Tainted Love

Thank you for all of the kind reviews & for being so patient with me. *Smooches*

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~Chapter 9 - Christmas

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Greeting cards have all been sent
The Christmas rush is through
But I still have one wish to make
A special one for you

Merry Christmas darling
We're apart that's true
But I can dream and in my dreams
I'm Christmas-ing with you

Holidays are joyful
There's always something new
But every day's a holiday
When I'm near to you
The lights on my tree
I wish you could see
I wish it every day
Logs on the fire
Fill me with desire
To see you and to say

That I wish you Merry Christmas
Happy New Year, too
I've just one wish
On this Christmas Eve
I wish I were with you

Logs on the fire
Fill me with desire
To see you and to say
That I wish you Merry Christmas
Happy New Year, too
I've just one wish
On this Christmas Eve
I wish I were with you
I wish I were with you

Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas
Merry Christmas - Darling
(The Carpenters - Merry Christmas, Darling)

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When we answer the knock at the door on Christmas Eve we're excited to hear caroling. Edward, my dad, and I stand in the open door fighting the winter chill. The choice of song isn't anything I've ever heard before - but we all smile and go along with it. My dad leaves us after a minute to retrieve the cookies we baked the previous night, thinking he had to give them something for their time and efforts…

"Would you be Bella?" A woman from the small group gathered inquires when the song ends.

"I would," I answer with a little apprehension - but am quite curious as to why I was singled out.

"This is for you," she hands me a red envelope and the group makes their way down the drive to a van we failed to notice sooner. Here we go a caroling is emblazoned on the side with a business phone number and we all quickly realize that it was a paid service.

"See who it's from," my dad prods… Edward's expression tells me he knows as well as I do. I was able to get Jake off my doorstep by threatening to call the police and figured that was that… The card he left behind was filled with the same crap he was spewing on my doorstep; how he missed me, craved my touch, couldn't sleep… How he's nothing, with or without me. Okay, so I added that little part, but it's the honest to God truth. Loser…

Still, a very small part of me is riddled with guilt. The only logical explanation I can come up with is - deep down I am a good person, not the monster he created. All of my feelings for him have long since died, he's just playing on my emotions and only because I let him get to me. He doesn't exist… I need to believe that.

"I'll open it later," I insist. I can barely get the words out my chest is so tight.

We all try to move along like it never happened. My father offers us cookies as we settle into the den because he was left holding the tray. Edward starts looking just as sick as I feel and I'm overwhelmed with the desire to set things straight.

"It's nothing, here - we'll open it." I flip the envelope over and break the golden sticker seal.

The card is a fairly generic Christmas card to a significant other. Two bears are nuzzling noses on the front with the greeting; At Christmas time and always, I love you more than I can say. I try not to vomit but I can feel bile rising up into the back of my throat… Inside a few hundred dollar bills fall out with a tiny slip of paper before I can read; Because you are just so wonderful in every single way! Merry Christmas! With all my love, Jake.

I unfold the slip of paper to find a note penned in an unsteady hand. It's with deep regret that I can't be there with you, just know that not an hour goes by that I don't think of you. If only you knew how I hear your voice when others speak, how many times I see your face on any given day on crowded streets. Please abandon the pain of yesterday. Don't let the past reflect the choices of today. Do what you will, but I refuse to give up us. So I'll keep giving you my all expecting nothing in return. For all I have now is time to yearn, forever yours.

I wonder who he had to hire to help him write that haunting message… He even included his phone number. As if I could possibly forget so soon… Even in a moment of desperation, I would never call. Never…

There's no mention of what to do with the money, but it's very typical of Jake. I didn't know what to get you - so I'll keep it impersonal and throw some cash at you so you can get what you want. Then at least I can say I gave you something when there was little to no thought involved on my part. Even after all of these years, he still doesn't know me… The money just adds further insult.

Edward was the first to break the silence. "You need to get a restraining order."

"Ah, Jake… He's harmless. Stupid, but harmless." In sync we both slowly turn to look at my father. "What?" He's so clueless…

"I can't believe you're defending him," I groan.

"God rest your mother's dear soul... You can't imagine the lengths I would go to just to have one more day." His admittance pains my heart.

"Dad, that's different…" So different, huge difference!

"It's going to take time Bells, that's all I'm saying… I'd be disappointed if he didn't try, not that I actually want to see you two get back together. You're a fine young woman… Isn't she Edward?" Oh my God, this is so damn awkward…

"Yes, she is. Yet it would be smart to send him the message that his efforts are not wanted. I think it's time to get the authorities involved." Edward speaks calmly, but his hands have a mild shake to them. I can only imagine the things he would do to Jake if he was able to get his hands on him. He might need to add another line to that spider-web tattoo.

"We can agree to disagree. I still say he's harmless…" I feel awful for Edward. Thankfully my dad starts shoving his face with cookies and the diarrhea of the mouth ends. "What are you going to do with the money?" Too soon… I reach into the card and hand the three bills over to my father like it were money owed.

"You can have it," I offer.

"But it was given to you," he reminds me.

"Just take it!" I wave the bills at him. "Can we stop talking about it now? I'm not going to let him ruin our Christmas. Edward and I traveled all this way to spend time with you! Imagine how this all must make him feel… Could you be anymore ignorant right now?" I huff, completely irritated at my father's behavior. The flames of the fireplace spark and glow blue-green with the addition of the red envelope and its contents. As they dissipate the papers curl and surrender to the licking flames before floating into ash. I close the glass to keep it from blowing out onto the carpet.

"I'm sorry," he apologizes.

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"He means well," Edward insists after my father surprisingly turns in for bed early.

"You honestly believe that?" I laugh softly. I've never been so happy for a day to end.

"Yeah, he's just being a dad." Edward throws an arm around me and scoots in to get cozier than he's allowed himself since we arrived. It's obvious he wants to make a really good impression. He's been wearing long sleeves and while I know it's cold outside, Edward rarely ever wears anything more than a t-shirt inside. I can't help but feel like he's hiding parts of who he is to impress my dad and it's all lost on him anyway… "Wait until you meet my mother now… I should warn you, she doesn't have much of a filter either. I think that comes with old age…" he laughs softly.

"It's going to be hard to top my dad…" I quip.

"Well… I've never brought anyone else home… So, I'm kind of expecting her to overwhelm you with a barrage of questions. It's just who she is, she needs to know everything."

"Never?" I nearly squeal, in complete denial and disbelief. How does a man get to this stage in life without ever bringing a woman home?

"Why do you sound so surprised?" He laughs at me. Laughs…

"It's weird… Never, really?"

"No, and why is that so weird?"

"It's a lot of pressure," it means that they're going to think that we're serious! I'm not sure if we've reached that stage yet…

"You've met my mother before, she's always liked you… You'll be fine," he assures me with a gentle squeeze.

I excuse myself under the premise of making hot cocoa. Then go through a fit of facial expressions in the kitchen. Dear God - I want to scream! Truthfully, I never really gave Edward and I too much thought. We agreed to be exclusive and he's been doing a fine job of making me forget what's his face ever existed. The sex is amazing and truly I can't ask for anything more at this point.

If I allow myself to think about it - there's all the what if's that tag along and they drag me down to a dreary place. I honestly don't know how our relationship is going to hold up once I find a job. I imagine with what little time we'll have left to spend together we're bound to get frustrated… It would probably come to a mutual end eventually…

I almost get a little misty eyed thinking about it…

"Need some help?" Edward offers the second he steps into the kitchen.

"I've got it, just trying to find where he keeps his marshmallows - if he has any…" I mutter as I start flipping through cabinets.

"Slow down." When his hands meet my shoulders, I melt into him. All of the tension drained with a single comforting touch. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"I'm just getting ahead of myself, I'll be fine…" I slow my movements and take a deep breath.

"Then we better get to bed soon - so Santa can come." His plea amuses me - but it's the kisses he plants along my neck that lure me into believing that sort of magic…

"We better," I insist.

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Christmas morning comes at six-thirty. My father is very keen on tradition… I wish I had waited until at least nine as a child, but it's too late for that… Edward is exhausted, I don't think he made it back to the guest room until well after three. However he too is in love with the idea of tradition and coffee helps.

The boys sit at the kitchen table with my father sharing all sorts of memories from Christmas's past. Including the fact that I was the one issuing the wake up call until well into my early twenties… "Okay, so I was big on Christmas!" Edward is eating up everything he says with a huge grin. I try not to roll my eyes and get the cinnamon buns in the oven in record time.

"I still love Christmas, always will. Never did I mind baby-girl. Dare I say I'm slightly disappointed I had to take over. I miss the days when you'd wake me on Christmas morning…" My dad speaks so fondly, I'm almost sad I couldn't give that to him.

"If you go back to bed, I'll wake you when the rolls are done baking," I offer - giving him a small pat on his shoulder.

"I'm already up, maybe next year…" Go figure, him taking me up on my offer to get rid of him and end his embarrassing stories would be too easy… "If you didn't get up fast enough, she'd go for the feet. Tickle and pull! Don't let her size fool you," he laughs.

"I hope your mother is as animated as my father," I force a smile and join them at the table. Edward rubs my knee under the table and while it's not suggestive in any way, I could pounce him, again… Bella's definitely got her groove back…

We make small talk until the rolls finish baking. My father inquires about our plans and asks Edward about his family. They get along really well and it's apparent when my father isn't going off on a tangent about my ex-husband like Edward doesn't exist - he does in fact have a great deal of respect for him. I'm so glad today is going better than last night… Edward seems much more relaxed, he sits awfully close once we settle in the living room to open presents. We decided to get that out of the way while we wait for the rolls to cool.

Just like previous years, my father plays Santa. Making all sorts of references to present size and how I must have been a very good girl, yada-yada. He does the same for Edward which I find hilarious. We each end up with several presents stacked before us, some are even labeled from Santa in various pens.

We take turns opening them.

Bella gets a sweater with a beautifully woven scarf and eight hundred dollars in an envelope - from dad. I don't know who he's kidding, he gives me five hundred every year - part of my inheritance as he calls it, so the other three must be Jake's…

Edward gets a pocket knife - from Santa. (In dad's pen.)

Dad gets a new fishing reel - from Bella.

Bella gets a kindle slash I-pad type of gadget, velocity something or other… - from Santa (In Edward's pen!)

Edward gets a Bears keychain with an apartment key - from Santa. (In Bella's pen)

Dad gets a couple of war history movies - from Edward.

Bella gets the as seen on tv window and door alarms - from Santa (In dad's pen.)

Edward gets a redeemable beer of the month subscription certificate - from dad.

Dad gets the expensive fishing lure he's been talking about for two years but is too cheap to buy for himself - from Santa (In Bella's pen)

Bella gets a pair of black leather boots, size seven - from Edward. Thankfully my father doesn't have any witty retorts other than they're nice.

Edward gets a sappy scrapbook filled with various trinkets old and new - from Bella. He seems genuinely amazed and grateful - probably because he didn't think a lot of the ticket stubs and whatnot were saved…

Dad gets a gift certificate wrapped inside a Wheaties cereal box for the local sporting goods store - from Santa. (In Edward's pen.)

We stopped to take a break to eat our cinnamon rolls. They were barely warm, but still very good. My father couldn't stop tinkering with his new fishing reel… The gifts from Edward were really nice, above and beyond what I had expected. I'll admit I was feeling a little guilty for not spending more, not that I really have it to spend frivolously - but what do you get a guy who seems to have everything including the money to buy whatever he wants?

Edward finished his breakfast at record speed so he could get back to flipping through the pages of the scrapbook. Seeing him so charmed by my shoddy craftsmanship warmed my heart. I had this fear that he would think it was stupid, but he was genuinely behaving like it was the best gift he'd ever received. So intrigued and eager to get to the next page… Being a pack-rat, it was hard to give up those items. I figure if it doesn't work out it's probably best he keep them anyway; spare me the grief of lingering over them again and again.

We finish unwrapping the rest of the presents. Ornaments, socks, hats and gloves, boxes of candy… Basically all of the stuff that's too big or fragile to fit into a stocking. Nothing that's really too memorable… Of course like every year, my father has placed an orange in each of the stockings on the mantle. It's tradition. Thankfully Edward doesn't ask because my father would go into a tangent about how years and years ago when fruit was scarce and considered sacred… Yeah, it would take about an hour or so.

I can't remember a time I laughed or smiled this much on Christmas… Jake ruined a lot of things for me, little by little he sucked the joy out of everything. To think I could have had this last year, or the year before, or the year before that. I truly failed myself for far longer than I ever had to or intended to. It's hard to reflect with a clear head and not feel like a disappointment.

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We arrive at Edward's parents late for dinner. It wasn't intentional, but with visitors arriving at my dad's house for dinner we got caught up and lost track of time. I felt a little awkward going in since there were so many people. The house was decorated so beautifully and different from what I could remember. All of their Christmas décor was pristine, like it had been rented and set out by professionals. Everything was matchy-matchy, which was a little intimidating. It made my father's house appear frumpy in comparison. I knew Edward probably didn't care about such things, but I couldn't help but make those comparisons.

"Isabella, it's so good to see you." Immediately his mother envelopes me in a big hug at her first opportunity to escape the kitchen. It was very nice and so comforting. It made me forget how much time had elapsed since I last visited.

Edward's brothers were home for the holiday. I felt a small pang of guilt for not inviting Alice… That passed quickly once Edward's niece Emma approached with a doll she wanted help dressing. I was taken back by how trusting she was. A spitting image of Emmett when he was just a boy, but her mother Rose also has very similar coloring. If it weren't for my father giving me insider info, I wouldn't have a clue who most of them were - it had been so long…

Little by little everyone introduced themselves. There was a lot of extended family invited which ended up relieving some of the pressure. Various conversations ensued and I didn't end up being the center of any of it surprisingly…

Until after dinner…

"Thank you for offering to help. I'm just going to rinse them, the maid will take care of it all in the morning…" Her admittance catches me off guard and I find myself agreeing with a soft nod. Feeling useless, I turn to go…

"You know Edward is very smitten with you…" I stop in my tracks and turn back.

"As I am with him," I smile politely.

"I heard about your unfortunate situation… Edward's grown and there's no telling him anything, he's always done what he wants to do consequences be damned." I'm left speechless and can't find the words to even begin to form a reply… "So I'm going to tell you… I know you just got out of a bad relationship, but you're the first and only girl Edward has ever brought into our home… Which is pretty telling, don't you think?" I can't tell if she genuinely likes or despises me at this point…

"It is…" I agree. I knew they'd make that jump just as I had expected…

"Promise me no matter what, you'll be honest with him. Don't string him along if you don't have the same goals. Edward should have been married yesterday," she laughs and I force a laugh, ha-ha…. "Work, work, work - it's all those boys want to do," she sighs… "I don't know what to do with them. Jasper is next on my list," she shakes her head symbolizing her frustrations…

"Edward makes time for me," I nod. Sometimes…

"I'm happy to hear… I have nothing against you Bella, really. I'm a mother, that trumps everything - it's what I do." She runs her hands down her torso and smoothes down her dress, but it's quite apparent she still wears the pants in the family.

"I understand." Yes and no, not really…

"Good, now that we've got that out of the way… We should join them and get started on opening the presents…" She puts a dirty bowl in the sink, wipes her hands on a kitchen towel and ushers me out before I have a moment to reflect. It's so glaringly obvious we had a little chat… Enough that Edward appears perturbed.

"I told you," he whispers in my ear under the guise of stretching an arm around me once I sit beside him on the couch. I can't even put into words what just happened in there… Maybe she had a few too many glasses of wine?

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I'm not as interested when it comes to unwrapping gifts over at Edward's parents house. I brought a bottle of wine and some of the cookies we baked, having no idea that there would be a big gift exchange. At least I didn't expect to be included in it…

I felt awful and apologized profusely. Edward accepted full blame for not telling me and the family made small jokes about it… Though to be honest, I'm not sure even he expected it. I received a few sweaters, a Christmas themed snow globe, a vanilla scented candle, and a necklace from his parents. A platinum heart locket decorated with diamonds along the outer edge and my name inscribed in a script font in the center; Isabella. Immediately I knew his mother had selected it, since she's big on using formal names. It was all so overwhelming, really. Even his grandma gave me five bucks in a generic card. I wanted to run away if only to save myself further embarrassment.

When everyone finished unwrapping, I was relieved it was over…

But then it wasn't…

"Edward… has something he wants to give to Isabella…" His mother makes this grand announcement.

I shift my gaze to Edward at the exact time he responds, "I do?"

"Don't get cold feet now," his brother Emmett offers with a laugh.

I can see the fear and trepidation in Edward's body movements, he's so stiff. "I was going to wait until later," Edward announces.

"Pretend it's later, I want to see!" Even his grandmother is pushy…

"You tell him Gram," Jasper concurs.

All eyes are on Edward… He rises from the couch and not a moment later extends his hand for me to take. Confused, I go along with it…

When he reaches in his pocket - only then do I connect the dots. I wasn't expecting this - I hadn't even thought of this moment. I mean, I had - but only in my dreams. Reality - never… Knees don't give out on me now… My head begins to swoon or spin, same difference really…

Dear God, in front of his entire family… Edward gets down on one knee… The room is filled with gasps, cheers, and squeals of excitement from people I hardly remember and barely know.

"I wouldn't do this without your father's blessing - and well, he didn't kill me." Edward jokes and already I can feel tears forming in my eyes. Of course my father would say yes, he wants grandchildren yesterday!

"I know this is very… sudden. Before you say no, believe me when I say I fully expect you to…" He starts…

"Say yes, say yes, yes…" His family encourages… Holy fuck!

"If I could have a do-over in this life, there's only one thing that I would change. I regret that I didn't seize the day way back when… When I had the opportunity. This is just another moment in this lifetime… I don't know what the future holds - I just know that each moment is precious and I don't want to go on wasting it. I want to make my intentions clear while I'm still able to do so. You know, just in case one of us gets run over by a bus tomorrow…" He teases… His words are so fluid, but it's obvious he's incredibly nervous by the frozen death like grip he has on my hand. I laugh softly only because there are bigger realities that he faces on a day to day - a bus should be the least of his worries…

"See, you're laughing - I've already done my job for today…" he quips… And I can no longer contain the tears from falling. I'm a mix of emotions, so many - that I can't even make enough sense to pin point everything that I'm feeling. I'm all over the place. It's quite reminiscent of when I first found out about the affair… I didn't know whether to laugh, scream, or cry and ended up doing all of the above and losing parts of my sanity in the process.

"I love you. I don't think that's a secret - and I'm going to tell you everyday until you get tired of hearing it from this day forward for as long as you'll tolerate me." More tears… He opens his hand and presents a small gold ring with a tiny little sapphire… "Story time…" I don't know what to make of it, my heart is beating out of my chest and my cheeks are being held captive by waterfalls of tears….

"For those that don't know Bella… She was my first love, my first everything… I bought this ring oh, fourteen or so years ago after saving forever - or what seemed like forever at the time. It was meant to be a promise ring, but I was too scared to give it to her, to you… That night at the carnival it was burning a hole in my pocket…" More tears… Fuck! I keep wiping them away, but they flow in steady streams… In front of his entire family to boot.

"What would end up being our last night together before you went off to college. I was stupid, so stupid Bella… I don't know if this little ring would have been enough - that's why…" He places the small sapphire ring into the palm of my hand and reaches in his pocket again…

"This time around… I'm not taking any chances." He produces a massive solitaire diamond on a platinum band encrusted with even more diamonds. It's definitely more than a carat and my mouth is suddenly very dry. "I bought this ring a few weeks ago, the day after you wore those silly reindeer pajamas to be specific. I knew then in that moment, any woman that's willing to embarrass herself to make someone else smile - is my kind of girl." I laugh through more tears…

"I guess it's a good thing I wore them then," I choke out.

"But, you're not supposed to say yes," he argues with a smile…

"Say yes, say yes, yes…" His family encourages, most of them misty eyed or moved to tears too from Edward's story telling…

"Shhh… let me finish," he scolds.

"Damn, get to it… Before you bore her to death and miss your opportunity again." Emmett quips.

"You are so bad Em, that was terrible…" Jasper scolds through soft laughter…

"Shut up, all of you. Except Edward, you can continue honey…" Edward's mom speaks up and everyone listens…

"If you say yes and remember I don't expect you to. I promise there will be a long engagement… As much time as you need."

"Not too long," his mother inserts.

"Esme, let them do what they want…" Edward's father eventually chimes in to shush his mother.

"Nobody listens to me anyway…" Esme huffs with a shrug. Edward shakes his head softly… I can't take my eyes off of him. I anticipate and anticipate…

"So many years passed. I honestly thought I'd never see you again… And here we are." Now it looks like he's about to cry, glossy emeralds…

"Here we are," I repeat.

"I want to grow old with you. Alzheimer's old," he adds. "I'm so nervous…" His hands have a visible shake… "Why is this last part so hard?" He blinks and brushes something from his eye, like he has something in it… Suppose it wouldn't be very manly to cry in front of your brothers…

"Because you keep saying you expect her to say no! That was the sweetest story I've ever heard. Ask her Eddie, she'll say yes…" Gram adds her two cents.

Ask! Quickly before I faint," I blurt and a few giggles float through the room.

"There will never be a perfect moment, but this is our moment… Not today, but someday… Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? Marry me Bella…"

"Yes!" Gram was right, I couldn't say no.

Divorced to engaged in the same month.

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Not long after, we leave to try to catch the tail end of the party going on at my father's house. His family requests that we keep them updated on the wedding plans….

"If you felt pressured into saying yes, I'll understand." Edward speaks, giving me an out the minute we get settled back into my dad's car. "Would you have said yes, if not…" he sounds hopeful and looks a little lost when it comes to finding the right words he wants to say.

"Honestly, when you first reached in your pocket I was going to say no because well - it's crazy." I blurt, too honest. "That night at the carnival, I would have said yes if you asked. Of course you'd have had to convince me you weren't joking first. Really, that's all I wanted from you then Edward. To tell me I was more than just someone you liked to hang around and sleep with sometimes. I felt used and convinced myself I thought more of you than you ever would of me… Then I conjured up a dozen reasons why it probably would have never worked so I could forget about you."

"I know, I screwed up…"

"You go from liking me to telling me you love me in a crowd of at least thirty people… I don't know what we're doing, but if you're serious…" I give him an out.

"I'd marry you today if the court house was open to obtain a marriage license. If you need to ask, that's how serious I am Bella." What happened to a long engagement…

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"Did you kids have a good time?" My father asks the minute he tears open the door. He's so obvious…

"We did," I raise my hand and show him the ring.

"Wow," he pulls my hand closer to inspect it.

"It's real," Edward confirms at the exact same time my father does.

"It had better be," my father grins and slaps Edward on the back of his shoulder as we move into the house.

My extended family isn't nearly as excited as Edward's. In fact they think it's obscene… Not much is said to me - but I can spot the leaning whispers from a mile away. Rooms fall silent when I enter them… I'm pretty sure I heard my aunt refer to me as a hussy while chatting up a cousin.

Maybe I am stupid…

Or perhaps I just made the smartest decision of my life; the one I should have made to begin with…

I escape to my bedroom and dial Alice to wish her a Merry Christmas. Immediately she wants to know how my holiday is going with Edward…

"You were right," I give in.

"I told you! I'm always right…" I can't help but laugh at her little gloat. I'm sure she didn't predict a marriage proposal. In fact I'm a little hesitant to tell her…

"How's it going over at your Uncle's?" I inquire.

"Gram burned the turkey," she whispers. "The Chinese food should be here soon. My aunt gave me a stunning Coach purse and a matching wallet!" By her tone it sounds like the great gift made up for the burnt turkey. "So what did lover boy get you?"

"An e-reader computer type thing…" Gadgets are lost on me, I hardly use my cell phone and even that is pretty basic… "Black leather boots, and a ring.." I quickly add.

"A ring? I love jewelry," she gushes. "Do tell…What does it look like?" I pull the phone away from my ear and still I can hear her loud enthusiasm…

"An engagement ring…" Sorry Alice, you won't be borrowing this piece of jewelry… Wow, that silenced her…

"Bella," she finally scolds in a huff.

"Someday, not today… We agreed on a long engagement," I assure her.

"What are you doing?" I honestly don't know… "What happened to being independent and taking it slow? Seeing what's out there…" She ridicules with an exceptional amount of talent - pretty much guaranteeing that she'll be an excellent mother, someday…

"Hey, you're the one who pushed for me to go home with him." She did! I feel like I'm arguing with my mother…

"That was entirely selfish on my part… Bella, you know I love you. But, how can you not see that this is a bad idea?" Honest Alice…

"You had to be there…" I suggest. "It was more than just a proposal… Okay, I'm a sap!" I submit.

"So what are you going to tell him?"

"Nothing, I said yes." What can I say?

"I can't believe he's that insecure…" she laughs, but even her laughter sounds annoyed.

"I wouldn't say that. You weren't there Alice, it was really sweet. He gave a long speech about seizing moments… And I decide to seize mine."

"Which was incredibly stupid," she adds quickly - sputtering out those words.

"Maybe…" I surrender, somewhat.

"What the hell are you thinking? Bella, come on…" She pleads…

"I don't understand why you're so bitter… Is it because you haven't even received a first proposal and here I am on my second?" I snap.

"Bella…"

"Alice, just be happy for me." I hate arguing with Alice. You can never win an argument with her.

"I might consider it if I had an inkling as to why you'd actually say yes. This is absurd!"

"I know it's crazy… Maybe that's why I said yes. My whole life, I've played by the rules - catering to everyone around me. For once it's nice to have someone cater to and care about my needs. What if this was the life I was supposed to have all along? The life I would have had if I didn't listen to everyone around me telling me what a loser Edward was."

"But he was a loser Bella! He would have never pulled himself together with you tip-toeing and tolerating that kind of bullshit. He would have dragged you down with him! It would have festered and probably ended a hell of a lot sooner than your marriage to Jake…"

"We don't know that…" My tone is but a decibel above a whisper. I don't have it in me to continue to fight and argue with her.

"No, but when you make smart rational decisions those are the kinds of choices you make. If Jake didn't cheat, you'd still be off in la-la land with him." Her assumptions couldn't be more wrong… words sting.

"La-la land, that's a way of putting it… I have to go Alice, I've already left Edward to the wolves for too long…"

"Don't be mad Bella, we'll talk when you get back…" Alice gently insists.

"Yeah, Merry Christmas… Love you," I end the call and take a deep breath…

What the hell am I doing? In that moment it felt so right… Now I'm not so certain.

.

.

~End Chapter 9 - Christmas