Pop the Question Contest Entry
Title: The House That Love Built
Word Count (without the A/n and header): 7652
Summary: When they were children, he tried to build her a house. Through the years, they found a home in each other.
The House That Love Built
On the afternoon of Edward Cullen's ninth birthday party, a giant yellow moving truck stopped at the curb of the house next door to his. The house had been vacant for as long as Edward could remember. Even children realized the magnitude of something like a moving truck with strange license plates in a little town like Forks, so thirteen kids stopped fighting over the gigantic, inflatable water slide and turned to greet the new kid in town.
Edward was more than a little irritated. The sun was shining, and his dad had burgers and hot dogs on the grill. Everyone had been laughing and having a great time until his new neighbors decided to show up and steal the spotlight. As Edward's guests stood gaping, the passenger door swung open, and a little girl with long, braided pigtails jumped out of the cab. They forgot all about Edward and his party as they watched her curiously.
The moment Bella Swan's feet touched the ground, she wanted to turn around and scramble back into the truck. There were people staring at her. She didn't like it. Not one bit. If there was one thing Bella Swan was tired of, it was people staring at her.
She turned her back to the crowd and carefully made her way to the front of the vehicle where her father stood waiting. He gave her a small, sad smile, and they walked up the driveway together. Bella climbed the porch stairs slowly. She waited patiently as her father found the right key, and when he finally unlocked the door, she timidly followed him into their new home.
As she looked around the large, empty front room of her new house, her eyes filled with tears. She wanted to go home. Back to her old home where she'd had a mommy and a wooden swing set. Her little hand reached up to clasp the heart-shaped locket her daddy had special-ordered just for her. He had promised her that Mommy would always have a special place in her heart.
A knock on the door surprised them both. Bella and her father weren't expecting company for at least another half hour. She craned her neck curiously as he opened the door. A pretty lady stood there smiling, and beside her was a lanky little boy whose soaking wet hair reminded her of a dirty penny.
Edward couldn't believe his mother had made him leave his own birthday party to meet the new people next door. It was almost time to eat. He could smell the burgers from the porch as his mother introduced herself to the new grown-up next door.
Then, she did something he really couldn't believe. She invited him and the girl to come over for lunch. Edward scowled at the ground and ran his hand through his dripping wet hair.
Bella heard her daddy tell their new neighbor, Mrs. Cullen, that another time might be better. But when Bella's stomach growled behind him, he admitted it had been hours since they'd eaten breakfast, and the food cooking next door smelled delicious.
She stepped forward as he introduced her to Mrs. Cullen, who immediately insisted on being called Esme. Bella liked her smile. It was sweet and reminded her of her own mommy's. Mrs. Esme leaned over, placed her hands on her knees, and asked Bella if she'd like to come over to play.
"I don't have a swimsuit," Bella replied shyly, glancing at the truck still parked on the street. "They're all packed."
The boy standing across from her finally looked up. After narrowing his eyes at Bella, he turned to his mother and asked if he could go back to his party.
What a rude little boy, Bella thought to herself.
Mrs. Esme asked her what size she wore and promised Bella she had extra suits that would fit. Bella was nervous, but playing in the sun sounded much better than watching her dad unload the truck. They all walked over together, and Bella watched as her daddy shook hands with a man behind a grill with a big, happy smile.
After finding one of her daughter's old swimsuits, Esme sent Bella to change. Before joining the other children at the slide, Bella walked to her father and asked him to take off her necklace. He unhooked the tiny clasp and slid the chain into his pocket, patting it soundly.
She nodded once before running off to play.
Bella ran to the edge of the group of kids in line and stopped short. She stood, chewing her bottom lip, frozen and overwhelmed until Edward's big sister, Rose, came over and introduced herself. Bella felt much better when Rose said hello and smiled at her. The older girl took Bella's hand and walked right into the middle of the crowd before slowly introducing her to the other kids.
There were so many names. How would she ever remember them all?
When they got to the front of the line, Bella came face to face with the little boy with the crazy penny hair who had dripped all over her porch and given her a dirty look.
She returned the favor. She narrowed her eyes at him and wrinkled her little nose in disdain.
"I'm Edward Cullen," he said.
"Aren't you going to tell me your name?" he asked grumpily.
"My daddy told you my name over on our porch."
Right. Edward knew that. Still, she could have introduced herself to be nice. He told her as much.
"You want to teach me about manners?" she replied.
The two of them argued and goaded each other for the rest of the afternoon. He was impressed that she could eat a hamburger, a hot dog, two pieces of cake and a scoop of chocolate ice cream. After being handled like china for so long, Bella liked the way he teased her and picked at her.
Some kid named Tyler started a game of tag after Edward opened his last gift. Bella was running through the wet grass when she slipped and pitched forward onto her knees.
It caused a nasty scrape. Her hands hurt from her landing, and she was trying not to cry over the stinging wound on her knee. Edward called time and glanced around looking for his mother. She was busy scooping ice cream for Rose and Jessica. His father was next door helping Mr. Swan. He sighed.
"Come with me," Edward told her, helping her up and leading her to the swing on his porch. He held up one finger. "I'll be right back."
He disappeared into the house and returned several minutes later with a first aid kit in tow. Bella watched silently as he knelt down in front of her and opened the plastic case.
"I get scrapes like this all the time riding my skateboard," Edward told her, pointing to a scar on his elbow. He cleaned the scrape with peroxide, and, as it dried, he grinned at her and held up two boxes of band-aids. "Barbie or dinosaurs?" he asked.
"Dinosaurs. A blue one if you have it."
There was only one blue one left, and blue was Edward's favorite color. He looked into the box and hesitated. When he glanced up at Bella, she was sniffing and crying a little as she inspected the wound. He pulled it out quickly, tearing the wrapper, and, before he could change his mind, he stretched the last blue dinosaur band-aid across her bony knee.
He avoided her for the rest of the afternoon, but waved goodbye as her father came to collect her close to sunset. He thought she looked a little sad, but she gave him a smile and waved before disappearing into the house next door.
Later that night, when his mom tucked him in at bedtime, Edward asked the question that had been floating around in his head all afternoon. "Mom, where is Bella's mom? Did she stay in Arizona?" He had heard his parents talking about Charlie and Bella in the kitchen, but there had been no mention of her mother.
His mother pushed a stubborn lock of hair back from his forehead and then swept her hand along his cheek. "Bella's mom died in an accident a few months ago. Charlie grew up here, and he thought leaving Arizona might be good for them."
No wonder she looked so sad and alone standing in a big new house, he thought to himself.
Shame flooded through him when he thought of his reaction to her arrival today. He had been worried about his party being interrupted, and she was probably having a really bad day.
He really had been rude. He had secretly loved it when she called him that earlier. It was fun to push her buttons and watch her get mad. They had had fun together. Well, until she had gotten hurt. One minute he was fine, and, the next, he felt his stomach knot when he saw tears in her eyes. It freaked him out.
He tossed and turned long after he should have been sleeping. He wanted to make her laugh again, the way he had that afternoon. He couldn't imagine a life without his own mother or what it must feel like for Bella. He promised himself they would be friends. He wouldn't be rude to her anymore.
It was a hard promise to keep. His mother looked after Bella while Charlie was working that summer. Edward and Bella got along best when they were arguing, so sometimes being rude was necessary. She expected it from him and gave it back in turn.
One afternoon, his friend Jasper was over for a sleepover. Charlie was working, and Bella was staying with the Cullens until later in the evening. Bella watched as the two boys wrestled on the grass in Edward's back yard. In Bella's opinion, Edward won. He pinned Jasper for more than a count of three, she was sure.
"I need a boyfriend," Bella said out of the blue as they relaxed in the yard.
"You're only seven," Edward muttered, chewing on a blade of grass.
"The girls on the afternoon show your mom watches all have boyfriends." Some of them had husbands, some of them had boyfriends, and some had both. But they all had someone to boss around who bought them presents. Bella thought that part would be nice. "And I'm almost eight," she added before sticking out her tongue at Edward.
"I'll be your boyfriend," Jasper leered at her. At least, it seemed that way to Edward. He didn't like the idea of Bella having a boyfriend. Not one bit. She was too young. Heck, he was nine, and he was too young. She was being ridiculous. He told her so.
He should have known better. She was going to say yes. He could see it, and he didn't like it. Edward and Bella argued, but they were friends. He didn't like the idea of anyone coming between them.
"Wait!" he nearly shouted. "I want to be your boyfriend." It could work. It would suit her little whim, and it would keep Jasper away from her.
Besides, being a boyfriend was no big deal. He already opened doors for her. He made her glasses of lemonade when they came in from riding bikes, and he always let her borrow Nerf guns since she didn't have any of her own. They were practically a couple already.
Bella didn't seem to think so. She loved a good competition.
She's so stubborn, he grumbled internally as he followed her and Jasper into the house.
Edward watched as she crossed the room and grabbed the largest basket from the toy shelf. He chuffed, wondering what exactly she had up her sleeve that could possibly involve Lego.
She sat with her legs crossed in the center of Edward's room and placed the basket on the floor in front of her. When the boys had each taken a seat across from her, she motioned to the blocks and said, "Impress me."
Edward went to work straightaway, placing blocks in a rectangular pattern and layering them until four walls were visible. He knew what he wanted to give her. A house that would make her smile and not seem as scary or empty as the one she'd moved into next door.
Bella had told him many times that the house was too big. The rooms were too cold. There was only one bathroom. The kitchen was ugly.
He hated that she was so unhappy in Forks.
He didn't have any sets for houses, so he had to be creative when it came to windows and doors. Trying to construct a roof made Edward want to use one of the bad words his dad had used when he was trying to fix the sink the week before.
"Tada," Jasper announced before Edward could figure out how to finish.
It was a…flower? Jasper was presenting it to Bella like one with his hand wrapped around a green Lego stem.
Hmph. A flower. It was really ugly.
And because she was a total pain in the neck, Bella looked down at it and said, "You win."
"But it's a stupid flower," Edward protested.
"He finished first, Edward. Besides," she grinned. "You didn't really want to be my boyfriend anyway."
Edward kicked the half-constructed house causing it to tumble into piles of Lego. He left her sitting with Jasper so he could escape to the kitchen. She was right. He didn't want to be her stupid boyfriend.
He watched movies in his room the following week, avoiding Bella at all costs. His feelings were still hurt and his pride was too, though he'd never admit it.
Bella broke up with Jasper during the first week of school. She met a girl in her class named Alice who happened to have a crush on him, so Bella tried to gently hand him down. Jasper took one look at Alice and then told both girls he thought they were crazy.
Edward agreed, and no one mentioned the word boyfriend again.
As middle school began for Edward, he started hanging out with his guy friends more, but he always invited Bella to come along. Bella, being the tomboy she was, accepted. The boys liked to ride four-wheelers on the trails behind Charlie's property, and she couldn't help the thrill she felt every time she climbed on behind Edward and wrapped her arms around his waist.
Their friendship was easy until their bodies began to change.
When Bella joined Edward at Forks Middle School the next year, he was relieved to have her in the same building again. They had the same lunch period and sat together, sort of. They sat at the same table, with the same people, but never next to each other.
Bella earned a spot on the school's soccer team and was actually quite good. Edward went to her games. As if he could pass up the opportunity to see her in those little soccer shorts.
Bella's knees weren't so knobbly anymore.
It bothered him to think of her that way. She was his friend. It bothered him even more when he found out that other boys were thinking of her that way. Then he was angry with himself for being bothered.
He found himself being short with her and trying to avoid her in general. He stopped inviting her for Saturday rides, and she tried not to show how much it hurt her feelings.
She waited for a month and then showed up in his yard one Saturday morning as Jasper and Edward were cranking up the ATVs.
"Can I come?" she asked with her helmet resting against her hip.
It pleased her when his jaw clenched and his fists balled at his side. At least it was something. She was tired of his indifference.
He nodded and motioned for her to climb on. He hid his grimace from her as she settled in against his back. He could feel her. Warm. Soothing. Comfortable.
And then it happened. His body betrayed him in the worst way possible.
It wasn't the first erection he'd ever had, but it was the first time it had happened anywhere other than his bedroom. And it happened because of her.
He wanted to die; he was so embarrassed. He leaned forward to get away from her and silently begged his body to stand down.
Later that afternoon, he told her she couldn't ride with him anymore. Bella was angry because he refused to tell her why, and he refused to tell her why because it was unexplainable, the way she affected him.
In all the years they'd known each other, Edward had never seen her so angry. And they fought. A lot. She marched straight up to him and poked him in the chest repeatedly.
"What is your deal, Edward?" she demanded.
Rose's mother had been nice enough to take her shopping that afternoon, but, in her opinion, the real treat of the day was their homecoming.
Bella Swan, the bane of her brother's existence, had him on the ground, and she was trying to beat him up. Edward was on his back with his arms crossed, warding her off like she was a vampire. In Rose's opinion, Bella did look a little rabid.
Rose decided to take pity on her little brother as she stepped out of the car. "Hey, Bella," she called. Bella pressed her knee against Edward's sternum and pushed him into the ground before turning to acknowledge the older girl. "What are you doing?" Rose asked, hoping that if Bella answered out loud, she would realize how crazy she was acting.
"I'm trying to beat some sense and manners into your stupid little brother." The girl didn't even blink. Instead, she turned her attention back to Edward.
Esme walked around the side of the car to join Rosalie, and they watched as Bella slowly hacked away at Edward's patience. When he finally grew tired of her harassment, he lifted her by the waist and tossed her onto the ground beside him.
"Bella." Rose could see the younger girl was thinking about going after him again. It was written all over her scrunched up little face. "Come inside with me. I have some new posters and green nail polish." Bella needed some girl-talk, and, since Bella didn't have a mom of her own, Rose decided she should be the one to do it.
Edward said something to Bella that must have really upset her because she jumped to her feet and stalked away as quickly as possible.
"Can we lock the door?" she asked.
"As if I would try to come near you on purpose," Edward muttered as he brushed by her on his way into the house.
For a second, Rose thought Bella might cry. Her lip quivered, but she made a quick recovery. Rose might have fallen for the act, if Bella hadn't paused outside Edward's bedroom door as they made their way to Rose's room.
Bella didn't say much as Rose painted her fingernails green, blue, and pink. One color would never do for a girl like Bella. She was spunky. And Rose liked her for it, so she decided to share the secret of romance with her.
"You know, Bella, the more you try to make Edward like you, the harder he's going to fight it," she told her honestly.
"I don't want him to like me," Bella lied.
"Well, he does," Rose continued. "You just need to step back and give him time to figure it out. If you keep him busy fighting all the time, he'll never stop to think about it. Boys are really dumb like that."
"Oh, yeah?" Bella placed her free hand on her hip in challenge. "How do you know? You're only fifteen."
"Look, I just know Edward, okay? I'm telling you to let him come to you."
"How long will that take?" Bella knew boys were dumb. She didn't want to wait until college for Edward to come to his senses.
"Who knows?" Rose said thoughtfully. "It may take a while, or it could happen tomorrow. You have to decide if he is worth the wait." It had taken Emmett two grades to figure out how awesome Rose was and finally ask her to be his girlfriend.
When Bella Swan left the Cullen house that afternoon, her new mission in life was to ignore Edward Cullen.
She did a fine job of doing exactly that for the next couple of years.
At first Edward was relieved.
But as the days, weeks, and years passed, he began to wonder exactly what Rose had said to Bella after their argument that day.
Bella still came over after school, but instead of hanging out with him, she did homework or studied. Sometimes she would ask his mother to use the phone and spend long afternoons talking to a girlfriend in the spare bedroom.
All that changed when Bella rang the Cullens' doorbell one chilly Saturday afternoon in November during his sophomore year of high school. Edward answered the door and was pleasantly surprised to see her on his porch…until she asked for Rose. He called up the stairs for his sister and then disappeared into the kitchen for a snack.
Rose came in a few minutes later.
"Bella and I are going to Port Angeles. Mom said to tell you she'll order a pizza when she gets home. See ya, squirt."
He drove himself crazy for the next few hours, wondering why Bella needed his sister to go to Port Angeles with her.
"Mike Newton asked Bella to the Snowflake Ball. She needed help finding a dress," his mother told him as she placed a plate in front of Edward at the kitchen table later that evening.
The words echoed in his head, and his appetite disappeared. Why would Bella agree to go to the dance with Mike Newton? He forced down a piece of pepperoni pizza to satisfy his mother and then waited on his front porch for the girls to return.
When they did, they met at the trunk of Rose's car, and Bella stepped forward with a dress bag slung over her shoulder and a shoe store bag dangling from her other hand. Edward felt ill. Physically ill.
His sister walked past him as she entered the house. "Did ya miss me, squirt?"
No. But he had thought of several ways to get revenge on her for taking Bella shopping so she could go to a dance with Mike Newton.
Edward walked slowly down the porch steps and across the lawn until he was standing right in front of Bella. She lowered the dress bag, folding it over her arm and clutching it to her middle.
"Hey," she said. She tried to smile, but it felt awkward and forced. The way he was looking at her tugged at her heart and made her want to fix whatever was causing him to frown.
"Why are you going to the dance with Mike Newton?" he wanted to know. Did she have feelings for him? Were they a couple?
"Because he asked," she told him simply. Bella wasn't one for jealousy games. All of her friends were going to the dance. She wanted to go to the dance. So when he'd asked her, she had said yes. It had nothing to do with Edward Cullen.
He laughed. He looked at her like she had two heads, and he laughed until he very nearly cried.
Bella huffed and picked up her shoe bag to resume the walk to her house.
"Will you save a dance for me?" he called out from behind her.
When she turned, he was still in the same spot, but his hands were shoved into his pants pockets, and he was grinning instead of frowning.
"One." She turned her back to him and continued walking until she reached her front door.
Edward didn't move. He watched to make sure she made it into her house safely, and still he didn't move to go inside.
Because he asked.
Things were awkward for them throughout the following week. They didn't speak much on the way to school in Rose's car. They didn't talk at all during school. They sat with their friends in the cafeteria, and they contributed to some of the same conversations, but they didn't talk to each other.
It was all very irritating to Edward. He longed for the ease and familiarity he'd had with her when they were younger. It frustrated him that he could only have bits and pieces of her, and now she was depriving him of those as well.
One week before the dance, Edward stood waiting at the curb for Rose after school. He constantly checked the time on his phone, knowing Bella should have joined him more than twenty minutes prior. He had seen her in the hall after the final bell, so he knew she hadn't gone home early.
Finally, he had to see what was keeping her. He walked by her locker, stopped to glance into empty classrooms, and asked everyone he saw lingering if he or she had seen Bella. Angela Weber told Edward she had seen Bella in the gym.
She was there, alright. She was walking back and forth across the rows of the bleachers with her head down.
"Bella," he called softly.
There were tears. Her face was red and splotchy, and she was crying. His backpack hit the floor, and he moved with a speed that surprised even him. He put his arms around her and squeezed, delighting when he felt her palms on his back.
"I've lost my necklace," she told him. He knew that in all the years he'd known Bella Swan she had never lost sight of that necklace. "I think it happened during the pep rally today."
"We'll find it," he promised.
They walked the bleachers together and separately until Edward had an idea. He climbed down the bleachers and walked to the end. Checking the ground below her seat would be a good idea. He took out his phone and used the soft glow to peruse the gym floor beneath the bleachers. The sound of Bella moving above him caused him to glance up.
There, hanging from an errant screw, was Bella's necklace. He moved so he was beneath it and reached up, carefully removing it and clinging to it for dear life. When he came out of the darkness and held her necklace out to her, she took it in her hand and then hugged him so tightly it knocked the wind right out of him. In more ways than one.
Rose offered to help Bella get ready for the dance, and the two girls spent all afternoon giggling behind closed doors. It was hard for Edward to imagine Bella wearing makeup. She was a tomboy to the core, and he had no memories of her in a dress. When she came downstairs with curled hair and glossed lips, he knew he was in trouble.
She looked…delicate. Her shoulders were smooth and creamy, and he let his eyes drink in every part of her body.
He was grateful the dress was long, but the clingy satin material pissed him off endlessly because it complimented her figure perfectly.
"See you later?" she asked as she opened his door to go home to wait for her date.
He nodded. He wasn't going to pass up the chance to dance with her.
Later, he watched as Newton walked her to his Suburban, and helped her into her seat. He knew then the night would be torture. And he was right.
Mike didn't leave Bella alone very often, but each time he did, Edward was there. Talking and laughing with her. He waited until an incredibly romantic song came on and asked her for his dance.
He didn't take her to middle of the dance floor. Instead, they danced in a remote corner. She laughed nervously when he took her right hand in his left and wrapped his right arm around her waist. There were only inches and fabric between them.
"You look incredible," he told her.
She blushed, ducking her head before laying it on his shoulder.
He left after their dance. He wanted to go home and wait for Newton to drop her off. He sat on his porch in the dark watching for any sign of them for over an hour. Soon enough, the Suburban parked in front of Bella's house, and the two exited.
Edward's heart stopped when he saw Newton lean in for a goodnight kiss. It nearly pounded out of his chest when she turned her head at the last minute so his lips barely grazed her cheek. Edward couldn't hear what she was saying, but he did see her shake her head and place her hand on Mike's arm. His rival's shoulders slumped, and the relief that coursed through Edward at that moment was exhilarating.
He waited until Newton was gone, and then he walked up to her door and pounded on it with his fist. He was going to tell her how he felt. He couldn't wait another moment.
She didn't answer.
He pounded again.
Still. No answer.
Worried, he retrieved the spare key from its hiding spot under the watering can. He let himself in and called her name. No answer.
The sound of running water upstairs captured his attention. He made his way up the stairs one at a time. The faucet turned off and moments later he came face to face with Bella as she exited the bathroom and nearly bumped into him.
She screamed and punched him in the jaw before she even realized it was him.
Immediately, she felt horrible.
"Oh God, Edward, I'm sorry." He clutched his face and stared at her. "What are you doing here?" she whispered.
"I want another dance."
I don't ever want to see someone else's hands on you again.
She looked down at the floor, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully. "I'm in my pajamas."
"You're perfect." He felt stupid for saying it, but her cheeks grew rosy, and she finally lifted her eyes to meet his. He didn't feel stupid anymore.
"I only promised you one," she teased, trying to be coy. She'd waited so long for this to happen. It was hard to keep a smile from her lips.
"I want them all," he said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close. "I want you."
She did smile then. "What took you so long?"
Standing there, with her in his arms, Edward wondered the same thing. He buried his fingers in her hair, tilting her head so he could see her lips. When her tongue peeked out to wet them, he followed it, pressing his lips to hers.
It was a first for both of them. It was timid and shy until she parted her lips for him. Then it was the same warmth and comfort he'd always known with her, but there was also desire.
They were inseparable from that moment on.
The night he got his license, he took her out for ice cream and confessed his love for her. She put her hands in his hair and pulled him down so she could plant a chocolaty kiss on him.
"I love you, too," she breathed.
As the passing days melted into months, her body became fuller, and he grew a few last inches and started shaving every day. Their relationship grew naturally, and they learned how to make each other happy and be happy in return.
He knew how to touch her and make her sigh and tremble. She loved the way the muscles in his legs corded beneath her palms when she tasted him.
When she was ready, she told him. There were no flowers, no hotel rooms, and no music. It happened in her bed in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, and their furiously beating hearts drowned out her soft gasp and his soothing whispers.
"I'll never hurt you again," he promised as his eyes locked with hers. He prayed that she knew he meant it.
She kissed him and begged him to move. As he made love to her the first time, he knew it was about so much more than sex. He wanted to love her like this for the rest of his life. He wanted to be the only man who ever touched her. He wanted her. Even though he was inside her, loving her, he still wanted more. He wanted every moment she would give him.
They did everything together during Edward's senior year of high school. He was there for every single one of her games. They went to every dance and all the school functions because, even though they didn't talk about it, they both knew he wouldn't be able to make it to Forks to do all those things with her the next year.
He would be in Seattle at UW, and his Bella would be in Forks. He knew he could spend his first year at Peninsula and transfer to UW with Bella the following year. He told her he wanted to. But Bella knew about the academic scholarship and the music scholarship UW had offered him and couldn't stand to see him give them up.
She loved him. More than anything. So she told him to go.
"I'll be right behind you," she promised.
He accepted his scholarships, and the deal was done.
Bella scored well on the SAT and began working on her own admission essay for UW. It was her turn to wait to be accepted. She knew she would go there, even if she didn't get any scholarship money. She would work her way through school at UW as long as she could be with Edward.
She cried unexpected tears during his graduation ceremony. He looked so handsome in his cap and gown, smiling and waving at her from the stage as he blew her a kiss. They celebrated at Edward's house with his family for a while, and then snuck off together so they could be alone.
They spent every moment of summer together. On rare sunny days, they went to the beach with their friends. On rainy days, they watched movies together cuddled on the couch. Edward was grateful for every single day it rained.
The days leading up to his departure were horrible for Bella. She barely slept, worrying over their future and whether or not they could weather the hardships of a long distance relationship. Each night, he climbed her tree, snuck in through her window, loved her quietly, and held her until the sun chased him from her bed.
They spent their last full day together at Bella's house. Charlie was at work, and Edward's parents were at home packing. After they got him settled in at UW, they were flying to Aruba for a celebratory vacation.
When Edward climbed through Bella's window that night, she was turned on her side, facing the wall.
Her body shook, and he heard a sniffle. She was crying. He moved quickly toward the bed, kicking his shoes off along the way. He slid in behind her and begged her to tell him what was wrong.
"What if you forget about me?"
Her question hung in the air between them as his emotions warred with his sensibility.
He was hurt. He was angry. But, more than anything, he wanted to comfort her and remind her of all the reasons it would be impossible for him to ever forget her.
He tugged gently on her arm until she was flat on her back, staring up at him with big, teary eyes. His fingers swept across the apple of her cheek in an attempt to rid her of any signs of unhappiness. Edward still could not stand to see Bella cry.
He lowered his head slowly until his forehead rested against hers.
"I've thought of you at least a hundred times a day since I was nine years old," he whispered against her lips. Then he tasted salt and felt his own cheeks grow damp.
Kissing Bella had always been one of Edward's favorite activities, but he wanted to make sure she understood. There could be no room for misunderstandings.
He pulled away and waited for her to open her eyes. Once she did, he smiled and tapped his temple with a crooked pointer finger.
"Nearly every memory in here involves you." Some were good. Some were bad. All were cherished. He took her shaking hand in his own, entwined their fingers, and placed her palm against his chest, over his heart. "You've been in here for as long as I can remember."
In all honesty, the girl had owned him since the moment she asked him for a dinosaur band-aid, and he could not imagine ever being able to forget her.
"I love you, Bella," he told her. "And, someday, I'm going to ask you to be my wife." He spoke the words as a vow. To himself. To her. He couldn't ask her yet. She was only seventeen. She still had a year of high school left.
"I love you, too," she whispered. "And I would love to be your wife." She left off the someday because she would run away with him tonight if only he would ask.
His love and respect for her were the only things preventing him from doing exactly that. Or begging her to let him stay.
They stopped using words, letting their bodies take comfort in the familiarity that was home.
Bella joined Edward and his family for breakfast the next morning. The conversation was light, and she tried to join in as much as possible. She also tried to sneak glances at him. Each time she inhaled, she savored the taste of him on her tongue.
Her fears were ridiculous, and she knew it. They would see each other in a few weeks for Labor Day. Fall break would follow, then Thanksgiving. He would be home for several weeks in December. It would be hard, but not impossible.
"I don't know how I'll be able to sleep tonight," he told her later as they clung to each other in his driveway.
He was twenty minutes behind schedule, and Carlisle and Esme were parked at the end of street as they patiently waited for Edward and Bella to say their goodbyes.
Bella knew he wouldn't leave until he knew she would be okay. "We'll talk until we fall asleep," she told him.
For the next nine months, that's exactly what they did. They spoke several times a day, sent texts, and always, always said goodnight to each other as they were falling asleep. Edward visited as often as possible, sometimes surprising Bella on random weekends. The smile on her face when she saw him at her door was worth it every single time.
He snuck into her room every night during Christmas break, and he found himself staying awake half the night just so he could watch her sleep.
Spring came, and he took her to prom. She protested, saying they had already done the prom thing, but he insisted. When he showed up in a tux, she forgot every single reason she hated proms.
Soon enough, it was her turn to blow him a kiss from the stage as she finally got a diploma of her own. This time, their families celebrated together at The Lodge. Afterward, Edward and Bella got into his car, and, instead of taking her home, he hit the 101.
"Where are we going?" she asked casually.
"To Seattle," he responded.
She laughed. "Seriously, Edward, where are we going?"
"I told you. I'm kidnapping you and taking you to Seattle."
"What in the world will my police chief father have to say about that?" She batted her eyelashes at him playfully.
"I asked him if I could take you to Seattle for a couple of days as a graduation gift," he said quietly. "I booked a room at the Hilton through the weekend."
Bella was stunned.
Then she was thrilled. A whole weekend. Just the two of them. With no Charlie across the hall.
Edward just smiled and took her hand in his. He promised a visit to the UW campus. Bella would be joining him in the fall. She'd been awarded academic and soccer scholarships.
He took her to dinner at a quiet little Italian restaurant close to campus. As they shared a slice of cheesecake for dessert, he finally confessed the real purpose of this trip to Seattle. "I've missed you so much this last year, Bella. I don't want to be away from you anymore. Instead of living in the dorms, I want us to have our own place. There are a few apartments we could look at while we're here. I've been saving for a deposit…"
His words left him when she nodded, and he kissed her like he had never tasted her before. But it was always like that with Bella.
In August, Edward shook Charlie's hand and promised to take care of his little girl. She cried a little as they left Forks, together this time. It was their home. Where they'd shared a life and fallen in love.
But the closer they got to Seattle, the more excited she was for their future.
They went shopping together and picked out silly things like artsy toilet plungers and oven mitts with roosters on them. Because they could.
It wasn't all fun and games. They discovered things that made each other crazy. It drove him nuts when she left the cap off the toothpaste. And she would grind her teeth each time she tripped over one of his shoes. They still fought. And they still made up.
There were weeks they barely saw each other between work and school and homework. Neither of them would have traded it though, because each night they fell asleep together.
Time passed quickly, and at the end of the school year, Edward and Bella decided to stay in Seattle instead of going home to Forks for the summer. They both picked up a few summer courses and a few extra shifts. They also made time for each other.
The last day of the fall semester happened to coincide with the anniversary of their first kiss. Edward knew they would be leaving the following day to go to Forks for the holidays. Their parents missed them and wanted them home.
He didn't want to ask her in Forks in front of their families. So, he planned a special night for them to celebrate their anniversary.
Bella indulged him by wearing a very fitting black dress. As he walked her to his car, he reminded himself several times to stick with the plan. He knew taking her back upstairs to bend her over the kitchen table and push up her dress would definitely make them miss their dinner reservation.
He helped her into the car before claiming to have forgotten something. He hadn't really forgotten anything. He just needed a chance to slip back into their apartment for a few seconds.
"I'm onto you," she told him when he joined her in the car.
His heart stopped. Disappointment coursed through him. How could she have found out? He'd been so careful.
"Today is our anniversary," she said accusingly.
"Don't play dumb with me, Edward Cullen."
He just smiled and took her hand in his.
Bella had no idea what was going on in Edward's head. He seemed so distracted. And antsy. His knee bounced lightly under the table during their meal. She suggested a movie after dinner, but he declined, insisting they should get home to rest so they could get an early start the next day.
Their apartment was bathed in the soft glow of Christmas lights. He helped her with her coat and draped it over a chair before pulling her into the tiny living room.
There, in front of the tree, sat a perfect two-story house, hand-crafted with Lego and love. There was a Lego vehicle parked next to the house, although the only set he had been able to find was a minivan. There were people. A man, a woman, and two smaller block figures.
She dropped to her knees to get a closer look. He followed, settling in as close to her as possible.
"It took me a while to get it right," he murmured, watching the way her eyes glowed and her lips turned up as she ran her fingers along the jagged edges of the toy roof.
"It's perfect," she said as she shifted her body to face him.
"Please marry me," he whispered. There were a million things he wanted to say to her, that he should have said to her, but he couldn't wait another second and the words fell out before he even realized it.
"Yes." She didn't even glance at the ring he was holding between them. She was busy studying his face because she wanted to never forget the way he was smiling at her.
Edward slid his ring onto Bella's finger as he held her and kissed her. She loved the weight of it on her hand. When they finally had their fill, she raised her hand and studied it.
Diamonds and platinum sparkled and glowed, and there were no words to describe her feelings in that moment.
She tried anyway. She pulled him closer and threaded her fingers through his hair, until he wrapped his arms around her.
"You were worth the wait."