A/N... Some asked for a future take for several reasons, but mainly it was to find out about Jasper. Some wanted to know if Edward went pro. And others merely wanted to know if Bella stayed clean. The answers are in this chapter.
Sometimes, it's not about the addiction itself, but what drives a person to drink or use.
Please see me at the bottom for some really important announcements...
Epilogue: Learning to live a new life
Three and a half years later...
"Why does one city need two baseball teams?" Alice huffed before taking a long sip of her soda.
I grinned because she understood nothing about baseball, other than what she watched on the field. "It's not just L.A., Alice," I told her. "New York has two, Chicago has two..."
"Whatever," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. "I'm just glad one of those fool cities didn't draft Edward. I couldn't live with you if you two were that far apart from each other. And if you say phone sex, I'll die! I just...can't look at him that way."
Giggling, I threw a piece of popcorn at her, only to give a glance around Safeco Field. Edward really had worked hard to get where he was. He was a Seattle Mariner. His dream had come true. He'd signed for more money than was conceivable, yet you still wouldn't know it, because he was exactly the same Edward I'd fallen in love with in high school. He was humble, happy to be where he was, and working his ass off his rookie year. For Edward, it would always be about the game – not the girls, the money, the limos, or the parties. He simply loved to play.
Alice and I were early, so the game hadn't started yet, and the empty seats around us proved just that. Edward had wanted to give us a luxury suite, but I wouldn't have it. I wanted to be closer to him, to be able to see his face when he was out on the field or up to bat. Since I couldn't be in both places at the same time, he put us near home plate, saying he liked hearing my cheers. I honestly thought he was full of shit, because I was no louder than anyone else that was cheering for him, but I let him think what he wanted.
However, he still made me wear one of his uniform shirts, which had now become a good luck charm for him. It had started that last game of his first UW season – the year I'd come home from Breckenridge. They'd let him keep his college number, so there I was with Cullen on my back, along with the number twenty-five, but this time, it was in navy blue edged in aqua. No more purple.
"What would you have done?" Alice asked suddenly, breaking me out of my own thoughts. "Had he gotten drafted to say...New York or Florida or some shit?"
"I would've earned a lot of air miles." I laughed, nudging her with my shoulder. "And made lots of long distance phone calls," I said, leaning on the last two words just to get a reaction out of her.
"Eew! Stop it!" she gasped teasingly. "No! Seriously."
"I don't know," I sighed, gazing over at her and shrugging one shoulder. "Maybe transferred schools for my Masters degree? I'm sure we would've figured it out."
We both looked up when Edward's parents joined us, taking their usual seats next to me.
"How is he?" I asked Carlisle.
"That shoulder looks good," he said proudly. "I sat in with the team doctor just to see, but it looks fine. Edward told me to tell you to stop worrying."
I smiled. They were, for all intents and purposes, my surrogate parents now. They cared for me without question, and I loved them madly. Esme was my biggest supporter, able to give me advice on more of a personal level, because she'd been down her own rough roads. Carlisle was shamelessly proud of everything I'd accomplished. He was just as happy with my BA degree as he was of his son's draft into professional baseball. An A in English Lit from me was just as good as a homerun by Edward to him. It was as if the Cullens had officially adopted me at the age of eighteen and never looked back. In fact, if they were asked, we were all their kids – me, Alice, and Jasper – just as much as Edward was.
"That'll never happen. Did you tell him that back?" I asked.
Esme chuckled, kissing my cheek.
"As a matter of fact, I did," she laughed, patting my leg.
I wasn't sure how not to worry about Edward, especially when he got hurt. He'd suffered through not only the broken leg from our accident but a few other injuries that had scared the shit out of me more than one time at UW in order to get here. However, the last time he was injured had freaked me out so badly that I'd almost lost it right there in the locker room.
"Oh, he's gonna steal...he's gonna steal!" the guy next to me chanted over and over.
"If you're going, baby...go!" I whispered against my destroyed thumbnail, trying to keep an eye on the pitcher as well as Edward, who was slowly sneaking off of second toward third.
We knew scouts were watching him, because the draft in June was only a few months away. It was his last college year playing, and he'd only gotten better in the last few years. Edward tried to block all that shit out – all the hype, the media, and the stats. He'd practice, he'd work out, he'd play, but off the field, he was just the average, super-sweet, unbelievably gorgeous boyfriend, friend, and son. He was just...normal. But on the field, he was different – instinctual, brazen, and really fucking talented.
As soon as the pitcher moved, my man was in motion, but the catcher saw it coming and reacted accordingly. It seemed to happen all at once but in slow motion at the same time. Edward lunged for the base, sliding on his stomach, his hands out in front of him, but the third baseman stepped forward at the same time to catch the ball that the catcher threw their way. Edward's shoulder connected with the baseman's shin, and they both went down in a heap, clay flying up in a red, dusty cloud.
The stands became eerily quiet, because neither guy moved for a moment, and I held my breath.
"Breathe, sweetie," Esme reminded me, her arm snaking around my shoulders, but it was hard when both dugouts seemed to move all at once, like bees coming out of a shaken hive.
The umpire called Edward safe, but I didn't give a shit, especially when I could see the team doc looming over the most important person in my life. The third baseman stood up and dusted himself off, which earned a few half-hearted cheers, but Edward was still down. I could see him nod, watched him lift his arm and rotate it, but it was the wince of pain that started my tears.
It seemed to take forever for Esme and me to navigate the stands and even longer for someone to let us in to see him. By the time they did, I was in what Esme was concerned was a full-on panic attack. She tried to get to me to relax, but she was also on the phone with Carlisle at the same time. When we walked into the little office just outside the locker room, my breathing was ragged.
I'd been clean and sober for almost four years, but for the first time in a really long time, I was scared. Shitless, actually. I wanted a drink, something, anything in order to be calm for Edward, but I knew it wouldn't happen, so the first thing he saw as he sat on the edge of the table was his girlfriend freaking the hell out.
"Hey, hey," he whispered with a furrowed brow, shaking his head. "Baby, I'm okay," he half-soothed, half-chuckled. "C'mere." He waved me forward.
His left arm lay limply in his lap, his shoulder looking misshapen due to the large bag of ice being held on with a copious amount of Ace bandage. They'd removed his shirts, and he'd turned his cap around. But his right arm was held out for me.
I walked slowly to him, afraid to touch him, but he wouldn't have it. Grasping my hand, he pulled me closer.
"They think it's just a bruise, Bella," he explained softly, playing with my ponytail. "We didn't hit that hard. I promise. They're sending me for x-rays."
"'Kay," I sniffled, eying his shoulder. "I wanna come with you."
"Okay," he chuckled, kissing away tears that didn't seem to want to stop. "Don't cry, baby. I hate it when you cry. I know it looks bad, but it's not."
I knew what it was. I knew exactly what was freaking me out. Flashes of Edward after our accident, glimpses of plaster casts, hospital beds, and ambulances were all I could think of. I vowed to myself that this time, I'd be there for him, that I'd take care of him – and I knew I would drive him crazy the first few days at home.
Edward and the team doc were right. No bones were broken, but he did have a lot of swelling and a shit-ton of bruising. He was ordered pain meds – which he promptly refused – and anti-inflammatory meds. He was also given a few days rest, at least until the swelling went down.
He was released into my care by not only the docs but his parents, too. I brought him home to the apartment we'd gotten together my second year of college – his third. It wasn't far from campus, and it wasn't huge, but it was ours. We loved every inch of the place. Hell, we'd made love on every inch of the place.
For the next three days, I mother henned him to death. At first, he ate it up, but eventually, I was smothering him. I fed him, gave him his meds, flew into action for Tylenol every time he winced in pain, and generally just crawled right underneath his skin like a rash. When I skipped class the second day in a row, he stopped me.
"Bella, you have to go to class," he told me, wearing a sweet smile as he sat up against our headboard. "I can survive a few hours without you. I promise, sweetheart."
"You can't cook, Edward," I argued as I shook out his medicine. "And I can't get back here, make you lunch, and then be back for my next class."
"Then I'll order pizza...or Chinese. I'll save you some for when you get home," he countered with a smirk.
"You'll need a shower..."
"I'll wait until you get back, baby. Your baths are definitely a highlight," he teased with a sexy, crooked smirk, running a hand through his hair.
"One more day, Edward," I sighed, not even listening.
"I'm not an invalid," he huffed, shaking his head. "Go to class."
"I have to take care of you!" I suddenly yelled, and he flinched, because rarely did we argue. We teased, we debated, we talked stuff out, but we never fought. It was something we'd promised each other we'd never do, especially after watching what Alice and Jasper had gone through. "I'm not going anywhere. I have to do this, Edward. So just...take your medicine, and I'll get your breakfast."
I stormed off to the kitchen, making more noise than was necessary with the pan for the eggs. When I reached for the fridge, warm, strong arms wrapped around me and pulled me back.
"Isabella, you have to go to class. Not for me. For yourself. Your scholarship won't allow too many missed classes. You know this," Edward breathed into my ear.
"You don't understand," I argued weakly, shaking my head, but the tears started again. "I have to do this. I need to. I wasn't there for you the last time."
I found myself quickly spun and set up onto the counter, despite how he'd been told not to overuse his shoulder. Fierce green eyes locked with mine. He looked heartbroken and a touch angry.
"Is that was this is about?" he asked, waving a hand around. "You think you owe me? You think you have something to make up for?"
My gaze fell to my hands in my lap as I nodded. "I wasn't there."
"No, you weren't," he said softly, but he lifted my face with two fingers under my chin. "But you've already made up for it, baby. Don't do this to yourself. None of it is your fault."
Edward stepped between my legs, and suddenly, I was hyper-aware of the fact that he was shirtless and I was only wearing one of his gym t-shirts. Gentle, yet calloused thumbs wiped away my tears.
"I want to care for you," I whispered, frowning at him. He needed to understand that I wanted him to have everything he ever wanted.
"You do." Leaning forward, he pressed a heavy kiss to my forehead. "Every day. And I get this – I really do – but Bella, you don't owe me anything. You've more than made up for whatever wrongs you think you did."
"No buts," he chuckled, kissing my lips to shut me up. "You...here," he said, pointing to our apartment. "That's one. Every class, every sober day, every laugh...those more than make up for it. You really need to believe me."
"I love you," I sighed, my brow wrinkling at just how tense I'd been, but the pressure left me in a whoosh.
"Oh, and every time you say that," he said with a silly as hell grin. "Oh yeah. That definitely works."
I giggle-sniffled and nodded.
"I love you, too. More than I can explain. Go to class," he ordered softly one more time with his lips against my forehead. "I promise, I'll wallow in my own muck all day until you clean me up this afternoon. Hell, I may never wash my own hair again..."
Laughing, I wrapped my arms around him, carefully pressing a kiss to his bruised shoulder. "I'm sorry I freaked out."
"I'm sorry I didn't see it before now," he countered, raising a sexy ass eyebrow at me. "Class."
"Okay, okay," I sighed, slipping down to the floor. "I'm going." Just before I disappeared into our bathroom, I turned back to him. "Get Chinese...two—"
"Extra eggrolls, I know," he finished for me wryly.
"I think I need a meeting," I sighed, grimacing a bit.
He nodded, smiling a little. "Come get me. You'll eat, and then I'll go with you." He shot me a wink. "Now...go!" he barked dramatically, pointing toward the bathroom.
I laughed, yelling, "So bossy!"
"Ladies and gentleman, please rise for the National Anthem," a voice announced over the PA system.
We stood, and my eyes immediately sought out Edward. Angels were lined up on one side of the field, Mariners on the other. It was easy to spot the wild mess of dark hair with bronze highlights. He always removed his hat for the anthem, but that was the only time his hair was visible at a game. He'd recently gotten it cut, so it stuck up even more than usual. Personally, I just thought the shit went into shock every time he got it trimmed.
But it was what he did just before the start of every game that I waited for. When the song was over, he'd turn toward where I was sitting, press his hand flat over his heart, only to kiss his index and middle fingers, giving a slight wave. That was all mine. And I loved it. The crowd ate it up, because they didn't know that simple action was meant only for one person – not the crowd, or the cameras, or even his screaming fan-girls, which had only increased exponentially. Edward Cullen drew girls to baseball like David Beckham drew them to soccer – sexy ass ads and all. No, that vow and kiss were mine. It was Edward's way of telling me he loved me before every game...and it stemmed from his draft day.
"Sorry I'm late," Jasper said, falling down into his seat on the other side of Alice. "What did I miss?" He dropped a heavy kiss to the top of her head.
"Nothing, just the anthem," I told him as I eyed the two of them. Their relationship was deeper, more connected now than it used to be. They communicated with simple facial expressions or touches more than words.
"Now, why are we all here? Why did I take a half day off of work?" he teased, raising an eyebrow at me. "It's not like we haven't seen Ed play before. We could've met afterward."
I felt my cheeks grow warm, but I simply shrugged. "Edward wanted all of us to go out from here after his game. That's all," I lied smoothly, immediately changing the subject because all would be revealed later. "How was work?" I asked him.
He grinned, looking like the sweet guy I'd met in high school, the one that Alice had lost her mind over. It was happy, content, and oh-so-calm – a stark contrast to the way he was when I'd first returned from Breckenridge. Where his face used to be gaunt and pale, it now held a nose and cheeks kissed by the sun, and where his eyes used to be filled with pain and self-loathing, they were now a bright, sparkling blue.
"It was good. Busy. We had a foal born today. Perfect timing for a ninth birthday party," he chuckled, shaking his head. "Half the kids were disgusted, and the other half wanted to take it home."
We all laughed, but we knew that Jasper had finally found his calling. He'd been born in Texas, having moved to Forks with his mother when he was in his early teens. Horses came second nature to him, and what had started as a suggestion by Dr. Franklin in order to relax had turned into a passion, which had turned into a full time job. Jasper was now the assistant manager for a horse ranch on the outskirts of the city that taught kids how to ride and gave horseback riding tours into the state park. His boss attended AA meetings regularly, so he completely understood what a second chance truly meant. Jasper was flourishing, but he'd had a rougher time than I'd had getting sober and staying that way.
His road had been long, winding, and had sent Alice home from visiting him in tears more times than not. There was more than one thing to overcome with Jasper – things we had no clue about back then. Not only did he have it rough at home with his mother, who blamed him for his father's infidelity, but he'd delved into a world of drugs we'd had no inkling how to deal with. Honestly, Breckenridge and Dr. Franklin had saved his life, because apparently, after Edward bailed him out of jail, Jasper got lost in the world of heroin while in hiding.
His detox had taken longer and required medical supervision – and Methadone.
Looking at him now, all healthy, happy, and completely in love with Alice, you'd never know just how close Jasper had come to killing himself the first year I'd started at UW. We'd checked him in the week of Thanksgiving, but it wasn't until well into the new year that I'd gone to visit him.
"I don't know if I can keep doing this," Alice sighed as we pulled into Breckenridge's parking lot. Her eyes carried a deep seated sadness, because Jasper was fighting therapy and help every step of the way.
I winced, letting out a slow breath. I understood both sides, which usually pissed Alice off to no end for mere minutes before she'd back off and just accept it.
"You're gonna say this is the reason you didn't let Edward and me visit, aren't you?" she asked, scowling over at me.
I sighed and nodded. "This was the worst part for me, Alice. I carried so much hate and guilt and hurt. At that point, I believed everything was my fault. And I was so homesick for you, Edward, and just home that to see you would've killed me. Letting you go would've been worse, because I would've begged you to take me with you."
I never regretted denying visitors, but looking back on it, I wished I had at least told them why they were being kept away. Nevertheless, Alice and Edward had accepted me back with loving, open arms, never asking for the apologies that I spat at them on a regular basis, especially since they were going through it again with Jasper.
Suddenly, I really missed Edward coming with us. He was playing at an away game. Bringing him to Breckenridge was a Catch-22, though. Alice and I needed him, relied on him for his quiet, calm strength and his ability to distract us from the bad things. He was so good at it. Jasper, however, saw him as a threat. Not that he truly believed that Alice and Edward were up to anything, because he knew Edward loved me, but Edward had played defense against Jasper to his own girlfriend. That bugged the shit out of Jasper, and he'd said so more than once – sometimes angrily and sometimes apologetically.
"We should go," I told her softly, glancing at the clock. "Doc wanted us here at noon."
She nodded, taking a deep breath and letting it out. She finally opened the door to the car. She'd been a wreck for a week, because Dr. Franklin had called her to set this session up with us. Jasper absolutely under no circumstances wanted to see his mother, but he would see Alice. The doc wanted Jasper to see me a full year after I'd finally let everything out, a little less than two years clean. He also wanted to see how Jasper interacted with Alice, because apparently, he'd clam up for days after she'd visit. Doc was doing everything in his power to get through to my friend but running into dead ends left and right.
Getting a nod from Virginia, we walked on into the doc's office. He smiled sweetly as he glanced up from his desk.
"Bella, Alice," he greeted, standing up and walking to us.
I hugged him, because he'd become more than my therapist. He was a friend. "How's Katie?" I asked him.
"Getting bigger and more beautiful like her mother every day," he chuckled, gesturing to a plethora of pictures on his wall of a sweet, chubby, happy baby girl. "There's teeth and babbling and crawling and lots of pink...things I have no idea how to handle."
Alice and I chuckled. He was always so knowledgeable, so to see him as just a regular confused daddy was kind of adorable. Dr. Franklin looked exactly the same, though, all dark hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and handsome smile. He, to me, represented the calm in the storm.
"Have a seat, ladies," he directed, waving a hand at the chairs in front of his desk. "I wanted to talk to you before Jasper's brought in." He sat down in his own chair, leaning his elbows on his desk. "He's given me permission to discuss some things with Alice. However, he doesn't know you'll be here, Bella."
"Will that be a problem?" I asked.
"We're going to find out, but I'd like you to be open with him. You were right about him the day he was brought in. He's very stubborn, and he's quiet like you were, but I think he's holding back for other reasons. I think he feels it's a weakness to let things out."
"This is a manly thing?" Alice asked with a roll of her eyes, sounding like her patience was already thin.
"Maybe," Dr. Franklin allowed with a chuckle. "It's not easy admitting that you need help, especially for a man. Society's role for us is to be in charge, calm. We aren't supposed to complain or cry. But it's also not easy holding it all in. Jasper's been slowly cracking, but not enough, in my opinion. I'd really like to see his reaction to you, Bella. I think he'll benefit from seeing you just...open up. You carry a strength that I don't even think you acknowledge."
"Fine, but I want my gazebo," I snickered, reaching into the candy jar on his desk and stealing a Hershey bar.
"Deal, but no smoking," he ordered, pointing a finger at me.
"I quit," I snarked back, rolling my eyes.
"Good girl," he praised, looking up when Jasper walked through the door.
Damn, the tension was thick. Jasper's blue eyes were dark, circles clearly showing his lack of sleep underneath them, but he was thicker, healthier than he'd been the last time I'd seen him. Even his color was better. His hair was shorter but still the wavy blond that he'd always had.
His gaze immediately sought out Alice, and it was incredible to watch his demeanor relax instantly. It was like he could breathe better with her around. And that I totally got, because Edward did the same thing for me.
"Alice," he sighed, making no move to touch her, though his hands fisted at his sides. When his eyes found mine, he cracked a nervous smile. "Bella, how are you? How's Edward?"
"I'm great, and Edward's good. He wanted to come, but he had a game," I answered, deciding to ignore the tension by walking to him for a hug, which caused him to stiffen slightly, but he hugged back anyway. "You look amazing, Jazz," I told him with a smile.
He smiled shyly, but it didn't reach his eyes. However, they hardened when the looked to Dr. Franklin. "Why are they here?"
"The girls wanted to see you," he stated smoothly, wearing a smirk that rivaled Edward's, "and I wanted to catch up with Bella. I'm killing two birds with one stone."
"Okay," Jasper agreed softly.
"I can't deal with these four walls, Doc," I huffed teasingly, waving a hand around, "so let's go."
Alice stayed uncomfortably quiet as we all walked out to my old gazebo. She'd told me and Edward that it was hard to see Jasper. Memories of things he'd said and done while drunk sometimes overshadowed the good times. I really got that, honestly. It's so much easier to believe the bad than it is the good, especially when it's thrown at you on a daily basis, even more when it comes from someone you love and trust.
Doc started with Jasper, asking him how he was feeling...what he was feeling, but the only answers were shrugs. When Dr. Franklin raised an eyebrow at me, I smiled and nodded. Yeah, Jasper and I were more alike than I had even thought. I opened my candy, broke off a few pieces and tossed the rest toward my friend across the table.
"No, thanks," he muttered.
"Eat it. At least a piece," I told him. "You'll be surprised just how much it takes the edge off."
Jasper's sharp gaze snapped up to mine, and I could tell he wanted to be pissed, but it fell away as I held his gaze while munching away at my chocolate. I may not have understood the heroin part of his addictions, but I damn well understood the alcohol and cocaine. I also knew what it was like to be blamed by a parent for something that really wasn't your fault – and believing it.
When Jasper slowly broke off a piece of the candy bar, Dr. Franklin switched the conversation over to me.
"So Bella, tell me what's new. I haven't seen you since before the holidays," he stated, fighting his smile when Jasper went for a second and third piece.
"Personal? School? What do you want to know?" I asked him.
"School first, and then I want to hear how Edward's doing," he said, leaning on his elbows.
I nodded and started telling him about school – how the dorms were, what it was like living with Alice as my roommate, and how I was entering into my last semester. My scholarship was evaluated with flying colors, because I fluctuated between a 3.8 and a 4.0 GPA. My attendance was fine, even with the flu I'd caught for a week, which had been excused.
"What about parties, temptations?" the doc queried, tilting his head at me.
"Temptations are every day," I said with a shrug. "Parties, not so much. I never really used around people. But a bad day, a grade that could've been better, a disagreement with Edward or Alice...that usually tempts me more than anything." Before he could ask, I told him how I handled it. "I'll usually go to a meeting, or if that's not possible, then I have to stop myself. Edward's really good at reading my moods, though, so he usually knows when I need to get away from things."
"How is he?"
"What do you hear from Phil?" Doc asked, wearing an expression that I knew well. He was trying to push my buttons, but it didn't work.
"I don't," I snorted, rolling my eyes. "I mean, I do, but not on any regular basis. He calls on holidays to check on me. It's always...awkward. The Cullens are my family now. Them and Alice."
"Does it bother you to talk to him?"
"No," I sighed, shaking my head. "It usually brings back memories, but I've had to let go of my past. I sold my parents' house; this summer, I'm moving in with Edward, and when I go home to Forks, it's to Carlisle and Esme's home. I've accepted that things change. I'll never have a relationship with Phil. Even though he's apologized for everything, he's caused way too much hurt. Everything he did to me and Edward, everything he accused me of, and all the things he said to me behind my dying mother's back are too deep to repair."
"Do you hate him?" Jasper suddenly asked, causing all of us to look over at him.
"Yeah, probably a little. Not enough to give a shit, but it's there," I told him. "He's...a poison I had to release. He calls me out of obligation. I don't call him." I locked eyes with Jasper. "Just because I've forgiven him doesn't mean I have to continue the relationship. I'm grateful for some of the things he did when I got out of here, but some people have to be removed from your life in order to move on. Despite Phil's new understanding about addictions, it doesn't mean he won't always treat me like the little untrustworthy drug-whore – his words, not mine – that once lived under his roof, who he still secretly blames for the loss of his wife. My dad's death and my mother's drinking were not my fault. I can only accept responsibility for the things I did. I did drink, I did use drugs, and I almost killed myself twice and Edward once. I'm not that stupid anymore, but I feel that way around him. I can't allow that. I've come too far."
I could almost see the wheels turning in Jasper's head about his mother. Yes, he used. Yes, he drank. But he did those things to cover his hurt, his anger. And I'm sure Jasper's guilt was thick and sour, because he took it all out on the one person that just tried to love him through it all. Alice.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I smiled when I saw that it was Edward. Standing up from the table, I dropped a heavy kiss to Alice's head, turning my gaze to Dr. Franklin.
"You have my permission to tell him everything," I said, "but I'm going to take this and leave you guys to it."
"Tell Edward hello," Dr. Franklin snorted.
Grinning, I nodded and walked away from them, answering my phone. "Hey, baby," I sang, grinning even wider when my favorite deep chuckle met my ear.
Gazing over at Alice and Jasper now, I wished I could say it went perfectly from that point on, but it hadn't. Jasper had eventually opened up, worked really hard with Dr. Franklin, and tried his best to sever ties with his mother. For the most part, Mrs. Whitlock left Jasper alone...until he finally was released from Breckenridge six months after we'd put him in there. God, he tried so fucking hard, too. He went to meetings – sometimes with me. He and Alice weren't back together yet, but they were trying.
One damn visit from his mom, and he was on a drinking binge like I'd never seen. Luckily, he just kept it to alcohol, and he'd stayed away from Alice this time, because he'd sworn he would never hurt her again. And he hadn't. After a long, nasty hangover, he'd checked himself back in under Dr. Franklin's care. It took two months the second time around to change him completely. And I mean...completely. He busted his ass and had us change his phone number and move him, all while he was away. He utterly disappeared from his mother's life. In fact, once he checked out the last time, he took a restraining order out on her. He didn't want her within a hundred feet of him. He took away her power over him, and he'd been a better man ever since. The week he'd gotten the job at the ranch was the same week he'd begged Alice to not only to take him completely back but to move in with him. She left the dorms a month later.
"Aw, yeah...here we go!" Jasper cheered, rubbing his hands together. "Come on, Edward! Knock that shit into next week."
Giggling at Jasper and my own poor attention span tonight, I turned my mind back to the field. There was a runner on second, two outs, and no score yet. But it was only the third inning. My thumbnail immediately shot to my mouth, despite Esme's protestations. However, she opted to hold my free hand.
"Come on, baby..." I whispered, chanting it over and over, my eyes never leaving the sight at home plate.
Edward readied himself, glared down the pitcher, and dug his cleats into the clay. Oh, he was still so damned beautiful, only all his features had outgrown his teen look. He was pushing mid-twenties now, and he carried it with masculinity, grace, and a calm demeanor. In uniform, on baseball cards and posters, and standing in front of the media, he was sexy, knowledgeable about his career, and soft spoken. His teammates, his coaches, and his fans called him humble and quiet. And he was, because Edward still believed that people saw what they wanted to see. Off the field, he was just...my Edward – all sweet, silly, and caring. He was no different than the boy that had begged me to sneak out of my house that February of our senior year at Forks High – the one that had kissed me senseless on a back porch swing. His love for me never wavered, and it kept me strong and built me up. Every damn day.
The pitcher wound up and threw. Edward swung hard, tipping it up and back toward us. I had to smile when a few fans scrambled over it. Foul ball. Everyone got into place again, the pitcher sending another ball down the line at what I was sure was mach speed. Edward let that one slip by, frowning when the ump called it a strike. Two strikes, two outs.
"He's pissed," Alice giggled.
"Don't worry about it, Edward," I breathed against my thumb.
Edward's fierce eyes shot to his coach. He adjusted his batting helmet and nodded brusquely once to whatever signal he was getting but focused back on the pitcher. The next pitch was high, and Edward let it go, nodding almost imperceptibly when it was called "ball" by the ump.
The next pitch was straight down the line, and the crack of the wooden bat caused me to jump, but we all stood up when we realized what he'd done. Edward tore off for first base as his hit skimmed over the grass, aiming for the far corner of right field. He slid into second at the same time his teammate stepped over home plate. He'd helped put the first run on the scoreboard.
As much as I wanted him to score, he didn't. The next batter struck out, ending the inning, but at least the Mariners were in the lead. In fact, that run stayed on the board as the only score until well into the seventh inning.
At the top of the eighth inning, Edward was back up to bat. A few practice swings only caused his fans to cheer louder.
"You can do it, Edward!"
"I love you, Edward Cullen!"
The last one made me chuckle and roll my eyes, which in turn caused Esme to snicker softly.
"He hates that, doesn't he?" she asked.
"He...ignores it, for the most part," I started, shrugging a shoulder. "It's hard, though, because he appreciates their support, but he hates it when it bleeds over into our time."
Carlisle's nose wrinkled, but he joined in on the conversation. "I suppose it's all a part of the price of fame. You guys handle it okay."
"I guess," I sighed, taking a sip of my soda. "I mean... They don't really know him. They don't know he can mess up a kitchen quicker than I can clean it. The poor thing can burn toast, for God's sake." Edward's parents laughed, and I couldn't help but join them. "They see that," I said, pointing to Edward on deck to bat. "They don't know he smears the mirror after a hot shower or that he leaves his shoes lying around wherever he takes them off."
Carlisle and Esme laughed again, shaking their heads, because...well, it was Edward. We loved him endlessly – smudged mirrors and all.
Gazing over at Edward as he stepped up to plate, I sighed, because what his fans also didn't know was that he would hum to me after a nightmare until I'd fall back to sleep, all the while running his fingers through my hair. That despite his lack of cooking skills, he would still try to help me in the kitchen by chopping veggies. And the man knew me better than I knew myself, because he could tell when I was stressed out, when something was bugging me, and when he needed to step in and take over.
"Has it bothered you often?" Carlisle asked.
I shrugged, wrinkling my nose, because we hadn't really told his parents about some things – actually, we hadn't told anyone a couple of things. "It was pretty rough just before the draft. Edward tried his best to protect me from it, but it kind of boiled over the night of his graduation last year."
"Boiled over" was putting it mildly. The media hounded him. They wanted to know if he was paying attention to the league's stats. Which team did he want to be drafted by more? Baltimore or Kansas City? Tampa was looking close. New York was making trades. We even knew Seattle was interested, but that was too much to hope for. On and on it went. Until Edward was stressed the hell out.
"Cullen, is it true that you signed with Under Armor? When will the ads air?"
"Edward, if you aren't drafted, what will you do?"
"How do you feel now that college is over?"
All these questions flew at us as we were just trying to get from the auditorium to his car. Camera flashes, microphones, and cell phones were in our faces, but Edward ignored them, just merely waving a hand at them.
"Is your girlfriend going to go with you?"
I winced, because he hated when they brought me in on it. He was an extremely handsome man, so they played on it. It was widely known that we'd been high school sweethearts, so they played on that, too. The opinions varied. Some loved that he was a committed man, that he seemed to dote on me, which was all true. We called them the Romantics. Some hated me because of a jealousy thing. They wanted him single, free, and promiscuous. We called them the Crazies.
Edward's jaw tensed, his eyes darkened, and his hand gripped down on mine just a little tighter. The cameras went off again when he faced them slowly.
"Guys, not tonight, okay?" he asked them with a barely-there control on his temper. "I just want to celebrate with my family, and we're running late as it is."
It was as polite as he could get at the moment. Opening my car door, he made sure I was in, rolling his eyes just before closing me inside. He ignored more questions on his way around the the driver's side, finally falling in with a sigh.
"Sorry, baby," he muttered, cranking the car, and that was the last thing he said as he maneuvered through the streets of Seattle. We were supposed to meet Alice, Jasper, and his parents for dinner after the graduation ceremony.
His hands gripped the steering wheel of the Volvo, his face tense and angry. Once we made it to the restaurant, Edward made no move to get out of the car.
"You okay?" I asked him, reaching over to turn his face my way.
"Maybe it's not worth it," he murmured with a deep sigh and a hand clawing at his hair. "Maybe I should just...walk away. I can't let them at you, Bella. And I hate that shit back there."
Smiling a little, I turned in my seat to look at him, picking up his hand. "Do you want it, Edward?"
He grimaced, because the answer was all over his face. Edward had wanted to play ball since he could pick up a plastic toy bat – at least that's what he and his parents all said.
"I don't like my privacy invaded. I don't like your privacy invaded. I'm not what they think I am."
"No, you're better," I countered with a giggle. "And messy in the kitchen."
He cracked a smile. "I'll buy a new toaster tomorrow. I promise."
"Is it worse because the draft is in less than a month?" I asked, ignoring the toaster promise.
"Yeah, I guess," he groaned, shaking his head.
"And it'll probably cool down after?"
"Probably," he said softly, gazing up at me.
"Then, do you want it? Because this has nothing whatsoever to do with me, Edward," I told him firmly. "I don't like it, but I can live with it as long as it's what you want. Look at me," I ordered in a whisper, cupping his face when his eyes drifted downward. "You've certainly been there for me, baby. I can absolutely return the favor. Without even blinking."
"And that's my point, Bella. You shouldn't have to. Marcus says they'll eventually discover your past, that someone will talk. Fuck, I'll lose my mind..."
"Stop," I interrupted him, rolling my eyes at the sound of his new agent's name. I wasn't sure if I liked the guy on a personal level, but Marcus was definitely all business and had done an amazing job preparing Edward for his future. "Do you have any idea how many pro-athletes' wives, celebrities, and rock stars go to rehab? Hell, I'm merely ahead of the game."
Edward frowned, rolling his eyes at me. "Don't do that. Don't make light of it. They could tear you up, and you know it. You've busted your ass to get to this point. I don't want them fucking with you."
"You're kinda sexy when you're all pissed and protective," I teased him, which worked like a charm, because his cheeks tinged pink and he huffed a laugh.
He tried to glare at me but failed miserably.
"So... Do you want it?" I asked again with a chuckle.
"Yes, but I don't want to hurt you," he whispered, trailing his fingers along my cheek. "And I don't know what I'll do if I'm drafted across the country."
My heart sputtered, because we had been avoiding that particular elephant in the room for a while now. We had yet to discuss a possible separation until I'd at least finished my last year at UW. And it was completely possible for him to end up in Baltimore, Tampa, or some other city. They all had been watching the last few games. They'd all been wooing him.
"I only have a year left," I answered feebly, knowing he was my rock, but I refused to hold him back. Not when he'd been there from the beginning, waited through my rehab, and loved me so completely. I refused to do it.
"And then you have to go for your Master's."
"Yes, which I can do at another school, baby. You know that. I can even do my internship somewhere else."
"But Breckenridge is a sure thing," he argued, frowning just a bit. "You'd drop that?"
"What I want to do is irrelevant, Edward," I stated, shrugging a shoulder. "My job can be done anywhere. You, on the other hand, can't do your job just anywhere. You have to go where they send you. I'm willing to stick through that; aren't you?"
"You know I am," he snapped, frowning. "I'm just..."
"Confused," I offered, and he nodded sharply. "And it doesn't help that we don't know anything until draft day, right? We're in limbo."
"Exactly," he groaned, rubbing his face with both hands. "But being away from you or taking you away from everything and everyone... I hate that it's me you'll be doing it for, Bella."
"I don't," I said softly. "To me, you're worth it. Whatever it is." I grasped either side of his face, forcing him to look at me. "You've earned this, baby. If you want it, then celebrate it. I'm not going anywhere. We'll deal with a possible separation when the time comes, but know I'm in this with you. Okay?"
"Okay," he whispered.
Leaning in, I kissed him softly. "They don't know us, Edward. You've said that before at school. So whatever they find out shouldn't affect what's inside this car right now. I'm not ashamed of my past. I've been clean longer than I used. But I am so very proud of you."
I knew why he was afraid. Not only could the media spin my past into something nasty, but being apart had been hard on both of us back when Phil separated us. And we'd already lost a year when I was checked into Breckenridge. Edward worried not only about my everyday safety but for my emotional strength. He was my sounding board when things were bad. He saw them coming more times than I did. As much as I'd hate it, I was pretty sure I'd be okay. At least that was what I was telling myself.
"Thank you," he breathed, capturing my mouth with his own.
He kissed me until I forgot where we were and what we were supposed to be doing – something that happened more often than not. Edward could kiss me until I was senseless.
"Mm," he moaned, dragging his tongue along his bottom lip as he stared at me heatedly. "Get over here." He started to pull me into his lap, but I cracked the fuck up.
"No!" I laughed, kissing him again quickly. "As much as I would love to desecrate this poor car...again...we're late for dinner. You know...graduation, family. We're in a parking lot."
He grinned, all silly-sweet and deadly sexy. "They'll never miss us."
Giggling, I shoved him lightly. "It's your party, Edward. Yours and Alice's. Come on."
He shot a wink my way, frowning again when he looked in the rearview mirror. "Dammit, they followed us."
"We'll live," I told him, turning around to eye the small group on the corner of the lot. Turning back to Edward, I kissed him one more time. "Who you are to them is not who you are to me. Try to remember that, baby," I encouraged him. "They happen to know you because of a game. I know you because you're the most important thing in the world to me. Give them the player, leave the real Edward for me."
"I love you," he whispered, relaxing a bit. "You know that, right?"
"You tell me all the time," I said. "I think it's starting to sink in."
"Good," he chuckled. "Stay there. I'll come to you."
"I didn't know he came so close to quitting," Alice said sadly.
I glanced over and saw that she and Jasper had been listening to that story, and I nodded slowly. "That wasn't the last time, either. It was a roller coaster leading up to draft day."
"He's always been so...strong," Jasper murmured. "I can't imagine him giving up."
"I'm not sure that would've been giving up," Carlisle mused, rubbing his chin. "That was throwing himself in front of a train in order to protect who he loves."
Nodding, I completely agreed with Carlisle. Edward, despite how stressed out he was about the media, started handling them differently around that time. He was quiet, reserved, and gracious, but he hardly gave them time. And he most certainly didn't allow them even a chance to get at me, not that they didn't try.
There was also a change between me and Edward. Our relationship became more, almost desperate, because we had no idea what the future had for us. We wanted so badly to make plans, but it was impossible. And the "what if" scenarios drove us mad. I attended more than my share of NA meetings that month.
Luckily, around that time, some major things happened all at once. First, the Seattle Mariners started showing interest in Edward. True interest. But we were still afraid to hope. Their centerfielder had just had been arrested on all sorts of drugs and domestic violence charges, and their backup wasn't so great. They needed someone like Edward – talented, clean cut, polite, spotless record, and perfectly healthy. He was a public relations dream come true, really. And we hoped that they wanted it badly enough to jockey into position to draft Edward right from the start.
The second thing that happened was that a player out of Texas was getting all sorts of media attention – a second baseman that was just as talented on the field as he was up to bat. Tommy Gomez, though, talked the talk. And the media ate it up. He was the opposite of Edward in that respect.
Tommy was the shiny new toy. Huge debates broke out on ESPN about who was better, Tommy or Edward. Which player would be taken first? Which team needed a second baseman, which a centerfielder?
Funniest part of the whole thing? Marcus was Tommy's agent, too.
A cheer from the crowd drew my attention back to the present. At the bottom of the ninth inning, the score was still one to nothing, Seattle. Edward was in the outfield. There were two outs and a man on second base. One more out would end the game. The pitcher threw two straight across the plate, getting two strikes, but the third and fourth pitches were called foul when the batter touched them both. However, the fifth pitch connected with the bat with a solid crack, the ball flying high and fast.
Edward caught it with hardly any effort, ending the game.
I leaned over the railing, watching four little boys rush to the end of the steps. They stood next to me, breathless and excited, all with baseballs in their hands. They weren't alone; there were also a few girls waiting with baseball jerseys. Some of the players would stop before making their way into the locker room in order to sign stuff for the fans. Edward was always one of them. He liked the kids. The excited little boys that memorized every stat, every play of the game, and knew every player by heart. He connected with them because he was that little boy once.
A couple of players approached our end of the stands, and Edward was with them. He signed quickly, passing baseballs, caps, and programs to his teammates as he worked down the line. As he got closer, he glanced up at all of us.
"Hey, meet me at the exit. We'll leave from there, okay?" Edward asked, still signing, still posing for pictures.
"Sure, son," Carlisle chuckled.
We all started to stand up. Jasper told him he'd had a good game, Alice gave him a fist bump, and his mother blew him kisses.
"Bella, wait!" Edward called, and I turned around. "I have something for you."
He scribbled furiously on a few more programs and caps but handed over the ball that was tucked neatly away in his glove that he'd been keeping under his arm. It was the ball he'd caught to end the game, but on it, he'd written something in permanent marker.
To the most interesting girl in the room... Marry me. Love you, Edward
Giggling, I gazed down at him, gripping the ball to hide it from everyone. "I've already answered that, Cullen!" I yelled as he walked toward the dugout.
He glanced over his shoulder, grinning like the cat that ate the canary, and shot me a sexy ass wink, only to disappear down into the locker room.
I looked at the ball, shaking my head. I giggled again, because I couldn't help it, stashing the ball inside my bag and making my way up the steps to where everyone else was waiting for me.
"What was that about?" Alice asked, eying me curiously.
"Just...Edward being...Edward," I sighed contentedly, unable to wipe the smile off my face as we fought the crowd, because that was most definitely not the first time he'd asked me.
The first time was about a year ago, and I'd said yes then.
I awoke with a start, not quite awake enough to remember where I was for a split second, but it came tumbling over me quickly. Everything changed today. We would know Edward's future, our future.
We'd spent the night at his parents' home in Forks, because he wanted to be there when whatever team called him. He also wanted to be away from the media and Seattle. He wanted to be somewhere comfortable. It was the first Tuesday in June – a month after I'd finished my junior year at UW and he'd graduated.
However, the sun wasn't even out yet. A glance over at the clock told me that it was only five o'clock in the morning, but the bed I was currently snuggled in was empty on Edward's side. It wasn't hard to find him. He was standing in the full length window, looking out over the dark backyard. He was wearing only a pair of sweatpants, his hair sticking up in a silhouette against the moonlit sky, which was giving his skin an almost bluish tint to it.
Pushing back the covers, I slipped out of bed and walked to him, wrapping my arms around his waist. He didn't jump, just merely rubbed my arms, finally linking our hands together.
"You okay?" I whispered, pressing a kiss to the middle of his strong back.
"I feel selfish for wanting this," he replied, keeping his voice soft. "And I feel even more selfish for wanting to drag you through it."
He was nervous. I knew that. It was radiating out of him from every pore. He'd been quiet on the drive over the day before with Jasper and Alice, quiet as we all ate dinner together with his parents, and had held me tight during the night. It was hard on him. He'd wanted to play pro ball his whole life, but he didn't want to leave me. And I didn't want him to go, but I wanted him to do what he loved to do, what it seemed like he was born to do.
"You're not dragging me anywhere, Edward," I breathed against the skin of his shoulder. "If anything, I'm tagging along. I'm holding you back."
I found myself pulled from behind him, my back pressed against the cold glass. Fierce, dark eyes glared at me.
"No. Never," he stated, his voice almost a growl as he planted his hands on either side of my head. "I want you there every step..."
"Then I'm there." Reaching up to cup his face, I trailed my fingers through his stubble. "We don't know what today holds, but I promise you that this won't be like the last time we were apart. We'll talk, we'll text, we'll email. I swear. Once I'm done with school..."
"You'll come to me?" he asked, or really, finished for me.
"Yes, of course."
"No matter where?"
"To infinity and beyond... Damn, I've been talking way too much with Dr. Franklin," I muttered, rolling my eyes, but Edward chuckled.
"Nice, Buzz," he teased, and I merely smiled and shrugged, because we could be silly like that. Pressing his forehead to mine, he let out a slow breath. "My first day at Forks High, I saw you in the parking lot," he started, shaking his head slightly against mine, only to brush his lips lightly across my mouth. "I was convinced you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen."
"I also thought you looked so very lonely, sad," he continued, closing his eyes. "At first, I thought it was because no one really spoke to you. That bothered me more than anything. And no one would tell me why. The guys talked about Lauren and Jessica...even Rose, but they didn't talk about you. They'd agree you were pretty, but they'd say no more. And then, I lucked the fuck out and got you as my lab partner."
I snorted, rolling my eyes.
"You only spoke when spoken to, but you were smart and easy to talk to," he said, smiling down at me. "I never had the courage to ask you out, though. I kept thinking you'd eventually show up to one of Emmett's parties or a trip to Port Angeles for the movies, and I'd make my move then, but you never did."
I giggled up at him. "Make your move?"
"Hush," he laughed, kissing me to shut me up. "It was Alice that busted me. She caught me staring at the lunch table. I'd been ignoring girls since I'd arrived, but no one interested me. Just you. At first, she wouldn't say a word, just that you were shy, but I knew she was lying, because she looked at you like she wanted to jump in front of oncoming traffic to save you, even from me. It took me ages to get her to tell me about you, your dad, Phil, and your mom," he groaned, running a hand though his hair and pulling back a little.
"And it never bothered you?"
"Never. Not once. I hurt for you."
Tears welled up in my eyes at the pure honesty coming from him, and I looked away. "Why are you telling me this?"
He fell to his knees in front of me, grasping me by the waist. "I love you. I've always loved you. And you're so strong, Bella. I know we can do this, no matter where I end up, but I want...I need..."
"What, Edward?" I asked, now a little scared at the frantic way he was speaking. His shaking hands weren't helping, either.
The words came out in almost a whisper, but they were so damned important, it was like he'd yelled them. My mouth fell open, and my whole soul screamed yes. But before I could say anything, he went on.
"I don't have a ring, and I don't know where the fuck I'm about to be sent...but I don't want any doubts between us. We'll wait, we'll do what it takes with your school and my placement, but I just want to know that I'm yours and you're mine and that we're on the same page no matter what the hell happens today."
He waited on his knees, staring up at me like a lost puppy.
Sniffling a little, I swiped at my tears. "Yes."
"Yeah?" he asked, his whole face lighting up.
"There's a but? Damn, baby, you're killing me," he groaned, his forehead hitting my stomach, but I could tell he was overabundantly happy, despite whatever my condition was.
"Hey," I chuckled, holding his face away so that I could look at him. "It's absolutely a yes. I just think it needs to be later. After I at least finish one more year of school. And you saw what happened to that football player that announced out of high school that he was getting married. They ate him alive, Edward."
Grimacing, he nodded. "I know. Marcus warned me. He said that the poor girl was hounded left and right. They painted her as this..."
"Gold digging baby momma," I snorted, rolling my eyes.
He cracked the fuck up but sobered quickly. "Yeah, I guess... I don't want that for you."
"I don't want that for you," I countered, because I knew he lost his mind over the media when it came to me. "You'll be busy enough, hounded enough, and you've got all these obligations to fulfill. You don't need to worry what they're saying about me your first pro year, baby. Think about it."
"So we're keeping it quiet?" he asked, looking just as excited as when I'd said yes. Nothing fazed him, I was convinced.
Giggling, I nodded. "I guess. But my answer is yes, baby."
His sexy, sweet, crooked smile curled up on his handsome face. "I kinda like that only we'll know. It reminds me of sneaking through your window."
Oh, God, I loved him like crazy. I loved that he was nervous and worried. I loved that he wanted to protect me and keep me away from it all. And I adored that he always found some sort of silver lining at the end of the day, no matter what we were going through.
I fell to my knees in front of him, grabbing his face. "I love you," I gushed, my mouth meeting his, because I wanted to consume him.
Wrapping an arm around my waist, he pulled me flush to him. His hands gripped my t-shirt, mine shot to his hair and his shoulder. Tongues tangled and tasted, lips suckled and slid together, and Edward's sweatpants hid nothing of what he was feeling. The desperation was back, only this time, it was unavoidable. We'd declared ourselves to each other, made some sort of plan, and we were going to be fine, no matter what they threw at us later during the draft.
Edward gathered up my t-shirt, tugging it swiftly off over my head, and lowered me gently down onto the soft rug in front of the window. There was no making it to the bed. I pushed, tugged, and finally used my feet to shove his sweatpants down, and we found ourselves skin on skin, with only the moon as our light.
"Say it again," he whispered against my neck as his hand struggled to move my underwear down.
"Yes," I said, grinning against his jaw.
"Again," he chuckled, giving my nipple a long, suckling kiss.
Giggling, I lifted my butt so that he could finally tug my underwear the rest of the way off. "Yes!"
He smiled wickedly, nipping his teeth along my stomach. "Again."
"C'mere," I whispered, pulling at his shoulders until he braced his elbows on either side of my head and his hips were cradled between my legs. "Yes," I said, brushing my lips across his. "Always yes."
"I love you," he said breathlessly. "And your graduation day? I'm putting a ring on this finger," he murmured, kissing my left palm when I cupped his face. "And I'm telling the fucking world. I don't care what anyone says. But you're right, Bella. It'll be crazy this coming year. I don't want you dealing with anything other than school."
I nodded, more tears leaking from my eyes as I stared up at him, because he would always take care of me, whether I needed it or not, and I was happy, so happy that he wanted me and was willing to meet halfway. He was beautiful and a little calmer now that we'd truly talked. But he was hard against my stomach and his eyes were heated and dark as they gazed down at me.
Lifting my head, I kissed him slowly, whispering, "Please, Edward," against his lips.
Reaching down, he lined himself up at my entrance, only to hook my leg in the crook of his arm when he finally sank deep within me. His forehead pressed to mine, his mouth hanging open as a sweet, heart stopping moan rumbled out of him.
"Again," he ordered through gritted teeth, starting a rhythm that was slow, deep, and delicious.
My head fell back, arching my neck, and his lips trailed up a fiery path to my ear.
"Again, baby," he rumbled ever so softly in my ear.
I stopped thinking, only to let myself feel. My eyes rolled back into my head as my mouth fell open. His hips swiveled, his lips suckled at the sensitive spot just below my ear, and his cock hit me in just the right places.
I was lost to him, and I always would be. I'd told him yes from the beginning. And I'd always tell him...
Our worry and nerves had all been for nothing. Tommy Gomez had been drafted first by Tampa. Seattle had traded in order to draft Edward second. He had been nervous when he answered the phone, but as we all held our breath watching him talk, he'd smiled this shockingly brilliant smile. He'd pressed his hand over his heart, kissing his fingers only to gently touch them to my lips. When he hung up, he'd gestured to the TV, where ESPN was announcing that Edward Cullen had just been drafted to the Seattle Mariners. He was staying home. The Cullen house had exploded in celebration.
I stepped out of the ladies room, having changed Edward's jersey for a sweater from my bag. Leaning against the wall was my favorite sight. Edward, freshly showered, duffel bag on his shoulder, and a sweet smile on his face. He was dressed casually, black jeans and a white thermal shirt with the sleeves pushed up.
"I like my name on you better," he chuckled, walking to me.
"Where is everyone?" I asked in a giggle, ignoring his silly comment and glancing around.
"I sent them on to save us a table," he said, taking my bag from me and slinging it over his shoulder with his own. "Come on. We'll meet them there."
"Okay," I said with a nod, kissing his cheek. "Good game, baby."
"Eh," he scoffed, shrugging a shoulder. "We didn't lose. I guess that's a plus." He grinned, squeezing my hand. "Did you like your gift?"
Laughing, I nodded. "Yes. That's so going on the mantle of the new house," I told him, because we were currently bidding on a house not far from school, Breckenridge, and the stadium. I couldn't wait to get it.
"Absolutely," he agreed, kissing my temple.
We passed security and fellow teammates as we made our way out to his car. He let me in the passenger side, dropped our bags into his trunk, and then fell into the driver's seat.
"I'm glad you liked it, because I have more for you," he whispered, holding out a small blue box.
My mouth fell open, but I didn't reach out for it, merely locked gazes with him.
"I wanted to do this for your graduation, but I had to fly out the next day for a game. And then a photo thing and some other shit got in the way, so I thought if I could get everyone to this game, I could do this properly," he rambled, finally letting out a deep breath. "We're telling everyone tonight. You should have a ring. I told you that you'd have it for graduation."
"When did you do this?" I whispered, my fingers shaking as I reached for the little white ribbon.
"Months ago. When I was in New York for that interview thing."
I grinned. Anything that wasn't baseball or me had no importance. It was "thing" or "bullshit" or "whatchamacallit." It was the most adorable thing, and his agent hated it.
"But today is better," he said softly. "Do you know why?" When I shook my head no, he went on to explain. "Five years ago today... You went away to Breckenridge. You left, trying to find a way to get better. And you did. You came back clean and happy, and so smart, and even more beautiful than when I first met you. And scared. I want today to represent this, not how scared you were to come back home."
Tears leaked from my eyes and down my cheeks. "Thank you. It seems you're always waiting for me."
"It's always been worth it, Bella. Always," he stated firmly. "Now...open it."
I swiped at my face, sniffling a little as I opened a box to see the prettiest ring I'd ever laid eyes on. It was white gold or platinum, with a large square diamond in the middle that was surrounded by little ones on each side.
"Oh, Edward, it's beautiful," I gushed.
He took the ring out of the box and slipped it on my finger, only to give both a long, slow kiss. His eyes never broke from mine. They were bright green, sincere, and overflowing with love and adoration.
"I'm glad we waited," he admitted softly, kissing the ring again.
I hummed in agreement, leaning in to kiss his lips. It had been a weird year. Yes, we still lived together. Yes, he'd stayed in Washington. But just like I'd suspected, he'd been busier than a damned bee with practices, home games, away games, interviews, and photo shoots. And I'd been just as crazy. I was preparing for my BA, applying for my Masters, and interviewing for my internship at Breckenridge. My past required extra interviews, letters of recommendation, and a more intense screening. Had we added the engagement to all of that, we'd have just killed ourselves, because the media was no different than before.
However, now we could relax a bit. Edward was playing really well, several of his advertising contracts would be up soon – which he wasn't going to renew – and his season was just about halfway through. UW had accepted me for my Masters, and I was going to start at Breckenridge in just a few weeks, working with Dr. Franklin. Things would start to calm down soon. Unfortunately, announcing our engagement would stir things up, but the Romantics would get what they were pleading for on the internet and the Crazies would just have to learn to deal.
"I never forgot my promise, Bella," he whispered, playing with the ring, only to lock gazes with me again.
I smiled, tears welling up in my eyes, because he'd never forgotten anything he'd ever vowed to me. Ever. He'd been there through it all. He'd promised me he'd love me no matter what secrets I was keeping from him when we first started dating. He'd vowed to make me see just how beautiful I was to him – inside and out. He'd sworn that he'd wait for me while I went off to make myself a better person. And last year, he'd promised to keep our engagement a secret simply to give ourselves that extra time, just one less stressful thing. He'd promised me a ring and love and declarations to the world, no matter what.
He'd fulfilled every last one of those promises. He'd done it all without question, with a simple crooked smile on his face, and with more love than he knew what to do with most days. And I simply adored him for it. I loved him more now than I ever had.
"I never thought you'd forgotten, Edward," I whispered, leaning into his hands when he brushed my tears away. "Never."
"Good, because I didn't," he huffed dramatically. "You ready to go tell them? Everyone?"
I grinned, nodded, and kissed him solidly on the lips. "Yes," I chuckled against his mouth.
"Again." He grinned widely, snickering at my laughter.
"Yes! Let's go!"
He smiled again, cranked the car, and backed out of his parking space. With a wicked smile my way, he said, "Yeah, let's tell 'em all," before pulling out of the stadium and driving toward the city.
A/N...Any mistakes concerning the baseball draft are mine. Honestly, I know more about the NFL draft than baseball. The only thing I knew was that eligible players are called at home, whereas football players can attend to an actual event.
I need to thank JenRar for beta'ing this brilliantly. And huge thank yous to GooberLou and inkedupmom for pre-reading it. And thank you to all three for keeping better track of my timeline than I did! LOL :)
ANNOUNCEMENTS: As I'm sure you're aware, there are things happening with this website that are shaking up the fandom. I need you to know that if things change, if my stories are deleted, then you can find me on my blog. Okay? www(dot)drotuno(dot)blogspot(dot)com
However...I'm not stopping posting on here until they make me. So... with that being said...
Starting Sunday the 3rd, my beta JenRar and I will be posting a fic that we co-wrote together. Coming Home will start on each of our profiles, but you'll be directed to a joint profile... I'm gonna give you a head start. www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net /u/ 4021263 /Sarges_Girls There is also more description behind the story on that profile. But here's the summary:
School teacher Bella sends a care package and letter to Army sergeant Edward, who is stationed in Afghanistan. They begin a relationship through letters, phone calls, and video chats. There's love, there's language, and there's adult situations, plus a strong, independent Bella and the Edward we all know and love.
It will post quickly. So those of you that are interested, then you can put me on author alert and Jen... www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net /u/ 1669516/JenRar … Also check out her post NM story La Vita Sospesa. Amazing canon fic! :)
Okay, Baseball-ward is officially completed. I do hope that you enjoyed Bella's journey. It was hard to write, but cathartic in a way. For those waiting for Fate Interrupted to update...patience, please. As you can see...I'm swamped, but I haven't given up on Fate-ward. :)
Until next time... Mooches! :)