CHAPTER 45: Back to the Beginning

I'm biting my fingernails and I never bite my fingernails.

Why am I so nervous? I should be used to this by now. I can't see the television in the other room—mainly because I refuse to be sucked into watching anything on the flat screen—but I can hear how crazy it sounds on the red carpet for the premier of Aro's movie: Fair Play.

The premier is being televised worldwide by reporters from different parts of the globe. I hadn't realized how big this movie was until now, which makes me even more nervous to show my face and to see him in such a public setting.

Celebrities and those fortunate enough to get tickets are arriving and the fans that have been waiting for days to get a glimpse of their favorite stars are louder than ever. The reporters also talk loudly into their microphones so they can be heard—or at least from what I can hear emanating from the show they're watching.

We're also on our way to join the glitz and glam…as soon as the limousine arrives.

Jacob is with Renesmee in the living room watching the entertainment channel, Charlie is quietly chatting with Aro and Jasper on the deck, and Alice is with my mother and Phil in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine. Renee looks genuinely fascinated by whatever Alice is telling her.

If I'm to guess, the Hobbit is talking about the last trip we took and her accomplishments as a fashion designer. But then I notice Renee frown as she discreetly looks my way, which I pretend to ignore. Are they talking about me and my business? I hope not! My own personal drama is the last thing I want to deal with before Aro's movie premier.

My step-dad, Phil, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be paying attention to anything they're talking about. Most likely he's looking at the stats of his favorite baseball team on his iPhone.

"The car is here," Aro finally announces, breaking me from my thoughts. "Is everyone ready to go?"

We all nod and proceed to get ourselves ready. After strapping on my stilettoes because I want to save my feet from major injury before the premier, Alice gently tugs on my elbow as the others make their way to the front door.

"Bella and I will be right there, honey." Alice smiles at Jasper who just nods. Renee smiles at us, too, as she snaking her arm around Phil before following the rest of the group outside.

"What is it?"

"Come with me to the kitchen for a second." The Hobbit leaves the foyer without waiting to see if I'll follow—which of course, I eventually do.

When I get to her, she has two shots on the counter waiting for us…or are they both for me? I gulp nervously. She knows I don't do well with shots. "What is this?" I scrunch my nose at the dark liquor.

"Captain Morgan," she smiles me, "also known as liquid courage."

"What?"

"You've looked really stressed the last couple of days and today is no better. I can tell. This should help relax your nerves. Put you in a small, happy state."

"Small…happy state?" I raise an eyebrow.

The Hobbit raises her glass and nods to the other one waiting for me. I hesitantly take it with a heavy sigh. I have been feeling tense lately with the expectations of me at the premier, seeing Edward again, the supposed 'talk' we're going to have, and the reporters in my face. Not to mention a million other things that could potentially go wrong.

I toast with Alice, close my eyes and swig the contents, taking it in one huge gulp. The alcohol burns deep in my throat and I have to breathe through my nose a couple of times because I want to throw it back up. My anxious nerves have left my stomach empty so it settles warmly in my belly.

The effects hit me immediately.

Alice takes hers like a champ, smiling. "Ready?"

I I I

Aro sits beside me in the limo. He gently squeezes my hand when the car comes to a stop by the curb. The red carpet and velvet railings to keep the fanatics and media at bay are next to us.

"Are you ready, darling?" he asks me. I think he can tell how nervous I am, not because of the crowd and reporters, but because of the encounter with one of his leading actors.

"Ready as I'll ever be."

The bouncer guy with a radio piece in his ear opens our door and Aro steps out gracefully, waving at the screaming fans. One by one, the bouncer helps the females out of the car with the men in tow.

We're immediately blinded by flashing lights and more people screaming at us because we've just stepped out of a limousine that normally holds celebrities. I feel slightly guilty for getting their hopes up as none of us are stars in the movie, but mere guests of the director.

Up ahead I see the other leading actor, Alfonso Martine, who plays the villain, being interviewed by a local television station. We never saw him much on set since he spent most of his time in his trailer when he wasn't filming and he never really talked to anyone; maybe because most of the cast are younger actors. He's an older gentleman with silver hair and husky built, wearing an off-white three-piece suit. And from what I gather, Alfonso is a private man of little words if he's not required to entertain anyone.

Aro is also now ahead of us, being pulling to his first interview to the side of the red carpet. Alice holds my hand for comfort as we make our way closer to the throng of photographers and cameras. I'm glad she's walking beside me because there's a good chance I'll trip on my dress and face plant in front of everyone if left alone.

"Alice Brandon!" a woman with a short bob calls. Alice turns to her and smiles. "Can we have a quick interview with you?"

"Of course," she smiles again. I try to hide behind her, which doesn't really work because I'm taller than she is—with or without heels.

Working with Alice I've learned that there's two sides to her friendly personality. The bubbly, whiny, girly side when she's excited about something that she only shows to those who know her personally, and her professional, smile-when-appropriate, nod-like-you're-listing and answer modestly side.

"We hear you personally designed the clothes and dressed the actors in Fair Play. How was that for you?"

She lets go of my hand to focus on the question and so the camera can get a better angle of her. "I was excited and overwhelmed! I'm so thankful for the opportunity, especially Aro considering me to style and dress everyone when there are so many other talented designers he could have chosen from."

I don't pay much attention to Alice's interview because I've already heard most of what she's repeating but delivering it in a different way each time. A few weeks prior to the premier she's had her own television and magazine interviews that I've attended, given that I'm her assistant.

There's another sudden uproar near the front. The fans are flailing their arms with homemade banners in full effect in the air, each one hoping theirs can be seen. Some are jumping up and down hysterically. That can only mean one thing.

Edward Cullen has arrived.

My focus impulsively jumps to him and I can no longer hear what Alice is saying to the reporter. If I thought he looked good from the brief run-in we had a few weeks ago at the deli, he looks even more gorgeous now.

His hair is shorter on the sides, more of a crop-top cut, wearing a crisp navy blue suit with a pastel green shirt and green tie to match. I would never have thought to put those two colors together, but it clearly works for him and looks specifically tailored to fit his lovely physique. He also appears more built but still lean like always.

I'm guessing it's from the diet he's on for his new role that Jasper mentioned.

Edward briefly stops to take pictures with fans and signs autographs as much as he can before Rosalie whisks him away to his first interview. It's nice to be able to watch him in action without being seen.

"Isn't that right, Bella?" Alice gives a short laugh, pinching my hip as if she's putting her arm around my waist, but really she's trying to bring my attention back to this part of the red carpet. Crap! I didn't hear anything that's transpired between them since Edward showed up. "I told you this dress would look beautiful on you." The Hobbit gives me a look to respond to her comment.

"Oh, yes! I don't trust anyone to dress me these days, not even me, except for Alice," I smile at the news reporter. Alice and I laugh sweetly at Miss Short Bob as if I didn't miss a beat.

"Now, Bella—which we know is the name you prefer to be called—how does it feel getting your first small role in your uncle's new movie?" she directs toward me.

The question catches me off guard. The fact that I'm Aro's niece came to light months ago so that was no longer a secret, but how does this woman know what name I like to go by and that I'm in the movie?

Someone probably spilled the beans on the set.

"Oh, well…I…uhh…was sort of a last resort," I half-smile with a playful laugh, the heat rising to my cheeks.

"Nonsense!" Alice shakes her head. "I knew you'd be perfect for the part."

"I guess we'll let the audience decide that," I blush even more. My response seems to amuse the reporter who softly laughs with Alice.

"Last question, Bella…I see that Edward Cullen has just arrived. Are you still on speaking terms? I also see that he doesn't have a date tonight. Are you by chance here together?"

Double crap! My heart racing in my chest is the only thing I can hear. I knew this woman was sooner or later going to ask me about him or how I feel about the Tanya situation. She's looking intently at me for an answer that the entire world will hear.

"This is my uncle's movie premier for a wonderful film he's made. I'd like to keep my focus on that," I smile politely. My subconscious gives me a high-five for my answer. If this reporter thinks she's going to get any type of big scoop on my current relationship with Edward, she's sadly mistaken.

"We need to get moving. Thank you," Alice interrupts, grabbing my hand and leading me away. The woman slightly frowns but quickly regains her smile and thanks us for our time.

"Thanks Alice," I breathe. "I wasn't prepared for that."

"Well you sure handled it like a pro," she gins at me with a wink. "That's also one of many reporters who will try to ask you about Edward so stay on your guard."

I I I

Moving down the red carpet we get asked more questions about the movie, Alice's participation as the resident designer and eventually we finally reach the rest of the cast members. Angela and Jessica are doing an interview together, Riley is posing with his girlfriend, and Mike is signing autographs.

"Bella! It's so good to see you!" Angela runs to me for a hug. The tightness of her embrace tells me she genuinely missed me, which is really nice.

"You, too! How's everything going?"

"Wonderful," she beams. "I'm hoping more doors will open for me after this." I check in with the rest of the gang and how things have been for them since Fair Play wrapped, and everyone seems to be doing well with their own projects.

Another sudden uproar explodes with fans screaming at the top of their lungs.

"Of course…Edward," Jessica says sarcastically. "Only people scream for him like that."

He makes his way to us showing his pearly whites and perfect hand wave to the crowd. One would think he's been taking lessons from a beauty pageant queen. His adoring fans leaning against the barricades scream like a domino effect as he walks toward us.

"I'm glad he took my advice with that suit," Alice comments.

"What do you mean?"

"It was either that one or a darker gray suit during his fitting. Both looked nice so I let him decide, but still…the navy blue is my favorite on him."

"Wait…you did his fitting for the premier?" When did she do this? And without me knowing? How is this possible when I'm her assistant? I keep track of everything!

Alice takes my hand and gives me an apologetic smile. "The dilemma you guys are in is so messed up and I'll always have your back and be here for you…but—he's also my brother. He's family. And because Edward is actually also one of my clients, I have to put my personal feelings aside and be the professional that I am."

"Of course, Alice," I nod understandingly. She knows I hate putting her in the middle of us and it's only right she also stays by her brother's side. "I'll consider you Switzerland."

"Can we get a group picture?" I turn and see a news reporter asking the group. The man tells Angela and the cast to squeeze together for the shot while Alice quickly moves away to the side. I'm about to follow in suit when he stops me. "Bella Swan?"

"Umm…yes?"

"Please, join the picture. I hear you were in the movie, too," he smiles.

"You can stand by me," smiles Angela, placing her arm around my shoulder.

"Edward, there you are, perfect timing," he says, motioning the group to condense even more to fit him into the picture. "You can stand beside Bella."

"It is okay if I stand here?" Edward unexpectedly asks for my permission. His close proximity turns my cheeks crimson. I can't seem to formulate words at the moment so I only nod. He leans in close to me, which shouldn't feel as awkward as it does, given the intimate relationship we had.

"Sorry folks, just a bit more." The reporter makes us stand even more uncomfortably close together. My body tenses when I suddenly feel Edward's arm around my waist. He's holding me like we're still a couple. I try to tell myself it's just for the picture. But why is my body responding in a way that seems it's missed his touch? "All right…smile everyone!"

The picture itself is over in mere seconds. I can feel the comfortable space again once we all disengage from each other.

"Please make your way inside and find your reserved seats," an usher by the entrance tells us. Before I can catch up to Alice and the group who are heading inside the theater, someone gently pulls my elbow.

It's Edward. I turn to him in surprise.

He smiles at me as if nothing's wrong, placing his arm around my waist again, leading me inside as an escort. I stay composed because I know he's doing it for the public to make it seem like we're on perfectly good terms. The media is going bananas, snapping our pictures left and right without getting too close, and the fans sound like they're…cheering?

No. I'm sure it's just my imagination.

"You promised we'd talk after the premier," Edwards says to me, keeping his perfect smile focused on the cameras and fans.

"I didn't promise anything…but yes, after the show is over—when things have quieted down." Hopefully, I'll still have the nerves to face him afterwards. "I have to use the ladies' room so…I'll just see you inside the theater," I lie.

Space away from him is what I really need so I can gather my thoughts.

"Of course." He half-smiles and does something unexpected. He kisses my hand then heads to his seat. I'm left by the door way, speechless.

I I I

"What a great movie," Alice smiles, squeezing my hand. "And Bella, you did great! Just like I said you would."

"Thanks," I blush. It was strange to see myself on the screen and a little embarrassing knowing how many people are watching you.

"You looked like a natural on camera," adds Jasper. "I bet producers are calling Aro right now."

"Yeah, right," I roll my eyes.

"You better not quit your day job," Alice raises a playful eyebrow at me.

I can't help but laugh. "Don't worry, boss. I don't plan to."

"Good." The Hobbit gives a satisfied nod. "Now, let's head to the after party!"

"Did someone say after party?" I hear Jacob's voice. He's always down for good food and a drink or two. He, Renesmee and my family had to sit in a different section since the good seats were reserved for the director, cast, and crew.

"There you guys are," I hug him and Renesmee since I didn't get a chance to see them off after we exited the limo upon our arrival.

"I really liked the movie. Congrats on your part, too," smiles Renesmee.

"Yeah, nice job on the barista role, Bells," Jacob smirks.

"Thanks…who knew I could pull off playing a barista?" I reply sarcastically with a smile, knowing full well he knows what my previous job in L.A. was before my trip to Volterra last year.

"Oh, sweetie!" My mom approaches us from out of nowhere. "I'm so proud of you!" she hugs me tightly.

"Thanks, mom," I hug her back. "Where's Phil and dad?"

She rolls her eyes. "Oh, you know men. They're trying to avoid getting lost in the crowd. They'll give you a proper congratulatory hug at the after party. Your uncle says we have a table area reserved?"

"Nice!" Jacob comments enthusiastically.

I I I

"Alice, I'm going outside for a bit. It's getting stuffy in here," I yell to her over the loud music and numerous conversations around us. It feels like the venue is getting smaller and smaller with more celebrities and guests arriving to dance and booze it up.

"Will you be okay by yourself?" she yells back. She's drinking and chatting with Jasper and another friend of theirs.

"Yeah…I'll be back in a second. I just want some fresh air."

The cranberry vodka drinks I had earlier are also making me feel warm and light-headed. I grab one of the bottled waters available to us before stepping out in the patio area that's surrounded by a garden with a small maze. I drink the entire thing before I even make it outside.

Discreetly making my way past the crowd and a few news reporters toward the garden area, I duck inside its maze. It's not very intricate so it's easy enough to find an exit that leads to another part of the venue. The exit I take leads me to a balcony overlooking the setting sun.

I've forgotten how lovely Volterra looks during this time of year. The breeze is light, cooling my warm skin from today's activities and a peaceful sigh escapes my lips. I didn't think I'd be back here so soon. Volterra now seems like a whole new world to me.

"May I join you?"

I turn quickly to find the owner of the voice holding a clear drink in his hand. He slightly smiles, looking away, in case I refuse him.

"The party's not over."

"True. But I figured you might try to escape when it does so I followed you," he says with a small grin. "If you do, then I'll never get my chance." I'm somewhat shocked that he's read my mind. No doubt the look on my face gives it away.

"Is there really anything more you and I need to discuss, Edward?" I frown. "Our futures are moving in different directions." I can't look at him because I might cry. Facing the view again, I keep my emotions in check.

"Ask me why Tanya isn't here."

"What?" I face him once more. It's true I haven't seen her tonight but I figured she arrived separately with her own entourage.

"Ask me."

Not really in the mood to play his game, I still ask, "Where's Tanya, Edward?"

"She's with Laurent Thomas in Kansas—on a farm he owns."

"With who?" Who is Laurent Thomas and what in the world is Tanya doing on a farm of all places?

Edward puts his drink down and closes the gap between us. "Laurent is James's best friend and," he places his hands on my shoulders, "is the father of Tanya's baby."

"What?"

"You're good at saying that," he chuckles. Well, what does he expect? He's acting strange to begin with then tells me this!

Edward grabs my hand and takes us to a more private area in case others are listening and continues his story.

"One of the servers working at the release party called Rosalie and told her exactly what happened that night. She hated the way Tanya was using me so she finally stepped forward. Apparently, after I passed out, Victoria came to check on me because they were told not to let any of the guests in the rooms."

"Hold on—who's Victoria?"

"Sorry, Victoria is the name of the server. Anyway, Tanya found me sleeping and tried getting Victoria to leave us alone but she refused…seeing how I was so out of it. Tanya got upset and left. And to make sure Tanya didn't try to double back, Victoria locked the room from the outside."

"So…there was no way you could have been with Tanya that night?"

"Exactly," he smiles.

"So how does Laurent play into this?" I ask, folding my arms. "And how do you or this Victoria person know he's the real father? I thought you or someone saw Tanya with James that night?"

"James refused her advances so she went after Laurent to try to make him jealous." Edward then slightly grins. "Victoria also took a picture of Tanya and Laurent in the act."

"What? Really?"

"Laurent's had a crush on Tanya for years but she went after James. Victoria caught Tanya and Laurent in another unlocked room, both supposedly really drunk, and she took a picture with her camera phone. She later showed the picture to Tanya, who paid her to keep the photo from surfacing. Luckily, Victoria refused to hand her the original."

"Did you confront Tanya?"

"Of course I did," he scoffs. "I was pissed! Rosalie has the picture, which I don't need to see. When I confronted Tanya about the accusation, she finally broke down and confessed. She said she did it because she knew I would make a great father."

"That still doesn't give her the right to tell someone they're the father of her child without even giving the real father a chance!" I lash out. Does this woman really have no bounds? My blood is boiling. The nerve of that woman!

"I know. Believe me…I said everything that could be said up and down the book. I didn't want to upset her given her condition but she needed to atone for her mistakes. She finally told Laurent the truth, which wasn't such a big shock to him. He says he knew there was a possibility the baby could be his."

I'm hesitant to ask. "So, are they…together now then?"

Edward shrugs. "More or less. I know Laurent is trying to make things work, although Tanya isn't quite on the same page yet. What's important is that I'm out of the picture. I only found out a couple of weeks before I saw you at the deli, but you wouldn't give me a chance to explain. I wanted to tell you so badly before you returned to L.A. but I couldn't get a hold of you. I could have easily told Alice or Jasper so they'd let me talk to you, but I wanted you to be the first to know."

"This is…really overwhelming," I reply. My head is spinning with the news. Tanya lies about her baby belonging to Edward with the possibility it could have been James. But, in actuality, it belongs to his best friend Laurent.

Mind blown.

"I know…" Edward says softly, gently caressing my arms. "Tanya knows what she did hurt me and she's lost my friendship and trust because of her dishonesty. Perhaps over time I can forgive her, but Bella…" He pauses for a moment, a look of longing and heartache returning to his beautiful green eyes. "I don't think I could bear it if you never forgive me. I told you once to have a little faith in me—in us. I would never in a million years hurt you or betray you like that. I'd die before that happens."

"Edward…"

"Bella, I love you. I love you so much it hurts. You have no idea how unbearable it's been without you. I tried burying myself in my work, putting on a controlled façade for others, trying to show I was a good person by helping Tanya prepare for her baby...but…none of it mattered. Nothing mattered because you left me. And I'm so sorry for what I put you through."

Tears are streaming down my face at this point. Edward's confession struck a chord deep within me and the water works fall before I have time to think.

"I can't lose you, Bella, and I'm prepared to do anything from letting that happen again. I don't think I could bear it a second time. You're my entire world."

I wipe the tears from my cheeks, trying my best to not ruin my makeup or Alice will have my hide. "You know…for a handsome, bright young actor…you can be really dense sometimes," I sniffle.

"What?" Edward looks scared and nervous. He looks like he's ready to block all exits if I attempt to run away.

Cupping either side of his face, I tilt his head down so that our foreheads are touching. I close my eyes and savor the moment. I can tell he's holding his breath.

"Haven't you realized that you've been my entire world?" I whisper. "I feel incomplete. Like a piece of me is missing. And I wasn't trying to get over our breakup…I was trying to get through it."

When I open my eyes I'm startled to see Edward's eyes closed with traces of tear stains on his cheeks. I wipe them away with my fingers making him blink his eyes open to gaze at me. His hands finally snake around my waist bringing me closer against his leaner frame.

He hugs me tightly as if I'm a dream he might wake up from if he lets go. "You have me…mind, body and soul. Forever."

Irina's words come back to mind and what she said about Edward's devoted love for me. I was surprised she came to see me without Edward's knowledge and even more surprised about what she said about him.

"I've known Edward for quite some time now," she begins. "He's a very controlled person around people, especially in public because of the image he has to maintain. But with you, he's an entirely different person. He becomes unraveled and does things on impulse. I apologize for his behavior earlier. He shouldn't have approached you like that, but I think he was startled to see you just as much as you were to see him."

I blush, but she only smiles. Finally seeing Irina face to face, she has kind, determined eyes. "I just…need time," I reply.

"Edward is a true gentleman. It's hard to find men like him these days. And he loves you, Bella. No matter how deep my half-sister has her claws in him, he belongs to you. He decided that the moment he met you. And I don't think you'll get rid of him that easily—no matter the circumstances."

"What are you thinking about?" Edward brings my thoughts back to the present.

"Nothing," I half-smile. "Just that…I guess Volterra is the City of Love after all…"

He smiles at my words and looks pensive for a moment. "I know you have reservations about moving in together and I'm willing to take things at your pace. If you need time to soak this all in, I'll give you the space you need. I just want you back, Bella. And I'm sorry but, I'm not taking 'no' for an answer."

I can't tell whether he's half-joking or fully serious. His expression gives nothing away.

"Why are you smiling?" he suddenly asks.

"Nothing. Just something I remembered. Actually…I wouldn't mind moving in with you."

"Really?" his eyes light up.

When I mentioned to Irina I was looking for place of my own, she suggested I wait after the premier. It was a weird request but now I understand why she told me to hold off on the search.

Edwards picks me up off the ground and spins me like a crazy person who just heard the best news of his life. He crashes his lips into mine and I return it with equal force. No matter how hurt, angry and miserable I was…all those past feeling don't seem to matter anymore.

I don't know when I, myself, will ever forgive Tanya but I still wish her the best of luck with her baby and Laurent. They say motherhood changes people, and I hope in her case, it changes her for the best. In a way I'm also thankful to her for what she did and how she tried to break us apart because this very moment just proves how strong the bond is between me and Edward.

And I refuse to let him go ever again.

THE END


Author's Note: Well, my friends…the story has finally come to a close! I hope you enjoyed it. And thank you so much for your reviews!