A/N: Twilight and its characters are owned by Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
This was my entry for the Through The Lens Anonymous Contest. There were a lot of good entries for the contest. I was lucky enough to have my story chosen as a judge's pick by Dandiegoose. Thank you. I'm honoured.
A big thank you to my betas maired75 and aboveusonlysky from Project Team Beta as well as my friend Soul4Poetry for their invaluable help in the editing/beta process.
From Bella's POV
"The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking." ~Brooks Atkinson
I was seven when I first picked up a camera. I was on vacation with my parents at the cabin we owned in northwest Washington State, it was sunset and my parents were sharing a quiet moment at the end of the dock. The whole sky glowed a warm orange; the sun's light reflecting off the water in shimmery ripples. I picked up my father's camera to capture the moment so I could remember how magical it looked. It wasn't until weeks later, when my mom picked up the developed film from the drugstore, that my parents realized what I'd done. They were stunned by the photo's composition, by the balance and perspective of the shot, by how I managed to capture them in perfect silhouette. They enrolled me in photography classes right away, figuring I had an eye for it. The only thing I saw in the photograph was my parents and how the glowing sky that surrounded them reminded me of how much they loved one another. It wasn't until years later that I understood what the fuss was about.
As I got older, I was happiest behind the lens and spent my free time photographing the world around me. I liked watching what other people were doing; it never bothered me that I wasn't taking part in it.
When my best friend Alice asked me to photograph her seventeenth birthday party, I was more than happy to oblige. I donned the bikini she insisted I wear and set out to capture the partygoers. I did my best to be inconspicuous; people were always more natural when they didn't know they were being photographed. The party was in full swing, music blaring and a pool full of my classmates enjoying themselves. I burned through three rolls of film before I knew it.
"Bella," Alice called. I looked up to see my petite friend coming towards me. "Can you take a picture of Jasper and me?"
"Of course." I followed Alice to the hot tub. Jasper Whitlock was soaking in the water, his eyes glued to Alice as she climbed in to join him.
"Bella, you know Jasper, don't you?" Alice wondered out loud.
"Sure. Hey, Jasper. What's up?"
"Not much," he mumbled, never taking his eyes off Alice. I took a few shots of the two of them, moving around the perimeter of the hot tub to find the best angle.
"Why don't you come in here, Bella?" Mike Newton requested from inside the hot tub.
"No, thanks," I mumbled, embarrassed by the attention.
"You're always such a spoil sport. Just try something for once in your life," Mike coaxed. When I didn't respond he took a whack at the top of the water and sent a wave cascading out of the tub towards me. I saw it coming and turned to protect my camera.
"Hey," Alice yelled. "Leave her alone, you jerk."
"Yeah, you'll wreck her camera, man," Jasper chimed in.
"You're always hiding behind that piece of crap," Mike complained. "Who gives a shit if I wreck it? A girl who looks that good in a bikini should not be hiding behind anything." I blushed and stepped back to put some distance between us. Mike always made me feel on edge.
"You're a pig," Alice declared. I knew she could tell he was making me uncomfortable.
"Where are you going?" Mike demanded, ignoring Alice's comment completely. "I'm just trying to give you a damn compliment." He rose out of the water and I took another step backwards.
"I believe she said 'no thanks,'" a quiet voice interjected. I turned warily to see who was offering me help.
"Stay out of it, Cullen. This is between Bella and me." Mike stood with his arms crossed, glaring angrily at the tall, bronze-haired boy who was trying to help me.
"Come on. You don't have to take Mike's shit," the stranger decided, offering his hand to me. I took it and let him lead me away.
"Asshole," Mike yelled. He didn't budge from his spot. At least he wasn't a complete idiot. Even with the extra height from standing in the hot tub, the boy who held my hand still had Mike beat by a good two inches. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed seeing Mike get his ass kicked.
"Thank you," I said softly, slipping my hand away from his grasp.
"No problem. That dickhead is always trying to bulldoze everybody. I have no patience for crap like that."
"Me either," I agreed.
"Has he done this to you before?"
"Yeah, a lot actually. I seem to be his go to girl in that department."
The stranger rolled his eyes in disgust and changed the subject. "So you like to take photos?" I nodded. I looked up at the kind face of the boy who had just rescued me. There was something about his eyes that held my attention. "I'm Edward, by the way. My family just moved here."
"It's nice to meet you, Bella."
"You, too." I smiled at Edward, unable to tear my gaze away from his face. "Can I take your picture?"
"I guess so," Edward agreed, smiling awkwardly. I lifted my camera and quickly snapped a shot without even looking through the lens. I pulled the camera up to my eye and took two more. "Hey! I only agreed to one of those. You're going to have to give those last two back to me."
I giggled at his good-natured teasing. "Nope, they're mine."
"I can't take a photo to save my life so I guess I'm going to have to find some other way to get back at you."
"I look forward to it."
"I'll see you around, Shutterbug."
'I look forward to that, too,' I thought.
I made a point to get to know Edward after that night. His selfless act was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me and I wanted to pay him back somehow. We developed a very easy rapport. He was warm and accepting, and I always felt safe to be myself around him. Before long, we were inseparable, and I was head over heels for him. There were days I was sure he felt the same way I did but something always seemed to hold us back from progressing beyond friendship. I never found the courage to tell him how I felt. I'd all but given up hope of a relationship with him by the time graduation rolled around.
I continued to work on my photography. A neighbor asked me to shoot her child's birthday party and then a friend of my father asked for some family photographs. I photographed puppies for the animal shelter two towns over and volunteered to shoot the sports teams at school for the yearbook. Word of mouth kept me working and eventually paying jobs began to come in. Alice encouraged me to explore my options and convinced me to apply to photography school. Once I was accepted, I didn't look back.
"Photography does not create eternity, as art does; it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption." ~ André Bazin
I was twenty-two when I returned to Forks, burned out after four years in New York. The city was huge and lonely and I had given everything I had to school and my internships. I needed some time to regroup. I worked sporadically in the Seattle area when I could but I was losing my focus, unsure of what direction I wanted my life to move in. Most of my friends were married or in serious relationships, many of them didn't even live in Forks any longer. I thought coming home would bring me some sense of peace and belonging but it didn't. Forks was just as lonely, and I felt just as empty.
I came home one day to find a job offer on my answering machine.
"Good afternoon. My name is Carlisle Cullen. I was hoping to speak to Bella Swan about a small photography job. You came highly recommended by an associate of mine. If you could call me back at your earliest convenience I would appreciate it." He left his contact numbers and then ended the message.
I agreed to the job as soon as I found out I would be photographing Carlisle's family. It was the perfect excuse to reconnect with Edward. I never planned to lose touch with him. I was overwhelmed by the move and busy with school and found writing to Edward lacked the ease we had face to face. He must have felt the same way because our correspondence quickly fell by the wayside. I still wasn't over him. My feelings for him were as strong as ever. Just the idea of seeing him was exhilarating; I wasn't going to let the chance to tell him how I felt slip away again. Edward might be exactly what my life was missing.
On the day of the appointment I carefully followed the directions Carlisle had given me and found myself in front of a grand three story home in the outskirts of town. I knew Edward was well off but we'd always hung out at my house so I'd never realized just how wealthy he was. It was a little intimidating. A woman answered the door and led me into a large room that she called the library, leaving me there to set up my equipment.
"You must be Bella?" I turned to see a tall blonde man coming towards me.
"And you must be Mr. Cullen?" I held out my hand to greet him.
"Please, call me Carlisle." He smiled and shook my hand. "It's lovely to meet you, Bella. I've heard very good things about your work."
I smiled politely. "Thank you. I hope I can live up to your expectations."
"We would like the pictures to have a formal feeling so I hope the library is suitable."
I surveyed the room's dark floor and furnishings, oversized tufted leather on black walnut hardwood. It was darker than I would have chosen so I would have to come up with a way to counter balance the heaviness of the surroundings in the photos. "Of course. And how many people will I be photographing today?" I held my breath in anticipation of Carlisle's answer.
"There are four of us. Will that be a problem?"
"Not at all. I'm just going to go pull some lights from the truck so I can give you the results you're looking for."
Carlisle informed me they'd be ready for me in about twenty minutes and then excused himself to finish getting ready. A staff member accompanied me to my truck and carried the equipment back for me. I was in the process of checking my light levels when I heard a familiar voice.
"Shutterbug! What are you doing here?" Edward threw his arms around me and hugged me enthusiastically. The rush from his touch made me feel light headed. When he let me go, he glanced around the room. "Wait. You're the person my father hired?"
"Once a photographer, always a photographer." I smiled and set off the remote flash as a joke.
Edward laughed and looked me over from head to toe. "You can take the girl out of the photographer but not the photographer out of the girl," he concluded.
I blushed at his compliment. I wasn't the only one who'd grown up. Edward was more handsome than ever. He'd become a man while he was away. I could see the maturation in the angle of his jaw and in the tiny lines around his eyes. "How have you been, Edward?"
"Pretty well. You?"
"Not bad…trying to get used to life in Forks and figure out what to do with the rest of my life."
"Do you miss New York?"
"Not really. What about you? Forks must seem strange after four years in Massachusetts."
"I'm only home for the summer. I'll be going back to Harvard in September to start law school."
"A lawyer, huh? I'm surprised but I guess I shouldn't be. You always did like to help people."
"Law school wasn't my idea; decisions about my future seem to be out of my hands these days." Edward wrung his hands uncomfortably.
"What is it, Edward?"
"Did you want to grab a cup of coffee when we're done? We could talk if you want?" Edward's already strained expression became pained with my invitation.
"I'd love to, but unfortunately I can't."
"Oh, okay… no problem," I stammered, a little taken aback by his rebuff.
"Would you excuse me for a moment?" Edward asked.
I watched him go, wishing I had some clue about what was going on with him. In a strange way I felt like I deserved to be clueless for losing touch with Edward in the first place. There were obviously things going on in his life that he wasn't happy about. I heard his voice float in from the hallway.
"Why did you hire her?" he demanded angrily. I swallowed hard. Maybe Edward wasn't as happy to see me as I thought he'd been.
"She was local and available," his father replied curtly.
"She's my friend, Dad, my good friend. It's bad enough that you're forcing me into this farce. Why drag the people I care about into it too?" I perked my ears up. What farce?
"Life isn't built on frivolities, Edward. We all have duties. In time you'll come to understand that I'm doing what is best for you."
"You're doing what's best for you! If you gave a shit about what was best for me then you would let me control my future."
"We all make choices, Edward, and you know what yours are. After all, you impregnated the girl."
In that instant my heart sank and my head started to spin. I understood Edward's rebuff with perfect clarity now. Of course he wasn't single. What a stupid and naïve notion. My silly schoolgirl dream of being with Edward was just that, a dream, and it was never going to come true. I'd lost him before I ever had him.
I fussed with my equipment while I did my best to collect myself, I had a job to do and I had to be professional. Edward came back into the room a few minutes later, followed by his mother and father. I avoided looking at him. I had to if I wanted to hold it together.
"Are you waiting for me?" A statuesque redhead stood perched at the top of the staircase. Something told me she enjoyed having everyone's eyes on her.
"Yes, Tanya," Carlisle answered.
"I just wanted to look perfect for the pictures," she announced, descending the stairs. She was the fourth that we'd been waiting for and probably the person Carlisle had referred to in the hallway. That meant that she wasn't just someone, but someone to Edward. I shut my mind down. I couldn't process any more information about this woman if I wanted to appear unaffected.
The group really did make for a handsome picture, all four beautiful and pale and perfect. I was the one who didn't fit. I plastered my face with a plastic smile and faked my way through the session. I tried not to focus on Edward but he was all I could see. He was faking it every bit as much as I was. His eyes were glazed over and his expression was hollow. He smiled on cue and pretended the whole time I arranged them and re-posed them, coupling and grouping them in various positions, but it would be a miracle if I got any natural shots of him.
After I finished, I shared some preliminary shots with Carlisle and made arrangements to bring the proofs by in a few days. The group left me alone to pack up my equipment. Edward was waiting by my truck when I got there.
"It's not what you think," he started. I cut him off.
"It's none of my business, and I don't think anything." It was a lie, but I didn't want to know anything more.
"I'm serious, Bella. I hate not knowing what you're thinking."
"I'm not thinking anything. It's your life, Edward. I haven't been a part of it for a long time. I was probably never a part of it."
"You were always a part of it, from the moment I met you at Alice's."
"Still, we were only friends."
"We were more than friends; at least I thought so." His unexpected admission stunned me, but I refused to allow myself to believe it
"You don't owe me any kind of explanation for your choices."
"They're not my choices, Bella. That's my point. You saw me in there. I hated every moment of it." I wanted to believe so badly that he was telling the truth.
"If they aren't your choices then why are you going through with them?"
"My father is making me. I fucked up and now he's controlling everything. My choices, my future, my whole goddamn life, and there isn't shit I can do about it."
"Why not stand up to him? He can't push you around if you don't let him."
"Of course he can. Money makes the world go round Bella, and my father's got a hell of a lot of it. You don't know him. He's not bluffing. If I go against him, I'll have nothing."
"You'd have me. I don't have a lot but everything I do have is yours if you want it." My promise was innocent and puerile but I meant it.
He stared down at me with an intensity I'd never seen in him before. His hands came up to my face as he leaned in and he brushed his lips against mine. I felt it all the way down in my toes. "You would be everything I'd ever need," he whispered. He kissed me again, angling my face towards his with his hands and pushing his tongue into my mouth. I'd never felt so alive. I knew in my heart I was where I should be. I wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled myself against his body, wishing the kiss would never end. When Edward finally pulled back, he rested his forehead against mine, tenderly holding cheeks. "You have no idea how much your offer means to me, and I wish I could accept it, but I have to figure this out by myself."
"Why? You don't have to go through this alone, Edward."
"It's not fair to drag you into the middle of this. It's my mess so I have to be the one to clean it up. It's even more important now that I have you."
"Now that you have me?" I held my breath while I waited for Edward to explain what he meant.
"I have no right to ask for your patience, Bella, and I know my timing is incredibly rotten. It shouldn't have taken me five years and my life to be in shambles to work up the courage to kiss you, but I can't change that. The only thing I can change is the future. And I will. I just want to know if you'll be there waiting for me after I fix things?"
I didn't even consider if he was asking too much. He was offering me everything I'd ever dreamed of and I knew that I'd regret not taking the chance to be with him. I had no clue how he would fix any of it, but I had faith in Edward, and I promised to be there. The next few days passed in a flurry of hushed conversations. It was as easy as breathing to fall back into step with him.
I dropped the proofs off with Carlisle three days later. He was pleased with the pictures and placed an order for prints. He called Esme into his study while I filled out the paperwork.
"Don't you think this photo would be perfect for the paper?" I tried to focus on the order forms and ignore their conversation.
"It's perfect, Carlisle. I think the kids will be pleased with it too."
"You can't even tell she's expecting. Hopefully they'll exchange vows before she starts to show." It was hard to hear Carlisle and Esme discuss something so personal, especially after Edward told me he had no intention of getting married.
"They'll wed in August to get it out of the way before Edward begins law school." Carlisle really was making all of Edward's decisions.
Tanya poked her head into the room a few moments later. "Are the engagement pictures in?" she asked expectantly.
Her choice of words burned my ears. Until that moment, I hadn't stopped to think about what the pictures represented. My whole perspective shifted, the gravity of my actions over the past few days hitting me like a ton of bricks. Edward was engaged. He was going to bring a life into the world with this woman. Edward and I made promises to each other, but he made them to someone else, too. I had no right to get in the way of those promises. I had inserted myself into Edward's life as a placeholder for what might be, a link from the past with hope for the future, but there were other people to consider. I hadn't allowed room for anyone else in my dreams but the two of us.
I offered up a bogus excuse and rushed from Carlisle's office. I had to get away from them. Edward caught me in the foyer on my way out.
"What are you doing here?" He smiled, pleasantly surprised to see me.
"Delivering your engagement pictures to Carlisle," I answered flatly.
"They're not engagement pictures."
"Carlisle and Esme think they are. They've already picked out which shot they're going to use for the announcement in the newspaper."
He picked up my hand. "I promised you I'd figure this out for us, Bella, but I'm not a miracle worker. It's only been three days. The situation is complicated."
"It is complicated," I agreed, pulling my hand back. "Too complicated in fact. There's one too many women in this relationship, especially given your pending August nuptials."
"Bella, I'm not getting married. The engagement isn't real. We've talked about this."
"I saw the ring on her finger. Tanya obviously thinks you're getting married. Someone had to put that idea in her head."
"My father has forced me to make choices, but this whole thing with her is a sham. I would never choose to build a life with her. I don't even love her."
"Then I guess you shouldn't have gotten her pregnant." I didn't mean to say it; it just slipped out in the heat of the moment, but I could see how much my comment hurt him. I may as well have slapped him in the face.
"It was a mistake," he whispered, his voice full of remorse. "I'm doing my best to make amends."
"The decisions you're making affect a lot of people, Edward…Tanya, your child…"
"You think I don't know that?" he charged angrily.
"I think that you and I were only thinking of ourselves," I whispered solemnly.
"So that's it then? You're just giving up on us?"
"There is no us, Edward, only the idea of us. We can't be together until you're done with Tanya, and I don't think you're done with her yet. I promised to be there for you when you figured this mess out and I stand by that promise. I just can't be involved with you until you make your choices."
"I've made my choices, Bella. I choose you." He reached out for me but I stepped back from him.
"You just don't get it, Edward. I've wanted you from the moment I met you but no matter how many times I tried to tell you, the timing always seemed off. I've never been so close to having everything I ever wanted, only the timing is still off. Don't you see? I want you to sweep me off my feet and convince me everything is going to be okay, but you can't just say it and make it true. Just meaning the words isn't enough. You have to back them up with your actions."
"Bella…" His voice was a hoarse whisper that cut through me. We were both hurting and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
"I promise I'll be waiting for you when it's done."
I left him standing in the foyer. He wasn't mine to keep and I knew that. What I didn't know was that I was saying goodbye to him that afternoon.
The engagement announcement ran in the newspaper three weeks later. Edward didn't call. The wedding invitation was delivered a week after that. My heartbreak was complete. It was all there in black and white, laid out in front of me. I couldn't fight the truth now. Edward made his choice and it wasn't me.
"I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do—that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse." ~Diane Arbus
I hated the fast pace of life in Los Angeles but after seven years I had adjusted to it. LA let me make money doing what I loved, and perhaps more importantly, LA was where Edward wasn't. I left Forks before Edward's wedding. Knowing he was so close by making a life with someone else was too much for me to bear. I didn't choose LA; it sort of chose me. I knew it would be the easiest place to find work. Hollywood sucked the life out of most people but I arrived empty so I had nothing left to sacrifice to it.
I found success on the back of a lucky break. I was in the right place at the right time and got a job with a famous photographer. He took a shine to me. Truthfully, I think he was more impressed with my ass than my work but he gave me opportunities that I probably wouldn't have found on my own. I thought he'd be exactly what I needed to get over Edward. He was nothing more than a good fuck. He didn't want me in his life with any permanence and I was okay with that. By the time it ended, I had two shows under my belt and a list of famous clients that came to me to make them look beautiful.
I mortgaged my ass to the hilt to buy a loft and renovate it to include my own studio space. I wanted a place to be creative in and I wanted to put my stamp on it; I needed something I could call my own. The new space empowered me and I channeled that power into my work. Before long I had more jobs than I knew what to do with and I knew I had to hire someone or start turning clients away. I didn't really want a partner so I decided to apply to the UCLA Department of Art and create an internship position for their photography department. I enjoyed sharing my craft and the youthful energy and enthusiasm of my students fed my soul and kept me moving in a positive direction. I even taught a class or two when I could plan the time into my schedule. After a few years, I bought the ground level unit in my building and opened a small gallery. I was content. My life was full and it was enough for me.
Alice kept me up to date on Edward for a while. She tried to convince me to fight for him at first, but that ended when he said his vows. She was furious with him for going through with the wedding and I'm pretty sure she gave him an earful about it. I knew she only wanted to see us both happy and I understood how hard it was to accept that we wouldn't find happiness together. Edward and Tanya moved to Massachusetts after the wedding so Edward could start law school. The move was permanent; he never returned to Forks. I couldn't blame him after what his father had done to him. Alice heard he was in Seattle practicing law now. I did my best to make peace with his decision and worked hard at not thinking about him, but the truth was he was never far from my thoughts. Though I had some dark moments, most of the time I simply hoped that he found the happiness I couldn't give him.
As a gift to the graduating class of the photography department, I was hosting a small exhibition for them. I remembered how lost I felt when I finished school. I wanted to help the kids get their bearings. At the very least I was providing an opportunity to meet some important people in the business. I'd called in all the favors I could to get as many industry people to attend as possible. I would be doing freebies for weeks to catch up on all the promises I'd made. It would be worth it to send off my first graduating class with their best foot forward.
The gallery was buzzing with people as the kids prepared for the show. I let my assistant handle the pandemonium and escaped to my office. It was a place I spent hours in when the gallery was closed, where I displayed my most evocative and emotional pieces, my own private collection. The photos wouldn't mean anything to the average person but they were exceptionally significant to me. I tuned out the noise coming from the gallery and let the photos pull me in for a while. A firm knock on the door pulled me from my reverie.
"What is it, Sydney?" I hollered. My assistant was the only one who knew where I was.
"It's not Sydney." The voice was so muffled by the door and the commotion in the gallery that I could barely hear it.
I swung the door open and gasped. "Edward!" He was dressed in a tailored black suit and the sight of him took my breath away. He smiled shyly at me.
"I wasn't sure you'd remember me," he kidded, trying to relieve the tension between us. "Can I come in?"
"What are you doing here?" I asked, deflecting his question. The thought of having him in my office, where my private thoughts were on display in the photographs, made me uncomfortable.
"Please, Bella. Don't make me say what I've come to say standing in a hallway." I anxiously stepped aside and let him in.
"So why are you here?" I asked again, crossing the room to look out the window so I could keep my back turned to him. It would be easier to keep my wits about me if I didn't have to look at him.
"You look beautiful. Blue has always been your color." I looked down at the dress I was wearing and frowned, wishing I'd picked the black one or the white one; anything that wasn't his favorite color.
"My kids have a showing tonight in the gallery," I explained, working hard to contain the emotion that was bubbling up inside of me.
"I know. That's why I'm here." Something brushed my forearm and I turned to see an invitation to the party in his hand. If his name had been on the guest list I would have seen it. "As a guest," he clarified.
"Do you know one of the photographers on exhibit tonight?"
"Angela Weber. Her mother works for me."
"Angela's a lovely girl. Her work has a very unique perspective."
"Not nearly as interesting as yours," Edward complimented. I stood helplessly as he studied the pictures in front of him, terrified that he would recognize the photos. "I've always loved your work."
"Edward…" I started but stopped myself.
"I know you don't want me here," he admitted quietly. "And I know I had no right to come."
"It's a public exhibit. You're as welcome as anyone else," I told him, hoping to appear unaffected by his presence.
"I meant that I had no right to seek you out after what happened."
"You mean after you married someone else," I pointed out bluntly, turning my back to him again so he wouldn't see the pain in my expression.
"I meant after I hurt you the way I did." His shoes clicked against the floor as he walked towards me, echoing in the quiet room.
"It was a long time ago, Edward. I don't think we need to drag it all back up." I could sense him behind me, so close that I could feel his body heat through the thin fabric of my dress.
"I miss you," he whispered, leaning into my body.
I pretended I didn't hear him. Whether I chose anger or honesty, nothing good could come from my reply. I felt the back of his fingers caress my bare shoulder and squeezed my eyes shut tightly in disbelief.
"Please, don't," I pleaded. I didn't care if he could hear the desperation in my voice.
"Why not?" he murmured against my ear.
"It's been seven years, Edward. We both went on with our lives."
"Turn around and look at me, please."
I shook my head and slipped past him. "I need you to go now. I've got to get ready for the show," I told him honestly, holding the door open for him.
"This can wait until after the show if that's more convenient for you," he explained, walking back over to my side. His confidence was unnerving.
I re-closed the door and glared at him. "Just say what you came to say then."
"Something tells me that the apology I had planned isn't going to get me very far. I guess that means I'll have go with plan B."
"What's plan B?"
"This." He grabbed my shoulders and pulled me into his body, wrapping his arms around my torso. His lips covered mine before I could utter a complaint. Not that I could have found it in me to complain. I wanted him to kiss me and I think he knew that.
It had been too long. I'd forgotten what it was like to be kissed, how it felt to be pressed up against someone that I cared about and the heat that was created. The déjà vu was overwhelming. Edward held me tightly in his arms in exactly the way I'd always longed for: desperately, like his life was about to end. I understood the urgency and intensity intimately.
I actively tried to shut my brain down. I was afraid to think because I knew that my first rational thought would put an end to our kiss. I needed one tiny moment where I didn't have to pretend. I focused my attention on what he was doing and how it made me feel and let his affection fill the void losing him had left in me.
His lips moved along my jawbone and then down across my neck. I whimpered in response. He had no way to know how sensitive that area was for me; he'd never kissed me there before.
"Please, stop," I whispered half-heartedly, wishing I meant it.
His hands grasped my waist tighter, coercing my body further into his while his mouth explored my skin. "You don't want me to kiss you?" he murmured, raking his teeth across my flesh as he waited for me to answer.
"No, I don't." The lie passed through my lips too quickly to be believable.
"You don't like it when I kiss you?" he countered. He knew I couldn't answer that particular question with a lie. It was obvious to both of us that I liked it immensely.
"You shouldn't be kissing me at all." My hands moved to his shoulders but I couldn't bring myself to push him back from me.
"How do you figure?" His lips found my collarbone and he lapped at the hollow above it with his tongue.
"You're not free to kiss me," I answered. My voice was shaky and I was losing perspective, the duality of what I was allowed to want and what I was allowed to have warring inside my head.
"I wasn't free when you let me kiss you seven years ago." He knew how my mind worked, poking holes in my logic by drawing parallels between our past and present. His hands were on my hipbones, sliding lower, grasping tighter.
"Things were different. We had a chance then. Our futures weren't…" Edward smothered my excuse with a kiss, unwilling to hear me rationalize. His tongue dominated mine in exquisite fashion. He was winning and he knew it.
"My father had me by the balls," he defended, pulling away from our kiss only long enough to get the words out. He filled his palms with my flesh, squeezing my ass firmly between his fingers.
I turned my head away from his kiss, struggling to speak; it was still painful to admit. "You chose someone else."
"If you could go back, would you choose differently this time?" His voice was rough as he whispered the question, his lips ghosting against my ear. The weight of his body pushed me backward.
"We can't go back," I told him firmly. He pinned me against the door with his body while his fingers toyed with my skirt. He gathered the fabric in his hands, slowly hiking the hem higher.
"If you could go back would you have let me fuck you then?"
I shivered at his words, swallowing hard to find my voice. "Yes."
His fingers pressed into the back of my thighs, lifting my body to his. He shifted us towards my desk and moved us backwards until my ass hit the edge of the work surface. I absently recognized the sound of my phone crashing onto the floor. I'd never really liked it anyway. He pressed my legs open and stepped between them, wrapping his arms around my waist when our bodies met.
"If it were somehow possible to go back, would that be your choice?" I didn't have to ask him if it would be his choice. He wouldn't be here if it wasn't. He wouldn't be touching me or kissing me or asking me such pointed questions.
"Is that why you came? To hear me say that I want you to fuck me?"
"No," he snickered, a smirk on his lips. "I don't need to hear you say it. I know you want me."
"I'm happy with my life, Edward. The 'what if' game isn't really my style."
"So you've never thought about fucking me?" He pressed his hips into my legs. I could feel his hard cock on my thigh.
He leaned his face closer to mine to challenge my answer. "You've never wondered what it would feel like to have me fill you again and again?" His gaze held me captive. I shook my head minutely, stubbornly attempting to defy him. "Never contemplated if I would have made you call my name when you came?" I gulped, unable to reply at all. "You weren't ever the slightest bit curious if I'd like the lacy thongs you buy or what it would feel like to have me take them off with my teeth?"
I kissed him to shut him up. I'd already proven that I couldn't resist him. I wasn't about to help him prove that he knew my every thought. I was barely hanging on, one step away from being completely controlled. He used his body to push me back onto the desk. His hands slid from my back, drifting down my body and coming to rest on my knees.
"You were never a good liar," he scolded, slipping his hands under the fabric of my dress. His fingers inched up my thighs.
"I was never a liar, period."
"We both broke promises," he contradicted. His fingertips pressed lightly into my hips, skin on skin. I felt his fingers tense.
"I didn't break my promise. You never came back for me." His thumb traced the edge of my panties, slipping under the fabric and back out as he followed the lace downward. I knew better than to let things get this far. I felt the guilt of my decision, not because I knew I should stop him from what he was about to do but because I knew I wouldn't.
"You left," he accused. His voice didn't mask the betrayal he felt. Edward slid his whole hand inside my thong. The sensation was so powerful I had to close my eyes to process it.
"I had to. I couldn't watch you marry someone else."
He pushed one finger inside me, then another. There was no resistance; my body was wet and waiting for him. His fingers moved in and out of me, his thumb circling my clit. I bit my lip and dropped my head back. If Edward had come to torture me for the decisions I'd made, he was in luck. I was his to do what he pleased with.
"I had to," he replied, his voice tinged with remorse.
"I know," I murmured. I'd always understood why Edward made the choice he did. I respected him for standing by the mother of his child, even if it broke my heart.
"Do you?" he questioned sarcastically, aiming his bitterness at me. He pulled his fingers out of me and grabbed for my dress, forcing it up over my hips so I was exposed to him. His eyes searched my face for a moment before he unzipped his pants and pulled out his cock. "Do you really understand?" It was a challenge. There was a message hidden in his question that he wanted me to decode.
"I do," I swore, letting him pull my body to the very edge of the table. I spread my legs wider for him, inviting him to take me. He hooked the edge of my panties and forced them to one side.
"You don't," he insisted. I didn't understand the pain in his voice.
With one hand on my hip to brace himself against, he aligned his cock to enter me and then stopped. I pushed my hips at him. I didn't care if I was humiliating myself. I'd give up my dignity in return for his love, even though I knew it was only physical. The head of his dick pressed against my sensitive flesh and my breath caught in my throat. My eyes darted to Edward's face; he was watching me. I wondered what was going through his mind and if this was all a game to him, but his expression was serious, his eyes unveiling the significance of what he was about to do. His eyelids fluttered closed and he pressed his hips towards my body, groaning quietly as the tip of his cock slid inside of me. He paused, motionless, his eyes still closed. After a moment his other hand came up to my hip and he pressed forward again, entering me completely. I whimpered and held to him even tighter.
His arms surrounded me. His movements were slow, searching for a rhythm that suited his tastes. He seemed to be relishing every sensation the same way I was. I had to quash the urge to rush him.
His lips found mine and he kissed me roughly, his bitterness resurfacing. "You couldn't know why I married her."
"The baby," I replied simply, taking his bottom lip into my mouth and sucking lightly on it. I tipped my head back so I could kiss him more deeply, using my tongue and working against the tension I could feel in his jaw. I could sense him pulling away from me and it scared me.
"I didn't do it for the baby." He thrust hard, pinning me between his hips and the table so he could bury himself inside me. He pulled out and did it again. "I did it for you," he grunted.
"For me?" I questioned, my voice little better than a squeak. "I don't understand."
He planted a line of soft kisses on my shoulder and then buried his face in my hair, teasing me with quick shallow thrusts. It was hard to focus on anything but the intensity of the friction he was creating. "My father used the only thing he knew he could control me with…you. I wasn't going to let him fuck with your life, too."
He dropped his head to my shoulder, panting breathlessly as he worked to get a hold on his emotions. I shook my head, resisting his words.
"But the baby," I mumbled, confused.
"A baby is not a reason to get married," he admonished, slamming his hips into mine again. "I told you I didn't love her."
I just nodded, unable to find my voice.
"All those years without you, Bella," he anguished. "And you were here in LA fucking that photographer." He pulled my hips up off the table, angling them and shoving his cock even deeper inside of me. "Did you think of me when he was fucking you?"
"Edward, don't," I pleaded. I didn't want him to know how I'd used John to get over him and failed miserably.
"Did you think of me when he was fucking you?" he demanded, raising his voice angrily and pulling out of me completely.
"Please, Edward. I don't want to talk about this." I reached between us and grabbed his cock, pumping it indulgently with my hand to distract him from his anger.
"Why? Afraid you might hurt me? Too scared to be honest with me after all this time?"
I released him and shook my head, grimacing as the pain of the past seven years ripped through me. "Why does it matter? I can't change anything that I've done."
Edward brought his hands to my cheeks and forced me to look at him. "It matters because you were the only one in my goddamn life who was always truthful, Bella. I need to know if you thought of me, if you missed me, if you ever fucking cared about me at all."
Edward's pain was so acute it was tangible. I surrendered to him, my tears betraying the shame of how desperately I'd clung to him since I'd lost him. "Look around," I spat. "Look carefully at the photos that hang on the walls, and then ask me those questions again…if you dare."
It took a moment before he spoke. "The color in the one behind your desk caught my eye when I came in. The shirt I wore the night we met, am I right?" I nodded. "And the one in the corner looked like the color you wore at the prom."
"The same color as the vest from your tuxedo." I pointed at the large photo directly across from my desk. "That one is your iris." I said it to shock him but his expression never changed so I continued my confession, pointing at each picture as I described it. "Your lips, your hair, your leather jacket. I cropped the photos and blew them up so no one would recognize what they were but me, but they're all pictures of you, Edward."
"What about that one?" He pointed to a small picture hung in solitude.
"Tanya's dress from your engagement pictures."
The tears that escaped my eyes were the only answer I could give him. She had taken the person that mattered the most to me. She was his choice; I wasn't. She was the one I wished I could be.
His thumbs dried my tears, his eyes never moving from mine. He picked up my hands in his and gently persuaded them behind my back, holding them there and caressing my skin, tangling his arms with mine. After one soft kiss on my lips, he pushed himself slowly between my legs until he was inside me again, beginning a deep gentle rhythm like it was the most natural thing he'd ever done.
There was something different about the way he held me now. It was more intimate somehow. Or maybe it was just my imagination. I wanted this to be more than unresolved lust or revenge. I wanted it to mean what it meant to me. And I knew it couldn't, so I closed my eyes and retreated inside of myself, hiding inside the safety of my dreams, knowing they were the only things that could protect me now. I let myself pretend that each movement meant more than it did, that it was Edward's way of showing me that he loved me instead of some random fuck.
Edward's lips found my neck again. I thought of all the times I'd fantasized about him kissing me that same way, of how many times I'd gotten myself off imagining how his lips would move along to find the spot that drove me crazy and the feel of his breath against my skin and how the intimacy of our connection would complete me. In reality, each kiss he planted on my skin was a mixture of pleasure and pain; the right touch with the wrong emotion. I was already mourning the end. Even my dreams couldn't protect me from the fact that he wasn't mine and that when this ended I would have to give him up all over again.
"Shutterbug?" I opened my eyes to find Edward staring at me, a worried look on his face. "Are you okay? You looked so sad all of a sudden."
"I just don't want this to end," I answered honestly. I knew he'd think I meant the sex but what I really meant was us.
"We will never end," he promised, like he could somehow read my thoughts. I knew he was right. We would always carry a torch for one another. I held onto his words and tried to let his truth be enough for now.
His thrusts became shallower as the intensity of each movement started to build. So many emotions were swirling around inside of me, anger, longing, greed, desire. I wanted to prove I could make him come. I cruelly hoped that I could leave my mark on him, that fucking me would change him and make him think of me every time he screwed his wife. I wanted some small bit of control that I could hang on to after he was gone and I was alone again.
I wrapped my legs around his ass and pulled him towards me, giving into my emotions. Making the sex last no longer mattered. I needed to feel him deep inside me. I needed the desperation of our connection for his love to feel real. I leaned back and shoved my hand between us, stroking my clit to jack the intensity of his movements. Edward's eyes popped when he realized what I was doing and then he pushed my hand away, replacing my fingers with his. Like a voyeur, I watched him fuck me. It was incredibly sexy; I couldn't tear my eyes away.
Edward was resisting, trying to slow us down. I angled my hips and pushed them at him every time he thrust, making sure to take every bit of him in. His whole body was tense as he fought to hang on. I grabbed his tie, pulling him towards me and holding him there. I was turned on by the way he was straining and by the tiny grunts hidden in his rapid breathing, and I wanted him to watch my face when he finally sent me over the edge.
I was only moments away from climax and I wondered if Edward could tell. I had internalized the pleasure he had given me for the most part, greedily wanting to keep it for myself, but I wanted him to hear what he could do to me. Not only did I hope that he would never be able to forget the way it sounded, I wanted to give him the one thing I knew he wanted to hear.
I pushed my lips at his, kissing him indulgently to muffle the tiny groans that I couldn't hold in any longer. I was at the point of no return so I just let go into it and let the sensation I'd been fighting overtake me completely. "Edward," I moaned. "Oh, fuck, Edward." My orgasm crashed over me like a tidal wave; it took me under, blurring the lines between reality and dreams, and in those moments I knew Edward loved me, and nothing else mattered. I felt Edward's hand on my lower back as I arched my body towards him, completely overwhelmed by the intensity of wholeness he'd given me. He had reached inside of me and touched the one place only he could reach.
"Fuck, Bella," he groaned. "That was the most beautiful thing I've ever witnessed."
He pressed his chest into mine, using my ass for purchase as he pumped his cock in and out of me. It brought on a whole new wave of pleasure and I called his name again, digging my fingers into his back and writhing against him. I felt him explode inside of me, his arms trembling as he held onto my body and gasped for breath. His hips strained against me like he wanted to push his cock even further into me, desperate and consuming, the epitome of our connection.
He rested his weight on me when his climax subsided and I reveled in the closeness that I had dreamed of so many times. My imagination paled in comparison to the experience. I took in every detail from his breathing to his heartbeat, memorizing the way he felt against me. These were my memories in the making and I wanted to hold on to every single one.
"Come here," he whispered. He slid off of me and settled onto the floor, pulling me into his lap. I just closed my eyes and let him. I wanted him to have what he needed from me. He wrapped his arms around me protectively.
"I just needed to know I wasn't alone in this," he whispered earnestly. "Losing you swallowed me whole and I feel like I haven't taken a breath in seven years." His lips pressed against my cheek, sharing the agony he'd felt. "I didn't want to be the only one who couldn't get over us. I didn't want to be the only one who felt like I'd die if we never touched again."
"I know," I murmured, kissing his lips softly, trying to soothe him. In the tenderness of his arms, I nuzzled myself into his chest and soaked in his affection. I let myself lose track of time, purposely ignoring my responsibilities outside the door in favor of what my heart wanted.
"The baby wasn't mine, Bella," he admitted quietly.
"I flew to LA the day I found out. I told myself you had a right to know what happened, and I was going to beg you to take me back, but I was too late."
"You found me with John," I murmured, putting the pieces together.
"I'd already fucked up your life once before. You seemed happy with him and I didn't feel like I had the right to take that away from you, but it felt like I lost you all over again. I threw myself into school to cope, got a job in Boston when I finished. I was positive that guy would have married you and I couldn't deal with it. It was horrible realizing that I'd made you feel that exact way." I nodded in understanding. "My life meant nothing without you in it. When this promotion in LA came up, I knew I had to take it. I needed to be close to you, even if I couldn't have you. I was looking for an excuse to contact you when, just by dumb luck, Mrs. Weber had an extra ticket to the exhibition tonight. I swear to you I didn't come here with any expectations. If anything, I deserve to be alone."
"Alone?" I asked anxiously. "What about Tanya?"
"Tanya?" he sputtered, surprised by my question. "Our marriage was annulled shortly after I found out about the baby. Why?"
"You're not with her?" I blurted, tears coming to my eyes.
"No. Why would you think I was still with her?"
"Because you weren't with me."
He hugged me tightly to his body. "You really have been here waiting for me all this time, haven't you?" he asked in disbelief. "I'm so sorry, Bella. I didn't know."
"A promise is a promise," I mumbled. "I tried to get over you, but no matter what I did, you were always in my heart."
"And you were always in mine," he whispered, kissing my forehead. "Please say we can be together. I don't think I could let you go again even if you wanted me to."
I smiled and kissed him sweetly, giving into my impulse. I sprang to me feet and grabbed my camera, taking a picture of Edward before he could protest.
"What are you doing?" he asked, laughing.
"Taking the first photo of our life together," I told him, grinning from ear to ear.
"Nope. That's how this whole thing started. Get over here." He pulled me back into his lap and snatched the camera from my hands, holding it out in front of us and snapping a picture of the two of us. He turned the camera over and stared at the photo on the screen. "Now that is a picture worth framing."
A/N: Please review.