Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, though I guess can claim the plot if I'm feeling possessive.
Many thanks to Cheyenne Masen and Kelly376.
This is my entry for the Fic A Pic Contest (http:/www . fanfiction . net/~ficapiccontest), which means it's entirely based on this picture: http:/i839 . photobucket . com/albums/zz314/MsTallulahBelle/pattinsonlife-rm002 . jpg (delete 6 spaces).
Everything about this night is perfect. Not that I expected anything less from Alice on the night of her engagement party.
A hundred of Alice and Jasper's friends and family are drinking, laughing, and generally making merry on the rooftop of our parents' apartment building. Strings of brightly colored paper lanterns give the whole space a festive feeling. Everyone is genuinely celebrating a couple we love, and know will make it.
The weather is warm, but not hot. The sun is setting, casting a hazy glow on the New York City skyline, and my baby sister is absolutely glowing at the prospect of marrying her longtime boyfriend. Jasper is no better. They can't go more than five seconds without touching each other or getting all googley-eyed from across the room.
I'm not jealous. I'm really not.
Angela catches my eye – she's being chatted up by my Aunt Carmen – and shoots me a wink. I smile back, admiring how pretty she looks with her hair pulled up, a simple black dress adorning her nice figure. My cousin, Riley, approaches me as he notices I'm checking out my girlfriend.
"How do you do it, Edward?"
"Do what?" I ask, shifting my focus to him.
"Manage to always snag the prettiest girls?"
"Ah," I grin. "It's all about the Cullen charm, my friend. Too bad you come from the Platt side of the family."
He starts ribbing me about god knows what because I can't focus on what he's saying. I've just spotted Bella. I've been dreading and looking forward to this moment since Alice told me she asked Bella to be her maid of honor. I don't think she's seen me yet; Bella's not the type of girl to pretend I'm not here, or ignore the elephant in the room.
I look around, surprised to find that no one seems to care at all that Bella and I are sharing the same space for the first time in a year. Maybe it's only a big deal to me, after all. My mother gives me the smallest of sympathetic smiles when she sees where my attention lies, but I try not to acknowledge it. I don't want her sympathy. No, I don't need her sympathy. There is nothing to sympathize about my relationship with Bella. Or lack of relationship, as is the case.
We're both adults. We both chose to walk away from our relationship. And we've both moved on – according to Alice, at least. It doesn't matter that we were together for five years. I mentally scoff. Those years were tumultuous, at best, especially at the end. No, we're both adults, and both fully capable of spending an evening in each other's presence without turning it in to a car wreck. You know, the kind where you can't look away even though you know you should, because it's clear that somebody got hurt? Those were our specialty. But that was a long time ago.
"Your Aunt Carmen is funny," Angela smiles, interrupting my musing. I'm surprised when I look down to see her at my side, small hand tucked in mine.
I kiss her temple, murmuring my agreement, and hope she doesn't notice my attention was so diverted by my ex that I didn't even feel her come up and grab my hand.
"Are you hungry, babe? Have you already eaten? I'll go fix you a plate, if you'd like." Angela looks at me with her adoring brown eyes and I can't help the broad smile that crosses my face.
"Thanks, hon, that would be great. I'll get us drinks." I respond. Angela smiles and gives me a quick peck on the lips before she crosses the rooftop to where the food is. I couldn't ask for a more perfect girlfriend.
I head to the bar to get our drinks, watching my mother and sister talk excitedly about wedding plans while I wait for the bartender. They've been planning this since Alice was four, I swear. Bella joins them and I watch all three women talk and gesticulate, getting more excited with each suggestion that's put forward. I laugh to myself. No doubt, Bella will suggest something like coming down the aisle on bejeweled elephants or some shit like that. She becomes more and more like her mother every year, not that I'd tell her that.
She's wearing a long, blue halter dress that reveals almost her entire back. I hate that I feel phantom warmth on my palm where it would have been resting on her exposed back just last year. Her hair is thrown up in her typical messy knot thing and I doubt she's wearing any makeup beyond that black stuff girls put on their eyelashes. Mascara? Yeah, mascara. She's wearing flip flops, which doesn't surprise me at all, and I'm sure Alice has already given her hell over it, making sure she knows she'll be wearing heels at the wedding.
I know if I were close enough I'd be able to see the permanent ink stain on the fingers of her right hand. She always insists on using cheap pens for her writing that leak everywhere, and refuses to write on a computer like a normal person. At least not until she's handwritten a draft of whatever article she's working on. God, so many things about her drive me absolutely nuts. And not in a good way.
Angela comes back to me and we find a table to sit and eat at. Eventually, there are toasts and I talk about how much I love my little sister and how I hope Jasper can handle her. And that's the God's honest truth, because I don't think anyone else would be up to the task. I thank Jasper for the honor of being his Best Man and make sure he knows that I couldn't ask for a better brother-in-law. I make Alice cry and Bella nearly snorts champagne out her nose. She's never been very sentimental.
I rejoin Angela's side after my toast and nuzzle her neck while I actively ignore Bella's toast. Angela tries to admonish me for being rude, but we're near the back and no one's paying attention to us anyway. In the end, her propriety wins out and she pulls away from me, rolling her eyes at my antics.
"I'm going to go see if your mother needs any help."
I smile, tangling her fingers in mine and keeping her from walking away from me. She giggles and pokes me in the chest, "Behave yourself, mister."
"Fine," I relent, letting her hand slip out of my grip. "I'm going to have a quick smoke."
She gives me the stink eye, "Smoking is not behaving."
This is an ongoing discussion between us. She hates my smoking. "It's my last one, I swear."
She rolls her eyes, fully aware I'm bullshitting her. It won't be my last. Or even my second to last. I'll quit someday. Angela kisses me again before walking away to find my mom. Bella's toast is over and everyone has gone back to mingling and drinking.
I swipe another beer on my way to one of the deserted corners of the roof, away from the crowd of revelers. I sit myself on the waist-high brick wall and light a cigarette, taking a long, relaxing drag before planting my palms on the rough concrete, leaning forward to observe the people in front of me. And because the universe has a tendency to hate me, I just so happen to have a perfect view of both Bella and Angela.
It's like the cosmos are demanding that I compare them, as I've been so prone and yet loathe to do from the day Angela and I started dating. I knew she was the polar opposite of Bella. I didn't need to analyze why. It was a conscious decision when I met Angela in that bookshop on West 57th. I was looking for someone that was the opposite of Bella; that was the entire point. So why the hell was I questioning it now?
I should love Angela; she is everything a guy could want. Sweet, smart, beautiful, loving. We came from similar families with solidly married parents and a comfortable upbringing. We're both ambitious, but want to have a family, too. I want to love her, she makes me happy and she loves me. She doesn't scoff at my color-coded closet, or give me the silent treatment for hours because I had to take a work call while we were on a date. I do love Angela, I do. I just wonder… no, I love Angela. What we have is right and solid and happy. It's comfortable; we have a routine. She has a drawer at my apartment and we have pancakes every Saturday. I can count on Angela to show up when she says she'll meet me for lunch, and we don't argue over stupid shit like what color our teapot should be.
I'm drawn out of my wondering when I notice Bella has excused herself from her conversation with Jasper's cousin and is walking toward me. She smirks as she gets nearer.
"What's up, Buttercup?" Bella asks, grinning as she plucks the cigarette from my fingers.
I chuckle at Bella's posturing. She always knew how to draw me out of myself, whether I wanted to be drawn out or not. She takes a long drag from my cigarette before blowing the smoke through the side of her mouth. I watch it absorb into the already shitty New York air.
"Your girlfriend is pretty."
I give Bella a look from the corner of my eyes.
"What?" She says defensively. "I'm just stating a fact. No need to be moody about it."
"I'm not being moody."
"Uh huh, tell that to your forehead because the premature wrinkles you're forming say otherwise." She turns and leans back against the low brick wall, her body close enough that the fabric of her dress flutters against my hand when the breeze shifts. Damn hippie dress.
We watch the party in silence, neither of us knowing how to interact this way, as friends… or acquaintances. No, we aren't acquaintances. I know too much about her to ever call her that. I know she has a triangle of freckles on the right side of her ribcage, just under her breast. I know she always sings Aretha Franklin in the shower when she's in a good mood. I know she cries when she watches Armageddon no matter how many times she sees it. We aren't mere acquaintances. And not having spoken in a year means we aren't friends. Just exes, then, I guess.
"Does she, uh, does she know about me?" Bella asks, inspecting the chipped polish on her nails instead of looking at me.
"You mean does she know that we dated for five years, had a big argument and the next thing I knew you had moved to California? Yeah, she knows."
"Edward…" she begins, and I know we're going to rehash the even bigger argument we had the last time we spoke if I let her continue.
"Don't, Bella. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it like that. But yes, she does know about you."
We fall silent again and I drink the last of my beer while Bella continues to smoke my cigarette. I look back at the crowd of people. Alice has turned an open space into an impromptu dance floor and is dragging Jasper around in a sorry but funny attempt at swing dancing. My mom is chatting with her sister while surreptitiously making sure all the guests are having a good time. And, naturally, my dad is discreetly making sure my mom is enjoying herself. My parents sure do set the bar high for relationship expectations.
"So, is there any reason in particular you're sitting here by yourself, being all emo during your sister's engagement?"
I'd been smiling and playing the supportive brother all night. I hated that she knew I was faking. Wait, faking is too strong a word. I hate that she knew I was covering deeper feelings.
"I'm not by myself. You're here," I deflect, snagging my cigarette back from her and taking a drag. I can smell her cherry lip-gloss that has made the filtered end slightly sticky. It's a familiar sensation, but I don't dwell on it.
"Edward?" Angela's tentative voice causes my head to snap up. Apparently I'd been staring at the faint ring of pink that now coated the brown, speckled filter. "Sorry, I don't want to interrupt, but your mom was asking after you."
I hop off the brick wall and move to offer the last of my cigarette to Bella before thinking better of it and dropping it the ground instead, stubbing it out with the sole of my shoe. Angela reaches a hand out to Bella, "You must be Bella."
Bella shakes the offered hand.
"Right," I regain my sense. "Uh, Bella, this is Angela."
"It's nice to meet you," Bella smiles and I can tell it's almost real.
"Nice to meet you, too." Angela's smile is genuine. "I've heard a lot about you."
Unlike most girl's, Angela's tone doesn't carry even a hint of jealousy or condescension, but Bella gives me the side-eye anyway. "Not all from Edward, I hope."
"I've heard nothing but nice things about you, I promise."
That was mostly true.
"Are you ready?" Angela asks, moving to stand closer to me. "We can stay here a bit longer if you need a break. I understand it's a lot of people to be around."
I smile at my girlfriend, she always tries to give me what I need. It's true that I'm not the most social creature and being around this many people is draining for me. I'd much prefer to be at home, watching a movie. Tonight, however, I'm not drained by the crowd, but by my emotions. Damn Bella for knowing that.
I pull Angela closer to me, dropping a quick kiss to the top of her head, painfully aware that Bella is watching our interaction.
"I'm alright. We can go find my mom."
"Okay." Angela leans closer, speaking lowly, trying to keep Bella from hearing, "Have I told you how handsome you look tonight?"
I feel my lips quirk into a smile. "Once or twice. Have I told you how pretty you look tonight? I like your hair up like this."
"Really?" Angela asks, one of her hands reaches up to touch her hair.
I know we've been overheard when I see Bella's face from the corner of my eye. I'm thankful that Angela's back is to her because she's pretending to gag on her finger. I flip her off with the hand resting on Angela's back. Yup, definitely just exes, not friends.
I don't see Bella again for the rest of night and I focus all my attention on making sure Angela has a good time. We tear it up on the dance floor and enjoy ourselves with Alice, Jasper and my parents. I know Bella's around, but I pretend she's not. Angela and I decide it's time to head out when my dad tries to show us how to dougie. That is not an image I ever need to see again.
After heading back to my place, Angela and I climb into my bed following our usual nighttime routine. It's not long before her breathing evens out and I'm left wondering why I feel… let down. It takes me a while to realize that I went into tonight expecting a fight, either from Bella about god knows what, or from Angela about Bella. But Angela isn't threatened by Bella at all, which is good, except I'm carefully ignoring the fact that I know she should be. I hate it, but it's the truth. And I realize that I miss the fight, I miss the passion. I miss being so angry one minute that I want to throw something, and being unable to keep my hands off Bella the next. We were impetuous, and petty, and… and so crazy about each other that we couldn't control anything about us.
I never had to question if I was in love with Bella because it was always right there, simmering under the surface and ready to boil over with the slightest provocation. I never thought I would miss being burned, but here I am, laying in the dark with my perfectly loving girlfriend, desperate to feel… anything.
I fall into a fitful sleep, plagued with swirling dreams that confuse my past with Bella and my present with Angela. They only serve to steel my resolve to throw myself into my present relationship.
And for the next month, I do. It almost works, too. I learn, in giving everything I have to Angela, that I really do love her. I know that if I'd met her first, if I never knew about the fervor that I'm capable of feeling in a relationship, I'd have put a ring on her finger in a heartbeat.
"Edward?" Angela asks, keeping her eyes on her plate. I made us Chicken Parmesan for dinner.
She raises her eyes to meet mine and I'm mildly disconcerted by their intensity. "Do you love me?"
My eyes widen and she shakes her head, holding up her hand. "Wait, that came out wrong. I know you love me. What I want to know is: why do you love me?"
"Are you serious? Angela, you know I love you," I plead, but for what, I don't know.
She smiles, but it's sad. I hate that I've still made her sad, despite my best efforts. "I know you do, but I deserve to know why."
I stand from my chair and move to kneel in front of her, taking both of her hands in mine. "I love you for your kindness, your compassion; the way you always want to make sure I'm being taken care of. You're so giving, and you're the most loyal friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend – hell, person – I've ever met. You are beautiful and smart and absolutely everything I need."
Her smile is still sad and she pushes one hand through my hair, failing in her half-hearted attempt to smooth it. "You're right," she nods, a single tear slipping down her cheek and I don't understand why it's there. "I am everything you need. I'm just not everything you want."
Oh. That's why. "Ange, I –"
She moves her hand from my hair to my lips. "Please, Edward, let me say this. If you start talking… I'll just… I need to get this out, please."
I nod, her fingers still covering my mouth.
"I love you, Edward. And I respect you so, so much for working at us. Don't think I haven't noticed how much you've put into our relationship, because I have. I know seeing Bella at your sister's engagement party last month was harder than you thought it would be –" I open my mouth to argue, but quickly close it when Angela gives me a look that tells me she saw far more that night than I thought. "I didn't blame you then and I don't blame you now. You and Bella have a past, I get that. But I know now that you also have a spark that you and I are missing. I wish we had it, believe me, I've been desperate to have that with you, but we don't."
I'm surprised to find tears running down my cheeks. I wish they were there because she's breaking my heart – that would make me feel like less of an asshole – but I'm really just mad at myself for hurting a girl that deserves so much more than I've given her.
"I deserve to be more than your second best," she continues. "And we both know it."
I pull her down from her chair and into my lap. "You deserve so much more, Angela. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She wipes her eyes and holds my face in her hands. "Don't be sorry. I'm not. Just be happy, okay? With Bella or with someone else, don't settle for second best. You deserve more, too."
She moves out of my arms and kisses my cheek before walking back to my bedroom. Eventually I follow her and help her gather her things from my apartment, which are sadly few considering we were together for over half a year. I walk her to the door and she smiles sadly. We both lean in, needing and wanting one last kiss.
I close my front door after I watch her get on the elevator; I know my doorman will make sure she gets into a cab. I hate myself for feeling relief.
One year later…
Everything about this night is perfect.
The typically temperate New York climate this time of year has decided to be temperamental, spitting rain off and on right up until the party started. The caterers mixed up our order with another party's, so everyone is eating tofu and couscous instead of the expected barbeque ribs. And one of my cousins is nursing a black eye after hitting on an underage relative of my fiancée's in front of her brother.
I sit on the brick half wall of the rooftop and slowly work my way through a beer and a cigarette. I smirk every time she shoots me a look that says she can't wait to get me out of here, and continue to watch the mostly cheerful chaos in front of me. I can't contain my smile as Angela approaches me.
"It's your last one, right?" She grins.
"Of course," I respond as I stub it out on the concrete next to me. "Congratulations," I tell her as I raise my beer in a toast.
"Hey," she smacks me lightly on the arm. "That's supposed to be my line."
I smile. "When are you due?" I know she's told me before, but I can never remember the exact date.
"August twentieth. Ben already has the entire nursery painted and set up. I swear, that man is having more pregnancy symptoms than I am."
I laugh because I know it's true. Ben has been in an excited panic ever since the two of them found out that Angela got pregnant on their honeymoon five months ago.
"It's your own fault," I joke. "Springing the fact that he's going to be a dad on him when he just wrapped his brain around the fact that he's a husband. Geesh, Ange, give the guy a little room to breathe."
She raises one eyebrow at me, "Says the man who encouraged him to elope with me."
"Yeah, well," I shrug. "He wanted to wait until he had your father's approval. No offense, Angela, but your dad is kind of terrifying."
Angela laughs, one of her hands resting on her slightly protruding stomach. This is the first time I've seen her since her wedding, or rather, the small party she and Ben had with friends after running down to City Hall.
It's weird to think that just over a year ago I was dating Angela, especially considering I introduced her to her now husband. He was one of the few guys I liked at work and it's clear as day that he's so much better for her than I ever was.
"It's true. Ben would have been waiting forever if he were looking for a paternal blessing. I think my dad is still slightly mortified that I married someone from Queens, of all places."
"The horror," I mock, putting a hand to my chest.
"Yeah, well, he's lightened up a little now that we live in Boston. He can pretend Ben's from there instead. And telling him he's going to be a grandfather hasn't hurt, either."
We watch the party together in silence for a few minutes.
"It's a lot to take in, huh?" She asks, gesturing to the unruly mingling of my present and future families.
I shrug, "You know me and crowds."
She smirks. "I do. Though if I recall, the last time I saw you like this it wasn't because you were escaping the crowd."
I never gave her enough credit for how well she knew me.
"Edward!" I hear my name shouted over the bustle of the party. Angela and I both watch Bella push her way toward us. "What the fuck? If you were going to hide from our families you could have at least invited me to join you."
I laugh as she moves to stand between my legs and drops her head to my chest. "Sorry, baby," I apologize.
Her warm hands slip under my blazer. "You're forgiven as long as you let me finish your drink and you don't ever leave me alone with your Aunt Carmen again."
"Deal," I murmur into her hair.
She straightens up and turns to face Angela, who has been watching us with an amused smile. "Hey, Angela, it's good to see you again."
"You, too. And congratulations on your engagement."
"Thanks," Bella smiles. "Congratulations to you. You look absolutely amazing. God, I hope I look half as good as you if I'm ever unfortunate enough to have this guy's offspring growing in me."
Angela laughs and I wrap an arm over the front of Bella's shoulders, pulling her back to my chest. "Wow, Bella, you're such a romantic. I'm so happy to know you look so kindly on the event of our future children."
"Oh please, like the thought of a bunch of mini emo Edwards running around doesn't terrify you?"
"Nowhere near as much as the thought of psychotic mini Bellas running around."
Angela shakes her head at us. "You guys keep trying to decide which version of your children will be more terrifying; I'm going to go save the poor soul that's listening to Ben list the pros and cons of cloth versus disposable diapers. We'll come find you both later."
Angela is swallowed by the crowd and Bella lays her head back on my shoulder, resting her hands on the tops of my thighs. "You know, our kids really will be little terrors."
I nod and run one of my hands through the ends of her hair, hanging low over her shoulder. "I know."
I take a minute to fully appreciate that I'm sitting here, holding her, and talking about our future children. A lot has changed since we got back together, and I like to think we're both a little more mature this time around. A lot hasn't changed, though. We're still impulsive and hotheaded, and she still drives me absolutely crazy about ridiculous things most days. But we both recognize it for what it is now, a passion so strong for another person that you can't keep it inside.
"Do you think we can hide here or the rest of the party? We can claim to be chain smokers now and tell your mom that we don't want to infect everyone else with our cancer."
I snort. "I'm sure that would go over well."
"Oh please, like we haven't both been given the cancer speech from Daddy Cullen for years now."
"I blame you for my picking up this habit, anyway."
"What?" She screeches as she spins around to face me. "How on earth is it my fault that you're a smoker?"
"Well if you didn't drive me so effing crazy all the time I wouldn't have to continue using it as an outlet for all the nervous tension you cause me," I smirk.
"You suck. And you know you wouldn't want me any other way but crazy."
I let out a melodramatic sigh and shake my head, "God only knows why, but it's true."
"Aw," she pats my cheek condescendingly. "You're so sweet to me." She takes a step back and yanks on my hand, pulling me off the wall. "Now come on, if you're not going to let me chain smoke to avoid all these people that are here to celebrate our awesomeness then you can at least dance with me."
I grin as I let her pull me toward our family and friends.
Just like her own engagement party, Alice has made room for a dance floor and I watch contently as my sister and my soon-to-be-wife make fools of themselves dancing like lunatics.
"You know," my mom says as she sidles up next to me. "I always hoped you two would find your way back to each other."
I look at her questioningly; my mother never seemed particularly swayed one way or the other when it came to Bella or Angela.
"Don't get me wrong, sweetie, I loved Angela, still do, actually, but anyone with eyes can see that you and Bella have something more. You look at her the way your father looks at me, and that's all I ever wanted for you."
"Why didn't you ever say anything before?" I ask.
She shrugs, "I guess I thought you recognized what you had with Bella the first time around. And then you guys broke up so suddenly and with such finality that there was never really a time to talk about it."
I nod and turn my attention back to Bella and Alice, they're both dancing around Jasper, who looks equal parts amused and mortified. My mom laughs next to me and pushes me toward them, "Go save your brother-in-law."
It's when Alice is somewhere in the middle of her toast to us that I realize how much things really have changed for Bella and me.
"…So I just want to say that I love you, Big Brother, and I know you and Bella are meant to be together forever. You've been through too much not to be. Just try not to kill each other the first year you're married and warn your neighbors about the excessive fighting and making up that we've all seen firsthand."
I kinda want to flip Ali off, but I know my mom wouldn't appreciate it. I'm sure Bella feels the same, but when I look at her I'm surprised at what I find. "Are you crying?" I ask with no small amount of shock.
Bella smacks me in the arm, "Don't be an ass; what she said was sweet."
"I know it was, I just don't think I've ever seen you cry because something was sweet."
She rolls her eyes, causing a tear to roll down her cheek. I grin as I wipe it away. "Yeah, well, I'm marrying you, so apparently this will be the last time, too."
I laugh and she leans into my side. "I love you," I whisper with my lips against her temple.
"I love you, too, ass," she grins.
The conversation has picked back up around us, and a stream of friends and family come by to congratulate us. We both smile and nod and accept everyone's well wishes with as much graciousness as we're capable. Which really means that I cop a feel every time I think I can get away with it. Bella pretends to give me the evil eye, but I know better, and anyway, I can't help it, this woman does things to me.