Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. The storyline is property of les16.
This is the last, regular chapter and I need you to indulge me for a moment while I thank some very special people: Eternal gratitude and lots of love goes to: Lianne for giving me a vision, Cecile for being my biggest cheerleader, Kat for loaning her special treasure box to Peyton and for stories about babies, eggs, and chickens, Kassiah for making me smile and telling me lemons are okay no matter where they happen, Robin (primarycolors) for showing me all about sprinkles (the blue ones are still my fave!), Becky (rtgirl) for loving me no matter how many words I use, J'me (prettykittyartist) for pushing me when I wanted to give up and for loving my Bella as much as I do … and most especially to Laurel who is without a doubt my everything and believes in me even when I don't always believe in myself.
Special thanks and hugs also to: Nic, Jaime, Michelle, Kitty, Tracy, and the other amazing girls in TLS. You all have done so much for me and have embraced me and this story right from the very beginning! I appreciate it more than I'll ever be able to say.
And to all of you … who read, review, recommend, post, and talk about this story – THANK YOU! You're the reason I write and the support, encouragement, and excitement you have shown me and this story have humbled me so much. This has truly been an experience I won't ever forget!
Now, how about we end this with a bang shall we?
"What the?" I pant as I untangle my legs from the sheet … and Edward, and sit up. He groans a little when his arm falls from around me with a thump to the bed, and rolls over, burrowing his head into his pillow.
Breathing heavily, I shake the fog of sleep from my head and rub my eyes. The eerie green glow emanating from the clock on the nightstand lets me know that I'm in for a hell of a long day and I curse a little just thinking about it. I lay my hand over my chest and feel my heart rate drumming beneath my fingers. I swing my legs out from underneath the covers and dangle them off the side of the bed, gasping when my bare feet hit the cool hardwood floor.
I know there's no going back to sleep for me, though the pull to snuggle beside Edward is almost enough to keep me in bed. He still has a little over an hour before he has to wake up and I know the second he senses I'm awake and he feels me moving against him, he'll be up … in more ways than one.
The man is definitely all about starting the day off with a bang, no matter what time it is.
I figure since I'm not going back to sleep, I might as well make the most of the hour of alone time I suddenly find myself with and lean over to take my journal out of the drawer of the nightstand. As quietly as I can, I slip out of bed and pull my ponytail tie off my wrist, wrapping it around my hair as I pad toward the chair beside Edward's side of the bed. I grab his flannel shirt and slide my arms into it. I can't help but pick up the collar and inhale deeply. He always smells so good … well except for right after he's done on the boat. No matter how long I've been around the ocean, salt, seawater, and raw fish do not make for the most pleasant of odors … not even on Edward. Last night he was at Peyton's school helping to set up for the end of the year Game Day. Luckily for me, the evenings are still cool enough that a light jacket is needed so he wore the flannel shirt to keep warm. I inhale again, smelling pine trees, fresh air, a little sweat, and then that something that is so uniquely him that if I had days, I still wouldn't be able to accurately describe it.
Carefully, softly, I lean down and brush the hair off his forehead. His eyebrows dip and he snuffles into the pillow. The corners of his eyes crinkle from the frown I can't see but know is there. I kiss him as gently as I can, just to let him know I'll be close by. He hates waking up alone in bed.
"Love you," I whisper, the sound barely louder than the softest of breaths, but I know he hears me when he murmurs something unintelligible. From the serene smile on his face, I imagine it is the same thing back to me.
I pull the door mostly closed behind me, leaving it open just a crack. Peyton's door is also slightly ajar and I can see the faint glow from the Winnie the Pooh nightlight she refuses to replace. On bare feet, I walk down the stairs and go into the kitchen. I can't make coffee because the timer's already set to start for Edward in an hour, so I decide that hot tea will have to suffice.
"Hey, little guy." I chuckle softly when I feel a cold nose on my ankle. It's impossible to walk into the kitchen and not find him underfoot, hoping that his cuteness is enough to warrant a treat. He's always right. I grab a doggie biscuit out of the pantry and hand it to him.
"One of these days someone will learn how to say no to you," I tell him when I scratch behind his ears. He licks my hand in a "yeah keep dreaming" way and I giggle at him.
He must be the most spoiled dog in America … or Corea at the very least.
Taking my tea, journal, and the blanket off the back of the couch, I head for the front door.
"You coming?" I ask Brady as I hold the door open. He waddles out and I remind myself to ask the vet if he's supposed to be as roly-poly as he is. I swear he's a big ball of brown and white fur. Cute as all get out, but there isn't a person around that wouldn't be devastated if he was anything but as healthy as can be. "Isn't that right, my little hero?" I ask rhetorically as I sit in the wicker chair in the corner of the porch.
I arrange the soft blanket, leaving enough room to hang down so Brady can curl up and go back to sleep, but still have enough to cover my legs as I fold them beneath me. Absentmindedly I blow on the steaming tea to cool it off enough to take a sip. The warmth of the hot liquid seeps through the ceramic mug and travels from my fingers and up my arms. It's the end of May but the mornings are still so cool, especially when there's a slight breeze as there is right now.
As if on cue, a gust of wind swirls a few dried leaves that have fallen off the neglected and kind of sad-looking fern hanging above me, bringing with it the faintest scent of salt. I relax into the chair, the warmth of the blanket and the tea, the smell of Edward and salt and I'm in heaven, no matter that it's four o'clock in the morning.
From the trees beside the house I can hear the rustling of branches from whatever wildlife is awake at this ungodly hour with me, then the shrill call of a hawk as it lands in a tree deep in the woods. I take one more sip and let the tea warm me from the inside out before setting it on the small, rickety table beside me and pick my journal up from my lap.
I click the pen, a clack, clack rhythm that would surely drive anyone else crazy but as I flip through the pages, my mind is so lost in the memories scrawled across the cream-colored paper that I don't hear the noise. With a quiet sigh, I begin to read, skimming and catching just bits and pieces …
~May 24, 2011~
I had another nightmare tonight. It's the same one as before, the same one it always is. Evan calling for me, wanting me to save him. I try, but I can't ever reach him in time. It's my fault he's dead. I'm so tired … I hope Xav can't tell, but I know he will. He always does.
~June 5 , 2011~
I have a date. I think it's a date … I hope it's a date with Edward. He was at the bonfire tonight. We talked and it was … nice. He's just, I don't even know. He scares me; he makes me feel calm. He's afraid, but he adores Peyton. He's so sexy and mysterious; he's going to break my heart. He's going to change my life …
Just reading those words from a year ago makes my stomach feel like I'm jumping off the high dive in a pool about three sizes too small and the water way too shallow. So much can change in so little time. I run the pendant on my necklace back and forth along the chain and over my lips. I usually take it off before bed, but I was so tired that I forgot. Holding it now as I read my own words only reinforces how prophetic they were.
~July 3, 2011~
I had an orgasm!
In a parking lot!
From Edward's fingers!
I want to do that again … soon.
I feel myself blush and then I have to squeeze my legs together. The man has insanely talented fingers … and mouth, tongue … and, well …
~July 8, 2011~
Edward's been in prison for the last seven years. I still can't wrap my mind around that. I want to say it doesn't make a difference to me, but I can't. I know it doesn't make him different; he's the same Edward today as he was yesterday and the day before that, and the one before that. He's the same man that lets Peyton beat him at Madden Football and the one that blushes when my mom kisses him on the cheek. He's still the same Edward that likes mint chocolate chip ice cream and likes to hold my hand when we take a walk.
He's the same … but he's not.
I don't know what to do, all I know is I can't live without him.
~July 23, 2011~
I told Edward I love him tonight. He loves me, too. I can't stop smiling. I'm so happy. I hope this feeling never goes away …
I still can't believe I told him that way, but then again it's totally me and totally us. I had wanted to tell him for so long; I knew I loved him days, weeks, before those words spilled out. It was all I could do to keep them inside, but looking back, I have no idea what I was so scared of. I knew he loved me. It was in every kiss, every touch he gave me. I knew he could feel it, too.
~September 20, 2011~
Edward fell asleep reading to Peyton tonight. When I walked in her room and found them sleeping with his arm holding her tightly to his chest and her little hand fisting his shirt as if she was afraid he'd slip away if she let him go, I swear my heart stopped. It's not like I don't know that he loves her, and she thinks he's the sun and the moon and the stars and football and flip-flops and everything in between, but to see them, curled up together filled up every single part of me with so much love and happiness that I could barely breathe.
I used to have nightmares every night … now I have dreams, the best dreams. I dream of spending forever with Edward … of making a family with him and Peyton and me.
Sometimes when I'm asleep, I never want to wake up …
I still feel that way. Every night. And every day. It's going to happen. I just don't when. My hope is that it'll be sooner rather than later. I'm ready.
~December 19, 2011~
Edward's asleep next to me and it's all I can do not to crawl on top of him and keep him in this bed forever.
He almost died.
I would have died with him.
How do I let him go back out there? How do I promise Peyton he'll always come back to us? How can I ask him not to go?
Please, God, keep him safe.
We need him.
A chill wracks my entire body and I shake as thoughts from that day assail me. It's still extremely difficult and painful to think about that day, especially when I really stop and think about how close we came, I came, to losing him. Losing Evan was tragic, and there isn't one of us that won't always mourn his death, but losing Edward would have been a heartbreak neither Peyton nor I would have ever recovered from.
I'm not going to lie, every morning when he gets up and leaves for work, I worry. I worry all day. I catch myself watching out the windows at the restaurant at all hours of the day, even when I know there's no way he can be back yet. My heart always does this thing where it skips a beat and then races every time he walks through the door after being gone all day … not to mention that my entire body seems to turn into melted butter in relief.
I've talked with Mom, Alice, and Rose, even Nicole, about how they deal with the fear every day. I know that really the only thing I can do is to put my faith in my dad, Emmett, and Jasper and pray that between them and above that it's enough to keep him safe.
It's all I can do.
~February 2, 2012~
Aleksei was here.
He was going to …
I can't even …
He's dead. I'm not sorry.
My heart starts thundering in my chest and I have to lay my hand over the pages. I guess my breathing is loud enough to wake up Brady because I feel the blanket stir. When I look down he's growling lowly in the back of his throat, as if trying to ward off a danger he can't even see … but he can feel it. Just like that night. Once things calmed down some in the aftermath, Edward was able to remember it was Brady coming through the front door that distracted Aleksei enough to allow Edward to surprise him and knock the gun out of his hand. Of course Bud is the one that shot Aleksei, but without Brady giving Edward those extra few minutes, who knows what would have happened.
It's something I try not to think about … ever.
"Come up here, you." I laugh softly when I feel Brady paw my knees to try to pull himself up. His legs are too short so all he winds up doing is standing up on his hind legs and looking like a pudgy prairie dog.
He kneads my legs with the paws that are much too big for his little body before he finds a comfortable spot and promptly goes back to sleep. I run my hand down his cashmere soft fur. "Some guard dog you are," I tell him and smile when his ears wiggle before I feel the warm air of his breath through his nose on my leg.
I roll my neck, the cool morning air making it stiff from holding it in the same position for so long. The sky has lightened, changing from coal black to charcoal gray with a hint of pale lavender. I listen for a moment, but can't hear if Edward's awake yet. It doesn't feel like it's been an hour since I've been awake, but I've been so lost in my memories I have no idea.
Focusing, I begin again.
~February 16, 2012~
Edward's going to marry me.
I haven't said anything. I don't think I was supposed to hear him. I don't even know if he meant to say it, but he did. He can't take it back now, either, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to.
Mrs. Edward Masen
Isabella Marie Masen
Bella Swan Masen
Gah … I'm such a girl!
And I want it sooner rather than later. I'm ready!
There's that fluttery feeling in my stomach again when I read those words. I swear it feels like there's a swarm of butterflies flitting around and around trying to flap their way out every time I think about what he said. I catch him looking at me all the time, sometimes just a quick glance and others like he's trying to etch me into his brain so the image stays there forever. Having him here, permanently, has been the most wonderful thing. It's not like he didn't spend a lot of time here before, but knowing that this is the place he comes home to every night, the place where his dirty clothes are mixed with mine and his favorite cereal - Frosted Mini-Wheats - sits on the shelf in the pantry next to Peyton's Froot Loops, has made all the difference.
I knew I loved Edward before he moved in, but now it's so much more … deeper, stronger.
Even the little things he does that aggravate me to no end, like the way he never puts the cap back on the toothpaste or the way that the man can't ever remember to check his pockets before he puts his clothes in the wash, don't matter in the grand scheme of things. I've never lived with anyone, and the fact that Edward is the only person I'll share that with means something. It means everything.
I'd been thinking about it for a while when I mentioned it at dinner during our weekend away and the moment I asked, I knew I wanted it. There were a few moments where I panicked, wondering if it was too much, too soon, but the seamless way he's melded into mine and Peyton's everyday life lets me know it most definitely was the right decision and the right time.
~March 10, 2012~
I am never drinking again, no matter how delicious margaritas taste.
Shit … need the bathroom, again.
~March 10, 2012~
If I ever doubted how much Edward loves me … and Peyton, (which I never have) I certainly don't now.
My side still hurts from laughing so hard. Poor thing, he still looks kind of green and a bit mortified at Peyton's and Lucy's question last night. I would give anything to go back in time and get that conversation on video.
I can't wait to tell the girls; Alice and Rose will die. I know he's worried about upsetting Nicole and Grant but he doesn't need to be. All day long, every time he looked at me, I laughed. I couldn't help it. He's so freaked out and if I didn't know that a few days from now he'll laugh about this as much as me I'd probably try to stop … wait, hell no I wouldn't.
Although, just now when I peeked at him while he's trying to watch TV, he caught me. The look he gave me, the one with the arched eyebrow and the lopsided smirk that makes my knees weak and causes me to have to change my panties, makes me wonder.
I hope I didn't do anything last night. I remember drinking and singing. I vaguely remember Emmett bringing me home, threatening me the whole way that if I threw up in his Jeep he'd make me regret it. It's fuzzy, but I think I sang to Edward when I got home. I'm not sure how I got into bed, though I'm sure Edward put me there. I have this funny feeling I might have said something … but I don't know.
I guess he'll tell me.
Or maybe not, oh God I love when he does that … it always feels so good when he touches me there and I know next he'll … damn … yes … there's the tongue …
~April 18, 2012~
Edward and I had our first fight tonight.
I hate fighting with him, especially over something as stupid as whether to watch Storage Wars and DVR the baseball game or the other way around. He's been edgy the last few days which has made me anxious and feeling like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I'm still learning his moods; he's still learning mine.
It's hard some days, harder than I thought it would be, but the good days far, far outweigh the bad.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
We don't argue much, but there are days I want to cover his face with a pillow while he sleeps and I'm sure there are just as many days he'd like nothing more than to wring my neck, but we're learning. It's impossible to think it will always be easy, that nothing will ever go wrong, or I won't snap at him for no reason or he'll brood and not want to tell me what's wrong.
Someday we'll know everything about the other, every secret, every memory.
~May 6, 2012~
I hate Jasper.
I hate Alice.
I really, really don't like Edward.
I went out on the water today, in Jasper's boat. Edward has been encouraging me to try for months now and I finally gave in.
I hated every minute of it.
I'm never going again.
I want to go back out … sometime. When I don't want to throw Edward overboard.
I love him so much for wanting this for me, for trying to help me get over my fear and guilt so that I can once again enjoy something that used to make me so happy.
I'm not there yet, but I hope I will be someday.
I hear the front door open and turn to meet Edward's gaze. "Hey," he says quietly.
He's partially dressed for the day in his jeans and a plain white t-shirt. His feet are bare, his jeans still unbuttoned, and though his hair his wet from his shower, he's still not quite all the way awake. The fact he came to find me before going into the kitchen to get his coffee makes me smile, not that the sight of him walking toward me isn't already enough to put a smile on my face.
"You okay?" he asks as he steps in front of me.
"Yeah, woke up and couldn't sleep," I start to tell him, but stop talking when he silently leans down and scoops me up in his arms then sits down with me in his lap. He's so fast Brady barely moves, just a tiny yip and a one-eyed look at Edward before going back to sleep tucked in his little fur ball on my legs.
He smells so good, all fresh and clean and all him. I turn a bit and snuggle in close to him. Resting my hand on his chest, I can feel he's still warm from the shower. There's a bit of shifting, a lift and a tilt to the right, and then I'm in my most favorite place: my cheek on the spot right above his heart and his chin resting on my head. We sit for a few minutes, not saying a word, but not needing to either.
My journal stays open on my lap. I've never hidden the fact I write in one nor have I ever tried to keep him from looking at it. He's never asked, but if he wants to look at it, I'll show him, so I don't bother to cover what's kept me occupied for the last hour or so.
Silently, his lips move from the top of my head, down to my temple, until I feel the tip of his nose, cool from the early morning chill, against the dip where my shoulder and neck meet. "Mmmm, you're warm and you smell like me," he says quietly right before I feel his soft lips along the skin I make more accessible by tilting my head to the side.
I close my eyes, loving the gentle comfort I feel from just sitting … being with him. It's natural … it's easy … and it's everything right.
His lips form a smile against my neck. "You were so mad at me that day." He points to the pages on my lap.
"I was. I'm not anymore though." I huddle in closer, tucking Brady in between me and Edward's stomach.
"I know, thank goodness. I hate it when you're upset with me," he says with a squeeze. "I only want you to be happy, Bella. I want you to have everything."
His hand curves around my hip and his fingers slip beneath the waistband of my pajama pants. I love the feel of his hands on me, whether it's something as innocent as the ghost of a fingertip on my elbow or when his index finger curls around mine, it never fails to turn my blood into molten fire. Holding hands, every part of every finger touching, palms pressed tightly together, the pad of thumb across my cheek, a knuckle brushing the outside of my thigh … a nipple between his fingers or better yet, when his fingers are buried deep inside of me, touching and stroking in the most delicious of ways … all of it, all the time, I can never get enough.
"I love your hands." I sigh, my inner thoughts spilling forth without a second of hesitation.
He lifts his hand from where it was lightly laid across my stomach and rests it along my cheek. His thumb stretches and I feel it drag from one side of my bottom lip to the other. "I love you," he whispers and then his tongue takes the same path as his thumb just traveled. "But …" He chuckles and the sound is all things sexy and hot and it makes my toes curl. "I'm really fucking glad you like my hands because, baby, there's nothing I like more than to have my hands and my fingers, touching you everywhere, all the time." He lowers his voice and dips his hand even lower beneath my pajama pants. I groan softly when the edge of his finger touches me there. His tongue swipes along my bottom lip again and then he takes it between his teeth, biting just hard enough to make me squeeze my legs together. Just when the sting of his teeth teeters on the edge of too much, his mouth covers mine and he gives me a kiss so long and so deep, it leaves me panting for breath.
Nothing is said after that. He kisses my forehead and then we sit in the cool, almost light morning until he has to leave for work. I walk him inside, waiting, watching as he gathers his things and then with one more hug and a lingering kiss, wish him a good day, knowing that at the end of it, he'll be here with me.
And the day after that … and the one after that … and the ones that are too far away to even count.
Game Day is a success. Peyton's record of beating Brody is still intact, much to hers, Xavier's, and Emmett's satisfaction. Apparently the Swan name is still one to be reckoned with - a fact of which both she and Emmett like to flaunt as often as possible. The end of school comes once again in a flurry of awards programs, picnics, and shouts of freedom. Our summer routine begins as it always has, with breakfast and then some Mom/Peyton time.
The Friday of the first week of summer vacation finds us taking a walk down the beach. There are very few people out at this time of day, too early for anyone to enjoy the sun, and too late to dig for clams.
"Mom, look at this one," Peyton exclaims as she squats down and picks up a seashell in a perfect fan shape. She holds her palm out, smiling up at me like she's just found a love note from Brody. It's a far cry from the one Edward refuses to replace. That poor shell is chipped, cracked, and hanging on by barely a thread it's been so worn down, but he swears he's keeping it forever. Considering what he's been through with it, I don't blame him, nor do I have the heart to tell him he's wishful thinking.
We've stopped pretty close to the jetty where her box is hidden. She turn and runs toward it, waving wildly once she reaches the rocks, like I'm not thirty feet away from her. I watch her climb over and go to the corner and say a quick prayer her box is still there. I always worry that somehow someone will find it, but in all this time, it's never happened. She lets out a whoop so I let out the breath I didn't even know I was holding. I stop about ten feet away and just watch her. Sometimes I worry that I get so caught up in everyday life, and in Edward, that I miss little moments with her, ones that will never come again.
I watch as she opens the lid, the smile that breaks out across her face is like she's meeting her very best friend after not seeing them for a long time. My heart literally grows inside my chest, expanding like it's trying to reach out and touch her. A slight breeze stirs the air, and a few strands of her hair escape the already messy ponytail. Her cheeks are the color of cotton candy and her eyes sparkle more than the ocean does when the sun shines on it. I'm stunned speechless when she looks up at me and grins. In her face I can see the girl she'll grow into one day … smart, stubborn, fiercely loyal, quirky and just her. I want to burst into tears just from the thought, and then in the next instant fall to my knees in thanks for being blessed with the gift of her.
I'm so incredibly lucky.
"Hey, Mom, I think I'm going to take my box back to the house," Peyton tells me like she's telling me she wants chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla.
I try to say something, but only open my mouth, too shocked to speak. She must see the confused look on my face and she places her new shell in the box and shuts the lid, running her hand over the top reverently, silently before she looks up at me. "I know that my father …" she carefully says the word. I can tell from the twist of her mouth and the slight tilt of her head that that word was chosen for a very specific reason. She purses her lips and then looks at me again, looking determined but apprehensive at the same time. "I know that he's in heaven and I know that he watches over me, but I know that he's not really leaving me the the things I find for my treasure box."
"You do?" It's all I can think to ask. She's taken me so by surprise, but really, I should have expected it I suppose.
She nods and hops off the jetty, shielding her eyes with one hand. "I'm not a baby any more." She huffs and rolls her eyes. She bounces on the balls of her feet and looks out over the water then back at me. "I kind of like thinking that I'm the one the finds the good luck charms for Edward, you know? I don't want them to come from anyone but me."
"Well, okay then," I tell her, laying my arm across her shoulder as we head back to the house, thinking the whole way that I don't think there will ever be a day when she doesn't surprise me … at least I hope not.
The next day, I watch the clock all day long. I've been to a hundred, maybe close to a thousand bonfires but I'm so excited about the one tonight I can hardly stand it. My phone vibrates in my pocket and I set the tub full of dishes down on the table so that I can take it out, knowing that it's a message from Edward.
Going to get my bike from Carlisle's, thought we could go for a ride after the bonfire. It's supposed to be a full moon tonight. See you in a bit. E~
I sigh, excited and ready to be done with the bonfire before it even starts. The idea of going for a ride with Edward under the moonlight has me thinking all kinds of things, most of them involve making sure there is a blanket in the saddlebag on his bike so we can find a nice, secluded spot and make use of the fact that Peyton is spending the night with Mom and Dad.
The restaurant clears out in a hurry now that dinner is over and I hurry home to change once we get everything locked up. The first bonfire of the summer is always a big deal and for some reason this one seems even more special. Maybe it's because it was this time last year when Edward and I made our first steps toward becoming the us we are today. I can still remember like it was yesterday the way he looked with Peyton on his back and the way it felt when he kissed my cheek that very first time.
Just as I come down the stairs, he walks in the door. There's something … not off, but definitely different about him. He's practically vibrating and he looks like he's about to burst with a secret so big he can barely contain it. He takes a deep breath and that seems to calm him enough to where he no longer looks like a balloon stretched to its absolute limit and he gives me a sweet, almost heart-stopping smile. For some reason, the corners of my eyes prick with tears but I shake them away. I chalk his mood up to the fact that he's excited about the prospect of riding his bike later and walk toward him.
"Hurry and change your clothes, okay? I told Peyton we'd see her right away. She wants her walk with you before we eat."
He swats my ass and moves to the stairs, turning around before he walks up. "Don't forget a jacket or something. It'll be cold on the back of the bike."
We're out of the house and on our way to the beach in less than fifteen minutes. The ride is over literally in the blink of an eye. I slide off and take my helmet off, shaking my hair. I watch him lift his leg over the seat and I have to bite the inside of my cheek when he does it. He looks so freaking sexy on his bike. He's not wearing a jacket and his navy blue t-shirt is tight in all the right places. Ribbons of ink ripple across his arms. The scar on his neck does nothing to me anymore except make me want to trace it with my tongue. I know where it came from, what he was doing when it happened, but I don't care, it doesn't matter. It doesn't make him who he is, who I love.
"Better close that mouth, Bella, before something flies in there." He smirks knowingly as he sets his helmet on the seat.
"Shut up." I roll my eyes at him but let him take my hand. "You know how good you look on that machine."
"I know how good you think I look on it; that's all I care about."
I'm whisked away by Rose and Alice as soon as they get here, which is fine because as soon as Peyton spies Edward she pulls him down the beach. Time flies, fires dot the beach all up and down. The first warm spell of the season always brings people out in droves and tonight's no different.
When Esme and Mom break out the marshmallows and chocolate, much to Emmett's and Xavier's pleasure, I tap Edward on the leg. "I'm going to walk for a bit, okay?"
A look I can't explain passes across his face and he kisses me softly. "I'll come find you in a few minutes."
I walk off in the direction of the jetty, just needing a few moments to myself. I adore my family and friends and nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by them all, but there's something to be said for peace and quiet, too. After spending so much time with just Peyton, and now with just Edward and Peyton, I find that I need that so much. I smile to myself when I sit on the same log as I did last year, and stare out at the ocean. It still scares me, but not with the same intensity as before. It still has to power to take away my happiness, my future … my everything, but I keep reminding myself to have faith that Edward will stay safe.
I'm so lost in thought I don't notice anything … until I do.
I feel the tip of his finger on my elbow and I turn my head, having to push a few strands of hair off my face. I hold them with one hand and the other, well as soon as I really see Edward, it goes straight to my mouth, muffling the half sob half shriek that comes.
"Oh my God, Edward," I say, my voice shaking and with tears streaming down my face.
He's sitting beside me and I swear the Earth stops moving. There's nothing but me and him and a ring placed inside of the most perfect-looking s'more in the history of the world.
EPOV (the Sunday before he moves in)
"Baby, I'm going to run to Jasper's for a bit. I'll be back in about an hour," I holler up the stairs, knowing she's too busy with Peyton going through her closet that she'll barely pay attention to me.
I'm not wrong. "Okay, see you in a bit," she says, the sound of her voice fading as she buries herself inside Peyton's disaster of a closet. I love the girl to pieces, but a neat freak she most definitely is not.
I chuckle as I quickly walk to my car. When Bella announced after Mass this morning that today they were going through Peyton's spring clothes to see what she'd outgrown, I thought my poor Sprite was going to cry. She looked at me from the backseat of the car as we drove home and I literally have never seen her work the pout as hard as she tried with Bella … and with me. Most days, I probably would have tried to intervene because that pout is shameless and too damned hard to resist, but having Bella occupied today totally works into my plans in the best possible way so I did what any man in my predicament would do - I threw my wingman … er, winggirl, under the proverbial bus. I figure I can make it up to her with a trip to Ellsworth and a double scoop ice cream cone with extra sprinkles.
Besides, when P finds out what I'm doing today, which I most assuredly will not be keeping a secret from her because we are best friends after all, I know all will be forgiven.
Just thinking about where I'm going makes me want to throw up.
I take a few deep breaths and try to ease the panic that's churning in my gut. I tap my fingers against the steering wheel. I puff my cheeks up and then exhale. I whistle. I chew on the inside of my cheek. I roll my head as much as I can and still keep my eyes on the road.
When I pull up in front of Charlie and Renée's house, I think about turning around and going back to Bella's, but then I think about the reason I'm here, and suddenly, I'm okay. I get out of the car and walk slowly to the front door, feeling cautiously optimistic … and purposely do not think of worst case scenarios.
Renée opens the door before I even have a chance to knock. "Edward, sweetie, what a surprise! Is everything okay?" she asks as she kisses my cheek and ushers me inside all in one fell swoop.
"Née, will you let the boy breathe for a minute? Jeeze, woman, you act like you haven't seen him in weeks," Charlie teases her as he wraps an arm around her waist and looks down at her.
I know the second he glances in my direction he's going to know exactly why I'm here. I'm not wrong. His eyes widen, twinkling mischievously. His mustache twitches and the right corner of his mouth lifts just enough to let me know he's so onto me.
I feel the urge to throw up again rush through me but I take a deep breath and hold his stare. He nods just enough for me to notice before his face is a mask of ease and calm. "If you two have a minute, there's something I need to talk to you about," I say, looking from one to the other.
"Well, let's not stand here like we don't have a place to sit. Edward, would you like coffee?" he asks as he leads us toward the sunroom. I start to shake my head when he says, "Or a trash can?" Again with the smirk.
I do this gulp, snort, choke thing that makes me sound like I just swallowed some of the bait from the boat which just makes him chuckle under his breath. We sit, the two of them side by side, and me, sitting across from them in a chair.
I feel like I'm facing the parole board all over again.
I wonder how soon Ryan can get here.
There's a slightly uncomfortable tension in the air and I can tell Renée feels it when she fidgets next to Charlie and then opens her mouth to start to say something, only to be stopped when he squeezes her shoulder. She looks from him to me and then back to him and then once more at me, her eyes suddenly filling with tears when she realizes what's going on. The smile on her face and the fact that she lets out this little squeak while she bounces up and down relaxes me in an instant. I let out a deep breath and lean forward, resting my elbows on my knees.
"I'm sure you both know why I'm here, so I'm not going to beat around the bush. Besides the longer I sit here the more likely it is that I'll need to take Charlie up on his offer of a trashcan, then he would laugh at me, and then tell Emmett and Jasper, and worse yet, Seth and Xavier and I'd never be able to live it down, so I'm just going to say what I need to say, okay?" My word vomit takes me by surprise to say nothing of Renée and Charlie who look equally shocked and amused.
I look down at the floor between my feet for a few seconds, long enough to rein in my spiraling emotions and focus on why I'm here in the first place. Bella and Peyton.
Lifting my head, I sit up straight and proud. I know what I want and I know that I'll have it.
"You both know I love Bella and Peyton. They're the most important people in my life and there's nothing that means more to me than the two of them and their happiness. I might not be what you want for them," I pause and then hold my hand up when Renée starts to speak, "but I want to spend the rest of my life being the husband Bella deserves and the father Peyton needs. I'm not ready, yet, but I wanted you both to know that I do plan on asking Bella to marry me."
"You asking for my permission?" Charlie asks with an impassive face. There's no hint of a smirk or a smile anywhere to be found. Right now, he's just a father, talking to the guy that wants to replace him as the most important man in his daughter's life … and maybe trying to intimidate him a little, too.
I try not to let him see it's working … just a little.
Shaking my head, I hold his weighted, intense gaze. "No, sir, I'm not. With all due respect, I don't need, nor does Bella, your permission. She's a grown woman who can make her own decisions. I am hoping to get your blessing though, because that's not just something I want, but I need, too."
Tears are streaming down Renée's face and her hands are clasped so tightly in her lap they're white. Her smile warms me from the inside out, but we all know it's Charlie's word I'm waiting for. Renée's was already a given, his not so much. Loving his daughter is one thing, making her mine, legally as well in every other way, is something different altogether. Peyton might not be mine by blood, but she's damn sure mine in my heart, and down to the depths of my soul and in every cell of my body. The thought of someone replacing me as the man in her life is enough to make me want to build a fortress complete with a moat full of crocodiles … big fucking ones, with really sharp teeth … and keep her locked inside forever. So I get where Charlie's coming from, I really do.
He laughs when he sees the look of my face change from determination to sheer fright because he hasn't said anything for so long. "Boy, you should see your face. If you want to be a part of this family, you need to learn how to handle yourself better."
I let my mouth hang open for a moment then start to speak, though the words are stuck to my suddenly sandpaper-like throat. I swallow once, then again. "Yeah?" I ask warily, because I could swear he said part of this family, but I'm not sure.
"Of course, yes. Edward," he says, and his tone is immediately the same one he's used with me too many times to count over the past few months. It's a mixture of love and patience, mixed in with a little bit of smart ass because, well, he's Charlie and that's what he is. "I've known since the day you came to this house and interrupted my baseball game that this conversation would happen. I know you love my daughter, and I know you'd sooner die than let anything happen to my granddaughter, so yes, you have my blessing. Welcome to the family, Edward."
And with that, it's done. I smile so big that my cheeks hurt and murmur, "Well, all right then," so many times that both Renée and Charlie look at me, a little concerned that they've just added a lunatic to their family.
"You can't possibly have been worried we'd say no, were you?" Renée asks, grinning from ear to ear while she covers my face with kisses.
"I wasn't sure," I admit honestly. It feels like such a fucking relief to know that they approve. Deep down I know it would have killed me if they'd somehow thought that dating Bella was fine, but to let me be a part of their family was something else. "I know we're doing things a little backward with me moving in and everything next weekend. I just didn't want to do it without you two knowing that I plan to …" and I stutter because I'm not sure how to explain.
Charlie slaps me on the back, teasing with a waggle of his eyebrows. "Make an honest woman out of her?" and then he blanches realizing that it's his daughter he's talking about … and what he's implying.
Not that he's wrong though, because that is exactly why I came over today. It's not like I haven't thought about it, but I just felt like I needed to talk to them before I moved in.
"I just wanted to reassure you both that I'm committed to Bella and to Peyton. I'm not looking to just be a roommate. I want them both, forever."
Renée hugs me again. She starts crying again, and there are more kisses … again. I guess the hugging and kissing's not so bad when I really think about it. It's kind of nice actually. "Thanks, Renée," I tell her after she tells me how happy she is … again.
Charlie pulls her away and lays his arm across her shoulders, tucking her in nice and tight to his side. He kisses the top of her head then he faces me. "If you and Bella are as happy as Née and I have been, then there's nothing better I could ask for my daughter." His words mean so much - in fact they mean everything.
I don't linger, wanting to get back to Bella … my soon to be fiancée, so I say goodbye and let Renée hug and kiss me one more time. Charlie slaps me on the back again and I know, I know, that soon, they'll be more than Charlie and Renée - they'll be Mom and Dad.
Today's the day.
I can feel it. From the moment I woke up and kissed a still sleeping Bella goodbye I knew. Tonight at the bonfire I'm going to ask Bella to be mine forever.
The other morning on the porch with Bella it was as if everything had finally fallen into place … not that I felt like anything was out of order to begin with, but holding her, feeling her next to me, it was all I could do to make myself get out of that chair. It wasn't even about wanting her in a sexual way, though I always want Bella that way. In a bed, against a wall, standing in the shower, bent over the couch, any way and every way and any time of the day. Always. But, in that moment, with the sun just beginning to think about saying hello to a new day, it was as intimate a moment as any I've ever had … granted any intimate moment I've had has been with her … but just then, it was as if she became a part of me. Her breath was my breath, what she saw, I saw through her eyes. What she felt, my heart did, too. It wasn't like I had some grand epiphany or anything; angels didn't start singing Hallelujah, the heavens didn't part to let golden beams of sunlight shine down upon us - no, the moment passed as simply as the hands on a clock silently moving from one minute to the next. In one instant I was merely holding her in my arms, talking softly, and in the next, I'd completely absorbed her.
The feeling stayed with me all day … when I kissed her goodbye, working side by side with Emmett and Jasper, all the way through until I walked into The Breakers at the end of the day. The second I saw Bella, I knew what I'd been feeling was the fact that it was time. Today it was even worse. It was hard to keep it to myself, and I'm surprised that no one said anything about the lovesick smile I sported all day. As we walk toward the restaurant, I sense Charlie behind me.
"You okay there, son? You've looked like you've had your head in the clouds all day." He laughs lightly as he nudges me with his elbow.
I want to tell him, so fucking badly, but I can't. I promised Peyton when the time was right I'd tell her first and I won't break my word. The whole proposal, secret keeping thing has been hard enough on her, though I tried to be as vague and general as I could be. During a walk on the beach after dinner one night when Bella was with Renée in Ellsworth, Peyton asked me if I was ever going to marry Bella, to which I answered a very definite yes. I asked her if that was okay with her to which she looked at me like I'd had stupid pills for dinner. Then she asked me when. I didn't lie, especially because at the time I had no idea when the time would be right, and I told her that. She made me promise to tell her when I was going to do it and I did, knowing that when the time came, I wanted her to be a part of it. I certainly couldn't and didn't expect her to keep a secret of that magnitude. I might be clueless at times but even I know that's way outside the realm of possibility for an eight-year-old.
So, as I walk to the parking lot of the dock and fight the urge to race into The Breakers and propose right then and there, I come up with a different plan. The perfect plan.
I make a phone call then send a text to Bella, my fingers shaking so badly in anticipation I can barely get the words to come out right. I have to delete and start over twice, but finally manage to send it, telling her I want to take the bike out after the bonfire and I'll pick her up at home in a little bit.
I knock when I get to Carlisle and Esme's, but don't wait for anyone to answer. Esme's standing in the kitchen, where I expected her to be. Besides Riley and Marcus, there are two other guys staying in the boarding house, making Esme one very happy woman. She's got more mouths to feed and more boys to mother, though I have to say, it makes me a little gooey inside to know that I'm her favorite … especially because that means I'm ahead of Seth, too.
"Hey, Esme." I sneak a cookie from the plastic container before she can put the lid on it. "Mmmm, peanut butter. You made these just for me didn't you?" I ask, knowing she did.
"Nope," she retorts with a Cheshire cat grin. "I made them for Seth because he was here at breakfast this morning."
I sigh dramatically, placing my hand over my heart. "Ouch, that hurts, Esme. That really, really hurts." I give her a pout. She waves off my antics and then hands me a different container, this one with Monster cookies in it. "These are for you, you big baby."
"Damn, I love you," I say, looking at the cookies, and feel a little drool drip down the side of my mouth.
She giggles. "Are you talking to the cookies or to me, Edward?"
"Both." I shrug, being completely honest.
I hear a noise from deeper inside the house and it reminds me of why I've come. "Is Carlisle here?" I ask as I carefully put the cookies down on the island. She nods and I look at her. "I need him to open the safe for me," I say softly.
She gasps like I knew she would. Tears fill her eyes like I knew they would. Then she throws herself against my chest and kisses me, like I had no doubt she would.
"Tonight?" I nod and she squeaks, the sound so high-pitched I'm sure Brady's ears are standing straight up. "Go, he's in his office." She shoos me only to reach out and grab my wrist. "I'm so incredibly happy for you."
"She has to say yes first," I reply, grinning just a bit.
I turn and walk down the hall and toward Carlisle's office, knocking on the door frame when I get there. "Hey, I was wondering if I can get you to open the safe for me?" I ask him casually as I lean my shoulder against the door.
His eyebrows disappear into his hair. "Yeah?"
"Holy shit," he whispers, his jaw on his desk and his eyes about to fall out of his head.
I chuckle. "Tell me about it."
He stares at me, dumbfounded, for a few seconds before he spins his chair around. He turns the dial left, right, then left again and the safe opens with a click. I walk to his desk and fall down into the chair across from him and when he turns back around, he places the worn, burgundy box in the palm of my outstretched hand. I stare at the box and then slowly flip the lid open. The ring is as beautiful as it was when my grandmother wore it and when I looked at it the first time after it had been cleaned, engraved, and modified … just a bit.
I knew after I got Charlie and Renée's blessing that I wanted to give Bella my grandmother's ring; the only problem was figuring out how to get it. Mentioning it to Carlisle and Esme one night over dinner at The Breakers while Bella was too busy to join us fixed my problem in a hurry. Esme jumped on the chance to do something to help me so they made a trip to Boston for me. She arranged to have the things in the small storage unit shipped back to Corea to stay in their garage until I was ready to go through them. They were also able to meet with the attorney that handled my grandfather's estate - essentially a small amount of money left over after paying for the care he'd had right before he died as well as a few pieces of heirloom jewelry … including my grandmother's engagement ring.
The ring is elegant, classic, and perfect for Bella. A princess cut diamond set on a platinum band surrounded by two smaller diamonds. My grandmother had a thing for rubies so my grandfather chose those to flank the diamond, but my Bella deserves diamonds so I replaced the rubies, intending to save them to give to Peyton as earrings, a pendant, or maybe even on a charm for her bracelet when she gets older.
I close the box softly and stare at it for a few moments.
"She'll love it," Carlisle tells me.
I stand up answering, "I hope so."
We make our way back to the kitchen where Esme has everything just about ready to go. Snatching one more cookie for the road, I tell them, "I'm taking the bike. I want to take Bella for a ride after the bonfire."
"Ohhh, is that when you're going to ask her?" Esme asks, her eyes sparkling and a brilliant smile on her face.
I scoff and shrug my shoulders. "I have no idea. I'm totally winging this. I just feel it today, you know?" I shake my head at myself, suddenly needing to go home to Bella. "I'll see you two in a little bit."
Once I get home, I'm changed and ready to go in no time at all. I don't even have time to think about later or the box that sits deep in my pocket. Thankfully the ride to the beach is so short that Bella doesn't feel it, a miracle in and of itself because Bella's hands like to roam as we ride.
When we first arrive things are chaotic as I'm pulled one way by Peyton who swears she's been waiting for hours for me and Bella's pulled another by Ali and Rose. I watch Bella the whole time, my body buzzing, just waiting for the right moment. It's close, so close, I can feel it.
I'm scared out of my mind.
My fingers drum on my leg, and I jump when Bella gets my attention. I watch her walk away, and it honestly feels like half my heart is leaving. Peyton grabs my attention though before I can make a total ass out of myself and throw myself down on the sand in front of her and wrap my arms around her legs while I beg her not to leave me … never mind she's only going a hundred feet away.
Esme hands me a s'more a few minutes later and I look around for Bella. When I see her sitting on the exact same log as last year, I know the moment is here. Motioning Peyton forward I bend down and whisper, "Go stand with Pop and Nana, okay?"
"You're going to ask her now, aren't you?" She reaches up and holds my face. I have no idea how she knows, but I can't say I'm too surprised.
I nod and kiss her cheek, my heart literally trying to beat its way out of my chest. Standing up, I take a deep breath, telling myself that I can do this. With one hand I pat my pocket, worried that somehow the ring fell out and I let out a sigh of relief when I feel it. A glance down at the s'more in my hand and I laugh, suddenly not worried in the least about what's getting ready to happen.
The closer I get to her, the calmer I feel. I know, I know this is right. She wants it. I want it. And we're so, so ready. As I walk, there's this moment of such stark clarity where I see my entire future laid out in front of me. It's fucking amazing. Focusing, I see her sitting there. A few strands of her hair have come loose from her ponytail and as she looks out at the water she brushes them off her face. She's so damn beautiful … she's mine, and with one simple word, she will be forever.
I sit down next to her and touch her elbow with the tip of my finger. "Hey. Last time we were here like this you didn't get to have your dessert." I hand her the s'more, the ring facing her direction … and wait with my heart in throat. That whole not being nervous thing … completely out the window at this point as I watch her.
I slide off the log and land on my knees in front of her, laying my hands on her legs. Tears are streaming down her face and she whispers, "Oh my God, Edward," over and over again.
Her hands are shaking so badly, but her smile, oh God her smile is radiant. I feel myself smile, too, just from looking at her, and just from this moment right here. I'm pretty sure there are tears in my eyes but I'm not positive. I take the s'more from her trembling hand and pluck the ring out of it, wiping off the melted marshmallow. After I set the gooey dessert on her lap, I lay the ring on top so I can hold both of her hands.
Leaning forward, I kiss each hand and then look up into her sparkling eyes. "A little over a year ago, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I had no place to call home, no family, no friends … I didn't even have a dog to talk to. Somehow, through some miraculous twist of fate I wound up in this tiny, little, postage stamp size of a town armed with only the hope of a second chance." My voice wavers, but I can't take my eyes off hers. "I soon found myself in the presence of this little wisp of a thing with the prettiest eyes and the biggest heart and within about a minute, she had me for forever." I have to stop and take a breath because it won't matter how long it's been, even ten, twenty years from now … I will never, ever, forget what I felt the first time I saw Peyton.
Bella's crying softly, hiccuping but trying to not fall apart. I know she's not sad, far from it, and the only thing I want is to see my ring on her finger. I pick it up, holding it between my thumb and index finger. "And then there was this woman." I grin, loving when she tries to huff at me but knowing she can't. "This gorgeous, feisty, and kind of moody woman who knocked me completely on my ass and I haven't looked back since." We laugh a little but then I take a deep breath and slide the ring down her finger. My heart stops and my entire body, from the tips of my toes to the ends of the unruly hair on my head, shivers from the sight of it.
Holy shit it looks so good on her finger.
"Bella," I say, the lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit. My voice shakes but I look her straight in the eyes. "My life didn't start until the moment I walked into the restaurant and I don't want to ever, ever be without you or Peyton. Marry me, please?"
The please is barely out of my mouth before she flings herself at me. She's everywhere, kisses all over my face, hands in my hair, legs around my waist. "Yes! Yes! Yes! A million times yes!"
"Thank God." I laugh or cry. I don't even know. All I know is my ring's on her finger and she said yes.
"Mom! Edward! We're getting married!" Peyton shouts and jumps on the both of us, nearly toppling us all over into the sand.
She wraps an arm around each of us and kisses me then Bella on the cheek. "Now, we can be a real family."
I look back over my shoulder and see them all standing there. Charlie with his arm around Renée. Carlisle standing behind Esme with his chin on her shoulder. Rose and Alice hugging with Emmett and Jasper on either side of them. Seth and Xavier holding hands, watching and smiling.
Then I look at Bella, my gorgeous, brave and loving girl … my fiancée. "We already are."
I hope that this last chapter was all you hoped it would be! I had a lot of fun reliving some of the early moments and I hope you did, too.
This is not the end, there will be an Epilogue posted in 2 weeks, so I hope you will come back to Corea with me for one final time and see what everyone is up to. I think there will be some developments that will make y'all very, very happy.
What's next for me? I have lots of ideas swimming around, at last count … 5 … so please put me on author alert so you'll know when I get things solidified. I'll have some information for you when I post the Epilogue … and probably a few sneak peeks, too!
Thank you again, all of you, for loving this Edward, Bella, and Peyton as much as you have. I've so enjoyed sharing them with you …
See you in 2 weeks!