Stolen Dreams: When Edward Met Bella-Again

By

Shasta53

.net/u/140457/shasta53

Rating: T

Romance/Angst

Edward x Bella

Most of you wanted to see a glimpse of the day that Edward found Bella again. So, here it is—from Edward's POV. Enjoy! This was the outtake I wrote for the FGB compilation that went out in November and now I give it to the rest of you for Christmas. Salud.

My mind was focused on the letter sitting on my desk in my too small apartment. I'd rented it for a reason—I didn't want it to feel like someone was missing, even though I was alone again. Tanya hadn't come with me, and if I was really honest with myself, it had been a relief when she'd refused. I knew that I didn't love her like I should if we were going to spend our lives together. There was only one woman I would love that way. She was the reason I'd convinced Jasper to move across the country and the reason I couldn't stop thinking about the letter at home.

My commander—former commander—wanted me to reenlist. And God, it was so tempting. I hadn't thought it would be this hard to be so close to her. But every day, every hour, I wished for the courage to call her up and say hello. I just couldn't make myself do it. The irony wasn't lost on me. I could chase down terrorists and gunmen with nothing but my side arm and the knife on my belt, but I couldn't even call her. Hell, I couldn't even think her name without making the ache inside me worse. To me, though, my life was worth nothing without her in it. I wanted her to still be by my side, yet I knew that sparing her the pain of my tours of duty had been worth a lot, at least to me.

I knew she was here. One night, I'd plucked up the courage, aided by Jim and Jack, to Google her. She'd become a psychologist, earned her doctorate, and was practicing in Seattle. The only site I'd been willing to look at had only listed her professional achievements, and for that, I was thankful. I knew I could use my skills and find out everything about her life, but I was honestly afraid of what I would find.

More than anything, I wanted her to be happy. I just didn't want to have that happiness staring me in the face if she'd found another man to love her. I'd blown my chance—I knew that. I should have called her years ago. I should have worked harder to find her, contact her, anything, but by the time my own fog had cleared, so much time had passed. And each day that I couldn't find the courage to beg for her forgiveness made the gap widen.

So, now, here I was, as far from my family as I could get without moving to another country, and still alone. It felt sort of pathetic to be grocery shopping for myself. It wasn't like I could cook much, or had the inclination to. Why would I make a big dinner just for me? Microwave meals would just have to suffice.

As I walked toward the dairy section, a figure by the yogurt case captured my attention. Her long brown hair was just the same color as the one in my dreams, but her figure was slightly different—more curvy somehow. There wasn't any doubt who it was, though. My heart would know her anywhere.

"Bella?" I asked softly, walking up behind her.

She stiffened, and I immediately regretted saying anything. She turned slowly, still holding a cup of yogurt in her hand. I only noticed because as her eyes widened in shock, the cup crashed to the floor, spraying both of our shoes, the cart, and the floor with the creamy paste.

"Edward?" she whispered, and her eyes filled up with tears. "Is it . . . how? What are you doing here?"

I was trying to go for casual, as if every atom in my body wasn't screaming at me to take her in my arms and never let her go. "Just getting some groceries. I live in Seattle now."

"Si-Since when?" she stuttered.

"A couple of months ago, actually. When I retired from active duty, a friend of mine and I moved out here," I told her.

The light in her eyes immediately dimmed. "Oh, that's wonderful," she murmured, her gaze falling at once to her shoes.

"Yeah, Jasper seems to like it here. He's from Texas, so the rain's a little new," I joked, trying to ease the sudden tension.

Her head snapped back up, and her eyes found mine. She looked oddly hopeful, but I didn't understand why. "Jasper?" she questioned.

"My partner," I clarified.

Once again, the light dimmed and an understanding washed through them. "Oh, I see." She seemed to be fishing around for something to say, when I realized how that sounded.

"Shit, no, Bella, my business partner. We own a computer company together. He's not my life partner. God, no!" I rambled.

She snorted. "So, you aren't gay?" she asked, obviously holding in her mirth.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, and then ran my fingers over my head. "Jesus Christ. Here I am with the girl I've been dreaming of for more than ten years, and she thinks I'm gay. I'm an idiot," I muttered to myself. "Whatever you do, please don't mention this to Jasper. In fact, let's never mention it again. He'll find out and have a field day with it."

She bit her lip, trying to hold back her smile. "So, there might be a time for us to talk about it again?" she asked nervously.

"I hope so." I smiled at her. "I'm hoping you'll let me take you to dinner. Somewhere we can catch up without yogurt on our shoes."

"Oh, shit! I'm so sorry about that," she cried, looking for the first time at the mess she'd made.

"It's fine, it's fine," I assured her. "They're just shoes. They wash." I paused and waited for her to say something. When she didn't, I prodded her a little. "Dinner? Unless there's someone you need to get home to. I shouldn't have assumed." She wasn't wearing a ring, but I didn't guess that really mattered. I'd never given her one either, and we were together for two years.

"Just Alice," she answered. "Somehow, though, I think she'd be all right fending for herself for a night." Some of her confidence seemed to return, and damn, if it wasn't sexy as hell. "So, dinner? When did you have in mind?"

"Now?" I blurted out, rubbing my hand over the back of my neck.

Bella giggled, and it was the best sound in the whole world. "Now?" She looked down into her cart. "Okay. I mean, as long as you don't mind following me back to my apartment so I can put the groceries away. Or meeting me somewhere so you can put yours away, too."

I was torn. I did need the food, since my fridge was literally empty, except for a bottle of ketchup, but I didn't want to let her out of my sight. Now that I'd found her, I didn't want to let her go. I wasn't sure I could. "How much more shopping do you have to do?"

She checked her cart, and then eyed mine. "Less than you do, I'd bet."

I glanced over the stack of frozen pizzas and Hungry Man meals. The only things missing were milk and cereal. "Um, not really," I admitted.

Bella rolled her eyes, but I got the sense that she wasn't any more eager to leave than I was. "Why don't we finish up together?"

I couldn't help the grin that spread across my face. "That sounds great." Before we could move, though, one of the store workers approached us with some paper towels and a mop.

We cleaned up our feet while he mopped up the floor, and then I followed her through the store while she filled her cart with ingredients for recipes I could only dream of tasting. It was surreal, walking through the grocery store with Bella. With almost ten years between us, to be focused on the mundane was almost unnerving. It felt right, though, just to do these little tasks together while we made idle conversation.

After checking out and having Bella ridicule my taste in food—or lack thereof—she gave me her address, and I promised to pick her up in less than an hour. I had no idea where take her, though. Despite having grown up just hours away, I knew absolutely nothing about Seattle and good dinner locations.

I was still mulling it over when I pulled up to her apartment building. She'd told me which apartment was hers and that she lived with Alice Brandon. I kind of hoped that Alice wasn't home—I wasn't sure I was ready to face her—but the prospect of seeing Bella again propelled me out of the car and onto the stoop.

Alice had always been incredibly protective of Bella. I could only imagine how fierce she would be considering that I'd left Bella at the worst moment of her life—our lives. It might not have been my idea or my fault, but I'd still left, and I would forever regret that I didn't try harder to keep in touch with her. I deserved anything Alice threw at me. I knocked on the door she'd indicated was hers and waited.

For one interminable moment, I wondered if she'd given me the wrong address to blow me off. There was no sound from the other side of the door. Then, as my heart prepared to crack open and send me into true stalker land—because there was no way I was going to be able to stay away from her now—Bella opened the door.

My mouth fell open in shock. She'd changed into some jeans and a dark green, long sleeve shirt with billowing sleeves. In short, she was breathtaking. "You look beautiful!" I blurted.

Bella chuckled lightly. "Thanks. Is this all right for wherever we're going?"

I rubbed the back of my neck and grinned sheepishly. "Actually, I was going to ask you where we should go. I . . . I haven't really gone anywhere other than my office and home since I've been here, and I don't know what's good."

Her smile was familiar, yet different from what I remembered. There were years and wisdom behind it now. I couldn't wait to get to know this version of the girl I'd adored for so long.

"There's a restaurant down the street. The food is pretty good," she offered.

"Sure, wherever is good for you," I said quickly, offering her my hand. For the first time in almost ten years, her hand made contact with mine, and I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. She used her free hand to lock the door behind her, making sure not to break our physical connection.

I led her over to the passenger seat of my car and held the door while she got in. "Some things never change," she quipped.

"Hey, there's nothing wrong with being a gentleman," I argued as I got into my own seat and backed out of the space.

"No, there's not," she answered wistfully.

I wasn't sure if she was thinking about me or some other guy that had treated her well, so I changed the subject. "Where am I going?"

Bella shook her head slightly, as if to clear away whatever memory she was lost in, and looked through the windshield. "It's right down here." She pointed to a spot to her right, and I pulled onto the street and followed her directions.

The place was nice, as far as bar and grills go. The hostess wasn't subtle in her perusal of me, and wanting to remove any ideas that she might have, I rested my hand around Bella's waist when I asked for a booth for two. I noticed that Bella gave me an odd look out of the corner of her eye, but I didn't acknowledge it, lest this woman in front of me get any ideas.

"What's good here?" I asked Bella when we were finally seated. Truthfully, I could have just ordered a burger and never looked back, but I was trying to put off the inevitable conversation at least for a few more minutes. I wanted just a few more minutes to live with the hope that Bella might not hate me.

She scoffed teasingly. "You're just going to order a cheeseburger and fries. Why pretend to be interested in the open faced pot roast sandwich or the fried chicken?"

"I don't know . . . I like fried chicken," I mused, but we both knew she was right. After another thirty seconds of staring at the menu, I decided that she was right and folded it back up. Bella's was already resting on the edge of the table. Seeing that, the waitress came over, took our orders, and left us alone once again.

Silence hung over the table, and the tension grew with each passing moment.

"So . . . how have you been?" she finally asked, though her voice was hesitant.

My initial inclination, born of years of ingrained politeness, was to tell her that I'd been fine, and ask her the same. But I couldn't make myself utter those words. I hadn't been fine, and I didn't want to lie to her. "Okay, I suppose," I finally settled for. "How have you been?"

Her brows furrowed together, and she searched my face. "What happened to you?" she asked after several seconds. "Where did you go?"

I scrubbed my hands over my face, wishing like all hell that I could grab her hand and use it to ground me for this conversation. As if she understood the action, Bella laid her hand, palm up, across the table. I gave her a grateful smile and reclaimed her hand with my own.

"My parents enrolled me in West Point. When I finished college, I spent my requisite five years in the Army on active duty, and now I'm in the Reserves for three years," I answered. Telling her where I'd been was easier than telling her what had happened to me.

A slight shiver ran through her small frame. "Did you see action?" she asked carefully.

I nodded. "Three tours. Iraq and Afghanistan. That's how I met Jasper. He was part of my unit."

"Were . . . were you ever injured?" she asked, still careful.

I chuckled and squeezed her hand. "Not like you're thinking." There were a few close calls, but we weren't going to talk about those right now.

"Good. That's . . . good." She drifted off into her thoughts.

"What about you? Psychology, right? How'd that happen?" I asked, interested to hear more about her life in the intervening years.

She bit her lip. "It interested me. After I spent so much time with various therapists, I figured that other kids could use someone that did a better job than the ones I'd had and that I could be that for them. I really love what I do."

"Spent time with therapists?" I asked. "Was that part of your course work?"

She blushed and looked down at the table. "No, after . . . well, I didn't handle losing Ryan and you very well, so I had to go talk to someone."

"Why didn't you ever write me back, then?" I asked, confused. I'd figured that she was so mad at me that she didn't want to open that back up. It was one of the reasons I'd convinced myself not to try harder. But if she had been suffering . . .

"Write you back?" she asked, startled. "What do you mean? I didn't have an address for you."

"You did. I wrote to you right after we moved. Mom and Dad wouldn't let me use the phone to call long distance, so I sent you a three page letter." Dread washed over me. I'd given up, and she'd never gotten the letter.

Bella's eyes welled up with tears, though they didn't spill over, and she shook her head. "I never got a letter, Edward."

"I mailed it myself, Bella," I insisted.

"I never got it," she reiterated.

My heart plummeted. "You thought I'd forgotten about you."

She bit her lip and didn't respond. "Did you ever try anything else?"

I shook my head. "I thought about it, but until I left for school, there wasn't any opportunity. By then . . . I wasn't in a good place, Bella, and it took a couple of years and a lot of physical training to get me back."

Bella was about to say something, but our waitress brought our drinks. I'd never been more thankful for the beer in front of me than I was at that moment. I didn't want to relive those years, even in my mind. If Bella needed to hear about them, though, I would. I would walk through fire if that's what she wanted, even now.

I was prepared to ask her about the intervening years, when she cut me off. Like a dog with a bone, my stubborn Bella wasn't going to let my misery go. Was she trying to torture me?

"What happened? Why were you in such a bad place?" she asked, the concern in her voice evident.

I'd rather be waterboarded than to have to say the words aloud, but if anyone could understand how I'd felt, she would be the only one. "I'd just lost my son and the love of my life, Bella. I was barely hanging on by a thread when we left, but when I never heard back from you, I thought you hated me. It wasn't like there was anyone I could talk to about it. Mom and Dad were busy pretending it never happened, and no one in New York knew you, or us. When I went to school, my bunk mates tried to pull me out of my funk by getting me drunk and high, or laid, but it didn't take long for me to discover that drinking all night before a five mile run in the morning was a bad idea.

"After getting brought in front of my CO twice, I refused to participate in their . . . extracurricular activities anymore and kind of threw myself into training. Having something to focus on other than the . . . agony . . . helped."

"Where were your parents during all this?" she asked, astonished. I could see how she was shocked. My parents and I had been close growing up.

"We weren't speaking. At all," I said matter-of-factly. "Actually, it wasn't until I deployed for my first real assignment after graduation that we started again. I'd been overseas twice during the summers, and I'm not sure they even know that now."

She blinked several times, just staring at me. I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. What came out of her mouth, though, shocked me. "I'm so sorry, Edward." She squeezed my hand.

"Whatever for?" I asked. I was the one that had left her.

She took another moment to gather her thoughts and sipped at her drink. "I was really hurt and angry after you left. Months went by, and I don't even remember them, the grief was so bad. Not once through all of my counseling and schooling did I ever consider that you were hurting, too. We focus so much on the mother's pain because she bonds with the child that's inside her, but no one ever thinks about the fathers that lose just as much. I'm sorry you didn't have anyone you could lean on. That must have been terribly lonely for you."

"You're more compassionate than I deserve," I murmured. "I could have tried harder—I should have tried harder so you didn't have to go through that alone."

Her smile was soft. "But I didn't. I had my dad, Alice, and Angela. They made sure I ate and talked about it to them and to people trained to listen. I won't lie and tell you that it was easy. I needed you. But I knew that you didn't want to leave and that helped."

Our plates of food clattered to the table, and my stomach growled at the sight of the enormous cheeseburger in front of me. Bella had gotten the fried chicken, and I wasn't sure which looked better.

"You've found peace," I noted.

She nodded absently. "Some. There are days when it still hurts, but now there are more good days than bad. Have you?"

"Honestly, I don't know. I live with it now, and that's an improvement." I chuckled sadly. "But you're right, there are more good days than bad. Like today."

"Oh really?" She smiled that brilliant smile. "What made today so great?"

I grinned at her. "I don't know. Some girl spilled yogurt on my shoes and let me take her to dinner."

Bella giggled. "It was the yogurt that did it for you, wasn't it?"

"Oh, of course. Makes the spit polish that much more shiny," I teased.

We continued to tease each other throughout the rest of the meal. Bella told me about going to UDub and staying there through her doctorate. She talked about her work with Children's Services and the private practice she was a member of.

"You mentioned that you live with Alice?" I asked, though I was really hoping I'd misunderstood.

She smirked. "Yeah, we've lived together since our second year of college."

"Does she know where you are?"

"I told her I had a date," she replied evasively. I leveled her with a stare, and she huffed. "All right, she's not your biggest fan, so I didn't tell her who I was going out with. I'll tell her when I get home."

The waitress dropped of the little black folder with our check, and I snatched it away from Bella's reaching fingers. "Nuh-uh. I asked you on this date."

"Well, thank you for dinner, then," she said politely, but a smile still teased her lips.

We walked hand in hand back to my car, and my heart started racing. This was it. Did tonight go well enough for her to want to see me again? If she didn't, would I be able to stay away? I was pretty sure that if she didn't want me around, I'd be on the first plane back to Virginia to re-up. Now that I'd found her, though, I didn't want to go.

We were both quiet on the drive back to her apartment. I walked her up to the door, and she seemed as reluctant to go in as I was for her to leave. In a move that shocked me, she grasped my hand and swung it lightly back and forth between us as we both leaned against the wall next to her door.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"For what?" I asked.

"For taking me out to dinner and answering my questions," she responded.

I smiled, though it was sad, because I got the feeling that it wasn't enough to make her want to try this again with me. "You're welcome, Bella. Thank you for agreeing to go. It meant the world to me. Do you . . . do you think we might be able to do this again sometime?"

Her eyes lit up and sparkled in a way that I hadn't seen in far too long. "I'd love to. Um, why don't I make you dinner tomorrow night?"

My heart was practically hammering in my chest. She wanted to see me again—and so soon! "Tomorrow is good. What time should I be here?" I asked, hoping for a early start so we could spend as much time together as possible.

"Six," she decided. "You can keep me company while I finish the food."

"I'd love to," I said, tugging her slightly closer to me. I leaned down to kiss her and realized at the last moment how forward that would be. Now that I had her close again, I didn't want to do anything to screw it up, so I shifted to the side quickly and left a lingering kiss on her cheek. When I leaned back, I thought I detected a note of disappointment, but she covered it quickly.

"I'd better let you get to bed. It's pretty late," I commented, though I made no move to leave. I wasn't sure if my body and heart would let me.

"Yeah," she said sadly. "But I'll see you tomorrow? You'll be here?"

I hated that in leaving her the first time, though she knew I hadn't wanted to, made her doubt me. "Bella, I'm here until you order me away."

Her mischievous smile was infectious. "Good. I'll just have to figure out what to do with you, then." She stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed my cheek like I had done to her just minutes before. "Good night, Edward."

"Sleep well, Bella," I murmured.

She put her key in the lock and opened the door. Our hands stretched between us, as neither wanted to be the first to let go. In the end, the distance was too great, and my hand, now cold, fell to my side. She smiled again, blew me a kiss, and closed the door.

For the longest time, I stood there, staring at the wood that separated me from my other half. It wasn't until I realized that someone might think I was a creepy stalker and that if I got, arrested I wouldn't make dinner, that I got my feet to move.

For the first time in almost ten years, a new feeling had taken root in my chest where the buried love resided. Hope.