This was written for the Fic A Pic challenge hosted by Souplover9, Spanglemaker9 and TallulahBelle. http:/www . fanfiction . net/~ficapiccontest

The challenge was to write a one-shot using this picture as inspiration: http:/i839 . photobucket . com/albums/zz314/MsTallulahBelle/pattinsonlife-rm002 . jpg (remove the spaces)

Go check out the other submissions; there are lots of good ones!

Lots of thanks to Faireyfan for her thoughtful commentary and many helpful suggestions :)

She always said things like, 'There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments!' in a breathless voice while down on her knees in front of him.

Today her bandana was baby doll pink. He loved to sit on the brick beside her and watch the way her hair waged war against whatever she used to capture all the tousled wildness of it. This afternoon it was a halfhearted do-rag. It might take ten minutes or an hour, depending on what she was planting, but the hair always won.

"Any more drinks in the fridge?" Her voice was muffled in the English ivy.

He stretched out on his back, reaching blindly for the door of the mini fridge she kept under the overhang. It might have been faster, certainly less awkward, if he'd gotten up and walked three feet but that would have been too easy.

He gazed up at the sky as he fumbled, chilling his fingers. "Feels like beer."

"It is."

"Twist?" He thumbed the bottle cap.


He pulled himself into a sitting position and was treated to an excellent view of her ass in the air. He blew out a low wolf whistle and grinned when she looked at him upside down from between her legs.

"Oh, don't sit there," she said as she sat up and wiped her face with a shirtsleeve. "Look, you're getting dirt on your nice pants."

The bandana hadn't lasted five minutes, but then she wasn't really a pink sort of person. A deep purple maybe, or a vibrant red… her head might have tolerated those a bit longer.

"It's okay," he said, and wiggled around to prove a point.

"Well, you say that now. You'll be singing a different tune when you have to stand up in front of people and do a presentation or something." She frowned when the little shovel wasn't doing what she wanted, so she got in there with her fingers.

He laughed because her mind went to the strangest places. "What? Why in the world would I be giving anybody… what did you say? A presentation?"

"That's what singing is isn't it? A presentation of notes and words and maybe some instruments… and I made a joke there but you missed it." She turned so he could see her mock pout before giving her attention to the roses. These were her favorites, she'd said one time, coral colored and salmon pink. She loved them because they reminded her of the beach even though she'd never been there.

"Oh I caught it. I was just going to save you the humiliation." He brought the beer bottle to his lips to disguise a smile.

"And I bet you thought you were kissing me later on didn't you? Well, I've got news for—"

"Bella, I'll be doing so much more to you than kissing," he cut in. "I'd explain every single detail to you but I'm afraid your little pansies there might shrivel up in embarrassment."


"Whatever. They look like pansies."

She ignored his feigned ignorance in horticulture. "Well, I guess you'll have to just whisper in my ear so they don't hear," she said, lips quirked, sounding very put out.

He made love to her on the soft grass under the stars and the clementine tree.

Her hands couldn't decide if they wanted to coil themselves in her hair or spread out in abandon as he worked her over. "Edward… people can see us," she said, fitting her words in the spaces between humid little pants and gasps for air. She looked down at his head, the warm bronze bleached to silver in the moonlight. They were on the roof of her apartment where she'd built her masterpiece, a garden, lush with green, a floating earthbound anchor in the heart of midtown. The buildings towered over them and warm window lights blurred and rippled through her eyes because she felt so much. He made her feel so much.

His teeth nipped her thigh. "Let them look," he muttered, licking her but not exactly where she wanted. "Maybe they'll be inspired." He watched her as his piano fingers played along the inside of her thigh before thrusting rough, twisting, once, twice… and then she forgot she was displayed before the entire city.

He held her down as she arched and pulled grass out by the roots, the deep blush of her nipples rivaling any of the buds on the trellises. She tossed her head and called for him over and over, softly, loudly, desperately.

He crawled up her body and kissed her, whispering, "Shhh, baby… the pansies…"

He curved around the back of her, shielding her secret places with strategically placed limbs.

"Come with me," he asked for the thousandth time. "There's room on the bus for a few plants. That'd make you feel at home, right? And I'll make sure we have flowers in every hotel room."

"I only need one thing to feel at home, anywhere." Her voice was quiet and she kissed the inside of his elbow.

"What then? Anything. Tell me."

He felt her mouth curve. "You."

"Me?" He was absurdly pleased.

"I can't believe you have the nerve to sound surprised," she laughed.

"You have me always," he murmured. "Anyway you want me." He pulled his tongue up the middle of her back, rubbing his now nine o'clock shadow across her shoulder blades to make her shiver.

"I know," she said softly as he turned her over and kissed her on the mouth, giving back her own salt and sweet tang. Squealing, she bucked against him because his hands were on the move, tickling, teasing, then dipping through her curls. He chuckled, reveling in his knowledge of her and how to send her flying.

The moon was high when their hearts slowed. A cricket sang nearby and he wondered how in the world a cricket had ever found its way to the roof of a New York City apartment building.

"Who would take care of my garden?" She asked the stars, plaintive.

"I'll hire a service," he answered, pulling her closer because unfortunately he knew the end to this particular conversation.

She drew back a little to look at him. "I can't leave my kids."

"Baby, the school can hire a substitute. There's a whole list of them, all lined up, waiting for some poor teacher to get sick so they can swoop in and save the day."

"But I can't just leave for months on end," she said, grabbing his hands when he would pull away. "I'd lose my job and I have bills to pay, rent…"

"I have more than enough money for both of us. I know how you feel about it but I'll pay your rent, utilities, your salary, whatever. Twice over. I don't think you realize just how much I have, fucking wasting away in some bank account." He sighed audibly. This was pointless but he could never stop himself from trying.

"I take care of myself, Edward," she said darkly, then softened when he was quiet. "You'll call me from the road," she whispered against his lips, his eyelids.

"Yeah," he said into the tangles of her hair, "I will."

"And you'll visit when you can." A sniff.

"You know I can't survive without you for long." He opened his eyes. "Don't cry, baby. Everything will work out. I'll miss you like crazy but it'll be over before you know it."

"I'll wait for you, Edward."

"You can change your mind anytime. I'll come get you. Doesn't matter how far." He closed his eyes, wondering if he would ever find the words to make her believe he was hers.

"Just don't forget me."

She was oh so dramatic. He wished he could laugh but he couldn't stop his heart from clenching at the fear in her eyes. Forcing a smile he said, "as if I could, sweet girl." He took her palm and laid it against his temple. "You're seared into me, like a brand, right here." He slid her hand lower to the beat in his chest. "Here." And then even lower, making her gasp and giggle. "And here," he grinned.

"Again?" she breathed. "Like this?"

"Yes, yeah. Like that… ah fuck, exactly… like that."

She saw that he'd called during her 4rd period class, about 30 minutes ago. Blushing, she broke away from her lunch group in the teacher's lounge, thumbing his speed dial number. No music classes on Thursdays meant that she could slip inside for a little privacy. She closed the door behind her quietly as she dialed, the waving ribbon of sunlight on the carpet holding her spellbound for a moment.

"Bella," he breathed, picking up immediately. "I only have a couple of minutes."

"I'm sorry but I couldn't call before now—"

"Shh, it's okay, I just wanted to tell you I loved you before we took off."

She touched her face with a little surprise. Her cheeks were wet but her voice stayed steady. "I love you too. So much."

"So much me too," he whispered. "I'll text you when we land."


He spoke sharply to someone off the phone. "I know- getting off now… Bella, I love you, baby."

"I love you too… bye. …Wait, Edward-" she begged, but the call had ended. She sat back, feeling strangely chastised. Which was ridiculous because the man had just told her he loved her.

The tour was five months. Five months without him.

She'd only known him for two. She did love him but she found it hard to trust this thing between them just yet. How could she give up her career, her garden, her self-respect… to become what essentially amounted to a groupie? Part of her wondered if she was just his distraction in the off months. She was quirky, a novelty; she liked to play in the dirt with roots and trowels and fertilizer. And he was Edward Cullen. The name itself was a definition. How naïve of her to think he didn't have other distractions tucked away around the rest of the world.

As a teen, she'd followed his life through magazines, her radio, internet fan sites. She watched him interviewed on the E! channel and clapped when he accepted the Grammy for Album of the Year. And then at age 22 her life changed forever when Edward Cullen shyly asked her name behind the jazz section in her favorite vintage record store. It took her a full minute to even answer him because all she could think about was the nearly pornographic picture she'd set as her phone background from his Vogue photo shoot the month before.

Edward was a man of beautiful words and beautiful intentions. Sometimes it felt like she could see forever in his eyes, hear it in the things he whispered but he'd never actually strung words together that unequivocally said you are my future Bella, you're it for me. Maybe she was only seeing what she wanted to see. It wouldn't be the first time she'd imagined something that wasn't there. And it wouldn't be the first time she'd conveniently ignored truths that were staring her right in the face, either.

She sat on the floor, miserable, sandwiched between piano recital booklets and a box of boomwackers when her phone buzzed with a new text.

I love you like a starfish

She laughed through her tears. Crazy fool.

What does that mean? She texted back but it was slow trying go through. He'd probably turned his phone off. She would have to remember to ask about it when she talked to him tonight.

But she didn't, because she always forgot what was in her head the second she heard his voice.

"Edward, we'll find it man. Chill." Jasper leaned back in the chair until it popped and groaned, fingering his guitar, watching his best friend wear a path in the rug.

"Yes… It's an iPhone. Call me at the number I gave you… yeah, Jasper Hale's phone." Edward grimaced and chuckled weakly. "Yeah, I'll tell him. No problem. Thanks." Edward flopped onto the couch, rubbing his face, looking at Jas through his fingers.

"What." Jasper strummed a soothing chord. "Let it all out, baby."

"You have a few admirers at that last hotel…" he went still. "Shit, I can't even remember what the name was." Edward lay down on the couch and threw his arm over his eyes. He was naked without his phone. Three months of talking or texting with Bella everyday made that thing as essential to life as breathing. The fact that he had pictures of her on there worried him too; they weren't anything indecent, but he didn't like the idea that someone could potentially get to her through him.

"Dude. Just call your flower girl from my phone. Problem solved." To Jasper, everything was easy.

"Yeah, I would but…" Edward sighed. "You'll laugh, it's so stupid."

Jasper was smart enough not to. "Never."

"I don't know her number, okay? She's been on my speed dial for so long that I have no idea what the fuck her number even is anymore."

"Seriously? Well, call the operator or some shit, Edward. Let your fingers do the walking." Jasper raised his eyebrows and smirked at him, picking out the tune to Trouble by Ray LaMontagne.

Edward threw a pillow at his head. "That doesn't work on cell phones, dumbass."

"Really?…Huh. Well, that sucks, man. I'm sure you'll figure it out though. We only have two months left anyway." Jasper yawned and popped his knuckles. "Hey, you up for a little Wii?"

Edward made sure his door was locked before he lay in bed that night after the show. The last thing he needed were chicks wandering in, with their little flip cameras, sniffing around for pot, sex or whatever it was they thought would get top billing with their girlfriends in the morning. He ought to tell Garrett and the younger guys to take it outside or to the other bus but he didn't have the heart. After all, that was him just a couple of years ago.

Exhaustion claimed every part of his body but he couldn't get comfortable, much less go to sleep. His mind was racing, and not just with his anxiety over being unable to tell Bella the reason why he wasn't calling her.

He'd committed to this band, hell, they'd practically grown up together and being here was right thing to do. Emmett and Jas were like brothers. They'd toughed it out, side by side in the seedy bars and frat parties before they'd made it big… somehow, someway coming through the fame machine with their friendship still intact. He owed it to the guys to give it his all and then some.

But things were different now. His heart wasn't in it anymore; it hadn't been for a while. And it wasn't something he could lay at Bella's feet, not really. It'd been a long time coming. After all the Grammys, the TV appearances, the sold out arenas, 50 million albums sold worldwide, even fucking Barbara Walters and Oprah… it looked like nine years was his limit. The band used to be his life but that changed the moment he saw her. She owned him now, all of him, heart, body and soul.

What good was all this money if he was miserable? He didn't just want to slow down, he wanted to get the hell off the roller coaster.

Emmett McCarty narrowed his eyes at his best friend over breakfast. "Ed, man, snap out of it. Hey… you didn't do any of that shit Garrett had last night did you? If you're falling off the wagon 'cause you can't get your Angry Birds fix you can play mine."

"Fuck off."

He laughed. "God, you're such a little bitch." He exhaled and picked at his eggs. "Fine. Out with it. Your girl, she's a teacher, right? You called her school?"

"I'm not an idiot, Em. That's the first thing I did," Edward glared as he brought the mug to his mouth only to hiss and jerk away. "Coffee's hot," he mumbled.

"So the school said…?"

"They said they couldn't give out personal information. I left a message though, I told her to call Jas's phone."

"And you gave them the number, right?" He grinned at Edward's black look. "What? Your head isn't exactly screwed on straight. It's a legit question."

"Shut up. I sent emails to her school email address but it was the weekend and then the server was down or something. And that's the only address she has." He got up suddenly and paced the kitchen; fidgeting with a tiny guitar saltshaker that Jasper's mom thought was cute.

"It's been four days since you left the message? She hasn't called?"

Edward shook his head. "And then I tried the National Cell Phone Database but her number was taken off per her request last year."

"That's like, the worst fucking luck I've ever heard of. Seriously." Emmett talked around a mouthful of food. "What about her friends?"

"I don't know any of her friends. It was just easier to kind of… I don't know, hide out in her apartment." He colored a little. "I didn't want her picture all over everything."

"That's understandable," Emmett nodded, chewing. "So hire a private investigator." He got up and took their plates into the kitchen.

"I've got Tanya on it."

"Yeah, right." Emmett guffawed. "I'd keep a close eye on that shit."

Edward sighed. Then grimaced, thinking about Tanya. Maybe that hadn't been such a smart move.

"Why didn't she come with us? This bus is like a fucking rolling mansion. I swear they get more incredible every year." Emmett dropped onto the couch and tossed a Wii remote to Edward. "Here. I'm Alabama '09. You pick."

Edward took his time scrolling through the college football teams.

"Just pick one. It won't matter 'cause I'm kicking your ass regardless."

"I think it was too soon to push her like that," Edward said, finally choosing a team.

"Florida? You're seriously going down, my brother."

"Besides, it's kind of a big jump to leave your life and ride around on a bus for five months."

"You kidding? I knew Rosie a week and she jumped on that shit." Emmett's body swerved and contorted until he yelled, "Bitch! You just got smoked, man." After a few minutes of passive play from Edward he paused the game and turned to him with a sigh. "Look Emo, it's only been a week. Just fly out there. And then get her number tattooed on your ass."

"Yeah. Aro had a fit. He doesn't want me going anywhere with Leno tomorrow night."

"Shit, forgot about Leno," Em said, biting his lip. "But fuck Aro anyway. It's your girl, man." His eyes widened, "Hey… we got SNL in a few weeks. Just wait 'til then when we'll be in New York."

"The thing is, I think something's bothering her but she won't say. The past several weeks she's been… off, I guess," Edward said and slumped back in the chair. "I just need to talk to her… everything will be fine if I could just talk to her."

"Maybe she was trying to let you down easy," Emmett chuckled then sobered when he caught the miserable look on his face. "Just kidding, man. Really, it's only been a few days. She's probably fine, probably thinks you're just busy, you know?"

Edward shrugged.

"Come on, p-whip, play the game." Emmett rolled his eyes and un-paused the screen.

The thought that Bella was trying to distance herself had already occurred to Edward. But to have Emmett say it out loud made him feel like a hole had been punched through his stomach.

He couldn't pinpoint exactly what felt wrong; just that she seemed quieter, distracted. She always managed to bring the conversation back around to him. She'd been… evasive. And now he had a bad feeling about it.


Whenever she answered the phone breathless it never, ever failed to send a spark of heat straight through him. "Hey, baby," he said, a moment later. "How was your day?"

"It was fine. Long." A pause, then, "How about you? Tell me all about the show in Portland."

"The crowd was great - sold out… they loved the new stuff too." She would exclaim and comment in all the right places when he would talk about the crew, or the band, or funny things that happened on the road… but her conversation was tinged with a slight air of preoccupation… like there was a storm coming that she wanted to ignore but couldn't quite get out of her head.

Sometimes he'd try to get to the bottom of it. "Bella, what's wrong? You sound like you're a million miles away."

"Hmm? Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I might be coming down with a cold." She'd reassure him, then, "What about that song you were working on? The slow one with the strong bass line… did Jasper like it?"

Looking back, now it felt like her questions were deliberately designed to avoid any sort of conversation about her or how she felt.

His phone had been missing a week and a day when Jasper knocked on his door.

"Hey man, they found your phone." He kicked at the doorframe and wouldn't meet Edward's eyes.

"Not good news I take it?" Edward exhaled, suddenly bone-tired.

"Nah, it got caught in the sheets when the maids changed the bed. It went through two cycles in one of those big industrial washers and then was fried to hell in the dryer."

"Shit." Edward thumbed over his brand new iPhone, devoid of personality. He'd thought that when he got a new phone Bella would call. He had his old number switched over and everything. But she hadn't.

"Sorry." And Jasper really did look like he felt horrible.

"I'm tired of this, Jas," he said, sorrow in his voice.

"I know."

"No, I mean, I'm ready for a change. I-" Edward began then stopped.

"Ed, I know. Em and I have talked about it for months. You forget that we know you inside and out, man," he broke off awkwardly with a shrug. "I mean, would you be surprised to know we might feel the same? We'll figure it out. Nothing stays the same forever."

Edward nodded and rubbed his face vigorously. "Thanks," he said through muffling fingers.

"Sure, bro."

"Not sure what I should do," Edward sighed. "Aro's got my hands tied. He thinks I'm about to bolt or some shit so he pulled the contract on me." He looked up at Jasper.

"He's an asshole, but what's new? Do you want to call the police?"

"Nah," Edward said a moment later. "It has only been a week. This whole thing is so stupid. She'd kill me."

"What if I called Maria to drive down there tomorrow from Boston? It'd be an excuse for her to go shopping at least."

Edward's eyes lit up. "I didn't think of Maria. Yeah, if she doesn't mind—I looked on Google Earth so now I know the exact address. I called the super but she said she hadn't seen Bella in a while." He jumped up and rifled through the shirts in his closet. "I'm this close to telling Aro to go fuck himself and just pay whatever he wants when he sues my ass."

"It won't get that far, you know that. But don't tell Alice about Maria, man. She'd break me in half." Jasper shuddered.

"Don't worry," Edward laughed. "I don't have a death wish either."

"Come on then. Let's go over that bridge before tonight. I think we should play Ally's song as extra insurance." Jasper said in a low voice, kidding around, but not really.

"Duuuude," Em called from the other end of the penthouse.

"Hold on, hold on," Edward muttered, elbows splayed across the kitchen table. He penciled in tiny notes and lyrics on a scrap of notebook paper. "Almost done."

Emmett poked his head around the corner holding a phone away from his mouth. "Heidi's about to walk into the meeting… can I tell her you're done? She's waiting outside the door." He stood until Edward nodded, then disappeared into the other room.

"Mr. Cullen?"

Edward held up his hand absently while he scanned the paper, humming to himself to make sure the pencil marks matched what was in his head.

"Mr. Cullen?" Bree stood in the doorway. "There's a woman calling from a pay phone for you on the line. A… Miss Swan?" she said softly. Spellbound, the girl could barely speak for the heart in her throat. She couldn't believe she was standing in front of her childhood idol… in fact, she was pretty sure she still had a Teep Bop pull-out poster on the door of her closet. When Uncle Caius had gotten her this job as a runner she never in a million years dreamed she'd be standing in a kitchen watching Edward Cullen write a song.

Edward glanced up absently. "Hey, Em? Where—oh, Bree? It is Bree isn't it?" He walked over and handed her the paper. "Make sure you scan and email this over to Heidi for the producer's meeting. Right now, okay?"

Emmett called from the front door, "Hey Ed- Aro's on the phone. Wants to talk to you." He walked back in, hand over the receiver, with a just humor me, okay? expression on his face. He whispered, "he's going to try to talk you into staying here. Don't get too violent, okay?" He flashed a grin at Edward before he walked back out.

Bree froze. "Mr. Cullen?" she asked, holding his phone up timidly.

He got up from the table and set his coffee cup in the sink, waving her over. "Give me the phone." He braced his hands on the counter and bowed his head, sighing. He could have been back in New York, back in Bella's apartment two days ago if Aro hadn't promised the record company the new song he'd been working on. He did it on purpose, the bastard. Ever since Edward had mentioned taking a break in the middle of the tour Aro had had a chip on his shoulder. And then, after all the band had done for Aro, after all the money he'd made off them, then he had the nerve to call nonstop and check on Edward's progress like he was five years old.

Edward snatched the phone from Bree and growled. "Look, I did what you wanted; now I need some time. I'd appreciate it if you didn't call me for the next few days. If you do, I won't answer. You can go through Emmett. I really didn't want to end things with you like this, so if you want me back for the next show, leave me the fuck alone." He pressed the button to end the call without waiting for a response.

Edward narrowed his eyes at the new girl; her mouth was opening and closing like a fish. She must be related to someone to get this job because she didn't seem too bright. "I'm not talking to another person. You didn't know, but in the future, I'd appreciate it if you didn't answer my phone."

He put his phone to sleep and shoved it in his pocket. "Bree?" He said slowly. "You need to get that song revision to Heidi. She's waiting."

Emmett came around the corner and glanced at Edward. "Yeah," he said into his phone. He noticed Bree. "The new girl will email it to Heidi right now. Don't worry about Edward. Thanks. Bye, Aro."

Edward's head tilted to the side. "Wait. Who… who did I just talk to? Not Aro?" he asked Bree, growing a little pale.

She stared at his pocket like it was a snake about to bite her. "S-sir. No one sir. It was from a pay phone. Probably a wrong number."

He glanced sideways at her for a long moment, then turned away. "Em, I'm gone. It's been a week and a half. You guys should be set with that revision but I'll be back in three days anyway." He grabbed his bag. No one had answered Bella's door when Maria stopped by to check on her so Edward was going himself.

"Good luck bro. I gotta meet this chick who's turned you into such a pussy. Bring her 'round." Emmett made a lewd gesture at Edward from around the corner.

"Bye Em," Edward called after him, relaxing a bit. He was about to fix this. He'd be at her place in less than two hours.

The super of Bella's building looked like Aunt Edna from that Chevy Chase Vacation movie. Rheumy eyes glared at him through the two-inch gap before she practically inhaled her wine cooler and slammed the door in his face. She unlatched the chain, then threw the door wide open. "Hells bells. You're that singer. From that band."

"Yeah, I'm-"

"Edward Cullen," she drew his name out, eyeing him up and down. "You know I didn't believe it was you when you called the other day. Are you really Edward Cullen? THE Edward Cullen of the—"'

"Yeah, it's really me. So nice to meet you, Mrs…?" Edward smiled, leaning up against the doorframe just so.

"Oh! Mrs. Perkins. Lila Perkins. But you can call me Lila, certainly." Mrs. Perkins grinned, revealing more than a few gold teeth.

"Right. Lila, like you said, we spoke the other day; I was looking for one of your tenants, Bella Sw—"

"Bella Swan, Bella Swan, nice girl. You know I haven't seen hide nor hair of her since we talked last week, Edward. Can I call you Edward?"

"Do you think you could at least let me in her door?" He said pleasantly, overriding the unease that was currently sitting like lead in the pit of his stomach.

"Well…" She chewed on her lip.

"It's not like you don't know who I am, right?" Edward opened his arms and smiled charmingly. "I've been seeing Miss Swan for the last few months and I lost my phone so I wasn't aware she was going out of town—"

"Okay. Will you sign something for my granddaughter?"

He blinked. "Sure, sure. Anything."

He wandered through her apartment lost, though he knew every inch of it. This will make a good story, Edward thought, once he figured out what the hell was going on. They'd laugh about this later, wouldn't they? He wanted to find her so that they could laugh about it now. How did something as simple as losing a cell phone turn into something so complicated?

The unease quickly twisted into full-blown anxiety. She'd left in a hurry. There was a bowl of half eaten macaroni and cheese on the counter beside the sink, clothes were on the floor in the bedroom, lights were left on. Outside, a pallet of ferns was only half planted… the ones still left in the tray had long since shriveled up.

Edward sat alone on the ledge of her roof, staring at the little green Eden she'd put together all by herself, wondering where in the hell she was, who she was with and if she was okay. The one beer left in the outside fridge ended up in his hand, the taste sending him back to the last time he'd been here. He breathed in the sweet scent of the flowers on the clementine tree and pulled out his last cigarette, waiting for Jenks to call him back.

"I need a favor," Edward said immediately, barely giving the phone a chance to ring. He stared at the paper in his hand as he talked and the sense of doing something, anything to find her eased the fear in his chest a little.

Bella was in trouble, that much was apparent. He didn't have much to go on but it was his only hope.

"Bella? Why don't you go rest at the house for a bit. You've been here almost 48 hours, sweetie." Sue Clearwater Swan reached out over Charlie and squeezed Bella's hand. "I'll call you, after." The nurse had already come in to retrieve the document that Sue had signed. Now that she was Charlie's wife, she held power of attorney over the machines that kept his heart beating.

She nodded at Sue and smoothed the wrinkles from the pathetic excuse for a piece of clothing covering her daddy's shoulder. Her daddy. A body still warm, still living and breathing, but empty.

"Well, alright," Bella said slowly as she reached with a trembling hand to pet Charlie's hair. Her voice was raw like it hadn't been used in days. She stood up and wandered out after a slight smile of thanks.

She felt funny driving her dad's cruiser but it was her only way home. Even the house looked gloomy, she thought, as she sat in the driveway and watched the shadows creep across the yard. She didn't belong here. Maybe it was coming back to Forks after all these years, maybe it was existing in a world where her father was gone, maybe it was not hearing Edward's voice for ten days straight but Bella suddenly felt that she didn't belong anywhere.

She wallowed in self-pity for one more minute before she shook herself. The front flowerbeds were a mess. Why had she not noticed those before? She straightened with a sense of purpose and stepped out of the car. This, she could fix. Tomorrow.

After eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich she stared at the mail stacked in a wobbly tower in a corner of the kitchen, as if she could somehow divine the contents without getting up out of her chair. The new phone charger she'd ordered sat by Sue's cookbooks, still wrapped, blindingly white against the dark gray of the counter. She'd left her charger in New York by mistake; her phone had been dead for days. Bella grabbed it and walked back to the guest bedroom, laying the charger on one side of the bed while she took the other. She knew every curve, the weight of it, the feel of the cellophane under her fingertips by the time she'd decided to finally unwrap it and plug it into the wall so she could boot up her phone.

Months without seeing Edward was nothing compared to ten days of his silence. She didn't count the call she'd made from the payphone. Instinctively, she knew while he was barking over the line that he wasn't talking to her. But it was just more proof that he was very busy and likely stressed, so her decision about not laying her problems at his door was strengthened in her mind. She did desperately want to talk to him though. Maybe he hadn't listened to her messages… the Edward she knew, even if he wanted to end things between them, would never abandon her without a word. At least she didn't think so.

Her phone came to life with a familiar chime and a soft glow lit the room. Any second now, and she'd know if he'd tried to call her back. The flicker of hope she still harbored was painful, but not as painful as seeing without a shadow of a doubt that her voicemail box was empty.

He recognized her before he even pulled in front of Charlie Swan's house. The purr of the Volvo rental was quiet but not noiseless, still, she gave no indication that she knew he was there. She was kneeling with her back to him, digging with her hands, no gloves, no trowel, only a determined, frantic air about her as she worked, trying to create, to build something beautiful from nothing. Her hair tumbled down her back, tangling in the wind with nothing to hold it in place. He guessed she'd had no reason to pack her stash of colorful bandanas.

He sat, unmoving as he watched her from the car, finally letting out the breath he'd been holding since he found her apartment empty and in shambles. Jenks was not only good; he was the best. All he'd been given was half the name of a hospital that Edward had found scribbled on a post-it note in Bella's kitchen yesterday. Then, in less than an hour, Jenks had stood with him in her garden, impassive in the face of Edward's shock when he'd reported the history of Charlie Swan's rapidly deteriorating condition. Jenks was quick to point out that the evidence supported the fact that Mr. Swan and his daughter were somewhat at odds with each other, estranged, so to speak. Miss Swan had visited only once in the last eight years, and that was when her father had married Sue Clearwater.

Edward had shaken his head at Jenks, still confused. She hadn't really talked about her family that much, but that wasn't too unusual, right? He had known the basics at least, her father had remarried, her mom had left when she was three… but something as life changing as a parent dying? He had no idea why Bella felt like she couldn't trust him with that. He ached to think she'd been dealing with this all by herself.

Bella was so absorbed in what she was doing she didn't hear the car pull up in front of the house, or the door when it shut, or the man walk slowly up the sidewalk. She didn't hear him sigh as he wondered how best to approach her. She didn't hear him settle on the brick beside her but she felt him, although she didn't turn around. She tugged the headphone buds out of her ears and waited.

"You're a hard woman to track down, Miss Swan." His voice was soft in her ear.

Bella hadn't realized she'd closed her eyes until she opened them at the sound of his voice. She turned and gave him a smile, faint and tired, but a real one. "Edward," she sighed, a million emotions packed into that one little word. That was all he needed to pull her into his lap so he could tuck her under his chin, humming, his hands stroking up and down her back, making sure she was real.

She played with the seam on his t-shirt. "I didn't know you were looking," she murmured after a moment. "I left you messages… about my dad. And you never called me back." She drew back a little to look at him, her eyes bright and bewildered.

He opened his mouth, ready to excuse and explain away the last ten days and suddenly realized that he had no idea what to say. Everything paled in comparison to Bella losing her father, no matter how estranged they had been. So he settled on 'I'm sorry' and gently kissed her cheek, damp and salty and warm.

They were alone in the house since Sue had gone to stay with her daughter and son-in-law in LaPush. Bella swept her arms through the cool sheets in the guestroom bed, staring up at the familiar shadows and water spots on the ceiling, comforted somewhat. The house, her old bedroom especially, had been changed in every way. At least something had stayed the same even if it was only an old ceiling.

She curled around Edward's back, trailing her hands through the smattering of hair on his chest and down his stomach. Having her past collide with her present like this was more then a little disorienting. Closing her eyes again, she savored having him here, warm and drowsy in her arms. They'd talked until all hours of the night about the absurdity of the chain of events that led to him coming to Forks. She still couldn't believe he'd left in the middle of his tour to come find her; and he couldn't believe she still had doubts about the lengths he was willing to go to make sure she was safe. He'd been sheepish about Jenks but she understood. Frankly, it made it easier to talk about her dad since there was so much he already knew.

He rumbled when she slid her knee up on his hip and pushed against his lower back.

"I know you're awake," she whispered into his shoulder blades, inching her hands lower, through the silky path of hair at the base of his stomach.

"I'm not," he protested in an amused voice. He felt the curve of her smile when she found what she was looking for. He allowed her touch for a moment before he flipped them both over. "Enough," he said hoarsely, "or this will be over in ten seconds, you little devil." He pulled her close, so that her forehead rested against his neck. "I've missed your noises," he murmured as his hand slipped down her body, searching, teasing. She stifled a half gasp.

"Yes, like that," he said softly. "Again."

He stroked her until she panted against his neck. "Please… oh, please."

"Please what, baby…" he bent down to capture her mouth. "Tell me." After a moment she broke away with a impish smile, biting her lip, still breathing hard. "What?" He stroked the corner of her curved lip with his thumb, mesmerized and reached to kiss her again.

"How can I say anything with your tongue in my mouth," she giggled against his lips. He gave a mock growl into her neck, lightly biting.

"You're teasing me," he murmured hotly in her ear. "Now I'll have to make you beg…" he dug his fingers in under her arms until she shrieked, "for mercy," he laughed wickedly, suckling her nipples as he tickled her sides. She bucked against him and then it was his turn to suck in a breath.

"I want… you inside," she moaned, her eyes glazed and half lidded. "I need you, Edward, inside… hard." She raked her nails across his backside.

"Then open for me," he whispered, sounding choked. "Bella…" He pulled her leg high on his hip and pushed into where she was hot and slick, shuddering. His hands stroked her everywhere, exploring, teasing, sliding through to the slickness where they were joined. "I love you, ah god, I love you."

He rolled over, covering her as he pumped and ground into her slowly; his hands under her body and latched onto her shoulders for leverage. Nothing was more beautiful than this girl beneath him as she whimpered her little squeaks and cries, biting her lip and meeting him thrust for thrust. His gaze held hers ruthlessly, not letting her go even as she arched wildly, pressing the round firmness of her breasts flat against his chest, sobbing and sighing in his arms.

He lapped up a trickle of sweat in the hollow of her neck and rode her faster, his hips crashing hard into hers until she cried out, "I can't, Edward… it's too much." Her head lolled, the rest of her boneless, flushed, quivering.

"Yes, you can," he said darkly. He pulled himself up and bent her back over his arm, crooning encouragement as he tugged at her nipple with his teeth. Twining her hands in her hair, Bella gazed up at him, her boy from the magazines, her star with the crooked smile, the man she loved with her whole heart. He'd whispered his dreams and secrets in the dark of the night, how he wanted a family with her, how he wanted to marry her, how he knew every love song he'd ever written was for her the moment she smiled at him in that record store.

Unbelievably, her body was twisting, coiling, ready to go again. "Edward," she gasped, "so close… Edward…" She reached her hand up to his cheek to bring him down to her as she came, catching her breath at such naked vulnerability on his face.

He faltered slightly, his eyes blurring as he looked at her. "I love you… I love… baby, please." He stilled and pulsed, trembling and groaning her name.

Driving back from the funeral he told her in no uncertain terms that he wanted her to come with him. From Jenks, he knew that Bella had requested a leave of absence from her job; she had almost three weeks left before she needed to be home. But Edward didn't let her know he knew that. He didn't want to push.

"You need a change, baby. Please let me take care of you." He stared straight ahead, forcing his hands to relax the death grip he had on the wheel. "Just come for a couple of weeks. We'll be in New York at the end of the month anyway. Stay with me until then." He glanced at her in an attempt to read her mood. "Or stay forever, that works too," he smiled.

She wasn't throwing excuses at him just yet… that was a good sign. He went in for the kill. "I've got someone taking care of your garden. Someone who knows what they're doing so you don't have to worry." He flexed his fingers. "And I really want to show you this part of me. I want the guys to meet you. And for you to meet them. That way they'll understand when I tell them I'm leaving." He watched closely for her reaction to that little bomb.

He wasn't disappointed. Her head whipped around, astonished. "You're leaving the band? You can't just leave. Oh my god. I'll be Yoko. Edward, the world will hate me if I'm Yoko."

He laughed loudly. "Okay, let me revise. I'm not leaving. We're reshuffling. Em and Jas have been feeling the same way; I just hadn't realized it. We'll be in the New York studio, recording. And I'll keep writing." He grinned as she gaped at him. "Better?"

She examined him closely, biting her lip, but said nothing.

He pulled into the driveway wondering how soon they could get away to drive to the airport. They sat in silence for a few moments until he fidgeted and finally grew impatient. "Bella?"

She nodded, lip still caught between her teeth.

He scowled. "As much as I would like to, I can't read your mind."

"Yes," she blushed and looked down at her hands, smiling.

"Yes? Yes, what?" Edward unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned over.

"Yes to all of it," she said softly. "I don't want to be away from you. I- I don't know why I tried… I mean, life is too short, you know? I love you, Edward. I'm in. For the long haul." She turned her head and smiled up at him. "The forever part."

His hands unsnapped her seatbelt and pulled her to him. "This is just the beginning, you'll see. I love you so much."

"So much me too," she said, a little giddy. "But wait… tell me what 'I love you like a starfish' means. I've been meaning to ask you that for months."


"You texted me 'I love you like a starfish' when you were leaving on the plane months ago. Remember?" She perched on his knee and kissed his cheek.

He shrugged a little and traced her lip with his thumb. "I love you like a starfish loves the salty water." He smiled. "It just means—"

"That I can't live without you." She threw her arms around him. "I love you too, my starfish."

Awww, so sweet. A happy ending. ;)

The lyric "love you like a starfish loves the salty water" is from one of my favorites songs: Swan Song by A Fine Frenzy.

Thanks for reading!