Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest

Pen Name(s): RobzBeanie

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Title: Fourth Down

Picture Prompt Number: 25

Pairing: Bella and Edward

Rating: M

Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 9,964

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): Bella Swan is unlucky at love and expects to spend her life alone, until a mysterious letter shows up in her mailbox. BxE, some non-canon pairs, M for language & lemons

Warnings and Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all characters.

Present Day, November 2010

I sit on my favorite beach, staring out at the ocean. This beach has been my favorite place to just sit and think ever since I moved to Los Angeles 16 years ago. The sun is warm on my face but the early November breeze is cool on my skin. I love the saltiness of the sea air.

I'm alone. Worse — I am 40 years old and alone. I can't believe it was just an hour ago that I sat holding Jake at the veterinary hospital while Dr. Gerandy administered the lethal drugs. Jake has been my best friend for over 10 years, since the day I visited the shelter and saw the russet-colored cocker spaniel in his cage. His excited bark when I walked in led me over to the cage where the typed card showed he'd been there for six months already. No one wanted a five-year-old dog; everyone wanted the cute puppy. But one look at that face and I wanted him. And I have never regretted that decision for a minute.

I don't know how long I've been sitting here. If I look to my right, I can see Santa Monica Pier in the distance — I can just make out the happy tourists on the Ferris wheel. Occasionally, I'll hear the unmistakable sounds of someone rollerblading or biking on the path just behind me.

It's getting darker now, nearly sunset. I sigh and stand up, brushing the sand from my jeans. I turn back across the bike path then make the long trek up the hill to my cozy two-bedroom home.

I walk up the steps onto the porch and open my mailbox. Bill, junk mail, junk mail, bill…a letter? My address is handwritten. I don't recognize the handwriting, or the return address of Mercer Island, Washington. Scratching my head, I can't think of anyone I know who lives there.

I unlock the door, throw my keys and jacket onto the small table by the door and sit on the couch staring at the letter. Who sends actual letters these days? Finally I tear into the envelope, pull out the slip of stationery and begin to read.

Dear Isabella,

Are you the former Isabella Swan who graduated from Forks High School in 1988? If so, please give me a call at your convenience. I would really like to reconnect with you. I can't stop thinking about you. My cell is 260-555-5309.

Sincerely, Edward Cullen

I read the letter over and over again. Edward Cullen is writing to me? What on earth for?

June 1988

"Unnnnhh…right there, right there!"

"God, Bella, you feel so good…I'm gonna, I think I'm gonna…"

"Oh fuck, Jasper, I'm almost there—"

My senses were consumed by Jasper — his hands on me, his lips on my neck, his dick in my…well, you know; the salty smell of our combined sweat; the taste of his lips and tongue; his sea green eyes staring into mine; the sound of Jasper's grunts and the squeaks of my childhood bed, until…

"Isabella, what the hell is going on in there?" my dad, Charlie, called from the hallway. "Oh my God," he shouted as he threw open the door, eyes hard and mouth gaping open in shock. I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears. How had we forgotten to lock the bedroom door?

Jasper scrambled off of me and yanked the sheet up to our necks, but it was too late. There was no possible story we could come up with to explain what Charlie had heard and seen.

"Jasper, I am going to close my eyes and count to ten, and if you know what's good for you, you will be out of this house before I reach ten. Do I make myself clear?"

"Y-yes, Chief," Jasper stuttered as he slid off the bed and grabbed for his discarded clothes.

"1…2…"

Jasper's stone-washed jeans were lying beside the bed and he quickly stepped into them. His dick had gone limp from the interruption, but he hadn't even bothered to discard the condom before donning his jeans.

"3…4…5…"

Abandoning the button fly, Jasper found his t-shirt that had been tossed haphazardly onto my desk.

"6…7…"

Jasper grabbed his shoes from beside the bed and slithered by Charlie, who was nearly blocking the doorway.

"8…9…"

I could hear Jasper's footsteps pounding heavily as he ran down the stairs towards the front door.

"10!"

Charlie opened his eyes and looked around the room, his moustache twitching and jaw clenched tightly. He stomped out into the hallway and peered down the stairs then came back to me.

"Isabella Marie, what in the hell do you think were you doing?" he asked, seeming much too controlled.

Ummm…how did he want me to answer that? What answer would piss him off the least?

"Daddy, I love Jasper, and he loves me," I said calmly.

"Love? You're not even 18 years old, what do you know about love? How could you do this? You know the church teaches us that having sex outside of marriage is the road to hell," Charlie shouted, his voice getting louder and louder throughout his rant.

"Daddy, please, we've been dating for three years…I love him…" I whimpered.

"Do you love him enough to marry him? Because that's sure as hell what you'll be doing if you wind up pregnant. No grandchild of mine will be born a bastard."

"We, uh…we used protection, Daddy," I said, blushing an even darker shade of pink.

"Protection?" he sneered. "You think condoms are foolproof?"

"Daddy…"

"No, Isabella, this stops now. You will not see Jasper again," Charlie ordered.

"Daddy — you can't do that. I'm not your little girl anymore; I'm a high school graduate."

"I can and I will do that. You are still under 18 and you're living in my house. That means my rules. If you disrespect the teachings of our church again, then you will no longer be my daughter."

September 1988

For the rest of the summer, I'd snuck phone calls to Jasper whenever I was home alone, but I never found the opportunity to see him. Except for my part-time job at the Thriftway, I was grounded. Grounded — at the age of seven-fucking-teen. And when your dad's the chief of police in your small town and everyone knows who you are, there's no use trying to go around his rules — you'll be caught.

Late morning, just three days before my 18th birthday, the doorbell rang. Daddy was at the station and Mom had just left for her weekly shopping trip to the Thriftway, so I got up off the couch, skipped to the front door and swung it open.

"Um, hi Bella."

"Hey Edward, what are you doing here?" I asked my boyfriend's pimply-faced 16-year-old brother.

"Um, Jasper sent me. I've been waiting out in my car for a while now, waiting for your mom to leave. Jasper said she always goes grocery shopping on Saturday mornings," Edward replied.

"You're here for Jasper? Why didn't he come himself? What does he want?" I asked excitedly.

"Jasper was afraid your mom would recognize him if she noticed him in the car. He, um, wants you to meet him out at the beach in LaPush at four o'clock. He said to bring a bag with a few days' worth of clothes."

"Clothes? What for? Anyway, I'm grounded, Edward, I don't know how I can get out," I said glumly.

"Jasper didn't tell me why, sorry, just that he had to talk to you in person. I know he really wants you to be there," Edward added.

"But how I can sneak out of the house? Mom will be back by then."

"Ummm…your bedroom window? That big tree in your front yard comes pretty close to the house, doesn't it?"

"You want me to climb out the window and down the tree?"

"Well…yeah," he said, as if it was beyond obvious.

"Edward, I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly the most graceful human being," I said sarcastically.

"Um, yeah, I've noticed, but do you want to see Jasper or not?" he asked.

"Of course I do! I miss him so much." I frowned. "Okay, tell him I'll try my best to be there. If I'm not, then…tell him to come see me in the hospital, because I probably fell out of the tree and broke my leg."

"I'll tell him, Bella," Edward giggled. "And, uh, you look good."

I turned bright red at the compliment. "Thanks, Edward," I said shyly.

~o~

Four hours later, I had my old gym bag packed with a fresh pair of jeans, a few pairs of underwear and a couple t-shirts. I opened the window and looked down. It's not that far, I told myself. I had no idea how I was going to reach the tree limb while juggling my bag, so I tossed that down to the ground, took a deep breath and leaned out my window toward the tree.

Forty agonizing seconds later, I was on the ground. I did it! With only a narrow driveway and three cars in the family, my beat-up old Chevy truck was parked in the street a couple houses down…where it had been for the last three months. I ran to my truck, stuck my key in the lock and threw my bag across to the passenger seat before starting it up.

Thirty minutes later, I had made it to LaPush. I got out of the truck, leaving my bag, and walked to the almost secluded area under one of the cliffs where Jasper and I always hung out.

"Jasper," I called out as I saw him sitting on a large rock on the beach.

"Bella," he shouted as I ran to him and jumped into his arms. "God, I've missed you."

"I've missed you too, Jasper," I cried. "I can't believe Daddy did this to us. I don't ever want to be without you again."

"Um, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Your birthday is on Tuesday, right?" Jasper was running his fingers through his hair repeatedly and shuffling his feet — he seemed nervous.

"Yeah…but Daddy is still so mad, I don't think he's gonna let me see you again, even if I am legally an adult. His house, his rules." I frowned.

"Well," Jasper began, "The Chief doesn't want us having sex if we're not married, right? What if we were married?"

"Jasper, are you proposing?" I asked in shock.

"Well, yeah, I guess I am. Wh-what do you think? I asked you to pack some clothes so we could drive to Vegas tonight. You'll be 18 by the time we get there, and then we can get married."

"Wow, married…I mean, I love you, and I want to be with you forever, but married at 18? You know what everyone will think…"

"I don't care what anyone will think…I just want you," he implored.

"Then…I accept. Vegas, here we come!" I jumped into Jasper's arms, laughing as he swung me around.

September 1989

I sat on the beach, in "our" spot, staring out at the waves. How had we gotten here?

It had been a tough year since Jasper and I eloped. Of course, Daddy had flipped when we got back to Forks. He would've had an APB out on us if it hadn't been for Edward telling him where we'd gone when he showed up pounding on the Cullens' door that night we left town.

He'd thrown me out, of course. Disowned me, too. Mom couldn't talk him out of it. Jasper had a little money saved up from his job at Newton's Outfitters, so we'd rented the basement apartment in Old Mrs. Cope's house.

But money was tight — Jasper's parents, Carlisle and Esme, accepted our marriage but said if we were old enough to be married, we were old enough to take care of ourselves. Jasper had planned to enroll at Peninsula College for the Spring semester, but we couldn't afford it. As the months went by, we fought more and more. My husband wanted to save the world, not work retail for minimum wage for the rest of his life.

Then at the Cullens' Fourth of July party this summer, Jasper's cousin Kate had gone on and on about joining the Peace Corps. Suddenly it was all Jasper could talk about, too. And he wanted me to join with him. I couldn't do it; I wasn't ready to leave Forks, not without reconciling with my parents.

Today, Jasper told me he wants a divorce.

May 1994

I sighed and looked at my watch for the tenth time. 5:45pm. Just 15 more minutes before my shift at Thriftway ends. I went back to my book, twirling my hair with my fingers.

"Bella, is that you?" a deep voice startled me.

I looked up at my latest customer and nearly fell off my stool.

"Edward, oh my God, how are you? I haven't seen you since you left for Dartmouth." And damn had he grown up well since then… Edward's skin had cleared up, making his eyes look even more blue-green than I had remembered. Some things never change though — his reddish-brown, almost bronze hair was as chaotic as ever.

"I'm doing great," he replied with a smile. "I just graduated last week, Pre-Med. "

"Wow, that's awesome. You always were the smart one," I added as I began scanning the items Edward had placed on the belt. "So how long are you in town for?"

"Just the summer, then I'm off to Washington University for med school."

"Down in Seattle?" I asked. "That'll be $17.61."

"No, Washington University is in St. Louis, Missouri, actually. It's one of the top medical schools in the country," Edward said as he handed me a twenty.

"Well, congratulations anyway."

"Thanks…Um, Bella, when is your shift over? Would you like to maybe have dinner me? Catch up?"

I looked at my watch one more time. "I get off in about ten minutes. Sure, I'd love to have dinner with you, Edward."

"Great. Um, I need to take these groceries home to Mom, then maybe I can meet you at the diner at seven o'clock? Not the highest class restaurant, I know."

"No, it's fine, Edward, see you then," I said, smiling as I handed him his change.

August 1994

Edward and I lay spooning in the bed of my tiny apartment, sweating and sated. We'd always been good friends during the four years Jasper and I were together, but I'd never before seen Edward in any kind of romantic way.

That changed pretty quickly on our first date, as we'd sat at the diner talking until midnight. Edward surprised me with a goodnight kiss and asked me out again. He had gotten surprisingly hot in the last four years and was so easy to talk to that I readily agreed. For our second date, he had taken me to Port Angeles for dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant and then to a romantic movie — not that there were a lot of choices at the small Port Angeles movie theater. We had ended the night with a long goodnight kiss and started sleeping together soon after.

"Bella…can we talk?" Edward asked, nuzzling my shoulder with his nose.

"Uh-oh, those words are never good," I smiled as I turned in his arms to face him.

"No, it's something good, at least I think it is," Edward replied.

"What is it?"

"Bella…I love you," Edward admitted. "I know it's kind of weird for you, having been married to my brother, but my feelings for you have nothing to do with Jasper."

"Um, wow, Edward, I don't know what to say…I mean, we've only been together for three months."

"But when it's right, you just know it," Edward said. "Bella, I want you to come with me to St. Louis next week."

"You want me to leave Forks? Leave my dad?" I was 20 years old when my mom passed away from cancer and my dad and I had tearfully reconciled.

Edward sighed. "Come on, Bella, you're going nowhere here, working at the Thriftway for the last six years. Come with me, find something you love to do," Edward said fervently as he stroked my face.

"I know, my life has kind of been stuck in neutral since the divorce. I can't afford college right now, but…Forks is my home, Edward. I love it here. I love having the beach so close. I just don't know if I could be happy thousands of miles from the nearest ocean."

"Just give it a try, Bella. I'll do everything I can to make you happy."

"Edward…I'm sorry, but…I like you — the sex is great, no doubt about that — but I don't think we're at the point yet where I can give up my life for you," I cried, sitting up in bed.

"You don't have much of a life to give up, Bella," he said passionately.

"Maybe not to you, but it's my life, and I'm not ready to leave it. I'm sorry."

Edward got out of bed, angrily grabbing his clothes off the floor. "Then I guess it's goodbye, Bella. I do love you. Maybe I always have. And I always will."

~o~

Life went back to normal after Edward left Forks again. I spent a lot of time sitting on the warm sand, staring out at the ocean. I did miss Edward — those three months with him were by far the longest relationship I'd had since my divorce — but I was convinced that I'd miss the ocean more if I moved with him.

About three weeks after he left, my best friend, Alice Brandon, dragged me to Seattle for the weekend to try to "cheer me up." Three hours into a night-long barhopping adventure, the sexiest voice I'd ever heard whispered in my ear, "What's a pretty girl like you doing here in this dive?"

I rolled my eyes at the lame pick-up line, but as I turned towards the voice, I was stunned into silence. The sexiest man alive was staring down at me from just inches away. Even in the faint light of the bar, I could see his stunning blue eyes and his long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Wearing faded jeans, a light t-shirt and a studded leather jacket, he was James Dean come to life.

The stranger cleared his throat and asked, "May I buy you a drink, Miss…?"

"Swan. Bella Swan," I said in a breathy voice as I stuck out my hand.

"Well, Bella Swan, it's Camden. James Camden," he replied in his best James Bond voice.

"Nice you meet you, James," I giggled.

Two hours and multiple beers later, I'd heard all about James Camden. He currently managed a club in Seattle but was moving to Los Angeles in just a couple weeks. His favorite aunt Victoria had died recently, leaving James her cottage house near Venice Beach since she had no children of her own. James' college buddy Laurent was now living in Hollywood and was begging James to come help him manage a restaurant that he was planning to open.

"Hey Bella," James slurred, "Why don't you come with me to California? You could work at the restaurant with us, act as hostess or something."

"What? Move a thousand miles away from my hometown with a guy I just met?" I asked, stunned.

"Why not? You're better than some small town. You've told me a dozen times in the last two hours how much you love the beach. My aunt's house is a half mile from the ocean, and it's a hell of a lot sunnier and warmer than here," James replied.

"Um, can I think about it?"

"Think fast, babe…I leave in two weeks."

May 1995

I sat on a bench near Venice Beach staring out at the Pacific Ocean, watching the surfers. I fell in love with Los Angeles within days of moving here with James. I actually loved working as a hostess at the restaurant James managed with his buddy. I'll never regret moving here.

It took James about three months to get in my pants. By March, I had moved out of the guest room and into his bedroom. The man was a wildcat in bed…seriously, sometimes I think he was a porn star in a former life. I should be happy, right?

But James drinks. A lot. Every night, he would drink at least the equivalent of a six-pack while working at the restaurant, then a few more at home. He has always claimed there's no problem since he's able to get out of bed and go to work every day. Last night we had a big fight when he went out with Laurent after the restaurant closed and stumbled home drunk at 3am.

I had called my former mother-in-law, Esme, while James was still sleeping it off to wish her a "Happy Birthday," and we got to talking about Jasper and Edward. She told me that Jasper had finally left the Peace Corps to settle down in Dallas and was going to college there, hoping to go on to law school. Edward was doing great in medical school the last time they'd spoken. On a whim, I asked Esme for Edward's phone number.

I sighed as I stood up and walked down to the water's edge. I loved the feel of the sand under my bare feet. After debating it back and forth in my mind, I made the decision to give Edward a call and headed back home to my quiet house. Once I arrived home, I stared at my phone for five minutes before dialing the digits Esme had given me.

"We are unable to take your call right now," the robotic voice answered, "please leave a message at the tone. BEEEEEEP…"

"Um, hey Edward, it-it's me. Um, Bella. I've been thinking about you. If your mom hasn't told you, I moved to California last fall. Give me a call, if you want. My number is 310-555-8677. Bye."

About 10 minutes later, the phone rang, and I answered it excitedly, "Hello?"

"Who is this?" a shrill female voice asked.

"Um, who is this? You called me."

"This is Tanya — Tanya Cullen, Edward's wife," she spat. "Stop stalking my husband unless you want me to get a restraining order." Click.

What the fuck? Edward's wife? I had just spoken to Esme a few hours ago, and she didn't mention anything about Edward getting married.

I didn't want to analyze why I called Edward today, but it was obviously a very bad idea. I made my bed, now I have to lie in it, as the saying goes. Maybe I can talk to James, try to get him to stop drinking so much?

August 2000

I had been walking up and down the beach with my dog, Jake, for the last three hours, not ready to face what awaited me at home: divorce papers. Just one signature and I'll be officially a single woman again.

James filed for divorce last January. We'd been married just shy of two years. We finally married — at the LA County courthouse, no less — when I turned up pregnant, but I'd miscarried just a week after we said our vows.

For our entire relationship, I had begged James repeatedly to stop drinking so much, that he was drinking himself to an early grave. Finally he got tired of my "nagging," as he called it, and left me. He moved to Phoenix after we separated, near where his brother Garrett was living. James gave me the house in the settlement, since he said he has no intention of ever moving back to California, but with real estate prices what they are, it cost me a big chunk of my half of our joint checking account to buy out his share of the house. Thank God he'd put my name on the title after we married.

I'll be thirty next month, yet I felt like I was right back at the beginning of my adult life, a teenager just ready to break away from her family and make it on her own. Last month, I'd finally quit my hostess job at the restaurant James used to manage. Of course, I still needed an income, so I started working at the coffee shop down the street from our, I mean my, little house.

And I finally made up my mind to get some kind of college degree; I don't want to be a barista forever. I wasn't sure yet what I want to study, but I can get all of the general ed courses out of the way at Santa Monica Community College and figure that out in a few years.

May 2008

"…Isabella Marie Camden…"

My name was called and I got up off the uncomfortable folding chair and walked across the stage. I smiled widely as the President of the University handed me my diploma. It had been a tough road but I finally did it. Not only did I already have a BA in English from UCLA, but I had just gotten my Master's in Education as well.

A few months back, I attended a career fair and spoke to a number of high schools in Los Angeles County. After looking over three different job offers, I had accepted a position at Beverly Hills High School, starting this fall.

"Bella, I'm so proud of you," my best friend Rosalie Hale gushed as she hugged me after the ceremony. "I knew you could do it."

"Thanks, Rose. I couldn't have done it without your help. You know I would've failed Statistics without you."

Rose laughed. "No, I'm sure you could've managed. You can do anything you set your mind to."

"I can, can't I? For the first time in my life, I really believe that."

"Of course you can, babe," Rose said as she bumped her hip into mine. "Now, how about I buy you lunch to celebrate? Somewhere overlooking the ocean?"

"You know me so well," I smiled.

~o~

"This wine is delicious, Rose! I never knew you were such a sommelier," I laughed.

"Thanks, my ex was the wine expert; I learned a lot from him. But that reminds me…your career is going places, now how about your love life?"

"Ugh, Rose, please, let's not ruin a great day. You know damn well my love life has been practically non-existent since James and I divorced. Between work and school, I haven't had time to date."

"Surely you've had a little fun, though," Rose questioned.

"Well, there's been a one-night stand — or two or three — but I don't think I've had a relationship last more than a handful of dates. Maybe there just isn't a guy out there for me?"

"Bullshit. You're a great catch, Bella. You look at least 10 years younger than your real age, you're in great shape from all that walking along the beach, you're about to embark on a fulfilling career…"

"But Rose," I began, "Most men my age are married, or they're already well established in their careers. I feel like such a kid next to them, just getting my degree."

"Then date younger men," Rose said with a smirk.

Present Day, November 2010

It's been a week since I got Edward's letter. I just can't fathom why he would write to me, why he would want to talk to me, and why now. We haven't seen each other, or even spoken since he walked out of my tiny apartment 16 years ago.

Every day after school, I come to the beach and walk, from Venice Beach to Santa Monica Pier and back, remembering the three months Edward and I dated. After years of friendship, our romantic relationship was just so easy. And the sex was amazing…Stop it, Bella. Edward is married, remember?

Or maybe he's not. It's been over 15 years since I spoke to Edward's wife. Esme has told me over the years that Jasper is now a successful lawyer, married to a Mexican-American woman named Maria, and has four young kids, but we don't talk about Edward. I could never bring myself to ask.

Finally I sit down on my favorite bench and pull out my iPhone. I have read and re-read Edward's letter so many times that I have his number memorized. I stare at the phone for a few more minutes, then punch in the numbers and press Send.

After three long rings, the sound stops and I hear that deep, velvet voice that I haven't heard in so long. "Hello?"

"Um, is-is this Edward?" I ask, my voice trembling.

"Bella? Is that you?"

"It-it's me."

"It's so good to hear your voice…it's been awhile since I sent the letter. I was beginning to think I had the wrong person, but the PI was so sure…"

"PI?" I ask.

"Um, yeah, I hired a private investigator to find you," Edward confesses.

"Edward — why would you do that? What about your wife? She said—"

"I know what Tanya said to you," Edward interrupts. "It finally came out in that last big fight before we split. She'd been jealous of you for our entire marriage."

"Um, split?" I ask shakily.

"Yeah, um, Tanya and I were divorced two years ago. I got a job in Chicago after I finished med school, and she's still living there with our daughter. I took a job here at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after the divorce. I'm head of their Orthopedics division," Edward reveals.

"Y-you have a daughter?" I ask, my teeth practically biting through my lip.

"I do. Bree is 15 now, I can hardly believe it. She's so beautiful, and so smart. Hard to believe she's Tanya's daughter," he snorts.

"Tanya isn't beautiful or smart?"

"Well, no, she is both, but I finally woke up and realized that she isn't a very nice person. We'd only been dating for a couple months when she found out she was pregnant. Of course I offered to marry her. We just went down to the courthouse, didn't even tell our folks until closer to the due date. I was pretty ashamed of my stupidity."

"Well, that explains why Esme didn't tell me about your marriage when I called on her birthday and got your phone number," I say.

"Yeah, she didn't know anything then. So, how are you, Bella? I guess — I guess you're married, too," Edward leads.

"Was. I was married. I've been divorced for over 10 years. I kept my married name this time…there are only so many times you can hear, 'Did you know your name means Beautiful Swan,' before you just want to scream," I laugh.

Edward laughs with me. "Yeah, I can see how that would get annoying. So, what do you do in Los Angeles? Please tell me you're not still working at a grocery store…"

"No, no, I am no longer working for minimum wage." I roll my eyes. "I was a hostess at a restaurant for a while, at the place my ex-husband managed. Then I worked at a coffee shop while I put myself through college. I got my Master's in Education two years ago, and I teach junior English at Beverly Hills High School," I reply.

"Beverly Hills, eh? Nice," Edward laughs. God, I missed his laugh…

"Um, Edward, I don't mean to cut this reminiscing short, but why did you hire a PI to find me?" I ask nervously.

"Well, I've been pretty lonely since the divorce. I missed you. I told you when I left Forks that I would always love you. Do you remember?"

"I remember," I whisper.

Edward and I talk for hours. When the sun starts to set over the Pacific Ocean, I walk back home, still with my phone pressed to my ear. Our conversation just flows; it's like the last 16 years never happened. But they did happen, and we spend a lot of time talking about how we've each gotten to this point. Finally we are both exhausted, and I'm starving, so we decide to call it a night. Edward has a long shift coming up at the hospital, but he promises to give me a call in a few days.

December 2010

By the time school breaks for the holidays, my colleagues are starting to notice the change in my mood and have been questioning me about it. I just smile coyly, not willing to discuss my personal life at work.

I arrive home after the last day of school before Winter Break and find another envelope with a Mercer Island return address in my mailbox. I rush inside and open it before I even remove my jacket.

Plane tickets. Edward sent me round trip plane tickets to visit him in Seattle for a few days after Christmas. We've been e-mailing, talking on the phone several times a week, for hours at time — just thinking about it makes me feel giddy like a schoolgirl, but am I ready to see him in person? What if the magic ends when he realizes he's been talking with a 40-year-old woman? I mean, sure he knows how old I am, but…Edward treats me the same as he did when I was 24. What if he still expects me to be that girl?

I shake my head at my insecurity. Edward is 38 himself now. He knows what people our age look like, for God's sake. And Rose continues to tell me that I could pass for much younger. I resolve to get my hair cut into a more youthful style and highlighted to camouflage any grays, but that's all I can do.

~o~

On December 26, I make my way through the crowded terminal at SeaTac Airport, practically bursting with nervousness and excitement. In just a minute, I'll arrive at Baggage Claim and Edward will be there waiting for me. I hold on to the railing on the escalator to avoid falling as I tremble. I find the baggage carousel for my flight and look around anxiously. Suddenly, I feel a pair of strong arms come around me from behind.

"Hey you," Edward purrs in my ear.

I quickly turn and throw my arms around his neck. We stand there for what feels like hours, just holding each other. Eventually, I pull back and just stare at Edward. Holy shit…the years have been very, very good to him. Except for a small smattering of grays mixed in with the reddish-brown hair at his temples, Edward still looks very much like the 22-year-old man I remember. I don't even see laugh lines. How is that even possible?

"Oh my God, you look great," I stutter. Smooth, Bella…

"I could say the same to you. Still just as beautiful as ever," Edward replies. He leans forward then and kisses my cheek. "Thank you so much for coming. Let's get your bag, yeah?"

A half hour later, we're off the freeway and driving past dozens of gorgeous homes on the way to Edward's house. We've held hands for much of the drive. I can't help staring at him, still unable to believe that I'm really here, that I'm really doing this.

"Here we are," Edward says as well pull into the driveway of a gorgeous two-story home. Clearly, doctors are paid much better than teachers…

"Wow, it's so beautiful, Edward."

"Thanks. Wait until you see the inside. Mom decorated for me…You don't want to know what it would look like if I hadn't had any help," he laughs.

Edward was right — his home is gorgeous — elegantly decorated but still subtly masculine. After a complete tour, he offers to take me to his favorite neighborhood restaurant for lunch and then show me the rest of Mercer Island.

"We do have a beach, you know," Edward says. "It's not what you're used to in Southern California, maybe, but it's still a beach."

I laugh shyly. "I'm sure it'll be great."

~o~

It's been a whirlwind five and a half days. It had been years since I'd been to Seattle, so Edward and I did the tourist thing for a few days — Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Pioneer Square and all of that. I fell in love with Cow Chip Cookies in Pioneer Square, but I'm sure I'll be regretting that the next time I step on a scale. Now it's 8pm on New Year's Eve and I have less than 48 hours left here in Washington before I have to fly back to LA prior to school returning from Winter Break.

"Bella, are you almost ready?" Edward calls.

"Yep, just a minute," I shout back as I put my earrings in.

Edward is taking me to, in his words, the "swankiest restaurant in Seattle" for dinner tonight. He's been so great to me, but damn it, always a perfect gentleman. We haven't even kissed yet. I'm hoping for that — and more — tonight. I can still remember how perfectly soft his lips were as they trailed down my neck…

"Bella, we're going to be late!"

"Sorry, sorry, I'll be right down," I answer, embarrassed at my daydreaming.

I walk down the stairs and spot Edward standing at the bottom, wearing a gorgeous charcoal gray suit and royal blue tie. He looks positively edible.

"Bella," he breathes. "Oh my God, you are gorgeous. You're forgiven for taking so long to get ready."

I laugh. "Glad you like it; my best friend Rose helped me pick this dress out especially for you."

"Well, tell Rose she has impeccable taste," Edward says as he helps me into my coat. He holds my hand as we walk through the house to the garage and opens the car door for me — a perfect gentleman, as always.

After the best dinner I've had in years, Edward and I go home to change out of our dressy clothes, then we head to Pioneer Park for tonight's fireworks. The night air is brisk, much colder than back home, and Edward keeps an arm around me as we sit on the blanket he brought.

The fireworks are beautiful; the crowd around us ooh's and aah's for the entire display. Just as the grand finale winds down, an announcer begins the countdown to midnight.

"5…4…3…2…1…Happy New Year!"

Edward grabs my chin gently and turns my head so he can stare into my eyes. "Bella, I am so thankful to have you back in my life. I didn't truly know what I was missing until I had you again. I know this is fast, but I love you, so much, and I really want to see where we can take this."

I shiver, partly from the cold but mostly from Edward's words. "I love you, too, Edward," I sniffle. "I was convinced that I'd used up all my chances at happiness. Three strikes and you're out, right?"

"Well, I never was much of a baseball fan," Edward smiles. Noticing my confused look, he continues, "In football, the offense gets four downs."

"Are you ready to go for a touchdown?" he asks, waggling his eyebrows.

I giggle. "I'm ready for whatever you're offering."

Edward smiles and leans in to me. I close my eyes and feel his soft lips touch mine, at last.

April 2011

Ugh, I've been cleaning like an OCD person for a week straight. Edward is coming. Edward is coming here. In just two hours, I am heading to LAX to pick him up. Thank God Edward had a lot of vacation time coming at the hospital. He had his daughter Bree during her Spring Break last week, but my school district has Spring Break this week. Edward wants to see for himself what has me "so enthralled with this place," as he puts it.

After that amazing first kiss on New Year's Eve, Edward and I headed back to his house and to our separate bedrooms. We made out like teenagers over the next day, in between watching college football on TV, but Edward remained a perfect gentleman. He didn't even cop a feel, claiming that he wanted to take things slower than we did the first time — do it right this time.

Yeah, well, I think I'll burst if I get any more sexually frustrated. I haven't had sex in two years, not since Rose dragged me to some noisy club where college kids hang out and I got hit on by a well-muscled 21-year-old named Paul. The sex that night was great, but I couldn't see myself actually dating someone that young. I was having sex with Jasper before that kid was born…I'm old enough to be his mother!

I drag myself out of my daydreams and look at my watch…shit, I need to get going. Traffic headed south on Lincoln Blvd. is always a bitch in the early evenings…I can't keep Edward waiting!

~o~

It's funny how when you live somewhere for a long time, you totally take everything around you for granted. I love the beach, but all of the other attractions that bring people to Southern California in droves? I haven't done some of them since I first moved here and James was showing me around.

Edward and I have spent the last several days totally being tourists. He got me on the damn Ferris wheel — and even the roller coaster — at Pacific Park on Santa Monica Pier on only his first full day here. We've done the Getty Museum, Universal Studios, Knott's Berry Farm…we even went to Disneyland! Of course, the most fun — to me, anyway — was renting bikes and riding all along my favorite stretch of beach. Edward was beyond amused by all of the kiosks selling "medical marijuana" and incense on Venice Beach, but I think he did truly enjoy himself.

This week has been the most fun I've had in a long time…and we still haven't slept together. Well, we've slept together, since I had turned the guest room into my office when I started my teaching job and my couch is too small for a 6'2" hunk of man to sleep comfortably. With much prodding from me, Edward finally got to second base a couple nights ago, but he just won't make that final move.

We've just arrived home from a romantic dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant when Edward leads me to the couch to "talk." I remember the last time he wanted to talk, and I can't help how my heart speeds up in response.

We sit about a foot apart, leaning toward each other with our knees touching. Edward takes each of my hands in his larger hands and places a kiss on the back of both of them. Be still, my heart…

"Bella, I just wanted to thank you for showing me your home this week," Edward says tenderly. "I can see why you love it so much."

"No, thank you, Edward — thank you for contacting me again last November."

"I just wish I had woken up and done it sooner," Edward says bitterly. "Or better still, tried harder to convince you to move with me when I went to med school."

"No, Edward, pushing me then would never have worked," I insist.

"But you did leave Forks, only six weeks later," he says dejectedly.

"Well, James promised me a warm, sunny beach." I shrug.

"But it's more than that. I didn't realize it at the time, but you were right in what you said to me that last night — it was weird for me to be with you, knowing that you were my ex-husband's brother. I worried about what Jasper would think — would he think we had been involved behind his back? And the rest of the town — would I look like a 'ho' to them, moving from one brother to the other?"

"Bella—"

"No, it wasn't your fault, Edward. There was nothing you could have done. The timing just wasn't right for us. I wasn't ready back then to admit my feelings for you. But I am now…I love you, Edward. I know I've said it before, but I just want you to know how much I truly mean it. You are what I've been waiting for my entire life," I state, as tears come to my eyes.

Edward tenderly brushes my tears away then leans in and kisses me, so softly, so tenderly. "I love you so much, Bella. I never stopped — never."

"Come to bed with me," I invite shyly.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure, Edward, I've never been more sure of anything."

Edward stands and holds out his hand to help me up. I place my fingers in his and he grasps them firmly as he pulls me to stand. He wraps his arms around me and kisses the side of my neck. "I love you, Bella," he whispers in my ear.

We walk to the bedroom hand in hand. As we near the bed, Edwards turns me to face him. "I love you," he says as he kisses my lips and begins to painstakingly unbutton my blouse. When he's through, he pushes the blouse from my shoulders and kisses me again. "I love you. Turn around."

I slowly turn and hear the zipper on the back of my skirt parting in the quiet room as Edward pulls it down, ever so slowly and carefully. He pushes my skirt down to the ground and turns me around again. As I step out of my shoes, he tells me again that he loves me and asks, "Are you really sure about this?"

In answer, I reach up and yank his shirt open forcefully, the buttons flying everywhere.

Edward chuckles, "Well, in that case—" He quickly reaches around to my back and unhooks my bra, then pulls it forward and comically tosses it over his left shoulder. He pushes me backwards toward the bed, quickly yanks back the covers, then pushes on my stomach until I sit.

I scoot back towards the center of the bed and lie back against the pillows. Edward quickly unlatches his belt and within seconds his pants are down around his ankles. He steps out of them, toes his shoes off and pounces on me.

I giggle as Edward begins placing kisses all over my face, ignoring my lips, and then moves to my collarbone, and finally — finally — I feel his tongue swirl around my nipples before he sucks each of them into his mouth.

I am writhing with need when Edward pulls back and hooks his fingers into the sides of my black lace panties before slowly sliding them down my hips. I lie naked before him, trying hard not to be self-conscious.

As if he can sense my insecurity, Edward whispers, "You are so beautiful, Bella," and I can almost swear I hear awe in his voice. He bends down and circles his tongue around my navel as I finally feel those long fingers right where I want them. When his tongue joins his fingers and he sucks my clit into his mouth, I feel the first shudders of my orgasm. I am a panting mess when he finally stops and leans back on his haunches.

"Still no second thoughts?" he asks with a grin.

"None, Edward, I want you so much, please."

"As you wish," he says as he climbs off the bed — I whine in displeasure before I realize he's digging through his pants pocket to get a condom from his wallet. Edward quickly pulls his boxer briefs down, strokes his impressive erection a few times and rolls the condom on.

Within seconds, he is on top of me, kissing me deeply. I am so caught up in Edward's tongue that I hardly notice he's positioned himself at my entrance. With one long thrust, he is inside me at last. Edward chuckles at my loud porn star moan before he begins moving, slowly at first, then faster. My hands are everywhere — in his hair, on his shoulders, running up and down his back — as I lift my hips to meet his deep thrusts over and over again.

"Edward, I'm so close—" I whimper, as he moves his right hand from my breast down to rub fast circles over my clit. The sensations are just too much and I fall off the ledge with a scream, "Edward!"

"God, Bella, I love you," he pants as his thrusts get impossibly faster before he grunts, "Oh fuck!" and collapses on top of me.

It feels like hours but is probably only seconds before Edward slowly gets up, whispers, "I'll be right back," and heads to the bathroom to clean up. He returns quickly and gets into bed next to me, turning me onto my side and throwing his arm around me after pulling up the covers.

I feel Edward's lips on my shoulder as he whispers one more time, "I love you, Bella."

June 2011

I am going to throw up. Literally, I am seconds away from asking Edward to pull his shiny silver Volvo over — on the fucking freeway, no less — so I can lose my breakfast.

We're about fifteen minutes away from Edward's house — and from Bree. She is visiting Edward for two weeks of court-ordered visitation. I let her have a week alone with her dad, and now I'm here for the next week to meet her and celebrate Edward's 39th birthday tomorrow.

Edward swears that he and Tanya never fought in front of their daughter, but if she's as smart as he says she is, then I'm sure she's heard my name before — along with a lot of not-so-pleasant things from a woman who spoke to me for all of 15 seconds.

We pull into Edward's garage and I'm literally shaking from nerves. Edward takes my hands to stop me from wringing them. "It's going to be fine, Bella. I swear — Bree is excited to meet you."

I open the car door and slowly stand up while Edward grabs my bag from the trunk. He pushes open the door to the house and sweeps his hand in the universal "after you" gesture. I take a deep breath and walk inside.

"Bree? We're back, sweetheart," Edward calls from behind me.

A tall, thin girl with strawberry blonde hair jumps off the couch and comes bounding up to us, a huge smile on her face. "Hello, Bree," I say as I hold out my hand. "I'm Bella. It's nice to meet you."

"Hi Bella," she says shyly, shaking my hand. "It's so nice to meet you, too. I just want my dad to be happy."

Edward hugs her tightly. "Thanks, baby girl. Now how about some lunch?"

~o~

Bree went home this morning and we're alone — finally — for the next few days. While I'd love to stay with Edward all summer, a teacher's salary isn't high, even in Beverly Hills, so I'm going back to work at the coffee shop I spent so many years in, just as I did the last two summers.

Edward and I are walking around Pioneer Square — I needed another one, or two or three, of those Cow Chip Cookies — when he points to a bench and asks if I want to sit for a while. I happily agree, and we walk over to the bench.

Edward's arm around my shoulder feels so good; I could just sit here with him forever. Finally he begins, "Bella?"

"Yeah?" I ask, turning my head to look into his piercing blue-green eyes.

Edward takes a deep breath and asks, "What would you think about moving here to Seattle to live with me — permanently? I just…don't want to be without you."

"You — you want me to move in?" I ask, stunned.

"I do," he smiles. "I know it's asking a lot — for you to leave you home and come back to Washington, but I really think you could be happy here. But if you don't think you can, then…maybe I could move there?"

I bite my lip as I think of how to phrase what I want to say. "Edward, I could never ask you to give up your position at Harborview to start all over again in California. I know you love it here, being just a few hours' drive from your parents."

"I do love it here, but I love you more, and I'm willing to start over if it's the only way I can have you," he says fervently.

"It's not. I mean, it's not the only way you can have me. I love the beach, I do, but LA is full of people who are either rude, snotty or plastic — sometimes all three — and the traffic is horrible. I don't love that, and to be honest, I had been thinking since even before I got your letter about leaving the rat race of LA behind."

"Really?" he asks.

"Really," I smile.

"Then you'll do it, you'll move in with me?"

"I would love nothing more," I say, before I lean towards Edward and touch my lips to his.

September 2011

"Well, I think that's the last of it," Edward calls as he walks through the front door of my little house. This is it — the last of my boxes is in the small trailer that we rented for the long drive up the 5 to Seattle.

After I came back to LA last June, I called a realtor and put my house on the market. In this economy, I expected it to take months — maybe even a year — to sell, but in only a few weeks, I had two decent offers. The realtor said that the great location was the biggest selling point.

I quit my job at Beverly Hills High School once my house sold, and I plan to start looking for a job in Seattle as soon as I get up there. Edward says there's no rush, but I don't want to be dependent on him. The principal at my old school is quite the romantic, and she promised to give me a glowing recommendation when I explained why I was leaving.

My furniture — what I'm not donating — was packed up early this morning to be sent on a truck with a moving company. It didn't feel right bringing pieces that I'd had since my marriage to James, but there were some things I wanted to keep. Edward promised to find room for them. Shouldn't be too difficult with a 3,500 square foot home.

Edward comes up behind me and hugs me close to his warm chest. "Come to the beach with me, Bella," he says. He doesn't have to ask twice.

A few minutes later, we're walking hand in hand along the boardwalk. I take a deep breath and savor the smells of the beach one last time — even the not-so-legal ones.

"Show me your favorite spot." I lead Edward along and we sit on the bench that I've spent so much time on over the last 17 years.

Edward turns to me and says, "I love you, Bella. Thank you for being a part of my life. There's something I've been wanting to ask you."

"Anything…"

Edward reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny velvet box. He opens it up and I nearly faint in shock. Edward gets down on one knee and explains, "Yes, it's an engagement ring. I want you to marry me, Bella. This — what we have — is forever, and I want to make it official."

"We-we haven't even moved in together yet," I stutter, still in shock.

"It doesn't matter. I love you. I wanted to propose back in Seattle in June, but I chickened out," he chuckles. "I didn't want to overwhelm you." Edward smiles up at me but I can sense his nerves.

Marriage — am I ready to give it a try for the third time? Jasper and I married for all the wrong reasons, I know that now. We never stopped to talk about our hopes and dreams for the future, to see if we were truly compatible for the long haul. And James…we also married for the wrong reasons; he only proposed when we found out I was pregnant. And I married him despite my reservations about his drinking, hoping that I could change him.

I must've been biting my lip, because Edward reaches up and pulls my bottom lip from my teeth.

"You don't have to give me an answer now, only when you're ready."

"No — no, Edward, I'm ready now. I'm sorry, I was just thinking about why I got married before. I know this time is different, this time it's right. Yes, Edward. Yes, I will marry you."

Tears run down my cheeks as Edward stands, pulls me to my feet and wraps his arms around me. "I promise you, Bella, I will love you every day of forever."

December 2011

I have loved every minute of the past two and a half months living with Edward. We found places around the house for all of my things, and I had no trouble getting a job with a local school district, starting in January. We picked up a marriage license a few weeks ago, but Edward hasn't said anything about an actual ceremony. I think he's planning something, though — he's got that look in his eyes.

I finish putting on a touch of lipstick and admire myself in the mirror. Edward has a shift at the hospital starting tonight, so he wanted to go out for an early dinner before then. I'm wearing a new dress he picked out for me the last time we went shopping together.

"Are you almost ready, Bella?" Edward calls from downstairs.

"Yep, I'll be right down," I answer.

I walk down the stairs and smile widely when I see that Edward is wearing that same charcoal suit from our first "date" last December. Like last year, he helps me into my coat before hugging me tightly and kissing my cheek.

"What's this, Edward? I thought we were having dinner," I say as I we pull up to Mercer Island Beach Club, a few minutes from Edward's house.

"We are having dinner…after I make you my wife," he smiles.

"What? We're getting married? Now?"

"Yes, now…unless you've changed your mind?" he asks nervously.

"No, no, I do want to — now is great," I chuckle.

"Good, then let's go."

We get out of the car and walk hand in hand into the club. Inside, I'm shocked to see Esme and Carlisle Cullen, as well as my dad and several of Edward's colleagues.

"Surprise!" he says, smiling hugely.

"Oh my God, I can't believe you planned all of this behind my back," I laugh as I hug my father tightly.

"Congratulations, Bella," he says as he turns toward Edward to shake his hand.

"Thanks, Daddy, I'm so glad you could be here."

"I missed your first two weddings — I wasn't gonna miss this one," he says gruffly.

"Are you ready, Bella? Reverend Weber is already here."

"I'm ready," I reply.

The ceremony is short and sweet, and when Revered Weber announces the traditional, "You may kiss the bride," Edward smiles before kissing me soundly while he dips me towards the floor.

The guests laugh and Edward straightens us up. He leans in again, and whispers in my ear, "You are my life now."

"And you are mine. I love you, Edward. Thank you for giving me one more chance at love."

~THE END~

A/N: Based on a true story. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed "Fourth Down," please consider voting for it as "Best All-Human."