Pop the Question Contest Entry
Title: Crossed Wires
Word Count: 3,977
Summary: Edward and Bella reminisce about the time when they finally made their intentions formal. Recounting what happened when they 'did the proper thing', they remember that it wasn't all plain sailing!
"I remember it as if it were only yesterday…"
My lips form an involuntary grin as I contemplate the words my wife of twenty years has just murmured.
We're sitting in quiet contemplation, gazing out over the lake, her fingers lazily tracing random patterns on my thigh. Our togetherness is comfortable, uncomplicated, and never-ending. It was always meant to be, though there was a time when I thought we'd never be able to overcome the first hurdle and step into the next stage of our life together. In hindsight, I don't think it would have mattered how we crossed that bridge. At the time, however, it had seemed as though our planets were misaligned, causing us to overlook the signals that were so obviously pointing us down a shared path.
Twenty-two years earlier
Christmas Day is always an important day for my family. It's the one day that we all make a real effort to get together—despite the distances that separate us throughout the remaining three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year. Today is no different, really, though it's the first Christmas the Cullens have spent together in two years. With Emmett and Alice studying at one end of the country and me working at the other end, family gatherings have been a little complicated to arrange. As a result, it's the first opportunity I've had to introduce Bella to everyone—well, everyone except my sister. After all, Alice introduced us to one another, having befriended Bella during her summer break the year before.
With the Christmas meal settling happily in our stomachs, we've moved to the sitting room where a roaring fire quickly turns my father's cheeks a rosy red. Actually, it may be the whisky doing that, but I won't judge. Carlisle looks happy, and I watch him as he settles into his favorite armchair, surveying his family with pride. My mother, Esme, has announced that it's time to exchange gifts, and my heart rate spikes at the thought of what I'm about to do. I mean, I know it's just a formality, as Bella and I have already talked about it, but I can't help feeling that this is what will finally seal the deal. After all, I intend to do this in front of my family; until recently, they were the most important people in my life.
An hour later, I still haven't been able to bring myself to do it. I've distributed my various packages to those present, including the few small, innocuous items I've purchased for Bella. Despite the fact that the tiny box I have for her is threatening to burn a hole in my pocket, I can't seem to find the right moment. I'm beginning to panic a little, as I can see that Carlisle is about to drift off into a stupor brought on by overindulgence, and Esme is starting to fuss with our coffee cups. The selection of gifts under the tree has dwindled at an alarming rate, and I know that the moment will be lost if I don't act quickly.
Catching Bella's eye from across the room, I motion for her to follow me, and I watch as she gracefully rises from the sofa—where she has been sandwiched between Alice and Rosalie—and shoots me a questioning look. I beckon to her, silently asking her to join me in the foyer.
As much as I'm enjoying this Cullen family gathering—the first I've been to—I'm relieved when Edward signals to me across the sitting room, motioning toward to foyer. The heat from the fire has made us all a little drowsy, and I'm growing increasingly afraid that I won't be able to do what I have planned. Edward's father looks as though he's already nodding off into whisky-induced oblivion, and Alice and Jasper seem to be itching to go to her room for some privacy. I don't blame them—Edward and I could do with some of that, too—but I really want all the family members to be present when I give Edward the last remaining gift I have for him. This particular gift is screaming to me from the purse at my feet.
I rise, collecting my purse, and nervously excuse myself from Alice and Rose. I have no idea why my heart is fluttering so—I mean, Edward and I have already talked about it. Being a stranger to almost all of the others in the room makes it feel that much more real—and frightening. I think I have a pretty good idea how Edward will respond, but his family…they don't know me.
Edward's been really antsy these past few days, and it's been worrying me. It doesn't help that we can't get together on weekdays. I mean, I know he's only a ninety-minute drive away, but his shifts don't lend themselves that well to long-distance commuting, and my old truck would probably fall apart if I forced it to make the journey twice a day. Still—I know what I want, and I was pretty sure I knew that he wanted it, too. But having seen him with his family today, I'm no longer convinced.
He's pacing anxiously in the foyer when I join him, and I wonder briefly what's been causing his mood. I watch as he rakes a hand through his hair and gestures for me to sit on the stairs. Something feels off, and my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach as I think of the gift I have yet to give him, silently thanking God that I haven't yet mentioned it. I briefly close my eyes, hoping against hope that Edward hasn't changed his mind.
I watch as Bella settles herself on the step in front of me and can't help thinking she looks like a startled doe. She's clutching her purse tightly to her chest, and I dearly want her to drop it to the floor so that I can take her hands in mine, but her body-language is warning me against making the suggestion. Pacing the foyer, I'm beginning to realize that today hasn't turned out at all the way I had wanted it to, and my mind starts racing as I try to pinpoint exactly when the mood shifted. Was it before we set off for my parents' house? En route? Or was it after we arrived? I can't quite put my finger on what's going on here, but I do know that there are some very strange vibes between Bella and me right now.
Pausing, I reach into my pocket to feel for the box, fearing that my constant checking will have ruined the gift wrap or loosened the contents from the tiny sponge slot. I wish I knew what Bella was thinking because, if she's not ready for what I intend to do, then this will turn out to be a complete and utter disaster. Sighing, I realize that I've made the big mistake of second-guessing her again, assuming that she'd be delighted with my plans for today. When will I ever learn?
Edward continues to pace, one hand in his pocket, the other grasping repeatedly at handfuls of hair. By the look on his face, I'm beginning to assume that he has something bad to tell me—something so awful that he can't find the words—and I clutch my purse closer to my chest, desperate to calm my nerves. Maybe being back in the bosom of his family has reminded him of who he really is—and of the fact that I'm just not in the same league as him.
"Edward," I whisper. "Please, stand still for a moment. You're giving me whiplash."
He stops abruptly, turning to face me, and I can hear my heartbeat thumping away in my ears. Only then do I recognize the panic in his eyes.
"What is it, honey?" I ask. "What's wrong?" Inside, I may not be ready for his answer, but I don't want to draw this out any longer than necessary. He could have picked a better day to do it, but I won't stand in his way if he wants out. I may have given him every part of me I could give, but I still have my pride.
When Bella speaks, I'm drawn out of the confines of my racing mind. Turning to face her once more, I'm awestruck all over again by her exquisiteness. From the tips of her chestnut hair to her dainty little feet in those scruffy chucks she prefers to wear, she is beauty personified. Despite her diminutive stature, she's so self-assured, so down-to-earth, and remarkably unaware of her amazing strength. I hadn't known what I yearned for in a woman until I met her just six months ago—and Isabella Swan has it all. I want her with all of my being, but I'm afraid she'll reject me—after all, what have I to give but my undying affection?
Murmurings from the sitting room finally spur me into action, and as I move toward Bella, I see her eyes begin to glisten and her lower lip begin to quiver almost imperceptibly. It pains me deep in my soul to see her looking so afraid, and I pause, sending a silent message to the heavens in a bid for strength. My heart swells with so much love for her that I fear I'm going to make an almighty fool of myself—I can already sense the shakiness in my breath—but I know there's no going back now. If she refuses my request, then I will take it on the chin and keep myself together… even though I know that I would rather wither and die than live without her love.
Kneeling at her feet, I gently pry Bella's hands from her purse, and we both watch as it slips to the floor. Her breath catches in her throat as she turns her gaze toward me, and I reach to gently brush away a solitary tear that has escaped and is slowly trickling its way down her cheek.
"I could ask you the same thing," I murmur. "You seem so… distracted." I berate myself for being unable to think of a better word.
We're temporarily interrupted as my mother breezes by with a tray full of coffee cups on her way to the kitchen, and I fear the moment is lost. Emmett follows closely behind, the sound of his lumbering gait making me roll my eyes irritably.
"Don't mind me," he mumbles before disappearing in Esme's wake.
"Bella, sweetness," I continue, attempting to return us both to the here and now. "Please, tell me what you're thinking."
My purse has slipped from my grasp, and every ounce of my composure has gone with it. Edward is kneeling at my feet, his palm resting gently against my cheek, and I can't seem to shake this feeling of dread. I don't think I've ever seen him so ill-at-ease before; he's normally so calm and composed.
My mind switches briefly to the day we first met, just six months earlier. Having offered to drive Alice to visit her brother, I hadn't been prepared for the vision that greeted us when we rang the bell to his apartment. Standing there in running shorts and a vest, a toothbrush clamped between his lips and a coffee pot in his hand, I had immediately felt my insides liquefy—inexplicably, I thought. He hadn't been at all like I'd anticipated, but, quite frankly, I'd been unable to stop staring.
He was a damn sight taller than I'd imagined—and broader. In fact, he bore very little resemblance to his sister, if truth be told. Alice had spoken of him often, and it was clear that she idolized him and that he was an all-round nice guy. But I certainly hadn't expected him to be quite so… mesmerizing.
That day had marked the beginning of what could only be described as a whirlwind romance.
Edward had wooed me from day one. He was the perfect gentleman, even when that wasn't really what I'd expected—or wanted, to be honest. I simply wasn't used to being treated like someone important—like I mattered. The break up with Mike had probably done that to me…
Occasionally, Edward would utter something out of the blue—like how sexy he found me, or how much he wanted me—but mostly he played his cards extremely close to his chest. It kept me guessing, and I liked that…a lot. Slowly, but surely, he had wormed his way into my hardened heart and had taught me to trust him—to trust what he was offering—so, eventually, I did.
And this is why I now find myself sitting on the bottom step in his parents' house, nervously wondering whether I've read his signals correctly or not.
She's hesitating, and I suddenly find myself remembering how she was when we first met.
Bella was a goddess—she still is, in my eyes. In all honesty, every time I stop to look at her properly, I can't believe my luck. She's my everything. She's calmed down a little over the past few months, and I'm hoping it's because she knows she can trust me. But she remains feisty at times—and I love her for that.
She was so fiercely independent when we first got together—almost abrasive in her responses to me—and, since I'd never encountered such a free spirit before, I relished the challenge. That's not to say it was smooth sailing…far from it, at times!
Bella clearly wasn't used to being treated the way she deserved to be. When I opened doors for her or offered to carry her bag when we took our first trip away together, she all but jabbed me in the ribs, muttering something about being 'perfectly capable of doing that sh*t myself.' I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat taken aback at first. But I understand all of that now—at least, I hope I do. She's strong, and she does what she needs to do in order to remain that way.
I only hope that I can help her soften a little, loosen up and let me share whatever burdens or fears she has. I want to tell her that she can rely on me. I want to let her know that I'm hers…forever…if she'll have me. But right now, she's sitting on the bottom step of my parents' stairs, looking for all the world like she wants to bolt.
Please, Bella. Just listen to what I have to say…
I'm worried that my purse is now out of my reach, and with it the gift that I'd bought on the spur of the moment—when I was feeling certain that the future was one we would spend together.
When I bought it, I really wanted to make this statement, but right now everything just seems off. I suddenly feel really foolish about it. It just seems wrong—not at all what Edward would want.
How could I be so stupid? In the months we've been together, how could I not assimilate the fact that he's traditional? And that I'm really not the type of girl his parents would want for him.
My hands begin to shake as I attempt to string together a coherent sentence. In my head, I briefly question my memories—we did speak about our future together, didn't we? It is what he wants, isn't it? But, having seen him with his family, I don't really know any more. They're all so refined and proper—not at all as abrasive and opinionated as me.
I briefly close my eyes and am assaulted by images of our relationship so far. The way he gallantly opens doors for me; the shock on his face when I refused his offer to carry my bag that time we went on a trip to the mountains together; his shocked expression when he heard me curse for the first time. My God! I'm so not the right sort of person for him—or his family…
Opening my eyes and gazing at his exceptional beauty, I realize in an instant that these past six months have been a dream. There is no way I belong in his life.
I watch as a myriad of emotions appear to flutter across Bella's face, and I'm temporarily confused by what I see. The anxiety she was displaying only moments ago seems to have been replaced by a look of enlightenment, followed closely by one of resolve.
I watch as she raises her chin ever so slightly, a flash of pride and determination filling her teary eyes.
"Bella?" I question, and I feel my heart pounding wildly in my chest.
This is all going so horribly wrong! My God—why can't I just spit it out?
"Bella?" I repeat. "What is it? Sweetheart, speak to me…"
When she responds, her voice is unnaturally quiet, and I have to lean forward to catch her words.
"Edward, I think it's time I left."
What? What did she just say? NO!
Panic overtakes me, and I hurriedly clasp her wrists in my hands.
"But… but why? No! You can't leave. I mean… why?" Clearly, I'm not making a great deal of sense right now, but eloquence is the least of my concerns. What I need to do as a matter of urgency is to persuade the girl of my dreams to stay right where she is, at least for a moment.
Alarm has caused beads of perspiration to spring from almost every pore of my body, and I curse under my breath as I reach into my pocket to retrieve the most important gift I will give to anyone… ever. My other hand is still holding Bella's wrists in an anxious grip, and almost abruptly I become painfully aware of the fact that I'm doing this all wrong.
Gasping with exasperation, I release my grip, but not before staring wide-eyed at Bella, willing her to stay where she is. True to form, however, she ignores my warning and begins to rise from the step, looking about as confused and anxious as I feel.
"No!" I shout, and even I am taken aback at the tone of my voice. "Just stay right there… please."
I don't think I've ever seen Edward so animated, and for a moment his actions startle me.
What in God's name is going on here?
He's fumbling in his pocket, and I notice that he's broken out into a sweat. To top it all off, he just shouted at me. I mean, really shouted. I don't think I've ever heard him raise his voice—not once—and that fact alone has glued me back to the step.
Edward continues to scramble about in his pocket, and I almost want to reach out to help him, he looks so clumsy and flustered. In an instant, however, I realize that he's extracted something small and crumpled—something that looks suspiciously like a little box that was once neatly wrapped in glittery paper. The silver bow adorning the package is squashed and looking slightly sorry for itself, but there's no mistaking the fact that this is another gift—a gift that has caused Edward quite a degree of anguish, judging by the look on his face.
Oh God. Could this be…?
Having extracted the box from my pocket, I exhale loudly in exasperation when I see the state it's in. This wasn't at all how I'd planned things… My gaze shifts from the somewhat wrinkled offering in my palm to Bella's wide-eyed features, and I know that the time has come. It may not be perfect; it may be somewhat—no, scratch that—a lot messier than I'd hoped; it's way less romantic than I'd envisioned; but the time is now. No question.
I switch my position so that I'm on one knee, the rather shabby-looking box in my left hand. Reaching out, I gently clasp Bella's chin and lean forward so that our lips barely touch. Then I lean back again and take her right hand in mine.
"Bella," I begin. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on right now, but I know I need to say this, so please, hear me out."
I take a deep breath as Bella continues to stare at me, and I notice that her eyes are beginning to look a little glassy as they fill up with tears. I close my eyes for a fraction of a second, silently hoping that they're tears of joy. I can't stop to contemplate it any more, though, because my next sentence is one that I've been practicing in my head for the past five months… it needs out.
"Isabella Swan," I begin, my voice wavering ever so slightly. "I promise to love you forever—every single day of forever." I hesitate before inhaling sharply, then continuing. "Would you do me the extraordinary honor of marrying me?"
And suddenly, it's as if you could hear a pin drop.
I. Am. Speechless.
He's done it. He's really done it. And there I'd been, thinking he was on the brink of telling me we should break up. And I'd even suggested that I should leave.
Oh God, oh God, oh God. He's just asked me to marry him.
The tears that were welling up in readiness for the ultimate rejection are now gushing from my eyes. I can't stop them, even though they're now dripping down my cheeks for a completely different reason. I'm a mess and, as I gulp back sobs, I become acutely aware that Edward is waiting for a response.
"Edwa… Edward. Oh, God." I'm almost hyperventilating, our shared future flashing before me.
He's gazing at me, a look of both anticipation and concern in his eyes.
"Edward," I begin, attempting to compose myself a little. "Are you…are you sure this is what you want? I mean, do you want an answer?" I realize as soon as I've uttered the words that this is a stupid question to ask. But I need to make sure.
"I do," he whispers hesitantly, and for a moment I'm not convinced. I pause before considering the fact that he asked the question in the first place. Then I think about what I had intended to do today, and my glaze slips to the purse at my feet.
I had a special gift for Edward today, but he's beaten me to it.
I can't stop the smile that is forming on my lips as my mind assimilates what has just happened. I feel like my heart is about to burst with elation, and when I look up to contemplate Edward's questioning gaze, I know: this is where I belong.
Nodding, I reach out to the man of my dreams and place my palm gently against his cheek.
"I'd love to, Edward. I'm yours…forever."
"I made quite a mess of it, didn't I?" I laugh, reliving the comedy of errors in my mind.
Bella smiles and turns to gaze at me lovingly. "Not at all, darling. It was one of the most romantic things you've ever done." She reaches up and gently turns my face to hers. "You knew what you wanted, and you just went ahead and asked for it. And I'm glad you did."
I know exactly what she means.
"Me too, my sweet," I murmur lovingly. "Me too…"
I lean forward, and as Bella and I lose ourselves in a passionate kiss, I thank all the deities above that we were destined to be together.