Fan Fiction, Sex Gods and Single Girls

A/N: Time for Operation Bellybeans...


Chapter 64: Sinking Ships and the Following Fix

After leaving the Skyline Townehome neighborhood, Edward headed for the freeway in the blue Ford F-150 truck. Traffic that gray Saturday morning was as light as his heart was heavy. He drove on autopilot…metaphorically speaking…ruminating on the disaster of the previous evening and hoping his plan for the day to come was an acceptable one. He couldn't afford another mistake.

In less than a half hour he arrived at an older neighborhood. Mature trees shaded elegant older homes on large lots with manicured lawns and lush gardens. Turning down a particular street, Edward headed for the large white house at the end of the cul-de-sac. A yellow Porsche was parked on the street out front and a pair of black Mercedes Benz sedans stood inside the opened garage.

Pulling around, Edward backed the truck up into the center of the driveway, and caught a movement in his side mirror. It was Alice, walking out of the garage. Cutting the engine and climbing out, he greeted her.

"Good morning, Pix. You beat me here.

"I just got here." She looked at him anxiously. "Did you try calling her again?"

Edward's jaw clenched. "Yeah. Still no answer."

Alice gave him a sympathetic smile. "Well, it's the weekend and it's still early. People sleep in."

Edward nodded and then noticed his parents coming outside through the garage.

"Hey, Mom, Dad."

"Good morning, Edward," Carlisle replied.

Esme swooped in for a hug. "Oh, Edward, we're so sorry…"

"Don't worry, Mom. Edward's going to fix this." Alice smiled confidently at her brother.

"I hope so," Edward agreed, wishing he shared her enthusiasm. He looked back at his parents. "Thanks for letting me do this here."

Carlisle reached up and clasped his son's shoulder. "We're here for you, anytime and for whatever reason…" He shrugged and smiled. "Even for something as unusual as this."

"Thanks," Edward replied with a half-hearted smile.

"Did you...tell him?" Esme asked, speaking to Alice.

"I was just about to..." Alice paused, looking up the street. "But I guess it's a little late…"

Edward turned to see what had caught her attention. A very familiar black Hummer had just turned down the tree-lined street.

"What's Emmett doing here?" Edward asked, frowning.

Alice looked up at her brother and grinned. "He's your little helper."

Another car, a red BMW convertible, followed in the wake of the Hummer. Edward's eyes narrowed, catching sight of blond hair.

"Is that…?"

"Rose?" Alice's smile grew. "Yes. She's Emmett's little helper."

Edward sighed, remembering that Emmett had already clued Rose into the situation.

The red BMW stayed to the right side of the street, pulling up behind Alice's Porsche. The Hummer looped to the wrong side of the road, bringing the driver's side to the curb nearest the driveway. The black beast rolled to a stop and the engine quieted, though music could be heard playing within.

Emmett opened the door and stepped out onto the curb…

…grinning and dimpling cherubically…

…raising his arms overhead, holding what must have been an imaginary boombox…

…because Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes had begun playing loudly on the car stereo…

Edward snorted and began shaking his head at his ridiculous friend.

"It could be worse, you know," Alice commented. "He could be singing."

Edward nodded...as Emmett opened his mouth.

"Innn yoooouurr eyes...!" he sang, loudly accompanying Peter Gabriel.

"He doesn't sing badly," Esme said kindly as Emmett continued belting out how the light and heat in someone's eyes...possibly Edward's, since he was grinning right at him...made him complete.

"He certainly doesn't sing well," Carlisle countered, as Emmett continued crooning about doorways of churches and fruitless searches.

Esme gave her husband a little nod, allowing that he had a point, as Emmett went on.

"OHHHHHH, I see the light and the heee-HEY! OW!"

Rose had sneaked up behind Emmett and swatted his ass. Emmett dropped his arms and imaginary boombox to shield his backside. He chuckled along with the others as Rose ducked inside his Hummer and removed his car key, effectively silencing both Emmett and Peter Gabriel.

Smirking, Rose handed Emmett his keys. "Edward is upset enough without having to hear you sing."

"But Rosie... I was performing that iconic get-the-girl-back scene from that movie!" He slung an arm around her waist as they walked up the driveway. "Just ask Edward."

"I know, baby. The boombox scene from Say Anything."

"Exactly!" Emmett turned to Edward with a grin. "Anything you want to add to that, Ward-o?"

Edward rolled his eyes. This had always been a big source of entertainment for Emmett, so Edward cleared his throat and complied.

"Say Anything…American film, set here in Seattle, starring John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, Ione Skye as Diane Court, and John Mahoney as her father. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe—his directorial debut—released in the spring of 1989…I think it was…April?"

Rose stood there with her mouth hanging open while Emmett guffawed and clapped.

Esme and Carlisle exchanged an amused parental look.

Alice smiled affectionately at her big nerd of a brother. "I don't know how the hell you remember that shit."

"Alice…language!" Esme hissed.

"Oh, Mom… I know you and Dad raised me better than that, but everybody here already knows I swear like a trucker. Besides, we all heard you say 'shit' at the game."

Carlisle gave his wife—and her pink face—an amused little nod. "She makes a good point, dear."

"Anyhoo…" Emmett interrupted, smiling cherubically at Edward, "I figured that song was apropos, considering Edward is on the verge of a Lloyd Dobler, get-the-girl-back moment."

They all turned at the sound of another approaching vehicle. It was a white Dodge pickup truck with a tarp-shrouded frame in its bed.

"It's my little helper!" Alice did a quick clappy-thing with her hands.

Edward sighed, recalling that Jasper had been privy to his phone conversation with his sister last night.

"I thought you were helping me, Alice. This is looking more like an intervention," Edward commented dryly.

"I knew we'd need help, so I enlisted Jasper, Emmet and Rose. I gave everyone an assignment, and this morning we all headed out to collect everything!" She beamed proudly up at her brother. "If we did this alone, Edward, it would take us all day."

"Which would give Little Swan more 'time to think,'" Emmett interjected sagely.

"Besides," Alice continued, "Bella isn't just your girlfriend…she's my co-worker and friend. Same for Rose and Jasper." They both nodded helpfully.

"And I'm here because you're my bro, bro," Emmett declared. "If I hadn't opened my big flapping mouth at the game, none of this would have happened."

Alice's expression turned serious, her eyes flickering to her parents before returning to Edward. "Despite your previous… cavalier connections…you're one of the best people I know, Edward. You think I'm unaware of that bank account you maintain, so I won't have to live with you when we're old and I've burned through my savings...but I do know...and I know that account exists because you care about me...and your own sanity, of course."

Edward's eyes shot to his father. Carlisle pursed his guilty lips and scratched uncomfortably at the back of his guilty neck.

"And Emmett," Alice continued, "would be stuck in some office building, working for someone else and hating his job on a daily basis, if you hadn't partnered with him to start Gymerica Elite. He loves being his own boss and owning that booming business with you."

Emmett nodded. "True dat, Ed."

"And you did the same thing for James, partnering to start Stellar Publishing," Alice continued. "And obviously the whole thing about buying Star-lighted has something to do with Bella. Don't even try to deny it." She smirked at Edward's look of surprise as she reached out and patted his chest. "There's a big heart beating in here. You're an awesome brother and friend and I'm sure you're an awesome boyfriend too. But let people do something for you for a change. We want to help you smooth things over with your girl."

Carlisle withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to his wife.

Esme grasped it appreciatively and dabbed at her already-leaky eyes.

Edward's eyes flickered from face to face, including Jasper's, who had quietly strolled up to join the group. "Thank you. All of you. Thank you for this."

Esme took another swipe at her eyes and cleared her throat. "Well, I just made coffee and I picked up some pastries earlier, so why don't you all come have a quick bite to eat before you get started?" She led them into the large kitchen, where they crowded around the breakfast bar, arming themselves with steaming mugs of coffee and fresh baked goods.

After a few moments, Jasper set his coffee cup down, focusing on Edward. "So, how did the first part of your plan go this morning?"

Conversation ceased as they all looked to Edward with interest.

"Well," he began, clearing his throat, "the guy at the car rental shop was actually quite rude from the moment I walked in the door and told him I wanted to buy the truck. He said, 'Sir, we rent vehicles; we don't sell them.' I told him I knew for a fact they sold rentals from time to time but he got rather haughty and said, 'Well, and now is not that time. If you're looking to buy a truck, I suggest you go to a dealership. If you'd like to rent a vehicle, however, I'd be delighted to help you with that.' I told him I already had a rental—that I had rented the best equipped truck they had, and I wanted to now purchase it. He just looked at me like I was nuts and started fiddling with paperwork, intent on ignoring me."

"So, what did you do?" Esme asked.

"I said I really wanted to buy that particular truck I'd rented, and I was certain he could figure out some way to make that happen. Then I laid my black AmEx credit card down on the counter. His mouth dropped open, he blinked at the card, blinked back up at me, and said, 'Certainly, Mr. Cullen. Just give me one moment.' Then he scurried into an office, closed the door, and made a phone call. When he reappeared we wrapped things up rather quickly and he gave me the spare set of keys."

Emmett's eyes twinkled. "Bouquet of flowers, twenty bucks...attractive potted plant, thirty dollars...walking into a car rental shop, looking like a hungover, scruffy, homeless dude, demanding to buy a rental truck...with your black AmEx Centurion credit card… That's effin' priceless!"

Everyone burst into laughter. Edward himself even chuckled. Then he frowned at Emmett. "I look like a homeless dude?'"

Esme gave her son a soft look. "He just means you look exhausted, Edward, but that's understandable."

Emmett nodded. "Yeah, you look like crap, Ed. You've got circles under your eyes, your face is pale and drawn, yesterday's five o'clock shadow has turned into today's Chia pet, and your hair looks like you combed it in a blender. Plus you're wearing an old stained T-shirt and ripped, grubby jeans. Seriously, Bro, you look like you just rolled out of the gutter after an all-night bender. But your mom's right, it's understandable." Emmett smiled pleasantly at his buddy.

The doorbell rang then, interrupting them.

"Oh, perfect timing!" Alice announced, clapping. "Our secret weapon must be here!" Grabbing Edward by the wrist, she pulled him along to the front door, her eyes sparkling up at him as she opened it.

Edward's mouth dropped open. It was Angela Weber. With Ben Cheney.

"Hi, Angela! Good morning, Ben!" Alice bubbled, waving them inside. "Come in, come in!"

Edward just stared dumbly at the new arrivals, until Alice glared and nudged him with her elbow. "Can't you even say hello?" she whispered harshly.

"Hi," Edward exhaled numbly. His eyes flickered to his old high school buddy, trading a smile and a nod. Then he stared primarily and warily at Angela, peering at him over the rim of her glasses, giving nothing away.

"So, we meet again, Stardust Ed," Angela replied wryly. "Rumor has it there's been a misunderstanding."

"Angela is here to help and Ben is her little helper!" Alice blurted and clapped, unable to contain herself.

Edward looked from Angela to Ben, thoroughly confused and wondering if Angela's "help" involved chewing his ass out for thoroughly upsetting her best friend.

"Well, um…thanks," he said politely, before turning to silently request clarification from Alice.

Alice smiled winningly at Angela and Ben. "Everyone else is here, in the kitchen. Ben, you know the way, and Mom is expecting you. Just help yourselves to coffee and pastries and we'll be right there!"

"Sounds good, Ali," Ben said, clasping Angela's hand and leading her away toward the sound of conversation.

"So… surprised?" Alice smiled triumphantly at her baffled big brother.

Edward exhaled. "Shocked, is more like it." He ran a hand through his hair. "How...did you…?"

Alice hugged herself. "Last night, when we were talking, I was thinking, 'If I could just talk to Angela…' Then it occurred to me that I had Ben's number! And since he and Angela have started seeing each other, of course he would have her number! And he was actually with her in Olympia when I called!"

"You made them drive up from Olympia?!" Edward hissed. "That's an hour away!"

"It was Angela's idea, not mine!" Alice smiled. "I told her everything."

"Oh." Edward nodded hesitantly. "Was she…mad at me?" he asked, raking a hand through his hair as he glanced toward the kitchen.

Alice rolled her eyes. "Who, Angela? Pffft! Why would she be mad?! She understands that this whole thing is just an awkward and ridiculously far-fetched romantic comedy of errors, involving fanfiction and two people who have failed to communicate well on several occasions, but who are made for each other, and destined to be together." Alice stopped to take a breath. "Angela knows Bella better than any of us, plus she feels partly at fault because she suggested Bella write that story in the first place." Alice's eyes searched her brother's. "Just trust me, okay?"

Edward finally nodded.

"Great! I'll get everyone started as soon as they've had a bite to eat. We'll unload our cars with what we rounded up, sort everything, and get the truck ready for you to begin. And don't worry about reimbursing anyone; I've got it covered already...because I have that account we'll continue pretending I don't know about." Edward opened his mouth but Alice cut him off before he could oppose her using her own money. "If it really bugs the shit out of you, you can just buy me a car someday to make it up to me!" Alice smiled at her own wit. "Anyway…I'll organize while you talk to Angela. She's very insightful."

oOoOoOoOo

A short while later, the kitchen was empty save for Edward and Angela, seated on barstools at the counter, deep in conversation.

"Obviously you didn't mean to upset her, Edward. You were both speaking at cross-purposes last night. There she was, wondering why you'd told everyone everything, meanwhile you were beating yourself up because you hadn't told her anything. But don't be so hard on yourself... Any one of the others could have come forward and said something to her. It's just hard to know whose place it is to do that in an awkward situation like this, let alone try to think how to even broach the conversation."

Edward shook his head gloomily. "It was my place to tell her. They're my family and my friend and I'm her boyfriend... Well, I was her boyfriend. Now I'm not so sure what she thinks of me. She won't answer my texts or calls and she's had all this time to think the absolute worst."

Angela smiled sympathetically. "If it makes you feel better, I couldn't get her on her cell either. It could be that something happened to her phone. Did you try calling her house?"

Edward shook his head. "I don't have that number."

"Me neither," Angela replied. "I tried calling information but she's unlisted. She probably just has her cell phone off because she wants time to process the situation. You have to understand, Bella has always been very self-reliant. A lot of that has to do with her parents and how she grew up. Her dad doesn't say much and her mom lives far away and…well, she's a little different."

"I've spoken with her mom on the phone," Edward murmured, nodding in agreement.

Angela grinned. "You've had the Renee Dwyer experience?"

"Oh, yeah." Edward nodded, smiling a little.

"Anyway," Angela continued, "Bella has never sought much advice from them. She's used to working through things on her own. Unfortunately, she doesn't know she's missing some pieces to this puzzle. She thinks she already sees the whole picture. I know she'll just feel just terrible when she realizes how wrong she got this."

"I don't want her to feel badly, I just want to fix this and get back to normal." Edward smoothed his hair back with his hand, sighing in frustration.

Angela's dark eyes sparkled. "Well, I think your plan is terribly romantic, but I do have a couple suggestions…"

"Sure. I'm all ears."

As Angela shared her thoughts and ideas, Edward began feeling a flicker of hope.

"That sounds perfect. Let's do that," he told her when she'd finished.

Angela smiled. "I'll talk to Alice, Emmett and your mom. Meanwhile you can get to work on the truck with the others. But you'll still have a lot to deal with, you know. Bella's going to flip when she finds out you bought her a truck. You'd better start thinking how you're going to approach that one."

"I realize that. I just don't want her driving around in an old, unreliable, used car because she can't afford something decent right now. And when Jasper made a comment yesterday about trucks being dependable, that struck a chord. Besides, she's already been driving this truck and seemed to really like it."

They looked up at the sound of footsteps. It was Alice.

"Everything is ready, Edward. But…Emmett just got an email alert… Bella updated."

Edward and Angela scrambled off the barstools, following Alice out to the garage. Everyone was waiting anxiously in a cluster on the driveway.

"Here," Emmett said, holding out his phone. "I haven't read it. I though you should read it first."

Edward nodded, gingerly taking the phone. He stood frozen, reading, and then he looked up. "It's not a chapter. It's an author's note." He cleared his throat and read it. Out loud.

"Dear Readers, I know this isn't what you were expecting. I'm sorry for getting your hopes up for an actual chapter. This story and the inspiration for it have become very near and dear to my heart, but due to unexpected circumstances, I am putting the story on hiatus. I appreciate your reviews for the first two chapters and apologize for stopping so abruptly."

Edward looked up, his eyes tight as they flickered from face to face around the solemn group…until his eyes landed on Emmett, who was grinning broadly.

Edward glared at him. "What? This is bad!"

"Bro, use your head! This is good! She just did this! The alert just went out! Think about it! It's not like she deleted the story! She put it on hiatus! Hiii-aaa-tusss," Emmett enunciated carefully. "If she puts the story on hiatus, it means she hopes to continue it. She's on the fence right now, but… What was that she said…?" Emmet took his phone from Edward and scanned the words on the screen. Then he began reading. Out loud.

"This story and the inspiration for it have become very near and dear to my heart…" Emmett looked up with a face-splitting grin.

"See? You have become very near and dear to her heart! And she didn't use past tense! You're going to explain everything to her and she's going to realize we know her story is based on fact but we also know she obviously made parts of it up. So she'll probably continue, you know? With you and with her story!"

Staring at Emmett, a snippet of conversation they'd had at the barbecue flitted through Edward's mind.

"So, did all that shit really happen in chapter 1?"

"Emmett! It's fiction! It's not real!"

Edward's eyes darted to his mother, thinking of a similar point he'd made to her in a phone conversation.

"Obviously she took that situation and is creating a story from it…adding to it to make it more interesting and entertaining…"

His position to both of them had been the same—he hadn't admitted it was all true. Instead he'd implied Bella had made some things up. In saving himself from embarrassment then, he could also maybe save Bella from extreme mortification now.

His eyes flickered to Alice and an unspoken communication passed between them: She would never divulge what he'd told her in confidence.

Then he looked to Angela, wondering if she knew it was all true. Her brow twitched as she gazed back, a sly smile curling at her lip. She knew, all right.

"Emmett's right," Angela said, holding Edward's gaze. "Writer's take real life events and embellish them all the time. You just have to remind Bella her readers know that, so she stops imagining the worst."

Edward's eyes widened at her obvious complicity and he couldn't quite contain a sudden laugh. "You're absolutely right!"

"Of course we are!" Emmett cried. "Now, let's get on with it, so you can get talking to Bella and help her down from the fanfictional fence! Let's go, people, hop to it! Let's do this thing!"

oOoOoOoOo

In a little more than two hours, Phase Two of Operation Bellybeans was complete and Phase Three was ready to roll…literally.

Edward had showered and changed out of his old and now-filthy jeans and shirt, into the clean jeans and white T-shirt he'd brought along in his backpack. He checked his phone to see if Bella had responded to his calls or texts, but no such luck. With a sigh, he tucked his phone into his pocket, shoved his dirty clothes and shoes into his backpack, and slid his feet into his leather flip flops.

Glancing in the bathroom mirror, he ran his fingers through his still-damp hair. He realized he probably should have borrowed a razor from his father and shaved, but he was anxious to get going, so the scruffy stubble would stay.

He walked back out through the house and into the garage, surprised to see how quickly everything had been cleaned up in his absence. He shook his head in amazement, looking at the reassuring smiles on the faces of his and Bella's little support group.

"I can't believe we managed to get everything done so quickly," he admitted.

"We're an awesome group of little helpers, aren't we?" Alice clapped her hands, smiling smugly.

Edward chuckled. "Without a doubt. Thanks, Pix. Thank you, everyone." He took a couple moments to exchange hugs and handshakes and accept their well-wishes.

"You'd better avoid the highway and stick with the streets," Carlisle advised as Edward finally climbed into the blue Ford F-150's driver's seat.

"I will. And I'll drive slowly."

"Keep your phone handy," Angela told Ben. "I'll follow you guys and call if the tarp starts coming loose." She gave Ben a quick peck on the cheek, before he climbed in to join Edward. Then Angela waved to everyone on the driveway and headed for her Mini-Cooper, parked just beyond Jasper's truck.

The Ford F-150 roared to life and rolled slowly and carefully down the driveway, its fragile cargo shrouded by Jasper's tarp and securely fastened to his metal framework they'd temporarily jimmied into the blue truck's bed. Edward stuck his hand out the window and waved to his family, friends and helpers as he drove off.

"What an adventure," Jasper drawled, grinning as he stood with his arm around Alice.

"He's such a sweet geek, isn't he?" Alice agreed, leaning her head against Jasper's shoulder.

"He has such a good heart," Esme added, wrapping her arm around her husband's waist.

"For his sake, I hope Bella accepts his apology and her truck," Carlisle observed, giving Esme's shoulder a squeeze.

Rose shoved her hand into Emmett's back pocket and smiled. "What a crazy romantic gesture."

"Yeah," Emmett agreed with a big cherubic grin. "Isn't Edward ridiculous and awesome?!"

Five heads nodded in agreement as the Ford made the turn at the end of the street with Angela's Mini-Cooper following.

oOoOoOoOo

A half hour later, the Ford F-150 sat idling behind Angela's Mini-Cooper at the gated entrance to the Skyline Townehome neighborhood. Edward and Ben watched as Angela placed a call at the call box. After a moment her slender arm extended out the window, gave them a thumbs up, and the Mini-Cooper accelerated through the opening gate.

"Yes!" Edward and Ben exclaimed together. Following Angela inside, Edward waved to Felix in the little guardhouse.

"I'm on the edge of my seat here!" Ben chuckled, peering at Edward through his blocky glasses. "Hey, what did you decide about Emmett's text? You know…for musical accompaniment?"

Edward rolled his eyes. "I am not playing that Peter Gabriel song from that movie! It's been done and re-done! And where the hell would I get a boombox, anyway?!" Ben laughed and shrugged as Edward pulled over to the side of the road.

Hopping out of the truck, Ben ran reconnaissance. He peeked around a block wall, following Angela's progress as she drove down Stardust Lane, parked in front of Bella's house, and headed for the front door.

When he returned to the truck, he found Edward scrolling through his phone. "She's in. What are you doing?"

"I decided to look at music while I was waiting," Edward mumbled. "I have a playlist of soft rock ballads…"

Ben burst into laughter. "Of course you do! And it's probably organized by year and then alphabetically, am I right, Cullen?"

"Go to hell, Cheney," Edward grumbled, not looking up from his playlist, which was organized by year and then alphabetically, as Ben assumed.

"So, that's a yes." Ben grinned. "Some things never change."

"I would have been fine if Emmett hadn't sent that text, mentioning music," Edward complained, now that he felt compelled to find musical accompaniment for his apology. Then he paused. "Wait…" A slow smile lit up his face. "Here we go... This is perfect!"

Ben leaned over, reading aloud. "Follow You, Follow Me...by Genesis." He shrugged. "Don't know it, but I'll believe you. You know your music like you know your movies."

"It's an old song, but it's perfect. And…I'll bet you didn't know Peter Gabriel was a founding member of Genesis," Edward added, smiling smugly.

Ben laughed. "No, but you knew that. Like I said, some things never change."

Ben's phone vibrated. He looked at the screen and grinned at Edward. "It's Angie. The coast is clear. Let's go."

oOoOoOoOo

That same day, when Bella had awoken much later than usual in her guest room, bits of bad dreams had swirled into her thoughts—images of Edward reading From Hate to Heat to a large number of laughing houseguests.

"Ughh! Like the reality isn't bad enough!" she moaned, rubbing her eyes in an effort to erase the visions.

She sighed and sat up, recalling that she'd re-read From Hate to Heat last night, imagining what Edward's mother, sister and friend must have thought when they'd read it. But she couldn't even begin to imagine.

She picked up the laptop lying next to her, and turning it on, she navigated to the Star-lighted site. Logging in, she went to the editing page for From Hate to Heat, and moved the laptop's cursor over the 'delete story' button. But after a moment she sighed and moved the cursor away. Deleting the story wouldn't fix anything. And she didn't really want to delete their story. What she wanted was to delete the memory of reading it from some select readers' minds. But there was no button for that. They would always remember what they'd read. What she'd written.

Pulling the laptop more squarely onto her lap, she typed a short document and uploaded it as a chapter update. It was actually more of an announcement and apology, because she was putting the story on hiatus, leaving it in literary limbo because she just couldn't abandon their story anymore than she could close the book on their relationship.

Gathering her laptop, wineglass, and water bottle from the night before, Bella finally headed down to the kitchen and made herself a calming cup of herbal tea.

She really needed a shower. She was sweaty and sticky from sleeping in her jeans and sweatshirt. But by the time she'd returned upstairs with her tea, she'd changed her mind about a shower and ran water for a bath instead. Adding freesia scented bubble bath, she let the tub fill while she left to retrieve a book. Returning, Bella stripped off her clothing, stepped into the scented water and settled into the billowing bubbles. She'd never been much of a bubble-bather, being more of a shower-and-get-it-done girl, but every so often it was a welcome escape. Like now. Because she sure needed an escape.

She sipped at her tea and lay back, closing her eyes to soak and soothe for a moment. She couldn't remember when she'd just relaxed and read last. Possibly last week because this week had been filled with Edward.

The thought tugged and ached.

Edward…beautiful Edward…with his handsome face...sparkling green eyes and long lashes… How curly those lashes seemed when he smiled… And what a smile…that crazy crooked grin, boyishly vulnerable at times, yet wickedly sexy at others… And his pouty lips…his entire mouth was absolute sculptural perfection…smiling, laughing, kissing… Such scorching hot kisses…that tongue…those teeth…and all the surprising things that masterful mouth is capable of…

Like telling key people about the story you've been writing.

Bella's eyes blinked open. "This sucks!"

She slid down in the tub, submerging herself in the floral foam.

Yes…this really sucks…

And when Edward sucks...it feels so amazing…

"Gah! Enough!" she sputtered, sitting up and sloshing bathwater. She wiped at her wet face, slicking away water and bubbles. Flicking water from her fingers, she grabbed a towel and dried her hands, and then leaned over the tub to pick up her copy of Fifty Flavors of Kinque, the former Star-fic turned best-seller. She flipped to where she'd left off, near the end of the book, and though she already knew it nearly by heart, at least she could immerse herself in her bubble bath and someone else's romance problems, while escaping her own.

oOoOoOoOo

A short while later, with tea and book finished and bathwater tepid, Bella ruminated on the romance problems of former fanfictional characters, Sebastian Kinque and Annabelle Schwarz. Dark, damaged, enigmatic businessman Sebastian had just spanked the living crapola out of bright, young, college graduate Annabelle. She had fled in physical and emotional pain, leaving broken Sebastian even more shattered than before. It was a pivotal point in their story. Annabelle had asked Sebastian to spank her but then didn't think to tell him to stop. Now they were apart and miserable, yet she had helped bring this sorry state upon them with her poorly-conceived idea and lack of communication.

Bella stilled.

A poorly-conceived idea...like writing a fanfiction about yourself and an unsuspecting neighbor.

And a lack of communication...like not asking him why he'd tell those close to him to read it.

"What reason could he possibly have had to tell them?!" Bella snapped. "He can't have been proud of himself!"

Maybe he just needed to confide in someone? You know, you confided in Angela from the get-go.

"But his mother?! And his sister?! That's not normal!" Bella told her inner self.

No, it's not. Confiding in a close friend, like you did, would be more logical.

Bella gasped.

Maybe Edward did confide in a close friend! A close friend who's close to his family! A boisterous, good-hearted friend, who has an uninhibited tendency to over-share!

"Oh. My. God…!" Bella breathed, staring wide-eyed at nothing. "How did I not see this?! Oh, Edward…!"

Hurriedly, Bella shampooed and washed and got out of the tub. Wrapped in towels, she darted into her bedroom and went to the tall chest next to the window, pulling her underwear drawer open.

But something outside caught her eye. It was actually the lack of something that had caught her eye.

What the...?

There was a lack of a rental truck on her driveway.

THE TRUCK IS GONE?!

"OHMYGOD!"

Bella raced from her room, clutching her towel around her as she scurried down the stairs. Dashing into the great room and over to the door to the garage, she flung it open.

"OHMYGOD!"

Her garage was as Ford-F-150-free as her driveway.

"Ohmygod! It's gone! The truck's gone!"

She gasped as realization sunk in.

He took it BACK?!

Bella flew back up the stairs, disentangling the towel from around her hair as she went.

He must have taken it back! I didn't even know he had a key!

Snagging panties and bra from her still-open drawer, she rushed back into the bathroom, slinging damp towels haphazardly over the shower enclosure. Snatching up her blowdryer and flipping her hair forward, she worked through tangles and tangled thoughts as she dried her hair.

Ohmygod. I was too upset and I didn't think! And I didn't let him explain! I blamed it all on him! But it must have been Emmett! Edward must be so pissed off at me, to just take the truck back like this!

She dropped the blowdryer on the counter and danced into her panties and shimmied into her bra, chastising herself as she did so.

"Boy, Isabella Marie, you sure blew it big time! Running away from him! Accusing him! Snapping at him! Of course he took the truck back! He doesn't want anything to do with you, you stupid, stupid bitch!"

She hurriedly brushed her teeth, babbling a few Ohmygods around the toothpaste in her mouth. Spitting into the sink, and then standing upright, Bella stared at her reflection as she came to her senses.

Wait...! That's not like him! Edward wouldn't be spiteful and react like that! He wouldn't just take the truck back without saying anything. He's too sweet and wonderful and generous. There must be a more logical explanation for why the truck isn't there…

Her eyes widened in alarm.

"Ohmygod…" she whispered. "It's been stolen?!"

She sped out of the bathroom and into her closet, pulling on a green blouse and hopping into jeans as she left her room. She raced back down the stairs barefoot, zipping and buttoning.

"Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Ohmygod!"

As she hustled toward the kitchen, the house phone suddenly rang. The unexpected noise made her shriek and jump. She tried to remember if anyone actually had her landline number. But when she picked it up, she saw it was a call from the neighborhood's front gate.

"Hello?" she answered with a confused frown.

"Hi, B! It's Angela," the tinny voice replied. "I'm at the front gate."

"Angela?! Aren't you in Olympia, spending the weekend with Ben?"

Bella heard Angela's laugh. "It would be really difficult for me to be in Olympia and at your front gate. Can you let me in, B?"

"Oh, of course! Sorry! Oh, Ange…I'm so glad you're here. You're not going to believe what's happened! Everything's gone to complete shit!"

"Hang on. I'll be there in a minute, B!"

Bella entered the code to open the gate and hung up, wondering what Angela was doing here, and if her previous evening with Ben had gone as far afield as her own with Edward. That was doubtful. Angela probably hadn't screwed over her new boyfriend and herself via online fiction…nor somehow lost his rental vehicle without even trying. Exhaling a shaky sigh, Bella headed to her front door. At least Angela had good timing. Bella could use a friendly shoulder to cry on right about now.

Opening the front door, she watched as Angela pulled up to the curb, parked, and exited her car with a smile.

"Hey, B!"

"Angela! I don't know what you're doing here, but I'm...so glad…to see you!" she choked out as she began tearing up.

"Oh, Bella..." Angela closed the door as she pulled her best friend into a hug.

Bella began babbling as the tears began trickling. "Edward and I...we had a fight...or a misunderstanding...or something. His mom and Alice and Emmett are all reading my stupid story...and I thought he told them...but now I don't think he did...but I think he must be really mad at me...and I thought he took the rental truck back...but that really doesn't seem like him...so I think the rental truck must have been s-s-s-stolen!" She broke off into sobs. "What am I going to do?!"

"Shhhh. Everything's going to be okay, B," Angela soothed softly. "I promise. And no one stole the truck. It's safe." She pulled back a little, holding Bella's shoulders as she looked kindly at her friend. "And Edward's not mad at you, B. He loves you."

Bella blinked and frowned. "How…? How do you know all that?" she asked, brushing tears from her eyes and cheeks.

Angela smiled like the sphinx she was. "You'll see. Trust me." Her eyes twinkled. "Where's your phone?" Angela's brows lifted expectantly.

"It's in...a drawer in the kitchen," Bella said, still thoroughly confused as she sniffed and wiped at her face again.

Angela didn't even bat an eyelash at that weird response. "Why don't you grab it? You have some messages to read. And do you mind if we sit out back on the patio? It just got nice and sunny outside."

Bella blinked, still confused, but trusting her most trusted friend. "Um…no, that's fine."

Angela smiled. "I just need to use the bathroom first. I'll meet you outside in a minute, okay?"

"Okay." Bella nodded, heading for the kitchen as Angela ducked into the bathroom.

"Just don't read anything yet! Wait for me!" Angela called before closing the bathroom door. Pulling her own phone from her pocket, Angela texted Ben the go-ahead, then put her phone on vibrate and tucked it back into her pocket. She grabbed a few tissues, stuffed them into her other pocket, and left the bathroom to join Bella.

"Is that kitchen drawer broken? You know the one with the duct tape on it?" Angela asked as she stepped out onto the patio.

Bella blushed. "Um…no. That was more of a reminder. That's where my phone spent the night. I didn't want to talk to Edward and say something I didn't mean, before I'd had the chance to think things through."

Angela sat down next to Bella on an old two-seater swing. She looped her arm over Bella's shoulder. "So your phone was in the drawer…and off?" Bella nodded. Angela smiled. "Well, let's power up your phone and see what you missed. Read your texts first."

Bella saw that she'd gotten two texts from Edward. She read the first message out loud.

"If you want to talk, please don't hesitate to. No matter what time. –E"

She looked up at Angela. "He sent that last night...after we got home from the game…after I found out…" Her voice became wobbly, but Angela nipped that in the bud.

"I know. I heard about what happened. Just trust me and read on."

Bella's brows puckered but she looked back at her phone, took a calming breath, and continued reading aloud, tearing up as she did so.

"I want to call you but I don't know if you're sleeping. Your house is dark, so maybe so. I feel just awful about what happened. I didn't mean to hurt you, Bella. I want to fix this. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I miss you. –E"

"He was the best thing that ever happened to me, too!" Bella said, looking at Angela with tear-filled eyes.

"I know. He still is, B," Angela agreed, giving her friend a one-armed hug." Let's move on and listen to your voicemails. Skip the two from me—I just said to call me."

Bella played the first voicemail.

"Bella…It's Edward. It's a little after seven thirty, Saturday morning. I finally came to the realization that you must think I told Alice, Emmett and my mom to read your story...er, our story. At least I think that's what you think. But please believe me, that's not what happened. I should have told you immediately, when I found out they knew about it and had all read it...but instead, I waited and…well, I waited too long. I was stupid and I'm sorry. You have every right to be mad at me, Bella, but I just want you to know…our relationship isn't…some kind of a joke to me. Nor are you. To me or to anyone else. I love… I love our story. I wouldn't trade how we met for anything. That's…that's really all I wanted to say until I can talk to you in person."

Bella's hand had been pressed to her mouth as she listened. She pulled it away and looked at Angela as tears brimmed in her eyes. "That is what I thought. That he'd told them to read it. But now I think he must have just confided in Emmett…"

Angela nodded, tapping Bella's phone with a slender finger. "I know. Keep going, next voicemail."

Bella nodded and moved on to Edward's second voicemail.

"Bella, it's me again. I forgot to mention… You might notice the truck is missing, but don't worry. I have it. I'll explain everything to you later, if you'll let me. Bye."

"I thought the truck was stolen! Why didn't he tell me he had it?!" Bella cried.

Angela burst into laughter. "Uh…Earth to Bella! He did! It's not Edward's fault your phone was in time-out!"

Bella slapped her hand over her forehead. "Oh, God…I can't believe I just said that!"

"Well, you've got a lot on your mind," Angela giggled. "Let's move on to your emails." She scooted close to read over Bella's shoulder, though she was already familiar with their content.

There were three emails. Bella started with the earliest one, her mouth dropping open as soon as she saw the Star-lighted website heading, and her eyes and voice filling with fresh tears as she read aloud.

You have received a private message from:

Name: Star-A-Holic

My dear, sweet bellybeans,

Well, bb, I've got something to confess and I should have already confessed it: I know you and you know me. Not just here in the fandom, but in RL too. I should have told you when I found out because you and I go way back—two years already! I think you were on chapter 3 of "The New Girl" when I jumped on board with your first fic. But it wasn't until you were in the middle of writing "My Lab Partner" that I figured out how to make banners and made my first one for you.

Yes, it's me… Your bannergirl, Star-A-Holic, a.k.a. Star-Ho, a.k.a. Alice.

Early on, I signed my real first name in a PM. I'm not sure you'll even remember that, but in your reply you said you preferred to keep your identity on the DL. I totally got that. So we've been Star-Ho and bellybeans ever since...until we met in the faculty lounge that first day at Fawkes. :)

When I later discovered your secret identity—your REAL fanfictional identity—I kept quiet about it and I was prepared to take it to my grave! But in hindsight…that was suuuuch a dumb idea! :( *Star-Ho/Alice hangs her head in shame*

Our relationship within the fandom means SO MUCH to me. But our relationship as friends has meant EVEN MORE. I just hope you can forgive me for not coming forward when I should have. I'm so sorry, bb!

XO

-Alice (your Star-Ho and friend, I hope.)

Bella turned to Angela, wiping away fresh tears. "Alice is my Star-Ho! And I love my Star-Ho! I love every single banner she's ever made and every message or story rec or Ethan-porn-manip she's ever sent! She even sent me that coffee mug with interchangeable inserts of my banners and a collage of Ethan-porn!"

Angela nodded as she handed Bella a tissue. "I remember that mug. How cool was that? And how cool is it that the three of us have been partners in fanfictional crime all this time?"

"So, you knew Alice was Star-Ho?" Bella asked, her brows puckering.

Angela shook her head. "I just found out last night. Alice called Ben to get my number, and I was right there with him. We spoke on the phone for quite a while. She told me what happened at the game. And that she was your bannergirl. It's pretty amazing, when you think about it... Not only did you and Edward met nine years ago, but you've known his sister for two years as Star-A-Holic."

Bella nodded, smiling and sniffling. "That's really crazy, isn't it? But how did Alice figure out I was bellybeans? Did Emmett tell her?"

"Move on to the next email," Angela prodded.

Bella opened the next PM, alternately crying and laughing as she read.

You have received a private message from:

Name: Stargazer91

Hey Little Swan!

I sure screwed everything up, didn't I? But I just have to say…you are seriously one of my favorite authors in the fandom! I know…it's probably way weird to find out I'm a Star-fic reader but so is my seventy-eight year old Nana McCarty. That's probably way weird too, huh? She's been reading Star-fics forever. Last spring she had cataract surgery and couldn't read her updates, so I read them to her while she was recuperating. I got hooked and I've been a reader ever since. I'm a big fan of yours, bellybeans.

Don't be too hard on Edward. He's a really good guy and he didn't give your identity away. He just said you were writing a story about him on a fiction site online. He never mentioned the site, your penname, or the story title. I made the connection myself. I'd just read the chapter a few days earlier. Then I blurted it out to Alice because I just can't keep my big flapping mouth shut—which you've probably noticed.

I hope you and Edward can work things out. You're good for him. He's a lot more fun with you around. (Just sayin', because Edward can be a real pill sometimes.) He's nuts about you and you guys are just so cute together.

I hope you'll keep writing.

Your friend,

-Emmett (Stargazer91)

PS: And because I can't keep things to myself, I thought I'd let you know my Nana McCarty's screenname is ShortAndSweet.

Bella turned to Angela when she'd finished, dabbing at tears and giggling simultaneously. "Emmett reads fanfiction?! And his nana is Shorty! She reviews all the time!"

"I know!" Angela laughed. "How bizarre…and yet right, somehow! And at least he's aware that he's a bigmouth, but you know he doesn't mean to hurt anyone."

Bella nodded as Angela handed her another tissue while she opened the final PM.

You have received a private message from:

Name: Young_at_heart

Dear Bella,

I'm so sorry you're upset. You've brought us nothing but joy with your wonderful stories and your friendship. And you've brought my Edward joy, period.

Emmett, of all people, introduced me to fanfiction late last spring. He knew I 'd loved the Written in the Stars books and movies and he gave me a list of fanfiction stories he and his grandma enjoyed. Yours were among them.

I've read and loved all your stories, though I was a lurker before I sent you my review for chapter 1 of "From Hate to Heat." I realized afterwards that there were similarities in that story to several events Edward had mentioned during dinner a few days earlier. My curiosity got the better of me and I sent you a PM, inquiring into your possible ownership of a certain hat, your occupation, and whether you lived across the street from an attractive, yet poorly-behaved Ethan. Once I got your reply, I stopped reading FH2H because I'd realized just how close to home it hit.

If you are embarrassed that I've read what you've written, let me just remind you of a little personal anecdote I shared in my review…something about my former-young-stud-of-a-husband and a towel trick he used to perform for my eyes only. Imagine my embarrassment, knowing I shared that personal tidbit with my son's girlfriend! ;)

In my PM to you I wrote that I hoped you could be a force for good for that poorly-behaved neighbor of yours. You have been, Bella, and Edward cares for you so much. We all do.

With love,

Esme (Young_at_heart)

Bella couldn't say a word. She was too busy crying. Esme Cullen was the quintessential mom and her message had been one big fat cyber-hug of warmth and compassion.

As Angela hugged her best friend, she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket.

It was the signal. Everything must be ready. The truck must be back on Bella's driveway, with Jasper's tarp and framework removed. And Edward must have decided to add a musical component to his apologetic gesture, because Angela definitely heard music playing.

"Esme's great, isn't she?" Angela asked, knowing she had to wrap things up with her part in Operation Bellybeans.

"She is." Bella nodded as she blew her nose. "And I just can't believe they're all my readers! They've been my readers. They didn't just start reading."

Angela smiled. "They're more than your readers, B. They're your fans and your friends. I just spent a couple hours at the Cullens' house with all those friends of yours and Edward's…and Edward himself. They're all concerned about this whole crazy situation, but they're certainly not judging you."

"You were with them today?" Bella asked, surprised and sniffling.

Angela nodded. "And they're all on your side."

Bella nodded, thinking. "Now that I know everything...it's really not so bad. I just… God, I just wish I hadn't written about Edward's penis!"

Angela laughed. "Well, here's how you can…um…handle...Edward's penis..." She giggled as Bella rolled her eyes and blushed. "This morning, when everyone was gathered around, Emmett said you'd be fine once Edward explained things to you and you realized…" Angela paused for emphasis, "…That they all know parts of your story have been made up." Her brow twitched as she peered over her glasses at Bella.

Bella nodded. Then her eyes widened in understanding. "So they really don't know-know?"

"No. And I told Emmett he was right, and that Edward just had to remind you of that. And Edward looked about as relieved as you do right now." Angela smiled slyly. "Just let the parts about Edward's 'part' be one of those made-up parts, and nobody will be the wiser."

Bella exhaled a laugh of relief. "Well then, that's my story and I'm sticking to it! Oh, my god... Thank you, Angela!"

"Don't thank me. I'm just a cog in a big apology operation." She smiled enigmatically and stood. "I have to get going, B. Ben's waiting for me out front. Will you walk me out?"

"Oh…" Bella blinked. "Of course!" She followed Angela back into the house, processing everything.

Angela turned as they neared the door. "Just talk to Edward. He thinks you're not speaking to him and he's worried things might be over between you."

Bella gasped. "Over?! Things aren't over! And I'm not not speaking to him—I just needed time to think!"

"I figured as much, but the last he heard, you were blaming him for everyone knowing."

"Ohmygod! Poor Edward! I have to talk to him! Is he still at his parents' house?"

"No, he's home now, undoubtedly waiting and wondering and hoping you'll accept his apology." Angela smiled mysteriously as she opened the door.

The music was fading away as they walked out together, but as the driveway came into view, Bella made a sound of her own...an 'Ohmygod' somewhere between a laugh, a gasp, and a sob, as her hands flew to her mouth and her vision blurred with fresh tears.

The Ford F-150 truck was back on her driveway, shining in the sun, with its windows rolled down. But the bed of the truck... Holy crap! It was filled to overflowing with sunflower plants! Short ones clustered around the outside and much taller ones near the center! Big, bright blooms in varying shades of yellow and gold and orange bobbed and winked and waved in the breeze.

Bella began laughing and crying all at once. "It's Edward's flower arrangement! But it's life-sized!"

"And it's musical!" Angela giggled, as the intro to Edward's chosen song started up again on the truck's sound system. "Go to him, B. Call me in a day or two. Meanwhile I hope you both have a wonderful rest of the weekend!"

Bella didn't need to be told twice.

"You're the best, Angela!" She gave her best friend a quick hard hug and then took off on an apology mission of her own.

Bella didn't recognize the song, but as she ran down her driveway to the street...barefoot...she knew enough to listen to Edward's musical message with an open heart and mind.

Edward was asking her to stay with him, calling her 'my love,' and hoping she would remain by his side...

Of course I'll stay with you, Edward! You're my love, too!

Crap...! Who the hell paved this damn street?!

Edward felt safe and secure in her arms, the lyrics told her, and he thought spending time together was the perfect way to spend any day...

You make me feel safe and secure, too! And I want to spend every day with you!

But why didn't I put on some shoes?! This street is a total bastard!

Meanwhile, Edward's song was speaking about commitment, telling Bella he would follow her, asking her to follow him, to be with him every day and night, promising he would do his best not to make her sad...

Yes! We'll follow each other, not in a stalkerish sense, but figuratively! We'll follow each other's storythe story of us! Every day and every night! Without misunderstandings or tears!

Well, except for crying about my bloody feet after I make it across this shit street!

Edward was claiming he'd had an epiphany. All his former fears were gone and he was no longer afraid to be in a relationship...

Don't be afraid—not to love me—because I love you, Edward!

But I sure hate the asshole-of-a-paving-company that paved this fucker!

Then Edward was telling her he was happy to have her with him; that she made him better, even with just her smile...

I'm here for you, like you are for me. And your smile, Edward, is the best, most delicious smile on earth!

And I'd be smiling right now just thinking of your smile, if I wasn't clenching my teeth with every step across this goddamned, hell-on-earth, sonofabitch street! Gah!

From his living room window, Edward had watched anxiously as Ben started up the song in the truck and then sprinted over to Angela's Mini-Cooper. Naturally, Edward was nervous about how things were going between Bella and Angela. He'd waited. And watched. And he'd begun thinking it was taking too long. Something was probably wrong. Pacing away from the window, he worried this whole endeavor was for naught. But upon pacing back to the window, he finally saw her…his beautiful, barefoot girl…walking painstakingly and painfully across that dreadful motherfucker-of-a-street.

Striding back through his living room and out through the entryway, Edward opened his front door and watched her approach. Wild and windblown hair framed her face, her pale complexion was blotchy, her lips were puffy and her nose was red. She'd been crying, he knew, and his heart sank. But as Bella reached his driveway she paused to look up, and their eyes met.

She saw Edward's uncertainty and vulnerability as he stood there on his doorstep. Purple shadows had formed beneath his eyes, tormented hair crowned his head, and a scruffy beard shadowed his jaw. He looked distraught, pale and tired, and yet he'd never looked more beautiful to her.

In that same moment, Edward saw that Bella wasn't angry. She just looked relieved. And glad to see him. And she looked absolutely glorious.

She broke into a run, dashing up his driveway. "Edward! Oh, Edward! I'm so, so sorry!" she cried as she ran, flat out and full tilt, barreling right up Edward's walkway now, toward his front door.

"No, Bella, it's all my faul…!" The words died on Edward's lips as he realized Bella wasn't stopping. Or even slowing. Instead she was launching herself straight at him.

Edward's left hand shot out to grip the doorframe as Bella's body slammed into his. He managed to catch her with his free arm, supporting and holding her securely as she flung her arms and legs around him. He would have flown straight backward into the entryway, flattened out on the floor, if he hadn't clutched that doorframe as if their lives depended upon it. Her momentum, combined with his firm grip on the doorframe, threw him sideways and off balance. He stumbled, slamming into the wall just inside of the door, still holding her tightly to him. But given the circumstances, he actually sank rather gracefully to the floor with her on his lap.

"They make that look so much easier in the movies!" Edward exhaled, sagging and closing his eyes, relieved at having made a safe catch of his precious projectile.

"Ohmygod! Edward, are you all right?!" Bella sputtered, her hands cradling his face. "Did I hurt you?! Are you hurt?!"

He shook his head and opened his eyes. "No, I'm okay. Are you okay? Did I crush you?"

"No, I'm fine. Oh, Edward…!" She wrapped him in an embrace. "God, I'm so stupid!" she cried, pulling back again to look at his dear face. "I could have killed you!" Her fingers caressed his face, his jaw, his scruffy beard—so much softer than she would have imagined.

Edward's eyes twinkled as he reached up to grasp her hands. "I'm alright. I rather enjoyed you throwing yourself at me. As you can see it floored me." He smiled softly and Bella sighed in relief, slumping against his chest. And then she giggled.

"We always seem to wind up on the floor for our firsts. First dinner-blackout...on the kitchen floor. First kiss-swoon...on the garage floor. First post-fight-make-up-tackle...on your entryway floor."

Edward chuckled. "I guess it must be our thing."

"I really like our thing," she said softly, gazing at him with her big beautiful brown eyes.

"I love everything about our thing," he agreed, looking back at her tenderly.

"Me too. And I'm so sorry about last night, Edwardabout how I reacted. I just needed time to think about all of them knowing what I'd written and…"

Edward shook his head. "It's my fault, Bella." He smoothed her hair back out of her face. "I found out last weekend and I knew I had to tell you, but after I'd told you I'd read your story, you were so upset at first, and once we worked through that, I just…I didn't have the heart to upset you all over again. I swear, I was going to tell you last night after the game, but I shouldn't have waited. I'm so sorry I handled it so badly."

"No, I understand. You were trying to protect me from embarrassment. But it's okay." She smiled. "Really. I mean…Alice has been my bannergirl for two years already! And Emmett and his grandma…"

"That's completely bizarre, isn't it?" Edward smiled crookedly.

Bella giggled again, nodding. "That really is. And your sweet mom reads fanfiction, too. They all wrote the nicest, kindest messages, explaining everything. They're just fans. Like I am. And they're my fans. How can I be upset about them?"

"So, you're really okay?" he asked, quirking a brow. "With me? And with them? Because I really can't help who they are and what they do. And they're not going to go away anytime soon."

Bella laughed as he pulled her close and she slid her arms over his shoulders. "I'm okay with them and I'm okay with you..." Her fingers threaded into his hair as his hands caressed her back. "I'm exceptionally okay with you."

They both stilled, looking into each other's eyes, sensing something electrifying.

It was a defining moment.

The perfect moment.

It was the moment.

"I love you."

Green eyes and brown widened in wonder, and their mouths curled into grins as their hearts thrilled. They'd declared themselves, and they'd done so simultaneously.

"Kiss me, Kismet," Bella said, looking into Edward's dancing green eyes.

He pulled her close and kissed her, both of them consumed by that most perfect of moments, thinking how good it felt to say it, how wonderful the words sounded in their ears, and how perfectly they fit together as their mouths opened, complied, anticipated and matched each other's every exploration.


A/N: Listen to Genesis' Follow You, Follow Me. And try not to think about how he hasn't yet mentioned that he bought her that truck. ;)