"Showers to Flowers" O/S Contest

Number of Picture Chosen: 11

Title: Welcome Home

Word Count: 2745

Rating: T

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Summary: After being torn away from his home half a lifetime ago, a lonely man follows the pull of his heart back to the place of his youth. A field of wildflowers and a whirlwind of memory lead him down a path that will change his life forever, and bring him full circle...home.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Welcome Home

"Holy shit!" I yell as I come out of my thoughts and catch a sight I never imagined.

As I round the corner and pull over to the side of the road, I can only gawk at the sight before me.

This is a road I know.

It's a road I've traveled hundreds of times.

It's a road I once thought I'd never get to travel again when my little heart was broken as a boy by the need to leave the one reason this road even mattered.

I've avoided coming this way for the last few days since getting back to town, but I couldn't avoid it anymore. I had to go this way to reach the highway to Seattle.

Never in my life would I have expected THIS, though!

I have no idea how, but I find myself safely off the road and awestruck by the sight before me.

My eyes soak in the beauty while my mind wanders back to days of giggles and pigtails, swimming and running, frogs and squeals…and my best friend in the world for the first half of my life.

I haven't let my mind wander to her willingly in years, and yet as I look at the field…our meadow…I can no longer deny that she will forever hold the largest piece of my heart.

I shake myself from my memories enough to get out of the car, not even trying to stop my feet as they channel my seven-year-old self and almost absently find a familiar path.

But this path was never like this.


Acres and acres and acres of flowers, as far as I can see!

I stand and stare, one hand on my hip and the other scratching the back of my neck while my eyes take in the utter beauty.

Yellow wildflowers seem to completely cover the expanse of the meadow that used to be between my house and my best friend's house when I was a boy. The distance between us was more than half a mile, so this was our meeting place…split in ownership between our two families, and all ours.

I own my parents' half since I bought the property from them and took it off of the rental market, but I have no idea who shares this land with me now. I couldn't bring myself to ask the realtor.

There was always a path cut through the grass. There really wasn't any choice in the matter since that was the trail we'd walk most often. The grass knew better than to grow there, and we didn't have the heart to walk in too many places because we didn't want to disturb the beauty of our special secret.

The meadow itself wasn't a secret. It was always easily visible from the road. But what lay in the back of it, far beyond where anyone driving by could see, was a lake and a rundown cottage that served as the backdrop for many a medieval story in the yesterdays of make-believe.

That was ours…all ours…and we kept the secret of it as fiercely as we protected each other.

I can't stop the smile as I inhale and smell the utter pleasure in the air. The warm sun shines down, and I turn my face up to it, feeling strangely buoyant for the first time in years.

An even bigger smile graces my lips as I give into temptation and kick off my shoes and socks, and unbutton my dress shirt, to enjoy the feel of the warmth.

Screw the lunch date with my uncle! He can go to hell!

I'm here to work, to make my own way in the place that means something to me. I don't need his disapproval today, or his fruitless efforts to tempt me back to Chicago.

I never liked it there, and I actually shiver thinking about how cold it was a few days ago when I boarded the plane at O'Hare as I text my uncle to cancel our lunch and promptly silence my phone.

Free now, freer than I've been in a very long time, I hold my arms out and let my feet lead me down the path of my youth…now bordered by flowers so tall I can barely see over them.

My fingers graze green and yellow as I soak it up and remember…her.

She was beautiful, but she would never see it. She thought she was awkward, and I'm sure that others might have agreed with her if they were shallow idiots. But I looked at her and saw not only her outer beauty, but the glorious angel who lived inside of her.

She was like my sister…sort of. There was always something in the background that kept me from truly seeing her the same way I saw Alice once she came to live with us from the orphanage. Alice really was my sister, but she was something different.

She never liked getting presents, and there was only one gift she'd ever accept from me…wildflower seeds.

She'd take the seeds that I'd consistently pilfer from my mother's potting shed, stand in the middle of our meadow, and give me a handful before we'd both spin and let the seeds fall where they may.

We saw a few pretty patches of flowers spring up in our time together, but nothing like what I'm walking through now.

The patches of flowers were unpredictable, unique, and beautiful in their wildness…just like her. She was reserved much of the time, but in our special place she could let loose and be herself, and the spring and summer wildflowers were the perfect backdrop for the side of her only I was privilege to know.

Yellow was always her favorite too. And as I saunter down the familiar path, now rendered even more beautiful by the replacement of the grass with the wildflowers, I feel like I'm walking in a daze of warmth and memory of the girl who remains to this day the best friend I've ever had.

Alice tried to fill her role as best she could once we made it to Chicago, but it was never the same. I appreciated her efforts, and I tried to make sure she knew that, but I think she also knew my heart was always here…in a meadow near our old house in Forks, Washington.

I didn't understand why we had to leave. I do now, but how do you explain to a thirteen-year-old boy that he has to leave his entire world because the ancient family fortune is in danger? How to you console him knowing that he could care less about the family business or the sense of loyalty that led his parents to make the decision to uproot him?

You can't. I didn't get what was so important.

Over the years I forgave Mom and Dad for making me leave. I apologized for acting like a spoiled teenager for far too many years. And, because Carlisle and Esme Cullen are the amazing people they are, they forgave me without a second thought.

But the truth was that I was heartbroken over the loss of the one person who didn't treat me like a freak for having a brain.

She was as smart as I was, and that helped us both. We stuck together and fought each other's battles. Neither of us went anywhere without the other, and when Alice joined the family she tagged along right beside us….except to our meadow.

Our meadow and the lake beyond were sacred.

Alice was allowed in the front part, and to her credit she never showed it if she felt left out when she couldn't come with us to our lake…which is probably more like a pond now that I'm bigger.

My heart lurches with the thought of my old special place, and I pick up my pace through the field of flowers suddenly desperate to find it.

If this is the same path, it should lead straight there…I hope.

I can almost hear her tinkling giggle as I run, chasing her in my mind through the field for a well-deserved attack of tickles for some crazy stunt she inevitably pulled.

The truth is that I'd have done absolutely anything to make her laugh like that…so carefree. Her happiness made me happy.

But my family left when our lives were just really getting interesting, leaving behind my beautiful girl whose teary eyes I still remember as they stared after me from the place where, as fate would have it, my car is incidentally parked right now.

Yellow blurs more and more as my pace speeds to a full run, truly desperate to connect with her again, even in this small way. I keep my arms out, reveling in the feel of the plants as they slap against my palms.

She's not here anymore. She couldn't be. I know she left when her father was killed two years after I moved to Chicago. She was fifteen, and her mother took her away from the only home she'd ever known to start over.

I don't even know where she moved.

But this…this is something I have. This place is a tangible connection to her, and I can feel her here just as strongly as I once did.

Only now the place is a true mirror of her beauty.

Did our wildflower seeds do all of this?

An image of her as she once was, but standing at the edge of the field as it is now, races through my mind, slams full force into my heart, and makes me stumble just as I clear the last of the field of flowers.

I catch myself before hitting the ground, but my heart lurches under the weight of memory, loneliness, and nostalgia.

God! How did I not realize just how lonely I've been?

Resting my hands on my knees and cursing the fact that I haven't run all week as I gasp for air, I slowly return from the edge of…something. Emotions are swirling around me so fast and strong that I can't even identify them as they go.

Finally able to breathe, I inhale a deep lungful of the wafting flower scent and release it before standing up.

When I do, though, I'm stunned right back into breathlessness.

Before me isn't the pile of rubble I'd expect from our rundown cottage thirteen years after leaving it. It's not the overgrown banks of a pond…definitely more of a pond than a lake now that my adult eyes see it in scale…or signs of more than a decade of neglect. It's nothing I could have possibly expected, but everything that I'd once imagined.

The fairytale before me is surreal. The cottage looks just as it did in all my imaginings as a child, with flowers planted in neat borders and beds, shutters painted a beautiful blue against the grey of the stone, and a roof of cedar shakes. There are window boxes and a blue door. I even see a small vegetable garden peeking out from around the back of the building.

It's as though someone read my mind and reproduced everything I'd once dreamed this place could be.

Even the pond, pristine in its tranquility, is glassy and undisturbed except by the occasional bubble of what must be fish below. A small floating dock is tethered to the shore, with a canoe floating beside it as though it's just been brought in from a lazy morning on the water.

I feel something pulling me, tugging me toward the scene. My first tentative step proves that I'm not in a dream as I hit solid earth beneath my bare feet. And those feet keep moving very much against my will toward the cottage and the water…until I hear something.

I stop in my tracks, orienting to the sound coming from my right and through the field of flowers I've just left. But this sound isn't coming from the path.

Some kind of animal?

It must be.

But then I hear it again, only closer.

Turning my eyes back toward the sound, my heart nearly stops when the distinct figure of a woman emerges.

She's looking down, so I can't see her face. But I can see the flowing white sundress, tied on her shoulders and bouncing casually and happily against her bare ankles. I can see her equally bare feet, and the smooth skin of her arms and chest and neck. I see the bouncing mahogany curls as they hide her face from me and make me itch to push them back…

…because this is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life, and I haven't even seen her face yet.

She's a vision backlit by the sun, looking more like a fairy or a goddess than a mere mortal.

But then, as if answering my unspoken request, the woman, floating like a fairy from the field with a loose bouquet of wildflowers in her hands, shows herself to me.

With a gasp in obvious realization of my presence, her head pops up and her beautiful brown eyes widen in shock.

I still can't move as I take in the heart-shaped face, porcelain smooth skin, and big chocolate doe eyes of…HER!

It's her!

Oh my fucking god! It's her!

I struggle for breath as the flowers in her hands fall to the ground. Her hands reach her surprised mouth, covering her obvious gasp as her eyes register…recognition?

I don't know.

But I do know that I'm feeling much more than recognition right now. I'm finally understanding why not a single one of the dates I've been on in my life has felt right, why there was always a hole in my heart that I didn't know how to fill…and why I let myself follow the seemingly irrational pull I felt to come back here now that I'm finished with my medical degree and residency.

Those brown eyes, the ones that looked on me as a kindred spirit for the first half of my life, are positively unmistakable.

My body awakens as I feel myself take a step toward the frozen beauty.

My thoughts finally click into place as I see her mirror my step with her own.

I realize suddenly that she LIVES here! She's not just another piece of my imagination! She's the reason the visions of our shared imagination are surrounding us.

And she's the reason my heart is even beating at this moment.

I realize now that I've always loved her this way…the way that I'll love her for the rest of time if she'll let me.

Two more steps, and two more mirroring mine.

Her brown hair blows in the wind, and her eyes begin to register something more than surprise. Always so expressive, I can see it all in them.

I see her shock, her wonder, her disbelief, her acceptance, her joy…and her love.

Love…it's right there! It's right there just like it always was, only I doubt either of us knew what to call it back then.

Another step…and another. Only five feet apart now.

My smile returns, answered by her twinkling eyes and wide grin.

My breath hitches once more, though, as our bodies stop, mere inches from each other.

My hands itch to reach out to her, and I don't deny them. I let my instincts rule, and let my hand caress her cheek.

My breath finally returns to me when she leans into my touch and holds my hand to her face with her own.

"Is this real?" I ask in a whisper, almost regretting disturbing the reverent silence of the moment.

"It is now," she smiles, taking my hand from her face and bringing it down, curing her fingers into mine and reaching for my other hand to do the same. "It's for you. It's always been for you."

Her words bring unbidden tears to my eyes, tears of joy at the mere sound of her voice after so many years of longing.

And in this moment, with the perfection of our dreams surrounding us, by a field of wildflowers that I know now to be the culmination of our years together, I can't bring myself to utter another word before I tell her what I should have known to tell her thirteen years ago as we stood in this very spot and had our private goodbye.

"I love you, Bella Swan."

Her eyes tear up now, and her breath stops completely for a moment before a brilliant smile, more beautiful than anything I've ever witnessed in my life, breaks over her face and lights her entire being…my entire world.

"I love you too, Edward Cullen," she whispers. "Welcome home."