Pop the Question Contest Entry

Title: Rules of Engagement

Word Count: 3,788

Pairing: Bella/Edward

Rating: M

Summary: Bella has rules regarding engagement. Edward may or may not adhere to them.

Warnings (if any): N/A

Rules of Engagement

Bella Swan believes there are two non-negotiable rules regarding engagement – the man who proposes must first ask her father for her hand in marriage and it must not happen on a holiday.

The first rule is partly due to Charlie Swan being a bit old-fashioned but also because Bella believes the ritual is sweet. When she was in high school, the idea of finding someone to love enough for a marriage – on either of their parts – was so foreign and yet she dreamt of the day a handsome man would knock on Charlie's door and proclaim so much love for her that he asked for permission to wed her. She hates the idea of "permission" though, so in her mind, she's amended the statement to ask for a blessing or something similar.

The second rule is the more important one. If there were more rules, it would be the most important one. She hates the idea of not having a day to call her own, of having to tell an engagement story where another holiday is mentioned. When Rosalie talks about the time Emmett proposed, she has to always say, "Well, it happened on Christmas." When Alice gushes about the time Jasper proposed, she begins the story with, "So, on my 28th birthday…"

She hates it. The thought of having to talk about the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve while remembering the day she gets a diamond on her finger makes her sick. It's an irrational hatred, she knows, but the fear it will happen looms over her head like a dark cloud that won't go away.

Edward knows her rules. Even though the relationship has seen its ups and downs, Bella knew from the moment he said, "Hello. I'm Edward Cullen. Can I buy you a drink?" at Rosalie's wedding where there was an open bar, that he'd be the one to propose and the one who would wait at the end of an aisle for her.

Of course, she didn't tell him immediately. That would have been cause for him to run away screaming but after years of dating and actual full-blown conversations regarding marriage and family and children, Bella let it slip that she had rules and had told him – quite seriously – what they were.

They're easy rules, really, so easy that Bella has always been confident that Edward, who is extremely smart both book-wise and street-wise, could follow them.

At the moment, she's scared she may have been wrong.

Ever since the first day of February, Edward has been acting strange. He constantly stares at her from the corner of his eye when he thinks she's not looking, like the morning of the 2nd, when Bella was cooking breakfast and felt a gaze on her back. When she turned, Edward's gaze shot down to his plate of pancakes and he began tapping his knife against the table. There was also the night of the 8th during a movie. It had been a movie they'd agreed on and one they both wanted to see but he just stared at her and fidgeted until she glanced over and he became a statue.

She's also noticed that he skulks around the apartment more often like he doesn't want her to know something. He peeks out into the hallway before walking out, jumps when Bella walks into a room a little too quietly. One time, he slammed a drawer shut when she walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom.

There's only one thing to do.

On the morning of the 11th, Bella clears her throat and Edward looks up from reading the newspaper that he insists be delivered despite subscribing to the electronic editions. "Edward."

"Morning, sweetheart." He smiles at her a little too broadly before going back to the news.

"Valentine's Day is coming up," she says slowly.

"Mm-hmm," he responds. "Don't worry; I know you're not a fan of it. I did get you something but I promise you'll like it and I swear I won't take you to a restaurant covered in red and pink." He looks up. "Actually, I was thinking we could order in and watch a movie. You know, a normal night."

"Okay."

A pregnant pause fills the room, filling the air with tension. Edward slowly lifts his head to meet Bella's intense gaze.

"Bella?"

"That's it, right? Dinner and a movie? At home?"

"Yes?" Edward frowns but shifts the slightest bit in his chair.

Bella notices. "Nothing else?"

"Were you… Expecting… Something else?" His voice goes up and down and it makes Bella's eyes narrow.

"No," she states firmly. "I just wanted to make sure nothing big was in your plans."

With a raise of an eyebrow, Edward smirks. "I'm sure there'll be something big." The ringing of his phone echoes from the living room and he stands quickly. "Hold your thoughts. I've been waiting for a call."

Bella watches him leave the room before leaning back against the counter. His answers haven't calmed her one bit. With a deep breath, she pushes off the counter and begins walking to the living room. She's just going to ask him, point blank, if his present is a ring. If it is, she'll flat-out remind him that Valentine's Day is a holiday and the biggest offense to her rule.

"Of course I'm nervous," Edward is hissing into the phone. "She could say no and do you know how fucked up I'd be?"

His words cause Bella to stop in her tracks.

"Well, I'm hoping she'll love it no matter what even if the timing isn't perfect."

Oh my God is all Bella can think.

"Of course there's a reason."

The worst thoughts enter Bella's mind. Clearly, he's going to propose but why now? Visions of disease, life-altering job changes, hell, she won't be surprised if he mentions visiting aliens at this point.

He knows he's not supposed to propose on a holiday so the fact that he's clearly planning to do so means something major is going to happen.

"Edward?"

"Gotta go," he says hurriedly into his phone. He hangs up and turns to her. "You need me?"

The words are on the tip of her tongue. Different words form in her mind so they're not as harsh as they could be but she can't force them out of her mouth. Instead, she walks to Edward and wraps her arms around his neck.

"I love you, you know that, right?"

The smile that forms on his face is wide. "I know."

"No matter what," she insists.

"I know?" His eyebrows draw together in confusion.

"I just wanted to make sure you knew that."

"I do, sweetheart."

I do.

Bella feels slightly sick, not because of the words, but because she really – really – does not want their journey toward those words to start on one of the most wretched holidays of the year. She knows that's probably a gross exaggeration. There are worse holidays out there, ones that don't really make sense, but Valentine's Day has always been one that Bella could take or leave. The overabundance of flowers and chocolates and red and diapered babies with bows and arrows makes her more than a little ill. Edward knows her feelings on February 14th so he usually gives her something small but meaningful and he doesn't mind keeping the day and night low-key.

The only thing she can think to say is, "Have a good day at work."

Four days later, it's Friday and Valentine's Day. Bella wakes up to kisses being left across the span of her back. A soft sigh escapes her mouth before a shudder races down her spine at the warm swipe of Edward's tongue over her skin.

"Morning," he says in a rough tone. His hand slides down Bella's stomach, moving from fabric to the bare skin of her thigh. Fingers skirt at the edge of her underwear. "A good morning, I see." He chuckles against her shoulder. "Or should it be that I feel?"

"Shut up." Bella snorts lightly at his antics but it breaks off into a moan when he curls his fingers inside of her. "But keep doing that."

Edward laughs again, a low sound that makes Bella's stomach clench. She rolls over, nudging him over with her shoulder and watches as he leans over her. His hand, slightly wet and very warm, tugs down her underwear until she can kick off the cotton. He parts her legs and slips into her heat, groaning at the way she surrounds him and pulls him in. The next moments are filled with deep breaths and muttered curses, slick thighs and scratching nails.

"Happy Valentine's Day," Edward groans into her neck while their bodies still shiver from release.

"Shut up," she murmurs, smacking him lightly on the shoulder. "Get up. I have to get ready for work."

"You're such a sweet talker after sex."

"You love it." Bella manages to squirm out from under him and stands from the bed. A smack across her ass makes her jump and look back.

"I love you." He waggles his eyebrows playfully. "Don't be late for our night in." He swallows, grimacing a bit, and Bella's heart starts pounding again.

She almost forgot.

"I won't." She bends down and smacks a loud kiss on his cheek. "Promise."

Hours later, Bella wishes she didn't make the promise and wishes that she wasn't seeing Edward fall apart in front of her. Granted, fall apart might be too big of a term, but she's never seen him like this – all nervous and wiping his palms on the thighs of his jeans and glancing around quickly like something is going to appear and take him away.

He keeps dropping things during dinner, which are burgers from their favorite joint down the street. The milkshakes are to die for so Bella doesn't care how many calories they have; she'll burn them off in bed with Edward, anyway. But the milkshake almost didn't make it into her hands because Edward almost dropped the cup. That was after he managed to spill a container of fries across the table – which he promptly scooped back onto a plate – and before he squirted a ketchup packet all over his hand because he ripped it too much.

"Edward, are you okay?" she can't help but ask when they finally sit on the couch with their food.

"What? Yeah, of course. Just… Nerves or something."

"Nerves," Bella repeats. "From what?"

He almost lurches forward onto the coffee table. "What?"

"Whoa, okay, calm down there, mister." Bella carefully takes his glass and sets it down on a coaster. "What is going on with you?"

Edward doesn't say anything. He just stares down at his plate, which contains delicious but boring-looking food. His shoulders move up and down as he takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. When he lifts his face up to look at Bella, he nods firmly.

"Would you mind if I gave you your gift now?"

Now it's Bella's turn to be flustered.

"Oh, I mean, now? Before we even eat? It's just, you usually, oh, okay," she lets out in one giant breath.

Edward's smile is wide for a quick second before he puts his plate down on the table with a clang. "Okay, wait here."

Before Bella can say another word, he rushes out of the room and down the hall to their bedroom. Bella leans over as far as she can in order to watch him but she can't see him anymore. She hears the sounds of drawers being shut and her heart races faster and faster with every passing second.

He appears in the doorway, his hands behind his back. He walks slowly down the hallway until he's in the living room again, his eyes on Bella the entire time. Bella can feel her heart pounding against her chest and she wants nothing more than to yell at it to shut up because this is going to be a defining moment in her relationship with Edward and she's not entirely sure what will come flying out of her mouth.

Maybe yes.

Maybe no.

Quite possibly - Are you insane? It's Valentine's Day!

Despite the nerves he displayed earlier, Edward drops to one knee calmly, fluidly, and with complete confidence. He brings his right hand out and reaches for her hand. Bella gives him her left hand, which is trembling. She feels like she can't breathe.

This feels so terribly wrong.

But it also feels perfectly right.

"Bella, I knew from the moment I met you that I'd love you forever. I know you feel the same way."

"I do," she whispers.

His grin widens. "You once told me that you never wanted to get engaged on a holiday."

Here it comes, she thinks. She won't be able to say no. Already, Bella is imagining the way she'll tell the story of their engagement. Every time someone asks, she'll have to begin with, "Well, on Valentine's Day…"

"So would you do me the extraordinary honor…"

Bella shuts her eyes and hears something rustle behind Edward.

"Of going on a two-week vacation with me?"

"Ye-what?"

Her eyes pop open to see a printed piece of paper in front of her. On it are the words VISIT TURKS AND CAICOS. Still unsure of what just happened, Bella grasps Edward's wrist and pushes it down so she can see his face. His lips are curved in a shit-eating grin.

"Edward." Her voice cracks on his name and she falls silent. Her heart is no longer beating a steady drum inside her chest but there's no elation in the fact that he hasn't proposed. She actually feels sort of numb.

He's not proposing.

He doesn't have a ring.

"Bella?" His voice is softer than earlier and his smile is smaller too. "Bella, what's wrong?"

"You're not proposing." Her voice cracks again and she closes her eyes once more.

"No," he answers slowly. His fingers are cool to the touch when he cups her cheek with his hand. "Well, not yet, anyway."

Her eyes open quickly again.

"I want you to enjoy my proposal, Bella. I know how you feel about getting engaged on a holiday. And Valentine's Day?" He rolls his eyes. "Thank you, I'd prefer my balls intact."

She laughs. Just like that, it's not a sad affair and she's actually relieved that she doesn't have to wear a diamond ring yet. She throws her arms around Edward and squeezes tightly – maybe a little too tightly.

"God, you know me so well."

The kisses he presses onto her neck are quick. "And I know you're a little bummed out right now. Why?" He pushes her back a little. "I thought you didn't want it to happen on a holiday."

"I didn't. I don't," she insists. She lets out a sigh. "But I sort of thought you were going to do it, so I've been, you know, building up to this moment and it just sort of shocked me."

Edward smiles as he pushes up from the floor to sit next to her on the couch again. "Sweetheart, I know you better than that. I thought you would know that."

"I think I did."

"Besides, I already have the perfect proposal planned out for you. And it's definitely not on a holiday."

Bella freezes. Her mouth opens and closes a few times before she can speak. "Seriously?"

"Yes, seriously."

"No, I mean, seriously?"

Edward frowns. "Yes?"

She smacks him on the chest. "You're going to tell me that? I'm going to freak out about this until it happens! Edward!"

He laughs loudly and pushes her back onto the couch. "Anticipation makes everything better, Bella."

"No, it doesn't." She's pouting but she doesn't care.

He trails a hand down her shoulder to the curve of her breast to her stomach where he lifts the hem of her shirt. "It sure does."

"No." Bella can't help the shiver that runs through her as Edward lets his fingers dance up her bare skin. "Edward."

"You never answered my question, Bella. Will you go on vacation with me?"

"Is that where you're proposing?" She lets out a squeak when he cups her breast and squeezes just the way she likes it.

"Maybe." He leans down and nips at her chin. "Maybe not. Now stop talking and anticipate what I'm going to do with you for the rest of the night."

"Wait, wait, wait," she manages to say between pants. "Before we do anything else."

"Mm-hmm?" Edward traces patterns on her stomach, moving his fingers closer and closer to her pants.

"I have a new rule. For proposing, I mean."

"Do you?" He flicks open the button of her pants and pulls down the zipper. "What is it?"

"I'm telling you all of them again, just in case." She wiggles out of her pants and bends a knee when he kisses the inside of her leg. "Okay?"

"Okay. First one."

"You have to ask Charlie for permission."

"Done." He moves her underwear to the side and tastes her. "Next."

"It can't be done on a holiday."

Edward lazily swipes a finger up and down the center of her body. "I've never asked this before but is it any holiday or just well-known American ones?"

"We-well-known holidays, from around the world." Her back arches as he gets her ready for him. "Bastille Day counts."

"Noted." He stands and sheds his clothing, pulls down her underwear and watches her pull off her shirt. "And the new one?"

"You have to be absolutely serious when you ask." She blinks up at him. "I don't know if I can handle another fake-out." She pauses. "This was all a fake-out, right?"

"Yes," he admits with a laugh. "I'm sorry."

She stares at him for a short time. "Even that phone call during breakfast?"

"Yes," he says again. "I knew you'd listen in. You're such an eavesdropper."

"You're mean." She narrows her eyes at him. "Swear that the next time will be serious."

"I swear it." He grabs her hands and pulls her up before taking her back down with him when he sits. She tumbles across his lap and within seconds, rocks herself on top of him. "It will be the most serious thing I do."

Five months later, Bella watches Edward the same way she did on Valentine's Day – carefully and closely. This time, though, she's lounging on a beach chair on the white sands of Turks and Caicos with a fruity, colorful drink in her hand. The sun is setting over the horizon but it's still warm and Edward walks over to her with a wicked gleam in his eyes and a bottle of beer in his right hand.

"What are you staring at?" he asks her playfully.

"The hot bartender," she replies nonchalantly. "Have you seen him? To die for?"

"Oh, really?" One side of his mouth lifts up into a smirk. "Maybe you should go introduce yourself."

He's been like this for the entire first week – playful, carefree, and not thinking about work or home or anything else but the two of them and having fun. He's taken her out dancing, she's made him go snorkeling, and they've gone into the water with dolphins swimming around them. They've teased each other to no end, reminding Bella of the days before they were serious, when they used to try to make each other jealous in hopes the other would break down and admit what he or she wanted first.

Bella grins and pushes off of her chair. "Maybe I will." She turns to walk toward the bar but Edward's hand shoots out and grabs her hand, weaving their fingers together. Bella turns back around. "Yes?"

"Before you go, though," he begins.

"Yes?"

He stands up and pulls her in closer. Their bodies hit lightly and they're both sticky from the sun and saltwater. Edward sets the beer down on the small table set up between their two chairs and tangles a hand in her hair, tilting her head back so she's staring up at him. He glances out over the water where the sun is halfway gone and the sky is beginning to turn pink and orange and red.

"I love you."

She grins. "I love you, too, even if I am going to try to make that bartender give me a free drink."

Edward shakes his head at her. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

"Oh," she breathes. "This is it," she can't help but say.

"Do you know what today is, Bella?" She shakes her head because the days and nights have all started to melt together in the mini-paradise. "July 23."

"Is that important to know?"

"Well, technically, it's Ice Cream Cone Day and Mosquito Day."

Bella frowns for a moment and thinks over what he said. "Well, that sort of makes sense, right? Because ice cream is sweet and mosquitoes probably enjoy it when humans eat sweet things."

"I'm hoping it's also the day you can tell everyone we were engaged," Edward breaks into her rambling.

"Really?"

Edward slowly detangles his hand from her hair but keeps holding on to her left hand with his right. He drops down to one knee and reaches into the large beach bag that Bella insists they bring every day.

"You kept it in my bag?" she can't help but ask incredulously.

"You would have never looked in there for it."

His hand reappears with a small black box and he flips it open with one hand to show her a ring that sparkles in the fading sunlight.

"Bella, I could say a thousand words – probably a million – about how much I love you and why I want to spend the rest of my life with you, but I'm pretty sure you already know everything I could say. So I'll say this as simply as I can and hope that you'll answer me the way I believe you will." He pauses and looks up to see Bella practically bouncing in excitement. "Will you marry me?"

"Finally!" she yells.

"That's not exactly the answer I thought you'd give me," Edward says.

"Yes!" Bella unlaces their fingers and tackles him onto the sand, blowing out the grains that manage to puff up onto her lips. "Yes, yes, yes."

When they kiss, bits of sand are salty in their mouths and on their tongues. Edward slides the ring onto her finger with some difficulty because the sugar from her drink has made her skin a little tacky.

But it's perfect.

"Finally," Bella says with a happy smile. "Finally. Yes. Yes. Yes."