A/N: Here we are… the last chapter. Thank you to all of you who have supported this story the entire way. I'll leave the rest of my big A/N at the bottom.
Disclaimer: Anything remotely resembling Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer. Any of the stories within, belong to me. Please do not copy or translate without permission.
Land In My Arms
Stunned, I turned in his arms in order to get a better look at his face. Words were a bit of an issue for me at that moment—I tried desperately to form them but all that came out was, "What? But, this…we…"
His eyes held a hint of amusement as he watched me flounder for words. "We what?"
"Isn't it too soon? I mean, you just got home. Are you sure? I mean, dude..."
I trailed off, looking for any sign of teasing in his features. There was a trace of humor (which more than likely was due to the epic floundering of words I had unleashed), but aside from that, I only saw sincerity. Not that I wasn't inwardly thrilled, because I was. It had just come so out of the blue, though.
He shook his head, smiling, clutching me closer to him. One hand rose from my waist to my chin, gently locking my head in place and trapping me in his earnest gaze.
"We've known each other for over a year, most likely been in love with each other for at least that long. And then, over the last four months, we've gotten to know each other in the purest sense of the word. I love you and I want forever with you. Why not start now?"
I stared at him for what felt like an eternity. All the missteps we'd taken to get here...and, so much more than that, all the wonderful times we'd spent together flooded my thoughts. The trip to Catalina, movie nights, sitting on a dock just enjoying each other's company, the way I felt after seeing his face on a small computer screen...
I found that, while the memories of the bad times still felt a bit raw around the edges, the good times far outweighed them. And those raw edges were smoothing themselves slowly, but oh so surely. Simply put, I was in love with him, and the thought of spending the rest of my life by his side filled me with a sense of absolute...rightness. I couldn't stop the corners of my mouth from turning up into a smile.
Seeing the acceptance in my smile, he cleared his throat. "Bella, I love you and want to be with you. Marry me."
"Really?" I said in a tiny whisper.
"Yeah," he said, grinning and pulling me a little closer.
I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him hard on the lips. "Fuck, yes! Oh, crap, I mean, yes!"
Like little bubbles of the happiness I felt personified, his laughter vibrated against my chest as I hugged him for all I was worth.
Pulling back to look at me, he reached up to stroke my cheek with his thumb. "A little shocked?"
"Yeah, maybe. I can't believe it's real."
"I'll show you how real it is."
His lips found mine again in a heart-stopping kiss. I savored the moment, relishing the feeling of his lips on mine. I had to grin when the realization popped up that I'd be feeling his lips on mine for the rest of my life.
I was the first to break away as I crawled up onto my hands and knees to get down off of the bench.
"Hey, where you going?"
"Nowhere." I cocked my head to the side, smiling saucily at him. "Seems that my clothes are in the way."
His face broke out into that huge grin that I loved to see and he moved to rid himself of his running clothes. I had a brief thought that it was a good thing there were no neighbors on that side of the house before we fell together in the window seat, kissing and loving and happy as he began to show me just how very real this was.
A little while later, as the sun blazed high in the sky and touched everything with its golden glow, I sat with him wrapped up in nothing but a blanket. His hands ran up and down my arms, stroking patterns into my skin. I shifted against him lazily, tilting my head back to glance at him.
"Should we tell everyone the news at brunch?"
"That's up to you."
I was okay with keeping it to ourselves for a while. Not that I was necessarily worried about what anyone else would say, but I also didn't want to take any of the attention away from his homecoming. There were also still things to work out between us about work, housing and my schooling, and I worried that the details of the wedding would become highly stressful on top of those major decisions.
I told myself to stop worrying. We'd get through this. If we were able to get to this point, the rest should be easy. Still, I had to ask...
"Do you think they'll be okay with it? I mean, they barely know me and your history with Tanya and all…"
"Stop. My family absolutely loves you. My mom was chomping at the bit to get to know you better, but I asked her to go slowly—they can be a little overwhelming at times. And before you wonder about a ring, I wanted to pick it out together." He reached up to tuck my hair behind my ear. "Bottom line is I just couldn't wait to ask you."
Honestly, I hadn't even worried about a ring up until he mentioned it. I took in my favorite features of his face: the green eyes, the strong jaw line with a trace of scruff. I reached up and kissed him. "I love you."
"I love you more."
"Oh, so now we have another competition between us? You always have to win," I said, laughing.
"No, I don't have to win. I just do," he teased.
"Really? Well, how about I race you to the shower!"
I clutched at the blanket and ran to the stairs. But he was faster. He caught me on the stairs, turning me as I sat down on the landing and he crawled on top of me.
"This could be fun," he said. His lips found that place that made me squirm when the blanket slipped off of my shoulders.
I giggled, trying to push him off of me. "Yes, but not now. We have to get ready for brunch at eleven and you have a two o'clock tee time with your dad."
"Well, then. I think a communal shower would be efficient and quick."
"As long as it's business only, Cullen."
"Pulling out the last name again, are we? This could be great foreplay."
"Only for you. Are you complaining?"
"Not at all. Just stating the facts, sir."
The shower wasn't strictly 'business', but while we showered we decided that we would tell his family and our friends all together, and then make a trip up to see my dad to A) introduce Edward, and B) break the news. I silently hoped my dad wouldn't be too shocked. I was just glad Edward was used to tense situations. A war zone would hopefully be less dangerous than my dad and his gun collection.
I also decided to hold off on telling my mother. I just knew she'd be twenty steps ahead and want to know the details about the wedding, and I so wasn't ready to go there just yet.
I felt like I was floating, a stupid ass smile plastered on my face as we drove downtown. Edward wasn't any better, but he at least had the excuse of being back stateside. When we walked into the Broadmoor hand in hand, I left like a blinking sign must be hanging over my head.
Look everyone, they're engaged!
The hostess led us to the table where our family and friends were waiting for us. I found Rose immediately, surely thinking it was the one place I could look without giving myself away. My mistake. With one look at my face, she caught on, her eyes widening and darting to my hand.
"Did he propose?" she mouthed, animatedly.
I nodded ever so slightly, trying to keep myself in check. Squealing and jumping around like a buffoon would be a dead giveaway.
Yet another mistake—Alice, intercepting Rose's silent communication, overreacted.
"What! Are you guys getting married?"
"So much for an announcement," said Edward, grumbling.
The table erupted in congratulatory hugs from the ladies and a bunch of handshaking and backslapping between the guys.
Once everyone settled down, we ordered our meals and fell into chatter. The ladies were abuzz with colors and flowers, throwing around things like "Sage" and "Eggshell" and "Lily arrangements are simply gorgeous" that flew over my head. I sipped my mimosa and chimed in when required, but the last couple of days had been so overwhelming, in a good way, that I was in a daze during most of brunch.
A couple of times Edward caught my attention, giving me a smile or slight squeeze of the hand. It was easier to accept the attention being lavished on me knowing that he was probably just as overwhelmed as I was.
I was able to stay a few more days as we worked out our plans for the immediate future. Though I loved LA, it was more sensible for me to give up the lease on my apartment and move into the house Edward had a mortgage on. I still had the last of my degree to get through, but, over the next couple of months I would transfer my belongings there and my job to Salt Lake City. Edward had already planned to fly his trips out of there this summer, and I would be able to be based there, too. The commute from Colorado Springs was relatively easy, and I found myself looking forward to the lack of traffic.
Strangely, I didn't feel as if I was giving anything up—if anything, I felt like I was getting so much more.
The day before I was due to go back to work, I called Sam to inform him of the impending nuptials.
"You're kidding me."
"No, I'm not. We decided to move forward because we really don't want to be apart anymore."
"Congrats to you, B. Oh, I knew it'd happen sooner or later," he said, gushing. "So he's moving to LA now? That'll be fun, I guess I'll have to get used to seeing his gorgeous face all of the time."
Silence. "Oh, damn. Girl, are you transferring out of LA?"
I took a deep breath. Of everything that would change, not living near Sam was one of the hardest things for me to come to grips with. "Yeah, we thought we'd work out of Salt Lake instead. It only makes sense."
He let out a big sigh. "Well, that means I have a lot to do."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think you're getting away from me that easily? I could use a change, and I may even move my ass to the Bay area and commute, just like I've always wanted. This could be good."
Tears instantly sprang to my eyes. "You'd come with me to Salt Lake?"
"Honey, I am a wart on your ass, you'll never get rid of me."
"Oh my god! Sam! You're the best. I heart you."
"I love you too, doll."
Now that that part of my news was over, I figured I'd drop the fun part on him. "By the way... would you be in the wedding… for me?"
"You're asking me to be a part of the wedding party?" he almost shrieked.
"Yes, duh. I've asked Rose to be my maid of honor, but I'd like you to stand up with me as well. It's going to be kind of small but you're one of my closest friends and you've played a pretty pivotal role in all of this."
"I'm honored you asked," he paused for a moment. And I thought I heard him sniff. "Excuse me, I'm a bit overwhelmed." He took a big breath. "Of course, I will. I'll even coordinate the damn thing for you if you want."
I'd let out a sigh of relief. "I was hoping you'd say that. Don't tell anybody, but the girls sort of overwhelmed me at lunch with ideas. You know me...I like simple."
"Good. Let's get together when you get back and we'll work out all of the details."
We talked for a little bit longer about transferring and where the hippest places to live were. I had no idea, but Sam was already on his laptop and doing internet searches. I laughed at his enthusiasm, so, so glad he was going to be close to me still.
When I got off of the phone, Edward was standing behind me. "How'd it go?"
"Oh, to say he's excited is an understatement. Looks like he's coming to Salt Lake City with us, too."
"I didn't know it was a package deal." He pulled me over to the couch, settling me into his side and playing with my hair.
"Neither did I," I said, laughing.
The first few weeks of May were spent putting the final touches on my thesis, and calling Edward up at all hours to get his feedback. He was incredibly analytical in a good way, giving me great advice and support.
My lease was due to end at the end of the month, and I was currently living with only the basic necessities. Most of my things had been loaded onto a moving van during one long weekend, and were currently sitting in boxes in Edward's garage to be sorted through later. Our styles didn't exactly match, but I thought it would be fun to mesh them into something cohesive.
It was a good metaphor for Edward and me, actually. We were getting along great, working hard on talking any and everything out and finding it so much easier than keeping our thoughts and feelings bottled up inside. I felt closer to him than I ever had, and couldn't wait until we were married.
I didn't even mind the wedding preparations. Sam was a godsend in that regard.
The presentation of my thesis went off beautifully. I called Edward immediately after to let him know, thanking him for all of his help.
"I just emphasized what you already knew. It was in there," he said.
"Still, I can't thank you enough and can't wait to see you this weekend."
Since it was a departmental function, my graduation was a smaller affair scheduled on a Friday evening. I almost thought of skipping it, but Edward convinced me I'd regret it if I did. He was right. With all of the work I'd put into this, it felt good to be acknowledged. Along with Edward and my dad, my mom and her husband had made it up to see me get my degree.
Renee was absolutely besotted by Edward, gushing over how beautiful her future grandbabies would be. She and I went to dinner the night before my graduation and had a good time going over the events that led to my engagement. She had a great line about things that are worked for being more rewarding, and I couldn't agree more.
After the ceremony, Professor Banner approached my family. He congratulated me and asked, "Are you sure you don't want to keep going and pursue your doctorate? We'd be glad to have you."
"Thank you, Professor, but I'd like to take a little break for the time being and focus on a few other things." I looked over at Edward and smiled.
Destination: Colorado Springs
"Edward, I need to stop, my leg is getting cramped."
"Come on, love, almost there."
Here I was, almost at my peak, but my muscles were burning from this unholy marathon. I was sweaty and sore, and he seemed to have unending endurance.
When I hesitated, he said, "If it's too much, we can stop."
"Who wanted to do this?" I whined.
"You did," he said, laughing.
With a renewed effort, I moved my right hand up the rock face looking for a better purchase to haul myself up. With a few strategically placed finger crimps, and a burst of energy I made the last couple of moves to the top and completed my climb. And then I was glad that I hadn't given up.
Holy crap, the view was stunning.
It was the end of summer, and the mountains of my new home were spread as far as I could see. I'd been getting slowly used to the less hectic pace of life in Colorado as opposed to LA, and this was our first venture into the great outdoors. I'd been working hard at the climbing gym for months learning techniques and building my strength. Nothing compared to climbing in the open air, though.
After a slow rappel to the base to where Edward had me on belay, I shook my arms out to rid myself of muscle fatigue. This was the toughest climb I'd attempted yet, but I was so, so glad I did it.
"Well done," he said, pulling me into him and kissing the top of my head.
"Looks like someone needs to build some upper body strength—that being me ," I said, disgruntled with myself.
"It's like anything else, you have to work at it and build your strength. You do have some nice moves though."
"I think you just liked the view of my ass."
"Obviously. As much as I'd like to keep looking at it, we should probably wrap it up for the day and get some grub."
Even though he was heavier than me, I was taught at the gym how to belay safely for him. I took care in checking his gear and stood ready as his anchor again while he climbed up and cleaned our gear. I marveled at how quickly and easily he moved—there was a definite grace. Watching him was something I would never tire of doing; it almost made me feel giddy. Things were so easy between us—I was thankful every day that we'd found each other again.
With all of our equipment packed up, we headed back to the campsite. We had one more night there before we continued on our meandering trek home toward my new home. No, our home.
Scrambling back down over the giant rock pile we'd hiked up to reach those particular climbs, he always made sure I was right behind him, lending me a hand and helping with the gear. Everything about him these days made me feel like a pile of mush: the way he took my hand as I moved down or his habit of brushing the hair out of my face. I smiled to myself, thinking back to a certain conversation we had several weeks ago—the day he asked me to marry him.
His voice pulled me back to the present. "You were kind of zoning out there. You okay?" He took my gear bag from me and put it on the tailgate of the truck.
"More than okay, just thinking about everything."
"Just that I'm really happy."
He grabbed the loops on the waist of my climbing pants and pulled me to him. "That makes two of us."
To the delight of both of our families, we made the decision to get married in Hawaii. I thought Anchorage would have been a great spot during the summer, but Edward convinced me that we'd enjoy Hawaii much more. Besides, it was where we first met.
With Sam, Rose and Alice in cahoots with the planning, they made it so easy that all Edward and I would have to do is show up. I had no problem with that.
We arrived in Salt Lake City to catch the flight out of there to Maui—to the Grand Wailea Resort, where our families would be waiting. I was way more relaxed than I expected, but having my best friend there with me made it even more so. We walked hand in hand to our gate to wait for the plane to board.
I turned around to see, of all people, Mike Newton walking up behind us with Jessica on his arm. I tugged Edward to a stop.
"Mike, uh, hello. Fancy running into you here."
I really didn't know what else to say. I peered at Jessica, who watched Edward and me with a weird look on her face. Since she was also friends with Lauren, I wondered if she was still upset about the Tanya thing.
Edward nodded. "Newton."
"Hey, Cullen. You guys know Jess? We just got married last month. Ripper of a ceremony in Vegas."
She tossed her hair, clutching onto his arm a little bit tighter. Her ring was obnoxious and something she was obviously trying to show off with the way she kept flexing her hands.
"Oh, well, congrats" I said. In some strange way, they seemed to make the perfect pair—they were both so flashy that they probably had a great time deciding who was the coolest.
"You and Cullen?" he asked, looking back and forth between us.
"Yep," Edward interjected. "On our way to Maui to do the very same thing."
Jessica, probably bored because the focus wasn't on her still, started to look around the concourse, while Mike looked like he just couldn't make a connection between us. "Huh. Congrats. Well, I guess we'll let you guys get to your flight."
We said our cordial goodbyes and headed to the gate.
"That was...interesting," said Edward.
"Not in the least. Do you know who that was?"
"What do you mean?"
I closed my eyes and scrunched my face. "That was 'Pickle Tongue'."
He pulled me to a stop. "You're kidding me."
I closed my eyes, waiting for the teasing. Instead, his lips touched mine; melding them into a soft, sweet kiss.
I smiled against his lips. "Mmm. What was that for?"
"To make you forget about that, and remember this—" He kissed me again in the middle of the concourse.
"Oh Major, you have absolutely nothing to worry about."
"Oh, I know. It was just an excuse to kiss you and let the whole world know I'm in love with you."
"You never need an excuse."
Acting like lovesick teenagers, we boarded our flight in First Class. Rather than risk the stand-by status, we'd purchased the tickets for this trip—flights were notoriously full around this time of the year. Various people we knew came to congratulate us throughout the flight, plying us with everything they could.
"The only thing this flight is missing is the Mile High—"
"Don't say it. Not happening. Besides we do that at home. It's over a mile high in elevation there." I continued to flip through my magazine, feigning irritation.
"Why?" he goaded me. "Come on. One last unmarried romp in a restroom on a full flight where people are standing in line to get in. Doesn't that sound great?"
"Quit winding me up. And yes, passengers still try it on this flight. Every time."
He chuckled, "Don't worry, love. I have other plans."
"Oh you do, do you?" I turned to look at my gorgeous man, wishing we were already there.
He reached up to cup my face. "Yes. I plan to make my wife very happy on our honeymoon and every day after that."
"That's a tall order and nearly impossible to do."
"Can't blame a guy for trying."
I leaned into him to place a kiss on his lips. This man had unnerved me so completely when I first met him, I never imagined we would end up here. When I looked at him, he made my pulse race every time. With everything that we had gone through over the last year, I was so thankful that we made it. I mean, who wouldn't want to spend forever with their best friend?
"All we can do is be the best we can for each other, every day."
"And I plan on doing that forever."
A/N: And now for my big ass A/N…Once again thank you to all of you who have read and reviewed this story. I would love to hear what you liked and what was your favorite part. Your feedback has been invaluable to me.
Thanks to everyone who tweeted, retweeted, blogged and commented on LIMA to your friends.
Hearts to jamiearkin for creating the banner for LIMA and ange_de_laube for creating a blinkie for me. Your talents are fabulous.
Thanks to elusivetwi for your help and insight when I first entered the Pick-A-Pic Challenge. Your thoughts and comments were very much appreciated and taken to heart.
Kimmydonn deserves a medal for wading through my grammar. She put up with my wordiness, my lack of commas and has taught me how not to be afraid of semicolons. She has a YA book coming out in June called 'Cargon: Honour & Privilege'. Watch her blog at Kimmydonn (dot)blogspot(dot)com for news of the release.
And nicnicd…I can't even begin to tell you how truly amazing you are. You have the ability to bring out the best in me by steering me in the right direction, asking me the right questions and especially by reading my mind when I least expect it. With your beta and writing skills and your kick ass taste in music… you flippin' rock. I can't thank you enough.
I am working on a new idea for my next story but I like to write ahead, so it may appear sometime in the summer.
My Best Friend-Tim McGraw