This is the piece I entered in the "Quote Me" Contest in May 2011. I took 1st place in the public vote, so special thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, and voted for me.

Extra special thanks to my beta, SaritaDreaming, and pre-reader, Caz12771. These ladies are my best friends, and my writing is better because they help me :).


Quote Prompt:

"These are the snapshots of marriage, stopped in places."

~Anne Sexton~


~*Snapshots of Marriage*~


~*Bella*~

Someone once told me that marriage starts on your wedding day. For me, it started way before then.

I was fourteen when I first laid eyes on my husband, and despite my young age and immaturity, I knew that there was something special about him. I'm not sure I would call it love at first sight because, at fourteen, I wasn't capable of love beyond the parent/child love that I shared with my mom and dad. There was definitely something more to our early relationship, though. Looking back, I can see the beginnings of love, but at the time, I was happy just to be friends with Edward.

~*Age Fourteen*~

"What do you mean we're moving to rural Washington?" I complain to my parents. We've never lived anywhere besides sunny Arizona, in a suburb of Phoenix, and they just drop this bomb on me like it's no big deal.

"Well, Bells, I'm sorry, but I was offered a better job. Your mom and I discussed it, and we decided that we didn't want to miss out on this opportunity," my dad tells me as he claps a heavy hand on my shoulder.

"Can't you be a cop anywhere?" I mutter petulantly. I don't want to move; I have a life here. I have friends, a school that I actually like, and my grandparents live nearby. If we move, I'll lose all of that.

"Isabella Marie," my mother says sharply, and I know in that instant that I've gone too far. I have to apologize, and fast, if I expect to be allowed to see my friends outside of school during the next four weeks; the final four weeks of life in Scottsdale. The final four weeks of my life.

"Sorry, Dad," I mumble. I don't mean it, and he knows that just as well as I do, but he doesn't press the issue. Miraculously, neither does my mom.

~O~

I spend much of the next four weeks in tears as I pack up my bedroom and spend time with my friends. There are a lot of assurances of I'll miss you and We'll keep in touch, but I know they're empty promises. In six months, maybe a year, they'll all have moved on and forgotten about me. They still have each other; I'm the one being left in the cold. Literally. I've spent some time online finding out anything I can about my new home: Forks, Washington. It's only two hours from Canada, which means it's really far north. And north is synonymous with cold. According to what information I've gathered from the internet, it's cold, gray, and drizzly over nine months out of the year up there. A far cry from the southwest.

We arrive in Forks the first week of April. As if moving wasn't bad enough, it had to happen during the school year. My mom tells me that though we arrive on a Wednesday, I don't have to start school until Monday. I'm tempted to tell her that it doesn't matter what day of the week I start, I'll be miserable regardless, but I hold my tongue.

~O~

Monday morning, I walk into Forks High School, enter the office, and am given a class schedule by the secretary. She seems nice enough, even if she is eyeing me up and down, obviously trying to gain any kind of information she can about the new police chief's family from my appearance. Sorry, lady, I'm about as plain as they come.

I look down at the paper with my class list on it; my first class of the morning is Biology. I always liked biology in Scottsdale, so it should be okay here, too. The study of life is fascinating to me; most of it, anyway. I could live without botany.

Most of the seats are already taken when I enter the classroom. Looking around, it seems that most of the students in this class are older than me. When a bronze-haired boy catches my eye, I'm stunned. I've never been boy-crazy, but I can tell just by looking at this boy that there's something about him; it goes deeper than his obvious good looks, too. He holds my gaze like no one ever has before. I feel like I'm trapped, and I can't look away. Honestly, I don't want to. His eyes are green and intense, and his face, though not more than a year older than mine, is already showing signs of maturity: a rugged jaw line and even a smattering of facial hair. I swallow noisily. It feels noisy, anyway; I hope no one has actually heard my gulp.

I'm pulled from the boy's gaze when the teacher speaks to me. "Miss Swan, I presume?" he asks.

I break eye contact by blinking and turn my head toward the teacher, but I can feel the boy's green eyes still trained on me. "Yes sir," I murmur to the teacher. He hands me a textbook and points me toward a vacant seat; belatedly, I realize that it's right next to the boy I was staring at.

The boy is friendly and introduces himself the minute I take my seat. "Hi. I'm Edward Cullen. You're new, right?"

He seemed a lot more intelligent until he spoke. Of course I'm new here; he hasn't seen me before, has he? I sigh, slightly annoyed, but I was raised with manners. "Yes, I'm new. I just moved here from Scottsdale, Arizona with my parents. My dad's the new police chief."

"Well, New," he says, smirking, "do you have an actual name? Or should I just call you New for the rest of the year?"

I blush, one of my many irritating idiosyncrasies. "Sorry," I reply. "My name is Bella."

"It's nice to meet you, Bella."

~O~

Edward is in my math class right before lunch, too. I'm kind of glad for that, because in the classes between Biology and Math, no one else has been as friendly as him. "New!" he hollers when I enter the room with a good three minutes of passing time still remaining. I feel my face flush again and wonder why I'm happy to see him. "Come on over here, there's a seat available."

I feel the confusion cross my features as I look at him. I still haven't said anything, and honestly, I'm not sure what to say to him at this point. There is most certainly not an available seat anywhere near him. He reads my expression and elbows a large boy in the side. Not fat-large, but football-player-large. "It's okay; Emmett was just moving." He casts a pointed glance to the football-boy he'd just elbowed in the ribs.

"No, I wasn't," the boy replies, practically laughing.

"Yes, you were," Edward tells him. "Bella needs a seat. Come on, be a gentleman for once in your life, Em, jeez." I wonder about the emphasis he puts on my name, but I give up quickly; I may be young, but I know enough about boys to know that there's no point in trying to understand them.

The other boy—Emmett, apparently—looks back and forth between Edward and me a few times before grumbling something that sounds like, "She's okay, I guess," and gathering his books moves to the back of the classroom. Emmett's words make Edward's emphasis make sense. Edward's been talking about me. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but the bell rings signaling the start of class before I can do anything about it. I swiftly slide into the desk that Emmett has just vacated, and manage to go pretty much unnoticed by everyone—except Edward and his friends—the entire class period.

When the bell rings an hour later, I stand from the desk, but before I can leave, Edward places one hand on my arm. I look up at him, unable to conceal my surprise that he's touching me. Not that I mind, but I've never had a boy touch me before. As soon as I look into his eyes again, it's the same as it was in Biology earlier; I'm trapped. He's holding me hostage with just a gaze. How is he doing this? It's rather disconcerting how I can be so unable to look away, and yet not care. Edward clears his throat roughly. "Er, Bella, would you like to sit with me at lunch? I mean, us," he quickly corrects himself as the boy from the beginning of class comes over to him.

"Really?" I ask.

"Yeah, we, I mean, I… well, I'd like that."

"Thanks," I murmur.

~O~

I always knew that I was lucky to have Edward as a friend. He treated me well, and neither of us ever considered anything more. Well, he didn't. By the time I was seventeen, I'd been considering things for almost a year, but I was too much of a wimp to say anything. Until the summer before my senior year, which was the summer after Edward graduated.

~*Age Seventeen*~

"I can't believe you're going to Dartmouth. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that you're going to an Ivy League school, but New Hampshire?"

We've had this same conversation countless times over the past three months, usually in the same woods we're walking through now, and it always ends the same. "Aw, New, you know I don't want to leave you. It's too good an opportunity for me to pass up, though." His nickname for me from that first Biology class three years ago has somehow stuck. It doesn't matter that I'm not the new kid anymore; he still calls me 'New' when he's feeling playful. He stops walking and turns toward me, leaning his back against the nearest tree.

"That sounds familiar," I say, crossing my arms and rolling my eyes. It's the same thing, give or take a few words, that my dad told me right before we moved to Forks.

"Come on… that ended up working out pretty well for you, didn't it?" he reminds me.

"Yeah, because I met you. Now you're the one moving away, and, once again, like when I was fourteen, I'm the one who's not going to have any friends left."

"That's not fair, Bella. You have friends besides me." I cringe; he's suddenly changed from calling me 'New' to my actual name. That's not normally good for me.

He's right, though; I do have other friends. But none are quite the same as him. "I'm just going to miss you so much," I whisper, tears threatening to fall. It was easier last month, before he actually graduated. When we were still going to school every day, it was easy to 'forget' that he'd be gone before my next birthday. "I love you." My words come out before I've even thought them. I gasp, clapping my hand over my mouth and dropping my gaze to the ground; I've never said this before. I'm not supposed to say this. I've done a fabulous job the past year keeping up the façade, and now, in a moment of weakness, I've blown it.

"What did you say?" He cups my face, lifting my chin, effectively forcing me to look at him. I can't, though. After my revelation, I feel… exposed, ashamed, embarrassed—a myriad of things, none of them positive. Though the way he's holding my face makes it impossible for me to turn away, I still can't bring myself to meet his eyes. I know that if I meet his gaze, I'll be trapped, and I can't afford to be trapped now. When I don't say anything for several seconds, Edward implores me again. "Bella? Did I hear you correctly?"

Gulping, I nod my head. When I blink, a single tear falls from each eye, and I feel them forming tracks down my cheeks before finally falling to the ground.

"You love me?" he whispers.

When I finally talk, the words come out in a flood, and I can't stop them no matter how much I know I should. "I'm sorry; I know you don't feel the same way, and I shouldn't have said anything at all, especially now that you're only a few weeks away from leaving for college. I didn't mean to say anything. I mean, we've always just been friends, nothing more, and I'm happy with that; I promise. I think I am, anyway. But that's irrelevant, because I know you're happy with the way things are. I mean, that's why we've never been anything more than friends, right? Because we're both happy."

When I pause to take a breath, Edward speaks up. "Hang on just a second, Bella. You want more than friendship?"

"Yes. No. I don't know."

I finally bring my eyes up to his, and just like I knew would happen, I'm trapped. His gaze is intense, more intense than I've ever seen it in all the time we've been friends. We stare at each other, my brown eyes into his green ones, for what feels like an eternity. Before I have time to comprehend what he's doing, he takes half a step closer to me and presses his mouth firmly against mine. I stiffen, unsure of how I'm supposed to react, but it's impossible not to be comfortable with Edward; he's my best friend. Within seconds, I realize that this is the natural progression; we're supposed to be together. And how can I be stiff and uncomfortable when I'm being kissed by the only boy I've ever loved? So I force—no, allow—myself to relax and enjoy the moment. As soon as I do that, the kiss takes on a whole new meaning. I tilt my head to one side so I can breathe better, and move my lips against Edward's. My mouth molds against his perfectly, like we were born to be together. It's perfect—even more perfect than I expected.

As I relax into his body, my arms wrap themselves around his neck, my fingers weaving into his hair. I feel like I should be nervous, but for some reason, I'm not. I feel my heart pounding, but it's not out of nerves. The adrenaline pumping through my body isn't making me anxious like it normally would; instead, it's giving me a sense of confidence I never thought I'd have in this situation. I've only kissed two boys before this, and neither of them gave me this sense of 'rightness' that I'm feeling now. That feeling is multiplied tenfold when Edward's arms wrap around my waist, holding me close to his body. The kiss goes on and on, and yet I don't feel like it's been any time at all when Edward pulls away from me, panting. He rests his forehead against mine, and I realize that I'm panting, too. "You have no idea how long I've been waiting to do that," he whispers, his voice husky.

"Really?" I ask. It's the first thing out of my mouth, and I silently curse my lack of brain-to-mouth filter today.

"Yes, really. I've wanted to kiss you ever since we were in Biology together, Bella."

"But… biology was three years ago."

"I know."

I think about this as I stand there in the woods, forehead to forehead with Edward. He's been interested in me for three years? And I've been interested for almost a year? What the hell were we doing dating other people all this time? In fairness, it's only been a year that I've been allowed to date at all, but still… I would have rather spent that year as more than friends with Edward than finding all of this out now. As I process these thoughts, my heartbeat becomes erratic. I'm struck by the irony; when we were kissing, I was fine, but now that I know that we could have had this kind of relationship a lot longer than just the past ten minutes, I'm a quivering mess. "So, what now, then?" I ask, unable to think of anything else to say.

"Let me take you out tonight," he says.

A date? He's just asked me out on a date. "Okay," I agree. My voice is quiet, but it's because of the emotion of the situation, not trepidation.

The smile that sweeps across Edward's face is brilliant. He's always been the most handsome guy in school, but when he smiles, he's stunning. And this smile is beyond any I've ever seen from him. We haven't released our hold on each other yet, so without any difficulty—or much movement at all, really—Edward leans down again and plants another chaste kiss on my mouth.

~O~

We date all summer long, and ask each other almost daily why we never 'got together' before. Neither of us has an adequate answer to that question, and eventually, we decide it's better to look toward the future rather than the past. Not that there was anything wrong with our past; in fact, I think that since we were friends for so long first, without any romantic involvement, we're much more likely to survive the test of time.

Nothing's perfect, though; the future means being away from each other, and that thought terrifies me. And so, as we enter August, I force myself to quit looking to the future; I focus on the present. Now, we're just two teenagers playing the dating game.

~O~

The end of August brings with it the start of Edward's move. He's told me more than once this summer that he'll gladly go to Peninsula Community College to stay close to me. And I've told him each time he mentions it that I'll kick his butt if he throws away Dartmouth for me. Every time I have to tell him that, I feel a pang of sadness; what I want to tell him is 'Yes, please stay here.' But I know that's not the responsible thing to do, and even though I'm only seventeen, I know that we have to make the responsible decision. I also know that the responsible decision isn't always synonymous with the easy decision.

I go with Edward, his parents, and his sister, Alice, to the airport on the twenty-ninth of August. It's easily the most painful day of my life. It's worse than when we left Scottsdale, and I thought that was pretty bad. But if we hadn't left Scottsdale, I wouldn't have met Edward. That makes the leaving of Arizona the best thing to ever happen to me, not the worst. This is the worst. On the drive to Seattle, I sit in the backseat of Edward's parents' Mercedes between Alice and Edward. I snuggle into Edward's side the entire three-hour drive, and he wraps his arm around me. We have a hushed conversation, murmuring our promises to write and call and email and instant message. He's already made plans to come back for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and unlike my friends from my first high school, I believe Edward. I've even talked to my parents, and they've given me a tentative 'yes' on going to New Hampshire for Spring Break.

The three hours pass in a heartbeat. Before I'm ready to say good-bye, Edward's father is pulling up to SeaTac International Airport and into the parking garage. Despite the rules and regulations that prohibit us from walking with Edward all the way to his gate, we all go into the airport anyway. I'm glad for this.

His flight isn't scheduled to leave for another hour and a half, so once we find the right gate, the five of us go to the fast food restaurant nearby for lunch while we wait. I sit as close as I can to Edward, scooting my chair right next to his. I almost expect his parents to say something about it; after all, it has only been about two and a half months that we've been dating. But then I remind myself that we've been close for much, much longer than that. We hold hands under the table, fingers laced, and eat our burgers single-handed. When my food is gone, I rest my head against Edward's shoulder, and blink back tears. I take a deep breath, willing the tears not to fall. It works for now, but I don't expect to be able to hold them in all day.

I don't participate in the conversation that takes place over lunch; I simply spend these last few moments close to Edward. I know in my heart that we'll be okay during this separation, but that doesn't make me relish it any more. All too soon, a woman's voice announces that the flight to Manchester, New Hampshire is boarding. "I need a moment alone with Bella before I board, if that's okay with you guys," Edward tells his family.

"Of course," his mother, Esme, responds immediately, and pulls her husband and daughter away, leaving Edward and me alone in the fast food restaurant.

We're still seated at the little table, our chairs touching, and Edward turns my face gently toward him. "You know I'm going to miss you at least ten times as much you'll miss me, right?"

I smile sadly. "That's doubtful," I tell him.

"You should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about," Edward says in his best Gene Wilder impersonation.

I giggle at the fact that he's quoting my favorite movie. He's been watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with me at least four times a year since I moved to Forks. It's one of the reasons I love him. "I'm really going to miss hearing your giggle every day, New," he says, and now his voice is tinged with sadness.

It can tell that he's trying to mask his emotions by using his special nickname for me; it doesn't work. And the sorrow in his tone is all it takes to set into motion the tears I've been holding in all day. They flow down my face, and I don't even care right now. On some level, I think I want the people in the airport to see my grief on my face. I'm not sure it will curb the pain—in fact, I'm sure it won't—but allowing my emotions to show will somehow mark me as his, and I like the idea of that.

"Now boarding rows…" the woman's voice drones over the loudspeaker.

"I have to go," Edward whispers. We both know that our time is now down to mere minutes, but neither of us want it to end. He cups my face with both of his hands, wiping my tears away with his thumbs before leaning in for a kiss. We don't have time for one like others we've shared over the summer; it's even more chaste than our first kiss at the beginning of the season was. If there wasn't so much emotion poured into that closed-mouth kiss, I might worry about its chaste-ness, honestly. Right now, though, it doesn't matter. I can feel Edward's love radiating off of him in waves, and that calms me.

We're interrupted by the flight attendant on the loudspeaker again. "Final boarding for flight…"

I sigh and pull away reluctantly. I have to be the strong one here; when we kiss, I always have to be the strong one. I know that if I left things up to him in these situations, we'd end up permanently joined at the lips. Not that that's a bad thing, but it's definitely not in Edward's best interest. And love is all about sacrifice, right? I not only think the words, but I feel them in my soul. It's that feeling that will get me through the next nine months until Edward comes home.

~O~

I applied to Dartmouth so that I could be close to Edward, even got in, but the scholarships just weren't there. I was upset at first, but reminded myself that we'd made it through one year apart, so it couldn't be that hard to make it through another. Unfortunately, 'one more' turned into two. I ended up moving to Portland and attending culinary school instead of traditional college. I went home for all the major breaks, but not much more than that. I had an apartment in one of the suburbs that was affordable and a part time job as a waitress until I learned the art of cooking. Even though I adored cooking school, I loved the breaks even more; about half the time, going home to Forks meant that I got to see Edward. Because he was three thousand miles away rather than just two hundred and fifty, he didn't come home for all the school breaks, so the ones he was home for were especially sweet.

While I hated being away from everyone I knew and loved—my parents in Forks and Edward at Dartmouth—I loved cooking school. The best part was that I graduated in only two years and my school had a placement program. Even when I talked to my staff advisor and told her that I wanted to move to the east coast, she assured me that they had connections all over the country, so location wouldn't be a problem. The bigger issue was telling my parents that I wasn't planning to live in Forks permanently after graduation.

~*Age Twenty *~

I've just graduated, and I've never been so nervous in my entire life. I was pretty nervous when I told my parents I wanted to go to Oregon Culinary Institute, but they took that news in stride. Now that I've graduated from OCI, it's time for me to really start my career. And three years away from my boyfriend has been more than enough. It's time to tell my parents that I'm moving to New Hampshire, not back to Forks. My advisor got me a job in Concord, which is only an hour away from Dartmouth, so for the first time since we started our official relationship, Edward and I would be living in close enough proximity that we could actually date for real. We've had multiple phone conversations about the job that the school found for me, and Edward's assured me that the restaurant is one of the nicer ones in the area. There was a bit of awkward conversation about whether we'd live together or not; ultimately we decided that it was too soon for that, so we would keep separate apartments for the time being. I hope that little piece of news will be enough to keep my parents from blowing up at me when I tell them that I'm moving three thousand miles away from them.

We're still in Portland, my parents having driven down for my graduation. Even Esme, Carlisle, and Alice came to support me. Edward isn't coming back from Dartmouth until next week, so it's just the six of us for now. My parents offer to take everyone out to dinner in celebration of my accomplishment. We go to one of the nicest places in town, and I know my parents are spending a fortune on this meal. I feel bad, therefore, in the news I have to give them tonight, but it's better to let them know sooner rather than later that this will be my last summer in Forks. My job in Concord starts in conjunction with the beginning of Edward's senior year.

Once the waiter has taken our orders and gathered up the menus, the conversation starts. "We're so proud of you, Bella," my mom gushes. "I don't expect you to have gone to culinary school for two years only to work at the diner or The Lodge, though. Have you applied to any of the restaurants in Seattle yet?"

My mom is a smart woman. She may not know precisely what my plans are, but she knows that I do have plans, and she's asking mainly to get the conversation ball rolling.

I swallow thickly and address my parents. "Actually, Mom, Dad, I don't need to apply to any of the restaurants in Seattle. I've already got a job through the job placement program through the school."

"Really, Bells? That's great." My dad looks pleased with this news. He's always been my practical parent. Knowing that I've already got a job when I just graduated earlier today gives him some real peace of mind, I'm sure. "When do you start?"

I pick up my water glass and take a drink to avoid answering the question just yet. I can't put it off forever, though, and my parents—and the Cullens, too, for that matter—are all looking at me, waiting to hear my answer. The rapt attention that Esme, Carlisle, and Alice are offering me leads me to believe that Edward hasn't mentioned to them our plans, either. Carefully setting my glass down on the coaster, I look back and forth between my parents. I care about the Cullens, too, but right now I need to speak to my parents. "I start the first week of September."

"Why so long from now?" My dad always was really blunt.

"Er, well, Dad, because the job's on the east coast, and I wanted to spend one last summer with you. I'll be working in a small, independently owned Greek restaurant called 'Elizabeth's Kitchen' in Concord. Concord, New Hampshire." During my short speech, I've dropped my gaze and my eyes are tracing the pattern on the tablecloth.

Our entire group is silent for several seconds, but before too long has passed, Esme is speaking up. I'm sure all five of them realize the significance of New Hampshire, but all the others are too stunned to comment on it. "Oh, Bella, that's wonderful. Now you and Edward will be able to court properly."

My mother chokes on her water at Esme's words. I guess I was wrong; she didn't realize the significance. "Bella, is that really the reason you've taken that particular job?"

When she puts it this way, it sounds cheap and tawdry, but I can't lie to my mom. "Yeah, Mom, it is. We've been dating long distance for three years now, and Edward still has one year at Dartmouth to go. I couldn't stand the thought of another year of telephone and email dating. I love you, please know that, but I love him, too. I want to be near Edward."

I expect some backlash from my parents, but there is none. They understand young love, having been high school sweethearts themselves. They got married at eighteen to avoid having to do the long-distance relationship thing, and they mention tonight how proud they are that Edward and I have seemed to make it work, never giving up on one another or pressuring each other to change our dreams. "I'll miss you, but I can't blame you for making this choice," my mother says at one point.

~O~

We lived in separate apartments for Edward's entire senior year. It was a financial strain at times, and we discussed living together, but in the end, we decided that our moral code was worth more to either of us than the money we'd save by living together. We dated a lot, mostly during the week. Looking back, I realized that must have been incredibly hard on Edward, but he never complained, not even once. Weekend dates were virtually out of the question; being the 'bottom woman on the totem pole,' I rarely got a weekend off from work.

Nine months after I'd moved to New Hampshire, Edward graduated from Dartmouth with honors and a degree in music. What he really wanted to do was compose, but he was a realist and knew that he'd probably end up teaching, at least for awhile, until he got his name out there as a serious writer. Because I was working and not attending school, we didn't get to go back to Forks for the summer. I was able to get some time off for the winter holidays, but all summer long was out of the question. Edward's parents, who had been paying for his schooling and living expenses the past four years so that he could focus on his education instead of having to work, agreed to cover everything for the summer, after which point, they'd expect him to have found a job. So while I was becoming a master chef and working my way up through the ranks at Elizabeth's, Edward was applying to every school between Hanover and Concord.

By the end of July, he was really discouraged; he'd literally applied to and interviewed at dozens of public and private schools and hadn't heard anything back from a single one. On August first, however, he finally got the phone call he'd been waiting for. One of the larger middle schools in Concord had their music teacher break her contract at the last minute, and they wanted Edward. We made the decision to leave Hanover since I was working in Concord, too, and get apartments in the capital.

~*Age Twenty-One*~

Edward and I have kept our physical relationship pure the entire time we've been together. Of course, that was easy when we were living across the country from one another; now that we're just across town, the temptation is a lot stronger. We talk about it frequently, though, and decide that no matter how tough the temptation is, we are going to save our physical relationship for our wedding night. Whether or not we will get married isn't an uncertainty; the question is simply when.

For Edward's twenty-third birthday, we decide to go on a road trip to the city—New York. It's only five hours away, but I haven't been there yet. His birthday falls on a Saturday this year, which I would have to work on under normal circumstances. For this weekend, though, I've gotten time off from work so that we can make the trip.

We check into the motel first—nothing fancy, just a basic room with two beds—and load our overnight bags into the room. We didn't leave Concord until noon, so by the time we get to the room, there's just enough time for a quick shower and change of clothes before it's time to go to the restaurant for dinner.

The restaurant is nicer than any I've ever been in; definitely fancier than Elizabeth's back home. I'd love to own a restaurant like this one day. I assume that the elegant restaurant choice is because it's Edward's birthday; that, and the fact that we're celebrating his new job. I don't suspect that anything is going on until after the food's gone.

"Bella?" he asks after the waiter has placed the check on the table.

I look at him across the table; he's normally very confident, almost to the point of cocky, but not now. Right now, he looks incredibly nervous, possibly even scared. "What's wrong?" I can't keep the concern out of my voice at his expression. I've never seen Edward look like that before.

"Nothing's wrong, love. I just have something important I want to talk to you about before we leave."

"Oh. Okay." I'd been reaching for my purse, but I stop and offer Edward my full attention.

"Bella, I know I've told you at least once before how enamored I was with you from the moment I first laid eyes on you." I smile at him. He's told me that several times, actually, but I remember the first time the best; it was the day I blurted out that I loved him. "You were the new girl in school, and from the moment you walked into that biology classroom, I was done for. I knew that I eventually wanted you all for my own. And then when you expressed having similar feelings for me three years later, well, I thought that was the happiest day of my life. I hope that tonight will replace that moment for me."

He's gazing at me in earnest, and the nervousness from before seems to have evaporated. As I watch him, he stands from his seat and walks around the small table; his left hand reaches into the pocket of his suit jacket and I gasp. Things are becoming clear to me now. Confirming my theory, Edward reaches my side of the table and drops to one knee, bringing his hand out of the pocket; there's a black velvet box resting in his palm. "Bella, I promise I'll love you and take care of you for as long as I live. Will you marry me?"

I know the answer before he's even gotten the question out, and I answer without delay. "Yes! Yes, of course I will." Tears of joy are streaming down my face.

"Yes?" he asks, as if he can't believe that I've just accepted his proposal.

"Yes, Edward; I want to marry you." I reach my hands out and cup his face, looking directly into his eyes so that he can see my sincerity. His eyes light up and he slips the diamond solitaire out of the box and slips the ring onto my finger. He rises to his feet, pulling me up with him and plants a firm kiss on my mouth. I'm surprised at first, since we're in the middle of a crowded New York City restaurant, but Edward doesn't seem to even notice the people all around us. Realizing that he doesn't care relaxes me, and I melt into his embrace, allowing my mouth to move with his. We seem to have the desire to deepen the kiss simultaneously, and our tongues twist and turn together in each other's mouths. I don't know how long we stand there in the dining room kissing, but when Edward eventually pulls away, it's too soon.

It's when he pulls away that the applause starts. Looking around the restaurant, I see that we've had an audience this entire time. Edward looks around and grins. "We're getting married!" he announces proudly. I blush deeply at his pronouncement, but only because of the crowd; I'm not ashamed of having just promised to pledge my life to Edward.

When the applause dies down—after what feels like ages while I stand there, beet-red—Edward pulls me into an intimate hug. "I love you, New," he murmurs into my hair.

"I love you, too, Edward."

~O~

The next twelve months were spent planning the wedding, which was a lot more difficult considering I knew absolutely nothing about weddings, and both of our mothers lived three thousand miles away. Edward and I were pretty much on our own in Concord, and that's why we made the decision to go back to Forks to get married. It made more sense for us to go there—especially since we both considered the Olympic Peninsula 'home'—than for all of our family and friends to come to New Hampshire. Despite going through roughly four times my normal amount of cell phone minutes, I don't regret letting our mothers have such a heavy hand in the planning of the wedding. Elizabeth, my boss, was very understanding and let me have extra time off during all of Edward's school breaks, and we made the trip to Forks to look at the venue options that my mom and Esme had presented as options, as well as various flowers, dresses, and other minute details that I never even thought about when I'd attended weddings in the past.

During our Christmas visit that year, we announced the day we'd chosen to get married. It took a lot of talking, but I finally convinced Edward that I wanted to get married on his birthday. It made sense logistically, since it was during summer break, so he wouldn't need to get extra time off from his teaching job, plus it felt especially poignant to me to get married on the one-year anniversary of his proposal. And, his birthday was on a Sunday that year; a weekend wedding was the most convenient. He argued that perhaps we didn't want his birthday and our anniversary tied together year after year, but I couldn't think of anything I'd rather have. Edward was the most important person in my life, and to share our wedding day with the day of his birth seemed perfect to me. After making my case several times, he finally agreed.

The last week in March was our last chance to get to Forks for final preparations before the big day. I couldn't believe how understanding Elizabeth was with all my time off requests, but she never complained once, and there was never any backlash—cut hours, lack of promotions or anything else—aimed at me. I spent half the week with my mother and Esme, trying on wedding dresses before I finally found the perfect one. It had a bell skirt that swished when I moved my hips and was sleeveless—perfect for a June wedding. The wide shoulder straps were decorated with white fabric roses, and it had a detachable train; that way I could have a traditional dress for the ceremony, but remove the train so I wasn't bogged down with the extra fabric during the reception. Edward and I spent an entire afternoon in Stanleys' Bakery sampling cakes; ultimately we decided on one tier of chocolate, one tier of white, and one tier of raspberry. The only thing that we were missing was the final venue. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break, we must have looked at four or five dozen options, but none of them felt quite right to me. The day before our flight back to New Hampshire, I realized why. I was a simple girl with simple tastes; I wanted to get married in the place I'd come to consider home. When I'd approached my parents about getting married in their backyard, they seemed surprised at first, but after making sure that that really was what I wanted, they agreed, making sure I knew how flattered they were about my choice.

I was so excited about marrying Edward that the next three months passed at a snail's pace. With the finer details of the big day all planned, my cell phone usage returned to normal. The one thing that we hadn't planned with our mothers was the honeymoon; Edward and I decided that we wanted to plan that together, with no outside help. Since my parents insisted on being traditional and paying for the event itself, Edward's parents wouldn't take 'no' for an answer when they offered us money to make our honeymoon plans with. It was a true blessing, too; I didn't earn huge wages at the restaurant, and because Edward was new in the school district, he was toward the bottom of the pay scale. The financial gift from Carlisle and Esme allowed us to plan our dream trip—two weeks in Hawaii.

~*Age Twenty-Two*~

The ceremony and reception are exactly what I'd pictured; a small, intimate service with just family and a few of our friends from high school. By the end of the day, Edward and I both agree that this is our new favorite memory together. "But," he makes sure to add, "I hope to add even more amazing memories with you over the next eighty years."

We're in the hotel room in Seattle, both in comfortable nighttime clothes, by this point; our flight leaves in the morning. "Eighty years?" I ask. "That seems awfully ambitious."

"We're young, I have no doubt that we can make it eighty years," he says with his trademark crooked grin.

"Well, I'm definitely up for trying," I reply, stretching up on my toes to kiss him.

With just that one little maneuver—a kiss—the mood goes from playful to serious in one fell swoop. We've done it; we've kept our relationship chaste and pure for five years—until our wedding day. Now that we're joined together legally, neither of our moral codes of ethics will be marred by coming together physically, too.

As my lips move with Edward's, butterflies flutter around in my stomach. I don't think I'm nervous, but rather… excited to take this step. I don't know how long we stand there, just kissing like we always have, nothing more than anything we've done before, before Edward pulls away minutely. "Are you ready, love? Because we don't have to do this tonight if you don't want to. I'm okay with—"

I cut him off with another kiss. "I'm definitely ready," I assure him. "I've wanted to take this step with you for a long time, but I'm not sorry that we waited. I think the fact that we waited will make tonight even more special than it would have been otherwise."

His smile lights up the whole room. "Yeah, I think you're right."

We make our way to one of the two queen beds in the room and lie together on top of the comforter, allowing the kisses to grow more heated. Within minutes, I'm panting and gasping for breath, definitely feeling the anticipation building between us. My fingers trail along his perfectly toned chest and abs; he's shirtless for the night, wearing only a pair of black pajama pants. With only the thin fabric of his pajama bottoms and just-as-thin shorts I'm wearing, I can clearly feel his arousal against my leg. When my fingers begin to tease the elastic waistband of his pants, I can feel his smile against my lips. "Go ahead," he whispers, sitting up and pulling me with him to the edge of the bed. He stands at the foot of the bed to allow me full access.

My own lips turn up at the corners as I stretch the elastic and pull the pants down over his hips. I gasp at the sight before me. He's gone commando, and with his pajamas now on the floor, I can see him in all of his natural glory. "You're beautiful," I murmur, unable to keep the words in.

"You're not so bad yourself, New," he replies, his voice just as quiet as mine, but laced with something I've only rarely heard from him—his 'turned-on voice.' He holds his hands out to me, and I place my hands in his, standing with him. He carefully lifts the hem of my camisole just a couple of inches, as if he's asking permission to continue. The timidity suddenly strikes me as a bit silly; it may be our first time, but we are married now. I lift my arms up over my head, an open invitation for him to remove my top, which he accepts with a deliriously happy grin. Once the shirt is on the floor with his pajamas, he runs his thumbs around my waist, playing with the elastic on my shorts in much the same way I did with his pants just a moment before. The third time they reach my hips—after having from my belly button to the small of my back and then to my belly button again—he pushes them to the floor.

I've imagined this moment for years—the first time being completely naked with Edward—and I was always nervous in my daydreams. Now that it's real, I'm calm; not a single trace of the nerves I've felt in my imagination are here. And I realize that that's a good thing; why should I be nervous? There's nothing to be worried or ashamed of with Edward. He's been my best friend for eight years, my boyfriend for five of them, and now he's my husband. I've always been more comfortable with him than I have with anyone else, and that's not going to change now—in fact, quite the opposite; we're going to get more and more comfortable with one another as our relationship continues to blossom. For the next eighty years.

Stretching up, I place another kiss on his mouth, wrapping my arms around his shoulders. We move together back onto the bed as the kiss deepens, our lips never separating as we make our way up to the pillows. Lying on our sides facing each other, our hands begin to explore each other's bodies in ways they never have before. Unsure of exactly how to… handle him, I simply trail my fingers over his erection, up and down; he squirms a bit and whispers into my mouth, "Try wrapping your hand around me." When I do that, I can tell the difference instantly; his breathing picks up and I can feel him growing even harder within my grasp.

He doesn't let me keep control of the situation, however. His touch is gentle, but the moment his fingers slip between my legs, I nearly come apart at the seams. The careful way he strokes me, the love he's pouring out by touching me so intimately, and I can barely stand it. I've never felt an orgasm before, but I've read that it's the 'climax of sexual excitement.' I know I'm new at this, but damn, if it gets better than the soft touch of my husband's hands, then count me in.

"You're so wet, baby," Edward rasps out, his voice gravelly with desire. "I can't wait to be inside you."

"I want that, too," I assure him, and I'm surprised to hear my own voice has the same husky quality as his just did.

"But not quite yet," he says, pulling his hand out from between my legs. I want to ask him why he's done that—stopped—but I don't. He doesn't leave me time to think it over before he's palming my breasts, carefully pinching first one nipple, then the other. I never thought having my nipples pinched would feel good, but dear God, does it ever. I push my chest closer to him, and he reads my desires correctly, taking one peak into his mouth and swirling his tongue all over me, flicking gently. I gasp at the sensation. How does having my breasts played with make my girly bits feel so good, too? I don't know, but it does.

"Oh, God, that feels so good," I pant.

He adjusts us so that I'm lying on my back, and he's straddling my hips, then he leans down and takes the opposite breast into his warm mouth. "Keep touching me, Bella," he mumbles around my flesh; I hadn't even realized that I'd stopped because he was making me feel so good. Remembering that he preferred my hand wrapped around his shaft, I did that this time instead of the feathery trails that I ran before, and I was rewarded with a deep moan that vibrated my nipple and shot straight to my core.

"Please, Edward, can we—" My question is cut off when he suddenly moves his mouth from my chest and trails his soft lips down my torso, peppering my skin with scorching hot kisses. A shiver of pleasure runs down my spine when he pauses to suckle gently on the flesh at my hip bone. I'm so lost in the feeling of his mouth caressing my body and the sensation of his tongue against my skin that I don't even mind when his kisses reach my girlie parts. I gasp in surprise and delight as his tongue sweeps gently across my folds. Again, I feel no embarrassment at Edward's mouth being on my most intimate parts; instead I feel thrilled to be sharing such an erotic experience with him. My body takes over, and my mind takes a back seat as I become consumed with the sensations coursing through my body. My hands fist his hair holding him in place as my legs part of their own accord giving Edward more access to my heated core. His tongue delves deeper flicking at the bundle of nerves at my center, causing a wanton moan to escape my throat. My cry of pleasure seems to spur Edward on, and he sucks the bundle of nerves into his mouth. A wave of indescribable sensations crashes over me; my heart races, my body tenses, my legs shake and lights dance before my eyes. My mind becomes a foggy haze, incapable of coherent thought, as I drown in a sea of ecstasy. As my mind begins to clear, and the trembling in my limbs subsides, I feel Edward's lips press against my own. I welcome his mouth eagerly, barely noticing that while he's kissing me, he's lining us up, preparing our bodies to connect.

Slowly, he pushes inside, inch by inch, continuing to kiss me even though I've stiffened. It's not the most painful thing I've ever felt, but it's also not the best thing, either. My breathing picks up, and I close my eyes, trying so hard to focus on Edward's mouth instead, but it's fruitless. And then he stops. "Are you okay, baby?" he whispers.

I don't reply immediately; I pause for a moment to take stock of the situation, and after a few seconds, I realize that I am okay. The pain really isn't that bad, and I love that I'm actually having sex with Edward. "Yes, I'm fine." I smile at him in an attempt to prove my words.

He smiles back at me, and then begins moving, slowly at first. My breathing is still erratic, until I realize that the movement he's making actually feels good. The friction is exactly what I needed, and the more he moves, the better I feel. Planting my feet on the bed, I move my hips in time with his, meeting him thrust for thrust. "Oh, God, Bella, I'm close," he utters. I'm pretty sure that I haven't come yet, but I'm okay with that. I think I read in that same article that defined 'orgasm' that women hardly ever have one their first time, so it's not that important to me—this time.

"Come for me, baby," I urge him, wanting to feel, to see, him reach his pinnacle. I can tell the instant he does—not only does his face contort into an expression of absolute bliss, but I can feel him inside me, the way he contracts as he comes. It's amazing.

As he comes down from his high, it's as if he's read my mind. "That was amazing, baby. God, I love you."

"I love you, too," I whisper, peppering his chest with kisses as he pulls out and rolls over, pulling me with him until we're lying on our sides facing each other, just like we were in the beginning.

~O~

Hawaii was nice, but if it weren't for the pictures, I don't think I would remember anything from that trip today. Now, even though my memory fades a little more each day, I still remember our wedding night as if it was yesterday. And if I'm being honest, my favorite part about Hawaii was making love to Edward every morning and again every night in our hotel room.

After the honeymoon, we went back to Concord and lived there for three and a half more years. When I found out I was pregnant at twenty-five, though, I knew I wanted to raise our child to grow up close to her grandparents. Edward wasn't attending school anymore, so the only things holding us to the east coast were our jobs. That seemed silly to me, to live so far from our families instead of relocating back to Washington and finding new jobs.

And so, one month before my twenty-sixth birthday, while I was five months pregnant, we moved cross-country. Our parents were thrilled to say the least.

We lived in an inexpensive apartment in Forks while we shopped for houses, and the first week of November, we finally found one that we both loved. The house had been vacant, and we got lucky; between the time we made our initial offer on the house and the time we were able to move in was only about three weeks. By Thanksgiving, we were out of the apartment, and though we weren't completely settled in the house on the outskirts of Forks, we were well on our way.

The timing couldn't have been better, either.

~*Age Twenty-Six*~

"Ugh, I can't do any more." I'm more tired than I've ever been in my entire life. I don't honestly think I can push again; this baby is just going to have to stay inside me. I'm oddly okay with that. Yesterday, all I wanted was for her to come out, but today, so long as I can rest, I don't care if she's never born.

"Yes, you can, New; you're doing so good," Edward tells me. I can't believe that twelve years later, he's still calling me 'New.'

"I really, really can't," I whine.

"He's right, Bella; you're doing great," Dr. Stone says from the foot of my bed. She glances up at the monitors by my head and lets me know that another contraction is coming. "You're going to need to push again. I know you can do it."

"No. I just want to rest." I realize that I sound like a petulant child, but I don't care. I've been pushing for over an hour with very little to show for it.

"Baby, do it for me. For us. For Aria." That's what gets me going, hearing the name we've chosen for our daughter falling from Edward's lips. I take a deep breath, and when Dr. Stone gives the order, I tuck my chin to my chest and push harder than I have yet.

"Excellent, Bella. That was really good. Two or three more like that and I think you'll have yourself a baby."

I get one minute of rest before I have to push again, this time gaining another round of praises from everyone in the room—Edward, Dr. Stone, the nurse, and my mother. I don't really process much of what they're saying, but I do think I hear the word 'crowning' from the doctor's lips. That's a good thing; crowning means I'm almost done.

Desperate to be done, I focus as hard as I can through the next contraction and am rewarded with a feeling of immense relief. "Well done, Bella. Your baby is here." I can hear the smile in Dr. Stone's voice and feel a strange sensation; I realize belatedly that it was the baby's feet slipping out of me. "Would you like to cut the cord, Daddy?" she asks Edward.

He looks down at me, almost as if he's silently asking my permission to leave my side. "Go," I tell him. "I think you should do it."

He flashes me an enormous grin and walks across the room. When he returns a few minutes later, he's holding a tiny bundle of blankets—our daughter. He hands her to me, and I murmur, "She's perfect."

~O~

Aria was an only child and the light of our lives, especially Edward. She was a daddy's girl through and through. Her grandparents spoiled her, but even as a child, she had a very un-conceited nature. While she never wanted for anything, she rarely asked for anything or even seemed to realize how charmed her life really was. She was the most down-to-Earth kid I'd ever known. It was a lovely thing to see.

After her birth, I quit my job at the Forks diner to stay home with her until she was old enough to enter public school, which she did when she was six. We were regulars in the diner that whole time, and the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Cope, made it clear every time we went in there that I could have my job back any time I wanted it. When Aria entered first grade, I decided to take the Copes up on their offer, but I was adamant that it only be part time. Mrs. Cope—a loving grandmother—completely understood and never fought me on the fact that I insisted on being home to see Aria off on the bus in the morning and back before the bus dropped her off in the afternoon. She knew that family was the most important thing in life.

I'd been working for Mrs. Cope for three years when she came to me with an interesting proposition. She and Mr. Cope had decided that they were ready to retire, and even though I was only a part-time employee, she said that she couldn't imagine anyone else running the diner. She offered me a great deal on both the building and the business. I was stunned, but knew that I couldn't make this decision on my own.

~*Age Thirty-Five*~

"I'm not sure I want to; I've always been here for Aria in the mornings and afternoons, and I'd hate to start missing out on that time now. But it's an amazing opportunity," I say, wrapping up my speech—which has mostly been a regurgitation of what Mrs. Cope told me this afternoon in the diner after the lunch crowd had dissipated.

"Well, let's look at this logically," Edward says, holding both of my hands in his. Aria's in bed, so it's just the two of us, talking things over and making a grown-up decision. "Pros and cons a good way to start?"

Two hours and a long list of pros and cons later, we've decided that we'll probably take the Copes up on their offer. It all comes down to the fact that I'd always wanted to own my own restaurant—that had been my goal when I went to culinary school—and this seems like the best way to do that. I always imagined that when I did finally get my own restaurant, it would be something more diverse than the Forks Diner, but—as Edward points out—the menu can be altered any way I want. "There's no law that says just because it's the Forks Diner when you buy it, you can't turn it into Bella's House of Fine Food."

I giggle at that. "House of Fine Food?"

"Whatever," he laughs along with me, teasingly pushing me away from him. "You know what I mean."

I love that no matter how old we get, how long we've been together, we can still laugh and tease and play. Nothing about our relationship is old and stale, even though we've been together for eighteen years and married for thirteen. When we've calmed down, I look back at the pros and cons list. There's one more con that seems to be glaring at me; I mentioned it to Edward at the beginning of the conversation, but I can't shake the feeling that it needs to be mentioned again. "What about Aria? I've always been here for her; if I have a business to run, I'm afraid that I'll be working too much."

"Does Mrs. Cope work open to close every day?"

"No."

"That's right; she doesn't. And, New, even if she did, that's the beauty of being the boss. You get to decide what works for you. If you keep the staff, then you'll have people who already know the ropes, people you can trust to help you run the place. There's nothing wrong with trusting the employees."

What he's saying makes sense, and nothing else on the 'cons' list seems important anymore. "That is the most convincing argument I've heard all night. Thank you for talking this over with me and actually considering it. I know it was a crazy proposition, but I think it'll be fun, too."

"Don't get your hopes up too high, though. We still have to talk to the bank and make sure we can get the loan to pay for it. Good deal or not, it's still more money than we have in the savings account."

"I know. And Edward?"

"Yes?"

"I love it that you still call me 'New.'"

"You'll always be my New," he replies, leaning in and capturing my mouth with his.

~O~

The best part about living in a small town was that the bank looked more at our references than our credit score. With the police chief, the head doctor of the ER, and the almost-former owner of the diner on our side, getting the loan didn't prove to be a problem.

I never did change the 'Forks Diner' to 'Bella's House of Fine Food,' either. There was just something special about the diner, and it felt like it would have blasphemous to change even one thing about it. Between the diner and Edward's high-paying office job in Port Angeles, we did quite well for ourselves. Edward ended up being right about my worries regarding the time I'd miss out with Aria, too. I kept all the staff on at the diner, and Jacob, the manager under Mrs. Cope, stayed on with me as well, and I never had to miss seeing her in the mornings or afternoons. He ran a tight ship, and I trusted him implicitly; he never betrayed that trust.

With Aria now attending Yale—Edward was a little miffed that she went Ivy League but not Dartmouth (all in jest, of course)—there was no reason for me to keep my short hours. Edward was right about how nice it was to be the boss, too; every single time Aria came home for a break, I was available. She and I were close, and I was thankful every day for that special bond we had.

When she called us in late October of her junior year asking if she could bring a friend home for Thanksgiving, I assumed it would be a female friend. How wrong I was…

Seth was a nice boy, as nice as they come. While I would have preferred that Aria focus on her schooling, I knew that was a pipe dream. Besides, it wasn't like she hadn't dated during high school, but there was something special about Seth; I could see it in the way they looked at each other. It was the same way Edward and I still looked at each other. When Edward came to me after Aria and Seth had gone back to Connecticut for the end of fall term, he confessed that Seth had asked his permission to propose to our baby girl.

"You told him yes, right?" I asked. "Because he's perfect for her."

"I did. I saw the looks, too. They look just like your parents, my parents, and us."

"Yes, they do."

Aria called us the night Seth proposed, and I think I was nearly as giddy as she was.

While Aria still considered Forks to be 'home,' Seth was from Connecticut, and since they were going to school there and Aria had been living there for nine months out of each of the past three years, they made the decision to have their wedding there. So, the following summer, the eight of us—my parents, Edward's parents, Alice and her new husband, Jasper, and us—made the trip back east for her nuptials.

~*Age Fifty-One*~

We're in the bride's room of the little church Seth grew up in; it's actually just the nursery, which feels oddly appropriate to me. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago that I sat in a chair just like the one I can see across the room from me now, rocking my little girl to sleep. And now she's not so little anymore; I'm watching as her best friends, Claire and Emily, apply last minute dabs of powder over Aria's nose and cheeks—she's been cursed with my red face. She wears it better than I ever did, though. I can't imagine a more beautiful bride, and tears involuntarily fill my eyes. I blink, willing them not to fall and ruin my makeup. I don't want to enter the church sanctuary looking like a raccoon. Spotting a box of Kleenex nearby, I grab one and dab at my eyes; Aria sees me and excuses herself from Claire's clutches, making her way over to me.

"What's wrong, Mom?" She sits next to me on the mauve pew that's placed beneath the window of the children's playroom.

"Absolutely nothing is wrong, baby," I tell her. "I just can't believe you're getting married. I'm happy for you, though; I promise. You and Seth are perfect together."

"I know; every time he looks at me, I feel exactly the same way you look when Dad looks at you. I never understood it until Seth, but now I get it. It's the best feeling in the world, isn't it?" Her smile lights up the entire room.

"The absolute best," I agree.

There's a knock on the door, and Edward comes in with his hand covering his eyes. "Is everybody decent?" he asks loudly, causing all of the women in the room to giggle.

"Daddy," Aria admonishes him playfully as she walks over to him and grabs his elbow, pulling his hand away from his eyes. "What are you doing in here? This is the women's room."

"I've been told by the wedding coordinator that it's nearly time to start. She was going to come in and get you, but I asked for that honor; I couldn't wait to see my baby any longer. You look beautiful, sweetheart."

Aria's blush rivals mine as she stretches up on her toes and whispers something I can't hear in Edward's ear and then kisses him on the cheek; I can see the tears glistening in his eyes as our daughter drops back down to her feet, and he turns and walks out of the room.

~O~

"You looked almost sad this afternoon," I tell him when we're in our hotel room together that night.

"Sad? No, not sad; emotional, of course, but not sad."

"What did she whisper to you when you came to tell her that it was time?" I've been holding that particular question in all day. I was never really one to gossip, but this one's been eating at me. I don't begrudge the two of them the little secret, and I won't press the issue if he doesn't tell me, but it's also not like Aria to tell her father things that she doesn't also share with me.

"Nothing really. Just a reminder of her love for us," he tells me, leaning down to kiss my forehead. "Our little girl's all grown up." His voice is almost too quiet to hear this time, and I know that the emotions of the day are catching up with him.

"She is. That's not a bad thing, though," I remind him. I'm not oblivious to the fact that our roles are reversed right now; normally, I think the mother would a mess and the father happy to have his wife to himself again.

"You're right, New," he says. "It's not a bad thing."

"I love that you still call me 'New' on occasion. I don't know if I've ever mentioned that, but it makes me smile every time. It's like a tribute to a younger version of us. I mean, the moniker doesn't really fit—I'm not 'new' anymore, and neither is our relationship." He's sitting on the bed now, removing his shoes and socks. I watch him, planning my move carefully; as soon as he relaxes, I move swiftly and perch on his lap.

I quickly press my lips to his, anxious to show him that even after twenty-nine years of marriage, there's still nothing and no one I want more than him. I sweep my tongue over his lower lip, and he growls slightly; I've learned over all our years together that when he growls like that, it's a very good thing. My boldness tonight is quickly rewarded as he practically rips my dress from my body. I love that even as we've aged, our passion has never diminished. As much as I don't want to, I stand from his lap and pull him up with me; now that I've started, I'm desperate to feel his skin against mine. I make quick work of the buttons on his shirt, and within seconds, we've tumbled onto the bed, a mass of tangled limbs and frantic kisses, consumed with a ferocious passion reminiscent of our wedding night.

As I lay spent in his arms an hour later, I know I'll never tire of loving him.

~O~

The day Aria and Seth got married still lives in my mind as one of the best of that Edward and I spent together. Not only did our daughter marry her soul mate, but we proved to ourselves that we were just as vibrant twenty-nine years into our marriage as we had been the day we got married. Fourteen years later, we still lived a very active life; we worked, though retirement was on both of our radars as something we thought we were ready for. Aria and Seth had gifted us with two beautiful grandchildren, and just as Aria had been the light of our lives in her childhood, our grandsons were our joy now.

We went through some hard times, too. We'd supported each other through the deaths of all four of our parents. That's the problem with getting older; eventually all the people around you die. The only guarantee in life is death, and even knowing that fact doesn't make it any easier to deal with things when it's your parent who's passed on. If it weren't for Edward, I didn't think I'd ever have made it through. He was my life, through and through. He often said the same thing about me, and that was why our relationship worked when so many of those around us failed as time went on.

As we continued to age, we talked more and more about what we wanted to do in retirement. The one thing we kept coming back to was that we wanted to be closer to Aria and Seth and the boys. They'd made their home in Connecticut, and we'd stayed in Forks, running the diner and being close to our parents. With no familial obligations on the West coast any longer, we decided that it made more sense for us to be near the family we had left than to stay and run the diner forever.

~*Age Sixty-Five*~

"You're sure you want to give up the diner? You've had it for thirty years," Edward says when I mention the idea the first time.

"I think it's time to bestow the same gift on one of my employees that Mrs. Cope did on me," I reply. The thought of Mrs. Cope and her funeral—which we'd attended less than a year ago—brings a tear to my eye. "The diner's done well for us, and we're set up for retirement. I kind of view it as a… well, charity's not quite the right word, but you know what I mean? It was a blessing to us when we were younger, and I'd like to offer it to someone else. There's no draw for us here, anymore, Edward, and I'd rather help out another young couple in their dreams of owning a business and go live nearer to Aria and Seth than to stay here where we're all alone. Does that make sense?"

His features have changed over the years; his bronze hair has grayed and he's developed a few wrinkles, but he's still the most handsome man I've ever laid eyes on. The one thing that hasn't changed in all our years together is his trademark smirk; he offers it to me now, and I can't help but smile back. "It makes perfect sense, love. So, do you have someone in mind for this… gift?"

"I do. Jacob's been with me since the beginning, and his son has been there as a tag-along since he was old enough to walk and as an employee since he was eighteen; I think the two of them would be perfect."

"That's a beautiful idea, Bella."

~O~

Though Jacob was older than I was when Edward and I purchased the diner, he was still stunned at my offer. Between our savings and Edward's retirement fund, we had enough saved up that I was able to offer the diner to Jacob and his son Sam for not much more than I paid Mrs. Cope thirty years before. Once I adjusted for inflation, I was pretty sure that I actually took a loss on the business, but I didn't care. It felt good to offer Jake the diner. Six months after that conversation, Edward and I had also sold our house. The money from that was added to our retirement fund; we made the decision to simply rent an apartment when we got to Connecticut. Neither of us could see the wisdom in taking out a mortgage in our old age.

We lived in that apartment for the next thirty-seven years—in hindsight, we should have purchased a house. As morbid as it sounds, neither of us thought we'd actually survive a full thirty years to pay off another mortgage, though, and the last thing we wanted was to leave debt for our daughter. It is during this year—on Edward's one hundred and fourth birthday—that my story concludes.

~*Age One Hundred and Two*~

"I told you we'd make it eighty years," he says to me, his voice frail. "I never doubted that we'd miss out on this anniversary."

"You did tell me that," I reply. My voice is even frailer than his. It's hard to believe that the weak sound coming from my chest is my voice. I never imagined myself being this old.

We had to move out of the apartment a few months ago; we've been healthy and strong, but we finally had to admit that we're old. It was getting harder and harder to keep up on the place, even though it was only six hundred square feet. Aria and Seth offered to let us stay with them, but that was silly; they're in their mid-seventies now, and it won't be long before they decide to live in an assisted living facility, too. The place we've chosen is nice; it's not a nursing home, it's more like an apartment complex for older people. We have our own space, complete with a private bathroom and kitchen, but regular meals are provided in case we want or need them. Honestly, I wish there had been a place like this when we were in our thirties.

Edward pushes my wheelchair down the hallway from our apartment to the dining hall—as much as I loved to cook when I was in my prime, I rarely have the energy to do it anymore, and our kitchenette remains sadly unused most days. Despite the fact that he's a year and a half older than me, he's managed to stay in better physical health.

"Have I told you 'happy birthday' yet today?" I ask, because I honestly can't remember.

"You have, New. Although, I'm more concerned with the fact that it's our anniversary than that it's my birthday." He leans over and kisses the top of my head without breaking stride.

"I sure don't feel 'New' anymore," I say with a hint of sadness. Maybe that's why I've always liked my husband's quirky nickname for me; it kept me feeling young long past the time I actually was youthful.

"You'll always be my New," he replies.

We round the final corner and enter the dining room through the large double doors, and the sight before me takes my breath away. There are banners and streamers and helium-filled balloons filling the walls and ceiling of the hall. One of the banners reads Happy Birthday, Edward and the other Happy 80th Anniversary Edward and Bella. "Did you plan this?" I question, trying to turn in my seat to see his face. The smirk on his face is priceless; I haven't seen it lately, and it reminds me of his younger self. In that moment, he's not a hundred and four; he's twenty-four, and it's our wedding day all over again.

"I did not plan this, I assure you," he tells me with a twinkle in his eye. "I did, however, give Aria permission to plan it."

My eyes bulge. "Aria?" I whisper, stunned. She normally only visits a couple of times a month, and it's not the right week. It's just then that I hear the applause erupting from the room before us. All of our friends from the complex are here, as well as Aria and Seth, and all of our descendants going down four generations—five if you count Edward and me.

It's not long before my daughter—who looks as beautiful as the day I brought her home from the hospital—is wrapping her arms around me and whispering into my ear. "I love you, Mom. You deserve this. You and Dad both."

The party progresses, and more than once, I'm reminded of just how lucky I am; I found my soul mate at fourteen. As I think about everything we've been through together, the highlights and the sad times, I'm glad that I've gone through them with Edward.

~O~

We're sitting together on our couch one week later, and I've just presented Edward with his birthday gift. I'd planned to give it to him on the day of, but after the party, I knew that I wanted to include my memories of that day in the memoir as well, so I put off giving it to him until I could write down my thoughts from that day.

"You wrote down all of your favorite memories? And made a book for me?" he asks, stunned as he flips through the pages. "How did you ever find the time?"

"You had to sleep sometime," I joke.

He offers me a tired—yet loving—smile. After he's read through the entire thing, he closes the cover and places a tender kiss on my wrinkled lips. "I love it, New. And the title… you couldn't have picked anything better."

I glance down at the cover and am just as impressed as I was the first time my great-granddaughter brought it to me; she designed the cover, using photographs and the title I'd provided her. Edward is right; I did a good job selecting the title. It's the story our life; photographs of our time together. Snapshots of Marriage.


Thanks for reading, and thanks to 'Jay's World' and 'Mephis1' for holding the contest. It was a log of fun to write for. If you're so inclined, I'd love to hear your reviews on this story!