Pop the Question Contest Entry

Title: The Only One That Mattered
Word Count (without the A/n and header): 3131
Pairing: Bella & Edward
Rating: M
Summary: How many times does a woman have to say no before a man stops asking? (Hint: A LOT.)
Warnings (if any): I've been told you might get a toothache from part of this, but other than that, no warnings. Enjoy!

Thank you to my girls, and to the one who inspired this with a fantastic plot bunny. Couldn't have done it without you!

The Only One That Mattered

"Bella, please, will you just say yes so he'll shut the hell up? I'm kind of tired of hearing him beg like a wounded puppy," Emmett says.

"Nope."

"Seriously?" Rosalie quips. "Why not? I mean, this is only the third time he's asked . . . this week."

Esme hides a smile behind her hand, and Carlisle pats me on the shoulder. "You'll get her next time," he says.

I groan. "You'd think after the thirty-third time, she'd say something other than 'no.'"

"Alice, will you help me this weekend?"

She rolls her eyes at me, and I can already tell that she wants to tell me no. She's already helped me with the last four proposals to Bella. But I'm determined Bella will accept one of these days; all it will take is the perfect moment. Right?

I've been proposing to Bella since we were five years old. Actually, I proposed on the first day of Kindergarten, but I don't think she remembers that one.

"Fine, Edward. But if she says no again, I'm done. I've already planned the most romantic, the funniest, and the most out of this world dorky proposals for you," she ticks off on her fingers. "I don't know how much more I can do. If she doesn't want to get married, she doesn't want to get married," my sister says softly.

"She wants to marry me, Al. We've been best friends since we met, dating since we were twelve, and living together for the last four years. We're like Corey and Topanga, and Topanga believed in true love and wanted to get married."

"Only you would make Boy Meets World references in casual conversation, Edward. Remind me again, what does Bella see in you?"

"The man of her dreams," I say matter-of-factly. "She wants to marry me. She does," I say more to myself than to Alice.

Alice snaps her fingers. She looks kind of a like a light bulb went off over her head, and her eyes are glowing. "I've got it!"

A week later, I meet Jasper and his nephew in the park I know Bella likes to read in on her lunch break. I'm giving him final instructions when she walks through the gates and takes a seat on her favorite bench. As usual, she's come in with her nose already buried in her book, so she doesn't noticed Jasper or me.

"Okay, Petey. I want you to go over to Bella, get down on one knee, and say, "Will you marry me?""

Peter squirms uncomfortably, taking the Ring Pop I've pressed into his hand. He looks at his uncle and sighs. "I don't like girls, Unca Ja'per. I don't wanna ask Bella to marry me. I don't like her. And girls have cooties. Mama says."

Romance is clearly lost on the three year old.

"It's all right, Peter. You don't actually have to marry her. Just see what she says."

He sighs again, eyes solemn. "Okay, Unca. I ask her."

I chew on my thumbnail as Peter makes his way to where Bella is sitting, and waits until she notices him standing there before getting down on one knee, presenting her with the Ring Pop and asking, "Will ya marry me, Miss Bella?" The look on his face is adorable, like he has just taken a big bite of a lemon.

Bella smiles tenderly and pulls him into her lap. I'm close enough to hear what she's saying when she answers him. "I'm sorry, Peter Pan. I can't marry you. You're much too young. And besides that, don't think I haven't noticed you giving your snacks to Charlotte from preschool when you think no one is looking." She ruffles his hair, unwrapping the Ring Pop and offering it to him.

Peter smiles happily then, and gestures to where Jasper and I are standing. "S'okay. You can marry Eddard." He leans in and whispers conspiratorially. "He's old like you, an' he likes you a lot. I think he likes you like Mama likes Daddy. Does you play wrestling wif your shirts off in your bedroom, too?"

Note to self: Tell Jessica her son has seen her having sex with her husband. Not only will it mortify her, it will be retribution for her agreeing to let me use her kid in another failed proposal.

"Please, Edward. I'll do anything," Bella begs as I thrust into her, full of purpose and determination. I know what she wants. She wants to come. If she's promising to do anything, she wants to come badly. "Please, just let me -"

"Anything?" I gasp between pants.

"Anything," she nods.

"Marry me."

She shoves me away from her and wraps a sheet around herself. "No. We've talked about this," she says. "I can't - won't - agree to marry you just because you're being an ass and won't do that thing I like so I can get off. Not fair at all," she huffs.

I sigh. Because she refuses to be coerced into agreeing to what must be the hundredth proposal from me, it looks like neither one of us will be getting off tonight.

I really loathe the idea of blue balls.

Just as I'm about to taunt Bella about being whatever the female version of blue balled is, she slides her hand down her stomach, into the tuft of curls at the apex of her thighs.

Well if she's taking matters into her own hands - fingers, whatever - I'm going to, too. I nearly drool on myself before my hand wraps around my shaft, and I stroke myself to an orgasm just as Bella reaches her own climax.

I watch with baited breath as the waitress goes to Bella's table and hands her the check book thingy servers use these days, along with a glass of wine. If Molly has done as I've asked - and compensated her well for, I might add - she's just presented Bella with the check, and inside, instead of a mint, Bella will find the ring I've been trying to give her for the better part of two years.

I strain to listen as Molly tells Bella the piece of jewelery in the check book is from the gentleman in the corner. Bella smiles ruefully at Molly, hands her a credit card, and shakes her head in my direction. She takes a long draw off of the glass in front of her, and then my view is suddenly blocked by Molly. "She said thanks for the wine, but she didn't want this," Molly says, gently placing the ring in my open palm.

No again? This is getting ridiculous. I inhale sharply and grin at her as I take a seat next to Bella with my own glass of wine in hand.

One of these days she'll realize we are meant to be, and will agree to marry me.

Right?

"So, Bella," Alice says sweetly. "I'm thinking of throwing a party next weekend." Alice nudges me gently. She knows requesting Bella's hand in marriage hasn't been easy on me, and she's hoping in a room full of people, Bella won't turn me down this time.

This time.

I'd lost count of how many times I'd proposed so far. Hell, Bella had likely lost count at this point. I knew Alice had a fair idea, but I honestly didn't want to ask her.

Emmett slaps me on the back. "Engagement party, Alice?"

Bella snorts and snarks right back at him. "Did you finally grow a set and decide to ask Rose, Em?"

Emmett doesn't miss a beat. "No, I'm waiting until Christmas to do that."

I smile at Bella and take her hand in mine. "Alice just wants to throw a party, babe. No reason."

Alice nods emphatically. "No, no reason. It's just nicer weather now and I thought it might be nice to have a barbecue or something like that," she says.

"Sounds like fun. Do you need any help?"

The next weekend, I'm sure Bella is ready to kick her own ass for offering to help Alice as she struggles with two huge watermelons, a la Baby in Dirty Dancing.

"Alice, where do you want these?" It's the night before the barbecue, and Alice suddenly had to have at least one watermelon to soak in vodka. I have no idea why, but she insists it's a must at any decent party. Pretty sure Bella and I rolled our eyes in sync when she said that.

Hours later, when Bella has gone against everything Alice thought about her and turned me down in front of a yard full of my family, friends, and friends of friends, Bella is helping me clean up the deck. I have hope that she will deign to tell me now why she keeps saying no, but she doesn't. She quietly picks up discarded plates and stuffs them into a trash bag.

Emmett has convinced us all to go see a new movie called Face Punch. Apparently it's about a bunch of idiots punching each other in the face, but I'm more concerned with the elaborate thing Rosalie helped me set up that will show before the movie starts.

I stole the idea from . . . someone. I can't remember where I got it, to be honest. But Rosalie spoke with the manager of the theater, and pictures we took last week will show just before the previews.

Rose went above and beyond this time. She helped me set up rose petals in the shape of a heart on First Beach, and spell out, "Will you marry me?" in the sand. After we did that, she took a photo of me kneeling and presenting a ring. That will be the last slide that shows before the house lights come up and I anxiously await Bella's response.

She's chattier than usual today. For whatever reason, Bella is really excited about this movie, and she's been talking about coming to this showing for more than a week. Emmett got to her, I suppose.

I buy our tickets while Bella, Alice, and Rosalie go in to grab popcorn and drinks. Bella isn't aware that both sets of our parents are sitting in the last row of the theater, invited by Rosalie of all people.

I have a good feeling about today. This will be the day she says yes, I'm sure of it.

The girls chat, and Emmett and Jasper make fun of me when I pat my pocket again to check that the ring hasn't fallen out.

The lights dim, and it looks like the previews are beginning, so the girls quiet down. There, in stunning Technicolor, are the words of the proposal, followed quickly by the shot of me on one knee.

When the house lights come up, everyone in the theater has their eyes focused on where I'm reproducing the image that just faded off of the big screen. Bella's eyes are wide with shock. I don't think she thought I'd go to such great lengths. She sits in silence for a few seconds, then giggles and says - loudly enough for the entire room to hear - that that's the best preview she's seen in a while, and she definitely wants to see that movie.

I try to hide the hurt in my eyes, but I know a few of my family members see it. I think I've finally realized. She's never going to marry me. She's happy with where we are, and she doesn't ever want to legally bind herself to me.

That really sucks.

More than a year has gone by since the last time I proposed to Bella. After she said no at the movie theater, I realized she was going to answer negatively every time. So I stopped asking.

I won't lie, it makes me more than a little sad that she doesn't want to marry me, but today I'm in a celebratory mood because we've just closed on our first house together.

I jokingly ask her whether if, now that we're bound by a house we both signed a mortgage for, she'll marry me. She laughs loudly and apologizes for not being able to make an honest man out of me.

Three months after we move in, I come home from work one evening and Bella greets me at the door, white a sheet. "Baby, what's wrong?"

She takes me by the hand and leads me to our bathroom. The sink and back of the toilet are covered in sticks approximately the size of thermometers. "Are you sick, Bella? What's wrong?" I ask again.

She hasn't spoken at all, and upon taking a closer look, I realize the thermometer like things are actually more than a dozen pregnancy tests. I pick one up. There, in black and white on the tiny digital screen, is a single word.

Pregnant.

I gasp and the test clatters back to the sink.

My baby is having my baby. I pick her up and hug her tightly. "This is great, Bella!"

She chokes on a sob. "I thought you were going to be angry with me. It's just that, when I was sick last month, I forgot that antibiotics interfere with birth control, and I know you said you didn't want to start a family before we got married, and I've turned you down so many times . . . I can't even figure out why you're still with me, and -"

I put a hand over her mouth to quiet her. "I am not angry with you," I say slowly, then smirk at her. She's still all wide eyes and blinking back tears. "But doesn't this make you want to say yes now?"

She narrows her eyes at me. "This makes me fear pushing something the size of a watermelon out of a hole the size of a lemon, Edward. This does not make me want to marry you."

After Bella's baby shower - we're having a girl; Esme is ecstatic at the idea of a granddaughter and Alice is in shopping heaven - Dad pulls me up to her bedroom while Rose and Alice help Bella go over a list of what we'll still need now that we've been given all these amazing gifts.

"Edward," Dad starts, "I want to give you something." He steps over to Mom's jewelery box, and after opening it, reverently lifts something from the velvet interior.

"This was your Great Grandmother Jo's wedding ring," Dad says, placing it in my palm.

"No woman has ever said no when presented with that ring," Mom says from the doorway.

"I don't know why I didn't think to give it to you sooner," Dad muses. "It might have prevented you from having to ask so many times."

Mom laughs, walks into the room, and wraps an arm around my waist. "Did I ever tell you I said no the first time your dad asked me to marry him?"

This is a bit of family history I haven't heard before. "No, you didn't."

"Mmhm." She nods. "I said no three times before he got this ring from your grandmother and asked me again."

"You said no four times, dear, and I know you thought about saying no the fifth time until I told you this was my grandmother's ring." Dad kisses Mom's hair, then her forehead, and they share a moment before I clear my throat and alert them that I am, in fact, still in the room. My parents are still sickeningly in love after more than thirty years of marriage.

"Thank you," I say, turning the ring over in my hands. It's a princess cut diamond in an antique setting. I'm sure Bella will love it.

Mom lays a hand on my wrist. "Ask her when you get home this evening. Maybe she'll be more receptive if you do it while you're alone," she says, gently chiding me for planning such big proposals in the past.

I do ask Bella when we get home, while I'm massaging her aching feet. In retrospect, it probably wasn't a good time to do it. She was exhausted from the long day and already emotional. She burst into tears and said she couldn't ever marry me, because she was so fat and miserable. Pregnancy hormones are a bitch.

Women are entirely too confusing. I wouldn't break Dad or Mom's heart by admitting Bella had broken the perfect streak of Great Grandma's ring.

Bella groans when a loud cry over the monitor pierces the silence of our bedroom. It's barely nine p.m., but Bella is exhausted, and I'm working on my laptop to keep her company in bed. "I'll get her, sweetheart. You get some rest." I haul myself out of bed and pad down the hall to Samantha's nursery.

"Samantha Josephine Cullen, you should be asleep, little lady," I coo as I lift my daughter from her crib.

I sing softly to her as I change her diaper and then we go to the kitchen to warm up a bottle of milk Bella has pumped. I'm still singing, silly nonsense songs where I make all the words up as I go along, when we get back into the nursery, and I settle into the rocking chair.

When Sammy Jo - my nickname for my perfect, amazing girl - starts sucking greedily on the bottle, I hum quietly to myself, I take a surreptitious sniff of her fresh, clean scent: a perfect combination of baby powder and milk.

The baby's eyes are starting to droop heavily when I tell her that one day, her mama and I will get married, and she can be the flower girl. That that's what Mama said no for all those times - she was waiting on the most perfect flower girl who ever lived.

I put her over my shoulder to burp her and am still rocking, long after she's fallen asleep against me, just enjoying the relative silence of the night, when I hear it.

"Yes."

I stop rocking, startling Sammy a little, and look at Bella, who is resting against the door jamb with a serene smile on her face. I know my face must be flickering with some kind of confusion, but when it finally hits me - she said yes! - I reach into the pocket of my pajama pants and pull out my cell phone.

I lay the baby back in her crib, and close the door gently before pressing Bella against the wall. Between kisses, I dial my parents' number. "Mom? Did I wake you? Oh, good. Hey, can you watch Sam tonight?"

Esme answers affirmatively and asks if everything is okay. I know she can hear the smile in my voice when I tell her, "She said yes."