Pick A Pic Challenge
Title: War Zone

Penname: phoebes(dot)promise & jarkin33
Banner: # 71
Rating: M

Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns these characters... We just wanted to play a bit. No copyright infringement intended. We don't own Twilight and everything here is fictional including any interpretation of the situation in Afghanistan.To see all the stories that are a part of this contest please visit: www .fanfiction-challenges. blogspot. com

Summary: Edward and Bella seek the clarity and wisdom to move on from horrific tragedy. Can they find the peace to heal in their bond? A love story as told by Edward.

War Zone

Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love. ~George Eliot

"Fifty-seven hours man…" Tyler shook his head, grinning. "A mere fifty-seven hours and I'll be rubbing my favorite pregnant belly." He was exuberant, anxious, it was infectious. I smiled with him, laying a supportive hand on his shoulder as we moved through the village.

Bella and Fedar walked carefully ahead, only a veil of dust separated us. In every waking hour, while in the foreign land, she was intentionally within my reach. I silently admired, protected and… wanted. Focused on completing the assignment with dignity and deference, however I'd also privately counted the hours.

"Did you bring your copy or were you serious about winging it today?" She asked over her shoulder. On that last day, our last filmed piece, the mood was lighter… hopeful.

"No, I brought the copy, Boss." I pointed to my bag and mirrored her challenging smirk. There was nothing humorous about our location, subject, or work. We kept our undeniable attraction between us, knowing soon she'd no longer be my producer and we'd no longer be in Afghanistan. We'd be back in New York… in fifty seven hours.

Our interpreter, Fedar, gestured to Bella and led her by the arm off the road. Tyler and I instinctively quickened our pace to follow. We trailed between two indigenous structures, scaling the stone wall as two young boys rushed by. "This is perfect. It will work very well. Thank you," Bella spoke clearly to Fedar as she scanned the small courtyard. The sun heated the exposed area surrounded by three stone walls. The space appeared to be used as a classroom of sorts. A rectangular cut of slate nailed to the west wall undoubtedly served as a make shift chalk board.

"Tyler… you good here?" Bella asked our cameraman. They worked in professional unison, parallel creative vision, personal understanding, closest of friends since childhood. They were a marvel to watch, a bond established before I arrived at GNN. My assignment to their team six months ago was on many levels, career and life altering.

While Bella and Tyler prepared equipment, I reviewed my last report of the extraordinary experience. We'd met innocent children, brave women, and inseparable families during our months here. The humanity hidden within the war that raged was our objective. We arrived with only a loose outline of a tale to tell. We'd leave with a story of life far richer than ever imagined. Faces, souls that would remain in our hearts forever. Our nights were spent debating and reflecting on the pain and reality of the land. Our days were spent seeking proof and truth in the harshest of circumstances.

"Here you go, one last time," Bella said distracted with the audio equipment in her hands. Without hesitation, she began wiring me. Threading inside my shirt, around my back… "Would it be considered harassment to admit, I'll miss this part?"

Her eyes met mine, softening. Her mouth tightened into the smirk I'd grown to love. "No, I'll let it slide… this time."

"So, we're on for this weekend… right," I teased.

"You're relentless and I'll still officially be your boss this weekend." She was quick, flirtatious and it spurred me on.

"If you two are done feeling each other up, I'm good and ready," Tyler said wearing taunting wide eyes, a sarcastic smile and a camera on his shoulder.

Suddenly, a dark vibrating vortex morphed into a tunnel of light. A child… a boy, running.

My heart… pounding, blood pumping, I was alive. Bella's quick breathing drowned my own, she was alive. But dark red patterns lacing across her pale cheek, dripped into the sand. My weight crushing hers, she began mumbling beneath me. I furiously framed her face with my hands, forcing her to look at me. I ran my fingers gingerly over the base of her head, around the front, down the sides… sticky, hot blood. "Bella, talk to me! Where? Tell me?"

"My leg…" she breathed.

Looking down the short length of her body, I noticed Fedar… so close. He was cradling, chanting… I struggled through seconds of confusion, staring at a lifeless form… then, devastating clarity. "Ahhh shit, Tyler. No…" I kicked dirt and dust lunging towards him. Leaving one hand on Bella's leg, I reached for Fedar's hands. "Move your hands! Fedar go! Go! Please go! Get help!" I shouted my panicked demands through a building swell of chaos.

Hovering over our friend, I rolled his head slightly, entry… exit, vacant eyes, still and silent. Anguish, not fear, pumped through me as I slid two fingers over his throat. I knew there would be no beat. Bella twisted around, crawling on her forearms, her legs dragged through the sand. "Bella, don't move!"

"What's wrong… what?" Her screaming penetrated the vacant courtyard. I saw no blood saturating her jeans, I devised quickly, I must have injured her leg landing over her, and the blood… was Tyler's. My hands wore it now too. Holding Bella to my chest as she cried for her oldest friend, villagers stared in shock and sadness. In that moment, the world was as it was… nothing peaceful to speak of, write about, report on, our optimism bled into a dark stream reality.

"Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm looking for Isabella Swan. She teaches senior English," I answered the middle aged woman behind the tall desk. She softened the very moment she heard the name.

"Bella, of course. Just let me get you a badge. And your name is?" She readied her pen on the bright orange visitor's sticker.

"Edward Cullen."

"Okay, Miss Swan is in the first classroom to the left at the top of the stairs, that's Mrs. Newton's old room. She's out on maternity leave, but you probably knew that," she smiled warmly, undoubtedly thinking I was expected.

I thanked her, stuck the badge on my black parka and retreated from the Forks High School main office.

"Oh, Mr. Cullen, the seventh period bell will ring shortly. If you could kindly wait to enter the class until then… so you don't disturb the lesson." Sure, I'd already waited six months to see her again, what's a few more minutes…

When I reached the classroom door, I reactively ran a trembling hand through my hair. I hadn't been this close to Bella since she limped out of Liam's office with crutches and a quivering chin. Memories, painful and more, stilled me at the small window in the green metal door. Beautiful… she was perched on the edge of her desk at the front of class, long legs crossed, covered in tall brown leather boots. Layers of long chestnut brown hair fell down her back over a short, dark blue dress. Seemingly engaged in a debate with a male student, I watched, mesmerized as she connected with the student, respecting his argument. Her hands and arms gestured in thought and instruction; she was alive in her new element.

Simultaneously, the bell shrieked through the halls and Bella hopped off her desk. Teenagers filed past me loudly gabbing and laughing, I assumed in typical excitement of a Friday afternoon. Four stragglers still surrounded Bella, now leaning against the dark wood desk. Steadying myself with a deep breath, I moved slowly through the door. I overheard talk of meeting times and morning bagels. A dark haired teen looked curiously at me as I approached. I figured in the small town I'd surely be a stranger. "Miss B." He gestured in my direction.

She righted herself from the desk as our eyes met. Her right hand instantly covered her sweet mouth. "Edward…" She started. The kids exchanged giddy glances watching our reunion. "What are you doing here?" She finally breached the distance between us and offered a friendly hug, then immediately stepped back in respect of our company and location.

"I've heard the coffee's incredible out this way," I attempted a lame joke.

"Try Seattle, man." There was a scoff in the group, followed by the light laughter I deserved.

"Edward, this is Quil, Leah, Embry and Seth. Everyone, this is Edward Cullen. Do any of you recognize his face?" I realized she was having fun when she announced my name and it was stunning. I simply stared.

"Should we?"

"Well, probably not." She shrugged and winked at me. "If you'd culture your brains once in a while with a little public television, then you'd know who he is."

"Cool, man. You're on TV?"

"No, I mean, yeah sometimes. Human interest and historical specials, mostly." They didn't give a shit, and neither did I, being near her.

They said various forms of slang goodbye's, with an added promise to 'catch' Miss B. in the morning. I wasn't clear why they needed her on a Saturday; I was already feeling quite possessive. When the door fell closed she melted in for another embrace, surprising me. This time, tighter, longer. I held on for all I was worth though. As she pulled back, her dark eyes glistened with somber expression. "Why are you here?" She whispered.

"You never said goodbye Bella." I framed her face with my hands, dusting my thumbs over her soft skin. "I've missed you." We let a few quiet moments pass. She sighed, lost in a sadness, ruining me just as it did on our long return to New York six months ago. Silent and tortured, the weeks that followed the worst hell, Bella failed to emerge.

"And… I never got to take you out on a proper date." I desperately tried lightening the mood. She wiped fingers under her eyes, released an exasperated breath into a giggle, masking her fight to compose.

"You flew across the country to have dinner with me? You are seriously relentless." She said, her words punctuated with inflection. She grabbed a white wool coat hanging on the back of her chair, tied it tightly around her tiny waist with purpose and laid a leather tote bag over her shoulder. "Okay."

"Okay, what?" I beamed, she was there… in that moment.

"Take me out." Her challenging smirk returned, that slight twist of her gorgeous mouth crippling my very being.

~\\~ WZ ~/~

"Where are you staying?" Bella asked as we drove on in her sedan. She'd given me the insider's tour of her hometown. Pride laced through her tour commentary as she detailed parks, neighborhoods and beyond with squared shoulders. Slowly I discovered while her beautiful shell was constant, something within had shifted. Her push was slower, her flame not as hot.

"I guess I should find something before it gets too late," I answered, hoping.

"You're welcome to stay at the house… my dad's house." Her smile… so perfect. "He's actually upstate at a poaching trial, so it's just me." Just her.

"Poaching? That's interesting. I'd love to stay with you, thank you."

We shared a knowing glance in a weighted moment. "I like this surprise."

"Yeah? I'm glad. I like surprising you."

We arrived at a seemingly out of the way haunt. There was plenty of traffic and a smoking chimney. Bella ran her hands through her hair and unbuckled her seatbelt. "What's this?" I asked as we slid out of her car.

"This… is the Horny Elk Restaurant and Pub. This is my Friday night ritual. And this is where you're taking me to dinner." Grabbing my hand with a warm squeeze, she led me through the parking lot. Suddenly, overwhelmed with my fortune, I stopped and pulled her towards me. She gasped, "What's wrong?"

"Absolutely nothing." I leaned in, trapping her chin between my fingers, kissing softly… simple and significant, our first. Lips brushing in the gentlest of ways, I smiled against her mouth. "You know I've waited a year to do that, never did I imagine it would be at the Horny Elk."

"Bella, hey babe." A voice bellowed from the bar area of the expansive, yet quaint place. It was rustic in appearance, festive in mood.

"Emmett, come here, I want you to meet someone." She gestured and the tall, thick guy with a pet name for my date approached us, and then kissed her on the cheek. "This is Edward; he just flew in from New York to cash in on a dinner date." I was obviously familiar to him; she didn't feel the need to say my last name.

"Nice to meet you, Emmett McCarty." He offered a masculine handshake and a friendly nod of the head.

"Emmett owns the Elk; we went to high school together." More small town pride shining through her explanation. I quickly surmised Emmett must have known Tyler. He led us to a quaint table near the large brick fireplace and told us he would return with two mugs of Bella's favorite pale ale and the rest of her usuals.

"Fried dill pickles?" I questioned.

"Yes, they're delicious, and the mac and cheese is mixed with snow crab."

She was irresistible. Our legs entwined under the table, part of our natural draw, an undeniable pull.

"So…" I paused, exhaling and needing to start somewhere. "Liam worries about you." The mention of our network director and Bella's mentor faded her smile.

"I know he does."

"He won't fill your position. We've had a lot of interviews, but nothing. No one compares." Her arms crossed her chest protectively, I was treading.

"What are you doing to pass the time?" She softened slightly as Emmett delivered our beer and appetizer.

"Editing mostly. Helping some of the newbies write copy… missing you." She shook her head at me in disbelief, yet smiling.

"What's your plan?"

"I have a flight booked back on Sunday… it can be changed though," I offered with an arched brow. Bella bit her lip in response, considering my words. I knew this was a lot for her to process. I understood, seeing me dug deep into a place she'd rather not go. But I wanted my chance.

"I meant your career future, what's your plan?" She returned the arched brow.

"Ahh, well my dreams of creating important, intentional work were lost when you left." It was risky, but I'd waited so long, and traveled so far.

She stilled, paling slightly. I immediately regretted my words.

"Edward, dreams have a short shelf life… as far as I'm concerned." Her eyes settled on the roaring fireplace to our left.

"Bella…" I was interrupted by Emmett bringing our meals.

We ate our food, drank our beer and conversed about everything but… Bella spotted people she recognized and excused herself to say hello. Emmett took the opportunity to come over. We covered the obligatory bullshit then he cut to the chase. "She's in a dark place every now and then," he explained quietly. "She blames herself, you know. Once a week she visits Tyler's parents, I think it's pretty heavy." I listened silently, nodding occasionally while my suspicions were confirmed. "Kate never comes to visit with the baby. Do you see her much?"

"Yeah, actually I do. I try to… every other week or so. She's good, better each time I see her." Bella returned refreshed.

"Oh boy, everyone's excited about prom tomorrow," She explained, sitting down. "You're dropping the food at the gym around four, right?"

"Yep, I'll be there," Emmett answered, squeezing her shoulder as he left the table.

"I'm meeting the kids in the morning to finish decorating." Joy was evident. She'd found a fragile balance between her past and present in there. A sliver of peace in the world she knew better of.

~\\~ WZ ~/~

Polishing off a bottle of water each, we leaned against kitchen countertops opposite each other. The night was late, the space between us heated. Bella exhaled, shook her head, and launched into an unnecessary defense. "I make pear muffins and homemade soup now. I use embroidered dishtowels and decorate school dances, Edward." I stalked closer with her every word. "It's slow and it's simple. This is all I can do right now, I'm barely keeping my clouded, fucked up head above water."

I moved flush against her, burying one hand in her silky hair and the other cupping her sweet face. "Shhh… you're okay. You don't have to convince me. I see… you're amazing…so beautiful, Bella." Her body melted towards me, a soft moan fell from parted lips. I plunged my tongue into her mouth as I pushed us back towards the wall. Holding her in place with my lower body, I tilted her head back, kissing and tasting down her smooth neck. Her hands were in my hair, while mine trailed down her curves. I grasped her thigh tightly, lifting it over my hip dragging her body up the wall, aligning in the most intimate way.

She pulled my head even with her own, forcing our stare. "Do you want this…" I whispered. We breathed against swollen lips. Her fingers furiously unbuttoned down my shirt to my belt. She worked it open, finding my erection. Groaning at the contact, I was lost in her touch.

"Yes, I need it, Edward." Our kiss deepened, desperate and hungry. She pulled my cock free, caressing as our chests heaved. Laying my hand over hers, I guided slowly towards her heat. She moved her panties to the side as I pushed forward. I stroked into her, finally feeding the heightened passion that always lingered. Her body moved with mine, fists gripping my shirt, my neck to steady. "It's so… good," she panted in my ear. Her legs around my waist tightened, I rotated my hips as she cried out. She gasped with wide eyes as she rode out her orgasm, the vision more breathtaking than my dreams. Her lips crushed mine as I welcomed my own delicious burn.

~\\~ WZ ~/~

Rain pelted her bedroom windows, lightening flashed randomly in the pre-dawn darkness. We were bare beneath a warm duvet, hours spent discovering, resting, embracing. "Tyler was my first kiss." I could hear the smile in her voice.

"Really?" I twisted towards her, sweeping hair behind her shoulder.

"Yeah, behind the elementary school. We were just curious." She wrinkled her nose and closed her eyes. Dark lashes against her porcelain skin, an image seared in my mind.

"Was the service… worthy?" She touched the inevitable, dreaded place.

"Yes." I brought her hand to my mouth, dusting her knuckles with soothing kisses.

"She told me to stay away. That's why I left. She blamed me, I was her evil."

"No, baby. She was in shock. It was a horrible accident, no one blames you." I kissed her forehead to comfort.

"But, I convinced him to come to New York with me, to work, live. I begged him, like a selfish fool to go to Afghanistan… I chose that place. I chose that last spot." Hearing her words was more tragic than I imagined it would be. The time was settled within me, no longer fresh.

"If you'd never brought Tyler to New York, he wouldn't have found Kate. And Kate wouldn't have the gift she has now in her son." I cleared her silent tears with my thumbs.

"Fedar led us there, you know the truth. The boy was a child; he found something he shouldn't have. A horrible accident."

I suddenly pulled her on top of me. Holding her hair back from her gorgeous face, we stared, we searched. "Our time here isn't the end, Bella. Kate believes in that too. She's let go of the hell that gripped us all. You can't let this mock and hate you anymore."

She shifted, attempting her escape from my words. I only held her tighter. "Listen to me; I see this residual guilt, your pain. But, I know you're capable of seeing the good in the simple things, the hope in the small things. It's what made you so incredible at your work. You have to let that consume you again." She relaxed into my arms and gently grazed my lips with hers, our eyes never parting.

"I don't have the same wisdom or even the peace to let go yet. I'm getting there, be patient with me. My guilt is so heavy, Edward and it's constant. I've never seen their son; I haven't seen what's left."

"He's perfect, they're good. Please trust me."

"I do… I always have." She sat up slowly, straddling me. Watching me with dark eyes, she ran her hands over her breasts, teasing her nipples into tight peaks. I gripped the soft flesh of her hips and moved her back over my length. She sank down on me slowly, moaning through the connection. She pulled at my shoulders to meet her, wrapping her legs around me, we found an erotic rhythm. Flesh on flesh, she swiveled, I thrust.

"That's it, baby…" Her head tipped back, my tongue covered the sweet skin at the base of her neck. I slowed my pace slightly to appreciate and be present. Sensation and emotion so intense, I knew in that very moment I wanted her as my forever.

The storm continued to stir beyond the window. Our naked, needy bodies covered with a light sheen as we worked towards ultimate bliss. Lifting and dropping, grinding and purring while I sucked her sensitive skin. "Let go, Bella…" She tightened around me, gripping me to her chest, and cried out.

"Fuck…" I poured into her again, thrusting my tongue into her hot mouth. Kissing with reverence as our breathing slowed. I stayed buried in her warmth as we held on in the faint new dawn light.

~\\~ WZ ~/~

Freshly showered, casually dressed in faded jeans and a dark green t-shirt, she found me in the den drinking coffee. I pulled her into my lap, breathing her in, wanting more. "I need to get going. The Forks High School decorating committee is waiting for me." She smiled against my mouth as I snuck in a kiss. "Come help." She stood, pulling her hair into a loose, mussed knot. Natural, sexy and perfect, she was irresistible.

"I can do that; I can do anything you want me to do." We fell into a passionate, promising kiss. "We need to talk some more too, okay?" I pulled back, framing her face.

The mood shifted, her body tensed. "Let's talk now." As if she were challenging me, she stepped back crossing an arm over her chest. She slipped into defense, so easily.

"Bella, stop." I pulled her towards me. "You know Liam wanted me to ask… your opinion on running the war piece this summer."

"What?" She shrugged me off forcibly, glaring. "Is that why you came here?"

I reactively reached for her. "No, what… no. He's just been considering it. Bella what's wrong with that?"

"Are you fucking kidding me? You can't run that! Did he send you here to get my permission?" She was seething, trembling. "Is that what you've been busy editing?"

"I've touched it, yes. But, Bella I don't get why you're so upset. It's important work." I ran a punishing hand over my face, trying to steady my own temper.

"That… is a tragedy. And you and Liam are crazy if you think I want this," she said with a wicked calm.

"Hey, we risked our lives to film that too." I gestured between us. "You and me, remember."

"Who are you? You selfish bastard, what the hell is the matter with you?" She pushed past me with disgust. Pulling on her rain anorak and grabbing her bag, she fisted her keys tightly in her hand. "Turn the lock when you leave."

"Bella… we don't need your permission. I'm sorry." This was it… fight or flight. I winced as the door slammed behind her.

~\\~ WZ ~/~

Balancing on a tall ladder, Bella reached high, hanging strands of silver stars. I watched from the periphery, taking her in. She wasn't quite as energetic with her students as she'd been the day prior. As she descended, she spotted me near the door. Visibly exhaling, she held up her hand to acknowledge me. After passing a staple gun off to another adult, she slowly approached. "I'm heading to Seattle. I'll spend the night there tonight, my flight's early tomorrow." Her shoulders fell slightly, she turned back to survey the gym.

"I'll walk you out."

When we got to the rental car, the wind picked up and a slight drizzle resumed. Only in her t-shirt, she shivered with arms wrapped around her middle. "Edward…"

"No… It's better if we just leave it. But, as far as the war piece is concerned, I believe in it, I'm finishing it, with or without you. I don't want Tyler's memory to be in vain. He deserves closure, we all do. Bella, I didn't come here to hurt you."

"Edward, I know that. I do, I'm just not… I mean you look at me with all this love… and I don't fucking understand it."

"That's because you can't forgive yourself," I shouted through the rain, now steady. We were dripping, drenched. "When you're ready… you know where I am." I opened the car door, our gaze still locked. "We'll sit, we'll laugh, eat, drink… we'll fuck. We can just be. That's all I want, Bella… is to be… with you." She heaved, speechless watching me leave.

~\\~ WZ ~/~

While most celebrated the Fourth of July with festive fare, I sat in my dark cubicle at my desk, staring at an empty box. I was cashing it in, ready for different. My creative passion waned, my heart and mind elsewhere… always.

"Anything?" Liam startled me, with his deep, patriarchal tone.

"No. Nothing. I did hear from Kate though, she found a part time job at a gallery in Brooklyn near her parents. She's… excited. What are you doing here today? You should be doing some roof top grilling somewhere." I laughed, opening the first drawer.

"I'm a widower, Edward. I don't do holidays." He gripped my shoulder and disappeared down the dimly lit hallway to his office.

I'd returned to my office once more to complete obligatory resignation paperwork . After packing my lone box of professional history, I stopped in Liam's doorway. "She was like a daughter to me, Edward. Sharpest eye for impact I'd ever seen. Her work… it grabbed your heart and squeezed… you know?"

"Yeah, I know." The next several weeks, I contemplated and planned my escape. I was determined to seek out what good was left in the world, maybe write about it, albeit alone.

The hottest day of summer, I spent in a laundry mat, my last task, before leaving the city. I walked back to my apartment, allowing the punishing heat to torture me, feeling something, anything. Squinting in the blinding sun, I made out someone sitting on the stairs.


I quickly threw my large duffle of clean clothes over my shoulder and hurried down the sidewalk. She stood when she spotted me, pushing her dark sunglasses to the top of her head. I dropped my bag and embraced her gorgeous, sweaty self.

"What…" Soft fingers covered my lips interrupting my surprise.

"Please, just let me talk." She forced me to sit… she stared, running her hands through damp hair, preparing herself. "I want to be with you too, Edward. You're safe but you also… make me feel courageous. I want perfect days… with you. The kind you want everyday to be like. I want to know where you keep your socks and… your scissors. And if you tell me you love me, please mean it. Mean it…" I smirked, she returned it.

"Are you finished?" I asked standing from the stairs.

"Yes, why?"

"Because, I want to go inside and make love to you."

"Oh," She bit her lip and took my hand.

"What's in the Santa sack?" She teased following behind me.


~\\~ WZ ~/~

"Mmmm, Edward… yes, more." Bella moaned.

I spread her knees farther apart as one thumb slid between her folds, the other rubbing lazy circles on her swollen flesh. Laid out beautiful and bare on cool sheets, she withered in pleasure as my tongue began tasting and teasing. Sucking and rubbing, I brought her helplessly reeling towards her climax.

"I love you," I whispered as I slid into her warmth. Our lips so close, brushing and tempting…

"I love you, too." She wrapped her still trembling legs around my waist, urging me deeper. We moved together, a perfect pace, with reverent stares. Her soft hands ran over my shoulders, down my back, caressing and soothing. When the tightening took hold, I pumped harder, faster.

Eyes fluttering, her back arched and her breath hitched. "You're so beautiful, baby," I breathed in her ear as we came together.

Sated and blushed, Bella finished her wine with a deep swallow. We shared a small chair near the window unit and while I ran patterns over the heated skin under her t-shirt, she peppered grateful kisses over along my jaw and cheek. "Edward…"


"Why is your apartment packed up?"

I smiled against the top of her head, breathing her in. "I'm leaving." She righted herself, searching my eyes.

"A new assignment? Where are you going?" She asked nervously, holding my face in her hands.

"Wherever you are…" I pressed my forehead to hers. "Wherever you are, I'm going."

~\\~ WZ ~/~

Seeing Liam's damp eyes over Bella's shoulder as they embraced was quite emotional. He'd harbored as much guilt as she did. They needed this afternoon of closure. We sat quietly in his office and watched the final cut of War Zone. Bella commented quietly about the craft and technical issues, obviously in avoidance. My eyes were constantly locked on hers not the film. Gauging her reaction to the many poignant conversations we'd filmed, she was moved. It was our experience forever settled within us, regardless of the violent end.

At the close of the piece I'd added a few brief candid moments of the three of us. Realizing the shift in content, Bella steeled herself against Liam on his office sofa. The flicker of Tyler standing just beyond Bella, mocking her in jest overwhelmed. Her eyes glistened, and through her heartbreak she began a cathartic laughter. Exactly what I'd hoped for.

"You crazy, wonderful, terrific man..." She said to no one as she watched Tyler having fun at her expense. She mouthed a 'thank you' to me and headed for the door, undoubtedly in an attempt to compose herself.

She was greeted with my second surprise. The one I was slightly less confident about. Kate holding Tyler's infant son stopped Bella cold. A few weighted moments passed before Kate reached her arm around Bella's shoulder and held her close, the baby nestled between them.

"It's okay... " Kate said quietly as Bella heaved with emotion. Bella took Tyler's baby in her arms, lost and lovely. She inhaled his hair and kissed his tiny head repeatedly.

"Thank you... " Bella whispered later, as we headed out of the offices of GNN.


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