"Nothing rhymes with Bella."
"No, not much. 'Bella is so awesome,' I sang, 'she's so swansome.'"
"Swansome? Oh my god." She threw her head back, laughing. "I wanted to hear your best song, not your worst."
"It's not my fault your name is Bella." I strummed my guitar, picking out other notes, and sang again. "If Bella were a fella, she'd be my one true bro."
She collapsed on herself with the giggles. God, I loved making her laugh. "Like Cinderella fought off salmonella with citronella, that's how I've come to know," I crooned.
"That doesn't even make sense." She was laughing so hard, she was struggling to breathe.
"Yes, it does. It's metaphysical."
"You mean metaphorical," she wiped at her eyes, still laughing, "and if you think that's a metaphor, then it's a good thing we're not going to have to rely on your earnings as a songwriter." She grinned up at me. "That was a simile."
I grinned back, changing chords and picking up the pace. "Bella's going to be a vet, we're gonna get a pet. Bella's gonna have a house, our pet will be a mouse … I'll give her everything she wants, I'll give her everything she needs … she'll have the world's biggest bathtub, where I'll bring her coffees ..." I drew out the last syllable, making it fit the cadence. Bella's smile softened as I finished. "And it's not because she's beautiful, not because she's smart. We could leave and wander endlessly, because my home is in her heart."
"Did you just make that up?"
"Yep." I put my guitar down and put my arm around her shoulder, pulling her against my side while I covered her hands with my free one, rubbing them for warmth.
"I think that's my favorite thing you've ever played."
I kissed the top of her head and looked out over the water. "Are you sure you didn't mind not going out on the boat?"
"No, not at all. I'm not really a boat person either."
We watched as Carlisle began tacking into the wind, taking the sailboat further from shore. Rose turned and waved to us. I waved back and it wasn't long before they were too far out to see.
"Does Carlisle being in the Navy have something to do with why you don't like boats?" She asked me after a few moments.
I pulled her closer, noticing the wind was picking up. "Maybe. He took me out once the first year I lived with them, and I got horribly sick. He stopped trying to bond with me shortly after that."
"It wasn't your fault."
We fell back into a comfortable silence, the only sounds the wind and the gulls.
She stirred a bit. "I like the Pacific Ocean better."
"You like the Pacific Ocean better than the Atlantic?" I smiled into her hair as she nodded.
"It has a better vibe."
"A better vibe."
"That's what I said." She glanced up at me with a look on her face that I knew well enough by now. Bella didn't like to be teased about her opinions, and I'd learned over the past few months to merely nod and accept them. I didn't want her to ever feel like she couldn't tell me what she was thinking.
Returning Bella to her life had returned me to mine. She was the reason I got up in the morning, the reason I went to bed at night. She was everything to me, and in such a small space of time, it boggled my mind. But I loved it, loved her. I loved everything about her.
A gust of wind blew her hair up into my face and I glanced at the sky. Even though it was an unusually balmy day for Baltimore in December, Bella might be getting chilled and want to head in soon. I'd better get to it.
"Bella," I cleared my throat, my stomach suddenly a knot, "I know we said no gifts, but there's something I want to give you."
She turned her face to mine with a slight frown. "Our trip here is supposed to be our Christmas gift to each other. That was the deal. I don't have anything for you."
"Oh, there's something you can give me."
"A yes." I got off the bench and knelt in front of her, taking her left hand off her lap. I slipped off the band she still wore and watched her face while I reached into my pocket for the diamond ring. "Bella, the week we spent in Mexico pretending to be married – I thought that was the happiest week of my life, but I was wrong. Every day with you has just made me happier. I don't want to pretend any more. Will you marry me?" I began sliding on the ring as her eyes widened in recognition.
"Is that the same ring?"
"You sneaky devil. That's why we had to stop in Albuquerque on the way to Chicago? I had no idea. You said it was about your phone." She stretched her fingers, her eyes on her hand. "Wait, you already knew you were going to propose?"
"I was ninety-nine percent sure."
"So, just in case?" She smiled and bit her lip, still looking down.
"Just in case. I wanted you to have that one," I gestured to the ring, "but if you'd rather have something different -"
"Oh no, this is perfect. It's perfect, Edward. But can I have my band back?"
I gave it to her and watched her put it on over the diamonds.
"I'll wear them both." She finally looked up me with a radiant smile that quickly changed to concern. "What's wrong?"
I must have been showing my anxiety. "You haven't answered me."
"Oh!" She threw her arms around my shoulders and cradled my head to her chest. "Yes, yes, yes, Edward. Yes, of course I'll marry you."
I pulled her to me as tightly as I could, relief flooding over me. I'd been pretty sure she'd say yes, but to finally know – I felt like yelling my joy up to the clouds. No, higher than that. To the stars.
I got a handle on my emotions and pulled away to look up at her. "You're sure it's not too soon?"
She shook her head. "I knew right away, too, and the feeling's just gotten stronger." She wove her fingers up into my hair, which was almost back to its original length. "I wasn't kidding when I said you were stuck with me."
"Lucky me," I reached up to kiss her.
"Lucky me," she whispered, kissing me back.
I kissed her for a long time, both hard and soft, and then sat back down on the bench, pulling her onto my lap. We watched the water together without talking for at least thirty minutes before we saw the boat return on the horizon.
"Are they coming back already?"
"Maybe Carlisle just wants to be closer to shore in case the winds pick up too much."
"If it's worth anything, I think he really does love you. They all do."
Not having seen my family for so long, I'd been a little surprised at their warm welcome. Esme had actually cried. "Yeah, I guess so." I gave her a squeeze. "They love you, too, that's for sure." It was true. Esme's instant acceptance I had already expected, and Alice and Rose took to Bella like a long-lost sister. Carlisle was the one who surprised me the most, however. When he learned that Bella'd recently lost both her parents, he spent the next few days doting on her to an extent that would have made me jealous at one time, so much did it remind me of my childhood. Now, though, all I felt was benevolence to anyone who was kind to Bella. Carlisle liked her, and that made me like him. A lot.
"Oh, no," Bella sighed. "I just thought of something."
"What's that?" The boat was getting close enough that we could make out everyone's faces.
"Alice is going to want a big wedding. She'll want to design my dress."
"And that's bad?"
"Not the dress part, but the wedding." She looked up me sadly. "I don't have anyone to invite. I'd rather just have a civil ceremony back in Chicago."
Bella'd moved into my apartment and gotten a job as a barista downtown. She didn't earn a lot of money, but enough to pay half the rent and a little left over for other expenses. She insisted on paying her share of everything, and assured me that once her mother's estate was settled, she was going to pay me back every penny I'd spent on her down in Mexico and Phoenix. I hadn't argued, but only because that was a negotiation that could wait.
"It's your wedding, Bella, not Alice's. You can do it any way you want."
"It's your wedding, too. Do you care?"
"A civil ceremony is fine with me. In fact, I know a judge who freelances on drums. I could ask him to do it."
"Perfect," she settled back against my chest. "What about a honeymoon?"
"What about one?"
"If you're going to defer to me on the wedding, I'll let you plan the honeymoon. Assuming you want another one, that is."
"Actually, I was thinking about going back to Mexico, back to your favorite ocean," I smiled into her hair.
"Really?" She sat up, her face hopeful. "Is it safe for us to go back there?"
"I don't see why not, if we stick to the touristy areas. Blend in, like we did before."
"Can we visit Harold? I'd love to thank him in person."
Harold had come through big time and found a way to transfer Bella's scholarship to the University of Illinois, where she was starting vet school in the fall.
"I'd love to give him back his car."
"And get your bike?"
"I'd love that, too,"
Her smile, what it did to me. Knowing that I'd get to look at it every day for the rest of my life almost brought tears to my eyes, and I pulled her even closer. The life I'd made for myself before meeting Bella now seemed hollow and empty. What I'd assumed was peacefulness was nothing more than solitude, a loneliness I'd imposed on myself because I didn't think I deserved more. Giving Bella my love was one thing, but accepting hers - that opened a part of me I hadn't known existed, a part that cherished every minute together, but that also thought more about the future.
I'd been giving thought to finishing my degree, not because Bella liked to tease me about being a drop-out, but because I wanted to be able to provide for her. The lyrics I'd made up a few minutes ago were the truth. I wanted to give her everything she'd ever want, down to house with the big bathtub and the white picket fence.
Without even realizing it, I'd slipped my hand from her hip to her stomach.
"Whoa. Slow down, there, tiger. I have to get through vet school first."
"What?" I'd been drawing lazy circles under her jacket.
She gave me a knowing smile and put her hand over mine. "I suppose you've got names picked out already, too?"
I smiled and shook my head. It would never cease to amaze me how she could read my mind. "I'll let you decide."
A/N: Short, but sweet. Maybe too sweet; turns out Edward the hit-man is just a big ol' sap.
Thanks again to my wonderful betas Snarkymuch, VixenLittleStella and Simaril, and thanks to all who read and reviewed!
One last thing - this story is also up at The Writer's Coffee Shop, and because of the recent purge going on here, I'll probably be moving my other story, A Slow Boil, there as well (just in case).
I know I sound like a broken record, but thanks again!