Thanks to Profmom72 for being so much fun to write with, mujisan for being amazing, and to WriteOnTime for fixing my horrible punctuation. She understands my dangerous love affair with the comma.
Chapter Seven - King & Washington
"So, you're really coming?" Emmett didn't bother with any pleasantries.
"Yeah." Neither did I. "Is everyone freaking out?"
"Well, Mom's over the moon. She can't stop talking about it. And Jasper's pissed off still, but you know him. He changes moods more often than he changes his underwear so I wouldn't worry too much about that. Mom's not telling Dad, though. She wants it to be a surprise."
"And you?" I asked.
"I'm cool with you coming, if you really want to be there for Dad and the family. But if you're coming to show off the great big stick up your ass or dump all your baggage in the middle of room so we can sort it out, then don't bother.
"I'm not saying the family doesn't have some pretty awesome baggage to look at, and maybe we should try unpacking it one of these days, but the party is about Dad."
"Okay," I said. "Anything else?"
"Emmett, it'll be good to see you again."
There was a moment of silence before he said, "You too, Edward."
I wasn't ready for this, but I couldn't put it off anymore. At least I'd have Bella with me.
On the night of the party, I picked her up at her apartment, and as soon as the door shut behind her, she said, "I think you got the better end of the stick."
"Why's that?" I asked.
"You didn't have to wear heels to meet my dad."
"Lucky for all of us," I said. "You look a hell of a lot better in them anyway." I pulled her close and leaned in to kiss her. Maybe it was the nerves, but I got a little carried away, slowly backing her up against the wall as I ran my hands up and down her sides.
"Hey," she mumbled, and I pulled my head back. "Save that for later, okay?"
"Promise?" My voice was breathier, needier than I'd expected.
"I am expecting a reward for doing this," she teased. "Come on, let's get going before one of us chickens out."
We had to take a cab because there weren't exactly a ton of bus stops in my parents' neighborhood. Her teasing made me want to ask the driver to take us to my place instead. I wanted to finish what we'd started. I was more ready for that milestone in our relationship than I was for seeing Mom and Dad, but I think I always knew this was part of our journey. I'd fucked up the beginning so badly that I was bound and determined to do every other stage right. Emmett had been right about the baggage, too. There was no way I could carry it all into our relationship. It would take up too much space; we'd never be able to move around it.
We had to go to Carlisle's party.
The ride was solemn. We held hands, and every once in a while, Bella would squeeze mine or I would rub my thumb into her palm. The reassuring gesture did little to calm my nerves. I knew Emmett and Jasper would be cool—neither would want to start a fight, but what would Carlisle say when he saw me? What was I going to say to him?
When the cab pulled up in front of the house, I swore Bella could hear the jackhammering of my heart.
"Any final tips?" she asked.
"Just be yourself," I said.
"That's pretty cliché," she said, laughing.
"Classic is not cliché, besides in this case, there is really no way you can fail with that advice. You're perfect."
She rolled her eyes at me, but she also stood a little straighter.
Cars lined the streets and filled the driveway. The sounds of clicking heels and chatter could be heard coming up the sidewalk. Someone else had just walked through the front door, and Esme noticed more of us coming, so she held it open. The porch light shined on her; she beamed, like I knew she would. This was her element. The moment we became more than shadows to her, her mouth formed an 'o', and she nearly tripped running down the stairs toward me.
I stopped, frozen by the image of a woman I'd done my damnedest to push away, coming toward me with open arms, jogging in heels, which must have been sinking into the grass. Bella nudged me. I nodded and took the few remaining steps to meet her.
"Edward, I'm so happy you're here," Esme said, wrapping her arms around me. Her head only came to my shoulders, but her hug carried a lot of emotion, making it much more substantial than I would have expected. How could I help but hug her back? I dropped the gift bag I was carrying and squeezed. At first, I told myself I was doing it for her. What had she ever really done but love Carlisle and three boys, one of whom was probably more trouble than he was worth?
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the hug wasn't for her, but for me.
I squeezed a little tighter, trying to convey an overdue apology. She pulled back and looked at me, taking a deep breath as she did.
She appeared disheveled, nervous, accusatory, and relieved all at once. I'd seen the look before. Three months after I got my driver's license, I was being a shit, going too fast with friends, and I wrecked the car. They took me to the ER, though I only had bruises and a mild concussion. She wore the same expression that day.
Right at that moment, I realized it was the look of a mother's love.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Water under the bridge," she answered. Her voice shook when she spoke again. "You have no idea how happy he's going to be."
"Thanks, Esme," I said. Her face fell slightly, and it took a split second to realize what I'd done. "This is Bella." I quickly motioned toward her. "Bella, this is my mom."
Esme's face lit back up. She shook Bella's hand and began leading her toward the door. I grabbed the gift bag and followed.
Walking into the house was so surreal. When I got back from my tour, I'd gone on a junk food binge. One of my first purchases was a box of Honeycomb cereal. I used to love that crap as a kid. Back at my apartment, I couldn't wait to pour a bowl, but when I did I couldn't believe how small they seemed. Weren't they always big?
Being at home felt the opposite. When we all lived there, it felt suffocating. Too many boys, too many egos. Tonight, it felt expansive. I knew it was just my perception—one more way time warped my senses.
I thought maybe I'd have a minute to get used to the idea of being there. Maybe he'd be in the dining room or there would be so many people that he wouldn't notice me slip in. I wasn't that lucky. In fact, no one missed my entrance. They couldn't have, because Esme called out, "Hey everyone, look who's here!"
Bella grabbed my hand and squeezed, instinctively knowing I would need it. She might have even pulled on my arm to keep me in the room, which was good, because running sounded like something I wanted to do.
Directly in my line of sight, Jasper sat on the couch with his wife, Alice, wedged in between him and some hospital big wig who showed up at every party we ever had. He looked uncertain for a second; then shrugged and turned his gaze away from me. I followed the turn of his head in time to see Carlisle marching toward me. I'd often thought about what would happen when I saw him. I figured he'd be angry with me, maybe ignore me. In retrospect, I was stupid. I wasn't thinking of Carlisle's likely reaction; I was thinking of how I'd feel. Carlisle was never the type to hold a grudge, and I'd never known anyone with a bigger capacity for forgiveness.
Then, he was in front of me.
"Edward?" He looked around, probably trying to find Esme. I wondered if he felt betrayed. "What are you doing here?"
"I, um, came for your party," I said.
For one single awkward moment, we stared at each other. We teetered between the emotions of the past and the potential of the future, finally settling on the promise of the present.
I reached out my hand. "Hey, Dad, congratulations."
Carlisle looked at my hand and back up to my face. Once again, he let his eyes drift around the room. I could only imagine what was going on in his head. I swear I saw every possible emotion flicker in his face before he finally grasped my hand.
Then, he pulled me into a one-armed hug. In a low voice, he spoke into my ear. "I've missed you."
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," I whispered back.
"You should have," he said. "And there is a lot more to say, but it's not the time."
In the end, it was that simple. We didn't unpack the baggage that night. We took out what we needed in order to get by, then we tucked the bags away in a corner of the closet, where we could get to them when we needed to. I had a feeling that time would come sooner rather than later, but I knew the resentment I'd carried all those years wasn't his fault. Maybe it should have been years away or fighting a war that gave me the realization, but that wasn't what did it.
I looked over and saw Bella smiling at us. I mouthed 'thanks' and then stepped away from my dad so I could introduce her.
The night was still weird. Bella and I maneuvered through the room, both a little uncomfortable—me because I didn't care for social situations, particularly those where I was asked about my time in the service, and Bella because she didn't know anyone. But we stayed together, and that made it easier. I noticed when she was getting overwhelmed, and I'd lead her over for a drink or walk her on a short tour of the house to get her through it.
Not surprisingly, Bella fit right in. Emmett punched my arm and asked how the hell I got so lucky. I told him I had no idea.
"You're still a shit," he said. "But there might be hope for you."
When the room had thinned, and only our immediate family remained, neither the literal nor the figurative baggage could stay hidden. I'd tucked my gift bag in a corner when I arrived and pretty much forgot about it. Most people brought cards, something you didn't open in public. As we filled garbage bags and put away food, Esme called out, "Hey, Edward, did you want to give your dad your present?"
I hadn't even told Bella what was in there, and I'd half-convinced myself it was a stupid idea. "Uh, sure, but it doesn't have to be now," I said.
"Of course it does," Carlisle said. "I love presents." He looked like a kid, and I laughed. The rest of the room got quiet.
"What?" I asked.
"No one's heard you laugh in forever, Edward," Emmett said.
My face felt hot from the embarrassment.
"It's a lovely sound," Esme added.
Carlisle plopped down on the couch and held out his hands.
I picked up the bag and slowly walked toward him.
"It's not much. I'm not sure this is the right—" I started. All eyes were on me. Everyone else situated themselves around the living room, and I realized there would be no better time.
I handed him the bag and sat down next to him. I felt Bella's hand on my shoulder; I turned to see her standing behind me.
Carlisle pulled the album out of the bag. I hadn't wrapped it in much else. He let it sit in his lap a second before opening the front of cover.
He took in the first page, then turned to look at me, confusion all over his face.
"It's all the letters I wrote you but never sent," I said, "and a few pictures."
The room was eerily silent while he turned another page and read silently. We watched and waited.
He glanced over at me when he was on page five. "May I share?"
My mouth opened to say no.
"They need to hear," he said. I shrugged.
He looked back down at the page and began to read.
As you know, I've been here a few months now. I have good days and bad. Today was bad. Nothing happened really. Maybe that's it. Nothing happened. It was a slow day, which means too much time to think. I prefer the busy ones, even with the death and destruction they bring. At least then, at least for a while, I feel like I am doing something right.
Do you remember the day we met? I told myself before I got to your house that I was not going to get attached. I was done with that because nothing good ever came from it. I spent two days holed up in my room pretending I didn't want to come out when you asked if I wanted to watch a movie or go for ice cream. You didn't give up. You never gave up on me. I shouldn't have given up on you. I don't know why I just thought about that.
I better go. Some of the guys have started fighting. It happens a lot here with all the testosterone. Of course, that only reminds me of Emmett. God, what I wouldn't give for him to kick my ass, instead of that guy from Texas who I think started shit just to get kicked out. I know I'm supposed to think of these guys like brothers, but I'm having a hard time with that when I miss the ones I already have too much.
Like I said. Bad day.
Tell Esme hello. I'm sorry for everything.
"I don't know what to say," he said, running his fingers over the page, almost attempting to feel the words. "I didn't expect this. When I saw the album, I didn't know what to think."
"Yeah, well, I know exactly how that goes. Someone I love taught me all about how you can't judge a book by its cover." Bella's hand dug into my shoulder, and I turned to look up at her.
She was looking at me with a question in her eyes. I nodded in response.
"Why didn't you send me the letter?" Carlisle asked.
"I don't know. I felt so stupid, and then when I came back, I wanted to be able to show you that I could make something of myself. Maybe I was just too embarrassed to admit you were right."
"Edward," Esme said, "For a long time, I was mad at you. I like to think you never knew it because I refused to let it show, but I didn't understand why you hated me so much when all I wanted was to love you."
"I don't hate—"
"No, don't. I didn't do everything right, and for that, I'm sorry. But from here on out, I need you to know that whatever happens, that man sitting next to you cannot survive you leaving like that again."
My eyes shifted to Carlisle, who had closed his and was inhaling.
"I don't think I could, either," she added.
"I'm sorry. I really am," I said.
No one knew what to say. Except Emmett. "So, leftover cake anyone?"
Some people headed for the kitchen. Jasper and Alice decided to take off. Carlisle stood and hugged me. And once he'd wandered off to find Esme, I moved to the back of the couch. I stood next to Bella and gave her a slight hip check. She bumped me back.
"Thank you," I said.
"For what?" she asked.
"This," I answered, flicking my hand in the air. "All of this."
"I didn't do this, Edward."
"You made it possible," I said.
She turned her body to face me. "So um, about what you said before …"
"Yeah," I said, smiling. I hadn't intended for it to come out like that. "Not exactly winning any romance award on that one, but it just felt right to say it."
"I know what you mean."
"You do?" I asked.
I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close.
"I love you, Bella."
"I love you, too."
My hands went to her face, and I leaned in to kiss her.
I kissed the woman I loved in the middle of my parents' living room.
This was a good day.
Once we'd said our goodbyes, and promised to meet up again soon, Edward and I walked down the Cullens' front steps and into the waiting cab. With the door closed, and the loosened tension behind us, a serene, peaceful smile played at Edward's lips, and I couldn't help but want to kiss it.
So, I did.
When he gave the cabbie his address, this nervous energy settled over us, thrumming through our twined fingers and back again, making our knees bounce and our eyes cast knowing glances at one another through stoplights and slow traffic.
It grew stronger when Edward took my hand and helped me out of the cab, and stronger still when he pressed me against the wall outside of his apartment, kissing me while he fumbled with his keys. Once we were inside, we fumbled some more. Me, to get his shirt and tie off in the darkness of the living room, where button after button popped off and plinked against the hardwood floor. Him, as his fingers tried their best to rid me of my clothing.
His lips were so warm; so comforting and familiar on mine when they touched, so electric and new on places they were only beginning to discover. Like the small of my back, where they kissed a trail down my spine as he unzipped my dress. And across my breasts, where his tongue cooled my hot skin, and made my head loll back as my mouth let loose a soft string of unintelligible sounds.
Through a flurry of discarded clothing, we kissed, and touched, and felt our way into his bedroom, where cool night light filtered in through his blinds. He sat on his bed, and I stood between his legs, running my fingers through his soft, wild hair, as his lips brushed across my stomach, and his hands memorized all my curves.
"You wore my favorites," he said, smiling as he slowly pulled the yellow lace down off my hips until they fell in a small pool on the floor.
"You can't know they're your favorites until you've seen all the others." I dragged my fingertip along the faint stubble on his jaw line.
"I plan on it."
When he reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear, the moonlight bounced off his arms, over long lines of scars that covered so much of his skin. Scars that he'd always kept hidden under long-sleeved shirts. Scars that I loved, even though I knew Edward wasn't yet ready to tell me where they came from.
I kissed them. I kissed every single one that my lips could find, because they were a part of Edward, and Edward was a part of me. Because I didn't want him to think he needed to hide them from me, and because even though I wasn't wearing any clothing, he was the one who was naked.
I kissed them because I loved him, more than anything, regardless of what had gone on in his past.
And then I kissed his lips, soft and sweet, so he could feel how weak he made me.
"I love you," he said, brushing my cheek with his fingertips before they slid down my neck, across my heart, and over my stomach.
"I love you, too," I replied, because once you give someone your heart, you never want to stop reminding them that it's theirs.
His eyes, so full of fire even in this dimly lit room, made me melt. He clasped my wrist and pulled me down on top of him, where I explored all the hard lines of his muscles that his shirts always kept hidden. My lips kissed him, my tongue tasted him, and my hands felt him, until skin touching skin just wasn't close enough anymore.
The corner of his mouth quirked up just the tiniest bit, and his hair fell across his forehead as he held himself over me. He pressed his lips to mine as he pushed inside of me, and I muffled a moan into his neck.
And as our hearts, bodies, lips, and lives came together, all I could do was let myself feel. Feel his weight on top of me, feel his breath on my skin. Feel all the things I'd never been able to find with anyone else before, no matter how hard I'd tried. All the things I could never read about in a book, because how do you use words to describe the one thing that's completely changed your life?
I let myself feel all the things he brought out just by taking a seat next to me on the bus. I'd offer it to him a thousand times over if I knew it'd bring me here, beneath his hard body, and soft touches, and quiet words.
Then everything became faster; our kisses, our breaths, and our hips as they moved against one another. I went so high, and Edward held me as I fell, my limbs light and my heart flying. He followed me shortly after, and I wrapped my arms around him, kissing every bit of skin I could reach as his back arched, and he made sounds only I was lucky enough to hear.
And then we melted into one another as we lay there, boneless and breathless and warm.
"Stay with me," he asked, pressing a kiss against my temple as he rolled over, taking me with him.
He pulled me close, wrapping his arms and legs around me so that I couldn't escape. Not that I'd want to, anyway. How could I walk away from this? I couldn't. Ever.
I nodded and kissed his chest before closing my eyes and getting lost in the feel of the small circles his fingers traced along my shoulder.
We didn't get a whole lot of sleep that night, but when I woke up from what little bit I could muster, my body and heart felt so at home there in his arms.
I woke up that way most mornings over the following months; through final exams and summer break. And when the breeze got cooler and fall started to turn the leaves warm yellows and reds, Edward and I found ourselves back at his parents' house.
Only this time, the circumstances were much different.
"Dad, can you pass the butter?" I asked, nudging my father with my elbow. He smiled as he placed the dish in my hand, looking younger than he had in a really long time. It might've been the change in the weather, or maybe it was his girlfriend, Sue, the woman he'd been sneaking around with for months before he finally introduced her to me.
I couldn't really blame him for that. I knew as well as anyone that love could make you kind of goofy.
"So, when's the big day?" Jasper asked, as the wind whipped through the trees in the backyard. The stack of napkins started to blow away, but Rosalie planted her hand down on top of them, the huge diamond on her ring finger sparkling in the sun.
"We haven't decided yet," she said, smiling over at Emmett.
"I never thought I'd see the day," Esme said, smiling. "All of my boys, so happy."
We'd been coming to Sunday brunch for a while now; it had been Edward's idea to help mend things with his family. Things were definitely mending, and while Esme had been tentative with Edward at first, she seemed to slip back into her motherly role with ease.
"Now there's only one-"
"Esme," Carlisle said, placing his hand over hers on top of the table. "Don't push him."
Coming from Edward's father, those little words meant the world. I could tell they were everything to Edward, who grinned as he heard them, and to Carlisle, who winked at his son as they left his mouth.
Unlike the first time I'd met the Cullen family, conversation flowed freely while we ate, and Edward hugged his mother, father, and brothers when we walked in the door, and when we walked out of it. Sure, there were some days that we left earlier than we should've, after a fight, or a slight, or a disagreement.
But most of our evenings together ended with words of love, and that was the most important thing.
This evening was no different. Edward and I waited on the porch as Dad shook Carlisle's hand, kissed Esme's cheek, and promised to come to brunch again soon. He followed us down the sidewalk and out to his car, one that he and Sue had been sharing since she'd moved her things out of her house and into Dad's, and I moved my things out of Dad's and into Edward's.
"Tell Sue I said hi," I told Dad, as my arms wrapped around his neck for a hug.
"Will do." He patted my cheek before he clapped Edward's shoulder. "Look out for her, son." he said.
Edward gave his promise, just like he always did. Then he circled around the passenger side of the car he'd recently purchased, and opened the door for me. I inhaled as I buckled my seat belt, loving the smell of the newness. Edward said he bought it because it would make his commute easier once he started law school, but I knew that was just a lie he told to make up for the fact that he was getting tired of riding the bus.
Once Edward was inside, he leaned over the armrest to kiss me, and he smiled against my cheek.
"This is so much better than public transportation," he said, laughing as he turned the key in the ignition.
The following Saturday, Edward smiled as I walked out of our bedroom and into the living room, his hair neatly combed, and his tie perfectly tied.
"You look beautiful," he said, as he carefully planted a kiss on my glossy lips. His hand lingered on the small of my back, just below the spot where my exposed skin ended, and the material of my new dress began.
"So do you," I teased, running my finger along the side of his tie.
"Well," he said, smoothing his shirt, "it's been a year. I figure I ought to do something to keep you interested."
"Oh, I'm still interested." I stretched up on my toes for the thousandth time, and I didn't worry about my makeup. It was our anniversary, and lipstick was made to be smudged, reservations were made to be late for.
"Maybe you can show me a little more of that later."
"I'll show you a lot more," I said, smiling.
He took a deep breath and started to run his fingers through his hair, before he realized that all the work he'd put into taming it would go to waste. "I should go start the car before we get sidetracked."
"About that," I said, reaching over to grab my purse off of the table. "I was wondering if maybe..."
"I kind of want to take the bus."
"Dressed like this?" he asked, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, I think it'd be fitting, don't you?"
"I think it's...perfect, actually."
Edward and I walked the block to the bus stop, and he put his arm around me while we waited, grinning all the while. And when the bus pulled up two minutes behind schedule, Edward followed me up the steps and into the pair of seats we made our own in the early days of our relationship.
As the engine rumbled, and we bounced over bumpy asphalt, we twined our fingers together.
At the next stop, Edward leaned over to kiss me, and when we parted, we were met with a smile from a woman sitting across from us.
"I like the car," Edward said, his whisper warm in my ear. "More privacy."
He had a point.
I'd always hated the bus. But sometimes, it's the only thing that can take you from where you are, to where you need to be.
This is the end of the line for these two. Thank you so much for reading, and for all of your lovely reviews. Profmom72 and I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did!