A/N: So... I got MORE snow last night. At this point, I'm wondering if it's ever going to end. LOL
*Sigh* I can't believe this story is done. It's with mixed emotions—excitement for you to see what I've cooked up for MistletoeWard and his Bella, and sorrow that I now have to let them go—that I bring you this final chapter. I'm so thrilled that you have enjoyed this fluffy little holiday story. Your kind words and encouragement have meant the world to me. Thank you so much for your support!
Final thanks to KayDee1005 for pulling beta duties for this story. Again, I made substantial changes after she saw this document, so any errors are mine.
Disclaimer: Twilight isn't mine, but I had a great time throwing some winter weather their way and making Edward deal with some of his shit. Let's see if he got it right, shall we?
Without further ado…
Part VII: This Gift
Christmas Eve, Four years later
"Bella… Are you sure about this?"
"Absolutely. I wouldn't have it any other way." She turned to look at me. "It's fitting, don't you think?"
I smiled and nodded. In all honesty, I wouldn't want it any other way, either. It was fitting.
It was… us.
Turning the car off, I reached over and grabbed her hand, squeezing gently.
"Just remember, I love you."
She rolled her eyes. "I know you do. I love you, too, Edward."
Giving her hand a final squeeze, I shoved open the door and stepped out into the biting cold. It wasn't snowing yet—there hadn't been holiday snow again in Forks since that Christmas four years ago—but flurries were in the forecast. I smiled. That was fitting, too.
Walking to the back of the car, I popped the trunk, and we each pulled out a bag full of gifts. It was Christmas Eve, and we were just now arriving home for the holidays. Bella had finally graduated last week—a semester early—and we'd spent the last few days moving her out of the dorm and into my apartment. Her father wasn't overly pleased with the arrangement, but I hoped tonight would solve that problem.
We'd driven straight here from Seattle, stopping only to drop our bags at the hotel I'd booked us into. I wasn't sure how either of our parents would feel about that arrangement, either, but there was no way in hell that I was sleeping without her tonight. Even though we had honored her father's request and hadn't officially moved in together until after she graduated, we hadn't spent a night apart since I'd gotten my own apartment last year. Except for when we came home to visit.
That situation was not going to be repeated ever again. Especially not tonight.
Turning to Bella, I smiled. "You ready?"
She nodded, and after taking a deep breath, began walking towards her father's house. We could see all the people milling around through the brightly lit windows. It was one giant reunion —her dad, my parents and sister, Jasper and Alice, Emmett and Rose, and the rest of the crew from high school. Seeing all the familiar people in this particular place brought me right back to that Christmas Eve four years ago—the night in which a small sprig of mistletoe changed everything.
I smiled as I thought about that night, that first kiss, and everything that followed over the past four years. I'd been right—it hadn't been easy. Then again, anything worth something never was. We'd had to deal with a lot, especially in the beginning. Two days after going public with our relationship, I'd had to travel back to Seattle. The distance had been a killer. With me at college and Bella here in Forks, we hadn't been able to spend a lot of time together. In some ways, though, it had been a blessing in disguise; we'd spent a lot of time talking—on the phone, or on either g-chat or Skype when our parents complained about our phone bills. In fact, talking was pretty much the only thing we'd done for those first six months, which in many ways had been really fucking frustrating. However, by the time we were finally in the same location physically, we'd found our common ground emotionally as well.
We hadn't been separated since.
That didn't mean that everything had been sunshine and daisies. Shit… Once we'd passed the 'get to know you' phase of our relationship, Bella had really opened up. And by opened up, I mean lost her natural awkward hesitancy and verbal filter—she had no problem putting me in my fucking place these days, although I think that particular trait had been established early on. In fact, looking back, I truly believe that the only reason we were where we were today was because she'd called me on my bullshit behavior in that very first week.
We'd argued a lot over the past four years. But more times than not, those heated disagreements led to passionate make-up sex, which worked to solidify our relationship even further. She constantly pushed me, challenging me to look—and step—outside the comfortable little box I'd created for myself. To be honest, there's no way in hell I'd be half the man I was today if not for her.
That made tonight even more significant.
As we stepped onto the front porch, I paused to take a deep breath, then grinned at Bella.
"It's show time."
She smiled in return. "Yup!"
"But first, I need something…"
Dropping my bag, I slid my arm around her waist and pulled her in for a quick kiss. Of course, there was no such thing as a quick kiss when my lips were anywhere in the vicinity of Bella's. I took a while to kiss her properly, my tongue gliding against hers, my hands sliding down to cup her backside. She still tasted like strawberries and honey, and even after four years, I could never get enough. She giggled when I gave her ass a squeeze, and then she pulled back to smack me on the arm.
"Edward…" she moaned lightly. "We'll never make it in there if you keep that up!"
"Maybe that's the idea," I stated, waggling my eyebrows and leaning in to brush her lips once more. Then I whispered, "I don't like sharing you."
She laughed, but she was breathing heavily, revealing that the kiss had affected her in the same way they always affected me. I was glad that I wasn't the only one. Pulling back, I wiggled my hips in an attempt to rearrange myself before going in. She shot me a knowing smile, then turned to the door, but I reached out and placed a hand on her arm.
I said it quietly, and the seriousness of my tone must have alerted her to the fact that I had something important to say.
"You need something first, too…"
I reached into my pocket, and her eyes went wide as I pulled out the small black velvet box I had stashed there this morning.
"Edward," her voice was small, overwhelmed. "We agreed that I didn't need an engagement ring."
"No. We didn't. You said you didn't need a ring last year when the question just popped out without any plan in place. I was never okay with that. But last year, I couldn't afford it, and there was no way in hell I'd ask my parents for money to buy your ring. So I let the matter drop for the time being. Why do you think I worked so much over the summer? And where do you think the majority of my stipend has gone for the past five months?"
I'd been working my fucking ass off, saving for almost a year to buy her this ring. For almost eight months, I'd picked up extra shifts at the restaurant I'd worked at during college in order to save some money before I started grad school back in August. Everyone knows that there isn't any money in science research, especially in these tough economic times, but the government-supplemented stipend was actually pretty decent. And since my parents had purchased my apartment outright, I had no rent payment and was able to put aside about half of my paycheck every month for this purpose.
Flipping open the lid, the diamonds in the ring reflected the light spilling from the window on the porch, causing it to sparkle brightly. Dropping to my knee in front of her, I reached for her hand. It was trembling.
"Bella, I meant it last year at Christmas when I asked you to marry me. And even though you said yes, it's never really felt official to me. That's partly because we kept it to ourselves. But not having my ring on your finger has been the biggest cause of that feeling for me. That said, I needed to have it come from me, and only me. To have it be something I worked for and earned. Just like your love. So even though it's a bit late, I need to give you this ring tonight, before we go in there." I nodded, indicating the room full of people on the other side of the door. "I love you so much, and I need everyone to know it, okay?"
She nodded slightly, tears shimmering from the tips of her eye lashes.
"Yes," she whispered.
Smiling widely, I slipped the ring onto her finger. She held her hand out, admiring the sparkling stones that now circled her finger. While the diamonds twinkled brightly, they were nothing compared to the way that her eyes sparkled. Of course, the tears dripping onto her cheeks might have had something to do with that. Rising to my feet and pocketing the now-empty box, I swept her into my arms and kissed her again. This time, there was no holding back, and when we finally parted, we both needed a minute to straighten our clothes and hair and wayward bodies.
This time, when I asked her if she was ready, her answer was a resounding 'yes'.
"Just remember to keep everything under wraps as long as possible, okay?" I reminded her.
"I know what to do, Edward. I helped plan the surprise, remember?"
"So…" I paused, scratching my head and frowning sheepishly. "Even though I just gave you the big speech about how much I needed my ring on your finger, do you think you can make a little effort to hide it for a few minutes?"
She moved to take it off, and I immediately stopped her.
"Not off, Bella," I said in a serious tone. "I never want to see you without my ring on your finger again. Just hidden, okay?"
She rolled her eyes, but twisted the ring so the stones faced her palm. Even though she smiled at me, her answer was all snark.
I was getting ready to spout off some smart-ass retort when the door opened and Charlie appeared, looking at us with raised eyebrows.
"You guys coming in, or are you going to stand out here all night and argue?"
Bella and I looked at each other, then burst out laughing. The… passionate… nature of our relationship was well known to all of our friends and family.
"Argue," we replied in stereo.
"Can't fight nature, right Chief?" I asked as I smacked Bella lightly on the butt.
She oomphed. The moustache twitched.
"No, Edward, I guess you can't. You might want to hurry it up, though. I think your parents are getting anxious to see you."
"I'm sure they are," I sighed. "Okay… let's do this!"
Things stayed 'under wraps' for all of fifteen minutes.
I was talking to Emmett and Jasper by the fireplace, just like that Christmas Eve four years ago, when I heard the first squeal. It was followed immediately by several others. Glancing to the dining area, I saw that Bella was surrounded by Rose, Alice, Angela and my mother. My mother was holding Bella's hand up to the light, and all the girls were poking at her ring finger. As if feeling me watching her, she raised her eyes to meet mine and gave a little shrug. But her eyes were bright, and her happy grin lit up her entire face, so I just smiled indulgently. Hell, I'd known going in that the ring would speed up the process. In all honesty, I was thankful for the abbreviated wait.
Our goofy exchange of smiles was interrupted by Emmett's exclamation.
"Dude! Is Bella wearing a ring?"
"No, Emmett, she's not," I deadpanned.
"But why is everyone looking…" His words trailed off when he realized I was staring at him in exasperation. He really was gullible. He grinned and shrugged. "Sorry. No, wait… I don't mean that I'm sorry that you're engaged," he assured when I shot him a dirty look. "Dammit… You know what I mean!"
He stomped off to refill his drink, and Jasper and I burst out laughing. Some things really never change. Years later, Emmett was still a pro at putting his foot in his mouth or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
"So, congrats, Edward," Jasper said, clapping me on the back. "Man… I never imagined I'd see this day. You and Bella Swan." He shook his head. "Remember back in high school—"
I cut him off.
"You know what, Jas? No. I don't want to remember." Lifting my head, I smiled widely as I watched Bella talking with her friends and family, proud that everyone now knew without a doubt that she was mine. Without taking my eyes off her, I continued talking to Jasper. "It doesn't matter what happened back then because that girl is my life now. I won't screw it up by taking unnecessary and unpleasant trips down memory lane." With one last smile at my fiancée, I turned to Jasper with a knowing look. "Besides, that's a road you really fucking don't want to go down with me now, is it?"
His gaze turned to Alice, the girl who had once annoyed the shit out of him as well. They'd been dating as long as Bella and me.
"No… I guess not," he admitted.
"Of course, you know this means that Alice will now be expecting for you to propose next, don't you?"
He groaned. "Fuck, man… Why'd you guys have to go be all noble and shit. I love her, but I'm not ready for that kind of commitment yet."
Emmett clapped Jasper on the shoulder as he returned. "Don't knock it, Whitlock. Getting married isn't that bad. In fact, I'm finding it highly enjoyable."
Emmett and Rose had tied the knot over the summer, right after they both graduated.
"Isn't it scary, knowing that that is the only person you will ever have sex from here on out? That you'll never sleep with anyone else?"
Emmett and I eyed each other for a moment, then answered simultaneously. "No."
Jasper rolled his eyes. "You don't count," he stated pointing to Emmett.
"Rose is the only girl you've ever been with—you've been together since you were both fifteen. Edward and I have known many women," he intoned in a suggestive voice. He turned to me. "Right, Cullen?"
I just shook my head. "None of the others hold a fucking candle, Jas. When it's right, you'll know it."
He sighed in defeat. "Oh, I know it. That's the fucking problem. I'm just not ready to admit that to her yet."
Emmett and I both laughed at his forlorn expression.
"Ah… young love!" I exclaimed as I gave Jasper one last supportive back-clap. Then I looked up and saw Bella nodding to me. "And speaking of love… If you guys will excuse me, my fiancée is calling to me."
I met her half-way across the room. Slipping my arm around her waist, I bent to brush my lips across hers briefly. Her hand grasped mine tightly.
"You doing okay, love?" I asked.
"I am now."
"Good. Are you ready to really get this party started?"
She took a deep breath. "It's now or never."
I could tell that she was nervous. My eyes searched hers, and my smile faded.
"Bella, we don't have to do this," I assured her. "We can keep things the way they are."
She shook her head slightly. "No. I don't want that." A tremulous smile graced the corners of her lips. "I'm ready."
"Okay, then. Hold on, here we go."
Holding hands, we walked to the main room. As if sensing that something was up, the room of people immediately fell silent and turned to look at us.
"Bella and I have an announcement," I started. "As you all know, Bella graduated last week. She moved in with me over the weekend, but I really don't want to make a dishonest woman of her. So… I've asked her to marry me, and she's said yes."
I held her hand up, exposing her new ring. A few cheers, and many aw's echoed throughout the room. Her father relaxed, a happy tear gathering in the corner of his eye. I held my other hand up to quiet the crowd.
"Well, we have another surprise announcement."
Charlie immediately stiffened, and I saw his and several other pairs of eyes drift down to look at Bella's obviously flat stomach. Her hand squeezed mine.
"No, Charlie, you don't need a shotgun. She's not pregnant. We'd like to be married for a while first."
The moustache twitched, and a sigh of relief washed through the room.
"But, the sooner we get married, the sooner that can happen. Now, as most of you know, Christmas Eve is special for us. It's our 'anniversary' per-se, the night we first really talked, the night we first kissed, the night we began to fall in love. It's also the night I proposed. I asked her a year ago," I paused when a few eyebrows shot up in surprise, and I tossed my hand up to prevent the questions that I knew were coming. "But it was a spontaneous thing, and I didn't have a ring, so we didn't say anything then. We have a plan now."
I turned to Bella and smiled. "This night means a lot to both of us."
She smiled in return and nodded, as did our friends and family. Our history was old news now.
"So…" I continued, turning away from Bella to look once again at the crowd. "We'd like to continue our tradition of making Christmas Eve special by getting married here, tonight, if that's okay with all of you?"
Gasps and twittering voices filled the air, but all responses were affirmative.
Within fifteen minutes, the room had been transformed thanks to Angela Weber. We'd had to let someone in on our secret because we needed some help to pull this off. She'd been the perfect answer since we'd asked her father to marry us. Several rows of chairs had been arranged in front of the arched doorway that separated the dining room from the den and served as the altar, a small cake magically appeared in the dining room, and Dr. Weber had donned his ministerial robe, which had been hanging in his car. Bella and I had both changed; she was now wearing a simple white winter dress and I had donned a suit. Outside of Bella's flowers and my boutonniere, the sprig of mistletoe hanging from the doorway above us was the only decoration. That, too, was fitting—in fact, we'd insisted upon it—since it had ultimately been a sprig of mistletoe that brought us together in the first place.
It was perfect.
Simple and down to earth.
Surrounded by our best friends and family, Bella and I exchanged vows, promising to love and cherish through sickness and health, as long as we both shall live. When it was done, we kissed, under the mistletoe, just like that first night. Only this time, there was no hiding.
The promise in the kiss had already been fulfilled.
As if the heavens had been smiling upon us, snow began to fall on Forks at Christmas sometime during the ceremony. I couldn't help but think that it was a sign. Once again, it was completely fitting. Just like that first Christmas, when we opened the door and stepped out onto the porch at the end of the evening, it was completely white outside—a layer of snow made everything look pristine and untouched.
A whole new path was laid out before us. But this time, there would be two sets of footprints in the snow, not just one. This time, we'd be walking that new path together.
Later that night, I lay naked in bed with my arms wrapped around my wife. As she spooned against my chest, I was filled with a sense of pride and honor at being able to call her that.
We'd been through so much in the past eight years... If you'd have asked me at sixteen, I would have laughed in derision at the thought of one day being married to Bella. Hell, if you'd asked me at ten-thirty in the evening on that Christmas Eve four years ago, I'd have said the same thing. But an hour of conversation, a sprig of mistletoe and one kiss was all it had taken to change my perspective. As I'd told Jasper earlier tonight, no one else had ever compared to her. Once I'd opened up to her, I had just known. She was it—my everything.
And now, she was mine for all eternity.
I leaned in to kiss her gently, reverently, on the neck. My lips paused at her ear.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"Merry Christmas, Bella," I whispered as I kissed her once again.
A soft smile touched her lips. "You, too. And Edward?
A/N: So, this is it, the end of this journey for MistletoeWard. I hope that you guys are all happy for both him and Bella. Just so you know, MistletoeWard never would have found his HEA without all of your kind words, support and encouragement!
Thank you so much!