Hope Springs Eternal Contest

Number of Prompt Chosen: 31 and also a hint of 34

Pen-name: XXX

Title: Lost and Found

Word Count: 12,300

Rating: M

Pairing: Edward & Bella

Summary: Thrown together, true love blossoms where a city lay in ruin. Can they find love once more when they are reunited unexpectedly?

Disclaimer: We don't own Twilight. This little snippit is ours though, minus their names. Stealing is bad, don't do it. We're watching you. Yeah…you.


*~0*0~*

May 2012

She was running so late and she always hated to be late. Everybody would already be at dinner; possibly even sitting down and their entrance would only cause a disturbance. Rephrase that; her solo entrance would cause a disturbance, because Liam had let her down...yet again.

Bella had tried everything to convince him to make the trip to Austin with her including promises of romance, dancing and good times like they used to have. Liam could relax and step away from the pressure he claimed was always weighing him down. It would be three days and two nights for them to try and rekindle the spark that once burned bright between the young couple. Of course, that was when Liam decided that he should be offended that Bella had insinuated that something was lacking in their relationship. Didn't he give her everything she wanted? Everything she needed?

Bella didn't answer him. In fact, she didn't even look him in the eye. Liam mistakenly took it as acknowledgment of her error in judgment, but Bella was silent because she just didn't feel like she could tell him the truth.

Slowing down, Bella turned right on the long and winding gravel road, ignoring the blinking red light on her phone that she knew was a half-hearted apology from the man she had a rather tumultuous relationship with. Bella was sure that it probably sounded like the millions of others she had heard over the years. Board meetings, golf with the guys, important projects at work and there was that one time where it flurried during the morning and all of Dallas shut down. Liam decided it was too risky to try and drive home so he had her cancel all their weekend plans. Never mind that the sun was out later that afternoon and it was only Tuesday.

Bella was tired of trying, but she felt like she needed to do something to reignite the flame that used to burn in their relationship. She had a lifetime of Liam's manipulative and self-centered behavior in front of her if things didn't change, which the sparkling monstrosity on her left hand reminded her almost constantly.

However, she wasn't going to worry about it this weekend. Bella was going to enjoy herself while she still had the chance and she wrestled the over-sized bauble from her finger and shoved it unceremoniously into the glove compartment. She wasn't worried about finding it later. After all, with its size, she couldn't lose it even if she wanted to.

Yes, Bella was determined that she was going to have a good time and visit with friends she hadn't seen since her days at Tulane. She was going to be herself. Not their daughter, not his fiancée, but herself.

For the next forty-eight blissful hours, she was going to be Bella. If only she could remember how.

As Bella deftly maneuvered the 2012 luxury car, which was a pretentious engagement present from her future in-laws, into the last available spot in the parking lot, she had a thought. It was so completely spontaneous and naughty that Bella couldn't help but giggle in what could only be described as petite rebellion. The stupid flashing red voicemail light reminded her of Liam's face. With a quick glance at the sky to check for impending rain, she flung her phone over the wooden fence that separated the guests from the livestock. If she got really lucky, which was rarely the case for Bella, a cow would step on it. If she didn't, she'd try and find it again before the drive home... maybe.

It made Bella feel good to be rid of the leash around her neck and she was tempted to spin around with her arms out to the side all Sound of Music style, but the reality of the heels on her feet and the formality of tonight's occasion kept her in check. There was a party later tonight and maybe then she would finally get the chance to twirl.

"It is about time you got here, Darlin'," the warm, twangy voice behind her caught Bella completely off guard, but in the best way, and the smile that appeared on her face was one that hadn't been seen in a long time.

"Jasper!" She spun around and quickly launched herself at her dearest friend from Tulane. They met after her parents unknowingly left her at the wrong dorm in their haste to get back to Dallas. Bella couldn't even remember why they had been in such a rush to leave, but it didn't matter now. "I can't believe you are getting married tomorrow!"

Bella couldn't hide her surprise. Jasper was her age and they were in such different places in their lives, but not really as Bella remembered and absentmindedly rubbed her left ring finger that felt as light as a feather without the iceberg that sank the Titanic weighing it down.

"Well, to be honest, I can't believe it is happening either. Alice...I can't wait for you to meet her. She's everything that is wonderful and perfect in this world, Bella. I feel so honored that she agreed to marry me. I can't even put it into adequate words..." Jasper trailed off, grinning. Bella looked at him, overwhelmed by the complete and utter love that was plastered across his face. That was what love looked like and she stopped herself before she could remember a time when her own face held a similar expression. She was pretty sure that Liam's face never had.

"I requested that you have a room in the main house with my parents and family. Mom and Dad cannot wait to see you. I'll get your bag and everything after dinner, but before the fun. Is that okay?" Bella nodded and melted into his side as she continued to feel nothing but happiness for one of her best friends.

"I can get everything myself, Jasper. You need to focus on your bride-to-be and all your family. I'm just so happy to be here." Bella was determined to absorb as much happiness and joy as she could to take back with her.

"So you couldn't convince Liam?"

"I tried, but he has a huge presentation next week and the team really needs him to be available to work over the weekend. He sends his regrets and we really want you and Alice to come see us over the summer." The lie washed over her like an ice bath and she straightened up, pulling away from Jasper and walked down the path. This was the face, the facade she wore daily, and her performance was flawless.

But Jasper noticed the difference in her behavior almost immediately. "Bella, I..."

"Really, he was very disappointed he couldn't make it, and I am too." Lie. "That's why I am so late. I waited until the last possible minute to leave in the hope that he'd be able to escape with me. Maybe I can convince him to drive down tomorrow before the ceremony." Yet another lie. Bella wouldn't be talking to Liam before the wedding since she had no intention of fetching her phone from the pasture. The cows could play 'Words with Friends' for all she cared.

Bella smiled and tried to convince herself that she had pulled it off, but the look on Jasper's face told her everything she needed to know. He'd keep her secret, but he knew the truth. He knew she was unhappy and lacking the love she truly deserved. Jasper had always been able to read her emotions like a book, even if he didn't know the story behind them.

Leaning down, Jasper kissed the top of her head gently. "Come on, Bella. You have a sister to meet."

*~0*0~*

"Where did Jasper get to?" Edward asked his younger sister, Alice, as she finished off her drink and set it on the table in front of them. It was the night before Alice's wedding to Jasper Whitlock, and though Edward felt himself growing anxious about the entire event, he couldn't help but be excited that his sister had found the love of her life, or so she declared.

When Alice had first called Edward in New Orleans several months earlier and squealed happily on the phone that Jasper had finally proposed, even though they had only been together for a mere eight months, Edward couldn't have been happier for her. Of course, this meant he'd be forced into a tuxedo and made to dance with relatives he hadn't seen since he was a young boy, which didn't exactly sit well with him. However, for Alice, he'd do it. Hell, he would do anything to please his younger sister.

He spent the next several months helping Alice and Jasper with their wedding, including designing the expansive arbor that was built on Jasper's family farm, which would also be the site of their wedding the next day. It was the least Edward could do for his sister and Jasper. After all, it was all they had asked from him, with the exception of Edward showing up at the wedding.

"I think Bella finally arrived, so I'm sure he went to go get her," Alice replied coolly, though Edward was never sure how she managed to be so easy-going about the other woman in Jasper's life. Even though everyone l knew they didn't see each other very often, it was no secret that Bella and Jasper were the best of friends and had gone to university together. Alice claimed she had nothing to worry about where Bella was concerned, but Edward had to admit, he didn't feel the same. He wanted only the best for his sister and though he liked Jasper, he didn't trust people he didn't know, and he didn't know Bella from a hole in the ground.

"So, did Jasper tell you his cousin Kate was coming tomorrow?" Alice asked, her voice practically singing Kate's name.

"Yeah, he might have mentioned it," Edward replied, his voice reeking of boredom. He had no interest in Kate from the get go. They had met at the engagement party Jasper's parents had thrown late last year and though Alice seemed to believe they were destined to be together, Edward was still holding out hope for the one who got away.

Sure, they had been young and impulsive when they first met years earlier, but Izzy still held a place in Edward's heart and soul. She was like no one he had ever met before. She was so carefree, reckless and truly lived life to the fullest. Together they rebuilt lives and discovered themselves, but the timing just wasn't right. They tried to connect while they were apart, but the distance had been too much to handle. Izzy and Edward slipped away from each other, but Edward still wished that things had been different. He had more regrets than he could count and Izzy was number one on his list.

"Jasper," Alice yelped like a small dog, as she jumped up from her chair and wrapped her fiancé in a tight hug. Once Alice finally let go, she reached her hand out to the brunette at Jasper's side. "It's about time we met, Bella." The women hugged as though they had known each other forever as Bella spoke in the most hauntingly familiar voice Edward had ever heard.

"Hi Alice, It's so great to finally meet you."

It couldn't be... could it? Edward wondered as Alice and Jasper's positions hid the woman from him. Edward took a huge gulp of his beer and stood up, but his heart fell to his feet as he came face to face with the elusive Bella.

There standing in front of him, in the sweetest looking sundress with her hair pulled back into a loose ponytail, was his Izzy - the girl who had captured his heart six years earlier – and he couldn't believe it.

Based on the look on Bella's face, she couldn't quite believe it either.

*~0*0~*

In the blink of an eye, the world seemed to stop. Though she knew they were standing in a crowded room filled with the noises of impending celebration, the only thing Bella heard was the name 'Edward' as it escaped her lips. Then silence.

Bella couldn't breathe. It was all she could do to not launch herself at the man standing before her, but the decorum and propriety that her parents had shoved down her throat over the years held her back. Oh, but she so desperately wanted to.

Bella wanted to throw her arms and body around him and cry like a girl who had just been given the proverbial pony for Christmas. It was almost too much to quantify. For so many lonely years, she had tucked away these feelings into a vault, not willing to remember or even talk about them because it hurt too much. Her mother had dismissed her emotions as silly and juvenile, claiming that there were so many more important things to focus on than a mere crush on a boy she had known for a short time.

Her father didn't even give her that much. In fact, he was the one who introduced Bella to Liam at a company Christmas Party three years earlier. Liam...her stomach rolled at the mere thought of him even knowing that time in her life even existed.

So, instead of chasing dreams and following her heart, Bella kept it all to herself because it was safer that way. She and Edward had been given their moment, but over the years, she had come to accept that they now led separate lives. But still, for a few fleeting seconds, Bella wished with everything she had, that she could still be that same impetuous carefree girl she had been at seventeen. Before Liam, before adulthood, just... before.

Bella stood completely still, not trusting her body or mouth to do the right thing, so she smiled demurely, hoping that her mask held. There were so many thoughts and emotions and instincts coursing through her body now, she couldn't trust herself to do anymore than smile. Those parts of her had been invisible for years. Since the last time she saw the boy, the man standing before her now. Six years; it had been way too long to pretend.

Only when Jasper placed a protective arm around her did she realize that the world had not stopped moving, though she couldn't remember anything that had been said or done for the past several moments. Quizzical glances were starting to be thrown around between Jasper and Alice as Bella was mortified at her behavior.

"Oh, Alice. Please forgive me for being late. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see Jasper so happy." She patted Jasper's arm and whispered to him that she was okay. Better than okay, actually, as she leaned over and hugged Alice never taking her eyes off Edward who returned her stare. Was it her imagination or were his hands shaking slightly? Was it even remotely possible that he was experiencing the same...no, she had to stop.

She would not let herself go there.

She couldn't.

That way of thinking was way too dangerous, but as she looked at Edward, she felt this wave crash into her, like her life was trying to take in as much of him as it could because who knew how much time was left. She couldn't open that part of her heart back up again, not after all the time she had spent pretending to heal her wounds and tucking away the memories that she held dear to her. It was safer that way Bella reaffirmed to herself, though more than a little bit of her was way too excited that she had left the engagement ring in the car. She didn't want to have to explain.

Alice quickly handed Bella a drink and she felt her grip tighten on the wine glass as Edward stepped forward. A gentle smile on his face and his emerald eyes were just as piercing as she remembered. She felt her mask start to slip as he tried to blow a tuft of hair out of his eyes and before she realized what she was doing, she saw her hand move up to tuck it out of the way. She stopped with only a few millimeters to spare and regretfully pulled back.

"Izzy?" He was so very cautious, like he didn't want spook her and she smiled up at him.

"Hello, Edward."

Jasper coughed politely, "I take it that I don't need to do proper introductions, then?"

Bella shook her head slowly. The man in front of her knew the true Bella better than anybody else in this world, and as he carefully, slowly pulled her in for a hug, she felt her walls start to slowly crumble. Feeling his heartbeat against her cheek made her feel more herself than she had felt in years and it absolutely terrified her.

*~0*0~*

Late June 2006

If anyone had told Edward just how hot, sticky and humid New Orleans would be in June, he may have reconsidered his plans to spend the next few weeks amidst the wreckage of the beautiful city rebuilding houses. He probably wouldn't have stayed in Seattle for his last summer before college, but he would have definitely packed a little lighter. After all, how many t-shirts and shorts did one boy need?

Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast, particularly New Orleans which suffered innumerable deaths when the levees broke, catastrophically flooding the parishes and neighboring towns. Edward had been perched on his couch for days watching the coverage on CNN and it hadn't taken him long to decide he wanted to do something. Edward was always trying to help everyone around him; a trait he got from his mother, Esme.

So, when his senior year of high school started a week later, Edward organized a school wide charity to help raise money to clean up and rebuild the city. It was through these efforts that Edward discovered his love of the gothic and ornate architecture New Orleans was known for. It also led him to the city ten months later to help its citizens in any way he could.

"Cullen, do you know how to work a hammer?" Emmett McCarty was supervisor of their small group of volunteers and he was a daunting man. Oversized, like a bear, and always jovial, Emmett had spearheaded the campaign to rebuild homes in Jefferson Parish. He was an architect by trade, and a carpenter in his heart, so Edward found himself gravitating towards him.

"Yes, sir," Edward said enthusiastically, as he jumped up from his current task and made his way towards Emmett.

"Good to hear. I need you go to help that girl over there who clearly has never even seen a hand tool in her short life, let alone used one." Edward turned to where Emmett was pointing, but he could only see the girl from the back. She was petite, with long brown hair pulled into a low ponytail, and faint traces of some sort of color in it. Was it blue or maybe purple? Edward couldn't quite tell, but as he watched her try to hammer a screw into some drywall, he knew he had to put a stop to the madness before someone, namely this pretty girl, got hurt.

Emmett gave Edward a knowing wink and a pat on the back as he sent his protégé to fix what could turn into a rather large problem for them. As Edward neared closer to her, he couldn't help but smile as she hummed Hips Don't Lie by Shakira and danced slightly while she waved the hammer around like it was a ball point pen and not a heavy tool.

"What did that poor screw ever do to you to deserve shoddy treatment like that?" Edward asked as the girl turned, clearly startled, and proceeded to drop the hammer on Edward's foot. As Edward silently cursed up a storm, he could hear Emmett guffawing loudly in the background.

"Oh my god, I am so sorry," the girl announced as Edward gave a small laugh. "You aren't going to need a new toe are you?"

"Not likely, since we wear these steel toed boots specifically to prevent injury," Edward replied with a smile as he stared intently into the dark chocolate eyes of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She gave him a shy smile and reached for the hammer, but Edward grasped it first.

"You should start with something smaller and less dangerous."

"Like a saw? I think I saw some guys out back cutting up some wood or something."

"Hell no, like a screwdriver or some sandpaper," he replied with a laugh as the throbbing in his foot began to diminish and the girl before him smiled brighter. "I'm Edward... Edward Cullen."

"Oh... I'm Isa.. Izzy. Izzy Swan," she announced as she pulled his hand tightly into hers and shook it fiercely. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Edward."

Unable to stop himself, Edward reached out his hand and fingered a few strands of colored hair that had fallen loose from her ponytail. Izzy laughed as she watched his reaction and then answered the question that was clearly running through his mind.

"It used to be blue. I colored it and it's starting to fade now. I think my mother had a heart attack the day she saw it. I wish my hair was lighter," Izzy huffed in frustration as she examined her hair in the sunlight. She wanted to put all the colors in her hair, to express the elation she felt with...well, everything, but the only colors that showed up were the blues and purples and dark reds. She felt rebellious, well, as much as she would let herself.

"You'd look different as a blonde." Edward squinted his eyes and stared at her before shaking his head. "And besides, I prefer brunettes." Realizing what he had said, he coughed awkwardly and grabbed a nearby scrap two by four and some nails, deciding to show her just how one would properly use a hammer. After all, they were building houses for a few weeks, so she had to learn as soon as possible otherwise she would just be wasting her time.

*~0*0~*

Izzy pretended not to notice his little slip up, but her insides tickled at his comment and she smiled behind her hair.

Over the first few days, Izzy couldn't help but feel a parallel as she looked at all the new homes and buildings slowly being resurrected from the devastation. With every wall that was raised, every shingle that was laid, and yes, every nail that was hammered, when she was once again allowed to wield a hammer, she felt like she was coming to life.

Much to the chagrin and frustration of her parents, and for the first time in her life, she had made a big decision on her own and signed up to help with the rebuild. Bella didn't care that it involved manual labor. She didn't care that it was dirty and she also didn't care that she would have to share a shower with other people. For once in her life, Izzy was going to make a difference and no amount written on a check could make her change her mind. The feeling she got from actually doing something was indescribable.

And then there was Edward.

She and Edward had become inseparable. The how's and the whys weren't important, but they were most definitely a team. He was the first face she saw at breakfast and the last one she saw before being sequestered into the girls' makeshift dorms each night. In just the few days they'd spent together, she'd told him of her dreams and secrets and he didn't make her feel stupid or ridiculous. He was so different from the boys she knew at home that were obsessed with football and boobs. She only had their attention because of her last name and that wasn't enough for her. At seventeen, she wanted more out of her life than just superficial nonsense and she was finally starting to believe that there was more out there for her. That maybe she wasn't the anomaly, she just hadn't been in the right place.

"Where are you?" Edward tugged on her ponytail and teased. I've had this board nailed in place for about ten minutes now and you're still holding it up. I'm pretty sure you can let go. Gravity won't pull it down."

Izzy rolled her eyes and laughed, but just shook her head. "Oh yeah," she answered as she let go of the board. "I was nowhere. Just lost in my head."

"Well stop it or it will take us all day just to put up these studs." Edward and Bella were working on framing an interior wall and she wasn't being much help, but Edward wouldn't say anything. He enjoyed working with her, regardless of the fact that she was easily distracted.

"You're different from anybody I've ever met, Edward Cullen. So, so different. You make me feel like maybe I'm not so lost."

Something changed between them at that moment, words unspoken wrapped around and between them like a blanket cocooning them from the other volunteers, from the rest of the world. And as Edward leaned down and placed the sweetest, purest, gentlest kiss on her lips, she realized that maybe it wasn't that he made her feel less lost, but that maybe she felt like she was finally found.

Not even the obnoxious whoop and teasing from Emmett changed that. In fact, she sort of liked it. It was spontaneous and carefree and exactly how she felt. Now that she knew it was possible, she never ever wanted to lose that feeling.

*~0*0~*

After the first few days, Edward couldn't pull himself away from Izzy if he wanted to. She was a very bright light in a dark place. After all, when their day of volunteering was done, there wasn't much to be done in New Orleans.

Most of the city was under reconstruction and a lot of its citizens had yet to come back to the city to settle. Being in New Orleans, experiencing the city first hand after such a catastrophic disaster was like watching a phoenix rise from the ashes. But for an eighteen-year-old boy who was smitten with a beautiful, carefree brunette, it also limited what they could do together.

The nearby movie theatre hadn't yet reopened, and there were very few thriving restaurants, though they had managed a quick bite at a local diner, run by a local Cajun woman, when Emmett hadn't been paying too much attention to his volunteers. They had ice cream at the nearby Dairy Queen one night and though she tried, Edward refused to let Izzy pay for her cookie dough blizzard. That night, they walked back to their temporary dorms hand in hand and he kissed her again. However, rather than the sweetness of their first kiss, Edward couldn't stop himself from pulling Izzy against him and showing her just how much he wanted her. When she moaned against his eager lips, Edward had to pull away before things got out of control.

Though they kept to their tasks during the day, Edward and Izzy found it easy to slip off unnoticed a few times to be alone. Early in their second week together, they hid beneath a dramatically overhanging weeping willow near their construction site. A lot of people were shocked to see it had made it through Katrina relatively unscathed, but as Edward and Izzy explored each other under that tree, they didn't care how, but they sure were glad it was there.

The very next night, as they headed back to their dorms after dinner, Edward pulled Izzy aside for more time alone. He whisked her off into one of the houses they had been building, surprised at the ease of being able to sneak past the security guard who was making his rounds. They were barely inside the house for two seconds before Izzy was desperately trying to pull Edward's shirt up over his head.

"Baby... take it easy," he said as he let out a sigh. He wanted her so badly, but he also refused to use her solely for his own enjoyment. She was a beautiful girl, inside and out, and he only hoped that in their short time together, he had been able to convey this to her. Izzy kissed him sweetly before pulling her own tank top off, leaving her in just her white cotton bra. The sticky, hot air surrounded them like the willow and before he could think better of it, Edward pulled her down onto the floor and kissed her with every ounce of desperation he had.

His fingers moved reverently up her sides, skimming along the tops of her breasts, before coming to stroke at the base of her neck. Edward loved her neck. Izzy tended to wear her hair up in a ponytail when they worked, so he spent many an hour each day just watching her tanned skin as she moved. Unable to reign in his emotions, Edward leaned forward and licked along her neck, breathing in the scent of strawberries and sawdust before he buried his head into the curve of her neck and pressed himself against her.

God, how Edward wanted to press himself inside her.

*~0*0~*

His tongue on her neck turned Izzy into complete mush. All conscious thought rushed out of her body and her skin came alive. Izzy felt like she was on fire and she wanted more, more, more.

Her mind was a jumbled thought of emotions and words and phrases that made absolutely no sense and yet it did to her. When it was just the two of them, she wasn't afraid or embarrassed of her body. She never felt like she had to hide because Edward made her feel completely worshiped. She could never get enough of him. Every breath felt deeper, every touch burned hotter, every pulse beat faster and it was indescribably delicious.

She never wanted to live in a world where Edward didn't exist. He kissed her scrapes, he mended her soul and he filled parts of her that she hadn't realized were empty until he came along. Thinking back on all the books and stories she had read about love, she finally understood what they were talking about but they had nothing on what Edward made her feel.

And feel she did. With anybody else, she might have felt in over her head, but she trusted Edward with all that she had. He treated her with complete reverence, and she blushed when she thought of the times where her exuberance more than highlighted her inexperience.

But Edward never teased; instead he calmed her down and guided her, showing her depth and heart. Even in this empty room, as he slowly laid her down on the floor, his concern was only for her and she stopped him with her touch when he tried to apologize for the barren surroundings and hard floor. It was so much more than physical gratification; it was everything. There were levels of emotion that neither one of them had ever dreamed were possible.

Underneath his body, she blushed with want and was tickled with desire. Her fingers traced up his arms and over his shoulder, down his back and up again in repetitive cycles, stopping only to grab on to his hair and pull his mouth to hers like she wanted to do all the time. Once joined, their mouths were unrelenting and incessant, semi-clothed bodies pressing together as close as they could get though it wasn't enough. When she felt him groan into the space between her neck and shoulder she felt beautiful. Her body was beyond her control and she didn't care at all when her hips started to move on their own accord, searching for him.

He was all strength and grace, muscles and limbs, pressing into her. Their movements matched, heat rushing over them and Izzy didn't even care that she might sound the slightest bit wanton. Higher and higher and there was so much to feel until it exploded and they slammed back to the ground together.

Softly she kissed him, somehow finding the strength to move her noodly arms so that she could trace her fingers along the side of his face. Green met brown in a symphony of whispers against bare skin and sweet kisses. Words that, even at seventeen, she knew she'd never say to another.

*~0*0~*

As their time in New Orleans was drawing to a close, Edward found himself increasingly desperate to spend any time he could with Izzy. Their time in the rebuilt house was wonderful, and he knew he was falling fast and hard for the girl, but he wanted so much more. He wanted her to come to Ithaca with him, where he would be attending Cornell in the fall. He wanted her to meet his family and for them to see how happy she had made him in such a short time. But most of all, he simply wanted her... forever.

"Edward," Emmett called out as their workday came to a close. Edward looked to his left and watched Izzy as she helped another one of the volunteers, Angela, with some drywall. He felt his lips upturn and knew he was smiling brightly, but she had come a long way since they first met. Hell, she had her own pink handled hammer now, which Edward had painted himself. "Are you ready for this journey to be over?"

"No, not at all," Edward replied, his eyes still on the free-spirited girl who had captured his heart. Emmett gave him a knowing smile and patted Edward softly on the back.

"Listen, I just wanted to let you know that your roommate Mike is heading home today. His grandfather is sick and his parents wanted him home. I figure you won't mind having a room to yourself for a few days, right?" Emmett grinned at him once more and Edward knew exactly what Emmett was insinuating. He would have his room to himself... but surely he could sneak a guest over for one night, right? Or maybe two?

"Thanks for the heads up," Edward answered coolly, not wanting to let his enthusiasm get the better of him. Emmett was doing him a huge favor and Edward wasn't going to let it get out that he was being helped, and kind of encouraged, to spend time with his girl alone.

For the remainder of the day, Edward was out of sorts, and he knew Izzy could tell. They enjoyed dinner together with the friends they had made, but he never had 2 minutes to tell her of the newfound situation because they were always surrounded. Before they were set to go back to their dorms for the night, Edward decided to text her.

Mike left early. My room is kinda lonely.

Izzy looked up from her phone and across the table to the boy who had completely captured her heart. Was he implying what she thought he was? Could they really spend some time together... maybe even the night... in Edward's room? Her eyes grew wide as he nodded his head at her and she knew without a doubt, she would do anything this boy asked of her.

What time? She hastily text back as she watched Edward small smile turn into a full on grin.

I'll pick you up outside your dorm at lights out.

Ok

Two and a half hours later, they were curled up on their sides on Edward's small bed, fingers entwined, while they made plans for their future. Well, they made plans between their heated kisses and groping sessions.

Though they would be apart, Edward and Izzy were both determined to make things work. There was email, phone calls, and even some new online service called Skype that they could use to communicate. Edward also promised to save up as much as he could so that he could try and visit Izzy at school as soon as possible. He knew Tulane had a great school of architecture, thanks to Emmett, and Edward had even thought of possibly transferring, simply because he didn't want to be apart from her.

Once their plans were set, Edward pushed the sheets down the bed and invited Izzy to stay. She was hesitant, but she knew, without a doubt, that she loved Edward. If this was going to be their last night together for the foreseeable future, she wasn't going to waste it. In fact, Edward was floored when he turned to climb into bed and found Izzy bare for him. His mouth went dry and he licked his lips, which only served to encourage her as she wrapped her hand through the hair at the nape of his neck and pulled him down for a searing kiss.

Though his hands were trembling, Edward shed his own clothes and climbed onto the small bed, eager for skin to skin contact with his beautiful girl. Her skin was so soft; he couldn't stop touching it everywhere. Her breasts were the perfect size for his hands and she mewled as he touched her in ways he had only dreamed of. The soft patch of hair between her legs was calling to him and the first time he touched her there, his fingers immediately dampened from her arousal, and his cock jerked excitedly. Nothing could surpass the moment when Edward made Izzy come around his fingers, her breathing labored and her hair sticking to her head as she smiled brightly at him like he had hung the moon.

When they both confessed they had never been with anyone before, Edward's heart soared at the thought of being her first, and hopefully her only. She was it for him, and he would never want for anyone again. He just needed to show her, and tell her, just how much she meant to him. Edward shook as he moved himself into position between her legs, and though Izzy looked excited, and even grabbed his face and kissed him hard in support, he could feel her tense as he entered her.

Slowly, and with constant encouragement, Edward found his groove and Izzy insisted that she was not uncomfortable, though she wouldn't admit that he was a bit larger than she had expected. Edward knew he wasn't going to last long because the feel of her heat surrounding him was better than he could have ever expected. As he pushed inside of her and came, he buried his face in the side of her neck, kissing her sweetly as he finally said the words he had thought since the moment he saw her wielding a hammer. "I love you."

Through kisses and tears, from both of them, they made love several times throughout the night, each one better than the last. As the sun began to ascend outside his window, Edward clutched tighter to Izzy, unwilling to let her go. Even when she begged for a shower, Edward winked salaciously at her and offered to join her. Izzy kissed him soundly and promised to meet him for breakfast half an hour later, so Edward finally agreed to let her go.

Unfortunately, when breakfast was about to end, Izzy still hadn't shown up. Edward instantly went into panic mode and he looked for the only person who could help him – Emmett.

"Sorry Edward, her parents showed up unexpectedly this morning and took her home to Dallas."

*~0*0~*

May 2012

Bella wasn't sure who she spoke with or how she even functioned as memories of that wonderful summer with Edward slammed into her with unrelenting power. Each one of them clawed and pounded at the walls she had so carefully built starting the moment her parents unknowingly broke her heart into a million pieces when they arrived early to pick her up and refused her pleas to let her say goodbye to her friends.

Well, there was truly only one friend in particular Bella wanted the chance to say goodbye to and the text message she managed to send almost an hour after she left wasn't enough for her.

It was hours before she could stop crying, days before she spoke more than just the bare minimum and to this day, she had never truly forgiven them. All for a 'social obligation' that consisted of talking to the right people and saying the right things; everything Izzy attempted to forget while she was in New Orleans.

However, Izzy slowly died that day as she caught a glimpse out the rear windshield of Edward walking to breakfast with a lazy grin on his face.

Bella was completely torn. Did she allow herself to bask in the memories and enjoy this time with him, knowing that in two days it would be deja vu all over again as they went back to their respective lives? Was the inevitable pain of their separation worth it? She didn't even know how he felt or if he would even be interested in spending time with her more than the brief reunion they had currently been thrust into.

Bella discreetly tried to get a look at his left hand before remembering her own intentional lack of adornment. Rolling her eyes and trying to make sense out of everything, she begrudgingly admitted that her decision would have been taken out of her hand had her ring simply been on her hand. She was most definitely at the proverbial fork in the road, but at what cost?

The announcement that dinner was ready was a welcome distraction. As Jasper gently directed Bella to a table, she cringed as she saw the empty place setting that was intended for her plus one but before the elephant could enter the room, it was simply removed. The soft smile on Alice's face let Bella know that she knew more than she was letting on and Bella made a note to thank her for her discretion. It wasn't that she wanted to deceive Edward, he deserved the truth, but it wasn't the time or the place.

Realizing that, Bella felt like she had been doused in cold water. This weekend was not about her. It was not about Edward and it was not about what could have been. It was about Jasper and Alice and their new lives together and that needed to be her focus. She was almost ashamed at how selfish she was behaving and was thankful that her thoughts were her own. Bella needed to keep Edward at a distance, both for her own sake and out of respect for her dearest friend on his happiest of occasions. Just like she had learned to do over the years, Bella turned on autopilot and made it through the rest of the evening.

When the temptation got to be too much, she made her excuses and escaped to the safety of her bedroom. Bella did manage to find some joy in the fact that her cell phone was in the middle of a cow pasture and wondered if Liam even noticed that she didn't call him that night. He probably didn't. As she settled into the soft pillows and bedding, she finally let her guard back down and returned to Edwards's arms in her dreams.

*~0*0~*

Bella claimed a headache during the wedding day brunch and busied herself for the rest of the day at the spa. The quiet atmosphere allowed her to keep to herself and away from temptation. Plus, she never could turn down a massage. Maintaining her facade during the wedding wasn't quite as easy, since it hit rather close to home.

The laid back atmosphere of the outdoor wedding and reception was beautiful. A top a hill on the Whitlock Ranch, Alice and Jasper exchanged personal vows under a rustic arbor surrounded by shades of purple, blue and white. It was simple and stunning, and very much like Jasper and Alice themselves. Bella felt like she was cocooned by warmth as she sat in her wooden folding chair, and she realized this was what was missing from the planning of her own ceremony; warmth and love.

However, that wasn't what Renee wanted, Liam had no opinion and as usual Bella had no real say in the matter. The tears that graced her cheeks were genuine as she watched Alice and Jasper join their lives together with overwhelming smiles and a look of completeness crossing both of their faces.

Since Edward was involved with the photographs after the ceremony, Bella allowed herself to relax a bit as she entered the renovated barn that was the site of the reception. As time passed and cocktails led to dinner that effortlessly flowed into dancing, Bella couldn't help but smile as she watched her best friend glide across the dance floor with the love of his life. The conversation at the dinner table had been jovial, yet appropriate, for the mixture of new and old acquaintances.

From their futile attempts to keep in touch over the years, Bella knew that Edward had spent a semester studying abroad in Italy. After that, his entry in her life was blank for the distance was to great and their personal obligations too much to allow their strained relationship to survive. To put it simply, they not only grew up, but they also grew apart.

Still, Bella placed most of the weight of that occurrence directly on her shoulders. She blamed herself, her parents, her life and her complete lack of a backbone. In her eyes, Edward remained flawless and perfect, just like he had been back in 2006.

The scraping of chairs on the floor beside her shook Bella from her thoughts. As the air changed and surged around her, she didn't even have to look over to see who sat down beside her. There was only one person in the world that had that affect on her.

Edward.

And she smiled, allowing herself this moment to feel happiness. She wanted to bathe in it, gorge herself on it, and store it away in her soul for the inevitable moments where she would miss it. Miss him.

As she saw the sparkly green eyes reflect emotions she recognized completely, Bella knew that the feeling of loss that waited just on the other side of the weekend was absolutely worth it. If only to get the feeling of closure that she didn't get all those years ago when her life had been upended by her parents.

The music segued into a new song and Edward outstretched his hand to Bella. "Dance with me." It wasn't a request, but it wasn't said with the inflection of the demands she was more than accustomed to from Liam either. As she placed her hand in his and felt his strength bring her closer to him, Bella felt like she could fly.

*~0*0~*

As Edward pulled Bella towards the dance floor, he caught the eye of his sister who was looking at him with concern clear in her eyes. The night before, shortly after the rehearsal had ended, Alice had cornered Edward to inquire about the awkwardness between him and Jasper's best friend.

"So... you know her, huh?" Alice asked succinctly as she sat with her brother on a hay bale near the barn where the reception would be held. "You gonna tell me about it?"

"It's complicated."

"Isn't it always?"

"I met her back in the summer of 2006," Edward admitted as he watched Alice do the math in her head and recall that Edward was away that summer. "We were both in New Orleans rebuilding houses after Katrina and I fell in love with her. I was utterly and completely wrapped around her finger and there was no place I would have rather been."

"What happened?"

"The end of our mission happened. Emmett told me that her parents showed up early and I never got the chance to say goodbye to her," Edward explained sadly, the memories becoming almost too much for him.

"If you love someone, you do whatever you can to be with that person, Edward," Alice advised, showing that she was clearly wise beyond her 23 years.

"It wasn't for a lack of trying, Ali. We tried to keep in touch through email, chatting and we even called each other a few times, but it got to be too much. Especially with me at Cornell and her at Tulane. I even thought about transferring at one point, but then I got accepted to that summer program in Italy to study architecture and we just grew apart. It wasn't that I stopped caring about her, we just... the timing didn't work."

"When was the last time you saw her?"

"The morning she left New Orleans."

"You haven't seen her in six years?" Alice asked, her voice raised in surprise, while Edward just nodded his head softly. "Is she different than you remember?"

"Well, she went by Izzy back then, so that's a huge change. She also seems so much more reserved. My girl was wild and excitable. She didn't know the first thing about building a house, but she tried her damnedest and loved every second of it. Her smile was infectious and her laughter was, honest to god, the best sound I have ever heard." Edward looked at his sister and she was looking down at her sandal clad feet, her face clearly anxious.

"She's engaged."

"Huh?" Edward questioned, shocked. He hadn't seen any ring on her finger and it was one of the first things he had looked for once he confirmed she was his Izzy. He still had feelings for her, but there was no way he could infringe on her relationship with someone else. If she had moved on, Edward would respect that.

"She's engaged to some guy named Liam. Jasper can't stand him and says he is ruining Bella, but she continues to insist that she is happy," Alice admitted reluctantly. Edward simply nodded his head in response, resigned to the fact that whatever little hope he had felt when he saw his Izzy had disappeared.

Edward pulled Bella onto the old wooden dance floor and wrapped his arm loosely around her waist, drawing her into his embrace. "So... six years," Edward rambled as the band began to play a cover of Coldplay's 'Fix You' and the music filled the warm, late afternoon Texas air.

"Yeah... six years." Bella replied simply as she moved to envelope herself in Edward's touch. "You look good."

"You are still so beautiful," Edward said softly as he led her across the floor in slow motion. They were each so focused on the other; it was like no one else was in the barn with them, even though they were surrounded by over a hundred of Alice and Jasper's closest family and friends. Edward fought against the urge to lean down and kiss her when he remembered what Alice had told him the night before. "Ali told me you are engaged."

"Oh."

Bella cringed at her insensitivity. 'Oh' was not an adequate response to the topic of her engagement; it deserved so much more than that. Edward deserved so much more than that.

"Liam works with my father," she stated as if that was enough. When she thought about it, it really was the most logical explanation, and really, Bella was nothing if not logical. She was smothered by logic.

"Liam." Edward repeated the name, and then mouthed it as if trying to figure out why it didn't feel right rolling off his tongue. It didn't feel right to Bella either at first, but she had grown accustomed to it. She had learned that if she didn't feel, it couldn't hurt and the life she was living allowed her numbness.

When the song came to an end, the band took a break and the guests started to leave the dance floor, most of them heading to one of the bars set up in the barn. Edward looked wistfully towards one of the doors leading outside and Bella nodded, not completely unsurprised at their lingering ability to communicate without words. She welcomed the silence, since it meant that she had a few moments to brace herself for the inevitable.

They walked around the landscaped gardens just outside of the barn. When Bella stumbled a bit in the loose gravel, Edward's hand found her waist and she inhaled sharply at the contact. It was different from when they were dancing in the crowded room, where they were just part of a ritualistic gathering. Alone, his touch was all that more intimate and protective and she hated herself when she intentionally pulled away from him.

"My parents love him and all the pieces fit. I just said yes not too long ago, so I'm still adjusting to it myself. It's almost overwhelming." She knew she was rambling and felt her words and thoughts gathering speed. Bella also knew that at any moment she was going to become completely derailed. "Can we not..." Bella trailed off, shaking her head apologetically. She knew avoiding the topic wasn't at all fair to anybody involved but she also knew that she could never lie to Edward. The last thing she wanted was for him to ask if she was happy, because she couldn't say yes and saying no wasn't an option because she knew sympathy from Edward would break her into pieces.

He wasn't sure exactly what was going on in her life, but Edward sensed that Bella was off, he just couldn't explain it. Though they had been apart for a long time, Edward held fast to his memories of her and this Bella was not the same Izzy he had fallen in love with. He missed that girl. Hell, he thought Bella missed her too. It didn't escape Edward's notice that not once did Bella say that she loved Liam. In fact, she sounded very distant when she talked about the man she was set to marry, and this both saddened Edward and gave him back a small inkling of hope.

Edward smiled sadly and nodded, the silence between them both comforting and weighted as they continued their stroll through the gardens, stopping only once so that Bella could pick up a lone flower that seemed to have fallen out of one of the wedding party bouquets since it matched the flower on Edward's lapel. One of the petals had been irreparably bent at an angle, and while it was still intact, it was quite obviously flawed. Noting the symbolism, Bella felt compelled to hold on to it. Whether as a warning to Edward or as a reminder to herself, she couldn't let it go.

When they neared the barn entrance once again, Bella found herself being pulled towards the middle of the dance floor by Jasper's overly energetic cousin, Bree.

"Come on Bella, Alice is getting ready to throw her bouquet." Despite her pleadings and proclamations that she wasn't one of the 'single ladies', Bella found herself front and center in a mob of clamoring woman and grabbing hands. She couldn't help but notice the more than slightly amused expression on Edward's face and when she gestured for his help, he shook his head laughing, insinuating that it wasn't worth the risk to venture into the mob of crazed women.

"Traitor," she yelled back in jest. However, as soon as the word escaped her mouth, it seemed so completely inappropriate and as if fate was trying to tell her something, the bouquet smacked her in the face.

With the beautiful purple and blue flowers clasped tightly in her hands, Bella knew she wouldn't let them go. Tucking the flawed flower from her walk in with its partners, the intense look on her face almost dared one of the flailing women around her to even try and take it away. She felt herself losing control and started finding it hard to breathe. The whole situation was just too much and she had to get out of there, so without a second glance to anybody, she headed once again for the door and the outside air.

Like she knew he would, Edward found her. She allowed him to lead her away from the reception, her grip tight after he made an unwise attempt to free the bouquet from her clutches and the wild look in her eyes prompted gentle shushing and few other words. Edward knew there was a wagon set up with hay bales and checkered blankets closer to the driveway as part of the decor, but he knew it would be the perfect place for Bella to rest and regroup.

"So, what have you been doing for the past few years?" Bella asked, breaking the silence that sat between them like a weight.

"I graduated Cornell at the top of my class with my degree in architecture," Edward explained softly.

He didn't want to tell Bella about his botched plans to transfer to Tulane or how he had missed her so much whenever he saw a brunette with a ponytail at school he did a double-take, thinking it was her. Edward couldn't get her off of his mind then and he found himself in the same situation now. "After graduation I got a job with a small but highly sought after firm in New Orleans. I had fallen in love with the city when we were there, so it was an easy decision to move. Plus, it's a hell of a lot closer to my family than Ithaca."

"You sound very happy," Bella commented sadly, but Edward just shrugged his shoulders. She wasn't asking a question, she was clearly pointing out where her life was lacking, and that made Edward worry about her even more. "Have you worked on anything major?"

Bella listened intently as Edward told her of about his most recent restoration project of a shotgun house in the Garden District. He filled the missing pieces of the past six years as Bella rested her head on his lap, but he purposefully left out the reason why he had returned to New Orleans; because he was searching for her.

Edward desperately wanted to recapture the magic he had felt in the summer of 2006 and Alice had pushed for the move to New Orleans after Edward mentioned the job offer. After all, he had reasoned, don't a lot of people stay in the city they go to college in? Edward had hoped for the longest time that it was true, but after two years of looking he had lost faith. It wasn't until he caught a glimpse of her at his sister's wedding that Edward began to feel like maybe everything he had gone through wasn't for naught.

Bella felt so completely out of control upon hearing how settled Edward was in his life and she hated it. She was frightened by it because even though things were happening in her life, like her engagement, she felt like she wasn't moving forward. Bella didn't have a job that she loved, like Edward did. She didn't have a close family, like Edward did. And she certainly wasn't happy, while Edward was.

The flower with the broken petal was sticking out like a sore thumb from the bouquet, so Bella pulled it off and tried to turn it so that it would blend in with the others, but the symmetry was off and it stuck out even worse than before. She pulled off another petal and another and another until there was only one left, watching them float slowly towards the ground like the walls she had so fervently tried to maintain.

'He loves you', Bella thought she heard Edward whisper, but when she questioned him on what he said, Edward murmured something about wishing he "had eaten more of the barbecue". It wasn't lost on her that he didn't look her in the eye. He had never been able to lie to her either.

"I'm sorry," Edward uttered blindly as he watched Bella pluck at the last flower petal and look up at him in confusion. Her hair blew to the side in the wind and Edward felt the urge to push it away, so that he could see her better, and touch her.

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Bella said sweetly as Edward's fingers flexed to reach for her and Bella pushed her hair away from her face. The sun was beginning to go down behind the barn and there were paper lanterns scattered around the outside and inside of the barn, illuminating everything in romance. Bella couldn't help but feel like Alice had really created a truly beautiful and memorable setting for her entire wedding. She also knew that where Alice's wedding was sweet and subdued; Bella's would be over the top and far too lavish for her tastes. Just thinking about her wedding to Liam left a bitter taste in her mouth.

"I just... I wish..." Edward hesitated for a moment as he tried to perfect what he was going to say. He chided himself, because after 6 years, he figured he would know what to say to the one that got away. "I messed up with you... with us. If I could go back in time, I never would have let you slip through my fingers."

Bella's hands tightened around the bouquet she still clutched and her mouth fell open as she listened to Edward admit his regrets at their past. The wind pushed her hair forward again, but this time Edward didn't hesitate to sweep it behind her ear and felt his fingers burn against her soft skin as they trailed down her cheek.

"I don't blame you for what happened, Edward. We both got caught up in school, friends and our lives. It was foolish of us to think it could have lasted," Bella remarked, her words filled with lies once again. In fact, the words were almost verbatim what her mother would tell her whenever Bella expressed sadness at being away from New Orleans. "It was for the best."

"Was it really?"

"I thought you were happy?" Bella questioned, confused by Edward's line of questioning.

"I'm content, I suppose. I was talking about you though. Are you sure it was for the best?"

Bella leaned back against the slats of the wagon and looked up at the sky. She wavered between telling Edward the truth or continuing with her lies. However, she also knew she couldn't go on forever keeping him at a distance. They were connected now that her best friend was married to his sister. They would also be in each other's lives at baby showers, kids' birthday parties, anniversaries and more. When Bella looked back at Edward, she decided to be honest with herself for once since she left New Orleans.

"It sucked," she answered honestly as she reached up and brushed a stray tear from the corner of her eye. "Being without you was horrible. I wondered a lot about what you were doing, who you were doing it with and if you were happy. If it wasn't for Jasper, I honestly couldn't say how I would have fared at college. He basically picked me up and put me back together again."

"And Liam?" Edward asked, a black cloud settling over our conversation as Bella cringed at the thought of confessing the truth. However, she looked at the man to her left and determined that she had to face the truth.

"Liam... is a means to an end. I thought being engaged to him would get my parents off my back, but it has simply served to make my mother call me more often asking about registries, wedding locations and color choices. I hate every second of it, and to be honest, I'm not even sure I like him, let alone love him."

"Then why are you marrying him?" Edward questioned, incredulous that Bella was marrying someone who she didn't care for.

"It's what is expected of me. For my entire life, I've lived to meet the expectations and requirements of my parents. I went to my mother's alma mater, graduated with the degree my father wanted and now I work for him. I am marrying someone they deemed socially suitable for me. That's how it works in the Swan family."

Edward was about to respond to how fucked up Bella's situation was, when they were interrupted by his mother, who looked pleased that her son was talking to such a beautiful woman. "Alice and Jasper are about to cut the cake. Are you going to join us?" Edward helped Bella down from the wagon and they walked back into the barn with his hand at the small of her back. Bella's entire body was a lit with excitement and she felt eighteen years old again. She could only wish her life was as uncomplicated now as it was then.

Unfortunately for Edward, he never got a chance to be alone with Bella for the rest of the evening. She was either cornered by someone in Jasper's family who she knew well, or Edward was stuck talking to relatives he hadn't seen in years. All of whom wondered where his date was and when he was planning to settle down like his little sister. In fact, it was past midnight when Edward caught sight of Bella heading back towards the main house with Jasper's mother, no doubt to end her night.

*~0*0~*

Bright and early the next morning, Edward searched everywhere for Bella, desperate to talk to her once more before she left to go home. He wanted to tell her that regardless of everything going on in her life, he was there for her, even if it was just as a friend. He knew full well he wanted her back in his life, like she had been in 2006, but he would take what he could. After all, she wasn't married yet.

It was almost ten o'clock when Edward found Bella out by her car, loading a bag into the trunk and looking contemplative.

"What's going on in that beautiful mind?" he asked as he approached, startling Bella.

"I'm wondering if I should go look for my cell phone."

"Where is it?"

"Somewhere in there." Bella motioned to the pasture where several cows were moving about slowly with a small grin on her face. "I'm sure there are about fifty messages on the damn thing and I could care less."

"Then I think you have your answer," Edward replied as an errant thought popped into his mind. "Although, without your phone, how will I give you my number."

"I have paper and a pen in my purse. I'm not completely backwards," Bella laughed as Edward finally caught a glimpse of his Izzy.

"Listen, I know this is probably bad timing and all... since you are getting married to a guy who you don't really like, but... would you be willing to maybe come see me in New Orleans for a weekend?" Edward rambled out as Bella stood still, clearly shocked by his request. Edward had thought about it all night when he couldn't sleep and found himself tossing and turning in the small bed. He kept rationalizing that his offer could possibly scare her away, but Edward wouldn't take the chance of never seeing her again.

"I... I don't think that's a good idea," Bella answered quickly, which disheartened Edward. "Just... give me your number and we'll see what happens."

Bella's hands shook as she wrote the number down on the small piece of paper. This situation, these emotions...they were everything she'd promised herself she'd never feel again because knowing they weren't permanent hurt too much. Every second that brought her closer to leaving Edward, again, stabbed her in the heart, which she thought had died long ago. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. But she put on her brave face and smiled, her acting skills honed to perfection over the years. She couldn't let Edward know that she was shattered; it was bad enough that she hinted that she was less than happy. Her parents were happy, Liam was happy...it was easier to survive and pretend if she didn't have to fight them. So she didn't.

With a promise to call that she wasn't sure she'd keep, she put the car into drive and watched as Edward grew smaller in the rear view mirror. She had three hours to get her thoughts and self together, to compose herself and prepare for the questions that would be asked out of obligation. Her mom would want notes on the wedding so she could compare and Liam would apologize for missing the wedding, when they both knew that he couldn't have cared less. It was all just so superficial and fake and Bella felt herself choking as she felt the last spark of Izzy fade.

Three hours to think.

To remember.

To feel.

The sweet smell of the hay in the wagon, the dimples on Jasper's face as he smiled at Alice, the laughter that resounded through the world as Edward showed her just where her precious phone had landed. Yeah, she wasn't about to pick it up.

She gorged herself on the feelings. Storing them to ration out later when she needed them. The memories were enough. They had gotten her this far.

But maybe it wasn't far enough. Maybe she was meant to go farther. Her finger was still naked, her heart was still beating and she felt. She felt everything. Anger and sadness, betrayal, frustration. She didn't want to be numb anymore, now that she had had a glimpse of happiness. She missed the colors and brightness of life that she had pretended didn't matter. Maybe it was time to start tearing down instead of building. Maybe it was time for Bella to step aside and let Izzy breathe. Maybe it was time for Bella to experience life because what she was doing could hardly be described as living. Existing, sure...but there was an absolute difference.

As she walked in the front door of her oversized, and far too lavish, apartment, Bella saw Liam sitting on the couch watching television. He didn't even turn to acknowledge her return. Usually his reaction would sting, but Bella felt somewhat encouraged by it.

"Hi," she announced into the silence as Liam turned and nodded his head. It was like they were distant roommates. They certainly didn't act like lovers, soul mates or people who were due to be married in a few months. "Did you get all caught up on your work?"

"What?" he asked, confusion ripe in his voice. "Yeah... oh yeah, that's all done. We finished late last night. I couldn't reach you, I was getting worried." Bella scoffed slightly, knowing full well that he was lying about being worried, but she shook her head anyways.

"I lost my phone." Bella gave him a small smile and pulled her luggage into the bedroom, not really caring about whatever Liam was saying in comment to her lost phone.

When Bella came out, she shouldn't have been surprised to see the counter littered with food containers and dishes overflowing in the sink, but she was. "Some of the guys came over for poker last night. You know... since we finished that big project."

"And you couldn't clean up?"

"Well... the cleaning service your mother hired will be in here on Thursday," Liam remarked, his voice showing that he didn't get why Bella was irritated. It was at this moment, as Liam turned back to his television show that Bella finally decided to do something with her life.

It was madness. It was crazy. It was spontaneous and frivolity of the wildest kind and the longer she kept asking herself the 'what-ifs' the more excited she got. Could she pull this off? Would she pull this off?

What would her parents think? Liam? And did she really care? Not even a little bit and instead of bracing herself for the inevitable, she started wondering about the future. She needed more time. She wanted less time. If she thought about it too much, she'd talk herself out of it. Bella was a planner and what she was considering was pure madness. And to think, she felt rebellious when she 'lost' her phone.

On Monday morning, Bella went into the office and filed for a sabbatical with human resources citing personal reasons. She made a few phone calls and cancelled all her meetings for the next two weeks. That was enough time to figure out if she was doing the right thing or if she had lost her mind.

The next day, shortly after Liam left for work, Bella slipped the monstrous ring from her finger and left it on the counter, along with a note that she would like Liam moved out of her apartment before she came back in a few weeks.

She left her luxury car in the parking garage and piled what she could into her gently used Passatt and programmed her GPS with the address she had finagled out of Jasper by texting him relentlessly as he left for his honeymoon.

There was only one place Bella wanted to be and it wasn't Dallas. It was there; New Orleans, with Edward. In an old house with creaky floors and ghosts. Living a life complete with passion and history and incredibly strong coffee and beignets. Though Bella didn't know for sure, but she thought that maybe, just maybe, when he said to visit, he really meant more.

In fact, the look on his face when he opened the door on Wednesday morning to a girl with color in her hair and a pink hammer in her hand told Bella, told Izzy, everything she needed to know.

"I'm here," she said softly as a blush tinted her cheeks and she hoped and prayed she had done the right thing by following her heart.

"You're here," he answered, his upturned smile taking Bella's breath away.

Edward was truly in shock to see her standing before him, looking almost like the carefree girl he had met years earlier. She smiled, something he didn't see in Austin, and Edward couldn't help but pull her into his arms and breathe her in. He didn't ever want to pull away, but when he saw that there was still no ring on her left hand, Edward felt hope. Bella's next words turned that hope into so much more.

"So how about we finally go have that breakfast?"


A/N

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