2nd Annual "For My Valentine"

A Twilight Love Story Contest

Title: As Time Goes By

Rating: M

Pairing: Edward & Bella

Summary: Something significant, but not necessarily pleasant, always seems to happen between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen on Valentine's Day. Maybe one of these years they will get it right. AH

For more information please see contest details at http://www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/~formyvalentinetwilight



Sunday, February 14, 1993

"Edward? Edward Cullen? I know you're up there. Your mother said you have to come down here and talk to me!" I yelled up to my neighbor who was taking refuge in his tree house. His mother told me he went up there with his brother, Emmett, two hours prior to my arrival. It might have been a precautionary measure against my visit. He had the mind to pull the ladder up after all.

"Go away, Bella. Emmett and I are busy. No girls allowed, remember?" he hollered back through the window. I heard the flipping of pages - they must have been reading one of their stupid comic books. Apparently, they were the only things six-year-old boys were interested in.

"But, Edward," I whined, "your mother said-"

"Edward Anthony Cullen, you come down from that tree, and talk to Bella. Now!" I heard Emmett and Edward's mom, Esme Cullen, yell from their house.

There was a loud, reluctant sigh from Edward and an even louder chuckle from his brother. Edward begrudgingly lowered the ladder and took his time coming down.

"What do you want, Bella?" His eyes never looked at me. He didn't acknowledge the curls in my hair, the ones I begged my mother to spend her Sunday morning on. He didn't tell me I looked pretty in my pink, frilly dress, either. I chose to endure the cold weather instead of hiding my new outfit behind a coat. Edward just kicked some dirt around, not once noticing the effort I made to impress him.

"Well, I just wanted to give you this." I shoved the red and pink paper heart at him. "It took me all day yesterday." I had spent hours amidst construction paper, glue sticks and glitter to make the perfect card for my Valentine.

"Jeez, Bella. Could you be more of a girl?" He took the paper from my hands carefully, as to not contract any of my cooties. As he read the simple note, he scoffed and rolled his eyes. "In your dreams, Bella Swan. Now, go home, and don't come back here!" He crumpled the paper up dramatically, exaggerating the force behind his hands. He threw my heart on the ground and climbed back up the ladder, making sure to pull it up behind him once again.

I picked the paper up, tears prickling my eyes, as the words I wrote less than twenty-four hours prior stared back at me:

Edward,

Will you be my Valentine?

Love, Bella

That was the first time Edward Cullen made me cry.

Monday, February 14, 2000

I sat in my homeroom trying to subdue my anticipation. At any moment, one of my peers was going to come through the doorway and hand out roses. I had bought some for a few of my close girlfriends, but I only bought a rose for one boy. I was hoping this year he would reciprocate for all of the years I gave him cards or candies or comic books.

I breathed in deep as Mike Newton barged into the classroom holding a basket of roses. I was silently willing him to give me a rose from Edward. My eyes followed him around the room as he made his way up and down the aisles. He was close; I felt him right behind me.

"Isabella Swan, Happy Valentine's Day!" he shouted like some sort of corny mascot as he plopped several roses on my desk. I looked up at him to smile my thanks, and he winked at me. Not a chance, Newton.

I picked through the flowers, briefly glancing at the messages on the attached tags. One from Jessica Stanley, the witch. One from Angela Weber, my book loving buddy. One from Alice Brandon, my very best friend. One from Rosalie Hale, my friend by association with Alice. One from Mike Newton, creeper. Then, I saw what I was looking for.

Bella,

Happy Valentine's Day.

Love, E.C.

It could have just as easily been from Emmett, but it was written in unmistakable chicken scratch. One from Edward Cullen, the boy of my dreams.

I had never understood what people meant when they said that their hearts swelled, but mine did. My heart swelled. I waited impatiently for lunch.

~*~

I sat down at my regular lunch table with my friends. It was the same as any other day, except everyone was talking about who got flowers from whom. I had to try hard not to make it obvious when I was looking around the room for Edward. He always sat with us, but I couldn't help but feel anxious today. Maybe he regretted sending me the rose? Maybe he sent one to all of his friends? Oh, no. Even worse - maybe it was a pity flower? I didn't want to be the recipient of Edward's pity flower.

"So, Bella, who'd you get a rose from?" Jessica asked as she wiggled her eyebrows. I knew she was asking just to be nosey and rub it in if I didn't get one from any boys. But really, it was none of her business.

"Well, I, uh," I stammered, "you, and Angela, and Rose, and - "

"She got one from me," Edward stated while he took his seat across from me. My heart sped up as I looked at him, and everyone else went quiet. Edward's contempt for me had been obvious since we were four. Our friends weren't expecting him to get me a rose, and they definitely weren't expecting him to make it publicly known.

"Yeah, and from Edward," I told Jessica with a smug look on my face. I turned my attention back to Edward. "Thank you, Edward."

"You're welcome, Bella. Happy Valentine's Day," he said with a quick smile before he dove into a conversation about football with Rosalie's brother, Jasper.

Friday, February 14, 2003

I woke up with a smile on my face. I couldn't wait to give Edward his gift. It was corny, but I knew Edward would love it. I had always given Edward some sort of token or gift on Valentine's Day, but this year was different. We were actually friends, now. We were best friends, really.

I had taken an interest in photography, and I was good at it, so I was never without my camera. I took pictures of everything and everyone. I decided to put the photos to good use. I made a scrap book for Edward. It was a very manly scrapbook, though, more of a photo album, really. It was black and had no stickers or decoration. The only color was the silver lettering on the cover and the pictures, of course. I left space for Edward to write witty captions - he was the word man.

After getting ready for school and eating a quick breakfast, I made my way over to Edward's and waited by his car like I did every morning. I held the album tight against my chest, second-guessing my decision to not gift-wrap it. It looked naked and exposed, which in turn made me feel naked and exposed. I put a lot of thought and effort into the album, and if Edward didn't like it or laughed at it, I didn't know if my pride, or my heart, could handle that.

Edward came out of his house a few moments later. He looked handsome and festive in a red sweater and blue jeans. His jade eyes really popped against the contrast of the red. He spotted me and smiled.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Swan," he spoke into my ear, planting a friendly kiss on the top of my head. "Will you be my Valentine?" He looked at me with pathetic puppy dog eyes. I punched him on the arm, harder than I had expected to. Maybe I was a little nervous.

"Same to you, Cullen. I see you dressed the part," I joked. I handed him the album, and he looked at me with a quirked eyebrow.

"For me?" he asked. He took the card that was tucked behind the album's cover. He read it over, paying attention to each word. "Wow, Bella. Who knew you could be such a sap?"

"Shut the hell up. I just, you know, wanted to let you know that you mean a lot to me...our friendship means a lot to me."

"I know. I'm only teasing. It means a lot to me, too." Edward rolled his eyes, trying to alleviate the seriousness of the moment.

He placed the album on the hood of his car, and his eyes made their way over the picture on the cover. I chose one of our whole group of friends at the beach from the previous summer. Edward's dad, Carlisle, took a candid shot as we were goofing off on the shore. Rosalie was trying to balance on Emmett's shoulders, and Alice was standing next to them, trying to hold her up. Jasper was sitting crossed-leg next to them, looking up at Alice's determined face. Ben Cheney and Angela were arm-in-arm sitting next to Jasper. I was standing off to the side, in front of Edward. I was doubled over in laughter, and he stood behind me, arms around my waist. His head was turned to the side, obviously laughing at the same thing I was. If I remember correctly, Mike had dumped a sand pail full of water on Jessica's head, and she had a conniption fit.

In my unoriginal fashion, I titled the album "Edward's World". He slowly flipped the pages as he took in all of the pictures of our friends and family.

"I left room," I said as I pointed below one of the photos, "for you to write captions or whatever."

"Bella, I'm speechless. This is the best gift I have ever gotten from anybody. I love it. Thank you." Edward threw his arms around me and held me in a hug. He smelled like typical Edward, all after shave and too much cologne. When he pulled away, he looked like he wanted to say something else, but he never did.

We drove to school in comfortable silence, occasionally singing along to the music. When we arrived, Edward looked over at me and smiled again.

"So, we're still on for dinner tonight, right? Maybe we can catch a movie or something, too?"

"Yeah, Cullen. I already told you I'd go five times already." I rolled my eyes, suddenly feeling awkward.

"Ok, I just wanted to make sure. I'll see you at lunch, Swan."

I started to walk away when Edward called out, "Bella?" I swung around. "Thanks again for the album. It means more to me than you know."

I nodded and made my way to class.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

"Alice, are you sure? I mean, you're one hundred percent positive?"

"I heard it straight from the horse's mouth, Bella. And I mean that literally. She's such a bitch," my best friend screeched into the phone at me.

"Well, so much for my theory that he was just going to surprise me by picking me up." I chewed on my fingernail as I sat up in my bed, too defeated to face the day. Then, out of nowhere, I had a moment of clarity. "You know what? It's fine. It's better than fine. I spent my entire life convincing myself Edward was my one true love, my soulmate. Who even thinks like that? Who, Alice?!"

"Bella, are you okay? You seem...hysterical," she asked, concerned.

I got up from my bed, now determined to face the day. "I am more than okay. I'm great. Edward and Tanya deserve each other. If he wants to take her to the Valentine's dance, then he should take her. And when he gets an STD, he better not come crying to me. This train has left the station, Edward Cullen! Buh-bye, baby. Choo fucking choo!"

"Yeah, you're definitely hysterical. I'm coming over." I heard the line go dead and knew that Alice would be over here soon.

I hopped in the shower, letting what Alice just told me sink in. She was at the mall with Rosalie when they ran into the school slut, Tanya Denali. Tanya was going on and on about how Edward had called her and asked her to the dance the previous night. I was shocked at first, because Edward said he would much rather go with the rest of us as a group than escort a date. I was convinced it was a cover and he was acting nonchalant so he could plan this huge, romantic evening...a romantic evening for us, him and me. Apparently, I was wrong.

He probably waited until the last minute to ask her because he was afraid of what I would think. What a chicken shit. I was now beginning to realize that all Edward and I would ever be was friends, and I was coming to terms with that. I was actually at peace with it. I had this grand idea of him and me my whole life. We grew up together; we teased each other incessantly; we liked and disliked the same things and the same people; we were just meant to be.

That morning, I finally knew better. We cared about each other. We enjoyed each other's company. We even loved each other. Everything was strictly platonic, though. He never even tried to kiss me. While every other guy in Forks High School was trying to feel me up at the movies, Edward was always such a "gentleman". Gentleman my ass. He just didn't see me like that. And that was fine, because I was done pining over Edward. I was just...done.

Alice and Rosalie barged through my front door as I was sitting down to a bowl of cereal.

"Is that all you're going to eat before the dance, Bella?" Rosalie asked, disgusted.

"It's cereal, a traditional breakfast food, Rose. Hi to you, too, by the way," I snipped back.

"It's two in the afternoon, Bella. Way past breakfast time." She stuck her tongue out at me, lightening the mood. "How are you? Are you ok?"

"Yeah, Bella, we're worried about you," Alice added.

"Really, guys? That's sweet, but I am fine. It's not like we were dating or anything. It actually helped me realize a lot of things. I am so over Edward Cullen. There are plenty of guys out there that would kill to be with me. It's time to ditch the childhood fairytale dreams and get on with my life. I'm seventeen, for shit's sake! It's high time I start acting like it instead of waiting around for Mr. Head Up His Ass." I shoveled a spoonful of Cheerios into my mouth.

"Wow, Bella. I am impressed. I didn't think you had it in you. I figured you'd grow into a crazy cat lady before giving up on Cullen." Rose was always so honest.

"This is great, sweetie. I am loving your new outlook on life and love! I bet we can find you a date for this dance in no time!" Alice exclaimed, a little too excited about the new me.

"Funny you should mention that. Jacob Black called a few minutes ago. He is picking me up at six to take me to the dance. Alice, I'm going to need to borrow those pink heels of yours. You know, the ones with the sparkles?"

Alice's eyes grew wide and lit up like a kid's on Christmas.

"Bella, you're such a hussy," Rose joked as she tousled my hair.

~*~

Jacob picked me up promptly at six, looking quite dapper in his black pants and red button-down. I thought about how the black, white and hot pink dress that I was wearing would clash next to his bold red, and I made a mental note to let Rose and Alice know that they were rubbing off on me.

The fact was, I didn't care, really. I was so excited to be going to a dance with a boy that had a genuine crush on me. It was no secret. Jake made it obvious that he had feelings for me. I always turned him down for one reason or another, finding some excuse. Deep down, I knew Edward was always the reason I thwarted other guys' advances. No more, though. Plus, Jake was really, really good looking.

"Bella, you look amazing. Really, really beautiful," Jake gushed at me.

"Thanks, Jake. You look very handsome. Let me grab my coat, and we can head over." I grabbed my black trench coat from the hall closet and followed Jake to his car. He didn't open the door. Most boys his age didn't. Edward did. Damn, Bella. Just give it up, already. I had to stop comparing every guy to Edward.

We made causal conversation about our classes and schoolmates on the way to the dance. When we arrived, I noticed Edward's car was parked in its usual spot. He was already there.

Jake and I walked inside, arm-in-arm, and followed the loud music to the school gymnasium. I slipped my coat off slowly, as to not wrinkle my dress, and handed it to the chaperone manning the coat check table. Jake put his hand on my lower back and led me over to a group of his friends. I noticed Edward off to the side of the gym standing with Tanya and her Bitch Brigade. It seemed he had been watching me since I walked in, paying close attention to where Jake's hands were. Tanya and her sheep were laughing like hyenas over something while Edward just ignored them and kept his eyes on me. I looked away to say hello to Jacob's friends, but I could still feel Edward's eyes on me, following my every move. I ignored him and joined into the conversation going on around me.

"So, I told him he can take his Seahawks and stick them up his-"

Edward interrupted Jake's story at that very moment, placing a light hand on my bare shoulder. "Hello, Swan." Jake got quiet and looked confused, or maybe nervous? His eyes moved around to his friends, then down at the ground.

"Hey, Cullen. What's up?" I asked as I turned to face him. His breath was sweet, like he was eating candy. And his usual, overpowering scent wasn't so overpowering. He smelled good, less headache-inducing. He smelled like someone I'd want to curl up into and snuggle with, rub my nose against his shirt and up to his neck. Christ on a cracker, Bella. Get a grip!

I tried to act unaffected and uninterested. I wasn't entirely sure it was working. Edward looked directly at me, not through me or around me. He licked his lips a lot, something he did when he was uncomfortable in a situation. He, too, cleaned up nicely. He was wearing a black cashmere sweater with the collar of a very light pink button down peeking out over the neck. He paired it with his fitted, grey knit pants. It didn't escape my attention that our outfits didn't clash but rather complemented each other.

"I just wanted to say hello and wish you a Happy Valentine's Day. We're all over there." He flicked his head backwards to motion to the other side of the gym. I looked over his shoulder and saw all of my friends, and smack dab in the middle of them all was Tanya. "Also, I have a gift for you in my car."

"Hi back. We'll be right over." I made sure to make it known that there was a "we", a Jake and me. No, we weren't a couple, but he was my date. Edward needed to know this. He needed to be reminded that he couldn't just lift his leg and piss all over me. I turned back to Jake, offering him an apologetic smile. I felt Edward still hovering behind me. I turned my head. "We'll be over in a minute, Cullen," I said nastily, hoping he got the hint to walk away. And he did.

After a few more minutes of talking with Jake's buddies, we made our way over to Alice, Rosalie and the gang. The gang that included Edward, and by the looks of it, now Tanya.

"Hey, everyone. Are we having fun?" I asked as I straightened the boutonniere Alice insisted Jasper wear.

"We're having a blast, doll," Rosalie said sarcastically, motioning to Tanya on the sly. "We're just one, big happy-"

"Are you dancing tonight, Bella?" Alice interjected. "Jasper here won't dance with me. I was hoping you would. I will even be your Valentine," she whined.

"Yes. If you and Rose are dancing, I am dancing!" I kissed Jake lightly on the cheek, surprising everyone, including myself, and pulled my two best friends on to the dance floor.

We danced to a few fast songs, more rocking out and goofing off than actual dancing. We made fun of Tanya's fake nails, orange tan and offensive bottle-red hair. When the pace of the music slowed, we took the opportunity to grab some water and rejoin our group. It never occurred to me that Jake would have felt awkward standing there with my friends, as he normally hung out with another group of kids. It also never occurred to me that maybe he wanted to dance with me at some point, too.

"You girls looked like you were having fun out there. If you consider spazzing out to be fun," Edward teased as he tickled my side. Instead of tickling him back like I normally would, I got annoyed.

"Cool it, Cullen. Damn. Can't you keep your hands to yourself?" Edward tilted his head and looked at me like he was lost. I had never reacted to him that way, and it probably caught him off guard. I turned to Jake and smiled sweetly. I also grabbed his hand and linked his fingers with mine. Did I do it to make Edward jealous? Yeah, probably.

"Sorry, Swan. I didn't know we were playing this game," he countered as he looked down at my hand touching Jake's.

The rest of our friends were silent now. Alice stared at the ground, as did Jake. Jasper looked over at the snack table, suddenly very interested in what the school deemed acceptable dance fare. Angela pulled Ben away to see what they could request at the DJ booth. It was only Tanya and Rose that unabashedly stared at Edward and me, obviously interested in what was developing.

"Game? There is no game, Cullen. Not anymore, anyway. Game. Over." Something took over me. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I'm pretty sure it was a bitch.

I caught Rose out of the corner of my eye. She leaned into Jasper and whispered, "Shit just got real. My money's on Bella." I didn't know what she meant at that moment. Part of me was convinced Edward and I were teasing, just like we always had. But deep down, I knew that the pot of water that was our tumultuous friendship was about to boil over.

"Could have fooled me, Bella. With the way you've been flaunting yourself and your date, I have to call it like I see it."

"How exactly do you see it? You obviously have something to say to me, so why don't you man up for once in your life and just fucking say it?"

"Come on. Your tiny, little dress. Your high heels. Shaking your hips out on the dance floor."

I knew exactly where he was going with this. What I had on was no where near as skimpy as what most of the other girls were wearing. How dare he? How fucking dare he?

"Of course. I'm a slut. You think I look like a slut? What a lame attempt at making yourself feel better about taking the easiest girl in school to the dance. You are so pathetic, Edward. I don't know what I ever...I don't know why I was ever your friend," I lied.

"Bella, I didn't....that's not what I meant," Edward stammered.

Tanya finally caught up with what was being said and stuck one of her fingers topped with a plastic, red nail in the air. "Excuse me, but did you just call me easy?" She scrunched her nose up like she smelled shit.

"Oh, honey," Rose said, "you are easy. It's okay. It's your thing. Embrace it."

"Jake, I would like to go home now, please," I stated.

"Bella, come on. Don't leave," Alice pleaded.

Edward was looking at the ground and rubbing the back of his head. I doubted that he felt bad for what he had said, but I sure hoped he did.

I leaned in to give Rose a kiss on the cheek, then Alice. "It's fine. I will call you girls tomorrow."

"Bella, please, wait. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Edward's hands were now in his pockets.

Tanya placed her hand on his arm. "Let her go, Edward. We will have a much better time without her," she sneered.

That was the last straw. I huffed audibly before I lashed out. "Sorry, huh? For what, Edward?" I asked, honestly curious. "For calling me a slut? For coming here with Tanya? For what?" I was spent. I had no more energy to waste on Edward.

"But you came here with Jacob! You can't possibly be mad that-"

"Don't! It's over. This whole conversation is just over. I can't do it anymore, Edward. I don't want to do this anymore." I kept my eyes on him for a moment, and I made myself believe he looked defeated, broken. I needed validation that I won, that I was the strong one. I knew, though, that when I left he would probably have a grand old time with Tanya, making fun of me, laughing at my expense.

I had Jake drop me off at home. I made sure to apologize profusely for ruining not only his time at the dance but his Valentine's Day, too. He assured me he didn't mind. He was just really pissed of at Edward for being such a prick. He wanted to take me out again if it was ok. I told him I would like that a lot. I kissed Jacob on his cheek and ran upstairs to my bedroom.

I didn't bother with my nightly ritual of changing, brushing, scrubbing and moisturizing. Instead, I threw myself onto my bed vowing to make for damn certain that this would be the last time Edward Cullen ever made me cry.

Present Day

I was busy, always on the go doing something. I owned a little art gallery that had really gained a lot of attention the past year. I opened the shop, which I named Bella's Gallery in my unoriginal fashion, after I graduated from the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. I had a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography and print art. It was really the only direction for me. It was what I loved and what I was good at. I was lucky to earn my livelihood by doing something that never felt like work. I sold a lot of my own photographs, but I also showcased the local talent that needed a little exposure. My favorite part of my job was meeting with new, potential artists and learning all about what drives them. I met so many intelligent, quirky, genuine people in my line of work.

I was meeting Alice and Rosalie for lunch because they were going to help me with a large art show I was putting together. Alice was my design and party girl, while Rose was my logistics girl. We had remained the best of friends all throughout college. That, too, was really the only direction for us. The three of us made sense. We supported each other, gave each other constructive criticism, cried on each other's shoulders, and always laughed with and at each other. It was Rose and Alice that helped me get over Edward quicker than expected all of those years ago.

"He's no good for you."

"He's an asshole. If he didn't hurt you now, he would have hurt you later."

"You're better than that. He doesn't deserve you."

Sometimes, it was a little weird because Alice and Rosalie were dating Jasper and Emmett, respectively. And Jasper, Emmett and Edward were like the three amigos. So, I got second hand information from them - unsolicited information. Sometimes, he would come up in conversation when I hung out with the four of them. He was a freelance writer, and he wrote books. Really great books. He was always the word man. He travelled a lot. I don't think he had been back to Forks since we graduated high school. Not for longer than a three-day weekend, at least.

I hadn't spoken to him since that night at the school dance. There were times when I wanted to call him up and shoot the shit. There were other times when I wanted to email him and confess to him how much I loved him, then and even now. Then, there were the nights I wanted to text him and tell him he was a damn fool, and he let the greatest thing that ever could have happened to him slip right through his long, lean fingers.

I arrived at the local coffee shop where I was meeting the girls for some gourmet sandwiches and coffee. I was there first; I was always the only one on time. I had ordered our lunches and set up my laptop by the time the two barreled through the doorway, looking like the cats that ate the canaries.

"You're late, again," I scolded, then smiled.

"Sorry, Bella. There was...Jasper and I got into a tiff. Rosalie had to wait for me. Sorry."

"Don't sweat it. I ordered for you guys." I took a sip of my coffee and motioned to theirs. "So, this tiff, what was it about?"

Rose and Alice shared a look that could only mean one thing. I wasn't going to like what either of them had to say, and they were silently arguing over who should be the one to tell me. Always with the kid gloves.

"Emmett talked to Edward last night," Alice blurted out as if it were some huge news.

"And Jasper didn't want Alice to tell you; he thought it could wait, or you should find out for yourself or something," Rose continued for her.

They were making no sense. Jasper didn't want Alice to tell me Emmett talk to Edward?

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Edward's coming home, Bella," Alice rushed.

"To Forks," Rose confirmed, "for good."

Edward was coming home...to Forks...for good. My stomach should not have had the reaction that it did. It was a mix of nerves, anxiety, confusion and hope.

"That's...that's great. I am sure everyone will be glad to have him home," I stated casually. "Now, about this art show..."

Rose and Alice knew I was deflecting. They knew not to push. I was handling this. What was I talking about? There was nothing to handle. A long time ago, I was friends with a boy, and that boy and I had a fight. It was a lifetime ago, and we were both different people. So, why was every part of me on edge with nerves and excitement?

~*~

The following Friday, I had a particularly long day at work. I had been on my feet since six a.m., and I needed to relax. I called Alice and Rose and asked them to meet me at Kate's, the local bar. We were going to meet for drinks and a late dinner. I got there at eight, thirty minutes before my compadres were due to arrive. I sat at the bar and ordered a Grey Goose and Red Bull. I grabbed one of the magazines that littered the bar and flipped through mindlessly. Five minutes hadn't passed when I heard him.

"Bella?"

I swung around on the bar stool so fast I almost did a complete three-sixty. My mouth hung open, very attractive, I'm sure.

"It is you. Bella Swan, as I live and breathe." He came over and wrapped his arms around my shoulders as I tumbled upwards out of my seat. He smelled like he should - no aftershave, no cologne. He smelled like Edward, clean and rustic.

"Edward? What a surprise. This is...it's great to see you. I heard you were coming back to town. I wasn't sure when..." I was rambling. I lifted my head off of his chest, reluctantly, and backed up. "Do you want a drink?" Really, Bella? Five plus years, and all you can think to ask him is if he wants a drink?

"I would love one, yeah. Do you mind if I sit?" He motioned to the stool next to me. All I could do was shake my head no. He got the bartender's attention and ordered a glass of Johnnie Walker Blue. Once his drink was in front of him, after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he spoke again.

"I hear you own your own store. That's great. Emmett told me all about it. I was so happy to hear you're still into your photography and stuff." He sipped his drink slowly, while I started to drink mine faster.

"Yeah, it's great. I love it. It keeps me busy, and I meet great people." And I sound like an idiot. "I have a show coming up soon. I'm showcasing some of my photos, and there will be two other artists showcasing, too." I nodded, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to be sitting with Edward after all these years. "You're a writer," I stated as fact.

"Yep. What else was I going to do? Writing was the only thing I was decent at."

"Brilliant at," I slipped out. "You're a great writer. I've read every single one of your books." As long as I was speaking without a filter, why not go all the way?

"Thanks. That means a lot. I wasn't sure if you, ya know? I didn't know if you would even care." He took another sip of his scotch, and I ordered another drink for myself.

"This is weird, Bella." Edward looked down at the bar and chuckled. "I mean, it is, and it isn't. What I'm trying to say is-"

"Hi! Oh, wow. Edward, hi." Alice came charging up next to me, mouthing her apology. "Rose is on her way. She said we could order for her. Should we get a table?" She hesitated. "Will you be joining us?" she asked Edward.

"No, thank you. I just came by for a drink. It's been a long day of unpacking." He downed the rest of his drink, put his money on the bar, and turned to me once more.

"Bella, I'd really like it if...I'd really like to be able to call you." He was nervous, just like a teenage boy.

"Yeah, sure. Emmett has my number, so... It was good to see you again."

"You, too, Swan." He had a genuine smile on his face. "See ya later, Ali."

As soon as he left, I looked at Alice and broke out into a fit of giggles. "If that wasn't the most uncomfortable conversation I ever had!" She rolled her eyes at me and ordered us couple of tequila shots.

"Here, girl. You look like you could use this."

~*~

Edward called two days later. I didn't expect him to call, but I didn't not expect him to, either. I stammered on the phone with him. He must have thought I lost all of my conversational skills. We made plans to meet for dinner later that night. I was starting to feel good about Edward coming back to Forks. Before "the argument" (it was dubbed such by Jasper, as it was the argument heard round the quad), we were as best of friends as they came. I was interested to see if we could get back to that place, or even just a semblance of that place.

I dressed in a purple, cable-knit sweater and jeans. I didn't want to overdress, but I didn't want to look like a slob. Then, I got angry at myself for treating it like a date when it was the furthest thing from one. I threw on my black boots and my heavy peacoat and drove the short distance to Gallagher's.

As soon as I walked through the entrance, I saw Edward waiting for me. He smiled and stepped behind me to take my coat off. His hand brushed the back of my neck by accident, and I felt a chill run down my back. I quite liked it.

"Purple is a great color on you, Bella. It always has been," he complimented.

"Thanks, Cullen," I said with familiarity. Then, I wasn't sure Edward was okay with that. "Sorry. Old habits and all."

"Please, Swan. Apologizing is for sissies," he used an old tease of ours. "I had them hold a table over in the corner. It's quieter. We can talk."

I nodded and followed Edward to the back of the restaurant. I was starving, and I hoped he wouldn't think me a pig when I ordered.

"Ok," I started, "tell me what brings you back to Forks?"

"Well, I was getting tired. I had to travel a lot to write these freelance pieces. It was hard to keep my thoughts about my novels in one place when my brain was going in every which direction. And my novels are my number ones, my babies. So, here I am, hunkering down to just write. This place has always been my inspiration."

"Makes sense. Won't you miss it, though? Checking out all of those places for your travel articles?" I grabbed a piece of the table bread and butter.

"Nah. When I went to these places, I never got to enjoy them. I always had to use an objective eye. So, now, wherever I go next will be strictly for pleasure." He closed his menu and motioned for our waiter.

We ordered our drinks and our food. I, of course, got the filet mignon with sides of mashed potatoes and sauteed onions. Edward asked if I minded sharing my sides, and I told him that I didn't. After that, we carried on with comfortable, yet casual, conversation. We got up to speed with what we've been doing the past several years. We laughed about old times...fun times...the good memories.

After we ordered one dessert to share, Edward's face got serious. His forehead creased, and he squished his brows together like he was debating whether he should say what he was thinking.

"Look, Swan, er, Bella. Shit, I'm sorry. I am. That's why I asked you here," he rambled, "to tell you how sorry I am about that stupid dance and-"

I stopped him. "Edward, please. That was a million years ago. We were both just stupid kids with huge egos and too much pride." I meant it. I didn't begrudge him anything from that night. We both said stuff we didn't mean, and for me, it was water under the bridge.

"I know, I know. It's just that five years have gone by without one word spoken between us, and that's too much. It's been too long. I regret it every day. I wanted to call you or write to you, but I never had the nerve. I was so scared you would yell at me and tell me what an asshole I was. Of course, I wouldn't blame you. I deserve it. And I should be used to it, anyway. You've been yelling at me all of our lives." He smirked and looked anywhere but at me.

Our waiter came back with our triple chocolate cake and two forks.

"Mmmm, this looks amazing." I grabbed a forkful and brought it to my mouth. "Weird. It smells awful," I lied. "Edward, smell this, and tell me if it smells bad to you." I held the whole piece of cake up to his nose, and as he bent down to get a better sniff, I lifted the plate with the slightest force. His nose and mouth were covered in chocolate fudge.

"Alright, Cullen. Consider that apology accepted," I said through my laughter. "I cannot believe you still fall for that. You are so gullible!"

"Ha ha. Very funny, Bella." He swiped his finger over the chocolate topping and smeared it across my cheek. "Even?"

"Yea, Edward. We're even." I laughed harder. "We better get out of here before we get kicked out for acting like children." Edward quickly paid the bill, and we burst through the doors, spilling onto the sidewalk in a fit of giggles. Edward was home.

~*~

"Emmett told me you've been spending quite a bit of time with Edward," Rose said in between bites of risotto. "What's up with that?"

I glared at her and her stupid question. "Nothing is up with that, Rose. We're just hanging out. We're friends. We've always been really good friends, and it's great to reconnect with him. That's all."

"Ok, because if you were looking for more, I doubt you'd get any resistance on Edward's side," she replied, acting as if it would be the easiest thing in the world.

"I don't think so. Even if that were the case, which I assure you it is not, I wouldn't want to walk down that road again. Edward and I work as friends; it's what we were meant to be. Which is why we fell into our routine so comfortably together after all of these years."

"Again?" Alice piped in. "What do you mean again, Bella? There was never a road walked down the first time. You stood at the end of that road and waved to Edward from a distance. Now, you have this incredibly uncommon second chance. If I were you, I'd be running down that goddamn road so fast it would make me puke!"

I really had nothing to say back. Alice really had a way of taking an idiom and running with it. So, I opted to stare at the two of them blankly before digging back into my dinner.

After dinner, we decided to order dessert because, well, we always had dessert. What's the point in not?

"I almost forgot," Rose said with a mouth full of carrot cake and lips full of frosting. "Emmett and I are having people over or Valentine's Day. We're so bored with going out to a fancy dinner every year. Plus, it's on a Sunday. So, we figured why not enjoy the cliché holiday with our lovies?" She pinched Alice's and my cheeks. "You'll come?"

"Jasper and I will definitely be there," Alice agreed.

"Yeah, I'll probably stop by," I said, already knowing that I wouldn't.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I sat at my desk in my little office in the back of my store. I had been there since eight in the morning. The twelve-hour days were killing me. The big show was next weekend, and there was still so much work to do. I had just hung up the phone with my favorite Chinese delivery place, and I leaned back in my chair to take a little breather.

Alice called earlier wondering if I wanted to drive to Rose's with her and Jasper. I told her I had too much work to do, and I wouldn't be able to make it. I wasn't in the lovey-dovey social mood. Valentine's Day and I were done professionally, anyway. Stupid hearts and candies and flowers. Plus, Edward would probably be there, and Edward plus Bella plus Valentine's Day usually didn't end well.

Instead, I sat alone looking at my photographs. I saved my best pictures for me, safe on the walls of my apartment and office. They were pictures of the people I loved. A lot of them were copies of the ones I added to Edward's album. I kept the group shot from the beach all those years ago right on my desk. I know I didn't take it, but it was still my favorite.

My eyes stopped on a picture of Edward and me that was taken the Christmas before "the argument". We were at Alice's annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party, and our sweaters were ugly. But it wasn't the fashions that caused me to linger on it. It was the way Edward and I were looking at each other. We faced each other, and his finger was on my nose, pressing it upwards to resemble a pig's. My thumbs were pulling his bottom lip down, exposing the hidden braces on his bottom teeth that he went to great lengths to keep secret. We had goofy looks on our faces, and we were completely aware of one another. We looked like two pieces of a puzzle that fit just right.

A knock on the door jolted me out of the memory of that party and of the idea of how great Edward and I could have been. I grabbed my wallet and went out to the showroom to get my dinner.

Except, it wasn't my dinner. It was Edward. I looked at him in disbelief for a moment, wondering how he even knew I would be here. Then, I realized he must be freezing. I unlocked the door and ushered him in.

"What are you doing here, Cullen? Shouldn't you be at Rose and Emmett's?" Then it hit me...

"Yeah, I was there. And you weren't." Obviously. "Alice told me you were here working. It's Sunday, Bella. People don't work on Sundays."

"I do. I have a big-"

He cut me off. "Show. Yeah, I know. You could have stopped by for a drink or some dinner. I bet you haven't even eaten anything."

I was confused. Edward was upset with me because I missed a little get-together? Talk about irrational emotions. Then, I saw my delivery guy from Happy Panda.

"Ha! Here is my dinner right now, actually," I said, rubbing it in Edward's face. I paid the driver and took my food to the back. I called behind me to Edward, "Are you coming or what?"

He followed me to my office and sat across from me on the other side of my desk. "Wow. These pictures...so many memories. I can't believe you hung these all up." He got quiet for a minute before continuing. "I still have the album. Edward's World," he chuckled. "I keep it on my coffee table."

I didn't know what to make of that, so I didn't try to make anything of it. "Do you want some food? I ordered enough for a small village."

"Still can't make up your mind, Swan?" Truth is, my mind was made up a long time ago, and I spent years fighting it.

We ate and talked and laughed, and I pulled out my emergency bottle of wine. After I cleaned everything up, I walked Edward around the gallery, explaining more about the artists than their art.

"Oh, hey, I have something for you. I almost forgot." I saw Edward place a bag down on the counter when he arrived. I assumed that was what he was talking about. I felt bad because I didn't have anything for him. Was he expecting a Valentine's gift from me? I really didn't know what the hell was going on in Edward's head or how his thought process worked. He pulled a bound book from the bag and handed it to me.

"Edward, I don't have anything for you. I didn't know we were doing," I motioned to the book with my hand, "this."

"It's nothing, really. Actually, I've been waiting five years to give this to you. I was going to give it to you at the dance. But that obviously didn't happen," he said with regret.

"Right, the dance. You've been carrying this around ever since?" I teased. He remained silent. "You know, that whole mess could have been avoided if you just told me you wanted to invite Tanya. It would have spared us, and everyone else, a lot of grief."

Edward's eyes shot up and met mine. "Me? I should've told...? You were the one that agreed to be Jacob Black's date. I took that as a big, fat sign you didn't want to be my date, so I told Tanya I'd go with her." He got argumentative.

"Hold on, you! I agreed to go with Jake only after I heard you had asked Tanya. Of course I wanted to go with you. I mean, we were going to go as a group. That was the plan," I said quietly.

"Oh my God, Bella. We're such assholes," he chuckled. Then, his laugh got louder and louder. "All these years...all this time...We got played, Swan. Played real good." His laughter subsided, and he explained further. "The Friday before that stupid, fucking dance, I told Tanya I was going to ask you to go with me, just you and me. She told me that you told Jake you wanted to go to the dance with him. Then, she said since you were going with someone already, her and I might as well go together. I assume Jake called you and asked you only after Tanya told him to." We really were assholes.

"So, after all these years, it was all one big misunderstanding? And we're still arguing over a fucking high school dance?" I was shocked and amused and sad. "I can't believe it. We're never going to live this down, Edward. Never."

"Tell me about it. Unbelievable," he laughed out loud. We sat there for a few more minutes, cackling over how stupid we were before reality set in. There was a chance there for us. Edward was going to ask me to the dance. I would have said yes.

"So, you were going to ask me to the dance, huh?"

"Bella, open the book. Please," he pleaded. I nodded and slid the book in front of me. The cover read Through Bella's Eyes.

As I flipped through the pages, my breathing slowed, and I couldn't move. It was poetry, prose, lyrics, random words. Some pages were handwritten on crumpled notebook pages. Others were typed out. There were some doodles. I felt a finger, Edward's finger, slide a piece of my hair behind my ear. Then, he moved the same finger down my cheek slowly.

"I don't remember reading these, Edward. I never saw these. This is incredible. When did you...?" I was at a loss with what to say.

"Throughout high school."

"Edward, I can't accept this. It's beautiful, but this is yours. These are your words, not mine," I spoke quietly, tears starting to flood the bottoms of my eyes. I read the words in front of me, and I knew what they meant. I knew what he was trying to tell me. He was letting me know how he had felt back then. How it could have been...we could have been something.

"Christ, Swan," he huffed as he ran his hand over my cheek once more. "Don't you get it? They are your words. I wrote them for you...because of you. It's always been you, and I should have told you that. I should have told you everything. I should have told you at that dance, and I should have told you every single day since then." My hands were now in his, gripped tightly in between us.

I gulped audibly, so anxious and excited. I wasn't sure what was going to come next, but I had to find out.

"Told me what, Edward?"

"That I loved you. Love you. I'm in love with you, and I always have been. My heart broke that night, Bella. I was going to give you this book that night. I was going to make you realize-"

"You love me?" I was stupefied, dazed, stunned. Then, I was peaceful. "You love me, and I think you should know…I love you, too, Edward. I've loved you since I was six years old. I thought it was obvious, but I was so wrong." I couldn't shut my damn mouth. "Then, we became close, and I didn't want to ruin our friendship by blurting-"

He stopped me without words. He wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me to him. I threw my hands around his neck, and he dipped his face to mine. He placed a finger over my lips. In that moment of quiet and understanding, my eyes scanned his face. His uneven eyebrows and bony nose. The beauty mark on his upper lip. The scruff on his face from not shaving. Then, I got tired of just looking. "Happy Valentine's Day, Edward," I breathed into his ear before I brought my lips to his.

I had waited for this moment my entire life. There were times I imagined it, or even practiced what I would say, or what he would say. I had never imagined it like this, though. This was raw and passionate and honest. Most of all, it was comfortable.

Our lips pecked slowly, learning their ways around each other. We had heavy breaths, and tugged at hair and skin to just get closer, to just be as close as possible. Finally, our tongues met, and we were a force to be reckoned with. Nothing was pulling us apart, not anymore. We made out for what seemed like hours. We sat in front of the counter, legs and arms tangled, tongues fighting for dominance. It was frantic and messy and rushed and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

When we finally came up to catch our breath, we looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"Took you long enough, Cullen," I teased again.

"Better late than never, Swan," he shot back. "Did you have a good Valentine's Day?"

"I had the best Valentine's Day." Then, I got an idea. "Wait, here. I'll be right back," I told him with a wink. I ran to the back and grabbed my camera. "Here, stand up." I extended my hand to pull Edward up. I held the camera out in front of us and faced Edward, ready to take a profile picture. I placed my lips on his and commanded, "Say cheese!" I snapped the picture just as Edward said cheese, lips still pressed against mine.

The photo looked more like we are attached at the teeth, rather than kissing. But it will always remind me of the day Edward Cullen gave me a Valentine's Day gift, along with his heart.