Full Summary: The road less traveled was the path on which Edward Cullen was walking. As his mentor had told him, it wasn't for everyone, and as the day approached to make a lifelong commitment, he knew that it wasn't right for him. A flight home to explain his decision to his loved ones put him in the seat next to someone who would change his path forever.

AH/OOC/Canon couples/EPOV and BPOV/NC-17 for language and future adult situations.

A/N: I put forth yet another story for your consideration. I hope you embrace it. I'll wait to determine a posting schedule until I see if there's any interest. My other stories will continue because I never begin posting a story before I've finished it. I leave it to you whether I continue to post it.

Stephanie Meyer owns all Twilight characters. I own nothing.

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Chapter 1. The Life Examined

EDWARD

"Is this because you've realized your gay?" Emmett asked as me as he drove me to the airport for the trek back home to explain my sudden life change to my parents. I knew that when he told me my sister was at a conference but he'd take off from work and make the drive from Philadelphia to pick me up, it wouldn't go unpunished. For a week I'd endured his questions and scrutiny, and I was actually glad to be boarding a plane just to get away from him. He delighted in shocking me on a regular basis, and my nerves were raw because of it.

"I'm not gay, as I've told you for years. I realized that I was doing it for the wrong reasons and I couldn't go through with it. I don't expect you to understand, okay?" I responded with apparent agitation in my voice.

"Wait, you didn't do anything with a kid…" he began.

"No, you idiot. My reasons have absolutely nothing to do with sex, okay? It wasn't right for me, and I just couldn't make a promise that I knew I wasn't completely happy about. Let it go," I ordered as he pulled into the departures lane at the airport. I got out and grabbed my suitcase and backpack, turning to see him standing on the curb next to me.

"Look, I don't get it. You've been heading toward this your whole life from what I've been told, and now, when you're about ready to take the final step, you bail? That's not you at all. What happened?" Emmett asked.

I wished I could give him a simple sound-bite answer, but it was far more complicated than I could explain at the curb of the airport in Philly. I had no answer for anyone except that it just didn't feel right. As the time approached for me to take the final vow, I couldn't see myself living the life with the enthusiasm and commitment that I knew would be required to do it justice. It wasn't something one entered into half-heartedly, and if I was being honest, I wasn't even invested with a quarter of my heart.

I did have a desire to help people, but I didn't see how I could be an inspirational leader when I wasn't sure of my own beliefs. It wasn't that I doubted the existence of God, because I didn't. My crisis of faith was more because I just didn't believe that the sacrifice and limitation that was required to take the next step was the only way to serve. I didn't believe that a benevolent God would demand that a man give up everything in order to serve Him faithfully. That was the part of my decision that flew in the face of everything I'd learned my whole life.

"Emmett, I appreciate the ride. I'm not sure where my life is going, but I know that you'll remain my friend through all of it. Once I get a handle on a good explanation, you'll be the second to know. Take care of my sister," I told him as I hugged him at the curb and walked away.

"Hey! Take yourself off of that pussy embargo you've been on your whole life. Maybe you'll get some answers then," he yelled behind me. I saw everyone around me turn to look at him and then look at me. I shook my head and walked away without a comment. As a parting shot, it was something I completely expected from my brother-in-law.

After I checked in and collected my boarding pass, I went to the gate area and sat down with a travel magazine I'd found at the newsstand. One thing about which I was passionate was taking pictures. I'd had the itch my entire life, and I found travel magazines fascinating. One picture could convey so much more than a thousand-word essay, not that I didn't appreciate the written word because I also loved to read.

I'd often locked myself in my room at the seminary and read for hours when I wasn't required to be doing something else. It made the time less lonely for me because I could get lost in a book and escape the thoughts that I wasn't ready to accept at the time.

Once I couldn't block the biggest question of why I was doing it from my mind any longer, I knew that I couldn't go through with taking my vows, so I went to my mentor, Father Christopher, and we talked for hours. I explained my position to him, and he tried to talk me out of it by suggesting that I go on a silent retreat and reflect on the decision before I did anything rash. I knew in my heart that a change of scenery wasn't going to change my mind. It wasn't right for me, and once I realized it, I couldn't lock away the doubt any longer.

I said good-bye to my brothers at the seminary in Emmitsburg, and I went to stay with my sister and brother-in-law for a week before I was ready to go back to Washington to face my parents. I knew they'd be disappointed because my mother was quite proud that her only son was going to be the first priest in the family. She'd tell anyone who'd listen to her, and it was always with a look of pride on her face. I hated the idea that I was about to turn that look to one of shame, but it was my life and I had to do what was right for me.

I had no immediate plans for a career, which I knew would just be another level of disappointment for my parents, but I had plans that maybe I'd travel and take pictures for a while to give myself time to sort out my head. I'd been told that if I arrived at the realization that it was only a mild case of nerves and I wanted to come back, I'd be welcomed with open arms. I thanked them, but I didn't believe it to be nerves at all.

The first leg of the flight, I was happily alone in my row. There was a short stop in Phoenix and then I would be in Washington, and I had no clearer idea of what to tell my parents than when I'd got on the plane in Philadelphia. As I was sitting with my eyes closed in the aisle seat of the plane, I felt a soft tap on my right shoulder. I opened my eyes to see a young woman standing next to me with a sheepish smile on her face. "Sorry to wake you, but I've got the window," she informed as she pointed to the empty seat next to me.

I quickly rose from my seat to allow her to enter, and once she was settled, I sat back down, buckling my seatbelt again. I watched her out of the corner of my eye and saw her nervously fumbling with her purse and a carry-on bag.

She pulled a book from her bag and placed a bottle of water in the seat pocket in front of her. I saw her close her eyes and swallow hard as the doors to the cabin closed, and when the engines powered up and the plane moved back from the gate, I saw her gripping the arm rests so tightly that her knuckles were white. As the plane taxied to its position in line for take-off, I saw a tear roll down her right cheek, and I couldn't hold my tongue any longer.

"Miss, I'm sorry to bother you, but are you okay?" I asked. She didn't appear to be okay in the least.

She turned to look at me with a watery smile, and she reached up and wiped the tears. "I'm sorry. I'm petrified to fly, and I didn't have time to get my prescription filled for a mild sedative. I'll be fine once we're in the air, it's just that it's the first time I've actually flown by myself, and I'm kind of freaking out. I promise, I won't throw up or anything," she assured.

I quickly assessed the situation and determined that if I didn't want her freaking out on me, perhaps I needed to distract her. "Hi, I'm Edward. You're…?" I asked as I extended my right hand to shake hers.

She took it gently and squeezed a little, not immediately letting go. "I'm Bella. I feel sorry for you having to sit next to me. You seem like a nice person, and I'm probably going to be a complete basket case. I'll ask the flight attendant if there's an empty row on the plane. It doesn't seem to be very full, and I can have my panic attack without bothering you," she responded quietly.

I didn't think she was kidding, but if she was going to have a full-blown panic attack, I knew we'd be making an emergency landing somewhere for the air marshals to remove her, and as much as I wasn't in a hurry to get home, I didn't want a lengthy layover in Boise, Idaho.

"Now, that's silly. Let's talk. Is Washington your final destination?" I asked as she continued to hold onto my hand. For the sake of comfort, I pulled my right hand away and took hers with my left, squeezing it gently to let her know that I was there for her.

She smiled brightly and responded, "It is. I'm going home to a job in La Push. Have you ever heard of it?"

"I have, actually. My parents, who I'm going to visit, live in Forks. I assume you've heard of it since it's not that far from the reservation. What kind of job are you going to take there?" I asked as the plane continued to taxi to the end of the runway.

"I'm going to teach at the reservation school. I just got my certification from the University of Arizona. I'm excited because it will be my first official teaching job," she remarked, seeming to forget what was going on with the flight. I felt the plane turn, and I knew that we were about to take off, so I held her hand tightly and pressed on.

"That sounds exciting. What are you going to teach?" I asked as I heard the engines rev up, signaling that we would be airborne rather quickly.

She swallowed hard as she realized what was about to happen, and I reached my right hand over and covered her right hand that I held in my left. "It's going to be fine. Listen to the sound of my voice and look into my eyes. Now, what's your specialty?" I asked again.

"Um, fourth grade. I have a degree in elementary education. I did my student teaching at an inner city school in Phoenix, and I loved it. Kids that age are so eager to learn. They haven't actually been tainted yet, but they've gone through enough school to be eager. The challenge of keeping them engaged is like a rush for me. When they understand things, it makes me happier than anything I've ever experienced in my life," she answered brightly.

We were in the air, and she didn't seem to notice it, so I kept her talking. "Do you have family there?" I asked. She didn't look Native American, and as I looked at her, I could see that she was a beautiful young woman. She was probably about twenty-four, so she was two years' younger than me, and she had a certain fire about her that was a rarity for a teacher in my experience.

I'd dealt with jaded teachers at parish schools where I'd been assigned from time to time, and none of them seemed to have the fire that the young woman sitting next to me exuded. Maybe it was just the excitement of her first job, but she didn't strike me as the kind of woman who would allow anyone to dampen her love for her chosen profession.

"You seem to be quite passionate about your new path, and it's really refreshing to see. So many people get bogged down and lose that initial spark with regard to their careers. I really hope that you keep that flash in you because if you do, you'll be quite the inspiration to your students," I observed.

"That's very kind of you. So, Edward, what do you do?" she asked. Oh, that was quite a question. I certainly wasn't ready to say, "Well, up until a week ago, I was going to be a priest and likely go to Africa to teach," so I decided to go with a simpler answer that wasn't exactly a lie.

"Right now, I'm in the middle of making some changes in my life. I was on a path that I decided wasn't exactly right for me, so instead of making a mistake that I was certain I'd regret, I decided that I'd take some time and re-evaluate my life and make some decisions. I'm on my way to my parents' home to do just that," I answered.

The flight attendant came by with drinks, and I ordered a beer while Bella ordered Bloody Mary mix. I paid for my beer and took the can from the woman, having let go of Bella's hand. I held my can up toward her after she'd poured her drink, and I offered, "Here's to new beginnings." We touched drinks and sipped. She giggled and wiped her mouth, giving me a big smile which was only one that a calm person could have given.

"So, will you live on the reservation?" I asked as we chatted, my magazine long forgotten.

"No. I'm not Quileute, so I'll live in Forks. My father actually lives there, so I'll stay with him until I find a place of my own. I haven't seen him in a while, so I hope it'll be a chance for the two of us to reconnect. My parents divorced when I was in high school, but I spent summers and Christmases with my father. We get along okay; it's just that we don't know each other very well. What about you?" she asked. It was certainly a fair question.

"Um, I'm not sure how long I'll stay in Forks. I need to decide on a career path, and actually do it pretty soon, so I'm not sure if anything in Forks will meet my needs," I answered, feeling the levity of my situation hit me.

"Oh, did you go to college?" she asked.

"I, uh, I went to a Catholic university. I double majored in English and Theology with a minor in Music," I replied honestly.

"So, then, are you going to teach? I mean, with a degree in English and Theology, unless you're going to be a priest, I don't see anything except teaching as an option," she joked. She was closer to the truth than she knew.

"I haven't actually settled on it. I like to take pictures, so I might pursue that as a career. I've had an opportunity in my life to travel a bit and take pictures. It's sort of a hobby, but it's something I'd consider as a potential career," I responded honestly while deftly evading the reference to the priesthood. I certainly wasn't ready to confess to a stranger on a plane something that I hadn't yet explained to my parents.

"That's quite interesting. Have you been anywhere exotic to take your pictures?" she asked.

"I took a few trips where I was able to get some interesting photos. Nothing major, mind you, but enough to actually whet my appetite for travel and photojournalism," I told her as the realization hit me.

I could take some time and travel, taking pictures that perhaps I could sell to some of my beloved travel magazines. I had money that I hadn't done anything with since it was left to me by my grandparents, and since I hadn't taken the vow of poverty, I wouldn't have to live by the promise. I'd have to live frugally because it wasn't millions, but I'd learned to live a simple life, so I could probably make it last for six-months or so if I was careful. It was something to consider.

We continued to chat about everyday things of which I'd lost touch. I didn't recognize some of the music she referred to enjoying, and the recent movie references were lost on me. It wasn't as though I didn't have access to television, it was just that I chose to spend my free time alone either studying or reading some of the classics. I preferred it far more than watching some mundane television show. The exception was college basketball and football. We all seemed to make time for sports.

I'd also spent a lot of time in the chapel praying for guidance. My fingers had callouses from running the Rosary beads through them as I tried to figure out the right thing to do. The only answer I ever received was that I was about to make a decision that wasn't right for me. That was what had me on that plane that day.

The popping in my ears alerted me to the fact that we were on descent into Sea-Tac. The time had gone by much faster than I'd expected. I looked out the window to see the skyline, and I happened to notice that my seat companion was once again, white knuckling the arm rests.

I grabbed her hand again, and said, "It's going to be fine. Give me your hand." She reluctantly released the arm rest and took my hand, squeezing it and closing her eyes.

"If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?" I tossed out thoughtlessly.

She opened her eyes and turned to look at me with a small smile. "Um, I think I'd go to Italy. I've seen photos and it appears to be so beautiful. There's art, history, culture. I'd love to see the Colosseum. I think it would be quite inspiring," she answered.

"I've been to Italy before. It's all of those things and more. St. Peter's is incredible, and the piazzas in Rome are certainly something not to be missed as well," I responded. I'd been there, not exactly on vacation, but I could offer my two cents.

"I'll take that into consideration should I ever find myself flush with cash. Thank you, Edward, for trying to keep me from losing my head on this flight. I can honestly say that your calming presence and your interesting conversation kept me engaged enough not to think…" she began just as we touched down. I saw her eyes slam shut and felt her squeeze my hand tightly, which I easily returned.

As soon as the plane slowed and began taxiing to the gate, she let go of my hand, which surprisingly, wasn't exactly to my liking. I wasn't sure why, so I didn't dwell on it. As soon as the seatbelt light was off, everyone began scrambling to gather their bags from the overhead bins. Bella scooted across me, which caused my mind to go in a direction that I'd not allowed in a very long time, and when she reached into the overhead bin to pull down her suitcase, I was face to face with her bare midriff as her t-shirt rode up.

I felt my face flush, and I reached down for my backpack and grabbed my travel magazine from the pouch in front of me to keep from dwelling on the fact that she was that close. It was something I didn't need clouding my brain, and I truly wondered what was wrong with me that I'd allowed such thoughts to enter my head.

Maybe my decision to leave the seminary had opened a door to my psyche that I'd closed long ago, but with what I was facing with dealing with my parents, it was the last thing I needed on my mind.

After we filed off the plane, I turned to Bella to wish her the best of luck in her life, planning to never see her again. "Good luck with your new position. I'm certain that you'll be quite successful. You have a fresh enthusiasm that I'm certain your students will enjoy. God's blessings upon you," I told her as I shook her hand.

I could see the startled expression on her face at my comment and I immediately knew why. I wasn't going to apologize for it because it was something that had come naturally to me for a long time, so I simply smiled at her and turned to leave. I glanced back at her and saw her smiling in my direction, which warmed my heart.

I arrived at the rental car counter and claimed the car that I'd borrowed money from my sister to rent because my parents didn't know I was on my way home. Just as I was about to leave the airport, I saw Bella talking to a cab driver in what appeared to be a rather heated discussion. As much as I'd have liked to just driven away, something inside me wouldn't let me do it, so I pulled over and climbed out of the rental. "Is there a problem?" I asked as I walked up to the two of them.

"My dad can't pick me up, so I'm trying to negotiate a price with this man to take me to Forks. He seems to think it's worth a couple of hundred dollars," she snapped, appearing angry.

"Lady, I told you, it's eight hours out of my day to haul you there and come back to town. I could easily make twice as much as the price I quoted you, but I'm tryin' to be a nice guy. I doubt you'll get anyone else to do it for less. I can give you a ride to the bus station, which is really your best bet," the man instructed.

I saw her face cringe at the thought, and I couldn't help myself but laugh. "We're going to the same place so how about we share a ride. I'll split the gas with you," I told her without much thought.

She looked at the car and laughed. "It's a Prius. There won't be much gas to split."

"Well, fars the better for the both of us. Come on, let's get going," I announced as I opened the hatch and loaded her suitcase in the back beside mine.

I had no idea what I was doing at that point, but I'd always had a penchant for helping people, and in that moment, she was someone who needed help, or that was what I was telling myself. The voice in the back of my head was telling me that I had ulterior motives because I didn't want to be away from her, but I wasn't giving him a lot of traction that evening.

We pulled onto the highway, and she turned on the radio, finding a station to her liking. It wasn't entirely unpleasant, so I didn't protest. An hour into our drive, she reached up and turned down the volume, turning in her seat a little to face me. I only knew it because I'd been watching her out of the corner of my eye during the entire drive.

"So, is it a broken heart that you're going home to nurse?" she asked as she fidgeted with her hands.

My mind swirled with how to answer her because I knew that she thought my broken heart was at the hands of a woman, while the truth was that it was because I was letting go of a certain future for an uncertain one. It did break my heart to leave the seminary because it was safe there. Once I decided to leave it, there was a big, bad world out there that I wasn't sure I was ready to take on. I was scared and excited at the same time but I wasn't ready to confess it to a stranger.

"In a sense, I guess it is. It's more of a change of direction that I'm uncertain about that worries me. It has nothing to do with a broken romance, per se, rather a broken …hell, I don't know. I won't say it was my dream, because it wasn't, but it was a future that I'd accepted for a long time and now it's gone. Maybe it's that I realize that my safe little world that I'd created wasn't what I wanted it to be. Maybe that's what gave you the impression that I was nursing a broken heart," I answered honestly…almost. I'd confessed the feelings I was feeling without the real reason behind them, but it was more than I actually wanted to give her.

She seemed to have a way about her that coaxed information out of me, and I chalked it up to my lack of experience with actually dealing with women on more than a cursory basis. It was the first time I'd had a conversation of the sort with a woman, and I was completely out of my element.

"I hope you can find some kind of peace about it. I know how it is to think things are going to go one way when they abruptly go another. It's disheartening, but you know, doors and windows," she replied.

"Doors and windows?" I asked curiously.

"God never closes a door that he doesn't open a window. I'm sure you've heard the expression. You went to Catholic schools, didn't you?" she asked.

"All-male Catholic schools, as a matter of fact. Do I wear the guilt like armor?" I joked.

"One guilt-riddled Catholic can easily spot another. You're a kind soul so I'd guess there's a lot more to your story than what you're willing to tell a complete stranger, and I respect it but I have to tell you that I think you're a good person. You might not feel it right now, but someday, hopefully, you'll feel it," she replied. With that, she turned the radio up a bit, and the next time I glanced her way, she was asleep.

When I entered the city limits, I reached over and gently squeezed her arm to wake her. She opened her eyes and turned to me, showing me the biggest, brownest eyes I'd ever gazed into and she smiled sleepily. "Sorry. I always fall asleep in the car. Oh, we're here. Um, take a turn onto Fifth, and then the first left. My father's house is three down on the left," she guided.

I followed her directions, and pulled up in front of a yellow house. There were no cars in the driveway, and I wondered about how she'd get in. "Um, do you need to call someone?" I asked.

She laughed. "My dad's the Chief of Police. He never locks the door. Thank you for giving me a ride. Here's my half of the gas. I hope you find your peace, Edward. I believe you, more than anyone I've met in my life, deserve peace. My dad's in the book, by the way, under 'Swan'. If you find yourself in need of a friend to talk to, I hope you'll count me as one. Take care of yourself," she offered as she hopped out of the car and walked to the back, opening the hatch and grabbing her bag. She quickly went to the porch and turned to wave at me before she disappeared inside.

I drove away thinking about her more than I should have. I needed to think about my next stop because that was going to be more difficult to handle than anything I'd dealt with before. Disappointing my parents was never something I'd set out to do, but I knew it was what I was going to do that evening. I felt guiltier about it than anything I'd ever done in my life, including leaving the seminary.

##

I pulled into the driveway of my parents' home and stopped at the entrance. I got out of the car and paced for a few minutes trying to get my head together because I couldn't stop myself from thinking about Bella Swan.

I didn't want to think about her, knowing I had enough to deal with, but her kind words kept circling my head. Her reminder of "door and windows" kept flashing like a neon light. It certainly wasn't the first time I'd ever heard the old proverb, but it was the first time it had actually resonated with me.

If, indeed, God didn't close a door that he didn't provide a window, I needed to figure out what my window was, and I needed to figure it out before I walked up to my parents front porch and announced that their model son wasn't going to follow the path that they'd so emphatically pushed.

My parents were good people, and why they'd ever determined that I was priestly material was an unknown to me, but maybe something Emmett had said made a little more sense.

I didn't date in high school or college, and I supposed that there was a distinct possibility that my parents thought I was gay. I knew that their Catholic upbringing left no room in their minds to accept a gay son, so maybe they thought if I took a vow of chastity it was something that wouldn't ever come up.

While I was chaste, I wasn't gay, but I also wasn't cut out to live the life of a priest, sacrificing everything for the greater cause of serving the Church while I was uncertain about the reasons behind it all. My own sexuality wasn't really something that I'd ever given much thought to because girls really never took an interest in me when I was in college, and I was sure it was because I was almost terminally shy.

I had an older sister who apparently got all of the confidence in the family, and the fact that girls scared me to death only made me the subject of ridicule when I was growing up. My sister intimidated the hell out of me, and I supposed that somewhere along the way, I determined that all girls were like her so I simply put them out of my mind.

Until that flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to Seattle, Washington, and then the car ride to Forks, Washington, I thought women were the most foreign beings on the planet. Bella Swan changed my opinion, and while I couldn't process that possibility, I couldn't discount it either. I simply had to put it out of my mind and deal with the matter at hand…the complete devastation I was about to subject upon my parents.

I climbed back into the car and finished the drive to the house, grabbing my bag and ringing the bell. I had a key, but I was unannounced, and I certainly didn't want to scare them to death by just waltzing in when I was supposed to be across the country preparing to take my vows. They were set to fly out the next week for the Mass, and that was a trip they wouldn't be taking.

I took one final breath before the door was opened and I hoped and prayed that things would be fine. It was certainly a great unknown, and it wasn't one about which I was happy.