A/N: This is a little piece I wrote for the Twilight No-Stress Love Fest that was hosted by naelany and OnTheTurningAway back in February. The premise was simple – no contest, no prizes, just spreading fandom love through stories and pictures. Each contributor could choose any prompt or combination of prompts and write whatever came to him/her. This was the prompt I chose:
Valentine's Day through the years - Kindergarten, middle school, high school - always the same. What if college finally makes the difference?
Added to that was an offhanded comment from my delightful twin, who loves ExB and said, "but i mean. truly. all you'd ever have to do is write me something for the word cheeky and i'd be smiles. Hahahahaha" I hope you like how "cheeky" came up, Mary!
This story is Edward and Bella, rated T – hope you enjoy it!
As always, I don't own Twilight. I just have fun playing with the characters.
Beep! Beep! Be-!
The sixth time my alarm went off, I smacked it with a grumble and rolled onto my back, staring at the ceiling. A voice ranted dully in the back of my mind, cursing all things Valentine's Day and Hallmark.
And Edward Cullen.
Except I didn't mean the last, not really. I scrubbed sleep from my eyes and rolled over, groaning pitifully when I saw the green numbers on my clock.
That asshole's lucky I love him.
If I didn't, there was no way in hell I'd be up this early on a Saturday. I sat up, sighing as I turned the alarm clock all the way off. I reached for the ponytail holder on my nightstand, throwing my hair into a messy bun on my way to the bathroom. Edward said he'd be over at 8:00, and I knew from fourteen years of experience that he wouldn't be a minute later.
The water was still cold when I hopped into the shower, making me shiver and cry out. There was nothing for it but to keep going, though, so I worked quickly, barely taking time to enjoy the clean ginger fragrance of the body wash that always relaxed me. I brushed my teeth, grumbling that I didn't have time to wash my hair, and then I was done.
I stepped out and dried off, bouncing on my toes as I tried to avoid the stream of air coming from the vent. Goosebumps broke out on my skin, and I'd barely tied my robe closed when my doorbell rang.
I froze. And then I peered out, checking my alarm clock.
"You have got to be kidding me."
I threw a quick glance in the mirror and shrugged. It wasn't like he hadn't seen me looking far worse. I danced on my tiptoes across the cold tile and exhaled in relief when my feet hit the carpet. When I reached the door, I looked through the peephole and laughed out loud, my annoyance fading quickly at the sight of the sad-looking teddy bear holding a box of candy hearts.
Pulling open the door, I crossed my arms over my chest, arching an eyebrow as I said, "Do you really think that's compensation enough for showing up here at this ungodly time on this unholiest of days?"
The bear dropped, only to be replaced by Edward's smiling face. "Oh, come on, Bells. Don't be like that."
He held the bear out toward me, but it was squished between us as he pulled me in for a hug. He kissed my forehead and then breezed by me. I took a half-step forward, struggling to catch my balance when he disappeared so quickly.
I tried to convince myself that I was muttering under my breath because he was so tactless and not because the feel of his lips on my skin had been all too brief.
By the time I turned around and walked back into my apartment, he already had his coat thrown over the back of my couch and was rolling up his sleeves. He was all crooked smile and messy auburn hair and bright green eyes when he said, "You'll notice I didn't utter the dreaded phrase, but I wish you a happy day, anyway."
I rolled my eyes and shook my head, glancing down at the bear in my hands. "Thanks," I mumbled, and then frowned. "Hey… where's my card?"
He widened his eyes in mock surprise and said, "You mean you want it?" From somewhere, a card materialized between his fingertips, the pink envelope covered with ghastly red hearts. I narrowed my eyes at him and stepped forward, but he jerked it away when I reached for it, giving me a cheeky grin. "I wouldn't want to sully your day with a mention of love."
For a second, I thought maybe I saw a flash of something in his eyes. Regret, I thought. But then it was gone, and I knew it for what it was – a pitiful projection of my own disappointment that he would never see me as anything other than the girl who'd been his best friend since Kindergarten.
As if he saw the conflicted emotions playing across my face, he took pity on me and held out the card. "Happy Valentine's Day, Bella," he said gruffly. His eyes held both apology and amusement at my grimace as I took it from him.
Before I could open it, he turned away and called, "I'm going to start the oven," as he walked into my kitchen.
I sighed, pulling my hair out of its bun and putting the ponytail holder around my wrist. I ran my fingers through my hair and stared at the ever-neat handwriting on the envelope.
~ Isabella ~
A smile flitted across my face as my fingers traced the letters. He never called me by my full name, and I saw it written in his meticulous script on only one occasion each year.
It was a throw-back to that first Valentine's Day, the one when we'd met. Our mothers were friends from work, and they'd decided when we were five that it would be fun for us to bake cookies together. Little did they know that that initial meeting would spark a friendship that would last well over a decade.
The first time I saw Edward, his hair was slicked down with a cowlick in the back, and he was carrying a little white envelope with "Isabella" written on the front. His mother was responsible for both the unfortunate hairstyle and the card, which turned out to be a Peanuts one he'd painstakingly signed, "Edward."
"Damn it!" His curse drifted in from the kitchen on the clatter of pans. I snorted, shaking my head as I listened to the predictable mutterings about my lack of organization.
His outburst nudged me out of my memories, and I turned the envelope over, pulling it open. Two traditions had emerged from that day: first, we always baked cookies together, delivering them to a nursing home when we graduated and no longer needed them for school, and second, Edward always gave me a Peanuts card addressed to Isabella.
Which is why I frowned down at Spongebob grinning up at me with hearts in his eyes and called out, "What the hell?" I stalked to the kitchen, sticking my head in to find him peering into the refrigerator. "What's this?" I demanded.
"What's what?" he asked absently, leaning closer and squinting before he said, "Ahh…" He emerged with eggs and took them to the counter without looking over at me.
"This." I walked over and leaned my hip against the counter, holding the card up in front of his face.
"Your card," he said calmly, but I saw the way the corners of his mouth twitched. "Is there a problem?"
I studied his face, tilting my head as I tried to read his reaction. I knew he was fucking with me. What I didn't know was… why? I was quiet for long enough that he finally looked up, his faint smile fading as he took in my expression.
"I couldn't find a Charlie Brown I liked this year," he murmured quietly, and I thought it was there again, just for a second. He turned away, going back to the refrigerator for something.
"Oh," I said stupidly, feeling heat on my cheeks. I knew I'd overreacted, and I wondered if he saw through me. I thought he did sometimes, but he never made any comment. Of course, he'd have to be blind not to see the way I felt about them.
Then again, Edward could be stubbornly obtuse when he chose to be, and I had a feeling this particular situation might be one of those times.
My apology died on my lips. I couldn't think of something to say that wouldn't just make my reaction worse, so I opened the card and ignored the pre-printed words in favor of the ones he'd added himself. Short, sweet, and to the point, he'd written:
You've been my sanity and my source of amusement for far too many years to count. You know, I hope, that you're my best friend and I love you.
Love and all those mushy things you hate,
P.S. Stop glaring at your card and go get dressed so you can help me bake.
I laughed out loud and smacked him with the card. He glanced over his shoulder, grinning at me before he winked. "I know you," he said simply, shrugging.
I swallowed against a sudden impulse and the lump in my throat and nodded. "I'll be right back," was my only answer.
Escaping to my bedroom, I closed the door and then leaned against it, breathing deeply. I'd had moments here and there over the last couple of years, flashes of just… longing. There was no other way to describe it. The one I'd just experienced in the kitchen was the strongest by far, though, and there'd been an instant where I'd nearly ruined it all. He'd been so close and smiling and relaxed, and I'd nearly kissed him.
Thank fucking god you didn't, Swan.
"Seriously," I muttered under my breath, briefly wondering if I should be concerned that I was answering my own thoughts.
I pushed away from the door and looked down at the card in my hands, feeling both annoyance and fondness for the ridiculous yellow sponge gazing up at me adoringly. I started to toss the card on the dresser; it was truly what I intended, so I couldn't explain how it ended up propped on my nightstand.
Instead of pondering a question I could already answer, I turned my back on it and went to the dresser, where I pulled out clean underwear. I dressed mechanically, not really paying attention to what I put on. When I was finished, I went into the bathroom, where I spent a little more time brushing my hair back into a neat ponytail before coiling it into an actual bun. I looked a little like a librarian, but I didn't want it to get in the way while we were working.
Finally realizing that I was just stalling and leaving Edward with all the work, I went back into the kitchen. His back was to me as he watched over something in my stand mixer, and I felt a pang as I took in his broad shoulders and tapered waist. He was gorgeous from every angle – no doubt about that – but what really got me was how… good he was. Yes, he had a black, sarcastic sense of humor and he loved to give people shit, but what twenty-year-old man got up at the fucking crack of dawn to bake cookies for the elderly? He was a walking contradiction – always had been – and it was one of the things I loved about him.
"So, you just gonna stand there staring at my ass all day, Swan?" The amusement in his voice made my cheeks flame, especially since I had been staring at his ass.
"Like you have anything to look at." My voice wasn't nearly as sarcastic as I intended it to be, and I covered by walking toward him, picking up the bowl with the flour mixture sitting on the counter.
He bumped my hip with his as he turned off the mixer, lifting it so I could pour in some of the flour. When he started the mixer again, he turned to me and said, "So, what did you want to make besides the sugar cookies?"
"Chocolate chip, peanut butter cup, and those toffee ones?"
He nodded, grinning, and said, "I get the broken toffee ones."
I laughed, and just like that, we were back to normal again. The morning passed quickly, with batches of cookies cooling all over the place as others went into the oven. When the sugar cookies were ready, we broke out the decorations I'd bought, and our hands were soon covered in icing and sprinkles and edible glitter.
As we worked, we talked about classes and our friends, whatever random things happened to come up. Being with Edward was always so easy when I managed to forget how attracted I was to him – which was getting harder to do with each passing day. I'd begun to wonder if maybe we weren't going to be able to go on like we were. I didn't know if I could handle being just his friend anymore, but I couldn't stand the thought of losing him because he wasn't interested in me, too.
Which left me exactly where I was – up to my elbows in flour and too chickenshit to make a move.
We were putting the finishing touches on some sugar cookie hearts when he laughed and reached over, brushing something from my nose.
"What?" I asked, my hand instantly replacing his.
He snickered and said, "Well, I was getting the icing off your nose, but that was obviously a waste of time. Don't worry. You look good in pink… like some washed out Rudolph."
I glowered at him, but he just gave me his best smile and held out a towel. I ignored it, going over to the sink instead to wash my hands. When I was finished, I wet a paper towel and used it to scrub off the offending icing as I surveyed my kitchen. Cookies were everywhere, in plates and bags and on cooling racks. We'd finished the dishes, though, so all we had left was to wrap the rest of the cookies, and we'd be ready to go.
I glanced at the microwave and was surprised to find it was after noon. "Hey, you want to get some food before we head over there?"
"Nah, I can't," Edward answered. I frowned at him, and he shrugged. "I've got a few things to do at home before we go."
His grin was amused as he tucked the towel over the stove handle. "Things. Stuff. Errands. You know."
I realized a beat too late that I was acting a little crazy. "Oh, right," I tried to cover as I cleared my throat. "Alright, so… do you want to meet there or..?"
"Don't be silly," he said. "I'll pick you up at 2:30, okay?"
"Yeah, sure…" My voice trailed off as he breezed by me, pausing to kiss my forehead. My hands clenched into fists at my sides as I struggled not to touch him. I couldn't help closing my eyes, though, inhaling the fragrance of vanilla and sugar and Edward's cologne.
I followed a few steps behind as he walked toward my front door. He stopped to shrug into his coat, and he was straightening his collar when he glanced at me again. "Hey, Bells… do you want to go to a party with me tonight?" I frowned at him, but before I could answer, he continued, "Don't worry. It's not a Valentine's Day thing. Kinda the opposite actually."
"I don't know…" The thought of watching Edward dance and sometimes even dancing by him but never with him made my chest ache dully.
He raised an eyebrow. "I know you don't have plans. I don't want you sitting here all alone tonight, and I promised the guys I'd go. So come with me. Please?"
It was the "please" that did it – it always was. He reserved it for special occasions when he knew I would be stubborn and he really wanted to get his way. He slipped it in before I could actually say no, which meant he never had to beg… not that he would have, anyway.
I grumbled. "Yeah, yeah…fine. Where are we going?"
"Just to Ben's," he answered with a grin, slipping his scarf around his neck. His eyes were dancing as he reached out, taking my elbow in one hand. He kissed my forehead again, and I imagined that his lips lingered a little longer than usual. "Wear your black jeans and that black turtleneck sweater your mom got you, okay?"
Instead of answering, he just gave me an impish grin and said, "See you in a couple of hours."
He was out the door before I could formulate a response. I stood there, staring at the door with a front, as I tried to figure out what he was up to. It wasn't really unusual for him to invite me somewhere, but practically insisting – and then picking out clothes for me – was definitely not normal.
Unfortunately, no explanation came to mind, so I tried to forget about it as I went back into the kitchen to fix myself a quick lunch. The question kept creeping up, though, interrupting my thoughts as I tried to work on a paper for my American Studies class. I caught myself going into my bedroom more than once, staring down at the card Edward had given me as if it might contain the answer. It didn't, of course, and I finally gave up, putting my schoolwork away in favor of cleaning to pass the time.
A little before two o'clock, I decided to take another shower. I felt grungy from the housework and from baking all morning, and I knew it would likely be well after midnight before I returned home. I relaxed a little beneath the steaming water, and by the time I stepped out again, I felt mostly like myself again. I was looking forward to an afternoon with Edward, laughing and talking the way we always did.
At least, that was the story I told myself.
Fairy tales have a way of falling flat when thrust into the gaudy light of day, and the ones I fabricated for myself were no different. I could spend all day pretending that I was happy as Edward's best friend and that I didn't want more from him, but that didn't stop my pulse from speeding as 2:30 approached – and it certainly didn't stop my broad grin when I answered the door dressed in the requested black jeans and sweater.
"Excellent," was all he said as his eyes swept from my feet, clad in my black Doc Martens, all the way to my hair, freshly washed and dried. His eyes crinkled as he met my gaze. "You look happy," he added.
I rolled my eyes and turned away, biting my lip as I grabbed my jacket. His hands replaced mine, which fell uselessly by my sides before I slipped them into the sleeves. "Thanks," I murmured, my cheeks heating.
I couldn't face him, not feeling off-kilter the way I did, so I irritably pulled my hair out from under the collar of my coat as I walked toward the kitchen. He followed behind in silence, and together we shifted all the bags we'd packed to the boxes we had waiting. We carried him out to his car, and it wasn't until he was shrugging out of his coat and tossing it into his backseat that I let myself really look at him.
He was wearing a simple black henley that I'd given him. It fit him snugly, hugging his chest, and he had it tucked into his black jeans. I was too busy surreptitiously studying the way his jeans accentuated his legs to realize at first that he was dressed almost exactly like I was.
"Are we going to some emo funeral?" I asked dryly, nodding toward the black leather wristband he wore.
He laughed and shrugged. "Dress code."
When I arched an eyebrow, he winked. "Get in, Bells," he said. Once we were both seated in his car, he finally deigned to explain, at least in part. He told me we were going to an Anti-Valentine's Day party. Mike had recently broken up with Jessica – again – and Ben, who was always shy, had come up with a plan that didn't involve hearts and romance. Ben and I were kindred spirits in a lot of ways: we hated crowds, being the center of attention, and anything that required coordination.
As I listened to Edward describe a night filled with video games, horror movies, and hot wings, I actually started looking forward to the party. I felt a small twinge of regret that I wouldn't get the chance to watch Edward dance after all, but it was probably better this way. Besides, I never turned down a chance to kick his ass killing zombies.
At the nursing home, we spent a few hours passing out bags of cookies and talking to the residents. Several of them had no one else who visited them regularly, so we spent a little extra time in those rooms. Edward was a charmer with the ladies and had a knack for getting the men to talk. I found myself watching him unabashedly, and every time he caught my eye, he smiled.
And every time he smiled, my heart fluttered like some ridiculous, flightless bird trapped in my chest.
Throughout the afternoon, we didn't really talk directly to each other, focusing instead on everyone around us. By the time we walked back out of the nursing home, we were tired but happy. As we headed toward his car, I shivered, and Edward put his arm around my shoulders. "Thanks, Bells," he murmured as I felt his lips press against the crown of my head.
I stumbled, my toe catching on a nonexistent crack in the sidewalk, and he steadied me with a chuckle. I blushed, cursing my own lack of coordination at ruining what was potentially a sweet moment. His mood changed in a flash, and he joked with me as we drove across town.
We stopped at the diner near campus, where we ran into Mike and a few other friends of ours. They invited us to join them, of course, so yet another hour or so was passed without my getting a chance to talk to Edward. As I absorbed and overanalyzed my frustration at that fact, I realized what I'd already come to fear: my feelings for Edward had definitely changed beyond recognition.
To cover, I just ignored him. I talked to Mike and teased Seth, and I was completely miserable when Edward didn't seem to notice at all. I was torn between relief and annoyance when we all went our separate ways, splitting the check and heading to the cars. We were all meeting at Ben's, so I could've easily gotten a ride with someone else, but I walked beside Edward, giving him a smile when he opened my door.
He winked in return and waited for me to climb in before walking around the car and slipping into the driver's seat. He was quiet on the drive to Ben's house, humming along with the radio and tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel. I frowned as I watched him, trying to figure out why he was nervous; he didn't fidget unless he was anxious about something.
I chewed my bottom lip, wondering if maybe he was interested in some girl who was going to be at the party. I remembered Mike mentioning a few, in particular a girl named Lauren who was in the economics class he shared with Edward. Turning my head, I gazed out the window, swallowing against the disappointment I felt as I imagined watching him in someone else's arms. He hadn't dated anyone in about half a year, and I had to admit that I'd gotten used to having him to myself. The thought of that changing left me feeling hollow.
When we pulled into Ben's driveway, he put the car in park and then we just sat there. After a minute, he reached over, squeezing my knee as he said, "You okay, Bells?"
I nodded quickly, glancing over to flash him a quick smile. "Perfect," I answered, praying he couldn't hear the lie in my voice. "Was just thinking…"
He frowned slightly, tilting his head to the right. He opened his mouth to speak and then sighed, closing it again. He nodded over my shoulder just as the door behind me suddenly opened.
Turning my head, I found Embry standing there grinning. He leaned in, hugging me before I could even get out of the car, and we were swept inside along with the rest of our friends. Despite the fact that everyone looked like they were in mourning, I was relieved to see that the black clothes were the only nod to the fact that it was Valentine's Day. Everything else in Ben's apartment was perfectly ordinary, down to the couches pushed against the walls and the tray tables scattered around for laptops and monitors.
People were spread around, eyes focused on the screens as they called out to each other with laughter and cursing. I followed Edward through the living room to the kitchen, where Emmett was chatting with Rosalie and Angela. I went to talk to them, leaning against the counter, and I was surprised when the fragrance of Edward's cologne wafted to me just before he settled against my side.
He reached behind me, his hand resting on the counter, and I could feel the heat from his side against my shoulder. I couldn't risk looking at him, knowing my face would give away the fitful hope I felt, so I kept my eyes on Emmett. I laughed when everyone else did, but I had no idea what the hell he was saying.
Finally, we broke apart, everyone going to computers or to find an empty corner to sit and talk. Edward pulled me toward the dining room, where I saw both his laptop and desktop computer set up on the dining room table. I looked at him at last, my eyes wide.
He shrugged and grinned. "Errands. You know."
"This is what you left to do?"
"Partially," he answered cryptically. I frowned at him, but he pretended not to notice. His smile never changed as he pulled out the chair in front of his laptop and held his hand toward me.
I stared for a moment until he wiggled his fingers, motioning me forward. "Thanks," I mumbled, praying my cheeks weren't flaming red the way they seemed to be. He helped me settle into the chair and pushed it forward before sitting beside me.
At first, I was intensely aware of him only a foot or so away. Something had shifted between us, something that I was afraid to name because I knew it could change everything. I felt his eyes on me from time to time, but we were soon roped into a massive Black Ops battle that absorbed all my attention.
Here and there one of us took a brief break to stretch our legs or grab a drink. The hours passed more quickly than I anticipated, and I was somewhat surprised when Edward groaned beside me. I glanced over to see him arching his back and rolling his neck before he shook his head. In a silence that made the taunts of the rest of our friends seem that much louder, he reached out to turn off his computer, and then he turned to me.
Something about the way he licked his lips told me he was nervous. Again. I shifted my eyes back to the screen in front of me, only to find I'd died.
"Shit," I muttered, but before I could do anything else, Edward's hand covered mine.
"Ready to get out of here, Bells?" he asked softly.
My eyes met his, and my breathing grew shallower as I studied his face. There was something earnest and timid in his eyes, something I didn't think I'd ever seen there before, at least not when he was looking at me.
"Yeah, sure," I answered just as quietly. A smile flitted across his lips, and when I went to unplug his laptop, he stopped me.
"Leave it," he said. "I told Ben I'd pick it up tomorrow."
"What?" I asked, my voice incredulous. "You're going without your computer for a whole night?"
He chuckled. "It's pretty late already."
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket to check the time. "What the hell? It's after midnight?"
"Yup," he answered with a grin in his voice. "Time for me to get you home."
When I looked at him curiously – we were known to stay at Ben's until well after three o'clock – he shrugged and muttered something nearly unintelligible about being tired. I didn't buy it for one second, but I didn't protest as we made our rounds through the house, saying goodbye to all the people we knew.
To my surprise, Rosalie hugged me while Emmett clapped Edward on the back. "Happy Valentine's Day, Bella," she murmured.
I patted her back awkwardly, whispering, "You, too."
Rosalie wasn't a bitch, exactly, but she usually wasn't far from it. We put up with her because Emmett loved her, though I'd never been able to figure that one out. Now, as she looked at me, her eyes were bright, and her smile looked… happy. Genuine.
What the hell..?
I wasn't given time to speculate, as Edward whisked me into my coat and out the door. The whole drive back to my apartment was filled with the same thumb-tapping tension as before, which was beginning to give me a headache. Pressure was building behind my eyes, but I couldn't tell if it was fatigue or the realization that I couldn't handle this uncertainty. I knew I had to be reading into every little thing Edward did, and I couldn't keep that up indefinitely. Something had to give.
With that thought, I recognized the stinging in my eyes for what it was: the struggle to contain unshed tears. I huffed and rolled my eyes, turning to look out the window. It was utterly ridiculous, the whole situation, especially since I told Edward everything… everything except this one massive, life-altering secret.
But how could I tell my best friend I was in love with him?
I was too caught up in my own spiral of self-loathing to realize we'd pulled up to my apartment complex. Edward cleared his throat, bringing me out of my thoughts, and when I looked over at him, his smile fell.
He reached out, not hesitating as he brushed the backs of his fingers along my cheek. "What's wrong, Bella?"
I scrubbed at my cheek, horrified to realize that the tears had spilled over after all. I shook my head but didn't speak. I didn't want to hear the choking mess that would be my voice just then.
One corner of his lips lifted into a sad smile as he let his hand fall onto the console between us. He opened his mouth, and I could tell he changed what he'd been about to say. "Come on. Let's go inside?"
I nodded, yanking the door handle at the same time I unbuckled my seat belt. I brushed the traitorous tears away again, taking a deep breath of the cool night air before I turned to face Edward with a watery smile.
He reached out, taking my hand the way he always did when I was upset. This time, he laced his fingers through mine even as he turned to close my car door. We walked quietly together toward my apartment, and I alternately wanted to sob and to cheer at the way his hand felt wrapped around mine. Innocent touches like this were common for us, but everything had taken on a deeper meaning, and I was scared as hell that I was the only one who felt it.
He let go of my hand to unlock my door with the key I'd given him the day I moved in. When we stepped inside, he helped me out of my coat, his hands heavy on my shoulders in a way that let me know he was thinking hard about something – of course, it wasn't hard to guess that he was probably wondering why the hell I was crying like a lunatic after playing video games with our friends.
When I turned to face him, he sighed and half-smiled, reaching up to caress my cheek again. "This wasn't how I planned to do this…" he breathed, though I wasn't sure I was supposed to hear the barely audible words.
He guided me to the couch and then sat down on the coffee table in front of me. His knees were spread to either side of mine, and he held both my hands the way he did when we had something serious to discuss. I watched him, too afraid to even ask, but I didn't have to wait long.
"Hey," he said, squeezing my hands, "relax, Bells. You look like you did that time you got caught cheating on that Math test."
"That was one time!" My temper flared, what little control I had evaporating in the face of being reminded of one of my least proud moments.
Edward chuckled, squeezing my hands. "Relax," he repeated, softer this time. "I promise everything's okay." I tried to follow his advice, the tightness in my chest easing before he added, "I hope."
I refrained from rolling my eyes and demanding he just tell me already, though the words were on the tip of my tongue. His thumbs tapped on the backs of my hands, and then he stood up abruptly, rubbing his palms on his black jeans. "I'll be right back," he muttered.
I watched in confusion as he picked up his coat and carried it into the kitchen with him. I heard the refrigerator door opening and closing, followed by the clink of glasses. I cleared my throat, taking the few minutes he was gone to wipe my eyes and run my fingers through my hair.
Before I had decided how to act, he walked back in carrying my wooden tray. On it were two glasses – Coke for me and water for him. He'd balanced an envelope in between that seemed to draw my eye as he sat down across from me again and placed the tray on the coffee table beside him.
"Hmm?" My eyes snapped back to his, and he smiled slightly as he took a deep breath.
"I need to tell you something. I really hope that…" He trailed off, shaking his head and muttering something I couldn't catch. I was dying to know those words, certain that they would clue me in on what he was thinking, but he continued on before I could ask. "You know how I sort of flipped when you dated that asshole James last year?"
I frowned in confusion even as I nodded. Of all the fears and hopes that had been racing through my mind, I had certainly never considered he'd want to talk about an ex-boyfriend of mine.
"I didn't hate him just because he's a jerk." After a brief pause, he added, "Even though he is."
We both gave identical fleeting smiles. Mine faded into uncertainty once more as I asked, "What do you mean?"
"I hated him because he wasn't me, Bella."
Silence fell over my apartment as I searched Edward's face, looking for some confirmation that I'd heard what I thought I had – and that it meant what I thought it did. When I didn't say anything, Edward shifted and took both my hands again. I didn't pull away, and he glanced down, smiling at our hands before meeting my gaze.
"For… I don't even know how long now, I've felt… protective of you." He reached up, brushing hair back from my forehead and tucking it behind my ear. "I thought it was that best friend thing. You know, like a brother or whatever. But when I saw you with him, when I heard the way you talked about him and saw how he treated you, I realized what it was. I was jealous. Of James."
I swallowed, leaning forward a bit as I tried to will him to speak again. I was frozen, poised between hope and terror.
"Because he wasn't me," Edward repeated quietly. His eyes grew soft as he watched me, and I thought for a moment he might kiss me, but then he sat up straighter and reached to the side.
"What's this?" I asked when he handed me the envelope. My voice was gruff, hoarse from emotion and disuse, and I felt strangely disconnected, sort of like the way people describe those out of body experiences.
"Your real card," he answered with a smile in his voice and on his face.
He waited in silence as I opened the envelope and pulled the card out, only to be faced with Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin. "Happy Halloween?" I couldn't help laughing.
Edward chuckled and shrugged. "You hate Valentine's Day. It seemed… fitting."
"How did you get this?" I asked, my fingers tracing the image of Linus and his blanket standing beside Charlie Brown.
"I've known for a while," was Edward's cryptic answer.
I glanced at him and then looked back to the card in my hand. I didn't ask why he'd waited if he knew. How could I, when I'd waited, too?
When I opened the card, it was to find the inside covered in his neat script. I scanned the message, noticing different colors of ink – and different dates. And then I gasped, honest to God, teenage movie gasp with my hand covering my heart and everything, when I saw the final message crammed into the lower right corner.
I can't tell you how scared I've been to admit this to you, but I can't wait any longer. You're everything to me, and I want to be everything to you. I know how you feel about Valentine's Day, so I waited until it was over, but I don't want to spend another one without you. Will you be mine?
I love you,
Tears stung my eyes again, and I swallowed against the lump in my throat, torn between reading all the other messages he'd written for me and tossing the card aside to look up at him. He squeezed my hand and murmured, "Say something, Bells, please."
The anxiety in his voice took the decision from my hands, and the card fell to the ground as I looked up. We stared at each other for a long moment, and then everything happened at once. I don't know which of us moved – maybe we both did – but his arm wound around my shoulders as his other hand cupped my cheek. My arms were around him, holding him close as I slid toward him. His eyes were intense and searching, and then he smiled, as if in response to an unspoken answer.
He tilted his head, and his lips found mine in a soft, sweet kiss. I exhaled in relief and longing, my fingers tangling in his hair as I pulled him closer still. His lips parted then, his tongue brushing mine tentatively, and my response was automatic and eager. For so long, I'd wanted him this way and wanted to know that he felt the same. My body felt as if it were vibrating, shocked by the knowledge that Edward saw me as more than just his old friend Bella.
At long last, we had to pull away, questions overruling passion. Edward's forehead was pressed against mine, his lips curved into a smile as he caressed my cheek. "I know this is a stupid question," he murmured, "but please tell me that's a yes…"
"Of course it is," I whispered, laughing as I kissed him again. "I want everything with you. I've known it for a while, too."
A/N: naelany is once again hosting the No Stress Love Fest! If you think you'd be interested in participating – or just want to read some great stories when they post – check out http:/twi-love-fest(dot)livejournal(dot)com/