Notes: Thanks to Sunflower3759 and Ashes Ashes for beta-ing and Content1 for validating! Trust me, without them; you wouldn't want to read this.

You all seemed to really enjoy the last chapter. Here's one more easy chapter before things start to get crazy again.


Chapter 17: Fourth of July

BPOV

Exhausted from dancing and the incredible sex, Edward and I slept in late the next morning. When I awoke, I felt much more relaxed and well-rested than I had since before the attack on my car. The day began with sleepy kisses, and sweet, slow lovemaking which segued into Edward worshiping my body in the shower. He kissed the bruises on my hips from where his fingers had dug into my skin the night before, looking up at me in mute apology. I laughed softly and ran my fingers across his cheek.

"They don't hurt, Edward, if that's what you're worrying about."

"I just wanted to be sure." He pressed another kiss to each of them, and I laughed and tugged him to his feet.

"They're fine. Last night was perfect. It took my mind off everything that was worrying me. Thank you."

"I'm glad." He ran his hands up and down my wet back and gathered me close to him. "You'll tell me if I ever hurt you, right?"

"Of course." I laughed easily. Edward hurt me? That's ludicrous. "But last night was exactly what I needed."

The night out dancing had helped me a lot. It gave me a whole evening to completely put my worries out of my mind and just have fun. The past week and a half had been stressful, with the worry about what had happened to my car overshadowing nearly everything else. I was jumpy at work and not sleeping well. I had been frazzled and noticeably off at work, but Victoria had completely understood. Angela took over doing the blog posts, so I didn't have to deal with them. I was just focusing on the photo shoots and editing.

Bree had been as quiet as ever. I wondered on and off if she could have been the person who vandalized my car. But I decided I was being silly and chalked my morbid thoughts up to exhaustion. She was a little depressed and withdrawn lately, but maybe she was having trouble at home. What did I really know about the girl at all? Although she had made the odd comment about Edward's career, but that was hardly worth vandalizing my car over. Anyway, she hardly seemed the type to beat a car to smithereens—much too shy and soft-spoken. Bree was dealing with something: that was for sure. But surely it had no connection to what had happened to me.

I hadn't seen James since his lunch date with Victoria. Although I considered maybe he was a possibility as well, it didn't add up. What was there for him to gain by it? His comments to me that day had been strange, and I got the idea he was hitting on me which was weird, given his devotion to Victoria. Even if James was attracted to me, what would he have accomplished by smashing in my car? It just didn't make sense.

Then again, none of the wild theories that crossed my mind did. It had to be a random event, like Edward suggested. I had to force myself to stop holding my breath in fear of the next catastrophe to happen. Thankfully, things had remained quiet.

Edward had been incredible about helping me deal with everything. Between the stress of dealing with the insurance company and the police, I was a little overwhelmed. I'd essentially moved in to Edward's apartment, and he was ferrying me around everywhere I needed to go. Every time I felt like I couldn't handle another moment of thinking about it, Edward was there with a hug or a backrub or some small, almost unconscious gesture of support. Without him, I would have been a mess.

~LWP~

The Cullen Family loved to throw parties; there was no doubt about that. The Fourth of July was no exception. Gas Works Park in Seattle hosted a huge fireworks display every year. It was a twenty-acre park at the North end of Lake Union, and Alice, Jasper, and I had gone for several years in a row.

This year, I was going with Edward and his family, and once again, Edward's family happily included me and my friends. Esme had even invited my parents, but they spent the holiday at a cabin every year. They had been married on the 4th of July, and this year was their twenty-fifth anniversary. In the chaos of everything going on, I hadn't even remembered to send them a card until a few days ago.

Understandably, my father had been very worried about what happened to my car. It was only my mother's level head that had kept him from driving to Seattle and "figuring out why those SPD idiots hadn't solved the case". I'd called them a few days prior to invite them to the Fourth of July celebration and spent a while just venting to my mom about what was going on.

There was something about venting to my mother that made a huge difference. Maybe it was just because she was my mom, or because her comforting words and practical advice had soothed me. Possibly, it was because I was talking to someone a little further removed from the situation. Whatever the reason, between the talk with her and going out with Edward the night before, I felt much better.

I felt like I could finally relax and enjoy the holiday. I was looking forward to a day with the Cullen family, and I sighed, letting the remaining tension seep from me.

We were currently on our way to the park after picking up Alice and Jasper. Mike and Eric were going to meet us there. Alice had, of course, gone overboard with the food, and Edward and Jasper spent twenty minutes trying to get everything arranged in the trunk of his Mazda. Between Alice's food and what I knew Esme would bring, we'd be set for the next two weeks.

Edward glanced at me and smiled. "Are you doing okay? You kind of spaced out on me there."

I grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Yeah, I'm good. Really good. Looking forward to the day, actually."

He squeezed my thigh and I turned around in my seat to see Alice. "So, I feel like I've been a horrible friend. How have you been?"

Alice shrugged and waved off my apology. "It's fine; you've had a lot to deal with lately. I've been good, just busy with classes. I hate summer sessions; you have to cram everything in. I shouldn't have done an advanced pastry class over the summer. But the good news is my éclairs are phenomenal."

"They really, really are," Jasper said emphatically. "I might have accidentally proposed after I took the first bite."

"How can you accidentally propose?" I asked with a laugh, shifting in my seat to see him better.

"I took a bite, chewed, swallowed, and the words 'will you marry me' left my mouth," he explained. We all laughed.

"Not what I had in mind for a perfect proposal," Alice said dryly. "Although, I'm glad my éclairs are so good. Who knows; you might propose to me after tasting one, Bella."

I chuckled. "I'll try to contain myself, though I would like to try one some time."

We spent the rest of the ride laughing and joking around, and it felt so good to let the easy banter wash over me. I loved that Edward fit in so seamlessly. I reached for his hand, threading our fingers together as I looked over at him, trying to tell him without words just how happy I was. Whatever was going on with the attack on my car, it didn't need to be dealt with today. Today I could relax and enjoy myself.

We met the Cullens at the designated meeting spot and in no time at all, the ground was covered in blankets and folding chairs. Food was set up on picnic tables, music was playing, and people were talking and laughing. Although the first few times interacting with Edward's family had felt overwhelming, today it was comforting. Nearly everyone hugged me and they went out of their way to greet me enthusiastically. It was essentially the same people who had been at Edward's birthday celebration.

To my relief, Lucy was excited to see me. From ten feet away I could see her waving and jumping up and down, calling out both our names as she and her parents walked up. I'd been a little worried at the game; she was kind of wary of me, and it wasn't hard to see that she was jealous of me taking Edward's time and attention.

While Edward was up getting drinks for everyone, we came to an agreement about him. I was his girlfriend as long as she could still be his number-one girl and dance partner. She was utterly and completely in love with him, and well, I couldn't really blame her. He was so good with her; endlessly patient and tolerant of her demands for attention. Granted, she was almost impossible to resist. She was a sweet little girl with big blue eyes, golden curls, and lashes that were even longer than Edward's.

After seeing Edward interact with Lucy, it was impossible not to think about the fact that he was going to be an amazing father. And it gave me a funny little feeling to know that I was definitely picturing him as the father of my future children. Goodness knows I wasn't in any hurry; I wanted to finish school and get settled into a career before I started having kids. But I definitely wanted them in the not-so-distant future and it wasn't hard to believe that Edward could be the person I had a family with.

"Uncle Edward!" Lucy threw herself at his legs, and I grinned at the sight of her wrapped around him. He easily lifted her into his arms and covered her face with teasing kisses until she squealed. Yeah, someday, when I have kids, I definitely want it to be with him.

To my surprise, after she settled down, she smiled at me and held out her arms. Edward looked a little shocked, too, but readily handed her over to me.

"Hey, Lucy." She bounced excitedly in my arms, and I nearly dropped her. She wasn't very heavy, but she wasn't exactly small, either.

"Are you gonna play with me today, Bella?"

"Of course," I promised her. "What do you want to do?"

"I brought Barbies," she said shyly. "Uncle Edward plays, but he does it all wrong because he's a boy."

I chuckled. "I would love to play Barbies with you. Can I talk to a few people first?"

"Sure." She nodded and wiggled until I let her down. "I'll go get them ready. You come over when you're done, okay?"

Amused, I nodded. The kid cracked me up. Kate sidled up to me. "I want to apologize in advance. My child is a pest; a lovable, wonderful pest. Please, if you get sick of playing with her—and believe me, you'll tire long before she does—just firmly tell her you're done. Or get my attention and I'll pry her away. She's seems to have latched on to you, and you'll never get rid of her otherwise."

I laughed and reassured her. "It's fine, Kate. I like Lucy."

Kate gave me a droll look. "Believe me; I do, too. It doesn't mean I don't occasionally want to hide from her. She's bright, and funny, and I love my daughter. It doesn't mean I don't know she's occasionally exhausting though."

"Fair enough. Still, I'm just really happy she likes me. I was afraid she was going to be jealous."

"I think she was, a little. But Edward did a great job telling her you were special to him and reassuring her he wasn't going anywhere. And we had a talk with her about being nice to you and remembering that Edward doesn't actually belong to her. Frankly, I think it'll be good once Rose and Emmett's baby is here. Garrett and I are talking about having another one in the near future, and I think she could use a few lessons in sharing."

We had migrated over to the food table while we talked, and I filled a plate. "You know, I am so blown away by this family," I admitted.

Kate chuckled. "They're amazing, aren't they? It's like the moment they decide they like you, you're adopted in. They did that with Garrett, and he hardly knew what to make of it."

"I love it. I got along with my ex's family—hell his dad and my dad have been buddies for years—but it was nothing like this."

"It just goes to show you're the perfect girl for Edward. We knew he'd find her, we just didn't know it would be at my sister's wedding."

Impulsively, I leaned over and hugged Kate. "Thank you. I just feel so lucky to have met him."

She squeezed me back. "He's happier than I've ever seen him."

I glanced over to see him laughing at something his Grandma was saying, and I felt myself go weak in the knees as the sight. His head was thrown back and his eyes crinkled at the corners. His sparkling grin was so wide; even from a distance I could hear his infectious laugh. Kate nudged me toward him. "Go eat your lunch. Spend some time with your boyfriend, and I'll hold off the Lucy-beast. Barbies can wait a bit."

I thanked her and walked over to Edward. Without interrupting his conversation, he wrapped an arm around my waist, kissed the top of my head, and stole a bite of watermelon off my plate.

~LWP~

Lucy looked nearly ready to explode by the time I'd finished my food, and I wasted no time going over to play with her. I took a seat on a blanket next to her, and she tore into her pink backpack; small clothes, accessories, and dolls flew everywhere.

"Okay, so we're going to have a fashion show. We have to pick out the perfect outfits; okay, Aunt Bella?"

I blinked in surprise at what she'd called me and dutifully helped her pick out outfits. If I was thinking I wanted to have children with Edward someday, Lucy calling me Aunt Bella wasn't such a stretch. But it definitely made me pause for a moment.

She was very creative with her outfits and her play, and it wasn't hard to see that she was definitely a bright, funny little girl. We laughed a lot, and Lucy and I played Barbies for over an hour before Edward came to the rescue.

He grinned down at the two of us. "Aunt Esme told me to let you know that there are cupcakes waiting for you."

Lucy squealed, flung her Barbie away, and raced across the grass to find the cupcakes. Edward flopped down onto the blanket beside me and grinned. "You're very patient, but you were looking like you were ready to be done."

"I was getting there," I admitted, sitting up so I could gather up the Barbies along with their clothes and accessories, dumping them in her little, pink backpack. Once I had some space cleared, I lay down beside Edward with my head on his shoulder. We were both silent, content to just relax in the warm summer sunshine.

After a little while, a thought occurred to me. I had expected lots of concerned questions from the Cullen family, but apart from a few hugs that seemed a bit longer and Rosalie asking me how I was doing with a meaningful glance, no one brought it up. I knew Edward had told his mother, and Esme knowing meant that everyone knew. I turned to Edward and asked the question I'd been wondering all afternoon.

"Did you specifically tell your family not to ask me about what's going on?"

He nodded. "Yes. I didn't want you to feel like everyone was making a huge deal of it. I figured that you could use a break from thinking about it."

"Thanks." I tangled my fingers with his. "I appreciate it."

"And if you want to talk about it, that's fine," Edward said. "But this way, you don't have to feel like you have a dozen people prying into your life."

"I don't think I'd feel like that anyway, even if they were asking," I replied. "I love your family. I'd know they were only asking because they care."

"I know. I just know how overwhelming we can be. I love them, too, but the Cullens can be an acquired taste."

"I'm glad I acquired you then," I teased. "All of you."

I glanced over at the mob of people gathered around the food table. Grandma Myrtle was still on a tirade about the umpire's call at the Mariners' game we'd gone to for Edward's birthday. Rosalie sounded like she was lecturing Garrett on proper accounting practices. Tanya was excited chattering with Kate about something in what I assumed was Russian. And Esme and Alice were once again comparing recipes. My heart felt so full at the sight of all of them.

They were loud and a little crazy. They were also some of the sweetest, most loving people I'd ever encountered. If Edward ever seemed a little too perfect to be real, I only had to look at where he'd come from to understand it. These people loved, and they loved hard. They loved without shame or fear of embarrassment.

I smiled at the sight of Emmett unconsciously rubbing Rosalie's ever-expanding belly, and Carlisle slipping an arm around his wife, pressing a kiss to her temple. I watched Riley smother Tanya with kisses and smiled at the pure, undiluted happiness on their faces as they looked at each other. They were all part of why Edward was so amazing. And I loved them for making him the incredible man he was.

"You have no idea how happy it makes me that you fit in so well with my family," he murmured against my hair.

"It makes me happy, too. I love you." I tilted my head to look up at him, and our eyes met.

"Sometimes saying I love you doesn't seem like enough," he responded, brushing my hair away from my face. "There just aren't words for it."

I nodded, agreeing with him completely.

A while later, Edward wandered off to set up some lawn games for the kids. Esme migrated to the blanket I was still perched on and smiled down at me. "Mind if I join you?"

I sat up, smiling at her. "Not at all. How are you?"

She took a seat, looking cool, comfortable, and stylish in a pair of khaki capris and a red blouse. "Never been happier. My children are all happily paired off, I have my first grandchild on the way, and my husband and I will be celebrating our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary this year."

"Do you and Carlisle have anything special planned?

"We do. We're taking a river cruise through Europe in the fall. We start out in the Netherlands, make our way through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and finish in Hungary."

"That sounds amazing," I said.

"We've spent a little time in London and Paris and absolutely loved it so we're excited about this." Esme said. "The ships are small, and you have a lot of time to explore all of the cities. We're both very excited. We've been talking about doing it for several years now."

Esme told me more about their travels, and I listened eagerly, fascinated by her stories. She made me laugh with her funny anecdotes about their trips over the years. We eventually moved on to other topics, and she asked me about my photography. The conversation naturally transitioned to what happened with my car, and Esme listened attentively as I told her about it.

I deeply appreciated Edward's request that his family not push me about it, but I didn't mind opening up to his mother. She was a good listener and reached out to pull me into a hug when she saw I was getting a little teary.

"I know it's hard," she said sympathetically. "The first house Carlisle and I lived in when we got married wasn't in a very safe part of town. It was broken into shortly after we moved in, and we lost the few meager possessions we had. It was a very frightening experience. But I will tell you one thing: it brought us closer as a couple."

"Was that in Forks?"

She laughed. "Oh my, no. We were living in Seattle while Carlisle finished up medical school. It's actually one of the reasons we moved to Forks when a position at the hospital opened up. It was a small, safe town—thanks in part to your father—and we felt better about the idea of raising children there."

I chuckled. "My father is losing his mind not being able to be here. My mother practically had to wrestle him down to keep him from coming to Seattle. And they only went on their anniversary celebration because she forced him to."

She grinned. "Fathers are like that. I imagine the fact that he's chief of police and you're his only daughter doesn't help the issue."

"I'm sure it doesn't." I sighed. "I just wish we knew why. That's what's driving me crazy."

"I'm sure." She smiled sympathetically.

"Edward's been so amazing though. I fee l I should thank you for raising such an incredible man."

She beamed at me. "There are few things that could please a mother more than hearing that. Especially from someone as wonderful as you. I've never seen my son so happy."

"I think we're both a little shocked by how quickly everything fell into place. But I can honestly say I've never been happier in my life."

Esme leaned in to grasp my hand. "I see many, many years of happiness for you and my son together. What you're dealing with now is just a minor blip on the radar in the scheme of things. Try to keep it in perspective and remember that you've found the person you should spend the rest of your life with. If he's the one who makes you happier than you've ever been, even in the dark times, then maybe it's meant to be."

~LWP~

"I don't think I've ever seen anything more beautiful," Alice whispered reverently.

I nodded dumbly. "Wait, are you talking about mine or yours?"

"Mine, yours—who cares? They're both fucking gorgeous."

Rosalie made a low sound of agreement.

"Yours is pretty damn good, too, Rose," Alice added.

"Unhuh."

It was a perfect, hot summer day, and a group of utterly gorgeous men were playing Frisbee. Shirtless.

We were all spellbound.

Emmett, Jasper, Edward, Garrett, Mike, Eric, Demitri and even Carlisle were playing. They were all in amazing shape; although, I felt vaguely guilty every time I caught myself noticing that Edward's father was awfully fit for his age.

Not only were the women in the Cullen group watching, but a rather large number of women from the surrounding groups had wandered over. Not that I blamed them. I could hardly look away, myself.

I watched Edward's strong, lean muscles flex and a trickle of sweat drip down his chest. I heard a whimper and honestly wasn't sure who it came from. I might have been the one making the noise. All I knew was the man whose dark coppery locks of hair were becoming damp with sweat was mine. His cargo shorts dipped low on his hips, revealing the top of his boxers, and I felt the urge to run my fingers along the waistband. He turned to toss the Frisbee to Garrett, and the muscles in his back rippled, his bicep contracting, his forearms tensed. I squirmed on the blanket, unbearably aroused by the sight of him.

"Bella," Alice hissed, breaking me from my thoughts.

"Huh?" I didn't even turn to look at her, too wrapped up in ogling Edward.

"Where the fuck is your camera, and why aren't you capturing this?"

"Oh, shit. That's a good idea." I tore my eyes away just long enough to find my camera bag and rummage through it.

I took picture after picture, most of them of Edward, or of group shots. But, I got a few of the other men as well, knowing the women they were with were going to appreciate it. I was paying absolutely no attention to who was on which team, so when a cheer went up from half the group, I was baffled as to who had won the game. Privately, I thought all of us drooling spectators were the ones who had really won.

If possible, it actually got better after the game. In a ridiculous, macho fashion, the men gave each other shirtless, back-pounding hugs. Someone whimpered again, and we were all done for when they dumped bottles full of water over their heads.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," Esme breathed. "Bella, Rose … that is what you girls have to look forward to for the rest of your lives."

I glanced over to see Carlisle laughing and joking with his sons, hardly looking old enough to have fathered them.

"I don't know what I did in a past life to deserve this," Rosalie said reverently. "But damn."

I echoed her sentiments and snapped a few more photos. Eventually, the men sauntered over to us, putting on quite a show. A few were better at it than others; the Cullen men outshone everyone except maybe Jasper. And I couldn't help my impossibly biased thoughts that no one strutted like Edward did. It was every slow-motion movie sequence rolled into one. And it was definitely going into my spank bank. I'd be re-living this one for years.

"This should be a calendar," Kate murmured, and we all nodded. I snapped one last shot of the men walking over to us and set down my camera. "You'd make millions, Bella."

Edward stopped right in front of me, sweaty and gorgeous. He held a hand out and I took it dumbly, still feeling kind of shell-shocked.

He was laughing, hyped up on adrenaline and excitement as he pulled me to him. I didn't even mind the sweaty hug, I was so eager to touch him. His skin was hot and slick and, for a moment, I seriously thought I might die if I didn't kiss him. His lips were rough on mine and it wasn't until the hooting and hollering around us reached a crescendo that we finally pulled apart. My hand was threaded in his damp hair and I knew the wetness on his skin had soaked into my shirt.

I turned to look around. Although a lot of the teasing was focused on us, I noticed that just about every other couple was in the same predicament. Even Esme was giggly and blushing; her shirt was damp from Carlisle's embrace.

We were lucky, lucky women.

~LWP~

The rest of the day passed swiftly, and I spent half of it in a daze of lust for my boyfriend. He seemed amused, and even after he'd dried off, he didn't put a shirt on. I was more amused than jealous of the random women walking by who checked him out. He was mine, and I didn't have a single doubt about it.

He seemed to only have eyes for me, and I had fun teasing him a little, letting my shorts slide up my thighs and pulling my tank top up higher while we lay out in the sun for a while. He didn't put his shirt back on until the sun began to set and the air cooled. The day had been perfect and we were now waiting for the fireworks to begin.

Edward wrapped his arms around me and I settled back against his chest, utterly relaxed and content. I'd never been the kind of girl who spent a lot of time lamenting the fact that I was single. I didn't really mind it at all, actually. Sure, sometimes I'd missed the sex, or the date nights. But for the most part, I was happy with or without a guy.

There were only a few times a year that I had really missed having someone. Oddly enough, the Fourth of July was one of them. It seemed so strange: I mean, Christmas or Valentine's Day would have made more sense, but they didn't bother me. It was when I watched all the couples snuggled together watching fireworks that I wanted a boyfriend.

I wanted someone to put his arms around me and hold me close. I remembered the year before, gazing longingly at Alice and Jasper, at their easy familiarity and deep love for each other. I'd felt a little pang of unhappiness not having someone of my own.

And now, here he was.

Sometimes my brain still stuttered at the idea of Edward, unable to grasp reality because it was so damn good. It couldn't wrap around the idea that he was mine; that he loved me every bit as much as I loved him. This impossibly beautiful man was sweet, thoughtful, and funny. I knew we'd go home tonight and he'd undress me—make love to me. He'd whine about me stealing the covers and wake me up with slow kisses. And no matter what happened, he'd be beside me.

I hadn't felt like I was missing something in my life before I met Edward; yet, now that I had him, I couldn't fathom my life before him. Our lives meshed together, all the little pieces clicking into place. Everything felt fuller, richer, and more right. Happiness like I'd never experienced before was now a daily occurrence.

His fingertips caressed my forearm and I felt his lips brush the top of my head. Fireworks exploded as the glittering colors streaking through the night sky and I pressed tighter against him, feeling like my heart would burst with happiness.


Notes: I have to say, this probably ended up being one of my absolute favorite chapters. Bella really needed that connection with his family and their friends, and I thought her moment with Esme was pretty sweet.

What about you? How did you like the chapter? I know I had fun picturing all of those delicious guys playing Frisbee.

Here's the Frisbeeward pic I made last night. Grnidgirl asked for it, and I can't refuse her sweet requests. i46*tinypic*com/vdltmb*jpg

Bella's definitely starting to think about just how serious this relationship is and seems very, very happy about it. What do you think?

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