A/N: Sooo I actually had full intentions of getting this up before the holiday madness hit us, but then life happened and I took a wee little break, but don't worry I'm getting back into the swing of things now! And though I know it's a little late, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, a delightfully happy new year, and I hope you hugged your loved ones like mad and have the biggest of dreams for 2013 :)
Thanks to cejsmom for prereading, and Kristina for finding all my mistakes. Don't know what I would do without you wonderful ladies!
When my eyes lock with Garrett's from across the room, I feel my breath catch in my throat. And when I notice the intensity of which he's watching me as I enter, I find myself frozen in the doorway for a moment. Only then does it really hit me – the reason why I'm here and the words I'm about to say, the ones that will forever change us both. I begin to force my feet forward, taking one small hesitant step, and then another and another until I'm close enough to reach out and brush my fingers along the fabric of his suit jacket. I take a deep breath and the smell of him fills me, comforts me.
"Hi," I breathe softly, my voice so small it sounds like it's drifting in through the vents above us.
He wraps his fingers around mine, his hands warm and soft. "Hey," he whispers back. He watches me, eyes full of unwavering adoration.
"You don't look all that surprised to see me," I note quietly, my lips twitching with the ghost of a smile. "Am I really that predictable?"
"No," he says softly, and he runs his fingers down the skin of my cheek. "Just the opposite, actually."
And I just look up at him, tears burning my eyes. I place my hand over top of his and pull it down, squeezing it as I hold it between us. He shivers, like I'm able to convey everything I'm feeling with just a single touch. And oh, how I hope he feels it. How I hope he knows.
"You're really sure about this?" he asks, his eyes searching my face for the slightest hint of hesitation.
"Yes." I look down as I gather myself, and when I look back up to meet his eyes I can feel the resolve swelling in my chest. "I'm sure."
Back inside the church, Charlie is still sitting in the same place that he was when I left him. I can tell he's surprised to see me as I slip back through the door, though he does his best to hide it. He's reading a newspaper but stands as I enter, folding it and then slipping it under his arm as he gets to his feet.
"Bells," he says, "I thought they were gonna have to start without you." He tries to lighten the mood but I can feel him watching me carefully. "You get everything sorted out?"
I half shrug and shake my head. "I'm not the one who breaks promises," I say weakly, and somehow that's enough to explain everything. "Are the girls ready? I guess we should probably round everybody up." I take deep breaths and avoid eye contact with my father. I'm on the verge of tears, feeling like I've set something into motion that I no longer have the power to stop.
"Yeah, I can go find them." He hesitates at the small bureau near the door and sets the newspaper down there as he turns to face me. He pulls on his collar a bit as he speaks, uncomfortable in his suit but not one to complain about it. "Now Bells, I'm not saying there's a right or a wrong choice here… but just because your old man lost the love of his life doesn't mean you have to."
Tears prick my eyes and I shake my head. "Dad," I begin, but he cuts me off.
"You know, there's something about your mother that I never did tell you." He pauses and just looks at me, like he's trying to decide if now is a good time for stories. He clears his throat and continues, "She was engaged once, before I knew her."
I stare at him in disbelief. "Dad – what…? Mom was engaged?"
He nods. "To her high school sweetheart. His name was Billy… She called off the engagement after a few months – knew it just wasn't right. You know she felt awful, your mother, for breaking his heart like that. But he met someone else, a few years later. Got married, had a family. He's been with her for almost twenty-five years, and they're great together, you know? Real happy. And your mother, well, somehow she found me. And you know how much I loved her."
I swallow hard and avoid looking at my dad, because even though I was young when my mom passed, he still talks about her all the time. I used to be jealous that Charlie got to have so much of her and all I had were some old photographs and the stories he'd share with me over dinner. But as I got older and all around me my friends parent's fought and split up and said and did these awful things to each other, I realized that I was lucky. I was lucky to have a father who loved his wife, even if she wasn't around anymore.
"Anyway, Bells, what I'm tryin' to say is don't you feel bad about breaking someone's heart, because if it's not right then it's not right. And you're probably doing you both a favor anyway. Everybody finds someone in the end."
I smile through my tears and shake my head. "When did you become such a romantic, old man?"
"I guess that's what happens when someone pins purple flowers to your suit jacket," he smiles and pulls me in for a hug. "You know I just want you to be happy, Bells."
"Dad…" And I'm glad he can't see my face as I answer. "I am happy."
He pats me awkwardly on the back a few times as he steps back and clears his throat. "Well… I'll go get Masen and we'll wait for you out there, sweetie," he says as his fingers drum the wooden top of the bureau. For some reason it seems like he's in a hurry to get out of here, and I wonder if I really am that big of a mess that my own father can't bear to be around me for very long. He leans in and kisses my forehead and absently pats the newspaper before he turns to walk through the door. "I love you, Bells."
"I love you too," I say, and feel my lips curl up as I watch him leave, but by the time he's gone so is my smile.
I sit down at the bureau, carefully avoiding my own reflection and instead stare through the mirror and watch the clock that hangs from the wall at the back of the room. It must be some sort of industrial standard because it reminds me of the one that was in the basement of the church where my father used to attend mass on Sundays. The Cullen's also attended that church, and when I was younger Edward and I used to go to Sunday school in the basement during the service. We would spend almost the entire time staring at the clock, willing it to move faster and counting down the seconds until we would be free once more to shed our restricting Sunday clothes race our bikes around the block or work on our tree fort in his backyard.
Now I'm wondering if all those years of urging that minute-hand forward has somehow paid off because now it seems to be moving abnormally fast. There are less than fifteen minutes until the ceremony begins and I watch the seconds slip by, wondering how I'm going to manage to get up there and convince myself and everyone else in attendance that I'm making the right choice.
I realize could also use my bridesmaids' chiffon-covered butts in here right now to convince me of the same.
I let out a long breath, and glance down at the newspaper my father left lying on the tabletop, eager for a distraction. It's lying upside-down so I flip it over and my heart freezes when I see the photo, front and center of the first page of today's Entertainment section.
I hardly have time to process it before I quickly flip the paper back over and shove it to the far corner of the bureau top.
It makes sense, I guess. They're wrapping up a big tour tonight in Portland. And yeah, it's usually a pretty big deal when BVK is anywhere within a 500 mile radius of Seattle, so it's not that surprising the media is covering the hype.
But, Jesus, sometimes it just feels like he's everywhere.
I live a life that is haunted, haunted by the reminder of him – of us. I look into the eyes of the beautiful little boy he fathered every single day when I tell that little boy how much I love him. The soundtrack of Edward Cullen is on constant repeat in the back of my mind, and it seems as if I can't turn a corner without a reminder of him looming somewhere in the distance. He's so engrained in my life – in who I am – that even though I know I told him to let me go, I know I told him to move on… I know how truly impossible that task is.
And I have to fight the urge to take a second peek at the photo, because right now I don't want to have to see that look on his face —see the unabashed joy on the face of a man who is standing exactly where he is meant to be. It should make this all easier, but right now it all just aches.
Charlie should know better than to leave something like that laying around on a day like today.
A knock on the door startles me from my thoughts. I look around and for a moment I've forgotten where I am and just what exactly it is I'm about to do. I take a deep breath and it brings me back here, to the church, in the dress. I'm here and Edward's gone and I let him go.
Whoever it is on the other side of that door knocks again and I weakly call out, "Yeah?"
The door opens Rose pokes her head in, her long hair in waves and her pink lips forcing a smile. Her hand wrapped tightly around the door frame as she leans across the threshold. My face feels like stone and I can't even muster up the energy to return the fake smile she's giving me.
"Hey," she says hesitantly, and the smile falters on her lips when she sees my face. "Everything okay?"
I nod my head and then shrug. Rose watches me carefully as she comes to sit down on the bench beside me. She doesn't say a word as she smooths out her lilac-colored bridesmaid's dress and lets out a long breath. Her nails lightly tap the bench as she waits for me to make the first move.
"My dad just told me my mom was engaged," I say, and my voice just sounds so, so tired to my own ears. "Before Charlie was engaged to her, she was going to marry some guy named Billy. But she called it off, apparently. And I get that it's supposed to be all poetic, or whatever, but shit. Yeah, my dad sure loved my mom. But maybe that Billy guy did, too. Maybe Charlie has no idea just how much Billy's heart broke when my mom left him, has no idea what he went through, or how many years he spent haunted by her memory. Maybe this Billy still thinks the he and my mom were meant to be. Maybe to him, she's the one that got away. Charlie can't know that. All Charlie knows is that he loved my mom. That's what mattered to him. He won, in the end. Maybe my mom would have been just as happy with this Billy guy. Hell, maybe she would have been happier—" I begin to choke on the words so I have to stop to gather myself.
"I don't know how this is going to end. I can't say for certain that I love Garrett more than I love Edward. I can't say that I will never regret marrying Garrett, or that I'll never regret not marrying him. I don't know anything for sure, Rose."
"Bella-" She puts her hand on my arm but I shake her off.
"I thought I knew, once. But it was all a lie. And I was broken when he left me."
"Bella," Rose says, and this time there's a sharp edge to her voice that causes me to pause. Her face softens once she sees she has my attention. "You know I'll be the first to tell you how badly Edward fucked up in the past. I can't even count the amount of times he's hurt both you and Emmett, and you know that the two of you are my world. And I'm not defending him… but sometimes Edward's just not rational when it comes to you. I think that everything he's done, it's been out of love. And okay, yes he made some terrible choices. But when it comes down to it, he loves the hell out of you and Mase. You can hear it in his music, Bella, and people connect with that. And that's because we all fuck up but we hold on to that hope… That hope that that one person will love us, regardless of all our mistakes."
"As long as those mistakes are worth forgiving," I say weakly.
She raises an eyebrow and looks at me. "Aren't they?" she asks, "If when he made them, it was what he thought was right?"
I just shake my head, because what does it matter if he's already gone?
"He came, Rose," I say. "He came and I told him to leave. I told him to leave because I am going to marry Garrett, but Rose -" I cut myself off when I realize exactly what words are about to come spilling out of my mouth. My fingers touch my lips, like if I can stop myself from saying it, I won't have to think it either.
Rose squints at me, her brows knitting together. "He came here? Today?"
I nod and wipe a few stray tears.
She actually looks amused for a moment, and I just catch her gaze as she glances quickly down at the newspaper sitting on the tabletop and then back up at me. "Why was he here?"
"Why do you think?" I sigh, and when I see the look she's giving me I shake my head. "Look – I'm still here, aren't I? I didn't go riding off into the sunset with Edward Cullen."
Rose just shakes her head and kind of laughs to herself. "I mean, we all heard the song. I just can't believe he actually showed up…"
"Neither can I," I admit.
Rose quirks her eyebrow as she looks at me sideways, "And I can't believe you actually went to find him."
I roll my eyes and slide the newspaper along the dresser top, further away from me. Like if I get that picture far enough away from me, I'll be able to get him out of my mind.
"Garrett deserves better than me, you know," I breathe softly. "Because I shouldn't be sitting here thinking about Edward when I'm about to marry Garrett. I owe him more than this. This shouldn't be so hard. He's always been there, Ro. For me and for Masen…"
"Yeah, but so has Emmett and Charlie, and Carlisle and Esme, and me. And you're not obliged to marry any of us," Rose points out and I snort at her words, unable to fight a smile.
"Bella, you can't help who you love," she says gently, taking my hand in hers and squeezing it lightly.
"But what if I love them both?" I sigh, and I glance at the clock behind me and realize that I'm nearly out of time. Rose follows my gaze and our eyes lock in the mirror. I feel my heart pounding as the reality of what I'm about to do begins to set in. I plead silently, to my best friend, that she can make this right. That she can figure out another way to make a happy ending out of this mess. But she looks about as lost as I feel.
I let out a long breath and run the tips of my fingers over the lace of my dress. I've never felt so out of sorts, and it's not just because of the dress and the fancy hair and all the make-up. I've always liked to think I'm a fairly rational person, but nothing about today seems rational – nothing seems right.
"You know you have to make a decision, Bella," Rose says quietly.
"Rose…" I say, shaking my head sadly. The words seem to stick in my mouth, but when I close my eyes I see his face and I realize that maybe it's always been him.
I open my eyes and meet her gaze. "You and I both know that I already have."
A/N: Thank you guys for coming back after the heartbreak of last chapter, and thanks for continuing to spread the word and leaving your thoughts behind for me!
I should be back to my regular schedule of non-scheduled updates so... see you in about a week! Or even sooner if I can help it, because I know this chapter was a little short and left you a lot hanging. xx