Entry #43 - AH

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest

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Title: Don't Walk Away

Picture Prompt Number: 17

Pairing: Bella and Edward

Rating: M

Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 9,677

Summary: Bella believed in love, she had it. When she sees a darker side emerge from her lover, she is forced to leave & start over-from across the country. Forced back into the real world, Bella meets a handsome guy she knew from her past. Timing matters.

Warnings and Disclaimer: M for language, violence, including a mention of a non-main character's suicide, and a lemon. I don't own anything Twilight related, but I do own my original story.

Don't Walk Away

September

"Why did you make me come here? And more importantly, why did I agree to?"

Bella had begun to have a bit of a panic attack as the first service of a fancy five course meal was being served on the most stunning fine china. Her heart was racing and her palms were sweaty. She'd only ventured out in public to attend her morning classes and to work at her part-time job. For the most part, Bella preferred to only been seen in public when absolutely necessary. She was exponentially self-conscious of her changing body. Bella was not anti-social; she was slowly working through getting over a relationship that was toxic from the moment it had begun. Being in the place where she grew up made Bella especially nervous. She worried that there might be someone that she or her parents knew who would recognize her. They would ask tough questions. It didn't matter that the last time she'd seen any of them was when she wore pigtails and played on the elementary school playground's monkey bars.

"Well, let's count the ways, shall we?" Angela began with her pinky and began ticking off the reasons as she said them. "Weddings are great places to meet men, you need some fun in your life, sulking is not a hobby, you are twenty years old, not ninety, and most importantly…" she paused and lowered her eyes at Bella, like a mother lecturing her child, "…becoming a hermit is not socially acceptable in today's society." Angela's big, brown eyes sparkled just like one of the massive chandeliers that hung in the room. Bella made no attempt to cover up her disgust by rolling her eyes at the reasons that had been given. Bella was further on edge, given the last minute invitation to come to the wedding. She hadn't expected such a posh event. Bella's family was neither rich nor poor, but these people—they clearly had money to spare on what was probably a six-figure, one-day spectacular event.

"While I agree with maybe one or two of your points, I have a major problem getting past the first." Bella lowered her volume and hissed into Angela's ear. "While it probably is true that it's a great opportunity to meet a man, must I remind you of my, um, situation." She looked down at her tummy. "It is not a proven fact that men are lining up to date a pregnant woman," Bella scoffed. "And not just any pregnant woman—an eight months pregnant woman."

Bella's heart had not just been broken—it was stomped on, shattered, and lost like a dandelion that was blown into the wind. The point Bella tried to get across was that she wasn't capable of even thinking about anything other than how her life was going to change, and a social life was on the bottom of the list of most important things.

"Get over yourself, Bella," Angela hissed back. "Not all men are shallow. In fact, think of it this way, if they can't look past the fact that you are pregnant or that you're having a child, and when the baby is here, that you have a child, then that's their own loss. I think it's God's way of helping you weed out the assholes."

"Is it acceptable to say God and assholes in the same sentence?"

Angela opened her mouth to respond, but Bella had more to say.

"Trust me, Angela. You're a smart girl, and you know that's pure bullshit. The only men that can tolerate the pregnancy belly are the loving boyfriends and husbands, none of which are presently in my life. I think someone forgot to give me a…" Bella curled her fingers to emphasis in air quotations "…pregnancy glow." She sighed. "Further, when you need to pee fifty times per hour, have gross swollen feet, and eat like a horse, the last thing you feel is sexy. And if I don't feel sexy, there's no way someone else will think I am. It's, like, a proven fact or something. We'll see how it goes once I'm back in my skinny jeans."

"Point taken. However, I think I'll agree to disagree," Angela said, poking her cousin's round side which broke some of the tension and caused Bella to giggle.

Bella and Angela began chatting with some of the other guests at the table as they enjoyed their extravagant dinner. Bella was seated at the place card that was supposed to be for Ben, and for whom people asked. Angela's fiancée was at their home, miserable and nursing the flu—thus Bella's last minute addition as her plus one. Bella tried her best to chime in with the small talk with the people around her, but it quickly became awkward when the conversation turned to her. The talk went to her impending birth. Yes, she was excited for the baby. No, she didn't know the sex, she wanted to be surprised. Yes, her due date was soon—she was due the following month.

And then the most awkward yet expected question. "And what about the father?" an older woman across the table asked. All eyes seemed to burn into Bella as they waited for her answer. Bella was pretty sure she heard Angela swear under her breath. This was a loaded question, and only her parents, Angela, and the baby's father knew the absolute truth. She'd come up with a simple answer for everyone else.

"Not in the picture," Bella answered after a quick pause. She was surprised it had not been asked sooner.

"Such a shame," another person chimed in.

"No, not really," Bella quietly responded.

She tucked a long strand of her brown hair behind her ear, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. She commanded herself not to cry, but her eyes became watery anyway, so she looked away to try to find some inner strength. She was overly emotional, and that was doubled at every mention of her baby's father. He had that effect on her, even from across the country. Luckily for Bella, her short response seemed to have ended the conversation and the talk turned elsewhere.

Bella played with the ends of the silk tablecloth as she tried to keep herself from crying. Angela placed a comforting hand on her back. It was Angela's way of telling Bella to hang in there. Although Bella did appreciate it, she shrugged Angela's hand off.

"Really, Angela? Someone might think you made up the story about Ben being sick and left him for me. Do you want people to think I'm your lesbian lover?"

Bella liked to use humor to shield her pain, but Angela could read between the lines. Angela knew it had been a small victory to get Bella to get out and mingle with others, and that an innocent question from a stranger was enough cause for Bella to retreat back into her self-pitying shell.

Bella asked someone to point out the restroom, and hurried off to pee for the thousandth time that day. Once Bella was behind the stall door, she let her guard down and let the tears fall. She felt pathetic and was ashamed to still be mourning the loss of the man she loved and let go.

It was freshman year in college when Bella met her first real love, James, who was six years older than her. James was an all-American man with his blond hair and bright blue eyes. He had an athlete's body and was a successful businessman. Bella was immediately attracted to not only his looks, but that he had achieved his educational goals and was doing something with his life. What she'd find out was that he was technically married, though he was separated (not legally) from his high school sweetheart, Victoria. He did not hide this fact from Bella. Bella was confused and wondered how dating a technically married man could work and if she even wanted it to work. After having a long talk with James, he told her that the process was slow but he was working on the legalities to end the marriage. It bothered Bella, but when weeks turned into months, it was a detail that was pushed aside in their relationship. Bella fell more and harder in love with him the more time she spent investing in him. A year into Bella and James' relationship, there had still been no movement to proceed with the divorce. She'd been under a bit of stress about it, but he was so good at keeping her happy and occupied, and he said it would be done so there was no reason not to trust his words. Their relationship came to a screeching halt when Bella found out some surprising life-changing news.

"I'm pregnant."

"What? What the fuck are you saying?"

Bella had curled up onto his lap to tell him the news, her arm draped casually around his neck. She was nervous, but she did not expect the reaction that was unfolding in front of her. His body stiffened, and he pushed her off of his lap so he could stand.

"You're such a God damned liar," James said, pacing as Bella stared stunned from the sofa. "We always used protection. There's no way this is my baby. I wouldn't put it past you that you've been sleeping around behind my back for not getting a divorce. This is fuckin' bullshit."

Bella stood and grabbed his arm to get him to calm down, but he swung his arm so hard it nearly made Bella fall. She backed up. She knew that he only called her names when he was really upset. He didn't mean anything by the name calling, and he would apologize later. However, Bella was in the heat of the moment, and she wasn't about to give an inch.

"You know what? Fuck you! You're the liar! You said you loved me and would divorce Victoria! And I've waited for you to do something and you've done absolutely nothing! When am I going to be important?"

"Bella, I fucking love you…but I love Victoria too, and you know that's not my baby," James said calmly. His tone infuriated Bella. She knew that he had loved Victoria at one time, but she had no idea that he still loved her. She wondered if that was the real reason he had stalled. He didn't want to leave her.

"You love her? Who are you? Why are you being this way? And you're the only man I've slept with! Condoms can fail, birth control can fail. I can't believe you think I would lie about something like this."

"They fail when someone does something to make it fail. It's not my fucking baby!" he yelled. He got in Bella's face. "Tell me the truth, you fuckin' lying whore," he growled. He backed Bella up until she hit the wall of her apartment and gripped her wrists tightly. She tried to pull away, but struggling was not wise. He moved his grip from her wrists to her arms and pushed her roughly to the wall so that her head and back took the hardest hit. She whimpered as she felt the pain shoot up her neck. This was the first time she'd seen him this angry in their entire relationship, and she was shocked and confused at the wild shift in personality.

She loved him and he loved her.

"I'm telling the truth, Baby," Bella said softly, looking into James' wild blue eyes. She searched for the man inside that she knew who was thoughtful, understanding, and so in love with her. She searched for the man that surprised her with flowers and who was the first one to say that he loved her. But the James in front of her was violent, had an uncontrolled temper, and admitted to loving someone else. She didn't know this James.

"You did it on purpose. I could kill you for letting this happen." He'd never threatened her life before whether it was an empty threat or not. When James suddenly threw back his hand and punched at the wall, Bella could not have been more shocked. Would he have punched her? This was so out of character for him. He had a bit of an anger problem, but it was hardly ever directed at her. He'd never cause her physical pain.

But James was full of anger and confusion, and he certainly didn't want to talk about the situation. His hand throbbed with pain. He wanted Bella to feel horrible and also to admit that she was trapping him. Further, he didn't even have children with Victoria and had no interest in ever having any. James felt suffocated inside Bella's apartment and needed to leave. He said nothing more before fleeing her apartment. Bella slid down the wall and cried like she'd never cried in her life. The love she had for James was strong, and her heart was broken and beyond repair. She began thinking of a million questions. What would she do with a baby? How could she make it without his support? How would her family respond? What would her friends say? Was her relationship salvageable? And all questions pointed to one conclusion.

A few hours later, James called to tell Bella he was sorry, and was caught completely off-guard by her news. He wanted to talk more about what they were going to do. She didn't answer her phone. After the fifth message, with each message getting angrier, Bella turned off her phone and was almost finished packing the basics. When he came to her apartment, she didn't answer the door—because she had already left.

When Bella returned from the restroom, she had gathered herself together enough to be social, and reminded herself not to let the past drag down the present. She made it back in time for her favorite part of any meal—dessert. Bella had originally thought that these people were uppity, moneybag snobs, but she changed her mind after tasting the life changing dessert: a chocolate trio that included chocolate mousse, chocolate brulée, and warm chocolate bread pudding. It was a chocolate lovers dream, and Bella—a self-described chocoholic—was won over. She thought she might need to befriend the bride and groom and congratulate them on their impeccable taste in desserts.

There were about 1000 guests in the place, and Bella didn't even think that the entire town had that many people. Bella's father had once been the Chief of Police in the tiny town of Forks, but they had all moved at her mother's insistence many years ago. Her mother always said that the reason for the move was because she hated the slow life that they had in Washington, and her father wanted to please her, so he agreed. Bella found out the real reason many years later when she'd overheard them fighting about it. Her father had actually had an affair with some woman who lived in the nearby La Push area.

It wasn't until Bella wanted to get away from her own life that she transferred to Seattle Pacific University from NYU on a partial academic scholarship. The reason she picked Seattle was fairly easy. It was on the opposite end of the country, it was familiar territory, and her cousin, Angela, had been a wonderful friend to her when she was as fragile as a porcelain doll. Her parents were disappointed that she was moving so far away, but she was old enough to make her own decisions.

It was easy to start over where she knew she had a friendly face to turn to. Bella was very grateful to her aunt and uncle, and especially Angela, for helping her settle. They had extra room in their big house, allowing her to stay until she finished school or was able to afford a place of her own.

"So how long do we have to stay?" Bella asked.

"Don't be so anti-social, Bella. It ends at midnight, but we won't stay that late," Angela answered. "They hired some live bands, including a really popular swing band that I've been dying to hear."

Bella was a bit interested in hearing the live music as she hadn't been out in a while, but she felt exhausted and thought she'd enjoy napping just a bit more. A few minutes later Bella was kicked under the table.

"Ow! Why'd you—"

"Shut up, Bella. Someone has definitely taken notice of you. I wanted to make sure it wasn't a fluke, but I've been catching him outright staring."

"What?" Bella asked with a puzzled look. "Where?"

"Don't make it obvious. Or do. Your call. Two tables ahead, wearing a dark blue suit." Angela wore a big smile on her face. "And I know who he is," she sang excitedly, dancing in her seat. "Just look over casually, you'll see for yourself."

Bella tried to look over as nonchalantly as possible, and she was met with the face of a handsome guy running his hand through a mess of hair. He appeared to be college aged which was not really Bella's type. She was always far more interested in older, more established men. Not that that had worked out for her previously.

"Who is he?" Bella asked. She tried her best to keep her voice low.

"His name is Edward Cullen. He's Alice's brother," Angela answered.

Bella enjoyed her dessert and seductively licked her spoon. It really was that delicious to Bella, and so what if it also brought attention to her mouth? When she caught the guy smiling at her, she gladly returned the favor. She was flattered since she didn't expect any man to really look at her that way until she had given birth and got her body back. Although she enjoyed the attention, she wasn't stupid, and told herself that the reason he was giving her any second glances at all was because he hadn't seen her incredibly pregnant belly from their seated positions. Still, Bella enjoyed that she'd caught his eye.

"And which one is Alice again?"

"The bride!" Angela scolded.

"Oh right. I always forget these things. Either way, that guy is hot—at least from what I can see from here. Wait. What'd you say his last name is?"

Although Bella was a late back up invitee to the wedding, the only detail Bella had known was that Angela was friends with the bride and groom. She didn't know how they knew each other or for how long.

"Cullen."

Bella could feel her face flush and the tiny hairs at the back of her neck stand on end. She remembered, clear as day, who first grade Edward Cullen was, and she even remembered his prissy little twin sister, Alice, who didn't like to get dirty. Bella was quite the opposite and wasn't afraid of having dirt in her nails.

"Why do you ask?" Angela asked.

"Oh, I um, I actually remember him. Or, them actually, from elementary."

"That's great! You've got a true pick-up line!"

Bella's favorite elementary teacher was Mrs. Cope, her first grade teacher, and she had very fond and vivid memories of that school year. Edward sat in her desk group that year. Bella liked Edward because he shared his fruit scented crayons with her. Bella had never seen crayons in which the color orange actually smelled like oranges, or a red crayon smelled like strawberries. His crayon paper was always neatly peeled back and the points were always freshly sharpened. Bella didn't even have to ask to borrow his; he offered to share them. Bella's regular pack of crayons had been used so roughly that a lot of them were broken in halves or more, the paper was jaggedly torn off or completely removed from the crayons, and they didn't seem to color as bright as his. Her favorite part was sniffing her paper after she'd colored or drawn; it added an extra layer of excitement to her senses.

And when they played kick ball, Edward always wanted to be on her team because in his words, "You kick awesome." She got along easily with him because she wasn't afraid of dirt, bugs, or sports, and they were best friends. She'd never forgotten the Valentine's card that she got from him that year. It was a pot of overflowing honey surrounded by bees with smiley faces. "Bee Mine?" was printed on the card. Her family packed up that summer and headed as far from Washington as could be, and Edward was not even an afterthought. But she always remembered how his eyes matched the evergreen trees they played near, and especially, she remembered his kindness to her. She doubted either Edward or Alice would remember her; she wouldn't have known them either, had she not somehow remembered his full name. Bella turned her head away and hid a secret smile. She'd always said James was her first true love, but if Bella knew love in first grade, would she have said that Edward was her first love?

"And if he doesn't come over, I'll introduce you." Angela smiled.

Angela saw the smile that Bella thought she had hidden, and was extremely pleased to see that Bella's mood seemed to have been lifted. She knew that it was always a boost to one's self-esteem to get any flirtation from the opposite sex, and multiplied by one hundred when it happened to be from someone that was very attractive. She hadn't seen Edward in about two years, so Angela had no clue about his relationship status, but it was a good sign that he was noticing Bella and that he didn't appear to have brought a date. Edward was a good guy, and he wasn't a player like a lot of the more popular guys were in high school. She'd also heard from Alice that Edward was going to be transferring to Seattle Pacific University from his current school next semester. Since both Bella and Edward would be attending the same school, Angela decided that the least she could do was try and get Edward and Bella talking.

"Oh no, that's okay," Bella quickly answered. "I will literally die of embarrassment once he sees that I'm pregnant. No one wants to be caught flirting with a pregnant girl. And you know, anyway, I'm planning on dying after my parachute fails to open when I jump out of an airplane at age ninety."

The girls both had a bit of an uncontrolled giggle, which may have brought even more attention to their table. Bella couldn't help but to continue sneaking glances Edward's way every now and again, and he did the same, but they got back to the conversations at their own respective tables. Alice started making her rounds around the room to take pictures and greet her guests as the first band began to set up and the lights began to dim. That was when Bella noticed that Edward was also making rounds throughout the room, and people were starting to mingle among the other tables.

"I don't think I can do this," Bella whispered to Angela, starting to feel tightness in her chest.

"Don't be a wimp," Angela said. She was hoping her words would be encouraging, but they seemed to have the opposite effect.

"I just need some air. I'll be right back," Bella said, almost on the verge of a panic attack.

Before Angela could protest, and while Edward's back was turned away from them, Bella took the opportunity to head to the front of the building. It was a relief to get out of the room that seemed to be closing in on her as she burst out into the wide open spaces and cool evening's air. The problem was that instead of finding clean air, she had basically found every smoker outside and had to cough her way through them. She found fresh air further around the corner from the entrance and leaned against the building, inhaling and exhaling deep breaths. Bella missed smoking, and in fact, she wished she could smoke at that very minute, but she had quit for the sake of her baby.

Bella, however, had a flawed plan and with her hasty escape, had failed to grab her sweater. With the cool September wind hitting her shoulders, she was forced to turn right back around and head back inside. She thought she might find the bathroom to be a comfortable and convenient hideout. When she decided to just get it over with, she rounded the corner and crashed into a rock-hard body in an expensive blue suit.

"Oh, excuse me," she uttered as strong arms gripped one of her arms to steady her. Another hand ghosted near her waist, forcing his eyes down. His eyebrows arched in surprise. He had an unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth and a crooked smile. She gasped when she saw it was Edward, placing her hand over her heart in fright.

"Sorry about that," he responded. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"No problem. It's my fault. I wasn't paying attention."

Up close, Edward was tall, but at Bella's five-foot-four, it wasn't hard to tower over her. She had to look up to meet the new, yet familiar eyes. He had incredibly beautiful green eyes with the tiniest bit of gold, and an even better face than she'd been witness to from afar inside. She tried to see the little boy that she remembered, but he was all grown up and it had done him very well. His face was cleanly shaven, drawing attention to a strong jawline. His hair was short on the sides, but on top it was longer and chaotic and was the color of a bronze statue. His suit was dark blue, and he wore dulled black dress shoes. Bella thought he looked like a million bucks, and his family was probably worth a few million. She couldn't help but think that her entire outfit probably cost less than his shoes or his perfectly coordinated tie.

"I was actually coming over to see you and introduce myself. I'm Edward," he said. He held his hand out and Bella looked at him like he was crazy. Bella cursed Angela for making him come out to see her. She reached out and gave him a pathetic handshake.

"My name is Bella. And hey, listen, you don't have to do this. I told Angela not to bother."

"Who said anything about Angela? I wanted to meet you."

"That's nice," she smiled. Maybe he really could see past her pregnancy and into her inner being. Bella wanted to start off the conversation with the fact that she actually already knew him. "I um, this is going to sound strange…" Bella started. "I think I actually know you. Did you go to Forks Elementary?"

The question was formal, she didn't think she knew him, she absolutely knew him. She could describe actual events and conversations they'd had.

"I did." His lips curled up into a mischievous smile. "From kindergarten through fifth grade."

Bella was distracted by the cigarette moving around his lips as he talked. His lips were full and looked as soft as feather pillows. He made no motion to take it out or even to light it. His smile was infectious and she matched his smile. She wondered if his smile was knowing. Could it be? Could he have remembered her also after all this time?

She had become quite an artist throughout her school days; Bella graduated from her crayons and color pencils to more challenging charcoal drawings and painted pictures. She had so much on her mind and wanted to start off by saying that the sharing of his crayons may have inspired her hobby. She opened her mouth to speak and was interrupted by a third party.

"Edward! There you are!" the voice screeched.

The woman was very pretty and skinny. Even from a distance she could tell that she was all long legs and perky full breasts. The woman wore six-inch stiletto heels and ran effortlessly over to them, as if they were an extension of her bare feet. Bella suddenly felt self-conscious of her sensible flats. The woman wore a sparkly gold mini dress and had long straight blonde hair. A clutch was tucked under her arm and her French manicured nails were wrapped around an expensive looking cocktail glass.

"I'm sorry I'm late! I went to give my congratulations to Jasper and Alice and then I came looking for you, but I found the bar first," she laughed. "It's so good to see you!"

The woman threw her arms around Edward's neck and he steadied her by clutching the sides of her skinny body.

"I think you've had a lot to drink tonight, Lauren," he said.

"I drank a bit before I came. Just a little bit," she slurred. "I can't believe I haven't seen you in a year. Over a year! How long will you be in town?"

"Just a few days."

Edward gave Bella a polite smile; she took that as her cue to wait.

Bella didn't know what to think of the situation. She had just started a conversation with Edward, but he was now distracted. She stood back a bit, shifting the weight of her legs as she expected Lauren to notice that she was also standing there. It worked as the woman turned to look Bella in the eyes and then back to Edward.

"Wait. Who's she?" Lauren pointed at Bella's belly. Her face looked like she'd just eaten a lemon and smelled something foul all at once.

"Oh no," Edward laughed. "She's not my..." He paused and tried again, pointing at Bella's round tummy just as the woman had. "That's not mine."

"Of course not!" Bella added. "I don't even know him," she added softly. Bella didn't think either of them heard her.

"Of course! I was about to say…" Lauren laughed. "There's no way my Edward would be having kids right now."

Bella's heart hurt, and her entire face felt like it was on fire. It wasn't the blush that had her face ablaze, she was pretty sure she could feel her blood boil. She wanted to get out of there, so she offered a quick wave and headed back toward the entrance. Edward nodded his head to acknowledge her leaving, but didn't seem to mind much as she left. He didn't apologize for the interruption or even stop her. Bella could hear their laughter and excited voices all the way to the door as they launched into an unknown discussion. Bella had prepared herself for the rejection; however, she hadn't anticipated that the conversation would only be as long as it would take the first pretty girl to appear. Bella anticipated some random banter about the weather or how she knew the bride or groom or how she knew Angela. Rejection hurt more than it should have, and Bella internally chastised herself for thinking that any man could see past her pregnant belly.

It was funny to both Edward and Lauren that he'd have a child at twenty. In high school, he was especially careful, and the same applied after high school. Lauren began recounting the great memories between her and Edward and of the time they spent together during high school. Edward enjoyed the high school stories and chimed in with his own. It felt like a high school reunion, though he'd seen her randomly about a year before. When Lauren gave Edward a kiss on the cheek, it brought back those not so long ago memories of them as a couple. Edward leaned in just a little bit further, and he felt the magic of their chemistry take over when she gripped his waist. Lauren pulled the unlit cigarette from his mouth, tucked it into his back pocket and made her move. She had been waiting for Edward to come back into town and realize what he had been missing. They were the perfect couple, and she always thought it was a shame that distance ruined their chances of being together forever. Their kisses got so heated that Lauren whispered that they could finish things elsewhere, and she pulled Edward back with her toward her car.

Back inside, Bella rejoined Angela and told her of the run in with Edward.

"Shoot. Lauren, huh? That skank. I thought he had moved on from her! Ah well, he's not good enough for you," Angela said. "There are a lot of single men here tonight. I'll find you another."

Angela scanned the room to seek out a worthy candidate, but she was quickly distracted due to the constant entertainment. Bella smiled and tried to enjoy the bands, but while Angela's comment was meant to make her feel better, it only made Bella feel more rejected than ever. Bella was able to meet Alice and her husband, Jasper, when they made their rounds to Bella and Angela's table. Alice didn't seem to remember Bella from name alone, but she was very nice for the brief time she spent at their table. Alice and Jasper also lived in Seattle, but were attending a different school. They made plans to get together with Angela and Bella sometime in the near future. Alice and her husband didn't have much time to talk; they were quickly ushered off to do the cake cutting.

When it was time for the bouquet toss, Angela insisted on Bella joining in on the fun. Bella declined because, "I don't want to be trampled for a bouquet of crushed flowers."

Angela could tell that Bella's mood had changed and it was time to call it a night. It was hard not to notice that Edward had not come back inside since their brief encounter. In a party of its size, it was hard to keep track of people, but when Bella and Angela said their goodbyes he still had not resurfaced.

[January- Four months later]

Edward always wondered about what Bella would have said and where their conversation would have led had Lauren not interrupted. He knew that it was rude of him to leave the conversation that way, but he also knew that Bella wasn't single and even if she were, he was too young to deal with someone else's child, even for someone as stunningly beautiful as she was. It took him a few days after the wedding to realize that she really did see familiar. He racked his brain to remember knowing a Bella in elementary. He finally remembered "Isabella Swan," the tomboy with long brown hair and big, bright honey colored eyes who loved to draw and color.

Back in school in California, he was surprised that he thought about her a lot, and several times, he almost called Angela to ask for Bella's number so he could quiet his curiosity. Edward realized that hooking up with Lauren was incredibly stupid, and of course, once Edward was back at school, she was far from his mind. But Bella was at the forefront.

XxXxXx

Bella's baby had been born three weeks early and had turned into quite the handful. Baby Sofia Nicole Swan was the most beautiful girl. Every day, Bella found her own features in the face of her baby girl, and she'd be lying if she didn't see a bit of James too.

Bella had worked especially hard on her body after her birth and was lucky that her nineteen year old body was almost back to her pre-baby weight with some extra effort in exercise and diet. Bella's mother and father made the trip to Seattle and stayed for a few weeks, in order to spend some time helping and bonding with the baby. While Bella's parents made their best efforts to encourage Bella to move back with them to New York after the semester was over "to help with the baby," and "to provide a stable environment," Bella insisted on staying put. She didn't want to go back.

James had not contacted Bella since she'd moved and changed phone numbers. When Bella left him, he tried to fix the hole in his heart by trying hard to make it work with Victoria. He couldn't. Just a few months later, he was finally officially divorced. He'd also managed to find out from a friend of a friend in which Bella had still kept in contact with, that she was going to school in Seattle. That was useful information.

XxXxXx

It was hard for Bella to get back to school when Sofia was still so small, but she also knew that getting a degree was the key to being able to provide for her and her baby. Bella had been quite distracted and due to her late registration, she ended up with an odd schedule; she had a nine a.m. class, and then her next class wasn't until noon. After her first class of the new semester, Bella headed toward the library to do some reading, but then decided against it since the weather was beautiful. She found a bright spot with a bench to sit on, and then she took out some paper and a pencil to sketch a section of the building and the scenery behind it. She was just about done when a shadow made Bella look up from her picture.

"Isabella?"

She was surprised to see Edward's beautiful yet puzzled face glancing at her. He was dressed casually in jeans and a tee with a backpack strung over his broad shoulders.

"Wow. The last time I heard my name as Isabella, I was getting in trouble by my mother."

Edward laughed, a big smile that reached his eyes on his face. "Sorry. Bella? Do you mind if I sit?"

"Sure." He sat next to Bella on the bench and they both smiled. There was an unexpected quick silence because both had things they wanted to say.

"I didn't know you went here," Bella said, while at the same time Edward said, "It took me some time to remember—"

They nervously laughed again since they both had stopped and started at the same time.

"Um, yeah, I just transferred here this semester; I'd been planning to for a while. I missed my mom's cooking and all my family is here," Edward answered.

"Cooking. Bringing families together since forever. Except my mom's cooking," Bella responded, shaking her head. Bella was treated to Edward's bright smile. "And I'm sorry to interrupt you earlier, what were you going to say?"

"Well, first, I want to apologize about not getting to chat at my sister's wedding. I really regret not telling Lauren that she was interrupting our conversation."

"Oh, no. Please, no need to apologize. We never really had a conversation. I was eight months pregnant, I mean it's normal…it was to be expected."

Edward looked down at his shoes; he was ashamed and embarrassed about what had happened that night. "When I went back to California, you were on my mind. Or, uh…" he coughed. "Figuring out who you were was on my mind." He watched Bella form a shy smile. " I do know who you are. You were my best friend in Mrs. Cope's class."

"You remembered," Bella said, blushing.

"You look different without your pigtails and braids," Edward said.

"I'm sure the age difference does something to the way a person looks," Bella said, laughing. "And I seem to remember you looked a little different too. You were a bit skinny and very, very pale."

"Hey now, every kid goes through an awkward stage."

Bella smiled. They discussed the differences in the schools they had transferred from, and they found that they both loved to draw and paint and were each taking different art courses during the new semester. This was a fact that they both were quite surprised about.

"Must have been inspired by Mrs. Cope's art projects," Edward said.

"I agree. And I kind of always figured that I was in love with your crayons," Bella admitted, shaking her head and giggling.

And as in every conversation where people knew she was pregnant, the dreaded question came up. Edward seemed a bit shocked that she wasn't married or dating the father of her baby, but he didn't push it. He enjoyed the time spent talking with her, but when an hour passed, Edward had to get to class. As he shook her hand to say it was nice to see her again, he knew that he wanted to spend some more time with her.

"I'm sure I'll see you sometime on campus," Bella said after saying her goodbye.

"Absolutely."

Edward, she thought, was a great guy. But for someone who wasn't married and didn't have his own kids, he had a certain type of freedom that allowed him to choose anyone he wanted. And as he started to walk away, Bella felt a twinge of jealousy.

Bella went back to sketching and shadowing her picture after watching Edward walk out of her sight. She never really expected to see him again. But as soon as he'd disappeared around the corner of the building, she saw someone jogging toward her which made her look up. His face was flushed and he looked a bit nervous. Edward had returned. He ran a hand through his hair. Bella looked down at the bench to see if he'd left something behind, but couldn't find anything.

"Oh hey, Bella, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go out with me sometime?"

"Oh," Bella said, not hiding her surprise.

Edward also noticed. He thought it was cute.

"I, uh, sure."

February

James boarded a one-way flight to Washington. He packed a suitcase with enough clothes for about a week, and he hoped that would be enough time to find Bella and his baby.

Bella and Edward had been dating for just about a month. It was strange to Edward that planning dates with Bella was dependent on getting a babysitter, and sometimes plans had to be cancelled because of her daughter. He'd never anticipated dating a woman who had a baby that wasn't his own, but it was surprisingly easy to fall for a woman like Bella. Edward thought that Bella was strikingly beautiful on the outside, with her golden brown eyes that were a perfect complement to the rest of her porcelain-like face, and a body that was fit. The best thing about Bella besides her outward beauty was that she was a beautiful woman inside as well. She was kind and funny, and they had many things in common. They also had their own likes. They were different yet alike, and that was why things were working out so well.

Bella could feel her heart beginning to heal with Edward coming into her life. She liked him a lot, and his ease with Sofia was incredible. Edward had even asked to help with her once. But it wasn't like Bella felt that Edward had to help with her daughter for him to be with her. Bella and Edward's relationship had been going very slow, it was a learning process for both of them. It was hard for Bella to put her love on the line again, and Edward was making sure that he was ready to be in a relationship with a woman that had a child. Though they'd made out many times and rounded a couple of bases, they'd yet to fully cement their relationship. With Valentine's Day just around the corner, Bella hoped that would be the day. Her aunt and uncle were going on a two-week vacation, and she would have the house to herself.

About a week before the fourteenth, Bella drove home from school after picking up Sofia from child care. She noticed immediately as she drove onto her block that there was an unknown car parked in front of the house. Bella felt uneasiness wash over her but couldn't quite place it. She didn't want to stop to investigate, so she circled the block to decide what her next move would be. She called Edward, who urged her to trust her instincts and to meet him at his apartment. After much discussion, they decided that Edward would stay over at her house.

After finding the right house, and determining that no one was home, James decided to wait inside the rental car's backseat and see if anyone showed up. After waiting for a few hours with no movement inside or outside of the house, James decided that he would go back to his hotel and plan his next move.

The car was gone when Edward and Bella walked into the house, and they didn't see anything suspicious in the house or elsewhere. In the morning, the doorbell rang as Bella was showering. Edward, who was already dressed for the day, went to the door to see who it was. A man was outside. He didn't have anything that he appeared to be selling, but the car that was parked at the curb matched the description Bella had previously described.

Edward cautiously opened the door, and the man looked a bit surprised to see him.

"Yes?" Edward asked. The door was only half way opened.

"I, um, is this where Bella Swan lives?"

"Who's asking?"

The man looked annoyed and irate. "Is she here?"

"No," Edward said.

And then the baby began to cry. James reacted without pause and pushed the door open, shoving Edward out of the way and into the door. The adrenaline was pumping through James' veins. He had come so far to make things right.

"Hey!" Edward yelled.

In the little time it took for Edward to recover, James moved past him quickly. Edward was just a few steps too slow as James made a beeline toward the crying baby.

"Oh," James said once he was at Sofia's crib. He immediately knew that he had found the right place. He knew that the baby was his daughter. "She had a girl." He smiled and couldn't believe that he had been so upset with Bella. His daughter was beautiful, just like her mother and he wanted to hold her. As he moved to pick her up, Edward pushed James' hand out of the way.

"Excuse me, but what the fuck do you think you're doing? Who are you? Get the hell out of the house!"

Bella heard the disturbance and opened the bathroom door and became frozen when she saw what was unfolding. She stood in the doorway, shocked to see James inside of her house. She felt unsteady, like she was about to faint.

"James?"

"Bella. This asshole said you weren't here."

Having found new energy, Edward grabbed James by the collar of his shirt and pushed him into the wall as hard as he could. Bella went to grab Sofia just as Edward pulled back his hand and hit him in the face, causing James to fall. He saw James reach for something in his back pocket and realized right away what it was. But Edward was too slow, and his knuckles felt broken. Before they both knew it, James held a gun up towards Edward, but he looked at Bella.

"Bella. I love you and I love my daughter. Please come back with me to New York."

Bella began to cry. "Please don't kill us," she pleaded. Sofia was screaming at the top of her little lungs, and Bella tried to rock her to calm her down. Edward moved in front of Bella and Sofia, and because of the movement, James shot a warning bullet just to their left. A very loud pop filled the room, but they fortunately were not hit.

"I love you, Bella. Please tell me you still feel the same?" he calmly asked her. She couldn't answer, her mouth was sewn shut. "We have a baby. I will be better." Bella shook her head. "DO YOU LOVE ME?" he screamed. Tears trailed down his cheeks.

"NO!" Bella yelled back. "Just leave us alone!" she sobbed. "You lost your chance to be a father. You lost your chance to be in my life! Please don't do anything you'll regret."

"No. No. NO!" He put his hands up to his forehead. "Fuck you then, you fucking whore!" he shouted. Edward tried to stay as still as possible, shielding Bella and the baby as best as he could. James abruptly turned his back and ran out of the room, hitting the door so hard on his way out that the door knob left a hole in the drywall.

Bella and Edward were beyond shocked, and Bella was incredibly shaken up and upset. Edward called the cops to let them know what had happened. They filed a police report and the police came to retrieve the shell of the bullet.

Having not felt safe until James was caught, Edward, Bella, and baby Sofia stayed in Edward's apartment. Edward hugged Bella tightly as she cried, and he told her that everything would be fine. But he had no idea how far James would go. He'd only recently found out that the reason Bella had left James was because he had become violent. But to stalk Bella? How far would James go if he was willing to fire a gun in a room with Bella and his daughter? Edward wondered if being with Bella put his own life at risk. Would they have to constantly look over their shoulders? Edward knew that being with Bella had many, many obstacles, and he wasn't sure he was up for the challenge.

James had gone into town and purposely looked into buying a gun as soon as he had arrived in Washington. He figured that if he confronted Bella and she told him that she didn't love him, he'd kill her and then himself. He believed he had nothing to live for. He didn't think he'd actually use it; he expected to have a calm conversation with her. And when a guy answered the door instead of Bella, he was beyond jealous, and he felt the anger rise from within him. He was furious. Who was some random guy to say that he couldn't see Bella or his own baby? And when he saw Bella—still as gorgeous as ever—he didn't mean to yell or call her names. He didn't mean to point the gun, threaten her, or send a bullet into the room. He left the house with wild thoughts running through his mind. Once inside his car, he considered crashing it into the house. But no, he loved Bella, and the few seconds that he saw his baby was enough to know that he loved her too. James knew that he was the problem, and he knew what to do.

After a rough night, Bella got a phone call from the police as they were getting ready for their day the next morning. James was dead. Someone heard two gunshots and called the police. Although he had a gun, he'd shot at a table and lamp inside his hotel room and swallowed a bottle of painkillers, chasing it with liquor. He was rushed to the hospital but died before arrival.

Bella broke down again and Edward was there to hold her tight, telling her that things would be alright. That was the first man she had ever loved, and she didn't think her heart could hurt more, even after all he'd done. Edward kissed her forehead and stroked her hair, telling her over and over that it would be alright. But would things be okay? he wondered. It was that moment that Edward had to make a decision: Was this one month relationship worth it? Was she worth it?

One year later – Valentine's Day

Edward woke up very cold on his bed. He looked over to the sleeping woman beside him who snored softly. She was wrapped in a warm blanket cocoon, while he was left out in the cold. He pushed a stray hair back and gently caressed the side of her face. Edward believed that she was beyond beautiful—without an ounce of makeup, with a nest of sex hair, even when her eyes weren't open. He thought he was a very lucky man to be with her and couldn't have imagined how different his life had become over the past year.

"Good morning," he whispered into her ear. She squinted at him and then closed her eyes again.

He kissed her cheek and she smiled. "Let me sleep a few more minutes," she muttered.

A few minutes later, the naked woman unraveled her blanket and snuggled into Edward, covering them into a warm shelter of blankets.

"Happy Valentine's Day, honey," she said.

She kissed him slowly, favoring his bottom lip as he opened his mouth to allow the mingling of their tongues to intensify their kisses. Edward held the sides of her head to keep the hair from falling onto his face. He sat up and she sat just off his lap as she stroked his dick. She enjoyed feeling it harden and grow in the palms of her hands. She loved that her presence caused this reaction from Edward, and she very much enjoyed it. He kissed her mouth, her neck, her delicate breasts, and with his arousal, he became a bit more aggressive—sucking, biting, playing with her breasts—as her manicured nails dug into his back. And when he fingered her and she was wet and ready, Edward pushed inside her, causing her to moan with the utmost pleasure. "Edward, Edward, Edward," she moaned as he gripped her sides and she rolled her hips back and forth. Edward guided her very slow movements, enjoying the feeling of being inside of her as they kissed, feeding the electricity radiating between them.

"Shit, you feel good, so fucking good," Edward uttered.

"Don't hold back, honey," she said seductively. She positioned her hands onto his muscular shoulders, and began using his shoulders to start bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down.

The room was filled with their pleasure moans, and a slight squeaking of the bed. Edward gripped her hips and helped set the pace, a furious one in which her breasts bounced hard and they could feel each other's hearts beating.

He loved her.

"Ahhhhh," they moaned together. "Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Oh God, Oh God," the woman breathily uttered. Edward rolled her over so that she was lying flat and he began another strong pace, on top, taking time to kiss her and appreciate her, to treat her like the goddess that she was.

He wanted her forever.

And when she said she was ready to come, he too, wanted to ride the trance of pleasure with her. And they had perfected how to come together.

She was perfect.

Later, after they'd showered and the woman lay on the bed, resting her eyes, Edward left the room to get his surprise ready.

Once he retrieved the ring, he palmed it and lay back beside her on the bed. Her eyes were still closed, but there was a smile playing on her lips.

"Bella?"

She opened her eyes slowly, she was on a beautiful high and didn't want it to ever end.

He was perfect.

"I love you."

"I love you, too, honey," she said, smiling. And Bella meant the words, unlike anything she'd ever felt for anyone—ever. Meeting Edward was unexpected, and he was truly there for her and baby Sofia, when her life was at an all-time low. He was her strength when she had none of her own. He held her hand and hugged her when she was confused and angry. He was there unexpectedly when Bella wasn't anticipating love for a long while, if at all. Edward was her everything.

Edward rolled over onto his side and laced one of his hands with hers.

"Get up, I have a present to give you."

"I thought we said we weren't going to do presents this year," she said. "Being together is enough. I told you not to—"

He dragged her to his spare room. He'd set his easel up with a drawing he'd made. It was a drawing of them holding hands. It was signed, From Edward with love.

"Oh, my gosh! I love it!" She threw her hands around Edward, and kissed him several times before admiring the details. "It's perfect."

"There's also something on the back of the picture…" She looked back at him with a question on her face.

She flipped the page, and in big bold words in the center of the page: Will you marry me, Bella?

There were hearts all over the page, surrounding the words in different colors, colored in crayon. And the scent hit her like a wave: strawberries, bananas, oranges, blueberries, and grapes.

Bella's jaw dropped and her eyes filled with tears. "You are everything a guy could want, Bella. You're gorgeous, you have a killer sense of humor, and I want you and Sofia to be my family, forever."

Bella's eyes were blurred from the tears, and she couldn't speak, so she just nodded her head enthusiastically.

He picked up her left hand and placed the princess cut diamond ring on her hand before kissing the tip of her finger.

"Yes, of course I'll marry you!" she finally answered. He kissed her deeply and passionately. Their love was electric and true. Every cell in Bella's body felt alive with happiness and excitement. Bella had loved James, but with Edward, theirs wasn't just love, it was love in bold letters.

"I love you."

Kiss

"I love you."

Kiss

"I love you."

Bella and Sofia were already his family. Now, Edward thought, it would be official.