A/N: We've come to the end... I know that a number of you are disappointed to see it end so soon, and for that, I must tell you how great that makes me feel. Be sure to send SassyKathy a PM or tweet to say thanks for donating in the last FGB auction because without her prompt, we wouldn't have this little story!
At this time, I have no plans to continue this story. However, I will be participating in the June FGB auction, and continuations of any of my stories will be up for grabs. I'll also have auctions for original one-shots, a PBJ (that you can contact Chele681 if you're interested in joining), and a kick ass collab with MsKathy! If you're not familiar with this wonderful cause, visit www(dot)thefandomgivesback(dot)com to learn about how it works, and most importantly, about Alex's Lemonade Stand.
These characters are not mine & no copyright infringement is intended. I wrote it, SassyKathy now owns it =) Thank you for reading!
EPOV"How have you been?" I asked, sipping my iced tea. "Tell me how the career change has gone for you."
I hadn't been able to keep my eyes off Bella's fingers since I noticed that she no longer wore a ring on her left hand. I had assumed that she would be married by now, but it seemed to be quite the opposite, and I wanted to know why. I just wasn't sure how to tactfully ask.
The thought of Bella being single thrilled and excited me, but it was unlikely that it would make a difference. Bella had so many opportunities to contact me if she had wanted. She never did, though.
We spoke politely through lunch, but things felt tense on both sides. It was wonderful to hear about her life and tell her a little more about myself, yet the ease we had shared when we first met was nowhere to be found. It was disappointing and upsetting, but I couldn't bring myself to address the real issue. How would I feel if she told me that it was my fault her engagement had ended? I wasn't sure I could bear it.
The waiter had just brought the check, and there was a lull in our conversation. Bella excused herself to use the restroom while I waited to pay, and when she returned, something felt different. She plopped herself into her chair ungracefully and stared at me with a look of determination.
"You got a divorce?" she asked abruptly.
My mouth dropped open and I shook my head. "Not exactly."
"I don't follow." Her eyebrows dipped inward with her look of confusion as I fought my mind for a good explanation.
"It's complicated," I offered.
"Well, I want to know," she insisted.
Since it was a nice day, she agreed to take a walk with me so that I could explain. I called Heidi on our way out of the restaurant and told her that I probably wouldn't be returning to the office. Thankfully, I didn't have any meetings that afternoon.
Carefully selecting my words, but trying to be as straight forward as possible, I admitted to Bella that I was never married. I told her all about my father and his playful deathbed advice, and she listened without interrupting.
"Bella, I am truly sorry for deceiving you," I said fervently. "I never expected things to turn out the way they did, and I honestly thought it was just as well that you believed I was married, considering your engagement. Please understand that I feel terrible if I had anything to do with why you're no longer wearing your ring."
She slowed, leading us into a small park and seating herself on a bench. I uneasily took a seat beside her, leaving space between us so that she wouldn't feel uncomfortable around me. Her head was down, and when I heard her sniffle, my stomach dropped and an awful feeling washed over me.
Was it my fault?"You don't have to apologize," she whimpered.
"Of course I do. I never should have allowed that to happen."
"Stop!" she interrupted suddenly. "It had nothing to do with you. Well, it does, but not the way you think."
Scooting closer, I took a chance and lifted her chin with my fingertips, looking into her wet brown eyes. "Tell me?"
"This has all been such a huge misunderstanding," she sobbed. "I wasn't engaged," she admitted, and my breath hitched in shock. "I mean, I had told him that I didn't want to marry him before my trip, but he thought I was just stressed out, so he refused to discuss it until I had some time away. I was only wearing the ring because I planned to return it to him and quit my job as soon as I returned home. But I had broken up with him, I swear," she added, her voice nearly panicked.
"Shh, Bella, it's all right," I soothed, taking another risk by wrapping an arm around her. To my relief, she leaned into my embrace and shook against me.
"We were so stupid!" she cried. "You thought that I...and I thought that you...and then we both took off the rings, and it was so wonderful. I'd never felt anything like that in my life, but you left. I just thought that the card was because you felt bad for offering to help me, and I tried to forget about you."
"Did you?" I asked without thinking. I just needed to know to answer.
"No," she whispered, glancing at me but immediately hiding her face once more.
My other arm went around her, and I leaned my cheek against the top of her head. I knew that people walking past were gawking at us, but I didn't care. Feeling Bella in my arms again after all this time, even under these circumstances, was wonderful. It felt as though some missing piece of me was beginning to fill, and I didn't want to let her go. Eventually, I had to, though.
When Bella calmed down a bit, I sat back, holding her hand on my knee as she detailed her relationship with James Spindel to me. His name was familiar, considering the popularity of his books, but I had little interest in her ex aside from the fact that he had been the jerk who cut her down and tried to hamper her dreams. I hoped that he was biting his tongue now; Bella had signed a multi-book deal, and she was going to be a huge success as a children's author.
Little by little, the details came together, and I knew that we shared our feelings of foolishness and shame for what had happened the day we met on the plane. I would never regret being with her, but I was upset with myself for not being honest about my life and marital status.
"Can I just tell you one more thing?" I asked, and she nodded her approval. "Bella, I haven't forgotten you either. Not at all. You've always been somewhere in my mind, but I assumed that...well, I guess you know what I assumed now."
"Really?" she asked, smoothing down her hair self-consciously.
She began to sniffle again and I squeezed her hand, asking what was wrong.
"If that's true, then...I just feel like we've... Have we wasted too much time? I mean, could it have been something more, do you think, if we hadn't been so stupid?" I could tell that she was struggling to say all that, but her words came as an enormous relief to me.
She thought about us as more than a one night stand. As something with potential."If you're asking if I would've wanted to see you again, then the answer is yes, Bella. Absolutely yes. I've never known anyone like you."
"That's a good thing?" she asked, and I couldn't help but smile at the uneasy doubt in her voice.
"Yes," I replied simply, gazing into her eyes and brushing my knuckles over her cheek. Her eyelids fluttered closed with the contact, and a smile slowly grew on her face.
We sat back on the bench together, much more relaxed now, and she curled into my side. I remembered the unspoken intensity of our night together, thinking about all the passion we had shared, even without words. The way we had gone about things had not been right, but it seemed that we were being given a chance to start over. I knew without hesitation that I wanted to pursue something with Bella, and I could only hope that she would too. It would be understandable if she was hesitant, as the past couple hours had been a bit of a whirlwind, but my hopes were high. I kissed the top of her head, soaking in her scent and the warmth of her body as it curved against mine.
"It's better, I think," she said quietly after a stretch of silence.
"What do you mean?"
She cleared her throat, sitting back slightly to look at me. "Meeting you back then was...it was incredible, but I had been with James so long. Having some time to get my life and new career together has been good."
"So what does that mean now?" I asked, waiting to hear how she wanted to proceed.
Surprising me, she faced me fully and cupped my face, placing a chaste kiss on my mouth. I leaned in, seeking more, but she pulled away and giggled at me. I scowled playfully, tickling her knee with a squeeze.
"I don't want to move too fast again," she began, "but I would like to get to know you better, if you're interested."
"Oh, I'm interested," I assured her, and she smiled wider.
"Good." With that, she returned her lips to mine, brushing them back and forth a couple times before molding into me. Like an electrical current, my body buzzed with energy, forcing me to respond. I parted my lips, allowing my tongue to tease her mouth until she joined me willingly. She tasted just as I remembered, and the memory was a head rush. We deepened it for a few moments, but I forced myself to pull back, resting my forehead against hers.
"Have dinner with me tonight?" I requested.
"I'd love to," she agreed with a huge smile. "Now walk me back to my hotel so I can get ready. I'd say this date is a long time coming, and I'd like to be a little more formal than jammies and wet hair this time."
Chuckling at how quickly we fell back into our ease with one another, I rose from the bench and took Bella by the hand. As we walked, I entwined our fingers, pulling her hand up to my mouth and kissing it. In my mind, I thanked whatever fates had brought us back together and given us this chance to try again without any limits to our time together or misunderstandings.