This story is written for acinad as part of FGB, beta'd by MaggieMay14 and dedicated to my mother, Mama CPW.

As usual, I don't own. I know, I'm a day late with updating, it was Christmas and I'm sure we were all a bit busy.

This is the end. Thanks for reading.

Chapter 7 – The Only Exception

When I was younger I saw my daddy
cry and curse at the wind.
He broke his own heart and
I watched as he tried to re-assemble it.
And my mamma swore she would
never let herself forget.
And that was the day that I promised
I'd never sing of love if does not exist.
But darling..

You are the only exception

- The Only Exception by Paramore

Bella sat in her small office in Seattle, a month after leaving Aspen, and stared out her window at nothing in particular. She wouldn't admit it to anyone, but she felt empty inside ever since she returned from her holiday. Her assistant peeked her head in the doorway and was about to say something to Bella, but when she saw the contemplative look on her face, she turned and left, not wanting to disturb her boss.

Mike was the first to question if something was wrong the moment he picked Bella up at the airport with Charlie. Of course the first sign was that Bella was arriving home a day earlier than expected, even though she insisted it was because she missed Charlie. The second sign was the red eyes and anxious looks that graced her usually calm face. Mike had seen them before, right before they divorced and were arguing constantly. He questioned Bella about it as they walked towards the luggage carousel, but Bella brushed him off, explaining that she had a rough night and wasn't feeling well.

Even a month later, she still felt sick. She forced herself to make it through her day, getting Charlie to her activities and to Mike every other weekend, but she was barely getting by. It was during those times, when Bella was without her daughter, that she would completely fall apart. Alone in her small house she would curl up on the couch and cry herself exhausted, desperately wanting sleep to come to her so she could remember happier times – with Edward.

When she was wracked with intense self-loathing, Bella would pull out her digital camera and stare for hours at the few pictures she managed to snap during her trip. One of her and Edward on Christmas morning hugging tightly, a few of them at the ice rink and a couple from New Year's, before everything turned to shit. She would even Google him sometimes, just to see pictures of him from ski events in years past, but when she stumbled across his Facebook page by accident she didn't friend him. In an effort to have some sense of self-preservation, Bella quickly shut her laptop and pushed it onto the coffee table.

Though Bella was upset with herself and disappointed about how things ended with Edward, she couldn't find it in her to regret their time together. Better to have loved and have lost and all that shit, Bella thought to herself.

One of the things Bella chose not to focus on was the fact that she was very much like her father, and Edward reminded her of her mother, Renee. Bella was realistic and forthright, whereas Edward took chances and lived for the moment. Bella couldn't afford to fly by the seat of her pants because she had too many responsibilities in her life. Renee chose to leave Bella and Charles when she couldn't handle their life together over twenty five years ago, and a part of Bella, hidden deep down inside, worried that Edward would leave her because of their differences too, so she chose to leave him first. She saw how Renee's departure tore her father apart, she couldn't handle it if the same thing happened to her.

However, Bella often wondered though if perhaps Edward wasn't the exception to the rule. That perhaps even though he was young, he was wiser and more mature than she gave him credit for. Bella wished, albeit in vain, that she had the chance to find out. She knew that ship had sailed, and regardless of her current melancholy attitude, she knew it was for the best.

"Bella," her assistant Kate said softly as she poked her head back into her office, pulling her from her thoughts. Bella turned towards the door and nodded her head in response. "The graphics meeting at three for the Body Shop campaign has been rescheduled till tomorrow. If you want to head home…"

"I still have work to get done."

"Does it involve looking out a window, cause you've been doing that for the last hour." Bella looked at the clock on the bottom right hand side of her computer screen and was surprised to find that Kate was right. "I don't want to meddle, cause then it would mean I was turning into my mother, but you seem out of sorts, so maybe an afternoon off would be a good thing?"

"Yeah, I guess it couldn't hurt." Kate seemed pleased with herself when Bella grabbed her purse and coat and left for the day without even shutting off her computer. In lieu of spending time by herself, Bella went to school and picked up Charlie as soon as she got out. Bella's mood instantly brightened as they headed over to Barnes and Noble to do their favorite thing; shop for books.

However, Bella's mind was only distracted briefly because as they prepared to leave Bella saw a book about the history of Aspen and was immediately reminded of her trip. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she realized she had seen it before at Edward's condo. It was with a heavy heart that Bella paid the thirty bucks for the three books Charlie wanted and then made her way out of the store. Now Barnes and Noble was tainted for her too.

"Hey Mom, you didn't get any books. I didn't think that was possible," Charlie laughed as they drove towards their house and Bella reached her hand over, tousling her daughter's hair while they were at a stop sign.

"I wasn't feeling it today, hon. I'm sure there was something good there but I didn't find it."

"Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah baby, I'm just fine."

"You don't seem fine."

"Why, because I didn't buy a book?"

"No, because you almost cried looking at a book about Aspen. Is that where you went on holiday?" Bella nodded her head softly and felt disappointed in herself that she had allowed her daughter to see her get so emotional about Edward. She had tried hard to hide it from Charlie, but clearly it wasn't hard enough. "We should go there one day if you miss it so much."

Bella smiled gently at Charlie before she pushed a tear away from her cheek. Over the past month Bella had realized, albeit too late, that it had been wrong not to be honest with Edward about her daughter and her life back in Seattle. He was nothing but truthful with her about his life, his career and his dreams, but Bella didn't give him the same courtesy in exchange. If she could go back in time, she would have done things differently, but hindsight was 20/20 and it was too late to go back now.

"Hey look, there's a van in front of the house," Charlie announced loudly as they pulled onto their quiet street and Bella turned left into the driveway. Sure enough, there was a non-descript white van out in front of her home, and Bella was immediately anxious and on the defensive.

"Charlie… stay in the car, alright?" Bella asked, trying to sound calm, but inside her heart was literally pounding out of her chest, especially when she saw the Colorado plates on the van. Charlie nodded her head slowly and watched as Bella stepped from the car and across the front lawn to the van. Bella didn't have to look inside to know who was there, her pulse had quickened, her breathing was erratic and her heart was about to burst.

Edward.

Bella noticed the window was rolled up on the van and no one was sitting in the front seat. She walked around the van, unable to see much until she got to the back window and peeked in, seeing Edward asleep surrounded by boxes. What in the hell was he doing and why was he here? Bella knocked swiftly against the window and watched with baited breath as Edward was shocked awake and sat up so quickly he hit his head on a set of skis above him. When he looked over at Bella though, he smiled brighter than Bella had ever seen before and practically leapt from the van, pushing the door open forcefully.

"Umm… hi." Edward hadn't changed much in the past month, except for the whole living out of a van thing. His hair was in complete disarray and he had a few weeks of scruff on his face, but he still looked gorgeous. A little older actually, but that was a small consolation to Bella.

"What are you doing here?"

"I'm moving to Seattle." Bella began to choke awkwardly, unable to catch her breath as Charlie jumped from the car to help her when she noticed Edward trying to pat her back lightly.

"Stay away from my mom," Charlie yelled, thinking she was defending her mother. All she really managed to do was render Edward speechless as he stood there looking at a smaller version of Bella, complete with the same feisty attitude.

"Don't worry honey, this is Edward," Bella said gently as she motioned towards the man standing in front of them. "He's an... um… a friend of Mommy's." Charlie looked placated for a moment, but stayed glued to her mother's side, reluctantly shaking Edward's hand when he offered it to her. Edward couldn't help himself, he knew he was gawking at the girl, the spitting image of the woman he was stll in love with, and he smiled brightly before he spoke.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Charlie." She nodded at the stranger in return and nuzzled closer to her mother who wrapped an arm around her daughter's shoulder tightly.

"Why don't we go inside to talk since it's getting rather cold? Charlie, can you go to your room and read for me please?" Charlie looked at Bella with a curious glance before grabbing her backpack and bag from Barnes and Noble out of the car and heading inside with a little huff. Charlie shut her door behind her with much fanfare, because like her mother she was a very curious person, and she was dying to know what the heck was going on.

Before they entered her house, Bella held her hand out, stopping Edward in his place as he stood on her porch, his hands wrapped around himself as he had left his jacket in the van. She took pity on the man with the chattering teeth and wordlessly led him inside, offering him coffee or a beer, as he got himself acclimated to her living room.

Just like Bella had done only a month ago, Edward walked around her small room and analyzed everything. The pictures she had on the walls were either of Charlie, Charlie with her or the two girls with an older man. Edward hoped against hope that the man was her ex-husband, because he looked like he would seriously injure him if they ever met and he was significantly older than Bella. For a brief moment, Edward wondered if that was one of the reasons Bella had rejected him back in Aspen. Edward was still looking at the framed photo, staring at Bella and her genuine smile, when she walked back into the room.

"That's Charlie with me and my dad. He's the police chief out in our small hometown of Forks."

"Ah, that explains the gruff exterior. He looks like he doesn't take any shit."

"He doesn't," Bella said flatly as she sat in her oversized armchair, pulling her legs up against her chest in a protective stance as she clutched her coffee cup anxiously in her hands.

"Neither do you," Edward replied as he sat down on the couch and picked up the coffee Bella had left for him. He wasn't sure where to start speaking, and he wasn't sure anything he could say would make things better between them, but he had to try.

"Why in the hell..."

"I've missed you so much..."

They spoke at the exact same time and a small smile crossed Bella's lips as Edward took a moment to really look at her. She looked different from the last time he had seen her on New Year's Eve. She'd lost weight, her eyes looked tired and overall she looked rundown. Edward frowned, wondering if it was all her responsibilities or their separation had done this to her.

"Why don't you go first?" Bella offered solemnly and Edward nodded his head in response, before taking a few moments to figure out what to say.

"I tried to see you on the first, but you had left, and I literally fell apart." Bella looked down at her cup, wishing it could somehow make her feel less horrible for leaving him so abruptly, but nothing happened. She still felt the same remorse she had felt in her bones and soul for over a month. "So, after a few days of self loathing and taking out my frustrations on everyone who crossed my path, my mother sat me down and talked some sense into me."

Edward smiled again, pleased with himself regarding how his life had changed so drastically in the past few weeks. "I had seen her a few times after you disappeared, nothing long mind you, just long enough for her to see I wasn't doing well. One day while I was at home from work, my mother showed up with a gentleman named Alec. He looked familiar to me, but I couldn't place him, until we continued talking and I realized he worked for Salomon, one of my former sponsors. They offered me a great job."

"That's great news, Edward," Bella replied genuinely. She was relieved to hear that he was moving on with his life, but couldn't understand what that had to do with her.

"The job is here in Seattle. That's why all my shit is in that van outside. Well, most of it anyways. I really didn't own that much that I wanted to keep. I sold my car, my condo and got rid of all of the stuff I didn't need and moved 2 weeks after I signed the contract." Bella was shocked. She was surprised as hell to find him parked in front of her house and sleeping in a van, but even more so to find out that he was moving to Seattle. She didn't know what to do now.

Did she tell Edward that she could think of nothing but him since she left Aspen? Did she wrap her arms around him and thank god that he was in her life and ask him to move in because she would like nothing more than to be curled up around him every night for the rest of her life? Did she admit that she was still worried about the reactions of her family and friends because of the age difference? Bella was beyond confused about what to do next.

"You don't have to worry that I'm here because of you, to me that was just an added incentive, but I came for the job. I'm basically self-employed, designing and testing new skis. I'll have to travel out to Steven's Pass a lot in the winter to test, but it will be great for me. I've got a new condo down on Mercer Island." Edward was so excited to tell Bella everything that he realized he hadn't had the chance to ask her what she wanted.

He climbed off the couch and approached her, kneeling before her and puling her legs from her body, separating them so that he could position himself between them. He wasn't trying to be crude, he just wanted a chance to be completely honest with her.

"I'm sure you have your reservations about all of this, but I have been in love with you since the first moment I laid eyes on you that day in the rental shop." Bella gasped, she never expected Edward to admit his love for her, especially now. "I will admit I was completely heartbroken that you left, but after talking to my mother I began to understand that Charlie comes first for you, and I get that. I just want to come along for the ride. "

"But Edward..."

"And I know you are nervous about my age and people's perceptions, but you shouldn't give a shit. If you and I are happy, isn't that the most important thing?"

"But Edward…"

"No buts. If you feel for me even half of what I feel for you, then we can make it work. I just want to be with you." Bella wanted to lean in and kiss him softly, to tell him that she loved him too, but she kept silent for a moment, a tear escaping her eye as Edward pushed it away. "However... if you don't want me, I'll leave you alone. I just had to make one last effort, you know? I couldn't live in the same city with you and not tell you that the days we spent together were the best of my life."

"They were some of the best days of mine too," Bella said softly as Edward lifted his head, a broad smile crossing his face, though he was still nervous about everything.

"I'm sorry I showed up announced and hunted down your address online."

"I'm sorry I left suddenly. I just... I couldn't face you, because you were right, I was completely embarrassed about the age difference and I felt like I had to protect Charlie."

"And now?" That was the question to end all questions wasn't it? How did Bella feel about things now? She would be lying if she didn't say that Edward's heartfelt words had totally made her heart burst with joy and excitement. She wanted him, that would never change, but could they make things work now that they weren't in Aspen and real life would encroach on their time together?

"I'd like to try... maybe start over?" Edward was literally ecstatic as Bella smiled gently at him and he raised up, about to kiss her gently when he heard soft footsteps come into the living room. He turned to see Charlie standing in the doorway looking at them with shock in her eyes.

"You know Mom, you can tell me if he's more than a friend and you guys want to make out. I would have stayed in my room longer," Charlie admitted with a small smile, happy to see that her mother didn't look as sad for the first time since she returned from her trip. Edward desperately wanted the girl to go back to her room for a few minutes, so just he could feel Bella's lips against his again, but instead he did something that literally had Bella speechless.

"Charlie, I know I am doing this backwards, since I'm already madly in love with your mother, but... I'd like your permission to date her." Charlie giggled happily as she watched Edward make a fool out of himself for her mom, and Bella let out a huge sigh of relief.

"Okay, but if you hurt her, my grandpa will come after you with a shotgun," she said cheerfully as she danced out of the room, not wanting to see what was about to unfold next. Edward turned to Bella, and with his hand cupping her cheek softly, he leaned in and kissed her with all the passion he could muster.

It was like a new life was breathed back into the both of them as Bella pulled him closer against her, deepening their kiss. When they finally parted, Bella threw caution to the wind and said something she had wished she had said a month earlier.

"I love you too, Edward."

One year, and plenty of adventures later, Bella and Edward found themselves in Aspen again, this time with Charlie in tow. Edward, though extremely busy settling into his new career in the first two months in Seattle, found a happy balance in his life and was courting Bella full time. During the week, he went over to Bella's for dinner a few times and they spent time reacquainting themselves to each other, and Edward loved getting to know more about Charlie. On the weekends, they did things together or Edward and Bella would go out for dates, while Charlie stayed home with a babysitter.

Of course, Edward and Bella's favorite times were when Charlie went to visit her father for the weekend, and they got time alone. Not that Edward didn't enjoy spending time with Charlie, in fact he found that he quickly became attached to the girl, but he thoroughly enjoyed cuddling with Bella and simply being in love with her.

However, it took almost three months together before they were intimate again, when Edward surprised her with a weekend away to Vancouver. A month later, Edward met her father, Charles, and everyone was surprised at how well they hit it off. Charles didn't care one bit that Edward was younger than his daughter, he was just happy that she was so content with him. Charles hadn't seen her this happy since Charlie was born, and never once did she seem as happy in her relationship with Mike, in his opinion.

The only person who had an issue with their relationship was her ex-husband, and it wasn't because he was younger than Bella. The only reason Mike was upset was because his new wife Jessica clearly lusted after Edward as well. Bella found it awkward at first, but grew to find it hilarious because she knew without a shadow of a doubt that Edward was hers and hers alone.

So, it was with nervous anticipation that Edward brought Bella and Charlie home for Christmas to meet his family, officially. They stayed at the Cullen's house, and Bella got along famously with Esme, while his father Carlisle took to Charlie like a fish to water. They spent most of their waking time together, and when his cousin Rosalie arrived on Christmas Eve with her new husband Emmett, even she couldn't hide her excitement over the way Edward's life had turned out. Edward was the happiest he had ever been, especially later that night when he knocked softly on the door of his old bedroom, where he and Bella were sleeping.

"Edward... what are you doing?" she asked curiously after she opened the door and stood there staring hard at Edward. He seemed anxious and scared, and Bella couldn't figure out why. Not until he kneeled down on one leg and held a small black box out to her, opening it to showcase a shimmering diamond ring that he had burning a hole in his pocket for almost a month.

"I can't stay away from you anymore," he said seriously as Bella's heart caught in her chest and she was reminded of one year earlier when Edward came to her on Christmas Eve. "Will you marry me, Bella?"

"Yes, of course," she shouted loudly, unable to hide her exuberance. Charlie walked out of the guest room, wiping her eyes as she looked at her mother and Edward with a grin.

"It's about time, Edward. You asked for my permission over a month ago," she replied as Bella held her arms out and Charlie and Edward just pulled into a huge hug. She was so happy that Edward had fit so well into her life, that she couldn't help the tears that fell down her face. She had worried and pushed him away for no reason the year before, but was ecstatic that things had come full circle.

Edward slipped the ring onto Bella's finger and kissed Charlie's cheek before ushering the girl back to her room. "Go get to sleep. If you don't, Santa won't be able to deliver your gifts."

"Oh come on Edward. I'm 9, I know Santa isn't real?"

"I beg to differ, Charlie," Bella said simply as Edward draped his arm over his fiancée's shoulder and pulled her tight against him. "I got everything I wanted this Christmas."