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Chapter 21: Nightmares & Dreams

I was sitting in the recliner, my legs curled up against my side, one of the few ways that I was even remotely comfortable while sitting. I didn't think that it'd be very polite for me to sit with my legs spread wide with a guest in my home. I tried desperately to figure out what was supposed to happen next when all I really wanted to do was go into my room, crawl into bed, and sleep. Unfortunately, that didn't seem like it was going to be on my agenda for the night. I was seriously considering fudging on my self-mandated "no caffeine" rule just to help me stay awake.

"We don't need to stay up all night discussing this." Though I knew he was trying to be soothing, his voice jarred me, causing me to jump slightly. "We can figure it out in the morning."

"Obviously we do. You're the one who called me. You're the one who came over here at some ungodly hour in an attempt to play Superman. Or have you forgotten already?" I asked, unable to rein in my temper.

He groaned and plopped onto the sofa. "Ten o'clock is not an 'ungodly hour,'" he said, complete with air quotes. "You're tired, Bella. I shouldn't have called you tonight. But dammit, you scared me. All I heard was the squealing of your brakes followed by you swearing in the background." He took a breath and stared at me intently.

"I wasn't swearing."

He chuckled. "Like a sailor. Just one of the reasons that I adore you."

At the last statement, I did roll my eyes. "It's a stupid idea."

"It just seemed like the obvious solution."

Seriously, who would think that a marriage proposal—over the telephone no less—was the obvious solution?

Mike Newton, that's who.

With a sigh I leaned my head back against the chair and closed my eyes. After Mike's phone call and my near accident, I'd thankfully had enough sense to pull off to the side of the road before trying to find my phone in my car's floorboards. Okay, maybe it hadn't been the most intelligent thing in the world to park in the middle of downtown Seattle at that time of night, but at the time it'd been a better solution than just to let Mike continue shouting into the phone. After reassuring him that I was fine, I'd told him that I'd see him in the morning and we'd discuss his "proposal." Then I'd dialed Angela's number to find out if she had any idea as to why Mike would suddenly decide that marriage was The Answer. Apparently, when I'd had Angela fax over the documents to our lawyer, Laurent had caught her and he had been all too happy to call Jack in Phoenix. I could still hear Angela's voice on the phone as she said, "I swear, it was almost as if he was expecting it."

No sooner had I taken off my coat after arriving home than Mike had shown up with a worried look on his face and, even more importantly, an explanation: Jack was going to be arriving on Monday, and I wasn't supposed to know.

I groaned as everything seemed to converge on me all at once.

And through it all, there was one fact staring me right in the face: I was going to lose my job.

"Bella?" I heard Mike ask in an effort to gain my attention.

Shaking my head, I answered, "I can't marry you, Mike."

"It's the best answer. Just think about it. Dad wouldn't fire you if we were married."

I looked up at him and sighed. "You do realize that's sexual harassment, right?"

Mike's eyes widened a moment. "I wasn't—I mean. I—I didn't…." he stammered, but I couldn't bring myself to let him stew on that little gem for too long. Mike had been accused of sexual harassment before, and it wasn't something he wanted to be faced with again. Really, he meant well, he just had a tendency to think with his dick rather than with his brain, and thus words would spew forth out of his mouth without much thought behind them. There had been more than one complaint made to Human Resources when we'd been in Phoenix, and one case, by a particularly spiteful woman, had wound up costing the Newton Corporation a pretty hefty sum. All because Mike had apparently offered her a promotion while she was su—Ugh. I had a sudden urge to scour my brain even as the mental images began to run through my head. The only important point was that though I knew he really needed to watch what he said—not to mention quit screwing the staff—Mike simply never meant to hold money or job position over any of his father's staff.

"I know you didn't mean it that way."

He sucked in a deep breath and released it in a relieved sigh. "Good," Mike said with a sharp nod. "I would never do that to you."

"I know, but you would cheat on me the first chance you got."

He smirked. "Probably." His grin fell quickly, however. "You do know why Dad is acting this way, don't you?"

"I don't know, really," I said with a shrug. "He's been treating me differently since I met with him in August. And to some degree, I can almost understand. He sent me here to expand his company, and I've been too wrapped up in personal drama to give the company the sort of attention that I should."

Mike was shaking his head before I even finished speaking. "He sent you here to babysit me. I'm not stupid, Bella."

Well, yeah, I knew that, too. I actually hadn't realized that Mike had honestly believed that, though. "Well, you haven't been screwing every female in the office. I think I've done okay there."

He ducked his head and looked sheepish.

"Fine. There haven't been any complaints filed with HR, at least."

"But he's expecting one any day."

"What? Do you think that Jessica will—"

"Not Jessica," Mike interrupted. "Ever since Dad found out you're pregnant, he's been just sitting at his desk waiting for you to file a complaint with HR, hire a lawyer, and take my family for every penny."

"What on Earth are you talking about?" I asked, truly confused. But before Mike could respond, the light finally went off. "Oh. Wait. B-but he asked me outright! I told him it wasn't yours!"

"I know. He cornered me about it, too. Then he dropped it for a while until sometime in December—or maybe it was the end of November—I can't remember. It doesn't matter. The point is that he called me up and really laid into me when it got back to him that I was referring to your baby as mine."

I snorted. "Well, you made several other people upset by that little remark, you know."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't long after that when there were the problems with the Portland people, and he began to look into things like your travel logs and productivity, plus your hospital stay right in the middle of that. That's when he showed up with Laurent. So, that's all of the shit he's looking at. You were his golden child. He thought you could do no wrong. And I swear that more than once I overheard him telling people that he wished you were his kid rather than me."

"And since I've moved here, I've done nothing but fall on my ass."

"Pretty much." Then he laughed. "Which, now that I think about it is kinda profound. Don't you think? I mean, it hasn't escaped my notice that you used to find away to trip over thin air. It seems to me that Karma found a way to make sure that you're still managing to stumble while keeping that little guy a bit safer."

"Gee, Mike, thanks," I mumbled, even though I knew that I'd already come to same conclusion weeks earlier. I just hated it when anyone else felt the need to point out my flaws.

"Anytime." He took another breath, and the cocky grin disappeared from his face. "Bella, I don't know how exactly to say this, but I think that Dad's problems with you have less to do with you actually having a baby and more to do with the fact that he thinks that he's lost you."

As I stared at Mike, I felt my forehead scrunch up in confusion as I tried to understand what he was trying to tell me.

"I don't know," he said in frustration. "I think that he feels like you let him down. And…"

"And?" I asked after his voice trailed off.

"I think…. Fuck." Mike paused for a moment, took another breath, and then began again, "I think he wants us to get married. I think it would make him happy, and just like he's afraid that you'll come after the company for me impregnating you, I think that he's equally afraid that you're telling him the truth and he's lost something from you. I think that just as he would've preferred you to be his child over me, I think that he somehow hoped that we'd end up together and he could claim you as his daughter in some form. I think that was the real reason why he sent you and me here together."

And just like that, I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. I could hardly breathe as my mind attempted to digest Mike's words. After several long seconds, I managed to gasp in a lungful of air and I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Suddenly, everything made sense, and I felt ill.

"Do you think that he's really going to fire me?" I managed to ask several minutes later.

Mike nodded and laid back against the couch in defeat. "He didn't say, but…yeah, I think he will. He likes you, Bella, but he's hurt and I think that he's feeling a little bit betrayed. You know him almost as well as I do—he's not the type of man who is just going to continue to sit back and allow things to continue on the way that they are."

With a loud sniffle, I proceeded to wipe away the tears that were now streaming down my cheeks with the back of my hand. Even without analyzing everything that he'd said, I knew that Mike was right. This was the way that things were going to go down, and if I allowed myself to truly think about it, I knew that despite Jack's motives, I'd been failing at my job. I'd stopped traveling, even though my job demanded it. I'd neglected to do some of my follow-up work. Despite my unspecified duty of babysitting Mike, as far as I knew, he was still boffing his secretary, Jessica. Hell, I'd even managed to miss a meeting with Bill McIntyre the day after Christmas! A meeting that I had set up. Then we had just lost McIntyre's account from what was supposedly an iron-clad contract.

I'd failed. I'd fucked up. And regardless of what Jack was really thinking, I knew that I was going to pay the price.

"So, when do you want to leave for Vegas?" Mike asked, suddenly sounding excited. It reminded me how much he typically acted like a child.

"We're not going to Vegas." I shook my head. "Besides, what makes you think that getting married will change anything?"

"Dad sent my grandmother's wedding ring to me as a Christmas present, and he gave me nearly a week's notice before coming up here. Last time he showed up here with almost no notice because he wanted to catch you off-guard. He's giving us time, Bella." He stood from the sofa and walked over to me, dropping down to his knees in front of my armchair. "You should know me well enough to know that I may not always think before I speak, but I'm not stupid. If I've actually put energy into diverting the blood from my dick to my brain, then I've actually tried to make a logical decision."

I unsuccessfully fought back a snort and then tried to hide it as a cough at Mike's last remark. His lips quirked into a slight grin as he continued to stare at me. In all the time that I'd known him, I'd never seen him so intense yet so completely sincere, and I couldn't help myself when I uncurled from the chair and quickly wrapped my arms around his neck, holding him tightly to me.

The sniffling and sobs quickly overtook me as I finally began to grasp just how much this man cared about me, and for that, I couldn't help but love him. He held me as tightly to him as he was able.

"I promise that I'll be a good husband, Bella. Honest. I know we joked about me cheating, but I really would try not to do that to you," he said softly in my ear, as one of his hands slowly rubbed my back. "I really do care about you."

"Oh, Mike," I said with a loud sniff. Keeping my head on his shoulders, I moved my hand to wipe away some of the tears.

I pondered his suggestion for three entire seconds.

One…

I wouldn't lose my job and I wouldn't be alone.

Two…

Even if I did lose my job, Mike would be around help me. He'd take care of me. He'd be supportive and he'd be my friend.

Three…

If what Mike said was true, Jack would be happy. Maybe I would actually be able to remember what it was that I used to love about my job and find myself again.

My baby began moving restlessly in my stomach, and my thoughts immediately shifted. Of course, I wasn't going to take Mike up on his offer. Less than two weeks earlier, I'd been wondering if one of the reasons why I was so drawn to Edward was merely because of some primitive urge to have someone around to care for me.

And here was someone offering to do just that. Mike might have been exceptionally immature, but I knew his greatest secret—he had a heart of gold. Even if he didn't have the first idea what to do, I had complete faith that he would do everything within his power to be what I needed when I needed it. He was a loyal friend.

It was then that I realized that I wasn't just looking for someone to fill the roles of Provider, Companion, and Father. The feelings that I'd been experiencing the last few weeks were genuine. The kiss that I'd shared with Edward earlier in the evening was because I truly had feelings for him, not because I was trying to fill a void.

I swallowed thickly because I knew that sitting in my living room, my arms wrapped around my co-worker, in the midst of a professional crisis and an emotional wreck, was not the proper time to come to the realization that I might be falling in love with my baby's father. It was something that needed to wait, and I quickly found myself trying to push the revelation aside.

After several minutes, I finally dropped my arms from around Mike's neck and moved back in my seat, putting distance between our bodies again. "I think that there may be hope for you yet, Mike," I said as I continued to wipe at my eyes. "And someday, you will make someone a really great husband."

He looked crestfallen, but after several moments, Mike nodded his head in agreement. It was obvious to me that he understood that this was my final answer and that I was certain.

"Are you going to be okay?" he asked.

"Yeah. I think so. Your dad hasn't fired me yet. I figure I have five days to try to change his mind. I won't go down without a fight."

"That's my girl," Mike said.

I smiled, but it quickly broke into a wide yawn and I covered my mouth with my hand. "Excuse me," I said.

He laughed. "That's my cue to leave, because now it really is an ungodly hour." Mike leaned forward and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek before he stood up. "Just let me know what you need me to do."

"I will. Thanks again. You're a great friend."

"Anytime."

After seeing Mike out, I locked the door and got ready for bed, changing into a t-shirt and stretchy shorts. It was only after I was settled under the covers that I allowed myself to think about my kiss with Edward earlier in the evening. A warm, tingly sensation wrapped itself around me as I again acknowledged my growing feelings for him. Placing my hand on my stomach, my son moved and squirmed, and I felt as if things could actually play out well for us. Suddenly, I realized that was all that I wanted.

I wanted my fairy tale… my happily ever after. I fell asleep with a smile on my face, feeling secure despite my reservations about work.

It wasn't until I awoke with a start in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. As harshly as if someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water over my head, my nightmares had reminded me of exactly how Edward would respond if I told him I no longer had a job. The smile was wiped from my face, and I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning, trying to keep the tears at bay.

~X~

When my alarm went off at seven, I hit the snooze button in the vain hope that knowing I had to get up in the next fifteen minutes would be enough to convince my mind that I could sleep a little longer. That was all I really wanted, I wanted to sleep. After I'd awoken at a little after two by a nightmare that involved Edward taking my son from me and turning me out to live in the streets with Elizabeth, I'd not been able to get back to sleep.

It all felt entirely too real and made way too much sense. Actions spoke louder than words, and in my heart of hearts, I knew that Edward was not going to take the news of me losing my job well. Every time I closed my eyes, I would envision him holding me, kissing me, loving me, and then suddenly it would morph into this image of Edward shouting at me, calling me a whore, and him telling me that I was no better than his gold-digging mother. He would take my baby from me, and throw me out, effectively locking me out of the overly expensive condo that he lived in. With no money and no job, I would have nowhere to go, and no resources to get back my son.

I wanted to believe that none of that was true, that Edward truly cared about me and that my financial status wouldn't be an issue. But I'd seen too much evidence to the contrary. And it was painful to contemplate. My recent realization of my feelings for him made it even worse, and my heart felt as if it were being wrenched in two.

I swallowed down the bile as the images again washed over me, and my eyes began to burn as the salty tears formed again. My eyes were practically raw from the tears that I'd shed throughout the night. I lightly dabbed at them before glancing at the clock again. Squeezing my eyes shut for a moment, I then took a breath and forced myself out of bed.

A shower, clean clothes, and a small breakfast and I was awake enough to drive into the office… barely. I must've sat in my car for ten minutes once I pulled into the parking garage as I tried to muster up not only the courage but the energy to go into the office. It was when I noticed Jessica Stanley pull into a parking space that I opened the door to my car.

"Good morning," she greeted with what I assumed was supposed to be a smile but looked more like a sneer.

"Morning." I opened the door to the building and quickly walked to the elevator.

Jessica was behind me, but I didn't hear much of anything from her as we both entered the elevator. Something was off about her, and I found myself watching her. Each time I moved my eyes from the floor, to the glowing buttons on the elevator, and back to her again, I got the feeling that she wanted nothing more than to stab me with the pencil she was holding in her hand.

What in the hell is her problem?

As we stood there, I could've sworn that she was mumbling things like, "needy," "pathetic," "watched too many soap operas as a kid."

"Is something the matter, Jessica?" I finally asked, narrowing my eyes and challenging her to tell me what she was really thinking rather than carrying on with this passive-aggressive crap.

She crossed her arms across her chest. "No, Ms. Swan. Nothing at all," she said as the elevator doors opened, and she exited out into the hallway ahead of me. As she walked towards the office, I could've sworn that I heard her mutter, "Keep your hands off of Mike," but she was through the door without a backwards glance, and all I could do was clench my fists and gnash my teeth together in irritation.

Moving past Jessica's desk, where she was bent over, grabbing things from her purse and oblivious to anything else going on around her, I walked into Mike's office and glared at him. "What did you tell Jessica about last night?"

Mike's normally jovial mouth grew into a thin line. "I didn't tell her anything."

I raised my eyebrows at him in challenge and waited. When he said nothing more, I merely said, "Keep it that way," with a warning in my tone.

"What?" he asked, rising from his chair as concern washed over his features. "Why? What happened?"

I shook my head. "It's nothing. Don't worry about it."

He eyed me cautiously for another moment before he added, "Bella, I would never say anything negative or otherwise to anyone else. It's no one else's business."

Nodding my head, I let out a breath. I was blowing things out of proportion and probably misheard Jessica in my own sleep-deprived paranoia.

"Thanks, Mike," I said as I gave him a small smile. I went to my own office to get a start on my day. The rest of my morning continued on about as well as the first part of it. I was cranky from my lack of sleep, but I was still determined to do whatever I could to fight for my job.

The lawyer called at ten to inform me that everything appeared to be in order with the contract termination. He said that we could fight him on it, but in the long run he didn't believe that was the best image for our company. I told him to email his report to both myself and Jack and we'd get back to him. After that, I threw myself into my work. It had been the news that I'd expected, but that didn't stop the feeling of hopelessness that came with it. I felt like a failure. I'd been working with Newton Corporation for years, and up until a few months ago, I'd loved my job.

Change was painful, it was hard, and no matter how hard I fought against it, it was inevitable.

With Angela's help, we began to put together a portfolio of all of the things that I'd done to benefit and grow the company since opening the Seattle office over the summer. It detailed things like productivity, profit and loss, employee satisfaction, and new clients. Angela then pulled up numbers from the Phoenix office and compared the data. The more time we worked on it, the more I was convinced that I was being driven out of my job rather than writing my own ticket. I had certainly fucked up, but it was quite apparent that I hadn't been the only one to do so.

As we compiled the reports, I also worked on a few of my own files with information that distanced Angela from me and my failings. If I was going to end up taking the fall, I wasn't going to drag her down with me. My goal was for Jack to see exactly how beneficial Angela was and insist that she stay on as office manager. She was already covering most of those duties anyway; it was working for me that was preventing her from devoting all of the time needed to the task.

I'd managed to stay busy and focused, so when Edward called me at nearly six o'clock, asking me to dinner, I had been surprised to discover that it was so late in the day. As usual, Angela was still in the office with me, but after poking my head out of my door, I soon learned that she and I were the only ones still there. My eyes moved from Angela who was sitting at her desk, working on the computer, to the Blackberry in my hand as I debated on what to say to him. There was a very strong part of me that wanted nothing more than to throw my arms around him and find comfort in his embrace. I needed that peace. I yearned for it. The other part of me—the much louder side, the logical side—told me that I needed to step away now before he hurt me anymore than he was already going to.

Reject him first before he has a chance to reject me. Give him a reason to get angry and frustrated so that the reason is actually valid and not because of something that I can't control. I wanted that power. If he was going to kick me to the curb, I wanted to make certain that he was doing it for a good reason. The problem was, I didn't want to do that yet. Just the thought of pushing Edward out of my life again caused this horrific ache in my chest.

I stared at the phone in my hand for another moment longer while I forced myself to begin shutting him out. "Sorry, Edward, I can't meet you for dinner. Angela and I are working late tonight."

"Oh, okay then. Do you need me to pick you up something and bring it to you both?" I was touched by his offer, and unbeknownst to him, it made shutting the doors even that much harder. Food would be nice, but if I was going to get through any of this, then I needed to avoid seeing Edward as much as possible.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I rested my forehead against the doorframe. "That's very sweet, but no. We've already taken care of it." I paused, lifted my head, opened my eyes, took a breath, and began picking at a small dent in the wood frame. "I'll talk to you later."

"I'm on call tomorrow night, and I won't be off until Friday afternoon," Edward said before I could press the button to end the call.

"Oh," I replied, though deep down, I was relieved to hear it. That would mean that the soonest I'd have to see him would be Saturday. And since his sister was returning to town on Thursday and Saturday was my baby shower, I thought that it would be highly unlikely that I'd have to spend any time with him sooner than Sunday.

I heard him sigh into the phone. "I'll call you tomorrow, Bella. Call me if you need anything, please."

"I will."

Ending the call, I looked up to see Angela watching me closely from her desk. "Edward?" she asked.

I nodded, turning to look at her.

"He's not going to give up on you, Bella," she then said softly. My eyes snapped to hers for a moment, and she smiled gently. "You know that no matter what happens here, he'll be there."

I couldn't even bring myself to answer her; if I did, the tears would begin to fall again and I would breakdown, telling her everything, and I knew that I couldn't do that. There were too many secrets, too many things that I couldn't let go of.

"Are you okay?" she asked when I remained silent.

"Angela, how close are you to the Cullens?" I asked, in an attempt to change the topic of conversation.

She shrugged. "Esme and Carlisle go to my dad's church. And Carlisle has been my family's doctor since he first started practicing. We aren't best buddies who hang out every chance we get, but I see them at get-togethers and such. I'm closer friends with Kate though than with Alice, if that answers your question," she said, tilting her head to the side and eyeing me curiously. "Why?"

"I just wondered. You seem like you knew them all really well, but I wasn't sure how well, I guess. And…" I sucked my lower lip in between my teeth for a moment as I thought about how to word what I was thinking. "I just wanted to make sure that anything that goes on between us here at work stays here. I don't want any of them trying to get involved in this mess."

Angela shook her head. "Bella, I promise you, I wouldn't dream of telling anyone about what's been going on here. That's your business, not mine. I have no problem keeping my personal life separate my professional one. The question is, do you?"

I narrowed my eyes at her in question. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, will you be able to put your professional life aside this weekend and enjoy your baby shower?" she asked with a smile.

I laughed lightly in relief. "Yes, Angela. I promise."

~X~

It was eight-thirty before I pulled into the parking garage at my apartment. I figured if I was going to use Angela and work as an excuse not to see Edward, then I might as well not lie about it. Exhausted and ready to do nothing more than attempt to catch up on the hours of sleep I'd missed the night before, I trudged up to my apartment, oblivious to anything and everything else going on around me.

My back was sore, my feet hurt, and as usual, my head was starting to hurt. I slid the key in the lock and turned the handle, pushing the door open.

The loud scream that met my ears, followed by the arms that quickly flung themselves around me could only mean one thing—Alice had returned from her trip a day early.

"Bella! I've missed you!" she cried as she started to rock me from side-to-side in excitement.

I hugged her back and found that I couldn't stop the smile forming on my face if I tried. "I've missed you, too, Alice, but the baby is already constricting my lung capacity and I really need to breathe."

She laughed as she dropped her arms from around my chest. Alice stepped back. "Look at you. When I left, it was like you were carrying a basketball in there and now it's more like a beach ball. No, wait, maybe it's more like one of those yoga balls. It's only been two weeks," she exclaimed.

"Gee, Alice, thanks. Every pregnant woman wants to hear that she looks like a beached whale."

"Pfft. Quit being so melodramatic. You love me. I'm just amazed at how much that baby has grown, and I'm so excited that he's going to be here soon."

I walked past her, hanging up my coat in the closet. "We've got another month still. Plenty of time."

"Does he have a name yet?" Alice asked, batting her eyelashes at me. "I believe that I told you that you needed to decide on that while I was gone."

"He does have a name, but we're not going to tell anyone until he's born. Not. Even. You," I taunted, going so far as to stick my tongue out at her. I laughed at her full-blown pout and walked over to put my purse and laptop case on the dining room table.

"Where have you been? It's so late. Were you out with Edward?" Alice asked as she followed me through the kitchen.

"No, I wasn't out with your brother. I had to work late."

"I'll call him later then," she said decisively.

"He's on call tomorrow night. He won't be off until Friday afternoon. You should probably let him sleep while he can."

"My, my, aren't you protective?" Her smile was back as she tried to tease me. When I didn't say anything else, she calmed a bit and added, "Well, we'll see him on Saturday."

Her remark reiterated what Angela had said… I would be seeing Edward soon. Regardless of whether or not I tried to avoid him, there was a small part of me that knew that no matter what, if I saw him, I wouldn't be able to stop myself from seeking out his touch. I was shaken from my musings by Alice's shrieking, "Oh my God! Bella, what are those?"

She was pointing down at my feet, and I rolled my eyes, annoyed. The last thing I wanted was Alice critiquing my lack of fashion sense right now. "I believe they're called shoes," I retorted.

Alice snorted. "No. Look at your ankles! What did you do? I didn't even swell that much when I broke my ankle in the sixth grade!"

I sat down in one of the chairs so I could lift my foot and see what she was freaking out about so badly. "Ugh," was all I could say when I saw them. My ankles had been swelling the last couple of weeks, and at my appointment the day before, my doctor had said to keep my feet elevated if they got bad. I'd obviously spent too much time on my feet. "I need to put my feet up. It really has been a long day. But first, I'm going to go change."

When I emerged from my room ten minutes later, dressed for bed, Alice looked me over and nodded. Grabbing my hand, she dragged me back into my room. "Lie down," she said firmly. "It doesn't look like you've slept in days, and Edward would kill me if you passed out from exhaustion because of me."

I thought that this meant that Alice was going to leave me to sleep, but I was wrong. Instead she climbed up on the bed, sitting with her back against the headboard next to me, her legs crossed out in front of her on top of the comforter. It was as if she knew exactly why I hadn't slept the night before, when my fears and nightmares had kept me awake and thinking all night long. I had missed her.

Settling my head onto my pillow, I closed my eyes as Alice began to regale me with stories of her adventures in Italy. As I drifted off to sleep, instead of nightmares where Edward threw me out into the streets, I dreamed of the two of us walking through the ancient streets of Rome, roaming the wine vineyards of Tuscany, and finally getting married at a private villa in Florence.