Previously, in Chapter Twenty-Seven...

My hands gripped the steering wheel, my knuckles turning white as I thought of everything Bella lost because of me and my family. She lost her father, her mother, her sister. She would, in all probability, no longer attend the same school, no longer spend time with the same people she grew up with her entire life. She moved out of her home to live with me and a group of virtual strangers, and I'd given her nothing in return. Nothing.

"I'm going to fix this," I decided, knowing exactly what I'd give Bella Swan to prove my love to her.

Chapter Twenty-Eight: First Dates and Second Chances

Part I

All discarded lovers should be given a second chance

but with someone else.

~Mae West~

"I have nothing to wear," Rose moaned.

She threw herself dramatically across her bed. The silky lavender comforter was hidden beneath mounds and mounds of multi-colored fabric. I stared at the mountain of clothes incredulously, tugging on a long strand of hair.

"Rose, how do you have nothing to wear?" I asked, rolling my eyes and digging through the mound. "There's more clothes on this bed than in Jessica Biel's closet!"

"Yeah, but I look so fat in them," she whispered, covering her face with her hands.

My plundering through the clothes halted at her words. I glanced down at her, my chest swelling with pity.

"Rose, what size are you?" I hesitantly asked, hoping I wasn't making a mistake by asking something so personal.

"Fourteen," she whispered.

Rose dropped her hands from her face and sat up, tucking her long legs beneath her. She nibbled on her bottom lip, stubbornly avoiding my face as she picked at her manicure.

"Rose, Em likes you," I said, pulling her hands apart and taking them in my own. "I can see that he really likes you, and that's rare. Don't get me wrong, Em's a great guy, but he's got his flaws just like the rest of us. Normally he's a hit-it-and-quit-it kinda guy, but I can always tell when he's being genuine and when he looks at It's like he's seeing the moon for the first time."

"Really?" she asked in a tiny voice, glancing up at me with uncertainty.

"Really," I assure her, squeezing her hands. "I could see it the first time he looked at you, standing on that bridge. It was like everything else just faded away. I'm so happy the two of you get a second chance."

"Besides," I muse with a smile, "a size fourteen is considered skinny by Mississippi standards. He's probably gonna try to convince you to put bacon and extra mayo on your burger tonight."

I gave her a wide grin and she laughed, warming my heart. It was hard to imagine someone like Rose, having low self-esteem. She was beautiful, and not only because of her physical attributes. Rose was beautiful where it counted the most. She was beautiful on the inside.

"Royce was always hounding me about my weight," she confessed, meeting my narrowed eyes. "He was always saying 'you'd be so pretty if you'd just lose a little weight.' I hate it when people say things like that."

"Royce is a piece of shit," I muttered, dropping her hands to dig in the never-ending pile of clothes. "When he shows his face again, I swear to God I'm gonna kick his ass."

"I think he's dead, Bella," Rose confessed. "He's such a mama's boy. I just don't see him disappearing without contacting his mother. I still call her sometimes. She has diabetes and is in and out of the hospital a lot. She says she hasn't heard from him, and I believe her. She sounds so sad when she talks about him. Mrs. King has always been very nice to me."

"I wish Alice would have told me what happened that night," I grumbled as Rose silently studied me. "She could have at least explained things before she ran off with Jasper. Why won't they call? Why won't they answer the phone?"

"I don't know," Rose mumbled, toying with her nails once more. "Jasper texted me last night. Everything's fine. There's nothing to worry about."

"That's good," I sigh in relief. "I just wish Alice would answer her damn phone. I need some answers. I guess I'll have to wait until she returns, whenever that may be. I'm sure it'll be when I least expect her. Alice has always had a flare for the dramatics."

Rose remained quiet as I spoke, her eyes studying me from time to time. I found a cute top, black and off the shoulders, then found a pair of dark wash jeans that I tossed her way. She slipped into the bathroom and reappeared wearing her new ensemble.

"Okay, hot mama," I joked, wagging my eyebrows as she twirled around. "Emmett's gonna have a hard time keeping his hands off you. Maybe you should change. I don't wanna lose my appetite watching my cousin paw at you."

"I barely know him," she laughed, rolling her eyes. "So no worries about that. It takes more than a burger and a movie for Rosalie Hale to put out."

"Thank God," I sighed. "It's gonna be hard enough ignoring Kate and Garrett while they go at it."

"I'm glad you invited them," Rose said sweetly, gazing at herself in the mirror as she slowly applied her lipstick. "I'd like to get to know Kate a little better."

I kept my thoughts to myself, watching as Rose applied her makeup and a pair of big, silver hoop earrings. At one point Rose reminded me of Kate, with her up-front attitude, but I'd slowly come to realize the two girls had little else in common. I hadn't, in fact, even invited Kate and Garrett on our double date. Kate invited herself once after I told her about it.

Once Rose finished applying her makeup she followed me into Edward's room to help me get dressed. The way she fussed and carried on with my makeup and hair reminded me of my sister. The memory was wistful and bittersweet, bringing overwhelming sadness with it as well. Rose detected the shift in the atmosphere, but said nothing, choosing to focus on applying just the perfect amount of mascara to my eyelashes. She'd just finished shoving the little wand back into the bottle when we heard the the rumbling of a truck in the distance, growing louder and louder.

"It's him," she groaned, standing and smoothing the invisible wrinkles from her jeans and shirt. "Are you sure I look alright? What if he changes his mind? Do you think Esme is going to take pictures. Oh, my God! What if Esme takes pictures?"

With that she darted from the room, a nervous mess, in search of Esme in hopes that no photography was involved that evening.

I made my way downstairs, spotting Edward standing in the living room chatting and laughing with Garrett and Kate. Emmett stood to the side of the group, looking awkward and slightly uncomfortable, but doing his best to cover it up. Carlisle sat on the buttery-brown leather recliner nearby, his eyes taking in the odd situation in front of him. He appeared amused by the gathering of Swans and Cullens alike, but Carlisle was odd that way, finding humor in the strange situation we found ourselves in.

Edward looked delicious. There was no other way to describe him. He hadn't shaved in three days, leaving his jaw scruffy and scratchy, just the way I liked it. The bronze strands of hair on his head were in their usual state of disarray, sloppy and disheveled. He wore a new pair on dark jeans and a royal blue button-up shirt, which was considered 'dressy' by Edward standards. His laughing eyes left the group as I decended the stairs, almost as though he felt my presence somewhere close by. His gaze trailed from the ankle boots I wore, up my dark wash skinny jeans, and across my sleeveless black top before finally finding my face. His Adam's apple bobbed and I smiled because I did that to him, I had that effect on him.

I'd never been so happy for my period to end in my life.

"I'm taking pictures, damnit," I heard Esme hiss, and I couldn't help but giggle.

"I have to agree," Carlisle mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he smiled at the group. "This should go down in history. The joining of the Cullens and Swans. If there isn't photographical evidence no one will ever believe it."

Everyone laughed and murmured in agreement, but I said nothing, only able to focus on Edward. He pulled me into his arms, dropping a sweet kiss on my lips.

"I feel like I haven't seen you all day," I complained, allowing him to pull me into his arms. "Where were you all morning?"

"Taking care of some business," he said vaguely, causing me to frown. "Doesn't matter. I'm here now, right?"

I nodded, distracted by Garrett who had a cheap, heart-shaped box of chocolates tucked under his arm and a decorative candle in his hands. Kate stood nearby ignoring him as she chatted with Rose, who kept shoving the camera Esme held out of her face.

"Garrett doesn't have a clue how to charm a girl, does he?" Edward purred, nudging my ear with his nose.

"And you do?" I breathed, hyper-aware of how hard he was, pressing into the softness of my belly.

"I guess you'll find out later," he whispered, tugging my earlobe into his mouth.

My body tingled at his teasing. I poked him with my elbow and he groaned, my face heating up as Carlisle shot me a knowing grin. Rose eventually allowed Esme to snap a million photographs, the six of us posing in front of the fireplace, first in couples then in a group, reminding me of prom night, something I would never get to experience.

I'd made the decision to quit school and get my GED.

I hadn't told Edward, but I would before the night was over. He was right, after all. I was safer in Birchwood, safely tucked away in the woods by the river, away from my uncles, but there were new worries. I worried about Kate, whose relationship with Garrett was out in the open. I worried about Emmett, who wasn't technically on a date with a Cullen, but with a girl who was considered one just the same.

I confessed my fears to Edward as well pulled out of the drive, the two other vehicles trailing closely behind.

"They'll be fine," Edward reassured me. "Aro and your uncles have nothing against the others. It's you they're after. They think you have evidence on them. They're not so worried about the others. Kate and Emmett have so much to lose if they ever decided to flip on their family. Their fathers will go to prison, that's for sure, and possibly their mothers as well, if they had anything to do with the coverup."

"We need to get into their offices," I mused. "Makenna thinks there may be some evidence there...maybe there's something linking them to Charlie and Edward Sr.'s death."

We were silent the rest of the drive. Edward laced his fingers in mine as I stared at the buildings whirling past, the red brick and grey concrete smearing into a fuzzy haze as my vision failed to focus, my thoughts a million miles away.

Edward left the small town of Birchwood behind, hitting an access road that ran along the river for a ways before pulling into a large parking lot full of white slag. A large restaurant was situated to our left and a long wooden pier stood in the distance, jutting out over the murky river. Twinkle lights were strung through the rails, the gleam dancing over the rippling water below.

There were other young couples ducking inside the restaurant, their eyes studying Edward's car curiously before disappearing inside. My stomach began to wind up in knots. The uncomfortable realization hit me. Edward and I would not only be dining together, but dining in public together, in his hometown, around people he undoubtedly knew.

"What's wrong, Sugar?" he asked, squeezing my hand as he studied my eyes and my stiff posture.

"Nothing. Just nervous, I guess," I shrugged. "We've only been in public at the hospital and the funeral home. This is...different. It just hit me how I really know nothing about your past, or anything about your friends, other than Garrett and Jasper. There's not any jealous girlfriends or anything I need to worry about, right?"

Edward laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, "No, Sugar. You're the only girlfriend I've ever had."

"But you've went out with other girls before," I prodded. "Carlisle once said you brought other girls home..."

Edward gazed at me warily for a moment before he replied.

"Yeah, Sugar, but those girls meant nothing to me. It's you I love. It's not like you to be so insecure."

"I'm not insecure," I huffed, glaring as he laughed. "I'm not!"

"Whatever you say," he smiled, giving my hand one last squeeze. "Don't you dare open that door before I do. This is a date after all."

I shot him a grin that he easily returned, watching as he eased from the car and made his way around to the passenger side. Edward opened the door for me, like a true gentleman, and slipped his arm through mine.

"This is weird," Kate muttered, popping a piece of chocolate in her mouth, ignoring Garrett as he stared at her slack-jawed with parted lips. "Maybe I shoulda brought my gun, just in case."

"You've really got a gun, baby?" Garrett groaned, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "You're not just bullshittin'?"

"Yeah, and if you're lucky you'll never have to see me use it," she advised.

"That's so hot," he growled, grabbing my cousin and spinning her into his arms.

Kate yelped, swatting at his hands as she struggled to break free of his embrace, but she was no match for Garrett as he pressed his lips against hers.

"Are they always like this?" Em laughed, nervously running his fingers through his hair as he constantly snuck glances at Rose.

"Yes," I groaned. "Always."

Garrett and Kate refrained from sucking face long enough to follow the rest of us to the front of the restaurant. Em held the door for the group, knotting his brow when Edward pulled me aside.

"We're gonna check out the pier first," he told Em.

Em nodded, disappearing inside with the others as Edward slipped his arm around my waist. We walked slowly across the parking lot, the slag undoubtedly ruining the heels of my ankle boots. I cringed as I imaged the jagged rocks cutting into the faux leather, sighing in relief when our feet hit the wooden pier.

Edward led me to the end of the pier and paused, his fingers grazing the skin beneath the hem of my shirt, sending chills over my body. He tilted his head back and I followed his gaze, my eyes widening at the snowy luminescent moon suspended against a black sea, nothing but sparkling stars keeping it company.

Edward leaned on the wooden rail, his face drawn in concern. Something weighed upon his mind, but I didn't push him to speak, only lightly running my hand over his back as he quietly gathered his thoughts.

"You've lost so much by being with me," he suddenly spoke, his voice tinged with sadness. "Your family is in turmoil, your sister..."

"Edward," I interrupted, shocked and slightly disturbed by his words. "I've gained everything by being with you. I've never felt so loved in my entire life. My life, our lives, they were ticking time bombs ready to explode. Turmoil was inevitable. I don't blame you for the chaos in my life. The feud between our families has nothing to do with you, it has nothing to do with me."

"Besides," I continued, "for the first time in my life I finally feel alive."

"What do you mean?" he murmured, turning to face me, cupping my cheeks in his hands.

"I was dead before," I breathed. "I walked around living and breathing, but never truly existing. I was always waiting on something, but I was never sure what it was. Now I know."

"What was it?" he asked, searching my eyes.

"It was you, silly," I laughed, pulling his hands from my face to drape them around my neck. "I was waiting for you. Now I've found you and I have no intentions of letting you go."

Edward rested his forehead against mine, staring down into my eyes. The water churned below us, splashing against the wooden pier, the rumbling of a gunning engine roared in the distance, echoing off the solemn river, but I heard nothing. I heard nothing but mine and Edward's heavy breaths as we stood on that wooden pier. It was a pier not so different from the one we'd met at months before, a pier where two people from two feuding families lay beside one another, falling in love under the moon...

"I have a confession to make," Edward whispered, breaking me from my thoughts.

"Oh, God," I groaned, my heart picking up speed. "This isn't the part where you tell me you cheated on me, is it?"

Edward snorted, then scowled, as I effectively ruined the mood. He stepped back, untucking his shirt from the waist of his jeans. I watched him with widened eyes and he popped the buttons on his fly, pulling the zipper down as well.

"Uh, Edward," I whispered, my eyes darting to the semi-crowded parking lot behind us. "I'm not sure it's the right place or the right time..."

"Bella, please be quiet," he laughed.

Edward tugged the waist of his jeans down while simontaniously raising his shirt. I stared at the lean muscles of his abdomen, rippling just beneath the surface of his skin, but it wasn't his toned body that captured my attention. It was the bandage that he slowly removed. Before I could ask what happened Edward had the bandage peeled back, revealing a fresh tattoo.

Lilies. Pristine and white, the base flushed with yellow, the stems the same color of his eyes. The ribbon wrapped around the stems fluttered over his hip, so realistic I imagined I could wind the silky strand around my finger. The ribbon looped into an elegant shape...the scroll of a letter.

The letter 'B.'

"I wanted to do something special for you," he explained, carefully watching my shocked expression. "I didn't want to buy you something. I wanted to do something different, something to prove my love to you."

"Edward," I whispered, swallowing the lump in my throat. "You didn't have to prove your love. You put off college for me, you've...killed for me."

"And I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he murmured.

Reaching out I grazed my fingertips over his tattoo. The skin was raised, red, and slightly swollen.

"It's not like my tattoo," I murmured. "The petals aren't broken..."

"No," he replied, pressing the bandage back in place. "There's nothing broken when it comes to us, Sugar."

Part two 'hopefully' tomorrow.

All mistakes, including overuse of commas and run-on sentences belong to me. Ali has gone from being a jailbird to hanging out with a bunch of hippies in the woods beating drums and stuff. It's too much for my poor country heart to comprehend. She offered to beta, but I didn't want to interrupt her very odd 'vacation.'

I lurve you all!

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