After a forced marriage filled with violence, Bella escapes from Edward with their unborn child. Almost four years later, Edward has found her and their daughter and he refuses to let them go.

"We accept the love we think we deserve."

- Stephen Chbosky

Chapter 24


"So they accepted the final offer?" Edward asked Abby as he used his other hand to prevent Alexis from writing on his files with crayons. Abby was Edward's relator. After settling down in Forks, Edward had decided to put the house that he and Bella had shared in Chicago up for sale and move his company's headquarters to Seattle instead so he could be closer to Alexis. Despite being on the market for only a few months, someone had already purchased the house for full price.

"Yes they did," Abby said excitedly. Edward figured she was already calculating her commission.

"Okay, fax over the papers. I'll sign them and have my lawyer bring them to you," Edward said as he shuffled around papers on his desk looking for a blank one for Alexis to draw on. He found one and handed it to her.

"Yes, sir," Abby replied.

After saying goodbye, Edward hung up. He thought he might have felt something at selling the first house he and Bella had shared, but he didn't. He was glad to get rid of as many things from his past as possible. Except Alexis, of course.

Glancing over at the doorway, Edward looked at several of the boxes that had been shipped from Chicago. One of them he recognized well. It dated all the way back to Florida. Walking over to it now, Edward opened it.

Inside the box, he found a photograph of himself as a child with Esme. It was taken on Edward's fifth birthday. Carlisle wasn't there, and Emmett and Jasper had chosen to go out and play with friends rather than stay, so it was just Edward and Esme there to celebrate it. At the time, Edward didn't mind. By then, he'd already become aware of what was going on between his mother and father. Esme had wanted a photo of the two of them, and with no one else in the house, she'd used the timer on the camera and placed it on a table to hold it steady. Even though both he and Esme were smiling in the photo, it was all a ruse to mask the pain they were both feeling. If there was another picture of them a few hours later, it would have been of Esme caught in Carlisle's grip, and Edward hiding in his bedroom. Edward placed the photo on the floor and continued looking through the box.

There was another photo of him, Jasper and Emmett, taken when he was around ten. In that photo, Emmett and Jasper were in their backyard playing football. Despite it being so long ago, Edward remembered that day well. It was one of the rare times his brothers actually payed attention to him. By the end of the game, Edward had ended up with a split lip and a bloody nose from them ganging up on him and tackling him.

Placing that one face down next to the other, Edward looked at another photo. He saw that it was a picture of him and Bella when they were in Florida. It was taken at a friend's birthday party before everything had gone bad. Somedays, Edward wished they could go back to that time. He wondered how life would have been had he not turned into such a monster. He knew though, that it made no sense wishing for things to be different. One reason being that if all of that hadn't happened, Alexis wouldn't be here with him now. Edward couldn't see a world where Alexis didn't exist.

"That's the lady," Alexis said suddenly from behind Edward. He hadn't heard her walk over. Turning, Edward looked at what she was referring to.

"What lady?" he asked

"The lady from the supermarket." Unbeknownst to Edward, Alexis had picked up the photo of Edward and Esme and was looking at it. She held it out to him. "This lady was in the supermarket," she said, as she pointed at Esme.

Edward was confused. As far as he knew, Alexis had never seen Esme in a supermarket before. He had no idea what she was talking about.

"What supermarket?" he asked gently. Getting information out of Alexis was always difficult, so Edward knew he would have to tread lightly.

"The one Mommy and I went to. The lady was there talking to Mommy," Alexis said offhandedly as she went on looking at the other photo Edward had laid down.

"The supermarket here in Forks?" Edward asked.


"What did Mommy and the woman talk about?"

"I don't know. I was in the truck."

Edward knew Esme was determined to insert herself into Alexis's life; he didn't think she'd go so far as to come all the way to Forks. The realisation that she'd confronted Bella made him mad and put him on edge. What surprised him even more was that Bella hadn't told him she'd seen Esme. Whether Esme planned to stay here in Forks or not, Edward had to see her. He didn't understand why Bella hadn't told him Esme was here, but either way, Esme and Bella in the same town would not end well.

"It's time for me to take you back to your mom's. Go get your things," Edward told Alexis.

When Alexis was out of the room, Edward called Jenks. By the time Edward and Alexis were leaving the house, Jenks was able to provide him with the address of the house Esme was renting in Forks. Edward was hoping to speak to Bella when he dropped Alexis off at her house, but to his dismay, Renee told him she wasn't there.

After saying his goodbyes to Alexis, Edward went to Esme's. The house was close to his own home. Esme was pulling some bags out of her car when Edward arrived. She looked up in surprise when his car stopped in front of the house.

She smiled sadly when she saw it was him. "I figured you'd stop by. Did Bella tell you I saw her?" she asked.

Edward shook his head. "Alexis did."

Esme looked at him in surprise. "She knows who I am?"

"Of course not. She just recognized you from..." Edward paused and then jumped topic. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I wanted to see Alexis and speak with Bella."

"Did you?"

"I saw them, but Bella wouldn't listen to me."

"You cornered her?"

"I just wanted to speak to her," Esme repeated.

"About what?"

"I wanted to apologize to her. I want to make things right between me and her, and you and me. Now that Carlisle is gone, I'm realising what a horrible person I've been. I want to make it right. I know part of the reason why she's mad at you is because of me. I don't want her to blame you for my mistakes."

Edward just shook his head. "You being here isn't going to make things better for anyone, and I'm sorry that it took Carlisle's death for you to see."

Edward looked away. He knew that a large part of Esme's desire to make things right lay with the fact that now that Carlisle was gone, she felt alone, but he was determined to not let his past mess up his future. He was desperate to sever ties with it.

"Look, I can't make you leave. The only thing I ask is that you stay away from Bella and Alexis."

"Why? Why are you given the chance to make things right but not me? At the end of the day, you and I are fighting for the same thing. To make things right in the lives of the people we've hurt. It's too late for me to make amends with Jasper or Emmett. It's not too late for you. I want to be a part of my granddaughter's life. I want my son back. I want to make things right with Bella."

Edward shook his head again. He knew how strongly Bella felt on the issue of Esme. It had been one of the things they'd agreed to when he'd first come to Forks. Bella was fragile at the present moment. She'd come to Forks to escape all of this, and with the arrival of Edward, everything happened so fast and was catching up with her. Edward's fear was that all of these changes would cause Bella to crack and regress to the point where she hated him again.

"Stay away from them," Edward said again. He didn't want to force his mother to do anything, but if it came down to either her or Bella, he would choose Bella in a heartbeat.

As he turned to leave, Esme called out, "Wait. Can we talk for a moment?"

Edward didn't even answer as he got into his car and drove off. Esme's arrival had definitely changed things. He needed to talk to Bella. He didn't want to wait until they made the exchange with Alexis next week.

Passing by her house, he saw that her truck wasn't parked outside, meaning she hadn't arrived home yet. He passed by her school and work next, but she wasn't at either place. There were only a few places she could be in such a small town. He just hoped she wasn't with Sebastian. Driving through town, Edward spotted her truck outside a coffee shop. He never knew she was a coffee drinker.

After parking, Edward went in, crossing his fingers the entire time that she was alone. It took a moment to spot her. She was partially hidden by a wall, and Edward breathed a sigh of relief when he saw she was sitting at the table alone.

"Why didn't you tell me you'd seen Esme?" Edward asked as he sat opposite to her.

Bella looked up at him in surprise. Then her voice turned sarcastic. "Oh Edward, nice to see you. Why don't you have a seat?"

He brushed her humour aside and repeated his question. "Why didn't you tell me you'd seen Esme?"

"No, hi, how are you? Just right to it?"

Edward remained silent, waiting for her to finally answer him.

Realising he was serious, Bella sighed before she answered. "I figured you'd find out on your own. Your mother already blames me for the problems between the two of you, and it's not my place to get involved unless Alexis gets involved," Bella said. "And besides, it wasn't fair of me to tell you to cut out your family. That should have been your decision. All I want is for her to keep away from Alexis."

Edward sighed. "No, it wasn't wrong of you to ask me to. I'd cut them out a long time ago."

Bella gave him an amused look. "Cutting your family out of your life, that's messed up."

Edward shrugged. "Everything about this is messed up."

Bella didn't respond as she passed her fingertips gently over the neck of her cup.

"Why did you come here alone?" he asked.

"I'd just come from class and thought I'd stop off for a minute."

Edward was silent for a minute as he contemplated whether or not to voice his question.

"Oh, I just thought Sebastian would be with you," he said softly.

Bella looked at him but remained silent. Edward waited a moment for her to say something, and when she didn't, he continued.

"How are things between the two of you?"

Bella looked at him again, and Edward thought for sure she was about to ignore his question. Instead she answered, "Fine." She shrugged.

"Oh," was all Edward said in reply. He didn't know what that 'fine' meant.

Bella sighed. "Actually, we decided to just be friends."

Edward fought hard to keep the euphoria off his face. He was happy, and he couldn't deny it. At the same time, he hoped Bella wasn't sad about her breakup with Sebastian. He didn't want her to hurt at all.

"What happened?" he asked.

"He deserved better," Bella said simply.

"Better than you?" In his world, that didn't exist. "I'm sorry," he said.

"For what?"

"That it didn't work out with you and Sebastian."

"Yeah, right."

Edward let out a hard laugh. "No, really, I am. Even if I didn't like him, I still want you to be happy."

Bella gave him a small smile but didn't respond.

"This is nice," she said after a few minutes.


"Sitting here with you without the anger. If someone had asked me this time last year if I would be sitting with you in a coffee shop, I'd have said they were crazy. This reminds me of Florida. I guess it's lame right? To keep wishing for the past?"

"I don't think so. I find it hard to let go of it as well," Edward said. "I wish..." but he trailed off.

"You wish?"

"I wish I could go back and do it all differently."

"Makes no sense wishing for the past," Bella said. "What's done is done. It can't be undone."

"No, but if you give me another chance, I could have the chance to do better."

Bella didn't respond. Silence seemed to be her good friend today.

Edward didn't know how to bring up the subject. He needed the right words, but at the present moment, they evaded him. Instead he went for a direct approach.

"Bella," he said softly. "I'm sorry we didn't make it before. Just please, give me one more chance. Just one more chance to prove to you that I've changed. I promise you, I won't mess it up. I will treat you the way you should have been treated."

She seemed surprised by his sudden intensity, but she didn't seem to lock him out right away so that was a good sign.

"I don't know," Bella said. Edward could see the uncertainty on her face. It wasn't a no, so he held onto that positive thought.

"Just one more chance. That's all I ask. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't. I love you, and I need to make it right."

Bella didn't say anything.

"How about we take it slow?" he suggested. "Instead of just jumping back into a romantic relationship, we start off as friends. Just like we were in the beginning in Florida. Except this time, I don't mess everything up."

"Friends?" Bella asked, contemplating his proposal.

Edward nodded as he held his breath, waiting for her answer.

Bella was silent as she thought it over. Seeing her dilemma gave him hope. If he'd asked her this a few months ago, her answer would have been a flat out no. If she was taking the time to really consider it, it meant some part of her wanted this as well.

After a few moments, Bella smiled, as she said, "Okay. We can give it one more try."

Eat, sleep, work.

Eat, sleep, work.

Eat, sleep, work.

That was all Edward's life consisted of lately. During the day, he tried to keep himself busy. Making proposals, going over investments. His goal was to keep his mind occupied, because at night, when his body couldn't take any more exhaustion, and he finally lay down in bed, that was when the loneliness crept in and the nightmares started.

In the beginning, the nightmares consisted mainly of recaps of all the horrible things he'd done to Bella. All his sins were laid bare in his unconscious state where he couldn't brush it aside. Lately though, he'd been remembering things from his childhood as well. Memories he'd repressed for years were finally coming to the surface, leaving him in a fearful and sweat soaked state. The emptiness that took over after he woke almost made the nightmares better.

Where his personal life seemed to be in disarray, Edward's business life continued to flourish. Having been granted more provisions and opportunities than the average person, Edward was able to experience great economic growth— even without Carlisle's recommendations. But at this point, Edward would have gladly traded it all if he could have Bella back. He now understood what people meant when they said money couldn't buy happiness.

After a long meeting of overseeing projects and brainstorming new ideas, Edward was finally packing up to head home for the day. Laurent, who was Chief Operating Officer of Edward's company, was the only other person in the room. Whereas Laurent was excited about a new business the company had acquired, Edward remained uninterested.

"What's bugging you?" Laurent asked, finally catching on to Edward's cold demeanor.

"Nothing," Edward muttered as he gathered up his files.

"You should be happy. S and S accepted the deal. Four other companies lodged proposals, and they accepted yours. You should be celebrating."

Edward didn't respond.

"Brrr," Laurent said. He was really beginning to get on Edward's nerves, but remembering that he was the best at what he did kept Edward from firing him on the spot.

Despite his constant loneliness, Edward found himself not interested in being around company. It was as though the loneliness had been cut into Bella's shape, and no one else could fit in it.

Sensing his lack of response, Laurent left him alone. Once the door closed behind him, Edward pulled out his phone and called Jenks for his daily update. So far, all of it had been disappointing, but Edward still called every day.

"Anything?" Edward asked as soon as Jenks had answered.

"No, sir," Jenks replied, working hard to keep the exasperation out of his voice. Jenks was growing entirely frustrated with his lack of progress on the case, and at Edward's continued persistence. Edward knew that Jenks was annoyed with his constant calls. He also knew Jenks was beginning to doubt that Bella had survived the fall, but Jenks knew better than to tell Edward that. Without anything else to say, Edward hung up. The lack of news hadn't come as a surprise.

Edward was reluctant to go home, out of fear of the solitude, but there was nowhere else in the world he would feel comfortable. At least he could mourn in the comfort of his own house without having to see anyone's disapproving glances.

Walking through the front door, he was again struck by the emptiness of it. He'd thought about downgrading to something smaller, but he doubted it would help. He would still be a victim of the same loneliness, just in a smaller space.

The house was quiet. Only one of the maids had remained behind to finish dinner. Edward had requested that they left him alone once they were done. They hated him for what he'd done to Bella, and he knew it.

"Good evening, Mr. Cullen," she said as he walked into the kitchen.

"Good evening," Edward replied as he recognized her.

Edward had never really payed much attention to housekeepers, but this one he knew well.

"Eryn, right?" Edward asked.

He knew that Eryn and Bella had been really close when Bella was here. All of the workers had been questioned in regards to Bella's disappearance, and all of them had vehemently denied knowing where she was. Deep down, Edward suspected that Eryn knew where Bella was. She'd been away for some time, and this was the first time that Edward was seeing her since Bella had ran.

"Yes," Eryn replied, answering his question. She looked at him confused.

"You were friends with Bella when she was here," Edward stated. "I know you know where she is."

Eryn didn't look up from where she was pulling a dish out of the oven.

"As I told your security, I don't know where she is." Her voice was hard as she replied. There was a definite chasm between the two of them. Even though she wasn't allowed to voice her hatred for him, she found other ways of getting it across.

"I can ruin your life," Edward threatened. "I can make it so you never work here again."

Eryn looked him square in the eyes as she said, "You can do whatever you want. It still won't change the fact that I don't know where she is."

Edward breathed out slowly as he looked away from her. He was desperately trying to calm himself down.

"Is she alive?" he asked.

When Eryn looked at him, he could see a subtle change in her face. "I don't know," she said, and for some strange reason, Edward believed her. Whether or not she knew the truth about Bella's disappearance, at the present moment, she didn't know whether or not Bella was still alive. Edward felt his hope dashed. All evidence seemed to suggest that he truly would never see her again. The thought nearly brought him to his knees.

"Why did she have to leave?" Edward asked softly, mainly to himself.

"Did you really expect her to stay?" Eryn asked as she looked at him. "I've known Bella for a lot less time than , and even I wasn't surprised she left. Did you really just expect her to take it without a fight?"

Edward knew this was Eryn's subtle way of telling him that she would never tell what she knew.

"Where is she?" Edward asked again. He was teetering on the edge. He didn't want to hurt her, but his desperate need to have Bella back, or at least know what happened, was beginning to overrule his judgement.

Eryn turned away from him again, as she washed her hands. "You can do whatever it is you want with me. Truthfully, I'm glad she's free from here. She deserved better. Wherever she is, I'm sure she's better off there than here."

He knew she was right, but he failed to accept it. Whether or not Eryn knew, Edward couldn't say for certain, but one thing he did know was that she wasn't going to tell him anything. Regardless of what he did to her. He'd underestimated just how close the two had become in the short time that Bella had been here.

"Goodnight, Mr. Cullen," Eryn said stiffly as she turned to leave. Edward didn't reply as she walked out the door.

He wanted it to be just right. If they were starting out as just friends, then the first time they went out together in four years wasn't a date. It was two friends spending time together. Bella had work and school during that first week, so Edward never really got to spend much time with her. The following Friday evening, after she'd finished her last class, he met her outside her school's campus.

While waiting in his car, Edward took several deep breaths to try and calm himself down, but it was futile. This is what he'd been hoping for over the last several years. A chance to try again with Bella. To show her that he'd changed. He was determined not to mess it up.

At a few minutes to eight, Edward saw Bella finally emerge from the campus. Taking one last deep breath, he got out of his car. He'd parked beside her truck, so when she was a few feet from it she noticed him.

Edward's chest swelled when she smiled slightly in surprise when she spotted him.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. Edward was pleased again that she only sounded surprised and not angry. This was a good sign. She really was giving him another try.

"You said we could be friends," Edward replied. "So as a friend, I'm inviting you to go out with me for gelato."

"Gelato?" she asked.

Edward could see from her face that she didn't have the slightest clue what he was up to.

"Yes. We can get your favourite flavour over at Paolini's."

Now Bella looked really confused. "Paolini's? Did you hit your head or something? We're in Forks. Paolini's is all the way back in Florida."

Edward laughed. "I know. You said you wished we could go back to how it was in Florida. Well, this is our chance. We're going all the way back, except this time, I won't mess it up."

"I see."

"So, are you coming?"

"Okay, but I have to call Renee and let her know I'll be a little late," Bella said, as she got into Edward's car through the door that he held open.

"Don't worry. I already took care of it. Alexis just asks that we bring her back some," Edward said, as he got in on the driver's side and started the car. "I'll have Dean carry your truck home as well."

"Doesn't he need the key?"

Edward gave her a sideways look. "Not really," was all he said. He was glad when she didn't ask more.

"So was class with Mr. Kennedy?" Edward asked as he pulled away from the school.

Bella gave him another confused look before she understood. Mr. Kennedy had been their history teacher in Florida. Quickly catching on, she decided to play along.

"It was fine. Jessica fell asleep again, as per usual, and almost fell out of her chair." Bella fought hard to keep the smile off her face. "How was economics with Mrs. Joseph?"

Edward shrugged. "Good. Hard to pay attention when she keeps changing topic every few minutes."

On they went like that until they reached outside a small ice cream shop in Port Angeles. Bella had been there once before with Alexis. As far as she knew, they didn't serve gelato. Just the regular ice cream.

When Edward pulled up in front of it, he watched with a smile as Bella's eyebrows pulled together in confusion.

"You didn't," she said.

He didn't respond as he got out of his car and went to open the door for her.

As she got out of the car, Bella couldn't seem to take her eyes away from the sign hanging above the door which read "Paolini's." The sign was an exact replica of the one that hung over Paolini's in Florida.

Prior to that evening, Edward had spent the entire week calling in favours to have the little ice cream shop transformed into an exact replica of the gelato shop in Florida that he and Bella had frequented in their teen years.

When they walked inside, Bella paused again. Just like the exterior, the interior had been redone to resemble the original Paolini's in Florida. The chairs, tables, colour paint and art on the wall were all exact copies. Edward even had the owner of Paolini's in Florida flown out to Forks for the special occasion.

"Edward, Bella," he said with a smile as they walked in. He was the proof that they weren't in Florida. Mr. Paolini had definitely aged with time. However, with his bright smile and the twinkle in his eyes, he still had the same exuberant personality that affected the room so much; it felt like nothing had changed.

Bella's eyes widened and her jaw dropped when she saw him.

"Mr. Paolini?"

"The one and only," Edward said, as he took her hand and led her to where the man stood. She was still in shock.

"What are you doing here?" she asked with a laugh as Mr. Paolini went around the counter to give her a hug.

"Edward invited me out here. Said he wanted to recreate something of your past. I'm flattered that I was instilled in your memory so much that you'd want to recreate it."

After shaking hands with Edward, Mr. Paolini went back around the counter to grab a spoon and two cups.

"Pesca and crema?" he asked.

"You remembered?" Bella asked.

"I always remember my favourite customers."

"Why did you do all this?" Bella asked Edward while Mr. Paolini was busy scooping out the gelato.

Edward shrugged. "This was when you were happiest. I was going to rent out the entire place so we could be alone, but I figured that would qualify too much as a date," Edward explained as they took their gelato and found an empty seat close to the door.

"Well thank you," Bella replied. "It really was nice meeting Mr. Paolini again, and I've been craving some gelato for a long time."

"I'm glad you like it."

To Edward, this moment felt more like a dream. An impossible dream that a small part of him was afraid to fully enjoy out of fear that he would wake up. For a long time he'd wanted this; now he had it. That monster inside of him that had ruled his judgment for a long time was no longer present. Edward had buried it, and he hoped to keep it buried forever.

For the first time in a long time, Edward was able to have a normal conversation with Bella, but they teetered on the edge. They never spoke of the hard stuff, and as much as Edward wished they could really erase the past, he knew that they couldn't. They had to talk about it eventually. Ignoring the issue didn't make it go away. It just prolonged the time until it had to be dealt with.

It was Bella that brought it up first, for which Edward was glad. He wanted to talk, but was too afraid of bringing up the elephant in the room.

"Did you date anyone while I was gone?" Bella asked, as she swirled the last bit of gelato around in the cup. She used to do the same thing when they'd gone to the original Paolini's in Florida. It was a sign that she had something on her mind.

Before Edward could answer, she added, "What you did while I was gone is your business, but I was just curious." Edward could see that that was not true. She did care. Despite everything, deep down, she still saw him as hers, the same way he saw her as his.

"There was never anyone after you," Edward said. Bella looked at him—shocked.

"Never? Not even a date?" Bella asked.

Edward shook his head. "I knew for a long time that you were the only person for me. Even if you were gone, I still felt like I belonged to you somehow."

Bella seemed taken aback by his admission.

"Why is that so hard to believe?" he asked.

"I don't know, because you're you."

"Yes," Edward replied. "I am me, and when I fall, I fall hard. I did with you."

"Do you ever think sometimes that maybe we're better off separated? That maybe we were just never meant to be?"

Edward looked at her as if she'd spoken in a foreign language.

"Never mind," Bella said.

"I do think of that. I also think it's selfish for me to want to be with you. I also think you deserve much better than me."

Bella didn't respond which made Edward wonder what she was thinking. He was afraid his intensity would scare her away. When several minutes had passed, and she didn't bolt for the door, Edward took that as a good sign. Then again, he did drive her there so unless she planned on hitchhiking back to Forks, she was stuck with him.

"Maybe all of this would be easier if I was one of your literary heroes?" Edward asked with a smile.

Bella looked up confused. "Why?"

"They're perfect."

Bella laughed. "No they are not, and that's why I like them. They all have their flaws. Whether it's their personality, like with Heathcliff or Angel, or they come with extra baggage like Mr. Darcy and Mr. Rochester. Or the universe just seems to be plotting against them like Jude. That imperfection makes them who they are. As yours does with you and mine does with me. Love means accepting the full package, I guess."

"I'm glad you didn't. That you didn't accept all my bad."

Bella smiled in response.

"So am I."

You can find me on Twitter XxMementoMorix

Special thanks to BelleDuJour and kitchmill.