Sometimes love hits in an instant. It's in all the movies. All it takes is a look, a touch, a sappy ballad, and you know. This is the person I'm going to spend the rest of my life with.
Then again, sometimes it takes seventeen fucking years of emotional turmoil and confusion. Seventeen years of seeing everything I want, just beyond my grasp.
It was all worth it, every minute.
Because now I'm here.
Once again, I'm driving from Arizona to Seattle but everything's different this time. There were times I thought I'd lost her, and times I thought about giving up on us ever being together. But I always planned to end up at the marina for good. I wanted to be where she was, no matter what. It was the one place I felt complete, with her, and her place was in Arizona.
Now here she is, her striped socked feet propped up on the dashboard and her head resting lightly on the headrest. She's sleeping, the corners of her mouth turned up in a smirk. I can't wait until she wakes up so I can ask her about her dream. She has the weirdest dreams.
Her eyelashes flutter before I see brown. Her arms stretch over her head, her sweatshirt pulling up to expose her belly button and she smiles sleepily. She sits up and kisses my cheek before looking out the window at the blurred field of naked fruit trees.
"Where are we?" Bella asks as she digs through her bag on the floor. She produces a package of red vines she swiped from the store before we left the marina.
"Almost to Fresno," I say. She wanted to drive through California and stop in Yosemite. It makes the drive twice as long but we don't really have a schedule. When we want to stop, we stop. When we're tired, we sleep, and she photographs everything.
Bella got a job with a magazine in Seattle. She starts the Monday after New Year's. I didn't even know she was looking for another job. She said she wants to experience the world before we have other priorities, like kids. She said that a true photographer sees life and she feels like she's only seen a small part of it.
I can't deny it, I am fucking stoked. I love living in the city. I miss my dad, I miss my friends. I miss my job. I dig teaching. I'm good at explaining shit.
I think Bella knows this and that's why she applied for this position. She won't admit it. She keeps saying it's because she misses her brother and Vanessa and everyone. She wants to see the world, but she could have applied anywhere. She chose Seattle. For me.
We said good-bye to her dad and Leah and she cried and cried. We got to California and she wiped the tears from her face and smiled. Charlie will be flying up to Seattle soon. He's going to bring Otis.
Bella places the licorice between her teeth and offers one to me. She gazes out the window, chewing slowly as the new Third Eye Blind CD plays in the background. Yeah, I made sure my new car had a CD player.
"You were dreaming," I say and she snorts.
"I had a dream we got abducted by aliens but they sent us back because you wouldn't stop talking about the Bulls."
"You did not," I laugh. She's bullshitting me.
"I did. They kept saying Michael Jordan wouldn't be anything without Scottie Pippen and you were irate. You kept trying to punch them," she laughs and crosses her legs beneath her.
"That is ridiculous! I could totally take on some stupid aliens. In case you haven't noticed, I'm badass," I smirk and she rolls her eyes and fuck me, I want to kiss her. I love when she does that shit. She leans down to grab her camera from her bag. Rolling down the window, she starts snapping pictures.
"I can stop, you know," I say and she shakes her head.
"No, I like the moving shots. They look fast."
"Fast?" I ask with a chuckle and she smiles.
"Yeah, like life, you know. It moves fast, like everything is a blur but there's these moments of noticeable brilliance. Like you can't see the grass or the dirt or the rocks. But you can see the twisted trees and the uninterrupted sky. The sky always seems to stand still."
I don't know how she does this, but I'm in awe. I see a boring stretch of weeds and this girl has made it art. She's so fucking amazing.
And she's all mine.
We pull into a gas station and Bella gets an iced tea and a box of Mike and Ike's, and I top off the tank while she goes to the restroom. We stop to sleep at this Marriott before Yosemite and we order room service. Bella gets pancakes for dinner and then we split an ice cream sundae for dessert. After her shower, she sits on the edge of the bed, wrapped in a tiny white towel while she brushes her hair, and I practically tackle her. She smells like hotel soap and she's warm and so soft and I want to touch my lips to every inch of her skin.
The next morning we drive into Yosemite for the day and it's freezing. There's snow on the ground, but I anticipated this and brought chains just in case. Bella's face is pressed to the glass as we drive into the park and her mouth is gaping as Half Dome and El Capitan come into view. I park at one of the big hotels. She's bundled from her beanie to her hiking boots and I can barely see her, but she glows.
"Got enough layers there?" I tease.
"Us river folk aren't used to such extreme temperatures," she says as I watch her ring disappear beneath the wool of her glove, and I'm warm.
Bella grabs her camera and the rocks tower above us as we hike. I can't wait to take her hiking in Washington. I can't wait for her to see the gigantic evergreens. And the ocean. And the lakes and waterfalls. She's going to love Washington.
"Oh wow." She focuses her new camera. "It's just so massive here!"
The place is pretty much deserted because it's offseason and eerily quiet. It feels like Bella and I have the whole planet to ourselves and she takes pictures of everything. Her nose and cheeks are pink and she smiles and kisses me.
"Thank you," she says and I kiss her again because the look on her face makes the extra 22 hours we're driving all worth it.
We don't get to Seattle until late the next day and Emmett and Rose are waiting up for us. It's raining and cold as we pull into the driveway of their new house. They needed more space because they're gonna try to have another kid or something. Bella hugs her brother and Rose and she's alive with energy. Emmett gives us a tour and shows us the guest room upstairs. We sit in the living room and chat because we're kind of keyed up from the drive.
"So we're going to leave Vanessa with Mom and we have reservations tomorrow at this really nice restaurant downtown. Then we're going to a party at one of Jasper's friends houseboats. It's on Lake Union and you can see the Space Needle fireworks from his patio," Rose says and then looks perplexed. "Is that okay? Would you guys rather just veg with Dick Clark? I mean, you've got to be exhausted."
"I want to go out," Bella says. She's already in her pajamas and they're flannel. Her hand rests on my leg and I keep rubbing the material of her sleeve between my fingers. "I've been in that car for days and now I just want to breathe in Seattle. I mean, shit, it's a new millennium. I am not missing the fricking fireworks."
"So Leah and Jenks move in okay?" Emmett asks and Bella nods. Leah and Jenks are going to run the marina during the offseason and we'll be back during the summer. They moved into one of the units by Charlie's place. Charlie took the news surprisingly well. It might have something to do with the fact that Leah's mom also moved into one of the units.
"Yeah. Hey, do you think Dad's got the hots for Leah's mom?" Bella asks and I smirk at our twin brains.
"Jesus, Bella, don't talk about Dad liking anyone's mom. That's just wrong," Emmett harps and Bella grins.
"Well, I think it's sweet," she says.
"Maybe he won't be so uptight now? Maybe he just needed to get laid?" I chime in.
"Alright, that's just... crossing the line." Bella shoves my chest and I love the contact. "Don't talk about my dad getting laid. Old people do not have sex. They just cuddle and watch Jeopardy."
"Whatever helps you sleep at night," I say and she makes a face.
"We have Christmas presents for everyone," Bella says. She's trying to change the subject.
"And we have to go see my dad tomorrow," I remind her and she nods. He's excited we're moving back. He's called me every day last week to see if I needed anything. I'm going to see if I can get a job at the University again.
"And we have to talk wedding plans," Rose says.
We almost stopped at a drive through wedding chapel in Vegas. We got off the freeway and everything and Bella changed her mind. She wants to do it next summer at the marina. She said we deserve to have a fucking party to celebrate this shit and I agree. I want to get plastered and I want Bella in a white dress and I want to dance with her. I mean, it's been seventeen fucking years in the making.
"I just want a huge chocolate cake. I don't care about anything else. As long as I get chocolate cake, I'm good," Bella says, her eyes on mine and she licks her lips. I swear she's taunting me. Insatiable, she is.
We brush our teeth in the guest bathroom before bed and Bella keeps smiling at me.
"What?" I ask, my mouth full of toothpaste. She shakes her head and continues brushing, her eyes darting across my face. She smiles again, this time with a little snort of laughter.
"What?" I ask more forcefully as I spit into the sink and she runs the water and spits too and there's a little bit of toothpaste in the corner of her lips as she grins.
"You're so thorough when you brush your teeth. Are you counting your strokes? Making sure you scrub every tooth evenly?" she laughs. I pull her mouth to mine and she's minty and all I can think about is putting my hands in her pants. Yeah, Bella makes toothpaste pornographic.
We crawl between the clean, starched sheets. This is my favorite part of the day. I love falling asleep next to Bella. She rubs her bare feet against mine, slides her hands under my shirt, and I ease.
Early the next morning, I wake up to a huge pair of sparkling blue eyes. Vanessa's face is millimeters from mine, and she's pensive.
"Hi," I whisper and Bella's warm beside me. She's still asleep, her arm wrapped around my middle and her brown hair a mess on the pillow.
"I have two dogs," she says, her voice clear and high.
"Do you? Where are they?" I ask and she looks around the room, like they're supposed to be in here or something, and I grin.
"I don't know," she shrugs. "I think they went to the library."
"The library, huh? Those are some pretty smart dogs," I chuckle and rub the sleep from my eyes.
"Uh-huh. They like books," Vanessa says. She climbs into the bed, right over me and settles between me and Bella. "I go to preschool."
"I heard. You're a big girl now."
"Uh-huh, I'm four." She holds up her little hand to show four fingers. Bella stirs beside us and brushes her hair from her face. She instantly pulls Vanessa into a hug and then she's laughing and tickling and blowing zerberts on Vanessa's cheeks. Vanessa giggles and drags Bella from the bed. They're on a quest. That's what Vanessa said. A quest. How does she even know that word?
Alice stops by early in the morning for breakfast. She drinks tea while we sip our coffee and fills us in on everything that's been going on here while we've been at the marina. Jasper passed the CPA and got a promotion. She's looking into buying into this coffee shop franchise. Then she starts talking about her fertility treatments and tipped uterus and I check out of the conversation. Not because I'm uncomfortable with these topics, but because I'm uncomfortable with my sister and these topics. Like I want to hear about her and Jasper doing it doggy style because it's best for conception.
Bella and I head out to see my dad after breakfast. We bring him his Christmas present, a gift card to Barnes and Noble because what else do you get the man who has everything? He shakes my hand and hugs Bella tightly. He kisses her cheek and she blushes, and it's beautiful what the color does to her skin.
"I called Eleazar and he has some properties to show you. There's a few places he's found here on the island. Price is no concern, of course. I told him to focus on areas in-"
"Dad, I think we're going to stick to downtown. And we don't need any money," I say quickly because he still tries to control everything. Bella thinks his exuberance is just his way of staying involved.
"But we can check them out. I mean, when else do you get the chance to wonder aimlessly through rich people's houses?" Bella says. My dad laughs, a great big rumble that makes his eyes crinkle. It's very cool the way she reaches my dad. He's different when she's around. He laughs. He teases. I get glimpses of the person I think he might have been, if my mom hadn't died.
You know, I hardly remember her. I've seen pictures. I've heard a few stories but I can't remember much about my life before my mom died.
I do remember my dad forcing me to sit at the piano every day after school. When you finish this piece with zero mistakes, practice is over. I'll be listening, he'd say. It was the only time he ever spent with me, during those piano practices. I mean, he wasn't with me, but I knew he was listening. It was acknowledgement, and I craved it.
It was the same reason I craved Bella. She listened. She didn't ignore me but she didn't kiss my ass because I was a Cullen. She saw me for what I was, a stupid, cocky little shithead who wanted her attention and, for some reason, she gave it to me. When I was with her, I felt exactly like that wide flow of water, pulsing and seething with life.
I meet Jasper for lunch downtown and Mike meets us at the restaurant. We drink beer and shoot the shit. Mike fills us in on some sex scandal one of the Sonics was involved in, but he can't name names and Jasper fills me in on the details for tonight. The sky is clear today and all I can think about is making sure Bella sees the damn fireworks.
I watch her get ready for this party. She puts on her nice bra, her back to me as she pulls the black straps across her freckled shoulders, adjusting the cups before pulling the slinky red sequined top over her head. She wiggles into her tight black jeans, pulling them over her lacy undies and I frown as her fine little ass disappears. She adjusts her bra again and checks out her boobs in the mirror and I smirk. She's so damn sexy when she thinks no one is looking, when she's just being herself.
We drink champagne at dinner and our table has a view of the water. Bella orders a hamburger and ice cream. She knows what she likes and it doesn't matter that she's in one of the nicest seafood restaurants in downtown Seattle, in a private dining room, on the eve of the millennium. She still gets what she wants.
After dinner, we catch a cab to the party. I watch Bella mingle. She stands in the kitchen, nodding at a very tall brunette. She's drinking a beer, her lips wrapping around the bottle while the lady sips her wine and I know she's uncomfortable. She always chews her lip when she's uncomfortable. I grin like an idiot when she sees me because I know it'll make her laugh.
We put on our coats and move outside to the patio as midnight approaches. Bella grabs her camera bag and walks out onto the floating dock and I follow. She sits, her boots dangling off the edge.
"They're setting the fireworks off from the Space Needle. We should be able to see them over the water," I say as I sit beside her and she squirms under my arm.
"Oh good! I need some fireworks pictures for my book. And Riley said I should focus on landmarks," Bella says before craning her neck to kiss my jaw. I check my watch and whisper into her ear.
"One minute." She shivers and smiles at me in excitement.
"I'm waiting for something to go wrong. Like I'm afraid to talk about it because I might jinx it," she says and I laugh.
The patios all around the lake are starting to erupt with cheers and whistling. They're counting down now, their voices ringing out in unison.
Ten, nine, eight…
Seventeen years. We've been planning this for nearly two decades.
Seven, six, five…
She leans against my chest. I wind my arms around her waist and our hands unite, the band of gold on her finger is icy against my skin.
Four, three, two…
The sky ignites and the dock rumbles as the whole night explodes with celebration. There are pops and booms and cheers and singing and I kiss Bella. Her lips are cold but her tongue is warm and I'm desperate for the heat. Her hand clutches the back of my neck and I can't get enough of her as the dark sky fills with color. She pulls her fingers through my hair as I place a light kiss on her lips, then her cold nose, and then her lips again.
"You're missing the show," I say quietly and she grins.
"Totally worth it."
She relaxes into my chest and I fold around her, our fingers intertwined again. Her hand is cold and I'm about to suggest gloves when she detaches and pulls her camera from her bag. She captures the explosions of color and she's completely focused.
"Look at that, look at the water. Isn't that amazing? See how it looks like glass, the color reflecting off the movement. It looks like it's dancing," she says, and I fight the layers of fabric to find her skin. There's yarn and down and then her warm neck, and I breathe.
"You've always been like this, you know? Noticing, observing, watching. The way you see things, things I wouldn't notice in a million years, you see them and make them noticeable for others. That, my dear, is what I think is amazing." I pause and tighten my hold, desperate to get closer to her still.
"You have no idea how many times I imagined this exact moment."
She turns to look at me and her eyes are wide. Her lips pull into a smirk and I'm home.
"Oh, I think I have an idea," she says as she snuggles into my chest. "I just can't believe it took us seventeen years to get to this moment."
"No more 'maybe next year's' for us." I kiss her temple and her hair tickles my nose and I sigh.
"Happy New Year, Bella."
"Nope," she replies quickly. "Happiest New Year."
She's such a fucking cornball, but I'm saturated. Full and complete.
It all started with a shove, a snark, that snotty little attitude that was meant to push me away but drew me right in. When I snapped the bathing suit strap of a skinny brown-eyed girl with a big braid, it changed my life forever.
It took seventeen years. Seventeen summers of multilayered rock, cutting and sharp in places but rolling and soft in others. We've had fiery heat and choppy water. We've had heavy air and tall red cliffs. And like the earth that succumbs to the persistent stream, we've carved a monumental canyon. We balance, a delicate bend of give and take and, together, we thrive.
We'll be heading back there in June, of course. To the river, to our place.
Just for the summer.
Warning: It's mushy.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for kind comments and frustrations and flailing and cheering and just everything. Thank you. I am touched. My life altered by each and every one of you.
Special thanks to Souplover9 for verifying Seattle information.
I'd like to name all the lovelies who have helped me along the way, but I keep adding names to the list and I'd be terribly distraught if I left anyone out. The chats, emails, WC's, tumblring, tweets, it's all been a blast. I am so full of love right now, my cup runneth over.
SubtlePen and Miztrezboo, I can't live, if living is without you. Thank you from the very bottom of my soul for your friendship and for all that you've done.