Love, Actually Contest

Title: Then, Now & Always

Characters: Edward & Bella

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all characters related to Twilight. No copyright infringement intended.

Image That Inspired You: Prompt #17

Rating: T

Summary: As Bella gets ready on her wedding day, she has vivid memories of her and Edward's past and how their relationship grew from childhood friendship to forever love.

As I sit at the vanity in the bedroom where I spent every summer of my childhood, my eyes are drawn to the first picture ever taken of Edward and me. Its edges are worn by years of tender fingertip touches. I can't believe that we have actually made it. We are finally getting married today after all of these years. I never would have guessed that we would end up here when I met him on that beach seventeen years ago.

I was five years old and my parents had taken us to Orange Beach for a week of vacation around the fourth of July. I can remember storefronts being decorated in red, white and blue and American flags floating in the breeze. I was building sand castles in the sugar white sand and my parents were relaxing in their cushioned umbrella- covered chairs when I saw him for the first time.

I thought his hair was an odd color and that his eyes were really green. He had a sprinkle of freckles across his nose that was beginning to turn pink in the mid-day sun. He walked out of the water carrying a net and bucket. When he reached where I was sitting, he plopped down onto the sand beside me.

"Whatcha doin'?" he asked me.

"Just building sand castles," I said shyly. I was an only child and hadn't started school yet. Looking back, I had led a pretty sheltered life and hadn't made many friends yet.

"Can I play?"

"Um, I guess so. My name is Bella."

"I'm Edward."

"Edward? That's a strange name."

"It was my grandpa's name." He looked up to where my parents were sitting. My dad had his arm thrown over his face and was snoring while my mom was reading a gossip magazine.

"Is that your Mom and Dad?"

"Yeah. Where are yours?"

"They're the ones kissing out in the water," he said, pointing back out to where he had just been.

"Eww…that's gross."

He rolled his eyes. "I know. They always do that."

We continued building sand castles and knocking them over until it got too hot to sit there anymore.

"I'm hot and thirsty. I'm gonna ask my mom to take me to the pool." I stood up and pointed at our condo. "That's where we're staying."

"Neat! Us, too. Will you still be here tomorrow?"

"Yeah, we're here all week for our vacation."

"We got here yesterday and we'll be here until Saturday. I'll see ya tomorrow, Bella!" He jumped up and ran back into the ocean, making a big splash near his parents.

That precious first memory brings a smile to my face as I take the princess cut diamond earrings out of the black velvet box and place them in my ear lobes. Along with my engagement ring, they are the only jewelry that I will be wearing today. Edward surprised me with them last night after our rehearsal dinner. They belonged to his grandmother, Elizabeth, and then to his mother, Esme. Now they are mine and one day they will be our daughter's. They aren't the first things that he has given me and I'm certain they won't be the last.

Over the next couple of summers our families always stayed in the same condo. My parents were able to rent our unit through my dad's company that reserved it for their workers to use the entire summer. Edward's parents and grandparents owned their unit. We always met up and played together for the week surrounding Independence Day. He could swim like a fish from that very first summer that we met while I was still using my floaties. He never made fun of me; only encouraged me to go a little deeper, or kick a little harder until I could swim every bit as good as he could. By the summer that we were eight, he had taught me how to dive off of the diving board and how to do a canon ball.

He also taught me how to chase crabs at night using a flashlight and how to hold them just right so that I wouldn't get pinched. He gave me boldness and courage along with friendship during those early summers.

Today I'm wearing my hair partly up because Edward says he wants to not only be able to see my face, but also to be able to tangle his fingers in my hair when the kiss he gives me makes me his wife. The sides are swept up in diamond and sapphire encrusted combs that my Gran lent me. They are my borrowed item for the day, which takes me back to the summer that Edward let me borrow his jacket.

It was five summers after the first time that we met and we were ten years old. Through all of our playing and time spent together on the beach, our parents had also become close friends. On the night of the fourth we joined the Cullen's for supper at 'Johnny Rockets'. Edward and I had complained of being tired of eating fish and shrimp and just wanted to go somewhere that we could have a burger. After supper we walked through all of the different shops down at The Wharf just needing to waste some time until the fireworks were due to begin.

When it was time, we found our seats down at the amphitheater. Even though it was the hottest part of the summer, it was always cool at night on the beach. The breeze coming in off of the ocean twirled my hair around my shoulders and gave me chill bumps. Edward noticed when I wrapped my arms around myself to try to keep in some of my body heat.

"You cold?" he asked, nudging my knee with his.

"Yeah, a little bit."

"You didn't bring a jacket?"

"I forgot. I fell asleep when I came in from the pool this afternoon and I was making us run late for supper," I said, feeling my cheeks warm with their blush.

"Here. You can use my hoodie. It should be warm enough."

"What about you? Won't you get cold?"

"Nah. My big man muscles will keep me warm," he joked while he flexed his non-existent bicep.

He made me giggle and that made him laugh. "Okay. Thanks." I slid on his jacket and for the first time noticed his scent. It smelled like suntan lotion and salt; like the beach, like us. When the show was over he said I could wear it home. I'm sure he meant just back to the condo. I never gave it back.

Edward isn't particular about a lot of things, but I'm only wearing light make up today because I know that's how he likes it. I'm sure it's because that's how I've always worn it; a light dusting of powder, a sweep of shimmery taupe eye shadow, black mascara for my long lashes and peach gloss on my lips that he always calls pouty. I never have to worry much about blush because I can usually take care of that on my own. I smile when I remember the first summer that he noticed I was wearing make up.

It was the summer that we were fourteen and I was a big jumble of walking hormones. I had begun to notice boys and how they looked and how they didn't smell like sweat anymore. I had gotten my period two years before and had finally started to fill out in places that made me look like less like a little girl and more like a teenager.

Since the previous summer Edward and I had tried to keep in touch with each other during the rest of the year. He called me on my birthday and sang off key. I sent him a Halloween card and a roll of quarters to use at the arcade for Christmas. He called me the next day and let me know that it was the best gift he had gotten that year. He sent me a king sized package of peanut M&Ms for St. Patrick's Day and I sent him a t-shirt with a British flag on it for Flag Day. It was really for his birthday, but I never told him that.

During our calls and crazy cards, we had both decided that we wanted to bring a friend with us to the beach that summer. He brought Jasper and I brought Alice. I saw the boys playing Frisbee down by the water where the last bit of foam from the waves washed up onto the shore. He had grown since the last year…in a lot of places. The breeze from the Gulf was blowing his now longer hair everywhere. He was long and lean and looking at him gave me butterflies.

"Hey!" he yelled over the sound of the breaking waves.

I waved back at him shyly as we walked through the sand to meet them. I felt nervous and I didn't understand why. Edward had been my friend for nine years.

"Hey," I said as I felt the blush creep up to my cheekbones. I turned to look at his friend and held out my hand. "I'm Bella. This is my best friend Alice."

"I'm Jasper, this idiot's best friend." He wasn't looking at me. He was staring at Alice and she was doing the same to him. I raised my eyebrows at Edward and he just shrugged his shoulders.

We joined in on their game until I saw my mom waving us in from the balcony. Edward's mom was with her since it was our custom to all eat supper at our place on the first night of vacation. Alice and Jasper walked side by side ahead of us, talking quietly. Edward had been walking two steps behind me until we reached the pool.

He pulled me back by the hand until I faced him. "What's on your face?" he asked me.

"Um…make up?"

"Oh. Is that a new thing?"

"I guess. My mom let me start wearing a little bit this year." I was confused as to where he was going with this.

"Oh. Okay. Well, you look really pretty." He let go of my hand and started walking toward the condo again. I knew I didn't need any blush.

As I pick up the perfume bottle to add a few last sprays to my hair, neck and wrists, I smile thinking about how Edward bought this for me on our last anniversary, and for every one before that. He always says the scent reminds him of how I smelled the first time we kissed. It turns out that it was the first kiss for both of us. The memory of his soft lips makes me bite mine in anticipation of the kiss we'll share in a few short hours.

It was the summer that we were fifteen and Alice and Jasper had come with us for the second summer in a row. Alice told me that Jasper had kissed her on our last night at the beach the previous summer while Edward and I had walked down by the pier. I was jealous that she had her first kiss and that I hadn't had mine yet. Boys liked me and took me to dances during the school year, but I had never let any of them kiss me.

The four of us walked on the beach one night while our parents caught a movie in town. The movie was one of those epic things that we had no intention of ever seeing. At first I was walking with Alice ahead of Jasper and Edward. We had been whispering and giggling about the boys and how cute they were for days. They jogged in front of us and turned around so that they were both walking backwards.

"So are you just going to ignore us?" Edward asked.

"We weren't. We were just talking," I defended.

"About what?" He stopped abruptly and crossed his arms over his chest. I had noticed that his t-shirt was a little tighter this year than it was the last.

"That's for us to know and for you to find out," Alice quipped. Jasper and Edward gave each other a look before they ran the few steps towards us, dipped down and threw each of us over their shoulders. Jasper turned around with Alice and continued to walk away with her in the direction we were just going. Edward turned and began to walk back in the direction of the condo. Alice and I giggled and waved at each other while hanging upside down.

We wound up back at the chairs that our parents lounged in during the day, only they were no longer cushioned. We watched the waves for a while and were comfortable in our silence.

Finally Edward sat up and turned to face me. "I just want to try something. Do you trust me?" His eyes were intense and he was biting his bottom lip.

"Yes." He let out the breath that he had been holding. He licked his lips and leaned closer to me.

"Tell me to stop if you don't want me to do this." He was a whisper away from my mouth.

"Never." His lips were soft and wet when they met mine. He licked my bottom lip and I let him put his tongue in my mouth. Mine danced with his for the sweetest first kiss ever.

I walk over to the bed, removing my robe along the way so that I can put on the lingerie that goes under my wedding gown. I know Edward is going to flip out when he sees it. It's a white satin strapless corset that has an innocent bow tied in the center of my cleavage and garter straps at the bottom to hold up my silk stockings. The bottom of the corset skims the top of my lace trimmed thong panties. I just hope he doesn't rip them this time.

It was the summer that we were seventeen and we had decided not to bring our friends along that time. We had spent every moment that we had together the summer before making out like the teenagers we were. We dated like a real couple and had stopped just short of going all the way. We had talked about it over the past year and both of us felt like we were ready. We were the best of friends and had both waited for each other.

We had spent the entire week building up to that moment; touching each other, kissing each other, relearning each other. He had prepared me in every way that he could so that it would be just as good for me as it inevitably would be for him. We had even scouted out a little alcove that had become our spot to sneak away to every night. It was hidden by the sand dunes and no one ever saw us or even walked past us for that matter.

Our parents had grown in their own friendships over the years and they continued to go to The Wharf for the fireworks every year. We had managed to convince them that we were too old for it that year even though we were pretty sure that they were on to us. The fireworks started at nine. We had been so into each other that we barely noticed. I had removed his shirt and he had been taking off my jean shorts when he saw the tiny panties I was wearing. After that he was even more lost in the moment; kissing me heatedly and ripping my thong.

It was the best of both worlds; both bitter and sweet. Sometimes tender and playful. Sometimes rough and needy. I had become his in every way on that blanket under the stars and fireworks of the Alabama sky. I loved him and he loved me and there would never be anyone else for either of us.

The anxious butterflies begin to swirl in my stomach as I think of Edward. He won't be dressed in a typical tuxedo today, as gorgeous as he is in one. He'll be wearing white linen pants and a linen coat that will match my dress. I inspect my gown to make sure that everything is perfect for our day. The color is called candlelight and when I put it on, the soft waves made by the draping of the material make me feel like I'm floating away. That floating feeling reminds me of our escape to college together.

We were eighteen and we knew that it was very likely our last summer spent in Orange Beach with our families. We had decided that after this many years apart, we couldn't take it anymore. We had to be together. Neither of us had chosen to attend our family's alma maters. We wanted to choose our own path and make our own way together. We had decided to attend The University of South Alabama. It had the programs that we needed for our chosen majors and the credits would transfer well for Edward when it was time for him to enter medical school.

I had cried every year when it was time to leave the beach and return home. It meant that I had to leave my best friend and eventually the love of my young life. There weren't any tears that summer because I knew that I would be joining Edward at school and that we would begin our life together in a few short weeks. We thoroughly enjoyed that last week at the beach. We built sand castles like we did when we were kids and played and splashed in the water. He gave me piggy back rides down the beach and slow kisses in the sand.

I know I'll never have to leave him again and it's because of that assurance that I am absolutely beaming by the time my Mom comes in to help me put on my dress. As soon as the zipper makes its ascent and every inch of material falls into place, I feel like Mrs. Edward Cullen, and not just because it's stitched into the lining of my dress. I have his memories; his childhood, his teenage years, his college years. I have his firsts; hand holding, kissing, and loving. I have his ring and somewhere along the way I've managed to steal his heart just the way he has stolen mine. Today I'll also have his name.

Edward had been accepted into USA's medical school so we were going to be staying in Mobile until he was finished. I couldn't have been happier. It was spring break during our last year of college and we had made a day trip over to Orange Beach, both of us in need of a dose of nostalgia. We had picked up lunch on the way and had a picnic on the beach in our alcove. Edward and I had been so busy studying lately that we really just needed a day to do nothing but be silly and have fun together. Edward had fed me every bite of lunch and had treated me like a queen. While he had his head in my lap, I ran my fingers through his hair as he told me the story of us; every summer from his point of view leading up to this very moment.

"Bella, you don't know this, but I have loved you since the first time I saw you. You had pretty long brown hair and were wearing a pink and white striped bathing suit. When you said I could play with you, you became more to me than just my playmate. You became my best friend. That friendship has grown over years into a love so strong and so true that it beat the odds of time and distance. I have only ever loved you."

He sat up and reached into his pocket and pulled out the most beautiful three stoned princess cut diamond ring that I had ever seen. Hot happy tears were streaming down my face as he held it between us.

"This is called a past, present and future ring. I think it is perfect for us because we have always chosen to be together; as friends when we were children, as lovers in our tender teen years, and I hope as husband and wife for the rest of our lives. I loved you then. I love you now. I'll love you always. Bella, will you marry me?"

There had never been a more perfect proposal. He was the love of my life and I would spend every day of the rest of mine making sure that he knew it.

"Of course I'll marry you, Edward, yes! A thousand times, yes!" He placed the ring on my finger and I kissed him everywhere that my lips could reach. That was the last time that we made love on that beach with only the sound of the waves surrounding us.

Edward and I are getting married on that same beach in mere moments. The irony isn't lost on me that we are tying ourselves to each other for life on the day that we normally celebrate independence. My mom finishes me off by fitting my veil with one final comb. She hands me over to my dad who tells me how beautiful I look and asks me if I'm certain that this is what I want. I tell him to take me to my man and not to walk slowly.

Jasper and Alice are standing up front in their places of honor. They are next in line to get married and we will stand up for them on their special day the same way they are for us…only we will already be married! My roommate from college, Rosalie, is my other bridesmaid and Edward's cousin, Emmett, is his other groomsman. They snuck off together after the rehearsal dinner and weren't seen again until brunch this morning. I have a feeling we are just the beginning of a long line of weddings yet to come. Only our families are in attendance. We just wanted this day to be about the two of us.

Edward's smile is so big and bright I can see it the moment I step onto the sugar white sand and begin walking towards him. He is beautiful in his casual wedding attire waiting only for me. He takes my hand from Charlie as soon as I make it down the aisle to him.

"Baby, you are absolutely stunning. You take my breath away!" I smile at him shyly, much like I did the day we met. I want to kiss him and I know he knows it by the smirk that he is giving me.

The preacher begins our ceremony and reads from Corinthians about what love is and what it is not. We share our own written words before we take traditional vows; promising to love, honor and cherish each other with all that we are and all that we have for life or longer.

It's finally time for us to exchange rings. I slide Edward's on and notice how good it looks on his finger and I know I've never seen anything sexier. He tenderly places mine on my third finger and seals it with a kiss there. The look in his eyes as he gazes at me would be overwhelming if I didn't feel the exact same way he did.

We are pronounced husband and wife and he wraps his arms tightly around me; one at the small of my back and the other tangled in my hair. He slowly dips me backward, giving me his signature crooked grin before kissing me breathless and finally making me Mrs. Edward Cullen.