Pop the Question Contest Entry

Title: Fourth Time's a Charm

Word Count (without the A/n and header):6512

Pairing: Bella/Edward

Rating: T

Summary: Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity. ~Henry Van Dyke

Warnings: N/A

Fourth Time's a Charm

Sitting in the new 'luxury' recliner my son-in-law had recently purchased, I gazed over to the towering tree, sparkling and twinkling with so many lights, each on their own random schedule, it was making me a little dizzy and nauseated. I could vaguely see our old star perched at the top of the tree, looking down at all the over the top decorations and garlands, appearing a little worse for wear next to all the sparkly baubles. The star had been passed on to me by my father, and I passed it along to Lucy when she'd started her own family, hoping to keep at least one tradition in these crazy times of overindulgent commercialism.

I wasn't sure if she was just humoring me, because I was visiting this year, or if they used the star each year when they assembled their monstrosity of a fake tree. Oh, no. No fresh tree would do. Not with Maggie and Alec's allergies to everything under the sun. I loved my grandchildren, but times had changed and I couldn't understand the fast-paced, hyper-allergenic world we now were forced to live in.

I used to love the holidays, but after my Edward passed on a couple of years ago, it just wasn't the same. It seemed overbearingly noisy and gave me the feeling of claustrophobia with the excitement of my grandchildren rushing around to open presents that were too expensive, and most likely contributing to the volume level rising in the cavernous family room where we were forced to open presents. I missed sitting in our small front room, sitting by the fireplace while Edward and I would drink coffee watching as Lucy opened up her books and sleds, dolls and puzzles. Everything now seemed electronic and extremely confusing to my aged mind.

Usually after spending three days with my daughter's family I was ready to head back home to Florida to enjoy the warmth and solitude of my life there. But here I was, sitting alone in the family room on Christmas Eve while Lucy, Jared and the kids went over to their neighbor's house for an open house. I'd chosen to stay here, not needing to be surrounded by a gaggle of noisy, obnoxious children and a slew of conversations I wouldn't even be able to hear through the feedback in my hearing aid.

I wasn't quite ready for bed, so I sat back, pushing the button to extend my legs in the chair and gazed up at that old star. The star that held so many dear memories for me from my full and rich life.

My mind drifted back to Dad, all those years ago, when I would go out with him in search for the perfect tree that would usually be a foot too tall or a little too wide to fit in the tiny alcove in our living room. But he indulged me all the same, taking it back outside if it didn't fit to whittle it down until it did. We'd stop at the diner for hot cocoa when we returned into town in an attempt to warm ourselves up after spending hours wandering the tree farm. He'd let me stay up late, listening to his old Christmas albums on the record player while we dug through the ornament boxes. He'd tell me a story behind each decoration we'd place on the tree. Some were places he'd been when he was in the army; others were ones he'd gotten as gifts when he was a kid. Finally, when we were all finished, he'd pick me up in his strong arms and let me put the star on the top, reminiscing about how his own father would do the same for him. I loved listening to his deep timbered voice, telling me wistful tales of his life before I came along. Before mom dumped me on his doorstep the day before my sixth birthday, saying she couldn't be tied down to a child any longer. She'd never even told my dad she was pregnant when she took off after high school; he was floored with the news, but never once doubted my paternity.

Everyone I met that first year said I was his spitting image, both looks and personality wise. The first six years of my life were a bit of a blur, moving from one place to another and never really settling down, until at long last I ended up with my dad, probably where I should have been all along. It took us a bit to figure one another out, but with our similar quiet demeanor, we fell into a comfortable rhythm that eventually transformed into my total adoration of the man.

Of course if my mom had never left me with my dad, I never would have met Edward, and I would never have had Lucy or my spirited grandkids. It sure seemed as if fate had things mapped out for me all along.

The sound of my old grandfather clock chiming in the other room made me focus back on the present when an ornament hanging from the tree caught my eye.

With a lot of struggling I was finally able to close the footrest of the ridiculously large recliner to wander closer to see what was calling out to me, like a siren from the sea.

Pulling the glasses off the top of my head, I peered at a porcelain ornament that showed two children playing dress up as bride and groom in front of a dog as a minister.

Like a tidal wave of sadness, I felt my tears flow down my cheeks at the memory triggered from the small trinket. I knelt down, softly fingering the image that reminded me of my late husband and wept, missing him so much. Even more so during the holidays.

"Mom?" Lucy called from behind me, rushing to put her arms around my frail shoulders, lifting me from my stooped position and onto the sofa nearby.

"I'm fine," I scoffed, wiping the evidence of my breakdown from my cheeks. I was embarrassed to not have even heard her come home.

"It was the ornament, wasn't it?" she asked softly, grasping my bony hand into hers. "Dad gave that to me a few years ago. Said he saw it once and it reminded him of the first time he asked you to marry him."

I could hardly believe my little girl remembered the stories I used to tell her about how her father and I met and eventually got married.

"Dad loved the story almost as much as you." Lucy smiled, asking me to tell her the story again. A fairytale about how sometimes love is destined to be if you have enough patience to wait for it. "You haven't told me that story in years. Please?" she urged, her eyes getting wide with excitement, reminding me of how amazingly curious and smart she was as a child.

"I haven't let myself think about that much, since your dad died. Let's see if I can get through it for you, shall we?" Patting her knee twice, I gazed past all the disco ball tree's lights, focusing on that old star and began telling her about the first time her dad asked me to marry him.

~~**OO**~~

"Edward and Bella, sitting in a tree. K.I.S.S.I.N.G…," I heard Jessica singing as she hung upside down from the monkey bars, swinging back and forth.

"Ew, Jess. No way." I cringed, dropping off the jungle gym to go slide. I never liked that mean old Edward Masen. He was always tugging on my pigtails when he sat behind me and called me brace-face. No way was I ever going to kiss that yucky boy.

"Well, you know you have to marry someone. It's the rules if you want to play." Her sing song voice shouted over the noisy din of a playground filled with rowdy second graders. With a quick twirl, she was now standing on the ground a few feet away from me, eying me curiously, "You know he likes you, right? I mean, he stares at you during reading group and tells all boys that you're stupid."

Stopping in my tracks, I glared at her, wondering why someone calling me stupid would mean they wanted to kiss me.

"My mom says when boys are mean they really just want to be your boyfriend-"

She stopped talking abruptly when the boys from our class wandered over to where most of us girls were. We did not play together. They had cooties after all.

Once Jessica had explained the rules behind the marriage game, everyone was forced to couple up, most of us against our will.

The girls huddled up on one side of the playground while the boys milled around, trying to decide how best to choose their wife for this session of recess.

My eyes grew large when I saw who was headed in my direction, but I was cornered against the paddleball wall and had nowhere to run to.

"So, um…Bella," Edward stammered, dragging the toe of his converse sneaker around in the dusty earth, not looking in my eyes, "so, do you want to marry me? You know, for the game." He shrugged in the direction of all the other kids mingling around.

As uncomfortable as he looked, I still didn't want to marry him, game or no game. "Ew, no. I mean, you don't even have a pool like Eric or a ping pong table like Mike," I replied, trying to say the things I thought Jessica would have said if Edward had asked her. She was always going on about the importance of having someone who could take care of you, but I had my dad, and couldn't figure out why she was so worried about it.

His green eyes widened in surprise at my rejection, then turned down towards the ground. "Oh, okay. Well, maybe someday I'll have those things and you'll say yes," he mumbled, turning away and sulking off towards the swings, fueling my own sense of shame as he pumped his legs faster and faster to get him into the sky.

"So are you and Edward getting married with the rest of us?" Jessica shouted from the top of the slide before winding her way down to the bottom near where I stood.

I felt my face flame with embarrassment, realizing I'd rejected the only boy on the playground who'd come up to me, "No. I don't want to play this stupid game," I shouted, stomping off toward the door to the school even though I knew we still had a few minutes left in recess. I didn't know it then, but that wouldn't be the only time Edward Masen would ask me to marry him.

~~**OO**~~

"I can't believe you rejected him like that, Mom. I mean, he was so cute and shy."

Patting her hand, I grinned over at my only child, the girl who had completely stolen her father's heart from me the moment she was born. I never did recapture it fully, but I had to admit the way he loved our little Lucy made the affection I had for the man grow exponentially.

"You didn't like boys when you were in second grade either, if I recall correctly." I raised my brow, silently asking her if she wanted me to continue.

Rolling her eyes dramatically at me, she gently placed her head on my shoulder, sighing contentedly before asking, "And the second time. Tell me that one too."

~~**OO**~~

We'd just pulled up behind the old church on Main Street, parking in the back of the darkened lot.

"Bella, you know I love you, right?" Edward's shy question was one he asked whenever he was feeling especially nervous about something.

"We already talked about this. I'm ready, you're ready. Can we just get in back now?" We'd been dating for almost two years but hadn't taken that next step in our relationship. We were both virgins and had decided to finally do it in the most cliché way possible, after prom our senior year. To say I was getting impatient would have been an understatement. I didn't understand why he kept stalling on moving our relationship forward. Every time we'd get close to the Promised Land, he would excuse himself, leaving me high and dry and usually panting for air.

"I just want to make sure, babe. You only lose it once, and I wish I could have gotten us a room at the Lodge, but I had to pay my deposit for Georgetown-" Shutting him up, I leaned in and kissed him with everything I had, trying to get him as worked up as I'd been for the last few months. He was a teenage boy; this was supposed to be the other way around. I appreciated his chivalry and thoughtfulness, but enough was enough. I didn't care that we couldn't afford some stupid motel room with candles and rose petals. From what I knew about the first time, I would be lucky if I got any enjoyment out of the act and if he lasted longer than three thrusts.

Hey, I did my research.

Okay, listening to girls talk about it in the bathroom at school was better than an encyclopedia sometimes.

"I swear to God, if you don't open the hatch to the back, and take that tux off, I'm going to break up with you." Yes, a tad dramatic, but I was seventeen and sexually frustrated.

Not waiting for him to get out and open the door, I walked around to the back of his mom's old wood paneled station wagon. Yanking the door, I started spreading the blanket out, trying to make the experience as comfortable as possible. I knew he really wanted to be the romantic and wait until we could do it in a bed, but it felt like someone was always at home whenever we tried to be alone.

I felt his hand drift down my back where the dress was open, making my skin pebble with goose bumps, but I couldn't be sure if it was from the cool evening or the anticipation of what we were about to do.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered, kissing me on my neck right behind my ear. The spot he knew would make me shiver and leave me breathless.

I felt his trembling fingers tug down the zipper to my dark blue satin confection of a dress.

"You're sure?"

"Edward!" I huffed, spinning around to trap him against the tailgate and kissed him with every ounce of assurance I had.

While our lips were busy, my fingers found the hook and eye to the matching navy bow tie, releasing it so I could unbutton his tuxedo shirt with fumbling fingers.

My impatience got the best of me, and I tugged the bottom half of his shirt open, scattering the remaining tiny black studs through the parking lot.

Edward's smooth hands pushed the straps of my dress down over my shoulders, kissing me tenderly when my dress finally dropped to the ground, leaving me standing in just my panties and heels.

Suddenly feeling exposed, we both knelt on the hatch, our mouths still connected, hands roaming over bare skin. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my dress thrown towards the front of the car, while Edward tried to shimmy out of his pants, his legs kicking in the air to get them off faster.

We both glanced at the other and burst out laughing. Fueled by our nervousness, we both took a moment to just appreciate where we were.

"I always imagined we'd be doing this in a bed-"

"It doesn't matter. As long as it's with you, we could be doing this in a snow bank and I wouldn't care."

"Lucky for you, I have the super stylish Buick Electra for your reclining pleasure," Edward commented, knowing how awful we thought his mom's car was.

There wasn't much talking after that. Edward tried to be slow and gentle, but there was really only one speed when it came to a teenage boy. The entire experience ended before I could even get past the wince factor. Of course he apologized profusely, but it was over and done with, and I was glad it was with someone who I loved and trusted, because it really was a messy and painful experience that I was happy to not have to repeat again in my lifetime.

Resting his forehead against mine, I was shocked when instead of hearing I love you after the deed was done, I was confronted with, "Marry me?" Point blank. No flowery words to go along with it. It was barely worded as a question, more like a statement of fact.

"What? No," I exclaimed, pushing him off of me. I mean as much as I thought about marrying him, we were going to separate colleges in a few months, and if there was one thing my dad hammered into my head, it was 'don't get married, and don't get pregnant. You have too much potential for that right now.'

Trying to smooth over my harsh words I said, "I love you, but I can't marry you. Those are your hormones talking. We're young and we have so much to experience yet. I'm sorry, but no."

"Jeez, I was just kidding." He chuckled, but I couldn't help but see the disappointment in his eyes at my flat-out rejection of his offer.

Leaning over, I kissed him, trying to get us back to where we were only a few moments ago. I didn't want our night to be ruined because I wasn't ready to settle down and have babies with him.

Edward ended our kiss quickly, sitting up to pull my dress from where it landed in the front seat. Handing it to me he tersely said, "Come on, let's get dressed. I promised your dad I'd have you home by two."

He slipped his coat jacket over my shoulders before opening the passenger door to let me in. I tugged it close to ward off the chill, and was surprised when I felt the small square box in the pocket. I never told him I knew he wasn't joking around that night. I never saw the ring he'd picked out, but from the shape and size, I knew what it was. I felt bad he'd spent money on something that I couldn't accept, but I really didn't want to marry him right then, and I wasn't sure where our future was headed.

~~**OO**~~

"Oh my God, Mom, waaaaay too much information. The last time you told me that, you said he asked you after prom. I didn't know you lost your virginity too. Eww." My daughter shuddered beside me, looking more embarrassed than I'd seen her in quite some time.

"Sorry sweetie. I guess I forgot that version." Smiling over at her scrunched up face, I continued, "It's not like you don't know where babies come from."

"Still. Did not need to know that, Mom."

"Did you want me to continue or are we done now?" I asked softly, wishing that she wanted me to continue, my memories of her father now flooding my consciousness.

"Now that part's out of the way, I can't see how it could get any worse," she mumbled. "You might as well keep going. It's been too long since I heard it."

~~**OO**~~

I'd been antsy all day, trying to figure out the best way to tell Edward my good news, and by the time he arrived to take me out to dinner to celebrate our graduation, I still hadn't come up with a magical way of doing it. I knew he'd be happy, proud and excited, but a piece of me was also worried he wouldn't understand the importance of it to me.

I'd kept the whole thing a secret, not wanting to share my disappointment with everyone when it failed to come to fruition, but now that it had, I wasn't sure how to share the fantastic news.

"Hi, beautiful," he murmured into my lips, sealing his words with a heated kiss.

"If you keep doing that, we're going to be late for our reservation."

"I haven't seen you for almost a week; we have ten minutes, don't we?" He laughed at my less than amused response to his suggestion. Generally, I'd be up for a quickie before going out, but tonight, Edward had gotten us a reservation at Tavern on the Hill, a ritzy place I was sure he had to use every connection he had to get us a table. It usually took months to get a reservation there, but he'd managed it in the span of two weeks once the finals schedule had been posted for us both.

Our schedules hadn't meshed all week up until tonight, and even though we'd been together off and on while we both attended college, I still missed him when I didn't get to see him every few days or so. You'd think Georgetown and American University were separated by an ocean sometimes at the lack of time we had for one another this past semester. But Edward was working as a clerk on the Hill and I'd been interning along with taking classes. In essence, any time we did have for one another was usually spent jointly studying at one of our apartments or sleeping.

Romantic, right?

The taxi pulled up in front of the restaurant, and I waited for Edward to come around and open my door. Something I knew he liked to do. Taking my hand, he led me through the revolving door and into the restaurant.

The lighting was dim, surrounded by lush dark woods and brass accents, the smells coming from the kitchen had my mouth watering before we were even seated.

"Hello, Mr. Masen. Representative Cope wanted to make sure you were well taken care of this evening," the Maitre d' said, escorting us to a table in the back, a bottle of champagne chilling in a tableside set up.

Sitting down, we watched as the waiter made quick work of the cork, barely making a sound as he opened the bottle, pouring us each a glass before disappearing, saying he would be back to take our orders in a bit.

"Cheers, honey. Congratulations," Edward said, clinking my glass with his own.

I knew I should be discussing my future with him right now, but for some reason, I wanted to wait, telling myself we should enjoy the meal before discussing such weighty issues. Give us a little time to bask in the moment of our four years of hard work before examining what came next.

"You too. It's been a long four years."

We discussed our upcoming graduation ceremonies, a formality at this point, which was coming up over the weekend; when my Dad and Edward's parents would drive down to see us walk across the stage to accept our well-earned diplomas. It was too bad our ceremonies were too close together for either of us to see the other graduate. Tonight was supposed to be just for us, before the hustle and bustle of relatives and loved ones descending upon our little DC bubble.

After eating dinner, I was surprised when the waiter placed a plate with the most delectable dessert I'd ever seen in front of me.

Edward knew the way to my heart was through chocolate.

Looking down to take a bite, I saw that surrounding the plump raspberry garnishing the top of my cake was a diamond engagement ring shining up at me.

Shit.

There, kneeling on the floor of this very fancy restaurant with all the other diners watching with rapt attention was Edward, his hand outstretched to take my own.

"Edward, get up. Get off the floor, please," I begged softly, not wanting to have to embarrass him further.

I wasn't sure if he didn't hear me, or was just ignoring my plea.

"Bella, we've been through a lot these last six years. We've shared a lot of firsts and hopefully a lot of lasts as well. Now that we're headed into a great big world of unknown, I'd really love it if you would share the next adventure with me. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?"

Tears sprung to my eyes at his emotional proposal that I knew deep down I'd have to refuse.

Taking the ring off of the berry, he looked shocked when I closed my hand into a fist, refusing to allow him to place the beautiful ring onto my finger.

"Bella?" His eyebrows were furrowed, his handsome face masked with confusion.

"Sit down. Please?" I asked softly, wiping my tears away. I wasn't sure if my refusal would be the end of us, or not, but confession time was upon me.

Before I could even reply our waiter was by our sides, pouring us more champagne and congratulating us on a wedding that wouldn't happen. Edward graciously thanked him behind pursed lips and a tight grimaced smile.

"You're seriously refusing me?" he asked, not even trying to hide his annoyance.

"I am." I put my finger up to silence the protest I knew was going to quickly follow. "I have some news that I wanted to share with you tonight too, but I never expected you to propose, or I would have told you sooner."

Grabbing my purse, I tugged out a letter from Oxford University and handed it to him, urging him to read its contents.

His jaw dropped when he came to the part that I'd been offered a Rhodes Scholarship for the next two years.

"That's fantastic," he exclaimed, jumping up from his chair to come around the table and kiss me. "Why didn't you tell me you applied? I thought you were going to stay at American to do your post grad work?"

"I honestly didn't think I'd have a chance in hell. I applied as a fluke, when Professor Cullen suggested it. I never in a million years thought I'd be going to the UK next year."

He sat back down, sighing heavily before saying, "I'm happy for you, but I still don't understand why you can't do both. Marry me and be a Rhodes Scholar?"

"We've barely been able to keep our relationship going while we were in the same city. How are we going to do it from across the ocean? It's not like I can call you whenever I want. I wouldn't be able to afford it." I didn't want us to break up, but how do you keep going when you can only talk to the other person in increments of ten minutes every other week? That wasn't a relationship.

"Come on, we'll figure something out. Please, wear my ring. Say you'll marry me? Even if I have to wait three years before we can actually do it. I'm not opposed to a long engagement-"

Ah, my politician in the making boyfriend. Always trying to sway the votes.

"Can't we just agree to see how the next two years go? I don't want to tie you down. Hell, I don't know if I want to be tied down." My hand was shaky as it picked up the champagne glass to take a sip. I had a feeling I pretty much just broke Edward's heart with my words, but sometimes you needed to be brutally honest to get through to him.

"So that's it?" His voice was trembling, anger simmering beneath his calm façade. "Let's just be friends? Is that next on your agenda? Cause if it is, I don't really want to be around for it."

Pulling out his wallet, he threw three hundreds onto the table and stalked toward the door, grumbling that I could catch my own cab if I wanted my freedom so badly.

Jumping up from my chair, I ran after him, grabbing his arm just as he lifted it to hail a cab.

"Edward, please," I begged, but for what I wasn't sure.

"Bella, just go home," he said with a heavy sigh. "Have a nice graduation and I'll talk to you soon, okay? This just wasn't how I thought tonight was going to go. I'm really happy about your scholarship, but I need to go." Without kissing me goodbye, he entered the taxi and left me standing on the sidewalk to wait for my own to take me home.

I hadn't cried that hard since my grandmother died five years ago. Only this time, I was mourning the loss of someone still living and breathing and who I still loved desperately, just not enough to sacrifice my own future for at the time.

~~**OO**~~

"I can't believe after such a romantic gesture you could still say no. Man, you really did break his heart, didn't you?" Lucy murmured, her head nestled in my lap as I ran my fingers through her long dark hair.

"Those were the longest two years of my life." I whispered, remembering how lonely my time abroad was.

Sitting up slightly, Lucy looked up at me with a wide grin. "He was a fighter though, wasn't he?"

"Yes, the great Senator Masen was definitely a fighter."

~~**OO**~~

I'd just come back to the apartment I shared with two other girls attending Oxford, to see a note on our tiny refrigerator stating that both Gemma and Kate were out having dinner and wouldn't be back till late.

Tugging the door open, I looked at my limited options of what to eat. Curry take-out or pasta from a couple days ago.

I really needed to get to the store for groceries, but my schedule this semester was brutal, leaving me barely enough time to study and sleep.

Putting the leftover curry in a pan on the stove, I leaned heavily on the counter top waiting for it to reheat. My mind drifted to the place it often did when I wasn't doing anything.

I missed Edward.

More than I would admit to anyone but myself. It was my own fault after what I did. After rejecting his proposal that night, it took us a long time to get back into our groove. He was hurt, embarrassed and didn't understand my need to stand on my own two feet before being taken care of by someone. My dad had wanted me to grow up independent, strong and able to handle things on my own, just in case life didn't turn out exactly as I'd planned. Life wasn't easy, and the only person you could count on unequivocally was yourself.

When I left for Oxford, Edward and I had decided to remain friends, keeping open the possibility of a reunion when my time here was up, but I wasn't sure if he would still be available by then.

We had written each other letters and called infrequently over the last year and a half, keeping our correspondence light and erring on the side of caution; it was about his job on the Hill and my studies, never about us or people who we were seeing.

Or weren't, in my case.

Not that I didn't find British men handsome, and with the accent, they were quite irresistible, but none of them were my Edward.

Rather, had been my Edward.

Pulling my dinner off the stove, I spooned it into a bowl and sat at our tiny table overlooking the building's garden, wishing I was home. That I was eating dinner with Edward, while he made some funny political joke that more than likely went over my head. I missed his warm arms, holding me in the night, keeping my fears and insecurities at bay. Here, I didn't have anyone but myself, which was what I thought I wanted, but as it turned out, not having anyone to lean on was lonely and a lot more stressful than I would have imagined.

The door buzzer rang, startling me out of my thoughts and I could only wonder which of my roommates had forgotten their key this time. They really weren't the most responsible of people, but they kept to themselves and were relatively neat, a combination that wasn't bad in the world of roommate roulette. You never knew what you were going to get when you were assigned someone by the housing department. I was thankful to have had a roof over my head and a kitchen to make dinner in for the past couple of years.

Pulling open the heavy wooden door my jaw dropped when I saw who was standing on the other side.

"Edward!" I screeched, slamming into him, almost causing us both to tumble to the ground.

Steadying us, he wrapped his arms around me and hugged me tightly, saying he was happy I was at home.

"What are you doing here? Why didn't you call and tell me you were coming? I'm so happy to see you," my mouth rambled in a continuous stream of commentary as I tugged him into my apartment.

Handing me a large bouquet of flowers, he smiled broadly, looking around the tiny space that had been my home since I left the States.

"I'm sorry I didn't call. Shelly gave me strict orders to take some time off, and since the House was on leave for the next two weeks, she shoved an airline ticket in my hand and told me to come here."

"Representative Cope bought you a plane ticket? Wow." My exclamation was quieted by Edward staring hungrily at me. Like he'd been without a meal for too long, and I was what was for dinner.

"Before we go any further, I need to ask. Are you seeing anyone?" he asked right before he put his hands on my hips, holding me at arm's length, not taking his predatory gaze off of me.

"God, no. Not since you. No." Shaking my head, I smiled. I'd barely gotten the no out of my mouth before his mouth was on mine. Hot and needy, exactly what I hoped for in a reunion kiss.

"I missed you. So much," he mumbled into my skin as we each tore the other person's clothes off on the way to my bedroom.

~~**OO**~~

"Mom, skip ahead. For the love of God, skip ahead," Lucy shouted from my side, and as much as my mind recalled the steamy time we had, I refrained from sharing our most intimate details, instead moving ahead to where I knew she wanted me to go.

~~**OO**~~

We lay side by side, my hands never ceasing their roaming, almost like they missed his skin as much as I had. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that with this man was where I belonged. He was my future. No matter where my life took me, I knew I'd want him by my side, rooting for me, cheering me up when I failed and giving me the children I never knew I wanted until right at that moment. I'd been so focused on being the independent woman; the thought of children hadn't really ever crossed my mind.

Sitting straight up, I looked down at the love of my life and blurted, "Marry me? Please. I'm sorry I rejected you, but I know now I don't want to live without you. Please. Marry me."

Edward didn't even bat an eye, his grin growing larger than life at my proposal before replying, "Oh, I don't know. It might just be the hormones talking, honey, are you sure?"

"You're using my words against me now?" I laughed, chucking my pillow at him. We wrestled for a moment until Edward had wrangled me onto my back, looking down at me with such warmth and love, I couldn't believe I'd ever been able to say no to him.

"Bella Swan, as much as I love the thought of your proposal, I did come here with a purpose."

Leaning up on my elbows, I watched as he dug through his backpack to pull out a peacock blue ring box.

"I flew over three thousand miles and have waited since the second grade to get this right." Kneeling beside the bed, wearing nothing but an ear to ear grin, he took my hand, pushing the sparkling teardrop solitaire ring gently onto my finger. "Bella, I've loved you for as long as I can remember. I love your beauty, your intelligence and kindness. But the thing I most love about you is your fierce independence and spirit for life. I realize I've been ready to make you my wife sooner than you were ready to admit. But I never once doubted you'd eventually end up wearing my ring. I only hope I can live up to be the man I know your father has told you to wait for. Please, let the fourth time be the charm, and agree to be my wife?"

"Yes. Absolutely, without a doubt." We kissed, but with the smiles neither of us could contain, our teeth met where our lips should have, causing us to laugh with childlike glee.

"I love you, Edward Masen. Forever and a day won't be long enough."

"And I love you, Bella Swan, soon to be Masen unless you're too modern for that and want to keep Swan," he said through his laughter.

~~**OO**~~

Lucy sighed contentedly beside me. "I love that story. I'm so glad you finally said yes."

"My life would never have been as happy or full if I hadn't," I whispered, kissing the top of her head like I used to do when she was a little girl. "I should probably go on up to bed. I imagine your brood will be up before dawn tomorrow waiting to see what Santa brought for them."

"Most likely." After she helped me up off the couch, we hugged for a moment. "I love you, Mom."

"I love you too, sweetie. See you in the morning." I slowly made my way up the stairs and into my grandson's bedroom, where I'd taken up residence for my stay.

Sitting heavily on the bed, I fingered the engagement ring I'd only taken off once, when I was pregnant with Lucy and my fingers swelled up too much for me to keep it on.

I missed my husband with everything I was, and while my time on earth wasn't over yet, I knew I would be seeing him again soon enough. And for now, that knowledge would have to keep my lonely heart at ease until we could be together again.

Like I did every night before I drift off to sleep, I whispered into the darkness, "I'll love you forever and a day."

And a piece of me knew Edward heard me and repeated it right back from wherever he was.

~~The End~~