Title: Wherever You Go

Penname: Collaboration between MessyBar and theswandive

Rating: M (language)

Summary: The old adage is true you just don't know what you've got until it's gone or at least when you think it is.

Disclaimer: We don't own, we're just playing.


~Bella~

I grabbed the mail sticking out of the slot as I trudged my way into the house after an admittedly exhausting day. The last hour of re-shelving books at the library had been brutal, so getting out of my shoes, off my feet and into a hot bubble bath had been the only things driving me to finish my day. I was so close to all of that, I could practically smell the Strawberries 'n Cream bubble bath.

Once inside the little rented bungalow I shared with my boyfriend, I slumped against the door in order to yank the offending pumps off my feet. Whoever designed these contraptions had no respect for a working librarian. After I finished disposing the Evil Spikes of Hell, as well as my coat and bag, I made my way into the kitchen with the mail. I remembered the bottle of vodka in the freezer; cracking it open would make my evening of relaxation complete.

Giving only half of my attention to flipping through the mail, as I was more intent on the liquor calling my name, I missed the return address of the creamy manila envelope on my first pass.

Comprehension dawns when I'm looking at the flyer for the local grocer, and immediately switch back to the official looking envelope. Frozen in the middle of the kitchen, I stare down at it.

The writing on the envelope starts to blur as I try to read my name, but I realize that my shaky hands are causing the wobbly wording. The contents of this single manila envelope could determine so much in my life, and Edward's too; it was a wonder that only my hands were shaking.

Deliberately, I place all the unimportant bills and flyers on the counter and focus on the Library of Congress logo. I had applied for a position in their digital conversion department nearly two months ago, and had almost forgot about it, considering the government delay in responding, but the envelope had my full attention now.

Instantly, those two months had been sixty days too long. Bubble bath be damned. With a pounding heart and shaking fingers, I flip the envelope over and open it, as if in slow motion. Freaky the way that happens.

Skipping right to the meat of the letter, I see the phrase that will change everything.

After careful consideration, we would like to offer you the position of Digital Conversion Specialist with the Library of Congress.

It took a solid thirty seconds for that single sentence to sink into my stunned brain. After that, a muffled, "Oh my God" escaped my lips and was immediately followed by a squeal or a cry. I'm not really sure what the noise was, just a very happy sound.

I wanted to take the time to read the rest of the letter, really I did, but I was too busy jumping up and down on my forgotten bruised feet.

"Are you okay?" Edward asked, with obvious uncertainty in his voice. My commotion must have roused him from wherever he'd been hiding in the house and had no idea what do with the crazy woman in front of his refrigerator, I guessed.

"I got it, Edward. I got the job!" I said, waving the letter like the certifiable woman I had become. "They gave me the position at the Library of Congress! Can you believe it? Isn't this incredible? We're moving to Washington D.C.! Wait, I'm not dreaming am I? Can you pinch me, so I know this is real?"

Laughing, I ran to him, flinging myself into his arms. I continued to ramble while placing kisses of excitement on his face. It took me a moment to realize that his arms hadn't circled me back, and that I was the only one doing the excited smooching. I pulled back to look at him, and the stunned disbelief on his face started to cut through my happiness.

"You haven't pinched me yet. You normally don't pass up that kind of opportunity. Are you okay?" When all I get in return is that same face, I asked, "Aren't you happy about this? Isn't this what we've been waiting for?"

More silence.

I hear a soft sound of movement behind me, and I turned to see the sweet face of ten year old Riley peering at us through the hallway. All at once my excitement is gone. Oh God, Riley's here? Can I hope he didn't hear.

"Edward, are you moving away?" Riley asked in a confused voice.

Oh, shit.

~Edward~

I close my eyes, and try to will the situation into reverse. Everything in my life had went wrong all at once. Look up "clusterfuck" in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of the three of us currently standing in my kitchen. My first instinct is to soothe the fears of the little boy who's standing at my side, now holding my hand like his life depends on it.

"I don't know, buddy. Bella and I have to talk about it first. Don't worry, okay?"

I don't fucking dare make eye contact with Bella right now. I'm positive there's not one emotion plastered on her face that I have the balls to deal with. I focus my attention on the sandy-haired boy staring up at me, who isn't convinced that I'm not abandoning him. I crouch down to his level. "Come on. Don't look at me like that. No one's going anywhere right now. Hey, don't you have some Pokemon ass to kick?" I ask, eyeing him suspiciously.

"Edward," Bella chides.

"I mean butt. Pokemon butt. Erase what I just said from your brain."

Riley tries not to laugh but fails miserably. "I have lots of butt to kick," he says. I give him two

winks, our secret guy code for "get out while you can,", and he runs off to the living room.

I run my hands across my face in attempt to clear the brain. I finally look at her and regret it. There are tears and everything. I whisper my plea. "Bella, I don't wanna fight, especially not with Riley here. He gets enough of that shit at home."

"Who said we were going to fight, Edward? I don't even know what I'm feeling right now, so I'm not prepared to fight," she whispers back.

"B, listen. You can't just…just surprise me with this news, and expect me to – I don't know…be all jumpy like you are."

"Okay, there are several problems with what you just said. One is that it made no damn sense.

Second, I surprised you? Really, Edward? You had no idea that I had applied for my dream job in another state?"

"You're right, it wasn't a surprise. I take it back. I don't know what the hell I'm trying to say. I just can't do this right now." I motion to the living room.

"I know. Just...go spend time with him. I have stuff to do, and we can talk later." She reaches up on her tiptoes and kisses my cheek. Hugs always make things better, so I try to wrap my arms around her, but she slips away before I can get a good grip.

Ugh. The fucking hurt in her eyes will haunt my dreams forever.

I let out the gust of air that's been building in my chest, pushing away any negativity that's still lingering, and make my way over to the couch. I plop myself down next to Riley, grabbing the other controller, and pointing at the screen, I remark, "Are you kidding me with that score? Who are you, Grammy Esme?"

"That was below the belt, Eddie."

"Now you've done it. I hope you brought a change of clothes," I warn him.

Confused, he asks, "What? Why?"

"It's hard not to pee your pants when you're tickled to death." I raise my eyebrows in challenge.

When he puts two and two together he's off the couch like an Olympic hurdler. "You know running only makes it worse!" I yell as I scramble to get off the couch. He's out the front door before I'm even vertical.

This is always the worst part about seeing Riley – having to drop him off. I know they don't hurt him here, and it's better than a group home, but his foster parents are assholes. I wish they would get their shit together and either work out their differences or just divorce already. There is literally a screaming match going on every time I pick him up.

I never intended to become a mentor or whatever you want to call it, but there was no way I could turn my back on this kid. I was taking photos of the crumbling architecture of the city for my portfolio when I saw him. There he was, playing with rocks all by himself in a really shitty neighborhood.

I couldn't help myself. I walked right up to him and asked him what the hell he was doing there. He replied "What the hell are you doing here?" That's when I knew we were a good match. He's the funniest, sneakiest, smartest kid I've ever met, and he makes me a better person. Our time together is for fun, and fun only. And thanks to Bella, he eats food that doesn't come in a can.

"Hey, stop messing up all my pre-sets," I tell him and knock his hand away from the console, as we pull into the driveway.

"NPR is so boring. No wonder Bella thinks you're a nerd," Riley says.

"Have you learned nothing? Chicks dig smart guys. That's why you gotta do your homework."

"Maybe I'll get smarter than you and steal her away."

"Dude. That's not cool. At all. Plus, she likes tall guys. You're fun-sized."

"I'm ten, Edward. I'm not supposed to be a giant like you."

"Get out of my car."

He laughs and sticks his fist out for a bump, which I give him. Then I pull him into a hug, even though he hates it.

"See ya in a few days, buddy. Call me if you need anything," I tell him as he climbs out of the car.

"I will," he calls back and waves. "Bye, Eddie!" He sticks out his tongue and runs into the house.

Little shit.

~Bella~

I was still sitting in front of my laptop long after Edward and Riley left. The thousand things that I needed to start thinking about had driven me into our study, but no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn't focus. I couldn't think about anything other than Edward's reaction.

I don't know, buddy.

He doesn't know what?

That single question had been on the tip of my tongue ever since he said the words to calm Riley. Not knowing the answer was doing a number on me, but I understood the need to put Riley first. That sweet kid had been dealt a series of cruddy hands and our place in his life, but more importantly Edward's, needed to be the positive and winning hand.

Edward was so good with him. It made my heart all fuzzy and light seeing the two of them together, along with all the pictures it puts in my head of our future rug rats with Edward's hair and mischievous smile. His drive to make Riley happy for the short time they spent together weekly was endearing, so I knew this move would be difficult for them both.

It just never occurred to me that if the option was presented, Edward wouldn't be by my side each step of the way.

Maybe that was why I couldn't focus on the computer in front of me. We were supposed to be looking at places to live in D.C., booking a trip before the actual move to set things up, and just making general moving plans, together.

Since I interned at the Library of Congress during my second year of college, I'd hoped to return to it on a permanent basis. Not just to the Library, but the city as well. Luckily, whenever Edward would visit me there during that time, his appreciation for the city became almost as intense as my own. When I discussed my dream of moving and working there, he wholeheartedly agreed.

He had said that I'd come alive during that time, and he couldn't imagine a better place for his sexy librarian.

Luckily for me, Edward's passion for photography, and the career he chose in it, meant that he could find work and beauty anywhere – his words, not mine. It had never been a question whether I made the move, so would he. The internship had proven that distance was not a hurdle that we dealt with well. I carried a missing piece the entire time I had been away, and I knew that he felt the same way, as if the numerous visits weren't already a clue. We needed each other to thrive and be happy.

So now, where did that leave us? I knew it left me confused and little heartbroken, but what about Edward? What if he didn't want to leave Chicago? I know we would be leaving a lot behind, namely family, friends, and Riley. Would I have the guts to head out alone? What if I stayed? What would either decision do to our relationship? My future had always included him, ever since our sophomore year of high school. Ten years together and it's supposed to be forever into the future.

I really wouldn't know anything until he returned home; I might be jumping the gun with my building panic. Giving up on using the computer, I made my way back into the kitchen. Might as well cook something to eat, and focus on something easy for a little while.

~Edward~

The fifteen-minute drive from Riley's home and back to our place has never been faster. I was praying that I'd get stuck in traffic, giving me a little more time to consider what was waiting for me at home. No such luck. Instead, I sit parked in our driveway, stalling. I keep hoping that I'd have some sort of epiphany, or the perfect solution will make itself known, but so far all I've come up with is that I can't leave, no matter how I look at it.

It's been months since I hovered over her shoulder as she clicked the submit button, sending in her application. This job is an amazing opportunity for her, and part of me did consider what it would mean if she got the job, but I never really let it sink in. Now that it's real, I get it – the sacrifices I would have to make to follow her out there would be immense. I mean, all the people

I love are here, and a little piece of my heart, a little boy with big brown eyes and a smile that melts you inside.

When I think of leaving him it hurts me physically. Who will take care of him? Who will make sure he learns how to survive life? Who will be there for him if I'm not? I feel an ache in my chest, a lump forms in my throat, and I have to wipe the idea away. I just can't do it.

Maybe if I just explain it to her, tell her how I feel, she'll understand that a job isn't as important as the people in your life. There will be other jobs. We live in Chicago for Christ's sake; there are like, I don't know, a thousand libraries here. Do we really have to move thousands of miles away for her to be happy?

That's what I'll have to do. I'll make her see it from my point of view. She's the most compassionate, caring woman I've ever met – how could she not see it my way? Maybe she's so wrapped up in the fantasy of getting her dream job that she can't see how much it would hurt me to move away. There's no doubt in my mind that we belong together. I've loved her for almost my whole life, so being apart is not an option for us. The short time we did spend apart a few years ago, almost killed me.

Relationships are all about compromise. Right? Bella needs to compromise, and not just for me, but for us.

She's standing at the stove stirring something that's popping and sizzling in the pan. The scent makes my mouth water and my stomach growls. Shrugging off my jacket and tossing my keys onto the table, I walk up behind her and wrap my arms around her. She jumps a little at the contact, and then relaxes into me when I lightly kiss her neck.

"Hey, beautiful. What are you making?" I ask, while I continue to kiss her skin.

She turns in my arms so she can peer into my face. "So, we're going for light and non-confrontational? Ignore the pink elephant on the counter?"

Sure enough, her stuffed pink elephant is sitting on the counter with the letter underneath it. I laugh. She doesn't.

"I see she's made her return. Haven't seen her in a while," I comment, and I'm treated with a small smirk in response.

"I know you, and you can bury your head in the sand when things get sticky, hence his appearance."

"You can't have a male pink elephant, Bella. It's against the law of nature, or physics, or something."

"He's more than comfortable in is soft, fluffy pink fur, Edward. You're the only one here with a problem with him being florescent."

"Oh, come on! He's pink and his name is Tyler. Am I the only..." I'm cut off by her hand covering my mouth.

"Stop. You're doing it again. Focusing in on the elephant rather than what he's representing."

With a sigh, I concede. "So, we're doing this now? Because I'm confident that what I have to say will fix everything. We'll be snuggling on the couch in twenty minutes," I say proudly.

She rolls her eyes at me. "We need to do this now. The letter says that my start date will be April 10th, which is a month away. There is a laundry list of crap to accomplish between now and then, but I am curious about this twenty minute solution, though."

"Sounds to me like you've already decided you're taking the job. You can't make that kind of decision without me." I start to panic a little. "You have to understand something, Bella. Our whole lives are here. How can you be so quick to drop everyone? Won't you miss our friends, our family?"

"Of course I'm not going to make any decisions without you. This move affects us both, but why wouldn't I take this job? We've talked about this ever since my internship. We both loved Washington, and our family knows that this was our ultimate goal. They wouldn't expect us to stay. Anyway, I thought our lives are wherever we are – together."

My whole "make her see that she's not considering everyone else" plan is quickly disintegrating, and now, I'm getting frustrated. She's decided. There won't be any compromising – at least, not on her part, and from the way I'm feeling right now, probably not on mine either.

"I guess I never thought you'd get it. I mean, don't take that the wrong way – I think you're brilliant, but it was a long shot, right? Probably thousands of people applied for that job. I didn't really think we'd ever have to leave. I don't think I can leave. How could I walk away from Riley?"

The flash of betrayal I see in her eyes is gut wrenching, but she quickly masks it by turning away from me.

"So, what you're saying is that, not only did I not have a snow balls chance in hell of getting the job, but even if I did, you had no plans of actually going? Did you think that if I didn't get this one, that I would give up and not try again some day? What about us talking about living in D.C., exploring those old buildings, and wanting to photograph it all? Edward, I know leaving Riley will be hard and I know how much you care about him, but he has friends and others to care for him, too."

"Don't put words in my mouth. I didn't say you didn't have a chance. I would never say that. Saying that it was a long shot was a dick thing to say. I'm sorry. I loved D.C. just as much as you did, and yeah, it would be amazing to photograph all that history, but I'm happy here, now.

"And you know just as well as I do that those people, his supposed parents, fucking do not take good care of him. I can't just drop him, Bella. I think...I think you're being selfish."

There. I said it.

She whirled to face me and stared at me in shock. In a whisper, she said, "I'm being selfish? The plans we've made for years, and the opportunity to actually put those plans in place, is me being selfish? God, it's like I have no idea what we've been working towards for the past four years."

"Are you serious? You're questioning our entire relationship just because I don't agree with you on this? That's ridiculous, Bella! I don't think you're willing to consider my point of view, even for a second. That kid is like my own – I know he's not, so don't start preaching about how I'm too attached. And yeah, maybe I do think you're being a little bit selfish. I'm just being honest." The snotty tone was unintentional, and I sincerely regret it the second it leaves my lips.

"How can I not stand here and question our relationship when you're standing there calling me selfish for wanting to follow my dream? My dream that you have repeatedly said you supported. Has that all been a lie?"

This pisses me off. "I already told you that I didn't think it was really going to happen. I figured you'd get a job here. I didn't fucking lie about anything. This is just one big nasty surprise." I've got nothing else but my pride left. I have no argument against her following her dreams. How could I? "You know what, Bella? It seems to me that this job is more important to you than I am. So, just go do what you've gotta do."

"So that's it. Take the job, Bella, and have a good life?" She wipes away the tears now rolling down her cheeks, and I realize that maybe pride isn't all I have left. "I know you love Riley and that you're afraid for him when you're not around, but when did he become more important than us and our future? If he wasn't in a crappy situation, I don't think we would be arguing right now. I'm sorry if that's a low blow. You using Riley as an excuse not to follow through with everything we wanted two months ago when I applied, it only makes me think that you never intended to leave with me when the opportunity came."

We're getting nowhere and fast. I really, really want this whole thing to just go away. "That's not true. Yeah, his situation sucks, but I'm not using him as an excuse. Honestly, I don't recall having made any concrete plans anyway. We talked about stuff, about moving, but I never said I definitely would. You obviously know what you want, you've made your plans, and just assumed I'd tag along like a little puppy. Well, ya know what? I'm not going to do that. I'm just not."

Her laugh is bitter and frustrated and is another punch to my gut. "So, when you said that you could have a career anywhere, and that you wanted me to have whatever it was that made me happy, was that was all lip service? You never planned to follow through? Makes me wonder what else you feel that way about." She stops to take a deep breath; I open mine to retort, but she holds up a hand to stop me. "You're right though. I want to take this job and live the life I have been dreaming of with you, but if you never wanted it to begin with, then I can't be here right now. I need to think about what this means, because it seems like we never really wanted the same things, after all."

"Maybe not. Go if you have to go, Bella. I'll be here, because it's where I belong."

"Huh. I always thought by each other's side is where we belonged."

She brushes past me on the way out of the door, and it slams behind her. I don't do anything but watch her walk away.

I turn back to the stove, where the black smoke of what was once tempting, and probably very satisfying, now looks like a lump of black ash. Appropriate for the situation, I think.

I can't believe she left. I didn't expect her to call my bluff. That was surprising.

Fuck.

The first day is fine. I pretend she's working while it's daylight, and pretend she's on an overnight trip when it's dark. I don't really sleep because the house is too quiet; the bed is too cold and too empty. I know she won't answer her phone so I don't even bother calling, but I write out several texts that are never sent. They range from "Are you okay?" to "I'm a stupid asshole. Please come home." Instead, I call her best friend Angela, who answers and tells me that Bella's fine but she's been sworn to secrecy regarding her whereabouts, and that I shouldn't have any trouble guessing where her loyalties lie.

The second and third day get suckier by the minute. We haven't been apart for more than twenty four hours in a very long time, and I think I'm going through withdrawal. I've resorted to sniffing pillows and the sweaters hanging in her closet just to bask in the scent of her. It's sick, I know.

I had two shoots during day four, and she must have snuck in while I was out to get her stuff because her suitcase is gone and so are all of the girl things from the bathroom. Nice. Didn't even bother to tell me she was here. What the hell? I try Angela again, but she picks up and tells me to stop it, then promptly hangs up.

By the end of the week, the couch has a permanent indentation from my ass, I haven't shaved, and maybe I showered once or twice. I bailed on Riley for poker night with my brother, Emmett. I still feel really bad about that shit; I just couldn't face him. Actually, what I couldn't face were the inevitable questions about where Bella was, and why do I look like shit? I miss him, but not enough to face reality.

Nine days into her absence and I start to get pissed. Really pissed – at myself. The whiskey isn't helping me control my anger, and neither is seething in the dark, and I've realized I cannot continue to live this way. This is not the life I wanted for myself or for Bella. Everything is all so fucked up.

I get up from the couch and start to pace the length of the living room. I feel trapped, caged, and it smells like a garbage dump in here. In my buzzed state, I start cleaning up the disaster that has become my home. Picking up the pizza boxes and beer bottles, and the random newspapers strewn all over the floor, I rip open the curtains to let some light in and I'm disappointed by the dark sky and twinkling stars. I didn't even know it was night.

So pathetic.

I open the back door leading onto the deck to air the place out, and decide it might be even better to be out there. Sitting down in a lounge chair, I pull a cigarette out of my shirt pocket and light it. Since Bella's not here to smack me upside the head for smoking, I take my time, savoring each drag.

Yeah, you idiot. Bella's not here, and why is that?

I'm a fool, that's why.

When I finally allow myself to think about why I'm sitting here all alone, missing the shit out of her, I realize how easy it could have been: I walk in the door and catch Bella jumping up and down like a crazy person, she tells me about her job, then I pick her up, and spin her around, planting a passionate kiss on her lips in celebration. That's what I should have done, but I was scared – too afraid of it being just us if we leave Chicago. What if she gets sick of me? What if there are no distractions, like my mom showing up announced, or Riley hanging out with us five out of seven days of the week? It's not like she needs me, really. She's got her life all figured out. She's smart, funny, and sexy; she can have anything or anyone she wants. I never understood why she chose me.

Now Riley, he needs me. I've never felt so useful in my life, even if I haven't shown it much since all this shit started. I can offer him so much though – more than I could ever offer anyone else. Even Bella.

However, that doesn't mean I don't want her here. I want her back so badly it hurts. I try to sift through all of my thoughts and find the real issue. I keep hitting on the same thing over and over. I'm afraid to commit. Not in the normal way, though. I want to spend the rest of my life with her, that's not the issue. It's the pressure of doing it right – doing everything perfectly. Bella's parents are divorced; my parents almost got divorced; my sister is divorced, and she's only 28. I don't want to fuck up the one good thing in my life, and we can keep that from happening by not moving away, buying a house, and getting married. That ruins everything. I'd be committing to a life doomed to fail.

Failing or not, deep down I know that I won't give up before I even try. I have to be with her, no matter what.

I don't have the slightest clue how to really fix this, though. There's no way I could adequately explain my thoughts to her – she'll think I'm a pussy, which I am. I have to make a bold move – something that shows her exactly how serious I really am. I could talk until I'm blue in the face but words are only that. I need to do more. I have to prove how much I love her.

When I close my eyes, images of all the days and nights we've spent together, happy and in love, float through my head. I don't want those to be the only ones I ever have. Falling asleep outside in the lounger to those images, I wake up with about seventy-five bug bites. Fucking hell.

Day ten is a bit different. I dream that I'm running through a forest, and I think Bella's not far behind me; I look over my shoulder to check on her and she's gone. Next thing I know, there's a geeky band dude banging a drum right in front of me. Bang. Bang. Bang. It's so loud. It's almost real...

"Dude! Open the damn door!" The band nerd yells at me.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

I wake with a start and I'm lying face down on the couch. I sit up and scrub my face with my hands, and the banging starts again. Louder this time. Oh. It was real.

"Hold your damn horses!" I yell. My voice is scratchy and my mouth tastes like a sewer.

I trudge over to the front door, still in my pajama bottoms from the night before, and swing the door open, ready to beat the hell out of whoever is pounding at my door.

"Man, you look like sh...heck," Emmett announces.

"He's right. You look like sheck," Riley repeats, stepping out from behind the massive jerk standing in my doorway.

"What's going on?" I ask, squinting into the sunlight.

"Intermission," Riley states. "Let us in."

"Riley, it's an in-ter-ven-tion. How many times did we go over this?" Emmett whispers.

"Ah, crap. Right. Intervention. Now let us in," Riley repeats.

I put my hands up in defense and move to the side. "Alright, alright – come in."

Emmett plops down on the couch and puts his feet up on the coffee table. Riley follows him, and I head into the kitchen. "You guys want anything to drink?"

"Got any beer?" Emmet yells back to me. "If so, Riley and I will have a Heineken." I hear the slap of a high-five and roll my eyes.

"Yeah, sure. No problem," I call back. When I return to the living room they're both sprawled out on my couch, half-heartedly thumb wrestling. I hand Emmett his beer and Riley a juice box.

"Aw, man. I thought you were serious," Riley whines.

"It was worth a shot, bro," Emmett says and pats him on the back.

"Is this what you do with him when I'm not around? You give him alcohol?" I ask.

"Yeah, dude. I get him liquored up and we go to strip clubs. Jesus. What do you take me for? Some kind of ass...tronomical jerkwad?"

I can't help but laugh at the great save. "Yes, I do."

"Ed, man. Come on. This little guy is like a brother to me, I'd never get him into any trouble – at least, not until he's eighteen and is considered a legal adult." Emmett smiles proudly and they high-five again.

Maybe it's because 99% of my mind is made up, and I know that I'm going to be leaving him soon, but I'm insanely jealous of their camaraderie. I push down the adolescent urge to smack Emmett in the back of his thick head, and fall back into the only remaining seat in the living room.

"So, Edward. Why do you look like the unibomber right now, and where the heck is Bella?" Emmett asks, apropos to nothing.

I rub my eyes and try to think of a good excuse for why I'm sitting here alone. I decide to go for the truth. "I don't know where Bella is."

His eyes widen and he holds his hands over Riley's ears. "What the hell, man? Did she leave you?"

"No. I mean, I don't think so. No. She said she needed space. Like I know what that means."

He lets go of Riley's ears, and the kid rolls his eyes because that trick never works. He heard everything we said. "Guys," Riley chimes in, "I think Bella was mad because Edward wasn't happy like Bella was happy about the new job. You're always supposed to be happy when girls are happy. It's in the rules." He rolls his eyes again for good measure.

I can't help but laugh at the kid's insight. I taught him well. "Maybe that's the reason, buddy."

"It always amazes me how dumb you can be, Edward," Emmett says, shaking his head.

"Thanks, Emmett. You're supportive nature overwhelms me."

"Anytime," he says and waves his hand dismissively. "Why weren't you happy about the job? Thought that was the plan."

"It was, in theory. When it became reality, I panicked. I totally freaked out. All I could think of was what happened to Alice. She takes off with that S.O.B., Alec. She was annoyingly happy, they move to New York, and all hell breaks loose. I don't want that to happen to me and Bella. I would be devastated if we didn't make it."

"Dude, Alice and Alec were doomed from the start. When you say their names together all I could do was picture two little freaky kids skipping through a field like Children of the Corn or some shit. Er, crap, I mean."

I have absolutely no response for that. "Your point, Emmett?"

"My point is that just because Alice got a divorce from Cornboy, why do you think moving to D.C. with Bella is an epic mistake? Maybe I was dropped on my head one too many times like everyone says, but I don't get it."

"It's not just Alice. It's our parents almost getting divorced, and Bella's parents actually getting divorced too, after so many years. I just don't want that to happen to us. We're happy right now, right here. I didn't want to upset the balance. It sounds stupid, I know."

"You're right – it is stupid. Rose and I are solid and we have all kinds of crazy sh...stuff going on in our lives, but we're crazy happy. You do realize that by sitting here, looking like shit, and Bella being who-knows-where, is not a "happy" place, right?" There really is no hope for the big lug. Air quotes and constant swearing in front of the kid. No hope at all.

"Well, yeah. Now I do." I shove my fingers in my hair, and hold my head in my hands. I look at Riley. "There's Riley, too."

He's been doing this ping-pong thing between Emmett and me, but finally settles on my face at this. "What about me?"

Emmett and I look at each other; he gives me a nod which I assume means "tell the kid the truth," and I release a deep breath. "Riley, do you know what it means if Bella and I move to Washington?"

"That you'll live near the president?"

"Yep," I say smiling, "I'll live near the president. But it also means that I won't get to see you all the time. You can come visit us sometimes, if it's okay with your foster parents, but it won't be all the time, like it is now." I wait for his response with my heart in my throat.

"I guess I understand." He's deep in thought and quiet for a moment. "Does this mean that I'll have to hang out with Emmett now?"

I wasn't prepared for that question. I look at Em and he shouts, "Hell yeah, it does!"

Riley bursts into laughter and Emmett puts him in a head lock. Even though it totally sucks to give up the role of the guy he looks up to, I'm glad that it's Emmett who's taking it. I know he'll do a good job with him – well, other than the swearing, and that he'll never live up to my level of awesomeness, but it'll do.

"So what the heck are you going to do to fix this mess? I can't help you because the girls don't tell me crap, and you know that they know where she is," Emmett oh-so-helpfully says. "Have you tried to talk to her, at least?"

"No, not really. I don't know where she is or if she'll even talk to me at this point. I've really screwed up."

"Duh," Riley chimes in.

"Thanks, Riley," I say and give him the evil eye. He ignores it.

"Edward, have you tried calling her? Texting? Sexting, maybe?" He asks, wiggling his eyebrows.

"I'm pretty sure a sext is the last thing she wants to see from me right now. I've thought about calling, but what if she won't answer, or she answers and then tells me to go to hell?"

"Well, you won't know unless you try, right?"

"Right." For maybe the first time in his life, Emmett's right. I can't believe I just thought that.

"Okay, so now that the intervention is complete, let's play some MarioKart," Emmett states. He and Riley settle in and kick my ass thoroughly; I blame it on lack of concentration.

When they've left and I'm alone once again, I sit and stare at my phone. I dial her number at least five times but don't press send. Why am I being such a wuss? It's only the woman I've loved for most of my life, why can't I make a simple phone call? Deep down, I think that I'm afraid I've totally fucked this up for good, and I simply don't want to face that. I've got to do this right, say the right things, and try to keep things friendly. The last thing I want to do is piss her off even more.

I press her speed dial number again, and then my thumb hovers over the send button, and oh fuck, I accidentally press it this time. Shit, shit shit! My heart races and my mouth goes dry. I haven't been this nervous since the first time I tried to kiss her. It rings a few times, I start to think it's going to voicemail, but then I hear a click, and then nothing. I wonder if she's there or if I've dropped the call. I look back at the screen and it's definitely still connected.

"Bella? Are you there?"

"Hello, Edward. I'm here. What can I do for you?"

I'm a little unnerved by her formal tone. She doesn't sound angry, but she doesn't sound happy either. "Um, I don't know what to say. I guess I was wondering where you are. How are you?"

"I'm as good as I can be under the circumstances. I've been staying at Angela's family cottage since last week. How about you? Are you doing okay? How's Riley?"

"He's good, been spending some time with Emmett actually. Em's ruining him, but they're having fun. And I'm...I feel like shit. I've never felt shittier in my life, honestly. I wanna see you, Bella. Can I come over there so we can talk? I promise I won't be an asshole." I'm not above begging, obviously.

No reply. I start to panic even more.

"Um, well, I'm not actually there anymore. I flew out to D.C. yesterday so I could take a look at a few places I found online. Since I hadn't heard from you, and my starting date keeps getting closer, I needed to do something," she gushes out.

"Oh," I say quietly. This scenario never entered my mind. Now, I only have one question that has to be answered. "When...or...are you coming back?"

"Of course, I'm coming back, Edward. We live together. All my stuff is there. I wasn't going to slink off without ever talking to you again." In a much lower voice, she adds, "I don't want to leave you, but I just don't know how to fix this."

I release the breath I was holding, relieved that I might get to see her again. "Good. I don't want to think about never seeing you again. That would kill me. I really miss you. When you do come back can we talk, I mean really talk about this? I've done nothing but think about how I should have handled your news. I want a chance to do it over. Can I do that?"

"I really miss you too. I've done a lot of thinking as well, but I'm not sure a redo is going to change anything. But we can talk when I get back – my flight is on Sunday afternoon. Do you want to pick me up at the airport?"

"Yes. Yes, absolutely. Of course, I'll be there," I answer a little too eagerly. "I can't wait to see you."

She laughs at my manic need to please. "Alright then, I guess I'll see you then. Um, Edward?"

"Yeah?"

"I just wanted to say that this has been really hard, the last ten days without you. I hope we can find some kind of middle ground here, or whatever."

"I understand. It's been hard for me, too, baby. And what's worse is that it's my fault that it's hard. Believe me, I want nothing more to fix this, too."

"It can't really be anyone's fault if we want different things. I'll talk to you soon. I love you."

She's gone before I can reply. It kills me that she told me that she loves me because I don't know how she could. I put her through the ringer over this, crushed her dreams, and then called her selfish. And nagging me, in the back of my head, are her words: "if we want different things." Does Bella want something different now? Is that what she meant?

Now, it's time to panic.

If I've fucked this up beyond all recognition, then I have to go above and beyond. I have to prove to her, not just through my words, but through my actions; I have to make her see that I'm in this with her one hundred percent. That'll be easy, because I amnow. I couldn't care less where we live, so as long as I'm with her – it's the only thing that really matters. I've got until Sunday; I can do a lot in two days. First things first, though; I've got to pack.

I spend the next twenty four hours putting almost everything we own into boxes. This would probably be a week or two-week project if it was done correctly, but I don't have time for that. She'd probably kill me if she could see that I wrapped her dishes in toilet paper, but it works. If I don't need to use it immediately, it goes in a box. I don't touch the girl things because – well, I don't touch the girl things. By the time I've made a dent, it's Saturday night, I'm exhausted, eating cold pizza, and sleepily doing research on my laptop. This is my final attempt at proving that I'm serious. Serious about us, and about our future together. I just hope it's enough.

Every time I check the time on my phone, approximately three minutes have passed. I hate waiting in general, but this is the worst kind of waiting; it's because I'm finally going to get to lay eyes on her. Whenever you want something this badly, it always seems just out of your reach. I'm nervous as fuck, too, so that's not helping. Since my conversation with her over the phone, I've gotten zilch out of her besides a few "I'm fine's" and a couple of "We'll see's". I would text her novel length questions in comparison and she'd say, "Okay. We'll talk soon." It was maddening! Then I remind myself that it's what I deserve because I've been a complete and utter asshole.

What the fuck was wrong with me? How could it have taken me this long to figure this shit out?

The more I let myself ponder over her short, clipped answers, and the fact that she didn't seem to have much hope for us when we talked on the phone, I fucking freak out. If I've killed this amazing relationship then I'm going to spend the rest of my life regretting it. I won't ever find happiness without Bella – this I know for sure.

When it's finally time to head to the airport, I pace the length of the house, trying to be sure I have everything in place, and that everything is perfect for when she comes home. She'll see the effort I've made; I'll show her that I'm serious. I pray that it's enough.

Since traffic is a mother fucker in this town, I barely have two minutes to spare before her flight arrives. I race through the terminal; on my way to the baggage claim, I stop to check the flight board and see that hers was fifteen minutes early.

Fuck me.

Realizing she's been here, waiting for me, I spin around and look through the throngs of people passing through. I can't focus on anyone and I'm about to have her paged, when I see her. She's sitting in the waiting area, completely alone. She probably thought it would be a better place to wait, considering I'm a stupid schmuck and wouldn't be able to find her. I watch her for a few moments and she's looking this way and that, trying to spot me, and my heart aches at the notion that I've ever made her hurt for any reason, whatsoever. She looks so sad and lost – I did that, and now I have to fix it.

I jog over to where she is and call out for her. Her head snaps in my direction and our eyes meet. I'm shattered by the redness there. Has she been crying for ten days? Probably.

Normally, I would grab her up and swing her around, just like in the movies, but I don't feel like I have that right – at least, not at the moment.

Out of breath, sweaty, and still really fucking panicky, I say, "Hey."

"Hey back." She stands up and starts to move towards me, but stops herself, as if she's just as unsure how this should go as I am. Fuck it.

I close the distance and grab her into a hug that might bruise her. One more thing to apologize for later.

She hugs me back with equal force and mumbles into my neck, "Can we get out of here, please?"

"Abso-fucking-lutely." I put her back on the ground and release my death grip, keeping one arm around her because I just can't let her go now. I pick up her travel bag and navigate her out of the madhouse.

We're silent – a really ugly trend right now. The only noise in the car is the humming of the engine as I navigate through the traffic; I don't know what to say and I can literally feel the space between us.

I clear my throat once, twice, and in the middle of the third when she says, "What is it?"

"I'm sorry. I just hate this...this whatever this is between us," I say, waving my hand back and forth in the empty space between the seats. "I feel like everything that's going to come out of my mouth is going to be wrong and it's going to upset you. I've missed you, and I miss talking to you."

I reach for her hand across the console and she doesn't pull it away. She also doesn't hold mine back, or entwine her fingers through mine like she used to. My heart clenches at the realization, but it's something, I guess.

"We have a lot to talk about, and I'm not even sure where to start." It has never been awkward between us, so I'm relieved at her statement that I'm not the only one feeling this way. She continues, "I really don't want to get into everything in the car, and I really need to pee, so can we just suffer through this until we get home?"

An honest laugh escapes me at her attempt to lighten the mood, and at this point, there's nothing I won't say yes to when it comes to her. So, I tell her that it's fine, and she squeezes my fingers.

I literally want to explode out of my seat with the small gesture. I don't though, because I would look like an idiot and scare her. Instead, I make sure not to release her hand the rest of the way home.

We arrive and I have to let go of the small contact between us. She bolts from the car immediately. Realizing that her need for a bathroom was bigger than I thought, I pull up the rear with her bag in hand, and nearly run her down in the kitchen where she's standing like a statue.

That's when I remember the boxes. I'm a fucking idiot.

"Edward, what is all this?" She asks in an obviously bewildered tone, but I'm looking at her so intently now that I see the flash of panic and pain in her eyes. What is she thinking?

You know, just when I think I'm doing a grand romantic gesture, I realize just how big of an asshole I really am. How would I feel if I returned home after weeks away and found all our stuff in boxes? Dumbass

"Bella, calm down. It's not what it looks like."

"I'm pretty calm, Edward, taking into account that our stuff is in boxes." Maybe I can read her mind. "I just don't understand why they are. So, can you explain what's going on here?"

"Well, when you move, you have to pack your things. That's what I was doing. Packing our things. So we can move. Together." I don't look anywhere but straight at her face. I want her to know that I'm as serious as a heart attack.

"But I thought..." She is obviously having issues understanding what I'm trying to say since she's stumbling over her words, but I don't say anything. "You mean that you are coming with me? I'm not going to have to move alone?"

"No. Not alone. I will never ever be able to take back the way I hurt you when we argued, and the way I dismissed the things that you wanted. But I can make sure that I try to make it up to you. I want nothing more than to go wherever you go, Bella. I had a long time to think about what's important to me, and it kept coming back to you. Everything I need is wherever you are. It doesn't matter what city we live in, or how far away the other people in our life are, because none of it matters if we're not together."

She takes a moment to absorb what I've just poured out to her, and runs her hands through her tousled hair. My hands itch to do the same. Not now.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I don't want you to follow me unless you'll be happy there, too. I'll have responsibilities with this job, and you may grow to resent me when I'm not around all time. You can't do this just to be with me, however much I want that." She shakes her head as if trying to clear her thoughts. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm so happy that you feel that way, but you can't follow just my dreams. These last couple of weeks have really opened my eyes to that fact. I always thought our dreams would lead us to the same place, but I just don't know anymore."

I try to close the distance a little; I don't like how much space there is between us, physically and emotionally. That's not who we are. "Hey, I'm not trying to mooch off your successes here," I say teasingly. "I've got big plans for myself. Hold on, I'll show you." I quickly walk into the den, grab the printouts off the desk, and bring them back to her. "Here, look."

She takes the paperwork, with her face screwing up in confusion once she starts rifling through them. After what may have felt like a century she finally looked at me. "I feel like I keep asking the same questions, but was is this? Rental spaces? For you?"

"Yes, exactly. They're available studio spaces – so I can work. I found some really great options. The one on the second page," I say peering over the stack in her hand, "has enough space for not only a gallery and a darkroom, but a little nook where you can come and hang out with me, read your books and stuff. When you're not busy, of course."

"And you want this? You want to open a studio? It's not just to make due while you're there with me?"

"No, Bella. It's not. I think I've always wanted this. I've just never had the motivation to do it before. Plus, you know how competitive I am – I can't let you be the only successful one in this relationship." I smile at her, hoping to switch the disbelief written on her face with something else. Possibly happiness.

She laughs a little at my corniness, which relieves me more than anything she could have said at that moment. "I was so scared to come home, thinking this talk was going to go in a completely different direction. Our last conversation in this kitchen has just been playing on loop in my head. What about Riley and our families? I thought you couldn't move away from them."

"I know what I said before. The thing is, I was wrong. I can leave them, because I'm not leaving them forever. I know Riley's in good hands with Emmett. He's taken the initiative lately; and has been spending a lot time with him. In fact, I'm starting to think Riley likes him better." She cracks a little smile and rolls her eyes. "Seriously, though. I thought I would be miserable without him in my life on a consistent basis, I thought the same of my family, but I don't think that anymore. Do you know who I would be miserable without? Who I was miserable without?"

"Me?" she asks and I only nod. That seemed to be some kind of last straw and she burst into tears. I snatch her up, not being able to tolerate the space for a second longer. Through her tears she mumbles, "I've been miserable, too. I really can't be without you, so much so that I even thought about turning down the job."

Ugh. I should just rip my own heart out. "Baby, I'm so sorry. I'm sorry you even considered such a thing. I really handled this all so badly. If I could do it over again, I would. The only thing that kept going through my head was that all this change would kill us, destroy our relationship, because I've seen it happen so many times. But I know now that we're meant to be together, and nothing that happens in our lives, good or bad, can change that." I brush her hair out of her face and the tears away from her eyes. "I love you too much to ever let you go, anyway."

Her face breaks out into one of the most beautiful smiles I've ever seen, even though her eyes are still leaking. "Well, of course we're meant to be together. The only thing we can't handle is separation. We need each other. That's why I thought about declining the offer. I really do need you more than anything else in the world because I love you so much it scares me sometimes."

I hold her face in my hands, searching her eyes for the happy girl that's inside, and to my surprise, I find her. "That's all I ever need to know, Bella." And I kiss her; I kiss her for all the time we've lost and all the hurt I've caused. I try to wrap it all up in that one kiss so she'll never ever be sad again. I doubt I'll be able to make that happen, but I can try.

She pulls away a bit from me and says, "If we're really doing this, I should 'fess up and tell you that, despite my doom and gloom that you were not coming to D.C., I found a place that I thought could work as our living space and studio for your work. That is, if you were interested, of course. I don't know if what you showed me earlier is your ideal location or not. The info is in my purse if you want to see." She shrugs a little. "I guess I didn't give up hope after all."

"I really don't deserve you, do I? Wait, don't answer that." I hold her close to me and kiss the top of her head. "You didn't have to do that, but I'm glad you did. I don't have my heart set on any one place in particular. I'm sure what you've found is perfect. Thank you for including me, even when I was being a complete jerk, and for not giving up on us."

"It's just a good thing I love you, you big jerk."

Truer words have never been spoken..

Five hours, at least a hundred boxes, and an entire house full of furniture later, Bella and I are exhausted. We are sweaty, gross, irritable, and starving. This isn't exactly the scenario I was hoping for, but I'll make it work. We've finally moved in; we have a new home. Our plans to start anew in this city have, so far, worked out perfectly. I can't say that I've ever been happier – aside from the gross sweatiness and insane hunger.

"That's the last box – I hope to God," I say as I drop the twentieth box of Bella's books at my feet.

"Ugh, I can't believe we're finally finished. I thought it would never end. Maybe if we'd had movers..." Bella trails off, giving me the evil eye.

"Listen, you know how I feel about movers. It's emasculating. I can't have other dudes in here, picking up heavy things while I watch. It's like...against dude code or something. And for the record, we wouldn't be doing this alone if Emmett hadn't bailed."

"That's true. It was so weird how he got sick so quickly. I didn't know adults could even get Mono," Bella says, shaking her head. She's so gullible. That fucker didn't have Mono; he's just allergic to helping me. "But, just for the record, I'm not a dude with codes, and I wouldn't be emasculated if I had some movers helping me."

I walk over and pull her into my arms, and since she's covered in grime too, she lets me hold her close. "But I enjoyed watching you walk up and down the pathway from the truck to the house four hundred times."

A jab to my already sore ribs was her answer to my smart ass comment. "I guess it's a good thing that I didn't feel pity for your multiple trips to the studio space above the garage, then. Really, though, I'm glad it's just you and me. Feels right, doesn't it?"

"It definitely does. You and me is my favorite way to spend my time, even if it's going to hurt a lot tomorrow." She laughs and kisses me. If things go as planned I'm hoping to get a lot more of those out of her. "Should I go grab us some dinner? I don't know about you but I could literally eat a horse right now."

Puzzled, she asks, "What are you going to pick up? Not like we have a drawer filled with menus yet, and if I have to eat one more fast food burger...Well, let's just say I would rather starve."

"It just so happens that I came prepared." I pull a menu out of my back pocket – one that I stole out of the neighbors mailbox. "I was crazed with hunger. And yes, I know it's a federal offense to steal mail, and we live in the nation's capitol – no need to remind me. I'll order. You want the regular?"

"What the hell am I going to do with you?" She just looks at me and shakes her head, but she's smiling, so I know I'm forgiven. Again. "Yeah, my regular, but I want two egg rolls, and you had best not steal them or I may be tempted to make you sleep in the truck."

"Who, me? I hate egg rolls. I have no idea what you're talking about, woman."

Laughing, I dodge her before she can jab me again. "That's what you say every damn time. Go, before I wrestle you to the ground with my super ninja skills."

I hold my hands up in defense. "Please, please. Don't hurt me tiny lady. I'm going!" I say and run for the door.

~Bella~

"I might be tiny, but I'm the perfect height to knee you in the balls," I shout after him, though I'm not sure if he heard.

Shaking my head at the crazy man, I start moving some boxes out of the way. Since we don't have any of the furniture in place, and the legs are still detached from the dinner table, we'll be eating on the floor. Our first picnic in Washington D.C.

Looking through boxes labeled, "linen closet", I found what I'm looking for. I still had problems wrapping my head around what Edward had done with packing most of our stuff before I returned to Chicago just a few weeks ago. Everything crumpled, wadded, and disorganized. It still made my heart all gooey and mushy.

Seeing most of our belongings in boxes like that was a shock and a scare, if I'm being completely honest. Thoughts of too late and he's already given up on us swam through my mind when I walked in our old kitchen that day. A small chill runs through me thinking of it.

I should have known and had more faith in Edward. He squashed those fears so fast that it was almost like I'd never had them. He had been so sincere in his words, that I all I wanted to do was bury myself in him and forget the weeks of separation. Even though he was sincere, I still had to be sure that it was what he truly wanted. I thought long and hard while I was away about that. As much as I loved him, and planned on a forever with him, I would have left without him. Another shiver ripped though me at the thought.

To stay, give up the job, and go on like nothing happened would have wrecked me. Not because I didn't want to be with him, but because I would have grown to resent him and the thing that took me away – my dream job; I knew it deep in the pit of my gut. It would have been the same way if he had just blindly followed me. Edward resenting me, for any reason, would have been...I don't know what it would have been – worse than anything I wished to contemplate.

After laying a blanket on the floor, I dug around in the kitchen boxes for utensils, and hope he remembered to pick up something to drink. A six-pack would be just what the day needed.

Taking a seat on the blanket, I look around our new space. I loved it. The living room has a large picture window, and though I knew curtains would be needed to prevent our new neighbors from getting a free show, it has a great view of a small park with several kids playing. That would get loud come summertime, but never-mind.

Thinking of our new place had me remembering the places Edward had showed me that night, and that was when it had clicked that he was serious. The move wasn't just for me anymore, but for him as well. He had been so earnest, pointing out studio spaces and locations near where I would be working, that I let my worries go for the most part.

It took a little more convincing from Edward about Riley. Edward had been so worried about him, so much so that I couldn't wrap my head around how, all of a sudden, it was okay that Riley would be left behind. After Edward explained Emmett's stepping up to be there for the cuteness, otherwise known as Riley, it did settle most of my doubts. It did raise some questions of Edward's mental stability – Emmett, really? The guy has mono and shouldn't be around kids. We'll just have to hope that his condition clears up soon.

My musings are interrupted with the sound of Edward's Volvo pulling in the driveway. A smile spreads across my face at the thought. We finally made it. Life really couldn't get better than it was right now.

What the hell am I saying? I have egg rolls coming. It'll be the best at that moment.

Getting off the floor, I run to open the door and see Edward on the other side, paper bag under one arm and the other holding a six pack of Heineken in front of his manly bits.

"Did I scare you, pretty boy?" I purr and make a dive for the Chinese food.

"No, for your information, I was not scared. I couldn't decide what to protect – my beer or...other things. You can see for yourself what I decided," he says and motions at his crotch.

"Get inside, weirdo." I grab the bag of food from under his arm and lead him into the faux dining room. "Right this way, sir."

Pulling out carton after carton, we assemble the mass quantities of food. I look over at him. "Just what army are you feeding? And how do they pack it all in that one bag?"

He just shrugs. "Told you I was hungry."

He seems shy or uncertain all of a sudden. Well, hell, now I feel bad for commenting on his eating habits. "Sorry, it's just a lot of food. Eat away, babe. Just don't go after the egg rolls."

Already with a mound of chicken fried rice in his mouth, he just grunts in understanding. I think, anyway.

Around mouthfuls of food, we talk about furniture layouts and the need for curtains. The longer we linger over the food and beer, the weirder Edward starts acting. I'm not sure if he's tired or what, so I start gathering up trash and go into the kitchen.

Walking back into the picnic scene, I ask, "Are you alright? You seem a little off or something."

"Uh, me? Yeah. Um, I'm fine. I'm just a little overwhelmed by all the unpacking we have to do," he replies while surveying the room. "Maybe we should get started with a few boxes tonight? Maybe your books?" He looks at me expectantly, his foot tapping relentlessly on the hardwood floor.

"You want me to unpack books right now?" I laugh, because it's just too funny. "Not gonna happen, my friend. I'll unpack the stuff for the bed, and maybe some shower gel and towels, but I think that's all the motivation I have for the night."

"Oh, come on, baby. It'll be like a sort of christening, I mean, not like that. We can do...that...if, I mean...uh. Let's just put a few books on the shelves," he says quickly, grabbing my hand and leading me to the built-in bookshelf.

"Edward," I whine a little – well, maybe a lot. "You do that and I'll start on the bedding. How's that for a compromise?"

"How about we do both things together? That's a compromise, too. See? Come on, it'll just take a second." He looks a little panicked and in turn I start to get a little freaked out.

"Geez, babe. I'll go grab one." I laugh at the absurdity of it all. Letting go of his hand, I grab one of the smaller boxes labeled "Bella's Trashy Romance Novels".

"No, not that one," he nearly shouts at me. Looking at him over my shoulder, he continues, "Um, I mean, I don't want the first books we put up here to be smutty romances."

I may have growled. "Did you have a specific book category in mind then?"

"How about the box labeled "classics"?

Grabbing the box, I walk back to him and I really look at him. The guy looks like a wild man. His bronze locks are sticking up all over the place, his eyes are slightly frantic looking, and he keeps tapping his foot.

What the hell is going on here?

"Edward," I begin, in as gentle a voice as possible because I'm worried I might scare him away. "Are you having second thoughts about being here with me, because you're acting like a loon right now?"

His eyes bug out and he comes closer to me, taking the box. "Oh, my God, baby. No. Absolutely not. Exactly the opposite." He pulls us to sitting on the floor. Gently, he pops the top of it open and looks back up at me. "Here, just take a few out. Okay?"

I still don't understand, but I do what he says. The first thing I pull out is my worn and weathered copy of Pride and Prejudice. He nods and motions for the shelf. I sit it there gently and return to the open box. I blow out a breath and keep going, not having any clue what the point of this is. The next book I pull out is something I've not seen before. Hmm, weird.

"Is this yours?" I ask him.

"Nope. Never seen it before. Open it, see if there's a name or something." He's all smiles now. Someone needs a nap.

"I should open it? You really are acting weird tonight. Was there something in the Chinese food?" I chuckle. This all feels so odd, but I'm a curious person and I open the cover. And I just stare.

It's not a book after all, but one of those boxes disguised as a book so you can hide your weed and other unmentionables from people. Those things are not what's inside the box though.

Inside, lays a smaller box covered in black velvet.

Stupefied, I just continue to stare at it, all the while trying to calm my suddenly rapidly beating heart and telling the inner squeal queen to shut up.

I finally manage to tear my eyes away from the little black velvet box and meet his green ones.

He reaches over and takes the object that is sending my emotions into overdrive. He gently opens it and what's inside sends me reeling. It's perfect in every way. Immediately, I start crying.

"Bella, I'm sorry for freaking you out, but I wanted this moment to be special. You'll always remember it now, right?" he says with a magnificent smile, and what I think are unshed tears in his eyes.

I just nod. My mouth isn't working anymore.

He moves so that he's on bended knee, and I cover my mouth with my hand to suppress the sob that wants to come out.

He swallows thickly and looks directly into my eyes. "Bella Swan, I have loved you for all of my life. I want to love you for the rest of it. Will you please be my wife?"

I look to him then at the ring. It's so pretty. I'm dazzled, but I'm not sure if it's by the ring or the most perfect man ever kneeling before me. I reach out a shaking hand and trace the emerald cut solitaire. How can all of this be real?

"It's real, I promise you. You're everything to me and I want you for always as my wife."

Flustered, I realize that I voiced my disbelief out loud. I laugh. "Sorry, I didn't mean to say that out loud."

"Bella, you're killing me here."

I look up into his eyes again and realize that I haven't answered him. Poor guy, but does he honestly think I'll say no?

"Oh, Edward." I fling myself into his arms and kiss his cheek, nose, mouth, but most importantly, I say yes between each kiss.

Feeling his arms wrap tightly around me, he kisses me back with such emotion that it topples us to the ground. I'm too happy to care.

Through tears and laughter, and a lot of making out, Edward slips the ring on my finger. It feels so right, so solid and grounding. I know it's silly, but I now feel like I have him with me forever. He'll be there wherever I go; it's a feeling better than any other, to know that someone wants to tie themselves to you and vice versa.

"What are you thinking about?" he asks. "You stopped kissing me."

"Oh, sorry," I say, laughing. "I was just thinking about how amazing you are, and how I can't wait to spend the rest of the night celebrating. The rest of my life, actually."

"I know the feeling," he says, with a wink. "Speaking of celebrating...how 'bout we really christen the house now?" He kisses my neck and that spot just under my ear, and I'm left incoherent.

"I was thinking of starting right here, and we'll see where the night takes us."


A/N: Thank you one hundred thousand bunches to angeleyes_1uk for one hell of a beta job. Please see my profile for information regarding Fandom Fights Mental Illness as well as a pretty little banner.