A/N

Thank you all so much for continuing to read and review—I am forever grateful to read your reflections and to see you to return.

Thanks to my hardworking team: robsjenn for research and pimping, orangeapeal for pre-reading, Elli-Iris for constant inspiration & The Twilighed Forum and PaintedTeacherLady & Sunshine for tag-team betaing.

Let's see how they are doing…


Chapter Sixteen
Open

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In my mind, I am walking to a podium in front of a large auditorium, but only Bella sits in the audience. The courage from my whiskey glass has blurred the edges of my senses, just enough to make this bearable.

"Bella, I… last night I, " shaking my head, I try to start again, "I… um," I look at her face, her beautiful doe eyes, and she's being so patient, there's no eagerness, no prodding, she simply waits. "I don't know where to begin… um… last night," I clear my throat, "the way I came after you… and the look on your face… and I've been… I don't know… and you're so good… and I'm so…"

"Edward… Edward…?" she softly interrupts my gibberish. "Can you… why don't we start someplace else? You've been trying to tell me something for a while now, haven't you, Edward?"

I nod, vigorously, and dry my damp palms on my jeans. Okay, okay, we're going to start here. "Yes… okay, last night my parents… um… okay… not last night… my mom and dad…" Augh… I'm fucking this up. I look to her for help, but I don't know what to ask for.

"Edward, I have a theory. Do you want to hear my theory?"

I nod, eager to finish this.

"I'm not the kind of girl your parents see you with; you're afraid to introduce us. And I can live with that, but I'm sure that's very hard on you…"

No. How could she think that? I drop my head to my hands. "No… no, Bella. They're dead. My parents are dead and they would love you. They do love you."

"Oh, Edward."

Still using my hands to shield my face, I tilt my head back against the couch. I can't look at her hurt. I wait but she doesn't cry or yell anything… she doesn't even stop the gentle stroking of my ribs.

"You've been holding this in…? All this time?"

I nod, no longer able to find words.

"And you tried to tell me this last night, didn't you?"

"Yes… sorry," I push out strangled, insufficient words.

"Oh, my baby." Bella slides her other arm between my back and the couch and reaches around, fully holding me. "Oh course you couldn't tell me… you've been so worried about me… taking such good care of me. Oh, Edward, I'm sorry."

I tell her that I've been lying and she apologizes—oh Bella.

"Can you tell me about it now, Edward? I think you'll feel better if we talk about it now."

I nod again. My heart feels strong, but my mind is in chaos. Trying to find the chronology, the scenes play out randomly in my mind. I've dropped my speech. I've had all day, but I'm not prepared… I have no choice but to continue.

"My mom… my mom was hiding in the bathroom… and my dad… my dad, you see, my dad told them no one was home… and fuckFUCK… I can't tell this story." The frustration in my head moves to my chest, my throat tightens… no, no, no… I will not cry.

"Okay, okay… can I ask questions?"

"Please." Questions I can do, everyone always asks the same ones. I feel Bella pull away from me and I risk a look to see her taking a drink of whiskey. She catches my eye and looks apologetic, then hands me the glass. I lock my stare into her eyes while I drink. As much as I search for it, there is nothing in her face that says she's hurt, rejected, or leaving.

Taking the glass from me, she turns to place it back down, and pauses, "Oh, Edward, your feet."

"Don't… they're fine."

Bella slides off the couch and kneels between it and the coffee table. She lifts my left foot, with my leg outstretched, and holds it against her chest. She is so small, that my foot takes nearly the entire length of her torso. What are you doing, Bella? I watch as she dips the shirttail of the pajamas into the whiskey.

"Bella, I…"

"Hush," she whispers as she examines the sores across the bottom of my toes. Slowly, she looks up at me through her long lashes and asks, "Ready?"

I nod.

"How long ago, Edward?" After she asks, she begins to blow on my toes and uses the whiskey-soaked fabric to wash my sores.

"Ten… " The word floats out with ease as I am transfixed, watching her.

"You were ten… no, it was ten years ago." Bella looks back up at me, "You were sixteen, weren't you, Edward?"

I nod.

I watch her cleansing me. The breath comes before the cloth, preventing the sting from ever occurring.

Ask me how, Bella.

"Can you tell me how… can you tell me what caused their death?"

More breath, more whiskey.

"Gun… gunshots."

Closing her eyes, she loosens her hold.

And I start to fall… but she catches me, pressing my heel to her body, she reestablishes her grip. I dance on the edge of this night and that night—but I want to stay here, with her, my Bella.

She plants kisses on my wounds and places my foot on the floor. Picking up my right foot, she dips the shirt back into the whiskey and prepares to wash. "Ready?"

I nod.

Let's keep going… Ask me where, Bella.

Dabbing the cloth on the cuts on my heel, she quietly works it out on her own, "And your mom and dad… your mom was in the bathroom… the locks…" her concerned, chocolate eyes meet my stare, "Edward, there was a break in, wasn't there?"

"Yes."

Ask me if I was home, if I saw.

"And you were home, weren't you?" I nod and close my eyes. Behind my lids, the visions become clearer, the sounds louder—my mother's crying, my father's begging. Bella covers my wounds with the wet top and my eyes spring open, the sting yanks me back; I have focus again. "Did you see, Edward?"

"No."

"But you heard, didn't you, Edward…? You heard."

"Yes," I say with my last bit of air.

Warm lips press onto the top of my foot, keeping me with her.

Placing my foot on the ground, she crawls back next to me on the couch. I close my eyes and focus on her hand on the nape of my neck.

"One more question?"

Ask me if they found who did it.

I nod.

"Does it still make you cry?"

The question startles me. I start to shake my head, but stop… two weeks ago, the answer would be no, but now… I cock my head to the side. I hear Bella make sympathetic sounds. Please don't pity me. I feel my chest open up; I'm vulnerable, exposed. I turn my head away as I feel her leg slide over my lap; I feel her facing me. I stretch out my arms, afraid if I touch her right now, I'll hurt her with the force of my need.

"Edward," she whispers. Damn it… the story is over, I should feel better, but…

"Edward, look at me." I can't… I try… but…

"It's okay, you don't have to look, but listen." The sound of my scruff rubbing against her smooth cheek, her scent… a warm, slow breath on my ear, "I Love You."

I try. I try so hard to say the words I've longed to say, but they are lodged in my throat. I am only capable of ugly, choked sounds. My fingers dig into the couch, my chest hurts. It's not fair.

"Hush. I know you love me. I've always known." And her fingertips are on my face and her warm breath is telling me, "Breathe, Edward… breathe with me."

And I do.

"You're safe."

I'm safe.

Soft lips brush my ear, as she speaks again, "And God loves you."

She knows. Her words break down a wall I've spent the day building. Finally, I look at her. There is no pity here, only understanding. More strangled sounds crawl out of my mouth. I've missed her today; I've missed God, too.

"Hold me Edward, I won't break… hold me."

I don't have the strength to stay away from her anymore.

My arms wrap around her body; she's so slight, I feel I could wrap them around two or three times. Though I'm sure I'm crushing her, she doesn't protest, but simply presses my cheek into her chest. And she rocks me, so gently, she rocks me… and I let her.

"Tell me what hurts the most, Edward."

"I… I did nothing. I hid… I listened… I did nothing…"

"Oh, Edward."

"And I can run fast…" my words are childish and simple; it is all I have. In my mind, I hear a gunshot and my body seizes as it did on that night. And I feel the sound that followed painfully tear through me.

"Edward, come back to me." I open my eyes and nod as Bella holds my face in her hands.

"What are you thinking?"

"I could have… I could have saved one of them, but I still couldn't move… I don't even know who… who was first. Oh Bella, one of them had to watch the other die."

"Okay, okay…" she brings my head back to her chest, and begins her rocking again. "Of course you couldn't move" one hand glides from my head to my back and she reminds me, "breathe, Edward."

And I do.

"You were a terrified boy. Please, forgive that boy. Please."

I pull away, and look up at her, "Last night… I hurt you last night and I'm so sorry."

"You didn't hurt me, Edward. You could never hurt me. I was startled… for a moment, frightened… but you stopped, right? Even though your mind was far, far away, you still stopped." I blink up at her, and she continues, "I'm going to be… no we're… we're going to be more honest about what our bodies and hearts want and don't want… okay? We can do that, right?"

I nod. "Bella… Bella, I love you. I love you so much." I watch her eyes fill with tears. Throwing her arms around me, I feel her kisses and tears on my neck as she says again and again, "I know, I know you do…"

With a hand in her hair and one on her back, I begin to rock her.

Our bodies moving together ignite a feeling deep in my core. I begin to swell and it feels so wrong, but so right. I try to pull her away, move her down my lap.

"Edward," I look away, feeling ashamed, "this is okay," her hand stokes me between my legs. She repeats, "We're going to be more honest about we want and don't want."

I nod, but continue to avert my eyes; she maintains her stroking and searches my face. I yearn to tell her that I want to be inside of her, not because it is a distraction, but because I love her. Being close is not enough—I want to be inside.

As I search for the words, my mouth opens and I stare at her. So patiently, she waits.

"Green."

"Green," she breathes back to me.

Bella stands and reaches for the hem of my t-shirt, whispering, "Arms up."

I comply and lean forward as she lifts the shirt over my head. She sits back down on the edge of my legs and unbuttons my fly, one by one. She looks up at me and waits.

"Green," I murmur again.

I lift my hips and Bella runs her fingers between my hips and my boxers. She pulls my jeans and underwear over my thighs, my knees… and frees them from my feet.

I watch her unbutton the pajama top. It slips over her shoulders and drops to the floor. Gazing into my eyes, she slides off the bottoms and steps out of them. She stands in front of me, nude and unembarrassed. My eyes float from her soft, full mouth, to the curves of her breasts and waist. For the first time, I don't see her as thin and fragile, but strong, lithe, powerful. She is exquisite. The light from the skyline surrounds her body in warm glow like a halo. She is an angel, my angel.

"Beautiful."

She climbs back onto my lap and presses her warm chest to mine. Skin on skin, salve on wound.

In long strokes, I ghost my hands down her spine, over her waist, hips, and thighs. Removing one hand from around my shoulder, she reaches between us and wraps her hand around me. Pulling away, I look at her. In that compassionate face, I see a woman who would do anything I'd ask.

I need to hear her say it. "Tell me."

"Green." And I know from the sound of her voice, her need is as great as mine.

I lift her hips and she whispers, "I love you," before she sinks down onto me.

Bella presses her body to mine. I bury my nose into her hair and relish the feel of her nipples on my bare chest, her wet warmth engulfing me.

Lips drag along my jaw to my mouth and she kisses me. Her kiss says I'm safe, wanted, and good. As she lifts her hips and glides back down, we swallow each other's moans.

Bella presses her forehead to mine, her fingertips touch my face, and I hold onto her hips, needing to lift her again.

"Edward… I want to try one thing… stay very still… if it's too much…" her voice trails off, then she says, "breathe."

And I do, inhaling her sweet whiskey breath.

I exhale… and inhale, I want to move her over me, but I don't. We lock eyes, and I keep inhaling her breath… and exhaling… I surrender…

For a moment, my mind is blank, dark. Then, as if from a hole in floor of a small room, images float up. I see myself running along the train tracks; I let it go and it floats away.

I see Tanya, in bed with me, disappointed… I let it go and it floats away.

Carlisle meeting me at the hospital, seeing my new bedroom, praying in an empty church… each image, good and bad, emerges… then lifts out of my mind like a bubble.

I see my mom and dad, happy, laughing, alive. I hold on for a moment, but then I let them float away, too… until there is nothing… comfortable darkness…

… I have no body, no senses. There is no time. I am drifting silently, peacefully…

Warmth, there is warmth, and a small, but growing light in the bottom of my mind. The light is a vapor that surrounds me like a cocoon. It becomes brighter, lifts me higher. It is the white light of God, and Love, and Bella.

I swim in the happiness of light. Gleeful, like a carefree child, I dance and play in the light. It is Heaven… Nirvana… Bella…

She spasms, catapulting me back into body. Ecstasy. I detonate in a million little pieces. White light splashes with indigo—stunning. I fill her body with my soul as we buck and convulse and cry out our sounds of joy. We hold onto each other as we continue to climax, locking eyes as we shed our fear and simply experience. I breathe in new air and continue to pulse inside of her… our orgasms suspended in a never-ending loop. Slowly, we begin to descend, breaking in waves of euphoric aftershocks. And then we hold each other—slick bodies, covered in sweat, happy tears, and come—we hold each other.

~o0o~

"How long did you wait under the bed?"

Hours later, after a long bath, Bella and I lie on the center of the bed wearing underwear and my t-shirts. She asks questions and I am able to answer with little emotion. It is as if I am telling her someone else's story or about a movie I saw.

"I don't know how long I waited. The police report timeline said it wasn't long after they left, but it was a blur."

"What was it that got you out from under the bed? Gosh, I don't think I could ever pull myself out from under there."

"I kept watching the light under the bedroom door for footsteps. I mean… I knew they were gone. I didn't hear or see anything for… I don't know how long."

"Did you go in? Did you go into their bedroom?"

"Yes. Ultimately, that's why I got out from under the bed. I kept thinking, what if they're still alive? I could still save them… but really, deep down, I knew it was too late."

"So… you saw them?"

I nod as the vision of their bodies materializes my mind, as clear as if it happened yesterday. "Fuck, Bella… it was horrible… so much blood."

"Oh, Edward." She holds me tightly, pressing her face into my shoulder. I continue to stroke her hair as she speaks, "I know. Death looks nothing like it does in the movies."

"You saw, didn't you? You saw Mike."

"Yeah. He… um…" she shakes her head, and stares blankly. I can tell the vision is clear for her, too. "I guess he died in my lap, staring up at me."

"Oh, Bella… I'm so sorry."

"You're the first person I've told. Well, who else would I tell? It's not exactly good dinner conversation, is it…? It's strange… it's almost like you can see the soul leaving the body. There's a moment when you know the life is gone… you know?"

"Yeah, I do. They were… well their bodies were there, but they weren't… they were gone."

"What did you do then?"

"Well, apparently some part of my brain was working. I don't remember much, but I called the police from my parents' car phone. They didn't find me for hours… it was pretty late the next morning."

"Oh, Edward. Where were you? Where did they find you?"

"I was still in the car… curled up in the backseat of the car. At least that's what I'm told."

"Edward, you poor thing."

"Poor Carlisle and Esme, I was a fucking mess."

"Of course you were. How could you not be?"

I shake my head thinking about what Carlisle and Esme had to take on.

"And it wasn't just that night…" My voice trails off as I think about the devastating funeral followed by those months of self-imposed isolation and silence.

"Tell me."

"I felt so… guilty… guilty they had to take me on. They weren't family… I had no family. They tried to counter my guilt at every turn, but it tied me in knots. I didn't have baseball anymore; I had nothing to say to friends… everything pissed me off…"

"Wait a minute, why didn't you have baseball?"

"Oh, here…" I bring my hand to Bella's ear and wiggle my fingers like I'm playing scales on a piano, "can you hear that?"

"Yes, I can hear your knuckles sort of clicking." Bella looks up at me.

"I did that to myself… that night."

Bella continues to look up at me, "I'm listening." Her voice is soft; she must know this is hard for me. Her compassion begins my undoing and I feel a bubble of emotion rise. I clear my throat to gain composure. I have to tell her; I want to be completely open.

"Okay, so…" I scoot down further into bed and Bella moves closer, so her face is next to mine. "I'm under the bed and… listening to everything that's happening on the other side of the wall." I raise the back of my hands above us. "And tears are streaming… and I'm trying to find the strength to get out from under the bed so I can run for help. I've planned my route, I can run fast, but I'm paralyzed… and…"

From nowhere a sob escapes my throat and tears spring to my eyes. I sit up and cover my eyes. The tears disappear as abruptly as they appeared. "I'm sorry… I'm sorry, Bella."

"Oh, Edward." Bella moves so she is above me, pulling me into her chest.

"I'm such a pussy."

"No… no you're not. You are a man telling the woman you love about the worst night of his life; what would be the worst night of a million lives." She holds me for a moment, rubbing my back, and I let her; it feels too good to stop. "I am still the woman you love, right Edward?" Thank you, God, for her sense of humor.

"Yes. But I'm still a little pussy."

"Have it your way, but you're my little pussy." She kisses the top of my head and I have to laugh as I look up at her.

"I know, that didn't sound right," she smiles down at me and searches my face. "Do you want to tell me?"

"Are you okay hearing this?"

"Yes. Yes I am."

I take a cleansing breath as Bella scoots back down to my side. I keep one arm around her as I continue my story. "I have this screaming voice in my head calling me all sorts of names, yelling at me not to cry… I can't make a sound, right…"

I shift my eyes sideways to her to see her nod, intently listening.

"But it's not really working; sometimes my… cry… is audible. And I swear my parents raise their voices so they can hide my sounds. So… I shove my hands under the wood slats under the bed…" I raise my hand again, "and every time a sob came," I take my other hand from around Bella and use it to pull my fingers back, "I'd bend my hands back. The pain gave me focus, stopped me from crying."

Returning one arm around Bella, I let out a long exhale and shrug; I don't know what else to say.

Bella sits up and takes my hand. She looks at it for a moment, and then proceeds to kiss each knuckle. "Did you break your fingers?"

"I… um…" I'm so mesmerized by watching her, I lose my train of thought. "No… damaged cartilage and ligaments… lots of physical therapy… but I didn't break them."

Bella presses her small hand against mine, her fingers barely reaching my second knuckles. I bend my fingers over hers, then slip them between, and hold her hand. She looks rapt as she turns our hands, bringing mine in for another kiss.

"There it is," she whispers.

"What?"

"Your scar." She trails the faint scar with her finger, "It's right here."

"I thought I was the only one who could see it."

"No. I see your scars, too."

Bella clutches my hand and turns her head away. I sit up so I can see her-eyes squeezed shut, covering her mouth with her hand.

"Hey, Bella. No tears, no tears for me, okay?"

"I'm trying not to, but what you went through, and you were just a boy."

"Come here." I lay Bella back down with me. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have told you. You're going through so much right now and I'm just adding to…"

"No. No, Edward," she looks up at me with tear-filled eyes. "These tears aren't because I'm overwhelmed or can't handle this; these tears are because I care about you."

I struggle for a way to lighten the mood. "Hey, you know what? There's a silver lining to these clicks. They add percussion to my piano playing."

"You play the piano?" She blinks up at me as I wipe away her tears.

"Mm-hmm."

"I love learning new things about you." Bella reaches up and gives me a kiss on the side of my mouth before resting her head in the crook of my neck. "You don't like playing anymore?"

"No. I do. Carlisle and Esme have a piano; when I'm in the mood, sometimes I go over there and play."

She peeks up at me, "Don't you want to have one here?"

I shrug, "Seems a little indulgent."

"Playing or buying?"

"Buying… buying a piano seems indulgent."

"But you… you have enough money to buy one, right?"

"Yes, I guess I do."

"Indulge, Edward, let yourself be happy."

Maybe I should.

"Besides, I would love to hear you play."

"You would?"

"Of course… especially if you play all depressing songs." She giggles and as I go to tickle her, she squeals for me to stop and turns away. Though I wait for her to turn back around, she doesn't.

"Can I ask you something, Edward?

"Of course."

Still turned away from me, I pull her against my chest.

"You went to physical therapy, but did you go to psychological therapy?" Alright, God, she's opening the door; help me walk through.

"Yes, I did. And it helped a lot."

She nods and sighs. "Do you ever think about going back?"

Me? Not where I thought this was going.

"Um… no… not really. I went to the counseling center at U-Dub a few times."

She nods again.

"Bella, do you know what Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is?"

"Yes." She silences and I hold her a little more closely to prepare us both, but she speaks before I can. "That's what you have, isn't it Edward?"

"Me? Um… yes, I had it."

"You don't have it anymore?"

"I… ah, don't know… I don't think so." I need to turn the corner here. "Bella… what um… do you think you should… have you thought about therapy?"

"I don't know… I mean," her voice sounds so scared, my heart clenches. "PTSD happens when you go to war or have a really traumatic experience like yours."

Oh, my love.

"Don't you think what you went through… what you're going through is traumatic?"

She shrugs, but I hear her sniffle. "I don't know if what's happening is natural grief or I'm… I'm really fucked up." Oh. She used the f-word.

"Fucked up, no. In need of some help…" I let it rest there for a few moments and I can feel her start to cry. "Don't be sad about this… it's okay… there's nothing wrong with getting help… Bella, come here." I turn her around and she buries her head in my chest to cry. "It's the nightmares… you can't keep having those nightmares." I rub her back in long strokes as she nods and sniffles.

With pink and brown eyes she looks up at me, "You know how you felt with Carlisle and Esme… that's how I feel with you sometimes. I feel guilty that I'm this mess."

"Oh, Bella… you are not a mess. Listen, when I met you…" in spite of our brutal honesty tonight, I carefully choose my words, "think about what you were wearing when I met you."

Nodding, Bella closes her eyes and I know she sees the memory as clearly as I.

"We had to know there were rocky times to come, right?"

In spite of her tears, Bella's mouth twitches as she holds back a smile and shakes her head. "A bride, still in her wedding dress…" she sighs, "covered in her groom's blood… sitting alone in the corner." She reaches up and glides one finger down my nose, when it lands on my lips, I kiss it and it falls away. "Edward," she shakes her head, "you saw all that and you took me on anyway… you sick masochist, you."

"Took you on? Bella, I fell in love." A pink blush warms her cheeks, and before she can dip her head, I lift her chin. "You make me laugh, you're smart and so kind… you accept me for the goofball I am… I love you, Bella." Must start reading poetry so I can say this all better than I do. "And getting some help is… I don't know… I just want you to be happy."

She wipes the last of her tears and nods. "I want to be happy, too… I want us both to be happy."

As she rests her head back down, her little hand rubs my stomach in soft circles. "Really, Edward, it's why I didn't quit my job. I knew I might need the health benefits… for therapy."

It takes a moment for what she says to sink in.

"You mean… you mean you don't love your job?"

She starts to giggle so I push the sarcasm further. "You mean, you don't love working in the main office for Newton's Olympic Outfitters?"

"Stop," she says, her laughter increasing.

"You don't love tracking inventory?" I try to think of every mundane task she's told me about. "You don't love ordering office supplies for each store? Processing returned damaged goods to the wholesaler?"

"Stop… stop," she's laughing harder now.

"But I know you love when they get short handed and you have to go back out and work at the cash register."

"Edward, stop."

I start to tickle her and the squealing and laughter go through the roof, "Tell me you love your job, Bella…"

"No, no… stop… please…" She curls into a little ball, but my fingers still work into her side.

"Tell me you love working there… tell me you love it."

"Stop… I hate it… I hate it."

I stop tickling her and get up on my knees as she catches her breath. Frustrated, shocked, and elated, I pull at my hair. "You hate it?"

"I hate it."

"Please use the f-word."

Bella tips her head back and shouts, "I fucking hate that job."

"Then why the fuck are you still there?"

"Aren't you listening?" She sits up, sill laughing, and makes a big gesture with her arms, "Benefits."

"Jeez, Bella, money is not a concern."

"Do you have any idea what therapy costs without health benefits? I'd go through my wedding gift money in a couple of months."

"I…" pointing to myself in some stupid, grand gesture, "I… I can buy you therapy."

Bella starts hysterically laughing and flops back onto the bed, "Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? My quasi-rich boyfriend is buying me therapy?"

You said, 'boyfriend.'

"I mean, Edward, don't men with money buy their girlfriends plastic surgery or something, and you are going to buy me therapy?"

"Yes… damn it… yes, I will buy you, my girlfriend, therapy."

"But not a piano?"

"Alright, I'll buy a piano, too. We'll go on a happiness buying spree."

She shakes her head and sighs, pulling my hands. I flop back down onto my stomach. "Listen… let me look for another job first. I really want to pay for this on my own… and if I don't work, I don't know what I'll do all day."

"Wait, let's separate these things out… one thing at a time. Therapy, Bella… now… okay?"

Breaking our eye contact, she looks down, as if she is admitting failure and says, "Kay."

I lift her chin, "It's a good thing."

She repeats back with less enthusiasm, "It's a good thing."

"I want you to meet Jasper this week…"

"No, Edward, please I do not want my therapist to be my boyfriend's…"

"No, no, no, he won't be your therapist, he shouldn't be your therapist. Just a consult… you'll talk and he'll recommend a few doctors who would be a good match. Alright?"

"Alright."

"And as far as the job goes… why don't you quit? Take some time off; give yourself a breather. You'll find something else down the road or you can just wait until grad school in the fall."

"I'm no good with idle time on my hands. I'll sit around and read all day."

"So, read… and you can… you can help Alice. She's going to have physical therapy, doctors appointments, she'll need you, Bella."

"I know. I've already told Mrs. Newton that I need to be flexible with my hours…" Her voice trails off. Patiently, I wait while Bella mulls it over. "Yes… let me think about this."

"And then, when Alice gets better, we can… we can go on vacation." This might be the best idea I've ever had. I look at her with what I imagine is the expression of a little boy. "Let's go on vacation."

"Vacation?" She sounds skeptical, but props herself up on her elbow and waits for more.

"Yes… have you ever been to Europe, Bella?"

The way she laughs tells me that the answer is no.

"Well, let's go. We'll pack light, buy what we need along the way… travel from country to country, for as long as we want."

"Oh, Edward… I've always wanted to go to Europe." Oh, she looks like she's buying into it; she really wants to go.

"What do you want to see, Bella?"

"Everything," she breathes, her soft brown eyes gazing into my mine.

"Where should we start?"

"Assisi," she says without hesitation, surprising me by her choice.

"Really, Assisi?"

"Yes," she says like a little girl revealing her secret wish.

"St. Francis," it occurs to me.

She nods and whispers back, "St. Francis."

"We'll start in Assisi." Bella strokes my cheek with one finger, until she reaches my scruff and rubs it with the back of her hand. Her face falls and she smiles sadly, shaking her head.

"How could we? It's not responsible… you have seminary…" she smirks, "Reverend Masen."

I flop onto my back, across the bed and rest my head on her stomach, staring at the ceiling. Now is as good a time as any. "Bella… ready for more revelations?"

"Depends, revelations as in, 'I'm about to tell you something,' or as in, The Book of?"

"The former."

"Hit me."

I take a deep breath. "Bella, I don't know if I'm going to be a minister."

"Really?" I peek over to her, to see a face full of surprised curiosity, but not judgment.

"Really. I'm not sure if I want to be a minister or if I'm doing it for the right reasons." I peek again, but her expression hasn't changed. "I might go back to… um… grad school for my PhD in Clinical Psychology." Even as I say it, I sound like an idiot… forever a grad student.

Waiting for her to speak, I dare another look. Brows are to her hairline and her mouth hangs open… Okay, she's surprised. I cover my eyes with my forearm. My parents are murdered, no big deal… but this…

"I'm sorry… I shouldn't be so surprised. So, you'll be a therapist?"

I nod.

"Yes, I mean, of course… I can see it… therapy… ministry… you'd be great at either."

I sit up, propping myself up on my elbows. I think there's something she's holding back. Preacher's wife? Therapist's wife? Grad student's wife…? Again? Oh. Is that it? I decide to hold my tongue.

I sigh, lie back down, and return my arm to my eyes, "I don't know what to do; I change my mind every day."

"Are there deadlines we need to worry about?"

You said, 'we.'

"Sort of. Right now I'm on the ordained track at the seminary. I can get my MDiv without ordination, but the curriculum is different and I really should decide before the end of the Fall semester."

"How does the curriculum differ?"

"All the time I spend with Carlisle… funerals, weddings, hospital hours… all of that stops."

"But you love that part."

"I know," I shrug.

"Do you still want the MDiv without ordination?"

"Yeah. I could finish it up this year while I apply for my PhD. It's hard to stay on top of the coursework sometimes, but I really do like the classes. Besides, what would I do all day?"

I look up at her smirking at me. "There might be an opening in the main office of Newton Olympic Outfitters," she says, bending down and kissing my forehead. "The answer will come," she says with a quiet certainty.

The sound of chirping birds outside makes us both laugh. She strokes my hair, looking down at me and says, "Good morning, Dr. Masen."

"Is that your preference?"

She shakes her head and her grin widens across her face. "My only preference is to be with you."

I close my eyes and float in the feeling.

"You need to sleep, Edward. I slept yesterday, you didn't."

I look up at her, "I'm not tired."

"Well… we could get breakfast and see if we can bring Alice home early."

"Breakfast?" There is no hiding my hope.

"Yes, aren't you hungry, Edward?"

"Yes, I'm starving. Do you want me to make you something?"

She shakes her head, "Nope… diner… diner breakfast."

"Oh, that sounds good."

"My treat."

"Oh, no. That little stunt you pulled for lunch…"

Bella starts to laugh. "Did you like that? Sue and I planned that out days ago. The only person who hates being treated more than you is my father. It would have ended in a blood bath."

I move so I'm lying next to her, turned towards her. "You are a bad girl," I say softly as I pull a lock of hair away from her face.

"Yes, I am."

"Should we go for breakfast now? Should we strike while the appetite iron is hot?" I ask narrowing my eyes, warning her not to lie.

"I'll be hungry later, too."

I nod and find my hand, with a mind of its own, running under the waistband of her lace panties.

My eyes follow the length of her body, her creamy, perfect skin.

"Bella, where did you read about tantric sex?"

"What's tantric sex?" Her voice is so innocent, naïve.

I bite the inside of my cheek, leaving me with a crooked smile. "Um… it's what we did earlier tonight."

"Oh. I didn't know there was a name for that."

"You just…?"

"I just did what was in my heart."

No, she's not naïve; rather, wiser than I give her credit for.

"Yes, Isabella, there is a name for what we did. We made love."

My hand slides down to the curve of her backside, I lean in, and give a gentle kiss her.

"Make love to me, Edward."

I slide my hand further down to feel her swollen, wet flesh. Between careful kisses, we undress each other. I lie between her legs and she wraps herself around me.

Bella rests her hands on my upper arms and as I slide my hands under her shoulder blades, the enormity of this weekend begins to sink in, for both of us.

"Bella…" there are no words.

"I know, Edward, me too."

"Ready?"

My question is met with a sweet smile. "You won't always have to ask, but thank you."

"Keep your eyes open," I whisper and sink into her.

So slowly, I rock out of her, and when I rock back in I tell her, "I love you."

And out and in, and she tells me, "Your eyes are so beautiful… I love your kind, green eyes."

And out and in, and I tell her, "Your scent grounds me, soothes me."

We take our time as our bodies move as one. After each gentle thrust comes a pause and an exchange of tender words. I say things to her I often think, but was too afraid to share.

Bella begins to stiffen around me and I move my hips in unhurried circles. "I know what you love," I whisper as she reaches the edge.

"I love you," she says as her body quivers.

"Eyes open." And I have the privilege of watching her release without any hiding.

Feeling her flutter around me pushes me higher. I begin to rock in her again, increasing my pace, slightly.

She reaches down and cups my backside, encouraging my movements.

"Oh, Edward… this ass of yours…"

I have to laugh; my chest is light. I am happy. We are happy.

"You make the best lasagna in the world."

"I do?" I love her ingenuous, surprised eyes.

I stop before telling her I've had a wet dream featuring her lasagna. I'll save that for another time. But the thought of it brings me closer.

"Yes, that's it, Edward."

"Oh, Bella."

"I feel it."

"You feel it?" I approach the point of no return.

"Yes, Edward… and I want to feel you come in me."

"Oh, God."

"Eyes open… come for me."

And I do.

I unravel in her presence, looking into her eyes.

I am safe, wanted, and loved.

~oo0oo~

"What in God's name happened to the two of you?"

"Good morning, Alice," I say with my best attempt at charm. Admittedly, Bella and I aren't looking too hot right now. Alice, on the other hand, looks fantastic.

Bella and I release each other's fingers long enough to give Alice a kiss on opposite cheeks.

"Well?" she asks, looking at Bella.

Although I expect Bella's typical, 'I'll tell you later,' instead she simply says, "long weekend. Don't worry your pretty head about it."

Alice narrows her eyes at me and I respond with a shrug.

"Fine, be that way." She sighs grabbing each of our hands, "Now, will you two please break me out of this insane asylum?"

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A/N

As you can see, I am off of my every other week posting schedule. I wanted to get these chapters out to you as quickly as I could. Although I don't think I can keep up a weekly posting schedule, I believe I can post more quickly than twice a month. Unless I hear major protests, I'd like to post whenever I can.

This Saturday, teaser. Next chapter, probably the end of the next week.

I would love to hear what you think.

Warm regards,

Liz