What happened next surprised me.

Bella walked around the bar, placed her arms around me, and we cried together.

Chapter 23

We held each other, letting go of the pain we'd felt over the years.

In that moment, I sensed a shift in our relationship. I didn't know if she'd ever wholly forgive me, but I left her that night, feeling as if we'd taken a step in the right direction.

The weeks that followed brought about lighter moments between us. Gone was the tension that previously appeared whenever we met to exchange Cam. The awkwardness that filled our conversations when we were forced to talk was no longer there. Even small talk flowed more comfortably between us. We weren't going to be repeating vows anytime soon, but I could say we were finally on the road to being friends.

Six months later

Planning my son's birthday with Bella was surreal. I'd never before celebrated a birthday with my son, and now I was actually allowed to be a part of the entire process. Sure, I was 6 years late, but I was finally there planning it, side-by-side with Bella, the way it should have always been. I'd worked hard to let go of the guilt, but in those times, it still ate me alive.

Cam had all but demanded a party themed around zoo animals. I'd taken him to Seattle one weekend, and he'd fallen in love with the lions and tigers, but his favorite were the 'elpants' as he called them. I knew I should have corrected him, but it was just too damn cute.

"Daddy, we have to go see the elpants again!" Cam practically shouted in his excitement. "I just love the way the momma elpant sprayed water all over herbaby when he rolled in that dirt."

I chuckled at his enthusiasm, but I was just as excited to get back, soI could enjoy watching them through the eyes of my son.

He was laughing while tugging on my hand, trying to hurry me. "Dad, come on! What if the momma wants that baby to take a nap! I wanna see him play again!"

On the way back to the hotel that night, Cam rambled on and on about how cool an elpant cake would be, so no sooner than I'd gotten home, I'd found a bakery in Port Angeles that could make him a three-dimensional elephant shaped cake.

"So, what do you think about these?" Bella asked, showing me the animal party bags. "We can make it into an art project, which will help keep all these kids occupied for a bit."

"I like the way you think," I said before pointing to the cookies shaped like animals. "What about those to send home in their bags? We could bake the cookies ahead of time, and then give the kids the frosting and decorations. It's another project to keep them busy," I said proud of myself for also coming up with something to keep them from getting bored.

Bella smiled. "That's a good idea, and although, I'm sure you've learned a little about cooking over the years, somehow I doubt you've become a skilled baker." A frown started to overtake her smile, but she shook her head and the smile was back, although it didn't quite reach her eyes.

I didn't acknowledge her slight change in mood. Our relationship had clearly improved, but I couldn't blame her when the pain from the past crept into her thoughts.

"Well, I can boil water, but baking is definitely a stretch." I smiled at her, and she smiled back, a real smile this time, the momentary flash of the past forgotten, for now.

"But, I can call the bakery and order the cake," I said, reaching for the phone.

After giving the girl on the phone the specs, I turned my nose up, thinking about the grey icing that would be necessary. "Just how do you make grey icing?" I asked, not honestlysure I wanted to know but curious none-the-less. Finding out it was merely black and white colored gel made it a little less worrisome.

When she asked when I wanted to pick up the cake, I asked Bella.

"When should I pick it up? I can go Saturday morning, but that will leave you with most of the set-up. I'm working Friday, so that's out."

"I can pick it up Friday since I'll need to go to Port Angeles to hit Walmart, anyway." She said it as though it was no big deal, and it shouldn't have been, but to me, it was.

"Bella Ma… Swan will pick it up on Friday afternoon." I had caught my mistake, but not before Bella raised her eyebrows at me, questioning my almost slip.

I shrugged my shoulders and looked down, feeling like a kid who'd been caught stealing penny candy.

"Bella Masen?" She questioned, sounding nervous.

"Old habit, I guess. I just got caught up in all of the planning, and it just started to come out. It felt so natural to say it." I was quiet in my confession, not sure how she would handle hearing it.

"Oh." She paused. She was staring at her hands, finding something captivatingabout her fingers, looking thoughtful.

"Bella, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, but we promised to be truthful with each other. It just came out naturally."

"Edward, I had a date last weekend." She looked up from her hands and into my eyes.

I looked at her dumbfounded, no words possible at that moment.

"Brady Fuller. He's the new principal at the high school, and I met him at an in-service at the end of the school year," she stated, hesitantly.

"Oh." I was disappointed, and I'm sure she could hear it in my voice.

"I know it's a surprise. I wasn't even expecting to want to go out with anyone so soon after Benji, but he's a nice guy. We had coffee a few weeks ago with a few other teachers, and when he called to ask me to dinner, it just felt right."

"Bella, you don't need to explain anything to me." I honestly don't know why I was so disappointed; we were barely friends at this point, so expecting anything more was foolish. But she was right, I never expected another man to enter the picture so soon.

"I know, but I thought you should know. We've only been out once, and I don't have any expectations at this point, but he is coming to the party Saturday."

My heart felt as if it were in my throat.

"I thought you might want to invite Makenna," she stated, as if it wouldn't have been unexpected had I brought it up.

"Mack and I are colleagues. Why would I bring her?" I asked, genuinely curious.

"Oh, I thought…" She didn't finish her sentence.

"No, we've run into each other at gatherings, but we aren't really even friends." The slight lie left my lips before I could stop it, and Bella's raised eyebrows told me I'd been busted.

"Well, I guess we are friends, but there is nothing more to it. She's actually seeing Riley, Dr. Biers."

She looked surprised. "I guess I thought I saw more that night at MC's."

I laughed, uncomfortably. "That was the first night I met her, and yes, I found her attractive, but she was there when I needed a friend. I don't think laying all my skeletons in her lap that night made me seem like a catch."

I couldn't be sure, but I thought I saw a wince. I knew how my words could be construed, but after finding out about Brady, I didn't want her to think I was sitting around waiting on her. The jealousy that was coursing through me at that moment did nothing for rational thinking.

"Oh, well, is there anyone else you've found, um, interesting?" she asked, her voice strangled.

"Bella, we don't have to do this."

A look of relief washed over her face. "I know, Edward, but you kind of threw me for a loop when you almost called me Bella Masen. I felt we needed to draw some lines."

My heart sank a little more. I knew that trying to build a friendship, much less anything else would be tough, but we'd made such strides, and I foolishly allowed myself to hope.

"Why do we need lines, Bella?" The question was out of my mouth before I knew I'd even thought it.

"Edward, we've been great co-parents, but that's all we'll ever be. You're turning into a great dad, and I'm thrilled beyond belief; however, when you left Cam behind, it hurt worse than leaving me behind."

I winced at her candor.

"I think as a parent, you can understand that there is nothing I want less in life than to see my child hurt, and I think, no, I know, you get that now. But, you didn't always, Edward, and that is not something I think I can ever forgive or forget." Her eyes found her hands again, the same interest in her fingers taking over her attention.

"Bella, I do understand. I honestly do, but we have been getting along so well, and I was hoping you were enjoying getting to know me again. I thought by now, some of these issues were in our past." Suddenly, I found something fascinating on my hand.

"I do think we can get to the point of being friends, Edward, but I still have a tough time trusting you. I know in my head that you won't hurt Cam. You love him. Any fool can see how much you love him, but my heart isn't there yet. When you took him to Seattle, I spent the weekend crying. I know it was silly, but I couldn't help it. I knew he'd be safe. I knew he'd have fun, but I was so scared for some reason. I knew then that I wasn't one hundred percent comfortable with you. I just don't know how much farther I can move towards that point or if I'll ever be there."


So many thanks to Fran, Sunflower Fanfiction, my friend and my beta. Without her, you wouldn't want to know what might be forced upon you! Anything lingering is 100% on me.

I'd also like to welcome all the new readers and thank those pimping me out on facebook! I'm truly humbled that you find this worthy of sharing. A couple of ladies have started a read along (or will be) in A Place to Read Along on facebook. I'm kind of squealing! It makes me happy folks find my story worth discussing.

Again, thanks so much to those of you who read, and a special thanks to those who take time to leave me your words. I do suck at review replies, but my time is limited these days, and I try to write when I can! I treasure each and every one!