, but it's what I would have to settle for.

"Edward, wait!" Bella exclaimed as I was about to turn around and head towards the door. She turned towards the pastry display and pulled a cookie off of one of the trays and placed it into a white paper bag. She then ran over to the coffee machines and poured a large cup of coffee before placing a lid securely on the top.

She walked back over to the customer counter, looking a little flushed and handed me the goodies. "Here," she breathed. "You look like a chocolate chip kind of guy. I thought you could use some sustenance before going back to work. There are creamers and sugars over on the stand for your coffee."

She was smiling brightly and I overwhelmed with her sweetness and generosity. The only women who had ever looked out for me and were concerned if I was eating enough to keep my energy on my long shifts at the hospital were my mother and Alice, but Bella's small gesture made me feel like she cared. And that meant more to me than she could have ever imagined.

"Thanks, Bella. I really appreciate it," I said softly.

I turned around and walked out the door, feeling the emptiness of not having Bella near me.

On my way across the street, I pulled the cookie out of the bag and took a bite.

Oh my God.

It was the most heavenly cookie I had ever eaten. It was soft and chewy and melted in my mouth. It had the perfect amount of chocolate chips and wasn't too buttery. I could taste the faintest hint of nutmeg and I wanted to drop down on my knees and thank my lucky stars that that this woman existed.

I walked back through the hospital with a grin on face, feeling rejuvenated and like a small piece of my life had fallen into place.

*~*~*~*

The next forty-eight hours passed by in a blur. The ER was bustling with screaming children, injuries, random illness, people who thought they had swine flu, people who actually had swine flu, car accident victims, gun shot wounds, and the occasional heart attack patients. It was never a dull moment in a New York City emergency room and I barely had time to catch my breath, let alone think or focus on anything other than what was right in front of me. Bella though, thoughts of Bella were never far from the forefront of my mind.

I couldn't stop thinking about her - couldn't get the image of her deep, brown eyes out of my head. I was crushing hardcore.

After my shift was over, I was exhausted. All I wanted was the comfort of my bed and for sleep to take me for the next three days.

I picked up my coat from my locker in the doctors lounge, threw it on and headed towards the exit of the ER. As I stepped onto the sidewalk outside of the hospital and prepared to hail a taxi, I glanced across the street and noticed the lights on over at Red Velvet. A smile crept across my face as my thoughts drifted to the beautiful girl who had caught my attention just two days ago.

I shook my head to break myself out of the trance I was in, and turned back toward the road. I raised my hand to signal a taxi when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye from across the street.

I turned back to look at Red Velvet and there she was. She was exiting the swinging kitchen doors, hands full with two trays of pastries. I wasn't thinking, I just felt my feet unconsciously move toward where she was - like a gravitational pull.

Before I knew it, I was standing at the door, looking in and feeling completely mesmerized by Bella. She moved so effortlessly and was so sure in her steps as she carried heavy trays of baked goods to the counter and gently placed them in the display case. Not wanting to startle her, I knocked slightly on the glass and she popped her head up and looked right at me.

The corner of her mouth lifted into a small smile as she wiped her hands on the front of her apron and walked over to unlock the door. Once open, I was overwhelmed with the scent of honey and vanilla and felt dizzy when I came face to face with Bella again.

If I had thought she was beautiful two days ago, it was nothing to how she was now. My memories hadn't done her justice because now, she was absolutely breathtaking. She actually looked exactly the same as she had when I first met her, but this time she had the smallest smudge of flour on her left cheek. My hand ached to reach up and wipe the white substance from her face, but I bit down hard on the inside of my cheek to keep my hands to myself.

I think I drew blood.

"Edward, what are you doing here?" she asked.

"Uhm, I just got off of work and saw the light on and then saw you walk out from the kitchen. I thought I'd stop by." I was shifting my weight nervously on my feet and I was well aware that I sounded like a bumbling idiot. This woman turned me into a fumbling pile of goo.

I had had girlfriends in the past. Even a long-term relationship here and there. But I had never met anyone that captured my mind and soul and I had never been reduced to a nonsensical idiot.

I was lucky enough to grow up with two parents who grew more and more in love with each other with each passing day. Their relationship was exemplary and I had always wanted to find what they had with each other to share with someone else. I wasn't sure it was ever going to happen for me, but Bella was the first woman I had met that I ever actually wanted to try and see where a relationship could go. I just didn't think it was fair to start a relationship with her when most of my time was consumed by my job.

Maybe one day though...

Bella stepped back from the door so I could enter the bakery. I stepped through and inhaled and the delicious scent that wafted through the air as she closed and locked the door behind me.

"Wait, you're just getting off of work now?" she asked, looking at me in complete shock.

Chuckling at her expression, I answered her. "Yes. I just worked a three day shift and have the next two days off. But I'm curious as to why you're here at three-thirty in the morning, Bella? No one should be up and at 'em at this ungodly hour."

"You want Alice to make the food?" she answered with a hint of playful sarcasm in her voice.

"Touche."

She started to head back towards the counter as she called over her shoulder, "Can I get you anything?"

"Coffee would be great if you have any made," I answered, rubbing my hands over my face and feeling the coarse stubble that had grown over the past few days.

I heard her adorable little giggle as she asked, "You want coffee? Won't that make sleep a little bit more difficult for you?"

I felt the tension slip from my body at her playfulness. She didn't know me from Adam but she treated me like we had known each other for years. She was teasing me, trying to joke around with me, and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it thoroughly.

I walked over to one of the overstuffed love seats and sat down, the ache in my bones making itself known as I relaxed into the cushions.

"Nah, when I'm this overworked, nothing can stop my from falling asleep for days on end."

I watched her as she poured two cups and asked how I took my coffee. I responded with "black, two sugars" and when she admitted that she took hers the same way, I smiled as I thought that we had one thing in common, no matter how minute that thing might be.

She walked over to where I was sitting and plopped down on the other end of the love seat with a loud "oompf".

"It's been hours since I've sat down. I don't know how you stand around for days on end," she mumbled as she rested her head on the back of the couch and closed her eyes.

I desperately wanted to tell her not to hide her eyes from me, but at the risk of sounding like a crazy person, I refrained.

"You get used to it," I replied.

We sat in silence for a few moments. It wasn't awkward, it wasn't strained. We weren't struggling to find a topic of conversation; we were just enjoying the solace of each other's company for a few brief moments.

I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I watched the slow rise and fall of her chest as she took a breath, and the way she slowly ran her ring finger up and down the side of her coffee mug. Every little thing she did, every movement she made captivated me.

After a minute or two, she rolled her head to the side to face me.

"So, Edward. Alice has talked about you non-stop for the past four years that I feel like I already know you, but tell me about the real you. I want to know all about who Edward Cullen really is."

I chuckled as I responded, "I'm not that interesting, to be honest with you."

She lifted her head off the couch and turned her body to face me. She stared deep into my eyes as she said, "I find that extremely hard to believe. And besides, I'd like to be the judge of that. Now spill it."

We spent the next two hours talking about everything and anything. I told her all about my silly antics as a little boy and how I lived to torment Alice when we were younger. I told her how I was a complete "mama's boy" and still thought that there was nothing better than my mother's hug when I had a lot on my mind or just had a bad day. I told her about how I played football in high school and thought I was hot shit even though I preferred staying at home on a Friday or Saturday night and reading a good book rather than going to the big party that weekend. She asked about college and I told her that I was a complete bookworm, always in my room studying or at the library doing research for a paper that wasn't due until a month down the road. I had my close circle of friends - none of whom I had spoken to in a few years, unfortunately - but I was so focused on doing well and exceeding any expectaions placed upon me that I rarely ever went out. She asked about why I decided to go medical school and I told her it was because my father was my hero, and I wanted to be just like him, so going to medical school was never a question for me. I admired what he did and I worked hard to resemble half the man he was. She asked about past relationships and loves, and I was honest with her, telling her that I had a few girlfriends, but nothing I ever considered too serious. She asked if I had ever been in love and I just shrugged my shoulders in response.

As the conversation went on, I noticed we kept inching our way towards one another, sitting so close I could feel her breath on my face when she spoke. It was so easy to talk to her. I wanted to know everything about this woman, but I wanted her to know everything about me, as well, and that was completely new to me. I had always been kind of reserved and kept to myself. I didn't have trust issues, but I found it hard to open up and kept people, especially woman, at bay. I honestly hadn't even realized I had done so in the past until I started talking to Bella, telling her my most deep, dark secrets and hidden fears. There was something about her that made me feel safe and made me feel like I could trust her completely.

When the conversation shifted to her, I was more than eager to sit there and listen to her tell me about her life. She talked about her friendship with Alice and Jasper, and how they really helped to bring her out of her shell their first year of college. Like me, she was a bookworm and like to curl up on the couch with the works of Jane Austen or Emily Bronte. She loved classical music and could sit and listen to the tunes of Motzart, Beethoven and Debussy for hours on end and still be moved to tears by the end of the piece. I asked about what she was like growing up and she told me she was like any other little girl who loved to play dress up and dream of the day her Prince Charming would come and sweep her off her feet - she was still waiting, by the way. She told me that in high school she was a complete nerd and had a very select few friends. To her, however, it wasn't the amount of friends one had, but the quality of friend that was most important. She considered herself lucky because she still kept in contact with her group of friends from high school and considered Alice and Jasper, as well as two other members of their group, Emmett and Rosalie, family.

When I asked her to tell me about her family, that smile, that beautiful smile that always graced her face fell. I was instantly terrified that I had said something wrong, but she reassured me that it was okay. She told me about how her father was the police chief of the small town she grew up in and about how her mother was a kindergarten teacher at the local elementary school. When she was five, all three of them were involved in a horrific car accident one snowy evening and her father lost control of the car. She was the only survivor. I sat there, silent, as I didn't know what to say, and saw a small tear slip out of the corner of her eye and down her cheek. I reacted almost instantaneously as I brought my hand up to wipe away her tears in a comforting gesture. I made a silent promise to myself right there and then that I would do whatever I could to make sure that Bella never shed another tear during her lifetime. Seeing her cry and upset caused an ache in my chest that I wasn't familiar with, but didn't question.

She whispered a small "thank you" as my thumb caressed her cheek and she moved to wrap her arms around me in a tight hug. She fit perfectly in my arms, like she belonged there, and I never wanted to let her go.

After she had calmed down some and told me about how she was raised by her grandmother, who was still alive and well and living in Washington, she went on to describe how her grandmother was responsible for her love of cooking and baking. She looked up to her grandmother and felt much the same way about her as I did my father.

I wanted to stay in the little bubble Bella and I had created, but my body was screaming at me to get some sleep. I stifled a hug yawn and shook my head to rid myself of the fog that I found myself in and heard Bella chuckle as she told me to head on home; that we had plenty of time to get to know one another.

I decided not to argue with her. I was so tired at that point that I wasn't even forming complete sentences. I couldn't concentrate on what she was saying and I really, really, really wanted to hear everything she had to say.

I got up from the couch and walked to the door, as Bella followed close behind me. We said our goodbyes and she gave me a warm hug before sending me on my way.

I got back to my apartment that morning wearing a bright smile. I drifted into an easy, peaceful sleep where dreams of Bella flooded my imagination.

*~*~*~*

For the next six weeks, Bella and I fell into a routine. Every time I came off the night shift at the hospital and saw the lights on at Red Velvet in the wee hours of the morning, I would walk across the street and knock on the door. Bella would answer with a bright small, holding a piping hot cup of coffee and hand it to me before stepping back and letting me inside. We would walk over to the lounge area and sit on our couch, facing each other, and spend the next hour talking about anything and everything. After the hour was up, we would get up and head into the kitchen where we, and by "we" I mean "Bella", would begin preparing the bakery's morning pastries. Sometimes I would help, offering to grab supplies when she needed them, but mostly I just made a mess and opted to stay out of her way so I could watch her move effortlessly around the kitchen.

On the days I didn't have to work, I would join the group as they went out. Emmett and Rosalie decided that they couldn't be anywhere Bella, Alice and Jasper weren't, and moved to New York City to be closer to them. They welcomed me as the sixth member of their group, and I understood what Bella had said about it being the quality of friend - not the quantity - that was most important. I felt like these people understood me and accepted me for who I was, and I began to consider them as family just like Bella did.

Alice had eventually called to see what my reaction was all about the day I met Bella, and I told her that I was completely taken with Bella and was insanely attracted to her. She got excited and started talking about how she always knew we would be perfect for one another and I had to ask her several times to calm down. Once I explained to her that we were only friends and that was all we would be for the time being, her excitement dwindled and she told me I was being stupid. She lectured me by saying that if someone was so important to me, I would make the time to devote to them and my job shouldn't stand in the way. I had to beg her not to interfere, to let me handle things, and after a few minutes of pleading with her, she finally relented.

All free time I had was spent with or thinking about Bella. She amazed me in more ways than one and I constantly found myself thinking she was a breath of fresh air.

She was an amazing chef with no professional training. She was completely self-taught, learning the basics of great cooking and baking from watching her grandmother work in the kitchen when she was little. But, more than that, her spirit, zest for life and overall happiness made me want to be a better person.

For all that she had been through in her young life, she was one of the most well rounded people I had ever met. I couldn't imagine losing both of my parents at the tender age of five - hell, the idea of losing one of my parents now made me sick to my stomach. But Bella wasn't bitter about any of it. Sure, she felt the loss of her parents constantly and mourned them day in and day out, but she didn't let it affect who she was. She strived to be the woman her parents would have been proud of, the woman her parents would have raised had they survived the horrific car accident that took them from Bella way too soon. She believed they were looking down on her, watching her, and she kept that thought with her as she went throughout her days.

She was selfless, always thinking of others before herself. I saw this when she opened doors for strangers, or helped the elderly woman at the grocery store pick out the best fresh produce, or brought boxes and boxes of cream puffs, cupcakes, croissants and doughnuts down the homeless shelter each morning before she opened the bakery. She never expected a thank you from anyone, she just put on a smile and said, "helping someone and feeling as if I've done something to make someone else's day better is more than enough of a 'thank you' for me." She didn't need to hear the words. For her, it was the look that spread across someone's face when they realized that there were good people out in the world. That one look made everything she did for others worth the effort.

I admired her and her friendship more and more everyday.

One early morning, I was heading out of the hospital after an extremely difficult shift. I had faced my fair share unfortunate and untimely deaths in my time as an ER doctor, but one case really hit home this particular day.

A family of three was brought into the ER after being rescued from a burning building. The mother and father were in critical condition, with burns on ninety percent of their bodies, and the small child, a girl no older than four years old, was suffering from severe smoke inhalation. After about an hour of trying to save them, respectively, the mother and father passed away at the young age of thirty-two. The small child, however, was expected to make a full recovery.

I informed the police of the situation, as was protocol, and they were going to inform the child's legal guardian of the situation. I felt like the room was spinning out of control and I couldn't breathe. I vaguely heard nurses ask me if I was okay as they helped me to a chair behind the nurses' desk. I couldn't help it. I felt so terribly sorry for this poor, little girl who had her family taken from her so quickly and all I kept thinking about was Bella...my sweet, Bella.

The situations were so similar it was hard not to compare them, and I mourned and hurt for Bella. She was so strong and so well-rounded, but in that moment, I felt and understood the pain she must have gone through as a child - the pain she must go through everyday.

The rest of my shift passed by achingly slow. I couldn't stop thinking about the girl from the fire and the loss of her family, and I couldn't stop thinking of Bella.

I walked out of the hospital after my shift and saw the lights on at Red Velvet. I breathed a sigh of relief as I ran across the street as fast as I could, desperately needing to see Bella.

I knocked quickly on the front door, and startled her.

Seeing it was me, she walked over to the door, unlocked and opened it. Her cheeks were painted a slight pink, her eyes sparkled and that beautiful smile graced her face. One look at me, though, and her smile faltered. I didn't even need to say anything - I didn't need to tell her what the sad look on my face was for because she knew; Bella always knew. She could read me like a book and I had never been so grateful for her and her perceptiveness than in that moment.

She threw herself into my arms and embraced me in a tight hug, giving me exactly what I seeked since the moment the family was brought into the ER.

After a few tender moments, she slowly released her grip on my and put her hands to my face to cup my cheeks as she looked me in the eyes and said, "Do you want to come in and talk about it?"

I simply nodded and we walked into the bakery.

I didn't head over to our couch like I normally did. I just stood in the main entrance area.

"Can I get you anything?" she asked.

I didn't make a motion. I just stood there collecting my thoughts, preparing to tell her what had happened. She didn't force me to move, she just stood in front of me and waited until I was ready.

"A family was brought into the ER last night. Their apartment caught fire and spread so quickly; they were all trapped inside. The mother and father had fourth degree burns covering the majority of their bodies and died about an hour after we started working on them." I could see the tears welling her eyes, preparing to spill. She knew where this story was headed. "Their four year old daughter suffered from extreme smoke inhalation, but other than that she's fine."

I could see the slight shake of her shoulders, but I continued.

"Bella, I felt so badly for that little girl. It broke my heart to think about the hardships she is going to have to face, but every time I looked at her I saw and thought of you."

I took two steps forward to where she was standing and brought my hands up to her face. I rubbed soft, smooth circles with my thumbs over her checks and leaned my head in to gently kiss her forehead as she wrapped her arms around my waist.

"Baby," I whispered. "Baby, I am so sorry that you had to go through that. I'm so sorry."

Her tears were falling freely at this point. I moved slightly so I could place soft kisses on her eyelids and on her cheeks. I needed to make her feel better. I needed to take her pain away and make it my own.

Our lips were so close together. We just stood there, holding one another, breaths mingling. Time stood still.

I inched my face closer and touched my lips to hers. The air cracked around us and everything just felt right.

Our lips moved together in perfect synchronization creating the most beautiful symphony of music anyone had every heard. I lowered my hands to wrap my arms around her shoulders and pull her tighter to me as her hands lifted to the back of my neck where her tiny fingers played with the hair at the nape of my neck.

I opened my mouth to deepen the kiss and felt her follow suit. I slowly eased my tongue into her mouth, tasting her for the first time.

It was divine.

The feeling of kissing her was euphoric, but in the back of my mind I felt the tiniest twinge of guilt.

She looked so vulnerable as I was telling her the story of last night in the ER, and in an effort to comfort her I took advantage of her.

I snapped my head back immediately, breaking the kiss.

I frantically looked into her eyes, not believing the stupid thing I had just done.

"Edward...," she breathed.

"I'm sorry, Bella. I shouldn't have done that. I have to go. I'm sorry."

I turned on my heels and raced for the door.

"Edward, stop. Come back. Let's talk about this." I wanted to turn back around and talk to her, but I was so ashamed of my behavior that I just couldn't look her in the eye.

"I have to go, Bella. I'll talk to you later."

And with that, I walked out the door. I didn't look back at her. I couldn't bear to see the look of sadness and hurt on her face, the sadness and hurt that I caused.

I chose to walk back to my apartment, thinking the cool morning air would give me a chance to collect my thoughts and clear my head.

I couldn't believe how stupid I was for kissing her like that. Yes, I had wanted to kiss her. I'd wanted to kiss her since the day I met her, but under much better circumstances - not because I had made her cry by telling a story that was so similar to one of her own.

How could I have done that? I had promised myself that I would do everything in my power to protect Bella from pain and vowed to never see her cry again, and there I was, the cause of her tears.

I was such an asshole.

Way to go, Cullen. I berated myself. Way to hurt the woman you're in love with...

I stopped dead in my tracks, the realization hitting me like a ton of bricks.

I was in love with her.

Bella had entered my life like a bolt of lightening and dug a hole for herself in my heart where she would always stay. She was a part of me, the best part, and I would do everything in my power to make sure she knew it. I would do whatever it took to make her mine.

I immediately started formulating a plan in my head. I needed to apologize for the way I had acted this morning and I needed to tell her that she was the one for me. It would take a huge amount of creativity on my part; Bella deserved nothing but the best. However, up until this point, our relationship had been strictly platonic - save for the occasional intentional brush against each other's skin and our intense kiss just moments ago - and if I wanted to sweep Bella off her feet, then I needed to do something that would really show her I was serious. It had to be nothing short of spectacular.

I called Alice later that afternoon, after I had woken up from a few decent hours of sleep. I filled her in on what had happened earlier and on my feelings for Bella, to which she squealed in delight and caused me temporary hearing loss. She had mentioned that Bella was acting strange, but kept insisting that everything was fine. I asked Alice not to push her, to just let her be, and she agreed.

I had some ideas rolling around in my head about how to tell Bella I loved her, but I knew Alice would really be able to help me fine tune everything. I told her what I had in mind and spent five minutes listening to her gush into the phone and exclaim how happy she was for me. I shared with Alice that I was scared I had messed up beyond repair and that Bella would turn me down, but she put my mind at ease by assuring me that she knew everything was going to work out the way it was supposed to. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but I took it as a good sign and felt better about admitting my feelings to Bella in such a grand gesture. By the end of the phone call, I had a solid plan in place but would need the help of Jasper, Rose and Emmett, as well as Alice, to pull it off. I called the gang one by one and told them what I was about to do. They were all more than willing to help me out and wished me luck at the end of the phone conversations.

Everything was set to go down on Saturday - Bella's only day off. That left me four days to sit and think about Bella. I hadn't called her after I kissed her, just sent her random text messages here and there to say hello or to see what she was up to. I was trying to avoid talking to her, to be honest, because I wanted to do everything face to face. I realized that she probably thought I was avoiding her, but I hoped that by Saturday, she would understand my reason for doing so.

By the grace of God, I was able to switch shifts with another doctor at the hospital to have the whole weekend off. This, in and of itself, was a small miracle, but necessary. The way I saw it, if Bella felt the same way about me as I felt about her, I hoped we would spend the rest of Saturday and then all of Sunday making love and enjoying the feeling of just being with one another as an official couple. If she didn't feel the same way about me as I felt about her, I figured I would spend the rest of Saturday and then all of Sunday getting drunk and wallowing in self-pity.

If I was being honest with myself, I had loved Bella since the day I met her at Red Velvet. I was never one to believe in love at first sight. But, looking back, the second our hands met in a handshake and our eyes locked, I was hers. I believed that Bella was my soul mate, and I hoped that she felt the same for me. Deep down in my bones I knew we shared a deep, intimate connection that went beyond that of friendship, and if she just gave us a chance, I knew we could have something fantastic and could share a love that would rival that of Romeo and Juliet or Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights. I would be ripped in two if she rejected me, but I had to push that thought out of my mind and believe that she had feelings for me, as well.

My plan was pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself. I decided that I was going to leave Bella a series of four clues, each clue in the form of a Polaroid picture of one of her favorite flavored cupcakes at some of her favorite spots in Central Park. Alice would be distributing the first clue. She was going to call Bella down to the bakery with a made-up emergency. Bella was constantly worrying about the business and the second she heard something was wrong, not matter how big or small, she dropped everything and rushed over to Red Velvet, so we knew getting her to the bakery wouldn't be a problem. Once she arrived, Alice would hand her the first picture clue and send her on her way. Now, I wasn't stupid and realized that leaving random cupcakes around the city unattended was a bad idea and cause for disaster. That's where Jasper, Rose and Emmett came in. They would be holding the cupcake from each respective clue and waiting for her to show up. Once she arrived, they would hand her a Polaroid of the next cupcake and she would be off to continue on her scavenger hunt. The fourth, and last clue, would lead to where I would be standing, waiting with Bella's most favorite confection, to tell her that she was my everything.

The next few days passed by in a blur, and Saturday morning came quicker than I could have imagined. I woke up around seven in the morning, exhausted from working until the wee hours of the morning and fretting over every minor detail of my plan. I wanted everything to go perfectly.

I wasn't supposed to leave my apartment until about noon, so I had time to kill. I decided cleaning up was probably a good idea. If everything went according to plan, Bella would hopefully be accompanying me back here later and never leave.

I stripped the bed of the sheets and threw a load of laundry into the wash. I washed the dishes in the sink and cleaned the master bathroom from top to bottom. I vacuumed the whole apartment, got the load of laundry from the washing machine, threw it in the dryer and then went to pick up the clothes off my bedroom floor. By the time all of that was completed, I decided to take a long, hot shower to calm my nerves, hoping that by the time I was showered, dressed and ready to go, the sheets in the dryer would be done and I could make my bed before heading out the door to meet my fate.

I left the apartment a little earlier than anticipated, deciding to check in on Alice and have her give me a little pep talk before I went to go wait for Bella in the park.

As I entered Red Velvet, I saw Alice standing behind the counter. She looked up at me as I approached and gave me the brightest smile I have ever seen.

"Hey, are you ready?" she asked.

I nodded my head and took a nervous breath.

"Alice, what if she doesn't feel the same way?"

Alice tipped her head to the side and gave me a sympathetic stare.

"Edward, I honestly don't think that's going to happen, but if by some small chance it does, then you just pick up the pieces and move on. I love Bella, but if she doesn't see what an amazing, caring, honest man you are, then she doesn't deserve you."

She walked around the counter to give me a hug, whispering that she loved me in my ear. Then she slapped me on the back, gave me an enthusiastic "go get 'em tiger" and sent me on my way. Alice was getting ready to call Bella so I needed to get out of the bakery as quickly as possible and head to my spot in the park. I grabbed the red velvet cupcake, gave Alice a quick peck on the cheek and was on my way.

Just as I was arriving at my destination, my cell phone vibrated in my pocket.

"Hello," I greeted.

"Okay, Big Brother. She's on her way. She was a little annoyed when I wouldn't tell her what was going on, but she's eager to play along. Good luck and I love you."

"Thanks, Alice. I appreciate it. I'll talk to you later."

We hung up and I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly.

All of the locations I picked in the park were relatively close to one another so once she got to where Jasper was standing at Bethesda Terrace holding a pumpkin spiced cupcake, it wouldn't be more than twenty minutes until she reached me.

The next fifteen minutes went by agonizingly slowly. She should have been to Jasper by now.

What if she decided she wasn't going to play along and went back to her apartment?

Just as I started to think of the worst possible scenarios, my cell phone vibrated and Jasper's name popped up on the caller ID.

"Jasper, is she on her way?"

"Well hello to you, too, Edward," he chuckled. "Yes, she's on her way. She seems suspicious, but happy to be playing along."

Do you think she has any idea what's going on?" I asked.

"None, dude. I can honestly say I think she is going to be thoroughly surprised," he said.

I put my thumb to my mouth and started biting on my nail as I paced around the garden.

"Thanks, Jasper," I replied.

"No problem, man. Good luck."

We hung up and I sat and waited. It wouldn't be long now.

Rose called a few minutes later from her spot at the Ladies Pavilion on the lake where she stood holding a pineapple upside down cupcake. She said that Bella arrived with a grin on her face and seemingly carefree as she skipped off to her next location. She told me she loved us both and wished me luck.

The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering to life. Bella would be here within ten minutes and I couldn't stand the anticipation anymore. I had run my hands through my hair so many times that I was sure it was standing up on all ends and I looked somewhat crazy to the innocent bystander, but I couldn't care less. I was going to come face to face with the love of my life in a matter of moments and I was nervous.

Finally, my cell phone vibrated one last time, showing Emmett's name on the screen. Emmett had been waiting at the Central Park Carousel with a plain old vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting. I had to pay him twenty bucks to not eat the cupcake before Bella got there because Emmett had an insatiable appetite for food and once he got started, there was no stopping him.

"Hey, bro. She's on her way." His voice was muffled, like he was chewing something.

"Emmett, are you eating?" I asked.

"Uhm..."

"Emmett," i gritted through clenched teeth.

"I was hungry and she couldn't carry anymore cupcakes plus the pictures so she told me I could have the cupcakes."

"You're unbelievable Emmett. And I want my twenty bucks back." I snapped my phone shut and looked up to see Bella walking towards me.

I was waiting for her in Shakespeare Garden, her favorite place in the park. She said she felt at peace when she came here, and I wanted this to be the place I told her I loved her because when we kissed, I felt complete. I felt whole. I felt at peace.

She was wearing a white t-shirt with a navy blue wool sweater over it and dark washed jeans. There was a tiny daisy in her hair tucked behind her ear that she must have picked up along the away.

She was breathtaking.

"Edward, what are you doing here? What's going on?" she questioned.

I reached out to grab her hands, my thumbs brushing across her knuckles.

"Bella," I said, "from the moment I met you, everything changed for me. I see the world in a whole new light and I look at things so differently now. I wasn't even aware that I was a broken man when I met you, but now I know that I was a shell of my former self. I always saw things as black and white, and you have made me open my eyes to view the world differently. When I am around you, I feel lighthearted and like nothing can bring me down. You mean everything to me, and I just want you to know that I am so crazy in love with you. You are my life, my world and I don't want to live another second without having you by my side, always."

I stared into her eyes and saw the beginning of tears start to form. I lifted my arm so my hand could graze her cheek to wipe away the tears that were being shed. She wasn't speaking, just looking at me and crying and I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or bad thing. I placed both of my hands on her cheeks and stepped closer to her, closing my eyes and resting my forehead against hers. I placed small, featherlight kisses on her nose, eyelids and forehead, patiently waiting for her to say something...anything.

"Bella," I whispered, "please tell me what you are thinking, how you're feeling."

I didn't even get a chance to open my eyes before I felt Bella hurl herself into my arms, almost knocking me backwards. Her arms circled my neck and gripped me so tight as she buried her head in the crook of my neck and chanted, "Thank God, Thank God!"

That was all I needed to hear. I put my hands in her hair and pulled gently so her face was right in front of mine. I stared into her beautiful brown eyes for a brief moment before I gently placed my lips on hers. The sensation of the kiss was euphoric. He mouth was so soft and fit perfectly against mine. We moved together, completely in sync. I felt completely breathless and lightheaded from the heat of our kiss as her tongue slipped out of her mouth and licked my bottom lip. I eagerly opened my mouth and sucked her tongue in, tasting vanilla and sprinkles. Our tongues eagerly explored each other's mouth, fighting for dominance. She moaned into my mouth and the sound went straight to my groin. I pulled back, placing soft, chaste kisses on her lips and set her down on the ground. Her hands came to frame my face. She stood on her tip-toes and placed her mouth next to my ears as she whispered, "My love, my life. I love you more than anything."

In that moment I felt complete and felt every single element of my life shift into place. I reached up to take her hands off my face. I intertwined the fingers of one of her hands with mine and began to walk towards the exit of the park, pulling her along with me.

"Edward," she asked, "where are we going?"

"Home, love. Now that I've told you how much I love you, I want nothing more than to show you."

A bright smile spread across her face as she said, "Lead the way home, Edward."

*~*~*~*

I was brought out of my musings by a slap and squeeze to the shoulder by Emmett. "How are you feeling, big guy? This has been quite a day, huh?" I just nodded my head in the affirmative without even looking at him. I couldn't be bothered, but the smile on my face said it all. My gaze was focused on the Angel on the other side of the room, dressed in all white, wearing a smile so bright she could light up the city. She moved around the room with gracefulness, happiness and without a care in the world as she greeted all of the guests who had come to celebrate one of the most important days of our lives. This day, our wedding day, would always be special to me. Not just because it was the day I pledged myself to Bella before family, friends and God, to love, honor and cherish her for eternity, but because it was this day, one year, six months and twenty-two days ago, I met my wife.

*~*~*~*

AN: I have to thank my fantabulous partner-in-crimes, Jessica0306, who beta'd this bitch and basically clarified for me that I can't spell, but that maybe I should open a bakery and pay her a salary to read FF all day, and to ppw, because she keeps me sane throughout the day. Both her and Jessica0306 kept telling me I could write this and encouraged me to finish it. I hope you all enjoyed