My entry in the An Edward to Remember Classic Hollywood Romance One Shot Contest- 1st Place Winner.
Based on An Affair to Remember
The snow silenced the city.
It was something that Edward never failed to notice. Before it had always delighted him: the way a simple, pure act of nature could bring a teeming metropolis to a breathless halt. Now it was only an irritation, because now he relied on the noise and bustle of the city to distract him. Now he needed it to keep him from going crazy. The constant motion of the city was the only thing that kept his thoughts from her.
But the snow had put a damper on all of the ordinary city bustle; it had even quieted the pre-Christmas mania. As Edward stood at the grimy window that looked out over a peaceful and quiet New York, all that came back at him was a sigh of contentment from the City that Never Slept. So tonight he'd have to formulate his own distraction, and he would, in the shape of the comely and appealing Victoria.
He knew tonight was fraught with opportunities for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. When Victoria had telephoned earlier and explained about the extra ticket to the ballet and her escort with the unexpected scheduling conflict, it had seemed simple enough. But just the bare facts of their history, the broken engagement less than a year ago, the fact that Victoria knew he'd broken it off because he'd fallen desperately, hopelessly in love with another woman, the fact that Victoria knew he'd likewise been abandoned by that woman, made tonight full of landmines. But Victoria had been so blasé and lighthearted on the phone. Just a spot of difficulty she'd found herself in, she said. Because of her father's continued support for the ballet she simply had to go, and she couldn't go alone, because how would that look? Edward found himself saying yes before he'd really contemplated what that meant.
Now he found himself here, dressing in a tuxedo, raking his unwieldy auburn hair back off his face, adjusting his sterling silver cufflinks, the studied habits of a lifetime as a jet-setting playboy. He thought he'd left that life behind nearly a year ago, that day on the deck of the boat with Bella. Clutching her trembling hands in his as they both faced the unknown, he promised her, he'd leave it all behind, he'd figure out how to be just Edward, and she would figure out how to be just Bella. And then, once they'd both learned how to stand on their own two feet, no rich lovers, no money, then they'd find each other again and begin life all over, hand in hand. Just Edward and Bella.
He'd done it. Edward had marched straight back to the park side penthouse and ended his engagement to Victoria in one brutal, swift blow. Despite that, it didn't really faze her. She was a tough girl and Edward had always suspected that she never really loved him. The way she bounced back after being jilted by him confirmed it. She was seen out on the arm of the Prince of Monaco within the week.
Edward left Victoria and all her money and the whole life she brought with her behind. It was a long, brutal six months of bitterness and privation, and doing without, as he learned for the first time how to be an adult. How to get and keep a job. How to live on next to nothing. It was worth it, though. He was proud of who he was becoming, he was proud of the man that would greet Bella in six months' time. This man, though humble and poor, was a man she could depend on, a man she could trust. He felt like he knew himself for perhaps the first time in his life. All he needed was Bella to share it with.
And that's what he thought he was going to claim that raining wind-swept night in June as he waited at the top of the Empire State Building. They'd set the date, they'd set the place, but there were no promises from either that they'd actually be there. They both had complicated lives with other people, they were both accustomed to having it all and being well-cared for. They'd been brutally honest that morning on the boat. Could they live without it, giving up everything they'd become accustomed to having? Neither one was sure. That's why the plan and the delay. They would go off alone and disentangle themselves from their sordid lives. They'd make a stand alone. And if, in six months' time, they'd managed it, and if they still wanted each other, then they'd be there. But there were no promises and there were to be no rebukes if one of them failed to materialize.
That's what Edward told himself over and over that night as he waited in the rain. Waited for Bella…who never came.
Edward was gasping for breath, clutching the door frame as he relived that long sinking realization…she wasn't coming. He told himself over and over during the intervening months that she never promised and neither did he. It was the mantra he used to stave off the bitterness, to keep himself from turning on her memory, because her memory was all he had left. She changed her mind, it was as simple as that. In the end, what she felt for him wasn't as strong as the lure of her comfortable life. Or maybe she really loved the man who kept her after all. It was impossible to say. The days after that were a blur, lost in his pain, but he'd managed to keep moving forward, to keep drawing breaths in and pushing them back out. Time had passed, whether he cared if it did or not.
And now he found himself here, trussed up in a tuxedo again, waiting to be collected by Victoria's car and driver. So familiar and yet it felt like it had all happened to someone else. He was tempted to call her and beg off, to go and bury himself in a bottle of scotch for several days on end, just as he had right after that night. But that wouldn't be fair to Victoria, and after all he'd done to her, the least he owed her was this.
The front door buzzed and he knew he was out of time. Victoria's car was downstairs. Edward did his best to empty his mind. It was better if he didn't think at all. He flicked off the lights and made his way down the rickety narrow staircase to the first floor, smirking slightly at how horrified Victoria must be at his living arrangements. He wagered she'd never in her life so much as driven through this part of town and now she was fetching her date from one of the unsightly run-down buildings. But Edward couldn't bring himself to move on. As heartbroken as he was at Bella's desertion, he couldn't help but feel that she'd ultimately set him on the right path and he was determined to see it through. He'd be a better man for his own sake now, if not for hers.
Victoria's long, shining black car looked ridiculously out of place pulled up to the curb in front of his building, as did the sharply uniformed driver holding the door open for him. Victoria was in the back seat, reclining back on the plush red upholstery, her black taffeta evening gown contrasting sharply with her bright white fur stole and her flaming red upswept hair.
"Eddie! Darling!" she cooed as soon as she caught sight of him, holding out both of her hands to him. Edward cringed inwardly at her use of the nickname he hated, but did what she expected him to do and took her hands in his, lowering his head to brush his lips briefly across the back of one.
"Victoria, you look magnificent," he said, his voice low and studied. He thought he'd forgotten all these old tricks, the flirting, the courtly manners, but it was all coming back startlingly fast. It made him wonder just briefly how easy it might be to fall back into the whole life. Could he sink back into the car with Victoria and never emerge? Since the very idea made him shudder, he decided the answer was no.
Victoria offered up her cheek to be kissed, and he dutifully did so. Then she sat back in the car and examined him for a long moment.
"I wish I could say the same, Eddie. But I have to say, you don't look so good, darling."
Edward scowled at her and absently ran a hand through his hair, as if that would help.
"It's this place, Eddie!" Victoria waved a hand heavy with rings at his neighborhood as the car pulled away from the curb. "Must you live here? You know you're always welcome to stay with me until you sort things out. Heaven knows I have more rooms than I know what to do with."
"That's a very generous offer, Victoria, but under the circumstances it's a bit unwise, don't you think?"
She smirked at him then, her red lips curling up in amusement. "Oh, Eddie, that's all in the past. Don't you read the gossip papers? I've moved on, haven't you heard? I'm seeing the Prince of Monaco. Or the British Viscount. It depends on which day you read."
He looked at her then and he could tell from her expression that she was in earnest. She might be flirtatious, but that was Victoria's constant state. Tonight, however, there was no real intent in any of it. She was practically laughing out loud at the very thought. He relaxed then, and decided that he'd do his best to be entertaining and charming tonight, to show her a good time. She deserved that much from him.
"How have you been, Vicky? Really."
"Really? I've been divine, Eddie. Simply divine."
"I'm delighted to hear that, Vicky. Truly." And he meant it, Edward realized.
She smiled fondly at him then. "I know you are, darling. Now, are you going to show me a good time tonight? Just like in the old days?"
Edward chuckled a little but nodded. "Absolutely. I promise."
And he kept his promise, being the perfect, charming escort to the ballet, making gracious small talk with her father's business associates, promptly fetching her wrap or a drink or a program when any of those things were required. And for her part Victoria was pleased to have him at her side, but absolutely platonic in her treatment of him. For a few moments that evening, Edward almost felt like he was enjoying himself.
The ballet was exceptionally good, but classical dance was never Edward's cup of tea, so he was relieved when the program drew to a close and it was time to go. Victoria was teasingly badgering him to come out with her for a late supper. He was resisting, but only half-heartedly, and he knew he'd give in. Edward arranged her stole around her shoulders and placed his hand on the small of her back to usher her up the aisle to the exit.
It was just as he turned away from Victoria's laughing face towards the door when he spotted her sitting in the crowd right next to the aisle. He was sure he could live to be a hundred and nine and he'd still be able to pick her face out of a crowded room with just a glance. It wasn't something that he could ever forget.
She looked exactly the same. No, that wasn't true. She was perhaps a little thinner and paler. But the parts that were burned into his brain were unchanged. Her long dark hair was curling softly around her shoulders, just as he remembered. The soft shape of her mouth, her heart-shaped face, those things were the same. Her large brown eyes were the very same, and they were fastened on his, he realized with a jolt.
Bella was looking at him for the first time in nearly a year. The room seemed suddenly empty of everyone but her and himself. His first irrational impulse was to run to her, to seize her by the shoulders, to throw his arms around her and never let her go. But then his rational mind caught up and he remembered their circumstances. And he noticed the man sitting next to her…holding her hand. He'd only seen him once on the gangplank of the ship when he'd come to meet her, but Edward was certain it was James. The man who'd kept her like a goddamned bird in a gilded cage for five years but would never marry her because she wasn't good enough for him. And there she sat, holding his hand.
Edward felt sick to his stomach, desperate to escape and desperate for more contact, all at the same time. His mind was racing with questions that he wanted to scream out at her. Where were you? You said you loved me, so why didn't you come? You swore you loved me… So how could you give me up for him?
But he said nothing. As he and Victoria drew level to Bella and James, he nodded his head nearly imperceptibly and said, "Hello." He purposefully kept his eyes away from James, because if he looked directly at him it might end in blows, and that was the last thing any of them needed now.
Bella's eyes grew wider and he saw her lips move a fraction. He barely heard her whispered "hello" in response, but he didn't miss the way her hand tightened around James' hand. It was exactly what he needed to give himself the strength to tear his eyes away from hers, to focus front again, to mumble some response to whatever Victoria had just said.
Somehow they made it back to the car and they were nearly back to Edward's neighborhood before either of them spoke again.
"That was her, wasn't it?" Victoria's voice held no anger or jealousy, just sad interest.
"Who?" Edward had no idea why he was playing dumb, it just seemed the thing to do.
"That woman at the theatre. She was the one you were in love with."
Edward paused for a long time, something about the question not sitting right with him. Finally he realized it was the tense. The way Victoria said it made it sound like some nice, tidy, completed event from his past. In reality, his chest felt torn open every minute of every day…still.
Finally, he answered softly, "Yes, that was her."
"Well, tonight was a bust," Victoria sighed.
"I'm sorry, Vicky. I know you wanted to go out and have a good time."
"Not for me, you idiot. It was a bust for you. I was hoping to drag you out of your funk, at least for a night. And I thought I was. But then we saw her and…"
"Yes, then we saw her."
Victoria pressed against Edward's side and laid her head on his shoulder, wrapping her hands around his arm, comforting him as best as she could.
"I'm so sorry, Eddie," she whispered.
Edward let his head fall back on the seat and closed his eyes. "Me, too, Vicky."
Bella rested her chin on her arm along the back of the couch, staring out the window at the falling snow. The hush it brought with it matched her mood, her own need for peace and solitude. She still felt completely blown to pieces after last night, when she'd seen him. Perhaps a little time watching the snow fall would help her find her equilibrium again. Or perhaps nothing would ever help again.
Going to the ballet last night with James had seemed safe enough when he called and asked her yesterday. She knew he still wanted her, and that was an ever-present tension between them. But she'd made herself perfectly clear. She'd longed for his unconditional love and acceptance for so many years and only now when he was finally able to give it, she no longer had any desire for it at all. But James refused to leave her completely alone. Out of some combination of love, regret and pity, he liked to make her difficult life a little easier when she'd allow him to, which was not often. She wouldn't accept his money but when he called up now and again with a harmless invitations to concerts and shows, she said yes. Last night had seemed no different at first, at least until she looked up and saw Edward staring back at her.
All this time she'd been telling herself she had to stay away from him. Unless…no, until she was whole again, it wouldn't be fair to reach out to him. Because if she came to him like this, half of the woman she used to be, he'd feel guilty, beholden to her. Especially since the accident had happened when she was rushing to meet him. She could not bear it if he came to her out of guilt or some misplaced sense of obligation. Having him bound to her under those circumstances would be worse than not having him at all. At least that's what Bella thought before she saw him last night with Victoria Marshall's hand tucked familiarly in the crook of his arm.
In that moment when their eyes met, the world seemed to stop turning. And she thought she saw it there in his face, too. The desperation, the longing, the desire. But then the veil had dropped over his eyes, turning them flat and emotionless. He'd murmured a polite hello and tipped his head to her like she were just any passing acquaintance before turning and leaving the theatre with Victoria Marshall sweeping along at his side in her silk evening dress and her fur stole and her diamonds. Bella wanted nothing more just then than to get up and run after him, to chase him down, to throw herself at his feet and apologize…but that was just it. For her there was no running. Not anymore.
Now, twelve hours later, she was still left with this crater where her heart was. Her situation was unchanged, she still couldn't go to him, except now she was left without even the comfort of imagining that she could. Because from the look on his face last night, she wasn't sure she'd ever be welcomed back. What then? What if she managed it, scraped together the money for the procedures required and the therapy that followed, what if it all worked and she walked again? What if she made her way back to him as whole as she was that last morning on the boat when they made their promises and kissed goodbye? And what if he didn't want her anymore? Did her failure to appear that night cause more damage than she could fix? The thought was chilling and she was nearly consumed with despair.
"Alright, dear, I think I have everything you need all set up." Mrs. Cope's bright, cheery voice broke her out of her spell. She bustled around the couch and the coffee table, arranging and fussing for a few minutes more. Bella glanced over everything Mrs. Cope had laid out at arm's length on the table. It looked as if everything she might need for the evening was there.
"Thank you, Mrs. Cope. I think that's all," she said.
"Of course. If you need anything, dear, just call. I'm right across the hall. And I'll be back at eleven to help you into bed."
"Are you sure you don't want to join us for dinner? I hate the thought of you alone over here on Christmas Eve," Mrs. Cope fretted as she twisted her hands in front of her. Bella smiled at her in gratitude. She was such a good person. Yes, Bella paid her a woefully tiny amount to come in several times a day and help her. But Bella suspected that Mrs. Cope would have come anyway, simply because she couldn't resist helping someone in need.
"I'm fine, I promise. I'll see you at eleven."
"Alright then," she smiled, still looking back over her shoulder at Bella on the couch as she opened the door.
Bella's smile fell away from her face as she registered who was standing in the now-opened doorway.
Mrs. Cope saw Bella's expression collapse and looked behind herself, starting in surprise at the tall, handsome stranger standing hesitantly in Bella's doorway. He looked at Bella like he knew her, but his face…he was so unsure. And there was no happy recognition as there would be between friends, only tense silence and staring. When Mrs. Cope looked back at Bella to ask if she should let the stranger in, Bella looked as if she'd seen a ghost.
"Miss Swan?" Mrs. Cope asked softly.
"It…it's alright, Mrs. Cope. Please ask him in." Bella's voice was little more than a wavery whisper.
Mrs. Cope stood back from the door and waved a hesitant hand, inviting Edward in. He stepped just inside the door and stopped, his eyes flickering over Bella and the details of the room, anything to avoid looking her in the eye just yet. Mrs. Cope murmured a few more words and wished them a Merry Christmas absently before she backed out of the door and closed it behind her.
The silence she left in her wake stretched out and filled the room.
Bella took a moment to look at him in a way she hadn't been able to last night. He was still so handsome. That face…she'd never forget the first time she saw it, staring at her across the deck of the ship. It was the same face now, but he looked tired, perhaps a little thinner.
Edward finally broke the awkward silence and spoke first.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I'm here."
You're here because you love me and I love you and you need me as much as I need you.
That's what Bella wanted to say, but instead, when she was finally able to find her voice, she stammered, "Ah…y-yes. Yes, I am wondering."
"I sent you something and it was returned," he said calmly, holding up the paper-wrapped package he held. "I looked you up in the phone book and decided to drop it off since I was in the neighborhood."
Edward was working hard at sounding casual, keeping his voice absolutely neutral. Bella didn't seem at all unhappy at his sudden appearance, but neither was she exactly welcoming. He couldn't read her at all really, which hurt, as once they had seemed to be able to read each other's minds.
"Oh, you sent me something?" she said a bit breathlessly.
"Just passing it along, really."
Edward hesitated a moment, expecting that she would get up to retrieve it. When she didn't move he stepped forward a few steps, just close enough for her to reach out and take it from him. He stood behind the back of the couch feeling slightly awkward now that his hands were empty.
Bella turned the package over in her hands, her fingers skimming past the crossed out address, a reminder of her old life, before Edward and everything else. Then she gently pried the tape loose to release the paper. A delicate lace shawl tumbled free and she gasped in recognition.
"From my grandmother. She remembered how much you liked it and when she passed away, she left a note that you were to have it."
Bella's head snapped up, her eyes finally meeting Edward's fully for the first time since he'd entered the room. She was already blinking back tears at the news.
"Passed away?" she whispered.
Edward found his heart clenching at her sorrow in spite of his resolution to remain stony.
"Yes, over the summer," he murmured, his voice softening.
Bella ducked her head and let her hair swing forward to hide her face and the tears that began to fall. She allowed herself a moment to remember Edward's grandmother, Esme. Her warmth, her gentle softness, her abundant kindness. Bella had only spent the one afternoon with her when the ship stopped off and Edward had taken her along on his visit, but it was one of the best days of her life and she'd never forget a moment of it as long as she lived. With almost no effort she could recall exactly how it felt to sit in the courtyard on the edge of the tiled fountain next to Edward, the sun warming the bricks and their faces, the air around them filled with the scent of the gardenias growing along the wall, the soft breeze carrying the smell of the ocean up the mountainside to them. It had been there, sitting on that wall, when she had looked at Edward at the same moment he looked at her. Their eyes met that she knew it without a doubt in the very corners of her soul: she'd fallen irrevocably in love with him.
Bella's hands clenched tight around the shawl as she kept her head lowered and tried to control her response. Edward took the opportunity of being unobserved to really look around himself. She had moved, that he knew the minute the package had come back. Although he'd never been to her old apartment, he knew the posh Upper East Side neighborhood. He might have even loitered in the shadows outside of her building for a while, but he'd forever deny that. Her old building was luxurious and expensive and she'd lived on a high floor. Another of the many trappings of her life as James's mistress. But this place was nothing like that. It was in a much humbler neighborhood and this apartment was on the first floor, in the back of the building, small and dark and very modestly furnished. She was still with James, he'd seem them together just last night. Evidenced by the lack of a ring on her finger, which he also checked while Bella's attention was diverted, the bastard still hadn't married her. So why this dramatic change in her circumstances? Nothing made any sense. Not her behavior, so tentative and sad, not her curiously casual reception of him. She still hadn't moved off the couch, not to take his coat, not to offer him a seat, and Bella was nothing if not well-trained in hospitality.
"I'm so sorry, Edward," Bella finally said, raising her head and sniffing back her tears.
He shrugged, "She had a good life. And now she's with my grandfather and that's all she ever wanted, to be with the man she loved."
He winced internally at his own words and as he glanced at Bella he saw that she did, too. He felt a flare of irritation at what seemed to be regret on her part. What right did she have to be sorry about their break when she chose it? His anger and pain fueled his next words, and the breezy sarcasm he spoke them with.
"You know, I'm glad I had to bring the package to you. I've needed to come by for a while. I owe you an apology. I believe we had an appointment some time ago and I stood you up."
His words couldn't have cut her deeper if he tried. Bella nearly gasped out loud at them. The fear that had been nipping at her heels since she saw him last night, that she would be too late, that she'd hurt him too badly to repair the damage, paled in comparison to this, the idea that he never came, that he'd changed his mind, that he didn't want her. Not once in all these long difficult months of recovery and struggle had it ever occurred to her that he might not have been there that night.
Bella shook her head trying to wrap her mind around this new information. Of course, why should this be a surprise to her? She saw him herself last night with Victoria Marshall. She was still struggling to control herself enough to speak, although she had no idea what she'd say when she could.
"It's alright," she finally whispered, almost silently.
"Of course it is," Edward surged on, still furious and hurting and desperate to elicit some reaction from her. He wanted anger, tears, recriminations, anything but this, her delicate face a mask of pain, her eyes glassy with tears as she huddled on the couch. Why wouldn't she strike back at him? "After all, you've got him, so it all worked out for the best, didn't it?"
She looked at him then, a flash of wounded pride in her face. Finally, something.
"I do not," she hissed.
"Last night…" he began.
"No," she said firmly, the first time since he'd walked in the door that she'd sounded anything like her old self. "He's not. He hasn't been for a year. He was just being nice."
Edward rocked back on his heels. Why, then? If that was true, if she left James a year ago, right after they got home, then why not me? He turned over everything he could remember about all they'd discussed in those brief days on the boat. He'd never held a job, she knew that. He'd always been able to draft off of one rich woman or another. That was one of the primary reasons for the plan to delay. He needed time to build a life independent of all the rich women, to learn to take care of himself. Now it seemed as if Bella had no faith that he could. What else would explain it? She'd rather muddle along alone in this dark, chilly apartment than to take a chance on him. Granted, he couldn't offer her much more than this, but at least they would have been together. It wasn't enough, though. He wasn't enough.
His pain and anger spurred him to keep on pushing her, hoping for some kind of answer, something to explain how he could have been so wrong.
"So you were there then?" he asked, trying to keep his tone impassive and conversational. He knew the answer, of course, but he felt a perverse need to make her admit it.
Bella looked away and the color drained from her face. Slowly she shook her head. "No, I wasn't. I'm so sorry, Edward. I wish I could explain."
Edward held up a hand to stop her and forced a smile. Explain it to me, he wanted to scream. But instead he said, "There's no need. Neither one of us was obligated and now it seems with good reason."
Bella pulled in a long shuddering breath. Good reason. Yes, there was good reason, and not just her accident. Edward couldn't give it up, the money and the women. In the end, she wasn't worth everything he would have had to sacrifice. The knowledge was destroying her, more surely than the accident ever could have. She felt herself nod in agreement with what he said, but she couldn't look at him or else she'd fall to pieces.
Edward stood at the foot of the couch for another long moment, just watching her, her bowed head, her slumped shoulders, despair evident over every inch of her. It was done, she'd admitted she never came, everything seemed at an end. There was nothing left except for him to leave. But the mystery remained and wouldn't let go of him. If it was as it seemed and she'd lost faith in him, changed her mind, why did she seem so destroyed? She refused to look at him, so he was deprived of any clues he could have gotten from her face.
"Well," he finally said, simply because he had to say something, "I suppose I'll leave you to your Christmas." It was a ridiculous thing to say, as there wasn't a hint of holiday cheer evident in her apartment.
Bella said nothing. He was leaving and there was nothing she could say to hold him here, because evidently he'd turned his back on her months ago, she just didn't know it.
Edward turned abruptly and headed for the door. This was awful and only getting worse, there was no point in dragging it out any longer. He stood at the door, reached a hand out for the knob and then turned once more to look at her, probably for the last time.
Bella was still on the couch, unmoving. She'd lifted her head and was looking at him and her dark eyes were filling with tears. She was crying. Her face, the sadness washing over her made him forget for a moment the fact that she had no faith in him and didn't want him. He just wanted to comfort her and he reached a hand out to her impulsively. "Bella, please don't cry," he murmured. Her face fell and her horrified eyes locked on his beckoning hand. Edward scowled, trying to figure out what was wrong, why she was steadfastly refusing to just get up and let him comfort her. Why won't she just get up….she won't get up…
"Bella," he muttered, eyes intense, "come here. Please?"
Bella shook her head, panicked. No, no, no. She'd come this far in keeping it from him. Oh, please, not now. She didn't want his pity, only his love. And since it seemed she no longer had his love, the pity would be unbearable.
Edward stood frozen at the door, his hand still outstretched in mid-air as his mind raced to put it together. She never got up off that couch. She barely moved at all. He glanced at the coffee table, carefully laid out with everything she might need for the evening at hand. Her eyes were still fixed on him in horror. Finally Edward dropped his hand and crossed the room to stand over her next to the couch.
"Will you at least come kiss me goodbye?" he asked softly in challenge, making no move to bend down to her. She stared up at him and that's when the tears started in earnest as she shook her head again.
The suspicion turned to certainty in his mind in one blinding moment.
"Good God, Bella, just tell me. Tell me the truth."
She shook her head harder. "I don't want your pity, Edward."
Now he collapsed to his knees in front of her, reaching out to grab her hands where they rested on her legs, her still, unmoving legs. "What happened? Please, just tell me!"
Bella stared into his urgent, desperate face for a moment and she couldn't deny him the truth anymore. "It was my own fault," she whispered. "I was so distracted. And I was hurrying because you were waiting…well, I thought you would be. I just didn't look…I didn't see…"
Edward's face twisted with grief and he pulled her hands against his chest. "I was there, Bella," he rasped. "I waited all night for you."
Bella let out a choked sob, "You were waiting?"
He reached out for her face now, his hands cupping her wet cheeks. "Of course I was, love. And I've been waiting ever since."
"I'm so sorry!" she cried, gripping his arms fiercely. "Please, Edward, I don't want your pity. You don't owe me anything. I can't…not like this…"
"Listen to me! I'm not ever leaving your side, do you understand?"
"How can you promise that when you don't know if I'll ever be whole again?"
Edward leaned forward and kissed first one cheek, then the other. Then her eyelids, her brow, the soft spot in front of her ear, the tip of her chin, the edge of her jaw. Finally he pressed his lips to her mouth. She sighed in response, her breath still wavering from her crying. Edward nearly moaned at the feeling of their lips together, the sweet, intoxicating sensation he thought he'd lost forever. Finally he pulled away, his hands still holding her face, his fingertips caressing her hairline.
"Bella, you are all I could ever want or need, just as you are. I thought you didn't come because you lost faith in me. But if…if you love me, that's all I need. All the rest…well, we'll face it together."
Bella reached up and gripped his face in her hands, fixing his eyes with hers trying to show him how sincere she was, how much she meant every word. "Edward, I believed in you from the start. That never changed. I love you so much."
"Then we have everything we need. Because I love you. Even when I thought I'd lost you, I still loved you."
"You'll never lose me."
"I couldn't bear to."
The snow continued to fall. Across the city, people gathered with their loved ones in joyous celebration. Inside Bella's little apartment there was no tree, there were no lights, no gifts. Just two people holding each other like they were one, who'd just received all they ever wanted and never thought they'd deserved.
One year later
"Just wait here while I get the door."
"Edward…" Bella's voice was exasperated. They had this disagreement all the time. Edward was always leaving her standing there while he hurried ahead of her, opening doors, arranging chairs conveniently, even though she always objected that she could manage perfectly well without his incessant fussing over her.
Edward turned back to her, resting his hands on her shoulders. "Bella, please be reasonable. You've had a very tiring morning and I'm just trying to make things easier for you, love."
"I'm not helpless, and you know I don't like it when you treat me like I am."
"I don't think for one instant that you're helpless." Edward sighed and dragged his hands through his hair in frustration before he reached out to hold her face. He leaned in slowly and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips, lingering there for a minute as he listened to her breathing get deeper. "Just let me spoil you a little. You know I like to."
Bella sighed against his mouth in acquiescence. It really was shameful, she thought, how he always used that trick to end arguments. It was more shameful that it always worked. But she just smiled and stood where she was, leaning on her cane while he hurried to get the door and make sure the path to the couch was cleared.
Edward was convinced that she was always exhausted after her therapy sessions, and he went out of his way to pamper her even more than he usually did. It was true that they left her feeling a little worn out, but nothing to require any extra considerations. But Edward always seemed to take such pride in taking care of her on these days that she didn't have the heart to tell him that she really felt fine.
Finally he seemed happy that everything was properly arranged and he turned back to her. Bella cocked an eyebrow at him and smiled. "Is it all to your satisfaction, Mr. Cullen?"
"My satisfaction has nothing to do with it, Mrs. Cullen. Your satisfaction is all that ever matters to me."
Bella rolled her eyes a little at his overblown sentimentality and he laughed. He slipped an arm around her waist to provide assistance that she didn't really need, but it felt good so she didn't tell him so. Slowly they made their way inside and over to the sofa. Bella's progress was slow, but steady and even. She needed the cane to walk, but she could stand for short periods with no assistance and in all other ways, she functioned completely normally. The doctors told her that she'd turned the corner in her recovery and that now it was just a matter of time before everything was as it used to be.
But that wasn't true at all. Nothing was as it used to be, in every good way imaginable. Because now she had Edward at her side. How she ever thought she could have lived without him was beyond her. She was certain she never would have made it this far during this past year without Edward to support her, encourage her, love her.
Edward never left her apartment after they found each other the previous Christmas. Only long enough to give up his own shabby apartment and move his sparse belongings into hers. And the apartment, which had looked so tiny and cold and modest to Edward last year, now looked like home. They had spruced it up with cheerful yellow curtains, fresh paint, plants on the window sills, and pictures on the walls. And now that it was two days before Christmas the apartment was lit up with decorations, a far cry from the previous year when Bella didn't even acknowledge the holiday.
On the mantle over the sealed-up fireplace was a framed photograph of Edward and Bella on their wedding day. It was a quiet little affair. In the photo, they were simply dressed, Edward in his one good suit, Bella in her best dress holding a bouquet of daisies bought at the corner grocery. But they were radiant with happiness, glowing in the afternoon sunlight as they stood on the steps of City Hall. Edward had wanted to get married right away, but Bella wouldn't settle for less than standing at Edward's side as they said their vows, so it was July before the ceremony took place.
Edward settled Bella on the sofa, spending a few minutes arranging a pillow behind her back, asking her if she wanted a blanket or maybe some tea. She just smiled indulgently at him as he fussed.
"What I'd really like," she finally said, "is for you to sit down with me, please."
Edward smiled in mild embarrassment, caught once again coddling her, before he sank down on the sofa and put his arm around his wife, pulling her close against his chest. Yes, life could be difficult even without the challenges of Bella's injury to deal with. There was always too much work and never quite enough money, but regret was something completely alien to both of them. When they had a moment together like this, there was no luxury either of them had ever experienced in their previous lives that could compare with the bliss they found in each other.
Edward seemed content to simply hold Bella in his arms, his cheek resting on her hair as he breathed in her scent, but Bella had other ideas. She twisted in his arms until she lay with her chest against his. She tilted her face up to kiss him under his jaw. He smiled. She kissed her way back to his ear. He sighed. She licked his earlobe. He moaned.
"Bella, darling, aren't you tired? You should be resting," he said weakly as her hands began to make their way down from his shoulders to his stomach.
"I don't want to rest, Edward," she murmured, continuing to kiss her way down his neck, nudging aside his shirt collar to get at his collarbone.
"But we were going to go see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center tonight," he mumbled, his eyes closing as Bella's little fingers began to unbutton his shirt. Simple activities like going to look at the Christmas tree had replaced more expensive things like tickets to the ballet, but neither of them minded.
"And we will. We can do that later and this now."
"You'll wear yourself out, love."
Bella sighed and lifted her head, reaching up to take his face in her hands. "What did you say when we came in?"
He shook his head in confusion.
"You said my satisfaction was all that ever mattered to you. And this," she lowered her head to press her lips to his bare chest slowly, "this is what will satisfy me, Edward."
With a groan Edward surrendered, wrapping his arms around her tiny waist, carefully turning them, lowering her down until she was stretched out beneath him on the sofa. His lips came down on hers and she dug her fingers into his hair, holding him tight against her.
He may have started reluctantly, but as soon as his lips were on hers, her hands on him and her body arching under his, Edward lost all track of why on earth he hadn't wanted to do this. Because he wanted Bella all the time, in all kinds of ways, some sweet and gentle, some nothing of the sort. In short order, he had unbuttoned her dress and carefully shifted it off of her, tossing it in a pile on the floor. Bella in nothing but her lingerie, offered up to him and only him, was a sight that never failed to stop his heart in his chest. He lowered his head to kiss her all over her shoulders, her chest, her stomach. And his hands continued where his lips left off, shaping and tracing every inch of her lovely pale body.
Bella sighed and tipped her head back, eyes closed, reveling in the feeling of Edward loving her. She would never grow tired of this, his gentle, thorough exploration of her. She was so grateful that her strength had returned enough to allow her to fully participate in this part of their lives, although it hadn't really stopped them from the start. It was true that she had been limited in the beginning, but Edward had been resourceful and determined, and as a result from the very start he was able to set her body on fire. Now, as each day brought her closer to what she had been, as she grew stronger and steadier, she was delighted to explore her new abilities in every way.
"You're wearing too many clothes, Mr. Cullen," she murmured.
Edward raised his head from where he'd been kissing and nipping at the soft skin of her stomach smiling wickedly at her.
"As you wish, love. After all, your satisfaction is all that ever matters to me."
"I'm so glad to hear it," she smiled back. "Now, shirt off."
He chuckled, but reared up off her to finish unbuttoning his shirt and toss it to the floor to join her dress. He lowered himself again, aiming to recapture her lips with his, but she held up her hand, stopping him, wagging a finger in his face.
"Uh-uh. Pants, too. I have plans for you, Mr. Cullen, and they don't involve clothes."
He ducked his head and laughed into her shoulder, but he stood and unbuckled his pants, letting them go the way of her dress and his shirt. Bella lay back on the sofa, one arm thrown up over her head lazily as she watched him, admiring his beautiful body. Edward smirked under her perusal, but he wasn't minding the view himself, his stunning wife laid out and waiting for him.
"See something you like?" he asked innocently.
"Mmm hmmm," she nodded in unabashed enthusiasm.
"So, everything is to your…satisfaction, Mrs. Cullen?"
"Hmmm," she put a finger to her chin, "Not quite."
"Why? What's wrong?" his face was instantly concerned.
"You're all the way up there when you should be down here," she said, cocking her head to the side.
Edward's face split in a grin as he lowered himself back down over her. His hands caressed her body as his lips caressed her mouth, working over all of Bella until she was moaning softly for him, urging him further. There was a tiny bit of lingerie to dispatch, which Edward did, letting his lips cover all of the skin that her discarded undergarments revealed. Just when Bella thought she might combust spontaneously if he didn't take her, he did, sliding home in that most intimate way. It was just like this, their limbs entangled, Edward inside of her, his lips against the side of her face when she felt the most complete. All she would ever need existed suspended in this perfect moment of union with him.
As always, Edward resolved early to go slow and be gentle with his still-recovering wife. But as always, the intoxicating feel of sinking into her blew all his resolve to bits. She never helped him stay strong either, caressing him, stroking him, whispering in his ear, begging him to do the most lascivious things to her body. And because he loved her and couldn't help himself, he always complied, much to their mutual delight. Soon he was pounding into her, afraid in the back of his mind that he might hurt her, but Bella only moaned and begged him to do it harder, to go faster. The woman would be the death of him.
He stopped reminding himself to be gentle, he just consumed her and let himself be consumed, taking what he needed, giving her anything she asked for, until he felt her shudder underneath him and cry out his name. It was only then that Edward truly let go of his self-control, allowing himself to fall to pieces right after her.
They lay tangled almost as they finished, Edward shifting himself just slightly to take his weight off her. Bella sighed, eyes closed, and dropped tiny kisses on his chest, his neck, any part of him she could reach without moving.
"Satisfied, Mrs. Cullen?" he murmured against her hair.
"Oh, very. It was most satisfying," she grinned.
"Just satisfying?" he asked in mock outrage.
"Alright then. It was extremely satisfying. There, happy now?"
Edward pulled her in tighter against him, "Yes, I am happy now. You have no idea how much."
Bella sighed, and held him tighter, too. "I think I might have a little idea of how much."
"We should get ready if you want to go see the tree," he said.
"Don't you want to go?" he asked, pulling back enough to look down into her face. The lights on the sparse little Christmas tree behind them made gold glints in her dark eyes and cast all of her pale, bare skin in a rosy light. Right now the last thing in the world Edward wanted to do was put his clothes back on and venture out into the cold and the crowds, but if Bella wanted to he would without complaint.
"Hmmm, I don't think so after all," she murmured. "I think I like looking at this tree better. And I like looking at what's in front of the tree most of all."
Edward grinned before he ducked his head to kiss her gently.
"Well, then, as long as you're satisfied, Mrs. Cullen."
Bella leaned back and laid a hand on his cheek. "So much more than satisfied, Edward. I'm complete in every possible way."
He stared back at her, at her beautiful face lit up with her love for him and he felt overwhelmed by all he felt for her. "I am too, Bella. I am, too."