After the loving, Bella held Edward in her arms all night long. She barely slept not wanting to waste this final night in slumber. She wanted to enjoy the feel of him; the warmth of his body wrapped around her, his breath in her hair, the weight of his arms as they held her close. Their legs entwined, their fingers weaved together, the beat of their hearts in sync. She wanted to feel it, live it, hold it and bank it, so she would be able to draw on these tactile memories when he was gone.
It was bittersweet knowing that she had only this one night before he left for Hawaii. What a waste these last few weeks had been. If only he had told her the truth sooner, they would have had so many more nights like this. But, she thought, maybe things worked out as they should have, Edward had to go home and she understood why. He was needed there, by people he loved and who loved him. She knew too well what loss felt like and if she could get one more day to say good-bye to her mother, she would take it and treasure it. Edward needed the days and weeks ahead to say good-bye to Gracie, how could she begrudge him that? She just couldn't.
But she had tonight and she would take it and live off it a little at a time in the weeks ahead when she would miss him. So Bella lay there next to Edward, remembering the touches and caresses that he had given her just hours ago. Remembering the way he'd slid his body into hers, and then stopped, as if savoring the second they were fully joined; the way he'd groaned, "Bella, Bella, baby," as if he were overwhelmed. The way his hand had cupped her jaw, then ran his thumb over her lips, opening them to receive his mouth. His tongue restlessly searching her mouth then pulling back to lick her cheeks, her eyes, the lobe of her ear. Drunk on her scent, her feel, her taste, he whisper-slurred into her ear, "I want to eat you all up, you taste so good." She reached up then, and pulled his face to her breast, "Eat me, I want you to, please." He sucked her nipple hard and started to move ferociously in her. His teeth grazed her nipple, bit the skin of her breasts and shoulders, all the while he was moving faster and faster in her, taking her exactly where she wanted to go. She was on the brink and when he bit into her neck and sucked, she fell into the abyss, writhing and groaning out "I love you, Edward. Love you, love you." How freeing it was not to hide her feelings from him, to sing out the words that had been crowding her heart. "I'm yours."
"Mine." He growled as he spread her thighs higher, wider, and he plunged himself deeper and deeper until he came, shuddering to a stop, gripping her hips tightly. "Mmm, baby." His head buried in the curve of her neck, heavy breath coating her skin, he lay still and held her tightly.
Yes, the lovemaking had been beyond perfect but this, this hug, is what she needed; Bella reveled in his closeness, lulled by his touch, and relived the memories until the night ended and breaking dawn arrived
Edward's breathing changed and he stirred and she knew it was the beginning of the end. "What time is it?" He muttered, as his arm tightened around her.
"Six twenty-three. What time are you leaving?" Her fingers, still woven within his, tightened; waiting for his reply, hoping for just a little more time.
"Ten o'clock, San Jose airport." He answered, nuzzling and kissing the nape of her neck.
That meant he'd have to leave soon. San Jose airport was more than fifty miles away. "Do you want me to drive you?" She thought of the symbolism; San Jose airport, the place they'd met four months ago, would be the same place she would say good-bye today. They had come full circle.
"Only if you want to." He whispered into her hair, his body still spooning hers. "I was going to use a car service, they're picking me up at the marina at eight. I've made arrangements to have my car taken down to Los Angeles in the next few weeks."
"Have you sold the Sophia already?" She was sad to know that she'd never get to see that boat again, the place where they had such good times. Bella's throat was tightening with tears, this really was good-bye.
"Not yet. But once I put it on the market it should go quickly."
"Aren't you going to miss it?" Bella asked, wondering why he had decided to give up his childhood dream.
He rolled onto his back and settled her in the crook of his arm. "Initially, when I decided to sell it, it was because I no longer wanted to be here in Berkeley, not if I couldn't have you. I thought it was time to give up my dream of being with my Sophia. Once the decision was made, I saw the Sophia for what it was; my escape."
Bella nodded in understanding. She could see it now, how the idyllic life on the Sophia had offered him a way out.
"When I first came to live here, in Berkeley and on the boat, it was dreamlike; a world apart. Here I could drift and feel a sense of calm I couldn't feel anywhere else, and I could look across the bay toward the Pacific and know that I was still somehow connected to home, even if I couldn't physically be there. Then I met you and it was wonderful, you sparked me back to life. You made me feel, want so much more and for the first time in a long time the future didn't seem so aimless or so bleak. With you by my side, I didn't need the Sophia, anymore. Without you, I didn't want to be here and be reminded that you no longer wanted me."
Bella interjected, wanting him to know that all that had changed. "Edward, just so it's clear, I want to be by your side. I know we only have tonight because you're leaving. But I hope you know this isn't the end for me."
"I know that, Bella. I told you last night was our new beginning, not an end. I want you by my side, Bella. We can make plans and talk about the future, and I think we need to do that. I have a house in Los Angeles, but we can decide if we're going to keep it or sell it. I'm not attached to the things I own, they are just things, after all. I know you want to finish school. I also know that you have your dreams of a career as a lawyer so we're talking four more years of school."
"But I can do that anywhere. I don't have to…"
He shushed her with a finger on placed over her lips, "You don't have to change your plans for me, just include me in them."
"I was just saying that I applied for law schools here, in Southern California and back east. I don't have to stay here. We can work it out."
"I don't want anything to stop you from reaching for your dreams Bella. I did that to Gracie, and I regret it. She could have had a great career and she left it for me. And look what it got her."
"Edward, maybe she wanted you and not the career."
He shook his head and held her tight. "I have to get going, Bella."
"Can you cancel the car? I want to take you to the airport and say good-bye, Edward. I want to spend every last second with you."
"Okay." He nodded and kissed her lingeringly. "I want to spend every last moment with you too. Why don't we have the car take us and bring you back? That way I can hold you and kiss you and give you all my attention. Hmm?"
"I like that plan even better."
Edward drove them to the Sophia, and she walked around the boat, saying a last good-bye as Edward packed. It was such a beautiful boat, a place that held such sweet memories and she would never forget any of them.
All the way to the airport Edward held Bella in his arms, whispering plans for the immediate future and plans for the longer term. They agreed that they would keep in touch by phone, at the end of every day, so they could hear each other's voices. They would reserve that time for love. They would e-mail each other with plans and updates. Edward told her that he would be flying to Los Angeles in early October and asked her to fly down and meet him so they could spend the weekend together. Her heart soared, she would be seeing him sooner than she had expected.
But she became agitated when he asked her to come to Hawaii for Thanksgiving, to meet his family and Gracie. Bella was reluctant to agree to that.
"No, Edward, I can't. It feels wrong, like I'm intruding or something."
"Just promise me that you'll think about it, okay?" he pleaded with her.
She shook her head. "I can't even promise you that. I'm uncomfortable just thinking about it."
"Edward, I would feel like a spectator. An outsider."
"But you're not. You're someone I care about."
"For god's sake Edward, please try to understand. It's a bad time for me to meet them."
"Okay. Fine. I don't want to keep arguing with you Bella, we'll let it go. Just come here and kiss me until we get there."
They snuggled and kissed, pulling back time and time again to soak in the face of the other, to memorize it and keep it for later on. When they arrived at the airport the car pulled up to the curb and Bella let out a heavy sigh. They alighted and Edward retrieved his luggage from the trunk. Bella's eyes were trained on him soaking in every movement and when he came back and took her in his arms she held him tight. He held her face between his big hands and kissed her all over, ending with her lips. "I'll miss you, so much."
Her lips moved against his. "I'll miss you too. Remember to call me every night. No matter what."
"Every night, no matter what." He vowed, and with a last squeeze he disappeared into the terminal.
By the time she got home, she was exhausted. Her sleepless night and her emotional morning finally took their toll and she fell on her rumpled bed, and fell into sleep, engulfed by Edward's smell.
Arrived safely, left you a voicemail. I figured you were asleep. I'll call you tonight at eleven, hope that's not too late.
"Are you in bed?"
"Yes, just waiting for you to tuck me in." she said huskily.
"I want to tuck you in wet and happy."
"I'm wet already."
"Well, I'm lying in my bed, surrounded by your smell. And I'm remembering you and what you do to me."
"What do I do to you?"
"You make me come, hard."
"How do I do that?"
"Well it starts with how you look at me, like you want to eat me."
"I do want to eat you."
"And then how you talk to me."
"Like that. Your voice is low, and I know what you've got on your mind."
"You mean that I want to bury myself in you? That I want to kiss you everywhere. If I were there I'd spread your beautiful legs and kiss you on that pretty pussy, baby. I'd open you and look at you glistening and red and swollen. I'd touch that little sweet nub. Touch it for me Bella, baby. Rub it. I want to taste it, lick it with my tongue. Close your eyes so you can feel me licking you."
Bella closed her eyes and her fingers circled her clit quickly, Edward's voice in her ear was weaving a spell, she could smell him, feel him, and hear him. Her breathing was rapid, little soft sounds emanating from her throat. "Edward, oh Edward." She moaned.
"Feel me, open your legs wider, baby. Feel my fingers in you stroking you." Bella moved her fingers down an inside stroking her moist flesh. "I want to fuck you so hard, baby; move in your tight, sweet pussy til your bones melt. Faster and harder in you, move your fingers baby, faster and harder. Faster. Come for me Bella, come baby. Let me hear you come." A shiver moved down her spine and her back arched. Her nub throbbed and her pussy clenched over her fingers. "Mmmm. Edward. Yes. Oh my god, Edward. Mmm." And she let go a scream of satisfaction while the shivering moved through her body, eventually tightening her thighs, squeezing them around her hand.
Her body was drenched with sweat as she moved her legs and relaxed them open. "How was that baby? Did I make you feel good?" he asked huskily.
"So good." her breath was still uneven.
"Are you wet, baby?"
"Yes. Wet all over."
"If I were there I would lick your sweet body."
"Oh Edward. I miss you."
"I miss you too. Very much."
"How is everything at home?"
He hesitated. "Good."
"Is it really? Tell me."
"Gracie's in a wheelchair now."
"Oh Edward, I'm sorry."
"She needed it. It helps her get around easier. We moved her to a bedroom on the first floor. She says she likes it better."
"How do you feel?"
His voice choked a little. "It's real, you know. When I see her, I know it's coming. But she's so brave. She makes us all brave."
"She sounds wonderful."
"I told her about you."
"Oh no. Why?"
"She asked me. I think she sensed something had changed."
"She's very happy. She would love to meet you Bella."
"I can't Edward. I just can't."
"Don't be. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable."
"Thanks. For understanding."
"It's not only about what I want, it's also about you and what you want. You've made me see that."
"Anyway, goodnight Bella. I'll let you go, I know you have classes in the morning."
"Goodnight darling. I love you."
Bella's classes were grueling. She had an eighteen credit course load and it was as demanding as she'd expected. The demands kept her mind from straying too much to Edward and how much she missed him. But they e-mailed every day and talked every night. Their texts and e-mails were often full of details about their days, Bella writing about school and her professors and Edward writing about his family. Bella learned all about Carly and her kids, Evan and his girlfriends and Edward's parents. Edward only mentioned Gracie when Bella asked.
But their nighttime conversations were reserved for talk about what their deepest desires and their hopes for the future. This was when Bella and Edward drew closer and closer in their understanding of each other.
In October Bella flew down to meet Edward. He picked her up from LAX on a Friday evening after a long day of meetings and proposals. Bella was surprised at how tired he looked and insisted that they should stay in and relax instead of going out to dinner.
Edward's home in Los Angeles was not too different from his home in New York. It was top notch real estate, with rooms that were tastefully but simply furnished and no personal touches whatsoever. Bella could tell that while this was the place that he most often stayed it was not his home. The homeiest place was the Sophia. Again she felt a pang of regret that he was selling it.
As they sat down to a simple dinner of chicken and potatoes she asked him, "Do you like living here?"
"I neither like it nor dislike it. It's just the most convenient place to be when I am working on a movie or television show. Why?"
"It doesn't seem homey, I guess. I thought I would see some of you in this place." She answered baldly.
"I guess I'm not the nesting type." He answered. "I stick to the basics."
"The Sophia has some more personal touches. The artwork is very reminiscent of the pacific. I noticed lots of Gauguin prints. The colors were bright and tropical. Your apartment in New York and this place seem, I don't know, cookie cutter."
"I had a designer furnish it. I wasn't that interested in what they looked like."
She was quiet for a long time. "Remember that first evening in New York, when you told me you want things that you just can't have?"
"Yes." he swallowed a sip of his wine.
"What did, do you want?"
"What I wanted then, is not what I want now." he informed her and reached for her hand.
"Well, what did you want, then?"
"I wanted to go back to a happier time. I wanted Gracie to be healthy again. But I know it's impossible, so I just want her to be happy for the rest of her life."
"And what do you want for you?"
"I want to feel happy again. To be grounded in this world, now, instead of the past."
"Where do you want to live, eventually?"
"I don't really care. Like I said, a house is a house. It's just a thing. Are you asking because of a particular reason?"
"Tell me what it is."
"I took the LSAT last weekend. I think I did well. I was wondering what school I should focus on. I know it depends on my acceptance, but I wondered if it made a difference to you?"
"No. Not a bit."
"So you wouldn't care if it were LA, or Berkeley, or Connecticut or anywhere?"
"I don't care."
"Well, I want to stay in Berkeley. I'm hoping for Boalt or Hastings or Stanford."
"Edward, how will we live? You, living here in Los Angeles? And me there in Berkeley? That's not being together. We should be together." Bella could see herself, for the next four years, constantly waiting to meet with him as though it was a secret tryst. She didn't want that.
He got up out of his chair and pulled her out of hers and enveloped her in a hug. "Well, I can commute to Los Angeles, I don't have to live here. We can live in your house or buy a house nearby so you can be near school and your sister. I don't want to pressure you in any way."
She smiled broadly, "So we will live together, in the same house? Is that what you want?" The thought of waking up next to him every morning gave her intense pleasure.
"Yes, of course. I'm not going to deny myself. I want to be with you every moment that I can be." He nuzzled her neck and inhaled her scent.
Bella was so happy. Ever since the LSAT exam their future living arrangements had eclipsed all other concerns, it had weighed heavily on her mind; but Edward had given her the answers she had hoped for, he wanted a future together, together, and she was blissfully happy at the thought.
The weekend in LA flew by, Bella saw nothing of Beverly Hills, or Hollywood. They spent every waking moment loving each other, they had no desire to do anything else. She returned home and Edward returned to Hawaii, with more recent memories to hold on to.
Please come for Thanksgiving. I miss you and everyone wants to meet you.
I can't. I have to study, finals. Plus I have to think about Alice. I can't leave her alone. Jasper may be spending time with his father in Colorado.
I understand. Please, please try to come for Christmas.
"Have you thought about it? Coming for Christmas?"
"Edward, I really don't think that's something I want to do right now. Honestly, I can't. Please don't pressure me."
"Bella, Gracie would like to meet you. She's really hoping you'll change your mind. Plus my parents are eager.."
"Oh, Edward , why'd you do that?"
"Because you're important to me, you're part of my life, I don't want to pretend you don't exist. Remember you said no more lies and subterfuge. You wouldn't want me withholding the truth from them, would you?"
"You know what? You're too clever by half. You use my logic against me every chance you get. You know I won't say you should lie, or even omit the truth, but I feel uncomfortable."
"Why, Bella, why?"
Bella let out a frustrated sigh. "Because I'm the other woman. Okay. I've said it. That's how I feel like the lying slutty other woman. Waiting for you to give me attention."
"But you know that's not how it is. I'm not even married."
"No. maybe not, legally. But it feels that way. You're attached to Gracie, Edward. And your family loves her and you. They won't like me and I wouldn't blame them."
"My family is not like that. They love me. They want to see me happy. And I've told them you make me happy. Bella, we, my family and I, have been living in this for so long, I think we have learned to think outside the box. I love Gracie, but I'm not in love with Gracie. I haven't been for years. We haven't slept together for almost four years. Bella, Gracie and I have a unique relationship. I think she stopped loving me long before I stopped loving her. And even when I knew it was over, I didn't want to let her go. I wanted to take care of her. My family loves Gracie, separate and apart from the fact that she was my wife."
"I don't understand that. I can't wrap my head around it."
"Just come and meet them and you'll see."
"I'll think about it okay?"
He sighed happily. "Thank you."
To: Bella Swan
From: Edward Cullen
I want to purchase the tickets, what day works for you?
Please don't. I'm not sure if I'll come. I think I'll stay home with Alice and Jasper. We have plans to trim the tree on Christmas Eve. I'm making mom's Christmas rum cake using her recipe. Alice and I really want to spend the time together. Please try to understand.
To: Bella Swan
From: Edward Cullen
Fuck. I miss you. I need to see you. I want to hold you again, it's been too long.
Edward, we can't. I would never, ever sleep with you under your parents' roof and with Gracie there. Are you nuts?
To: Bella Swan
From: Edward Cullen
Bella, I wouldn't ask you to do that. I meant hold you as in 'hold' you. I'm staying in the guest flat above the garage. If you come, I'll move into my old bedroom. You can sleep in the guest flat. No hanky panky on the premises, I promise.
Whew. Thank goodness, you clarified. I'm going to pass though. I have January off, maybe I'll come then.
"Hmm, yes. Bella?"
"Yes, it's me. How are you?"
"What's wrong? Is everything okay? I called you at our usual time but you didn't answer."
"I know, I had left my phone in the car. Sorry."
"It's after midnight. What are you doing up so late?"
"Did I wake you? Sorry."
"Don't worry about it. Why are you calling so late? It's almost three am in Berkeley, isn't it?"
"I know. I couldn't sleep. Alice went with Jasper to Colorado for Christmas."
"Oh, Bella. I wish you'd decided to let me buy the tickets so you could come here."
"It's okay, I'll be fine."
"Oh baby, I wish you were here."
"Can you hang on a minute? I think someone's at the door."
"At this hour?"
"Yeah, I definitely heard a knock."
Bella waited quietly while Edward answered his door.
"Bella! What? What are you doing here?"
Bella held her suitcase up. "Surprise?"
"How did you find me?"
"You said you were staying in the flat above the garage. I saw the garage and came up. Good thing you guys don't have a guard dog. I didn't realize until I got out of the cab, that I forgot to ask you about that."
"Did you plan this?"
"Why? Why didn't you just tell me? I would have picked you up at the airport."
"Eh," she shrugged. "Surprises are more exciting."
The shock had worn off and Edward hugged her and lifted her off her feet.
"You're amazing, you know that?"
"Amazing? Lil ole me?"
"Yea, lil ole you."
He carried her into the flat, walking through the living room and down the hallway into the bedroom.
"No hanky, panky."
"No hanky panky." He promised. "Just holding you is enough."
"Oh Jeez Louise, I'm nervous." Bella whined as she wiped sweaty palms down the thighs of her faded blue jeans.
"Don't be. Everyone is dying to meet you."
"Oh, Edward, I hope this isn't going to be a huge mistake."
"I promise you, it'll be fine."
"Shouldn't I dress up or something?"
"No. Everyone is really casual. That's how we do Christmas Eve around here. Mom's in the kitchen with Auntie Liz, cooking up a storm. Carly and Gus won't be here until tonight and Dad is at work. Gracie is resting in her bed, she asked me to come get her when you're ready."
"Before we go, is there something I should or shouldn't do or say?"
"What do you mean?"
"Is Gracie, I don't know, self conscious, or should I ignore the wheelchair, not talk about her illness. I don't know Edward. Help me here, okay?"
"Just don't cry that's all, she hates when people cry. She tells them to save it for the funeral, when she can't hear the snivelling."
"Okay, I can do that. No tears. Got it."
She nodded and followed him down the steps to the grassy yard below. In the daylight the house and grounds were beautiful. It was at least a half acre of manicured grass, undulating to the neighbor's fence, dotted with fragrant trees and bushes. The smell of gardenia, tuberose and pikake wafted on the warm morning air. They followed a stone pathway, skirted the pool and crossed the patio to open the French doors at the rear of the house.
The room they entered was the family room and they only had to look to their left to see Esme and Liz, laughing and rolling out dough. Bella was hit with a fresh wave of nervous jitters. Esme looked up and smiled, skirting the counter she walked over to greet Bella.
"Welcome Bella, it's so nice to finally meet you." She reached out her hand to take Bella's in hers. "Come on into the kitchen with me and Liz. Edward tells me that you are a pastry chef, and we could use the expertise, right Liz?"
"Esme doesn't need half the help that I do." Liz smiled at Bella. "We're so happy to finally meet you, Bella. Edward said that you were lovely, and you are."
Bella's cheeks burned and she fought the urge to hide her face in Edward's chest. "Thank you."
"So, Bella, what does your family do for Christmas?"
"It's just my sister, Alice, and me now. We make the usual, ham, turkey, stuffing, sides. My mom used to make what she called "tipsy cake", which is a rum cake, for Christmas."
"Would it be an imposition if I asked you to make it for us? I'd like you to feel at home." Esme asked with a smile.
"Umm. I guess I could make it."
Esme squeezed her hands. "Great! Just tell me what you need and I'll get it out."
"You have a nice big kitchen, here, Mrs. Cullen."
"Call me Esme, Bella. Thanks. I love it. It used to be cramped and small, but we re-did it and doubled the size."
"I'll help you with the cake, Bella. I'll be your assistant." Edward offered.
And soon they were all moving about, laughing and talking just as easily as if they'd known Bella for years.
Bella had just filled the floured cake tins with the batter for the tipsy cake when she heard the soft hum of Gracie's wheelchair on the tiled floor and looked toward the sound, heart thumping sickeningly in her chest. "Morning everyone, sorry but I fell right back to sleep, after my shower." Gracie said through a big yawn.
"You needed it, sweetie." Esme bent down and kissed Gracie's dark head then looked over at Bella. "Bella is making us her family's Christmas rum cake. I can't wait to taste it."
"Bella." Gracie's smile was genuine as she moved her chair forward towards the young girl standing uncertainly by the oven door. "Bella, it's so nice to meet you. Edward's told me so much about you, I feel like I know you already."
"Oh, thanks. I think." Bella glanced over at Edward who was smiling at them both. "I hope it was all good." She chuckled nervously.
Gracie put both hands out for Bella's and held on tight. "It was. You and I are going to be good friends, you know. Go ahead and put the cake in the oven, I want to steal you away."
The oven was already pre-heated but Bella was too nervous about the "steal away" that was about to happen, so she asked Edward to put the pans in the oven.
"Relax Bella," he whispered in her ear, "Gracie's just excited to meet you."
"Yes, Bella. I'm a little bossy, but they're all used to it. I just want to talk to you for a little, but only if you want to." Gracie asked with a sweet smile. "No pressure, okay?"
Bella nodded and said, "Okay."
Gracie suggested, "Let's go out by the pool, I love it out there. Plus I can get away from all these tempting smells."
Auntie Liz piped up. "Bella hasn't eaten much yet, Gracie. She's only had a cup of coffee."
"Actually I've been nibbling fruit and Edward made me toast and eggs this morning, so I'm not hungry at all." Bella interjected.
"Great. Edward I'm sorry, but you're not invited. Girl talk." And Gracie swept over the tile floors and out the French doors to the stone patio outside.
"It's not the firing squad, baby." Edward whispered as he hugged her tight.
"It feels like it." She whispered back.
He chuckled. "She begged me to invite you for Christmas. She's dying to meet you. I promise it'll be fine."
Bella dragged her feet outside to meet Gracie.
Gracie did not even hesitate, but launched right into her talk as soon as Bella sat down on one of the wrought iron chairs that surrounded the patio table."Bella, I want to put you at ease. I know it must be uncomfortable for you to meet the ex-wife and I just want you to know, that there is absolutely no reason for you to feel that way."
Bella nodded, and relaxed a little, but still felt a lot unsure of this situation.
"Edward deserves happiness, Bella. And, honestly, if I weren't sick, we would have divorced long ago. Not because he wasn't a good husband, because he was, he really was. He's beaten himself up about it, but he was good to me. He was selfish, but so was I. We were young and we made mistakes, but he was always there. Did he tell you about the baby?"
"Yes, yes he did. And I'm sorry, about your loss."
"Well, I don't know many marriages that would have survived all that; especially, because we were so young. We had huge fights over the hormone treatments and what they were doing to me, then my dad died, and the baby was born early and with disabilities. Then, well, going through the loss and the depression, not a lot of twenty-somethings have that kind of pressure on their marriages. And ours just buckled you know."
Bella nodded in understanding.
"But I love Edward, he is my best friend. He is a wonderful man, from a wonderful family. I knew when he came in July that something had changed. He wouldn't tell me, but I knew there was someone special. And I was so happy for him. He's been so lonely for so long. I know there've been women, but no one special until you, Bella."
She reached over and clasped Bella's hand in her own. "You love him don't you?"
Bella sighed, and squeezed back. "I do. I love him."
She squealed in delight. "I can tell. And he loves you too."
Bella shook her head. "He's working on it."
"No Bella, trust me, he loves you. He talks about you. When he's quiet, and smiling, I know he's thinking about you. He loves you."
Bella wasn't quite so sure about Edward's feelings. She became lost in thought as she wondered if Edward would ever let himself love her. She felt a little twinge of sadness.
Gracie interrupted her reverie. "Bella, on Christmas Eve we usually have dinner out here on the patio, Esme and Carlisle string up Christmas lights on all the bushes and trees and overhead. We play happy Christmas music and have a good time, eating until we can't eat a bite more."
"It sounds like a lot of fun."
"We loved it when we were kids. It was like an enchanted garden."
"I bet it was magical."
"It still is. I haven't grown up so much that I don't love it. I used to escape from everybody and climb up into the tree house, over there, and stare at the lights and the stars. It felt like my own little castle and I would feel like the luckiest princess on earth."
"I always wanted a tree house." Bella said wistfully. "My mom thought they were too dangerous."
"I won't be able to climb up in the tree house tonight, so you should do it."
"Climb up into the tree house tonight. Take my place."
"Are you kidding?"
"Every castle needs a princess, Bella."
Gracie went off to dialysis, her mother took her. Bella helped Esme with the Christmas Eve meal, and Carlisle, Edward and Gus finished stringing the lights in the backyard.
Gracie was right, the Christmas Eve meal was magical. Carly came with her husband David and their two kids. Gus's wife Mariko brought their son, Joel. Friends of Esme and Carlisle came, as well as neighbors. They ate under the stars and Christmas lights. It was a beautiful night and Edward's family was welcoming and warm. At the end of the meal, Esme stood up and tapped her spoon against her glass to get everyone's attention.
"Thank you all for coming to our annual Christmas Eve celebration. We do this, because we don't get to see all the people we love on Christmas Day. This is an extra special Christmas Eve. Tonight just happens to be a new moon, and in astrology that symbolizes a chance for wish fulfillment. So take the time right now and make a wish, and make it a good one. And the goddess of the moon, Selene, just might grant it."
Carlisle stood up and offered a toast. "Merry Christmas to everyone, we love you all and wish you a joyous New Year." Everyone raised their glass and yelled, "cheers." The music started up again. Gracie wheeled herself over to Bella, "Go to the castle, Bella. I'm going to call it a night." She turned to Edward. "Edward, can you help me?" and Edward walked with her across the lawn and into the house.
After a few minutes, Bella snuck away and climbed the worn, wooden planks up to the tree house. It was built, hanging on the side of a large kukui tree. There was enough space in between the leaves to see the twinkling lights of the garden and the stars up above. Gracie was right, she felt like a fairy princess in her her own kukui castle.
She heard a soft thud of a foot fall and Edwards head appeared over the threshold. "Gracie told me that I'd find you here." He said.
He pulled Bella into his arms and they lay down on their backs, looking up at the sky together. "Gracie is lovely, Edward."
"I know. She likes you a lot. She told me that I'd better be good to you and not wait too long."
"Wait too long for what?"
"She advised me, as only Gracie can, not to wait too long to tell you that I love you."
"Yes, I do love you, Bella."
"When did you know you loved me?" She asked disbelievingly. "When Gracie told you to?"
"No. Bella. I've been falling in love with you since I met you. But I felt too guilty to admit it, even to myself."
She snorted. "And all of a sudden the guilt is gone?"
"I knew that I loved you, when I came here and couldn't get you out of my mind. I want you to know that you own me, body and soul. When I said 'I love you' that's what I meant." Bella was silently staring at him, her head was still processing that he had actually said the words. Turning her to him so that they were lying face to face, he asked her, "Bella, do you love me?"
"What do you mean, when you say you love me? What does it mean to you?"
Bella was hesitant, she hadn't really examined what it meant. "I guess it means that I want to be with you forever. I want you to be that last thing I see when I close my eyes at night, and the first thing I see in the morning. I want to share your happiness and make your sad times easier, and I want to know everything about you. I want to be truthful and faithful and kind."
"And I promise the same. I will be with you forever. And you will be the last thing I see when I close my eyes at night and the first thing I see in the morning. I will share your happy times and help to make your sad times more bearable. I will be kind, faithful and honest. Okay?"
"Oh, Edward." She said doubtfully.
"Don't you believe that I love you?" he was astonished.
Bella shook her head and moved closer and pressed her body along the length of his and whispered into his neck, "You don't have to lie to me, you know. I love you too much to stop, even if you don't really love me. I don't care. I can't say "no" to you." Her eyes were bright with unshed tears.
He cupped her cheek and turned her to look at him. "I do love you Bella. You brought me back to life. I don't deserve you. I've not always been good to you, and you deserve someone who is." He continued, "I don't ever want to frighten you or scare you away. So I promise that I will get therapy and I will heal myself. And I will let things happen at your pace, I will try not to force or rush you in any way. But I do love you, please believe me."
"Give me time. I can't take it in right now. I just can't."
"As long as you need. I'll show you everyday, until you get sick of me."
"I don't think that's possible."
He kissed her long and sweet. "Let's go down and I'll start showing you."
"You promised, no hanky, panky."
He held his right hand over his heart. "None, I swear. I just want to show you something."
He led her down to the ladder and into the flat above the garage. He sat her on the couch and instructed her to wait there.
He returned in a few minutes with a large flat package, which he handed to her.
She peeled away the tissue paper and uncovered a portrait of herself. She was sitting on a tall stool, dressed in her full belly dancing costume. She looked dreamy and wistful, on a twilight blue background.
"Remember the friend I met at the coffee shop outside your studio? He's an artist. I asked him to paint you and since you weren't talking to me, I took pictures of you and gave it to him."
"This is gorgeous. He is an amazing artist."
"Funny he said you were an amazing beauty."
"I was going to keep this with me always. A little reminder of the woman who gave my life back to me. Look at the title he gave it."
"Lost Love." she whispered. "I do look like I've lost my love. I look so sad."
Edward shook his head. "I took this picture at the street fair and he picked it as the one he would use. He was referring to you as my lost love."
"He insisted that's what he felt when I asked him to paint you. It's yours. Your Christmas gift."
"Oh Edward, I can't take it. It's yours."
"It's ours, then. We'll hang it above our bed."
She nodded. "I love you." and hugged him tightly.
"I love you, too. Believe me I do. I'm not going to give up, until you do."
"I'll hold you to that promise." she said.