When last we visited Edward:

He's just moved back to Seattle and is living upstairs from Bella. His life is moving forward. He's sober, and he's finding happiness. Part of that was to volunteer as a sponsor to someone else, a young Marine named Jared.

Jared and I talked for more than two hours. He was a Marine, discharged after an injury to his leg in-country. The injury that bred his addiction to prescription painkillers, which he'd discovered early on not only numbed the pain, but erased the bouts of PTSD he had been suffering through since arriving home. He said being back in the US felt foreign. Not being around his brothers in combat felt strange. That he had trouble relaxing around anything or anyone, too afraid that at any moment, some seemingly innocent person could jump out with a gun or a bomb, and that would be the end for him.

His stories were haunting, much too frightening for someone so young. My heart went out to him, because I understood he had demons—I'd had them, too—and that they were one hell of a bitch to defeat.

Especially when you felt like you were battling them alone.

We parted ways that afternoon with my phone number in his pocket. I'd offered him my business card, telling him to call anytime, that I was there if he needed to talk, or if he just needed someone to be in the same room while he got through whatever was pushing him to use. He hadn't said anything as he accepted the card, and that was okay. I knew just thinking about that first call was terrifying.

Asking for help was the first real step toward choosing the hard path rather than taking the easy one.

I'd arrived back at my apartment feeling energized, and even a bit excited. I plowed my way through more unpacking, arranging things in the living room and around the kitchen before I headed into the office to begin laying out my draft table and desk in places where I wouldn't be frustrated with their placement.

Before long, the doorbell was ringing and a glance at my watch told me several hours had passed.

Wiping my hands on a towel, I walked to the front door, not bothering to look and see who it was. I knew. When the door opened, Bella stood before me, still dressed for work in a soft pink skirt and white blouse that made her look innocently beautiful. Pure. Way too good for the likes of me.

I smiled. "Hi."

"Hi," she replied, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. She looked around and then back at me. "We still on for dinner?"

"Oh!" I remembered her note from that morning, and turned to grab my coat. "Yes. Let's go."

"You sure you're not too busy?"

I nodded, pulling the door closed behind me and locking up. "Of course I'm sure." I reached for her hand and squeezed her fingers. "I just…had a good day and lost track of time. I'll tell you all about it over dinner."

We ended up at a small Italian restaurant not far from our building. All traditional red and white table cloths and even a fat guy with a skinny chick eating meatballs, it smelled like heaven as soon as the doors opened. It was quiet inside except for light music playing over the loudspeaker. The hostess led us toward a table for two in the back, leaving us with menus and a promise that our server would be right with us.

As we waited, I pulled open my menu, glancing down as Bella did the same. I decided on the chicken parmesan. I figured Bella would stick with her usual lasagna. At least, that used to be her usual. Maybe it had changed…

But when the waitress arrived to take our order, I couldn't help grinning when she requested exactly what I'd expected.

"What are you grinning about over there?" She took a sip of her lemonade, her own grin flirting around her mouth.

I shrugged. "I knew you'd order the lasagna."

"And that makes you smile?"

"A little."

She laughed. "Why?"

I avoided her eyes. "I like that there are still parts of you I know."

Bella reached across the table and squeezed my hand. She didn't acknowledge what I'd said, instead she moved along like it was no big deal. I appreciated that.

"So tell me about this good day of yours."

I launched right into the tale of how my morning and afternoon had gone. The people I'd met, and of course, what I'd committed myself to with Jared.

"He seems like a really good kid. He just needs a little help. I'm anxious to be that person for him. I had so many people on my side over the last few years, and knowing I could be for him what Carlisle and Esme and Leah were for me…it's a little exhilarat—"

My words cut off mid-sentence. I could tell by the look Bella gave me that something wasn't right. My tone shifted from excitement to one of curiosity as I watched her twist her napkin around in her lap. "What's wrong?"

Bella sighed, carefully folding the napkin on the table. Her eyes followed the movement of her hands until they lifted to mine, and I swear they pierced right through me.

"I just wish sometimes that you'd put half as much effort into our marriage as you did into getting sober."

And if her eyes hadn't pierced me, her words certainly did.

She bit her lower lip, drawing it between her teeth as she picked up the napkin once again. If it had been paper, thousands of pieces would have littered the ground. Second, minutes—hell, years—passed between her statement and the one I finally had the balls to return.

"I deserved that."

A heavy breath blew from my lips, slanting the flame above the candle between us in Bella's direction. She was as magnetic to me as that flame was to air. Almost my entire life, she had been the air that blew me in every direction. And just like air had the ability to extinguish a flame, Bella had always carried the power to turn me into ash.

She'd done it once before. I'd allowed her to. I'd practically asked her to do it; because somewhere in my own need to take care of her, I'd forgotten that houses and cars and money weren't what mattered.

She was.

She still is.

"You did, but I'm sorry for saying it. It's not my intention to make you pay for your mistakes for the rest of our lives. It's hard sometimes, though, to forget all we've been through." She forcefully pushed the napkin away and leaned on her elbows on the edge of the table. "You made mistakes. I made mistakes. I want us to move past that. I don't want either of us to keep fearing that we'll wind up right back where we were four years ago."

"Are you afraid of that?"

Was I? Truthfully, I hadn't been until just that second. If I lost her again, after everything, I knew it would break me for good. I didn't think I could bounce back a second time. In fact I knew I couldn't. I would lose myself so far at the bottom of a bottle there would be no hope of ever swimming my way out of it.

"Of course I'm afraid of that. I'm afraid of lots of things. But I don't want to be anymore."

I reached across the table and grabbed her hand. "What can I do?"

Her fingers laced with mine and she pulled my knuckles to her lips. She kissed me softly, and my eyes struggled to stay open at such an innocent touch. It sent shockwaves over my whole body to have her lips on me again. "This. Right here. Do this. Every day. Communicate with me. Be honest with me. Give me the bravery to be honest with you."

"Don't hold back, Bella, and I promise I won't either." I pulled our hands toward my mouth this time. "Be angry with me when you need to be. Tell me if I piss you off. Tell me everything you didn't tell me before, and then some."


It was hard to start off slow with someone who knew everything about you, inside and out. It was especially hard knowing she was less than thirty feet away most of the time. I struggled with giving her space and taking some of my own. After our night at the Italian restaurant, we had shifted gradually over the past few months into our own pattern. Most days while she was at school, I drafted, I worked and I consulted on projects for my dad. I also had weekly meetings with Jared and my football nights with Emmett and little Annabelle.

When school wasn't in the way, though. Bella was here at my apartment, or I was downstairs at hers, or we were somewhere together. Tonight we were at my place, the TV on low while we each did our own thing. I was booking flights while she hovered over a pile of spelling tests. I liked seeing her grade papers on my couch in nothing but her ratty Forks High t-shirt (which I'm pretty sure was mine at one time) and a pair of yoga pants. Her hair was all over her head and she had the cap of a red pen sticking out from between her lips.

"I'm going to book these tickets for two weeks from now. We'll go out on Thursday afternoon, come back in on Sunday. You good with that?" I asked.

My project in San Francisco on the Painted Lady was making huge progress. We were only weeks away from the finish line. I had made a couple of day trips down to the city to check construction and make sure the plans were being followed, but this time, Bella was coming with me.

She pulled out her iPad and drew up the Calendar app. "The weekend of the twentieth?"


"Ah, darn, that's a book club night."

I gave her my blankest stare. She'd told me about "book club" before. My mother was in a book club! I hoped to God she wasn't reading the same things Bella and her bookish friends were reading.

"You should not get to call that book club."

"Why not, we read books."

"I've seen those books before, Bella." I reached down into her school bag and picked up a book with a white, black and red cover. "Something tells me Beautiful Bastard isn't all that in-depth."

"You'd be surprised about how in-depth Bennett gets in Chloe's vag—"

I pressed two fingers against her lips. "I don't want to know. What possesses you to read things like that, anway?"

Bella hmphed and rolled her eyes. "Some people are lonely. Some wives are looking for inspiration…" she trailed off. "Some of us just enjoy a good love story. It's mindless enjoyment in an otherwise crazy world. You like your sports, I like my smut."

My eyebrows touched the ceiling. "So which are you? Lonely or looking for inspiration? Because I'd be happy to step in in either situation."

She punched my arm and laughed. "Of course that'd be what you're focused on."

"I am a man."

A man who admittedly was a little frustrated. It'd been two months of gradual build-ups and almost-but-not-quites. First it was small pecks, then larger ones, then a little tongue. Now we were at the heavy-petting over the clothes stage. But there'd been no overnights.

I wanted overnights.

She ignored me and went back to her spelling tests.

I nudged her with my elbow.

"Will you give up book club for me?"

Her sigh was dramatic.

"I guess."

"And am I booking one room or two?"

This got her attention. Her deep, brown eyes lifted to mine. She licked her lips and twirled the pen in her hand. A small grin lifted her lips.

"If we share a room, can we have book club?"

I leaned in and tugged at her ear with my teeth. "How about you bring your book, and we'll act out some scenes instead?"

I bet you never thought you'd see this, did you? I wasn't sure how long it would take you to get it. Thanks to a couple of readers who nudged me recently and gave me the push to finish and post this chapter I've had on my computer for over a year. I apologize for losing focus on this. There has been a lot going on in my world, but I appreciate you if you made it this far. Welcome back. We're not far from the end now. These two have been through enough. It's time to give them the ending they deserve. Thanks for reading. -mfc