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Chapter 9

War is Over.

"I don't think I'm ready for this." I murmured to Edward, who was watching the crowd over my shoulder.

We were hiding backstage, peeking out through the curtains, and getting ready for my first song of the night. The band had performed two songs, the different choirs, and it was almost my turn. I wiped my clammy hands against my black skirt, noticing that the clamminess wasn't disappearing at all. Edward and I were alone, so he placed his hands on my shoulders and began massaging softly, calming my tense muscles. I sighed and pushed the curtain closed, not wanting to watch the audience any more than I had to.

"You are more than ready." He urged, pulling me to his chest. "You look beautiful and you sing beautiful."

"I'm a train wreck!" I whined. I may have appeared calm and collected while all dressed up, but that was strictly an appearance. My mind was on the fritz and going through every single possible disaster that could occur while I was on stage. It didn't matter how nice I looked. I was wearing a dark green sweater, black tights, black tights, and red heels. Esme had curled my hair and pulled it back in a red headband. Even my makeup was spotless. Appearances weren't enough for once. "You just don't know because you can't read my mind!"

"You've practiced and practiced, and practiced, love. You can handle this." He told me, referring to the weeks that we had spent rehearsing in class. Jane and Tyler Crowley were also performing, and they even opted to do four duets together, instead of three solos each. They had already done two of theirs and I was going to gauge my ears out if I had to hear another one.

"I just don't know…" I whimpered as people began applauding. That meant that it was almost my turn.

"I do. And you can do this. I have more faith in you than I do in anything else." He rubbed my back, urging me to pull my hands from where I had been gripping his red, button-down shirt tightly, and then kissed me on the forehead. "Go dazzle the crowd, baby."

How was I supposed to dazzle the crowd when I had just been dazzled by my beautiful man?

"Up next we have a soloist from the advanced placement music theory class." Mr. Volturi announced from wherever he was on the stage. I straightened my skirt and sweater out, praying that my fingers wouldn't slip on the piano keys while I was out there. "Our next performer is a senior who has attended Port Angeles Prep for two years, and was recently voted as MVP of the cross country team. I would like to ask the audience to give a warm welcome to Isabella Swan!"

I dragged my lead legs out onto the stage, not once looking out at the audience as I walked over to the grand piano in the middle of the stage. I sat carefully down on the bench, my eyes still shut tightly as I did so. My heart was pounding in my ears and the sweat that I had been fighting off grew tenfold. I cleared my throat a little, but it felt as though it had swollen shut. Reflexively, I swallowed thickly, opened my eyes, and looked out onto the audience.

At first, I could only see bodies everywhere. It was dark and the spotlight was on me, turning the people watching me into dark shadows. I felt my eyes widen and my heart stop all together. I had no idea what to do, other than sit there, frozen in my body. My eyes found the Cullens, my dad, Sue, and Clara somehow. They were all watching me with worried, shocked expressions.

"Bella! Sing!" I heard Edward's hushed voice from backstage. I didn't even respond to him, which was a shocking first. "Bella?"

I could have sat there for ten seconds and I could have sat out there for hours, but I wouldn't have known the difference. I could hear every shuffle of someone's foot, every breath, and every cough coming from the audience. Someone was running behind me. The feel of Edward's hand on my shoulder tore me from my overwhelming thoughts. I turned to look at him with wide eyes. He was standing over me and motioning for me to scoot over.

I silently did so, keeping my eyes on him. He placed his fingers on the keys and nodded for me to follow his lead. A stagehand ran up and put another mic in front of him, giving us both a chance to sing. My heart had gone back to trying to escape from my ribcage and my breathing had picked up.

"You can do this, Bella." He whispered so softly that I almost didn't hear him. "It's only you and me. Nobody's watching."

He began playing then and immediately started the familiar song.

"Greeting cards have all been sent. The Christmas rush is through. But I still have one wish to make…a special one for you." Edward practically crooned into the mic while I caught up with him on the piano, playing into the higher octave. Both of us playing added a whole new dynamic to the song. "Holidays are joyful. There's always something new. But every day's a holiday when I'm near to you."

"The lights on my tree, I wish you could see, I wish it every day. Logs on the fire fill me with desire to see you and to say," I sang and he nodded encouragingly, singing the background part of the song, "that I wish you Merry Christmas. Happy New Year, too. I've just one wish on this Christmas Eve…I wish I were with you."

We both sang the next part, our voices harmonizing perfectly into the auditorium.

"Logs on the fire fill me with desire to see you and to say that I wish you Merry Christmas. Happy New Year, too. I've just one wish on this Christmas Eve. I wish I were with you. I wish I were with you."

When the last note of the piano finished echoing through the room, applause broke out. Edward reached over and reassuringly squeezed my leg, just above my knee. He reminded me that it was just us, stood, waived to the audience, and then snuck off backstage again. I sighed, moved to the middle of the piano, and placed my fingers on the keys again. The clapping had died down and everyone was nervously waiting to see whether I was going to choke again.

I didn't.

"Sorry about that." I spoke softly into the mic. "I chose this next song for a certain family that has really taken me under their wing and let me in on their Christmas traditions lately. They know who they are."

"Lights around the tree. Mama's whistling. Takes me back again. There's something 'bout December…" I sang and then began adding piano to the song. "We're hanging mistletoe and hoping that it snows. I close my eyes and then I can still remember how to get back home.

"Let all your memories hold you close. No matter where you are. You're not alone because the ones you love are never far if Christmas is in your heart." I sang the chorus, my voice strengthening naturally. "Who really needs a gift when love is meant to give? I can still recall, carry with me always, every Christmas dream. They live in you and me."

I glanced towards Esme and Carlisle, taking in their beaming faces. I winked and nodded, letting them know who I was singing to, while continuing.

"Let all your memories hold you close. No matter where you are. You're not alone because the ones you love are never far, if Christmas is in your heart. Lights around the tree. Mama's whistling. Takes me back again. There's something 'bout December." I sighed and let my voice and the piano soften as I finished up. "Let all your memories hold you close. No matter where you are. You're not alone because the ones you love are never far, if Christmas is in your heart."

The applause was significantly louder that time. My entire body grew hot with a blush and I nodded towards the crowd. I was finally going to sing my final solo, and then I was free to go to dinner with the Cullens and my family. I shot a smile towards everyone before clearing my throat and getting ready to sing my last one.

"I just wanted to sing one for my dad and step mom. I heard this song and I knew it was perfect." I explained but didn't look at my parents.

"I don't care if the house is packed or the strings of light are broken. I don't care if the gifts are wrapped or if there's nothing here to open." I sang, my voice not as high as before. The song was much more serious and meaningful. "Love is not a toy, and no paper will conceal it. Love is simply joy that I'm home. I don't care if the carpet's stained; we've got food upon our table. I don't care if it's gonna rain, our little room is warm and stable.

"Love is who we are, and no season can contain it. Love would never fall for that. We sing oh, ooh, oh. Ooh. Ooh. Ooh. Let love lead us, love is Christmas." I crooned the words, feeling them in my heart. "Why so scared that you'll mess it up? Perfection keeps you haunted. All we need is your best, my love, that's all anyone ever wanted. Love is how we do, let no judgment overrule it. Love, I look to you, and I sing oh, ooh, oh. Ooh. Ooh. Ooh.

"Let love lead us, love is Christmas. Let love lead us, love is Christmas."

The clapping and cheering roared as I finished and I couldn't help but giggle a little bit. I stood from my bench and gave the audience a bow, my heart pounding with a new excitement as I exited the stage. I went backstage, where Jane and Tyler were just leaving, and ran straight to Edward. He pulled me into his arms and spun me around, his lips on my neck and his smile all too apparent.

"You did perfect." He exclaimed and I blushed, nodding into his neck.

"I don't know about perfect…but I did it!" I giggled and he nodded, pressing his lips to mine.

"Wanna get out of here? Tyler and Jane are wrapping it up. When they're done, everyone will be crowding the halls and it'll be impossible to find your family."

"Of course." I kissed him once more before stepping away and fixing my clothes. "I'll go get them, meet me by the doors."

"See you there." He whispered as I walked away from him.

I entered the auditorium from the back and crept down towards the front, where my family was. Esme was sitting on the very end, and so I crept up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to look at me and then gasped, a smile taking over her features. I put my finger to my lips, reminding her to keep quiet.

"These are the last two songs. If we want to get out of her before the rush, we should head out now." I explained. "Ed and I will be waiting by the back doors."

"See you there." She nodded and I ran back up to the doors, and then raced to catch up with Edward before we had to face everyone.

"They're coming." I told him when I entered the dark hallway.

"Good. Thank you." He smiled, holding out a bouquet of red roses. I could see that there were, of course, twelve of them in the bunch. A small card, with my name scrawled across it in Edward's chicken-scratch handwriting, was placed where I could see it on top.

"Oh! Edward, you shouldn't have." I took them from him and inhaled their sweet scent.

"I wanted to get you something more extravagant, but I decided to save the gift-giving for Christmas." He winked and I shook my head, remembering that I had yet to even buy him a gift for the holiday. It was hard not to dwell on it, knowing that he probably already had all of mine, but I tried to focus on the present.

"Come on," he spoke softly, took my hand, and led me out the doors and to his Volvo. I stood with him as he unlocked the car then helped me in. Edward turned it to a Christmas music station but kept the volume really low, letting the song be background music. I smiled as the heat finally got going and the space warmed up. Edward was rubbing his hands together as he looked at me. "You warm?"

"Yes. Are you?"

"No." He chuckled and I frowned pointedly.

"Here." I held out my hands, which he placed his into.

I pulled them up to my face, shivering a bit when my flushed skin made contact with his ice cold hands. He sighed with relief as I kissed them and blew on him. I couldn't decide if it was incredibly awkward or endearing. I moved his hands so that they were under my hair, pressed between my small hands and neck. He let out a moan and I giggled slightly.

"You're amazing." He stated and I winked. "You sang amazingly by the way. I think you were the best bit of the show."

"You think?"

"Well, remember the lack of applause after all of the other sad performances? And then the bursts of it during yours? That should have been enough indication." He laughed and I shrugged, smiling widely.

"Your dad is coming." He told me, sliding his hands out from where they had been massaging my neck. I nodded and scooted back, pulling on the door handle. Edward hopped out and ran around before I could turn all the way around and get out. He pulled my door open, letting me greet my family.

"Hey, Dad!" I called as I walked towards him, attempting to gain my balance back. I was still wearing my heels.

"You made me so proud, baby girl!" He grinned and I smiled back.

"I hoped you would like it." I hugged him. "I almost couldn't do it."

"You had good support." He shrugged and I nodded, glancing at Edward who had shoved his hands back into his pocket. He pulled one out to shake my dad's, which Charlie shook gratefully. "Thanks for helping her out, Edward."

"I had honestly thought she'd be able to do it immediately, but I realized when she freaked out that all she needed was a little push." Edward grinned at me and I shrugged, crossing my arms, keeping my hands under my arms for warmth. "Bella has a lot of talent."

"Yeah, I knew she liked music but she's never sang around me before. I had no idea how good she really was. How fantastic." Charlie boasted and I looked at my feet, my face growing hot. "You were the best part of the show, Kid."

"You really were." Sue, Clara, Esme, and Carlisle all appeared. Sue was the one talking. Clara was holding another bouquet in her arms. They were lilacs and baby's breath. I thanked her, pulling them in to my arms. "Those songs that you dedicated to everyone were very sweet."

"I just figured that if I was going to perform tonight, that I was going to do it the right way." I explained myself and they all nodded.

"You were beautiful." Esme hugged me. "I'd give you a present, but I'd rather wait for the holiday."

"You don't have to get me anything!" I told her, shaking my head.

"Oh please. I can buy you whatever I want to buy you. You're the only girl that I have to spoil. Carlisle and Edward simply don't care. I could buy them socks or I could buy them a bowling alley – it's all a great deal for them."

I instantly wondered what the hell I was supposed to buy for Esme and Carlisle.

We all climbed into different cars. Carlisle and Esme had taken the Mercedes, Edward took his Volvo, and Charlie brought his cruiser. I didn't want to ride in the cruiser, squeezed between a door and car seat, so I opted out and rode with Edward. We all drove back to Forks and to the lodge, the nicest restaurant in town. It was small, warm, and cozy and the service was very friendly. I chose the place on my own.

"Esme…" I asked as I climbed out of the car. Edward was placing my bouquets on the console and shutting off the car. I rushed so that he wouldn't overhear me. She looked up at me, her eyes questioning. "Will you have any time, in the next few days, that we could maybe go shopping? I still haven't found something to buy Edward for Christmas."

"You don't have to get him anything."

"I want to though." I whispered and she nodded. "If you're busy, just say so, and I'll figure it out. I just knew that you liked to shop and I-"

"No. Don't worry about it." She smiled suddenly. "We'll go tomorrow afternoon, if that works for you?"

"That's perfect. It should be easy, but it's hard to shop for someone that has access to anything and more than he could want." I frowned at the thought.

"Don't fret. We'll find something that you can get him." She reassured me as Charlie and Sue approached. Edward was walking with them, chatting away.

"Let's go eat." Carlisle suggested and everyone agreed, following him into the restaurant. Only one other table was occupied, and it there was an elderly couple seated at it.

The hostess had to push two tables together for all of us, which Edward and Carlisle ended up doing. Charlie was holding Clara and talking to me about something that he had seen the week before at work. Sue, Clara, and Charlie all sat at one end of the table, with Clara in a booster seat at the end. Edward went to sit beside Sue, pulling out her chair, and Charlie had me sit beside him. Carlisle sat on the other side of Edward while Esme sat beside me.

We were given menus and we all ordered our drinks. I decided to get the alfredo and Edward immediately ordered the same thing. I quirked my eyebrow at him and he simply shrugged and laughed. My boy was such a follower when he wanted to be.

"So, Bella, have you decided what you're doing after you graduate?" Carlisle asked me during our wait for our food.

"Well, the overall goal is to open a restaurant someday. I'm not sure what I'm going to do immediately. I'm going to start waitressing this summer and work my way up, I think. And then I'm going to take some business classes and culinary arts classes too. Then, when the time comes, I should be ready to start my own business." I explained slowly, realizing that all eyes were locked on me as I spoke.

"You'll make a wonderful chef. You'll probably make most of your money off of me, too, because I'd definitely eat at your restaurant every day." Edward half-joked. He probably would. He ate out way too much already. Charlie eyed him warily as he spoke, probably assuming that Edward was hitting on me.

I laughed it off, lightening the situation. "I will not feed you every meal. I can't afford that, Cullen."

"I'll probably be a doctor at that point. I'll have lots of money to pay for it with." He teased back, leaving his family to gasp in surprise. I countered him before anyone else could comment.

"I wouldn't make you pay, Edward. I already told you. That's ridiculous."

"It's not ridiculous! It'll be your job." He winked and I glowered at him.

"You're going back to school, Edward?" Esme asked him before our argument could continue. His cheeks turned suddenly pink. I smirked. I was used to being the one put on the spot and it was nice to see the tables turned.

"I'm considering it. I don't really think that teaching is something that I want to do. This year was fun, but it's not what I'm looking for." He spoke each word carefully, not messing around with word choice. I just shook my head.

"Oh! Honey! I hoped that you would!" She breathed. "You'd make such a wonderful doctor."

"Yeah, I don't know for sure yet, but it's definitely a possibility." Edward agreed and Esme clapped her hands. She was completely giddy at the thought of him becoming a doctor.

"You know, Bella, you would make a fantastic doctor as well." Edward's eyes shot to me, daring me to laugh at him again. I felt the color drain from my face. He was evil.

"You mean until someone comes in bleeding and Bella passes out, breaks her head, and two more doctors are forced to come help?" Charlie asked and Edward openly grimaced at the mentioning of me getting my head split open or broken. I nodded, agreeing with Charlie.

"But you're very bright and you are amazing with people."

"Which is why I'm starting a business where I'm feeding people." I spoke slowly, as if explaining things to a little kid. Edward smirked sarcastically in response. His diversion had been useless against me. Thanks to my dad, that was.

"Which will make a lovely career." Esme patted my shoulder encouragingly. "Do what you love, sweetheart. Don't let my son think that it's not good enough."

"That is not what I meant!" Edward all but shouted then and I giggled. I had known that, but apparently none of the adults caught on. Edward and I both knew that I was going to be a chef and that he was going to be a doctor, that we were going to live together, and that…I shook my head, realizing that I was getting very off tack. Edward breathed heavily but then shook his head. His green eyes found mine, pulling me back to reality. "Bella, you would make an amazing chef. Phenomenal. I did not mean to insinuate that being a chef isn't an admirable career."

"I know." I giggled.

"Good." He looked back at his drink and took an awkward sip.

The waitress appeared again and began passing our food out. She asked who needed refills and both Edward and I did. She filled his glass, shoving her cleavage in his face as she did so. Carlisle's eyes widened and I could feel Esme tense up beside me. I, personally, was fuming. The waitress winked at him before walking around to me. I watched him, where he stared at me with his wide green eyes, and the waitress held the pitcher to my cup. As soon as it was full, she casually pulled the pitcher up too quickly and knocked the glass over, towards me.

"Oh! I am so sorry." She smirked, contradicting her obvious lies. Edward was already rushing around Esme all but knocked her chair over trying to get to the girl. I was frantically trying to keep the freezing pop from spreading and covering my entire outfit.

"Where is the manager? Where's Waylon?" Esme shouted and Edward had me stand. Sue was at my side, ushering me towards the bathroom with her.

"I'll be waiting out here." Edward murmured as I walked in. I nodded.

When we walked in, Sue tsked and tutted about petty girls and their jealousy issues. She mentioned something about how that girl wouldn't even ask and see if Edward was even with me before attacking. I didn't inform her about how Edward would have had to turn the girl down, had she asked, because we were together. That wasn't necessary. Instead I focused on getting my skirt and tights off, while in one of the stalls. I tossed them over, and Sue stuck them over the blow-dryer.

"I'm sorry, Bella. Tonight was your night." Sue sighed.

"I'm more pissed off than anything. That was so immature." I sighed. She tossed the skirt back over the door. I caught it and slipped it on, and then stepped out. "You can forget the tights. I was getting a run in them anyway."

"Okay." She pitched them and then walked back over to me. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Really." I nodded.

"Okay. We should get out there and make sure that Esme hasn't tore the hair out of that dimwit's head yet."

"She hates it when bimbos hit on her son." I nodded and sue gave me a disapproving look.

"Esme's upset because the girl did something to hurt you. Not because she was hitting on Edward." Sue stated and I shrugged. I wasn't sure that I agreed all the way. The two, obviously, tied together, but I wasn't sure how much.

"Well, it's fine because I don't know that girl and she was only trying to get Edward. It had nothing to do with me, really." I shrugged again, trying to come off as nonchalant. It had everything to do with me, considering he was mine, but I didn't have to say that.

"If you're sure." She mumbled. We walked out and Edward was waiting impatiently next to the door. Charlie was standing there too. He and Sue were what kept me from running right into Edward's arms.

"Are you okay?" Edward jumped, his posture straightening as he looked me over.

"Edward, she didn't hit me, she knocked a drink over onto me. I'm just fine." I laughed and he rolled his eyes.

"Sorry. I just worry." He told me honestly and I wanted to kiss him then.

"They just gave us our meal free, out of her paycheck, and now Waylon is taking her back to fire here." Esme spoke with a certain amount of dignity, standing in front of me with her chin up. I giggled at how serious she was. It was just some dumb girl and it wasn't worth all of the fuss.

"Thank you for standing up for me, Esme." I smiled and she nodded, a slight smile playing at her lips.

"You're welcome."

"I think we should all just head home." Charlie muttered and everyone nodded, agreeing.

"You did wonderful tonight, Bella." Esme walked over and I hugged her, thanking her. "No, Bella. Thank you for dedicating that song to us! It means more than you know!"

"Well, I meant what I sang." I told her and she nodded, grinning.

"You made the show, Bella. You really did." Edward told me, holding his arms open. I dutifully hugged him. He ducked down to whisper in my ear. "I'll text you. I already miss you."

"I'll see you soon. Cross my heart." I murmured quickly into his shoulder before turning to hug Carlisle.

"You were a star tonight, Bella. I hope to watch you perform again soon." Carlisle stated, hugging me tightly. I giggled.

"Thank you, Carlisle. I hope to see you soon too?" I asked and he nodded.

"Just as long as it's not while I'm at work." He clarified and everyone laughed at that. I couldn't have said it better.

After everyone had said goodbye, I followed Sue and Charlie to the car. They climbed into the front while I buckled Clara, who was sleeping soundly, into her car seat. I couldn't help but smile as we got driving. Despite our tacky waitress, the night went fantastically. I had sang in front of a real audience, I had plans to go shopping with Esme for Edward, and I was about to spend the holidays with my family.

"You really did do amazing tonight, Bella." Sue told me quietly from the front.

"Thank you, Sue." I yawned lightly. "I really didn't think that I was gonna' be able to do it." I shook my head. "Edward saved my ass."

"You guys sang together amazingly." She added and I nodded in agreement. "The harmony was perfection."

We pulled into Charlie's driveway and I carried Clara to her room. I gently changed her from her nice outfit to a set of pajamas. She didn't budge or fidget much, sleeping rather heavily. I kissed her on the forehead as I laid her in the bed. Her eyes, of course, fluttered open then. I smiled at her, telling her to go back to sleep and that it would be morning soon. She yawned and nodded, but kept staring at me, so I sat down on the edge of her bed.


"Yes, Clara?" I asked softly, running my fingers through her soft curls.

"Why don't you live here?"

"Because, my mom wants me to live in her house. We're trying to change that though." I explained as lightly as I could. I wasn't sure that Clara even knew that we had different moms. She'd never asked or mentioned it before. Even if she did know, she probably didn't understand what that actually meant for the family dynamic.

"I want you to live here." She wiggled and rolled into a tighter ball, her eyes drooping.

"Don't worry about it." I whispered and she nodded before looking at me again.

"Do you like Edward?"

"I do. He's very nice." I shrugged.

"No. Do you like-like Edward?" She stage-whispered and I wanted to laugh. I had no idea where my three-year-old sister had picked up on a term such as 'like-like', but it almost scared me. She was three, not eleven. I sighed then, realizing that she was expecting a serious answer.

"I can't really say, sweetie…" I murmured. "He's my teacher. I don't think-"

"You can't marry your teacher?"

"Not while he's my teacher." I giggled and she nodded, her face extremely serious and thoughtful. I wondered if she'd even remember our conversation the next day.

"After you leave school? When you live here?" She attempted to clarify and I smiled at her.

"Clara, I can't make promises like that…" I winked and she nodded, catching my undertone with ease. That was most likely the case, but it went unsaid. I leaned in to kiss her on the cheek before standing up. "Goodnight. I'll be here when you wake up."

"One last question." She hissed into the dark and I stopped at the dark, turning with my hand on the door handle. My eyes found her in the dark, where she was watching me groggily. "Do you love Edward?"

"I love you more." I mumbled after a few moments of thought. She giggled.

"That's different! We're sisters!"

"Go to sleep, child." I laughed and walked out.

When I stepped into the hallway, Sue was leaning against the wall across from Clara's door, her dark eyes narrowed. I felt my cheeks burn as I tried to step back her. She wouldn't have it, and sidestepped with me. I didn't say a word, but rather stood up a bit straighter and crossed my arms in front of me.

"Bella, honey, be honest. Tell me right now and I'll believe whatever you say. Is there anything going on between you and Mr. Cullen?" She asked me, her eyes being completely serious. I felt my blood run cold. Naturally, half-expecting my father to be waiting in the shadows, I glanced around the hallway before focusing back in on Sue. She waited, expectantly.

"No…of course not. He's my teacher. A friend. Nothing more." I lied to her face, not hearing anything other than my heart pounding in my ears. "The Cullens are my first real friends…I can understand why it would look worse than it is."

"I don't want you getting hurt, honey. He's a lot older than you."

"Four years isn't that much older, Sue. Esme is several years older than Carlisle. Not that it matters, because there's nothing going on. He's my best friend and that's allowed." I glowered at her and she pursed her lips for a moment, her eyes thoughtful.

"But you like him, don't you? Bella…odds are, he's not going to feel anything back. He's older and he's got his life figured out. He probably looks at you as a student and a friend at most. You shouldn't set yourself up for that kind of heartbreak." She whispered and I felt my face burn. I couldn't believe she had the nerve to even say that to me. She knew nothing about Edward and me.

"You're being completely ridiculous. Not to mention, completely overstepping your boundaries." I muttered. I hated being so evasive with her, but I didn't have answers for her questions. I wasn't going to get Edward kicked out from the school over her close-mindedness. I stepped around her and walked to my room. She followed me anyway, her eyes solid. I knew that I had probably hurt her feelings with my words, by basically insinuating that she had no parental power over me, but I was eighteen. There wasn't room in my relationship for her uneducated concerns. "Seriously. I love you, but I'm not an idiot. I don't mess around and I don't plan on getting my heart broken, as you worded it."

"I know you're a smart girl. You're too smart, and that's the problem." She grumbled, clearly not happy with my attitude.

"Don't worry about me." I sighed, closing the door in her face.

Once in the safety of my own room, I pulled my phone out and smiled at the sight of a goodnight text from Edward.

"You sang beautifully tonight. I hope you sleep well and have fun with my mom tomorrow Call me tomorrow, if you have time. XXOO." I read it several times, taking that as all of the reassurance I needed. Edward felt something for me. He wouldn't be there if he didn't.

"Thank you. You were amazing as well. I'll call you tomorrow." I replied, tagging a heart onto the end before locking the conversation, so that someone would need a password to access it, and then plugged it in.

I changed into a pair of sweats, a t-shirt, and some fluffy socks before climbing into bed. I was excited for the next day but exhausted enough to just go to sleep.

When I woke up, Clara was beside me and tugging on my arm. I pretended to stay asleep and rolled toward her. She huffed and began pulling my arm as well. My eyes popped open then, and I reached up to start tickling her. She was squealing and pleading. I just laughed, sat up, and pulled her into my lap.

"Bella! Stop!" She laughed and I hugged her, nodding.

"What could you possibly want at…" I grabbed my phone and unlocked it, glancing at the time. "Seven. What could you want at seven in the morning?"

"You're going with Esme at ten. Momma is gone. We need to watch cartoons now!"

"Fine. Alright." I rolled out of the bed and kept her on my hip.

We walked downstairs, and walked in on Charlie and Seth in the living room. Charlie was in his recliner and Seth was on the loveseat. They both had a bowl of cereal and were watching Spongebob. Clara hopped down and ran to sit with Dad. I shook my head and went to the kitchen, where I poured myself a bowl of cereal. I walked back in and plopped down on the other end of the loveseat.

"I'm fairly certain my brain cells are melting right now." Seth commented as a fish on the screen sang about Krabby Patties with Jelly on them. I giggled and nodded.

"That's the last thing you need. You only had a few to begin with." I snickered and he glared playfully at me.

"Alright, kids, no arguing." Charlie intervened, half-joking. I just smiled at Seth, who stuck his tongue out at me.

"Yeah, no arguing." Clara laughed and Charlie kissed the top of her head. I smiled and turned my attention back to the TV.

When the show was over, we all got up and I took dishes to the kitchen. Charlie asked me to just leave them but I reassured him that I didn't mind doing the dishes. I was happy to be around and helping, actually. Clara asked if she could help, so I placed her on the counter and let her dry them as I went. We talked about how preschool was going for her and how high school was going for me as we got the job done.

"What are your plans for today, Kid?" Charlie walked in, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

"Esme and I are going to go Christmas shopping." I told him, glancing at the clock. I had about an hour to be at her house and ready. "I'll be back in time to make dinner, I think."

"Bella, don't worry about dinner." He sighed and came over to put some dishes away. "You are my kid. You don't need to worry about running the house."

"I don't worry about it…I just like to be useful." I clarified and he glowered at me, clearly not amused with my reasoning.

"You are useful, even when you're not doing chores." He reminded me and I shrugged, not arguing but not agreeing with him.

"I'm gonna go get dressed." I told him, drying my hands. I put the towel down and picked Clara up, placing her on my hip. "I'll dress her while I'm up there."

I dressed Clara in some jeans and a t-shirt. She chatted away the entire time, explaining to me exactly how she liked to wear her hair. When she was dressed, I sat her down in front of me and followed her instructions. Her hair ended up in two French-braids with small, pink bows on the end. I patted her head, happy with my handiwork as I dismissed her to go play.

I went back to my room and found a pair of jeans and a sweater. The sweater was red and green, long-sleeved, and had a scoop neck. It was one of my favorite Christmas clothing articles. I slipped it on and grabbed my coat and phone. I shot Esme a text, asking if it was okay for me to come over. While I pulled my hair into a ponytail and applied some mascara, she responded telling me that I was welcome to show up whenever I wanted to.

"Dad, I'm going to Esme's." I called as I grabbed my purse and keys.

"Drive safely," he called from the living room.

"Always." I stepped out and shut the door behind me.

I drove to Esme's and waived at her when she pulled the door open as I pulled in. I hopped out and ran up, through the cool air, and into their warm foyer. Esme took my coat and led me into the kitchen, where she was taking cookies off of a cookie sheet.

"I've just gotta' package these and then we can hit the road." She told me and I promised that I was fine waiting.

"My son was not happy when I informed him that he wasn't invited." She laughed after a few beats of silence and I smiled.

"Yeah, he doesn't understand that the best part of a Christmas gift is the surprise part."

"And he's in a constant state of missing you." She teased and I rolled my eyes.

"He is a big sweetheart."

"But that's why we love him." She concluded and I nodded in complete and total agreement. That was why I loved my Edward so much. He was always had what was best at heart and that meant a lot for me.

It didn't take long for Esme to have all of the cookies sealed into containers and stacked up on the island. We went out and climbed into her Jeep, which she had started with a remote key from inside the house. As we pulled out of their long, winding driveway and onto the roads, my phone began playing a song. I recognized Edward's ringtone.

"Hello?" I answered with a smile.

"Hello, Beautiful."

"What are you up to?" I asked him, letting my head rest on the cool window beside me.

"Just eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch…missing you."

"I miss you too…but your Mom makes an excellent substitute, for the time being." I grinned and Esme chuckled.

"Ew, Bella. That's my mom!"

"Not that way, you sicko!"

"You should just skip buying me a present…and come to my house now. Because I'd rather hang out with you today than get a present. You're all I want this year." He told me, half serious, half kidding. I knew that he was serious about ditching the present and hanging out with him, but I wasn't willing to give in. I wanted to get him something.

"Or, you can wait like a good boy and spend Christmas opening presents like a normal person!" I exclaimed sarcastically and he laughed.


"Edward!" I whined back and he made a huffing noise. "I'm serious. We're busy. I promise to call or text you when I get the chance."

"You can stay at my place for dinner tonight…and Edward can join us." Esme offered and I smiled gratefully at her.

"I heard that and I'm in."

"I'll see you when we get home then. Try grading those papers that you made us all turn in by Friday, if you're desperate for something to do." I teased and he groaned but agreed.

"I'll see you soon, Beautiful. Stay safe. Where Esme can see you."

"Of course." I agreed and we hanged up.

"Still not saying 'I love you' yet?" Esme asked after I stuck my phone in my purse. My eyes widened at her and she shrugged.

"Um, no. I don't think we're quite there yet." I shrugged.

"But you do love him?"

"Very much." I whispered, sighing softly. I then looked back at her. Her green eyes were on the road, but I knew she was listening anyway. "But I feel like that's a step that you can't go back from. It's one thing for us to feel mutually in love, it's another for us to tell each other. I really do love him, and it's hard not to repeatedly tell him it, but what's next after I do?"

"You graduate, get engaged, get married, and give me grandbabies!" She exclaimed and I choked on my own saliva. She simply laughed beside me, not even making sure that I was okay.


"I'm just saying. You two will make beautiful children. It's a shame that we have to wait so long for you two to seriously, openly be together."

"Well…I don't really plan on getting pregnant right away, even if we do immediately go public in May." I glowered at her and she shrugged.

"You do want kids, right?" She urged and I groaned loudly.

"Yes, for the love of God, I would love to have Edward's babies. But we are so not there yet and that is at the complete bottom of my to-do list." I hissed and she snickered, glancing deviously towards me. The woman was officially the most evil woman I knew. "There. You made me say it. Are you happy yet?"


"Can we not talk about this? I love Edward…that's why I don't want to scare him off."

"Fine." She winked. "You know, I just love teasing you two."

"I know you do. That's why I can't get angry at you." I told her and she shrugged, her lips tugging up at the sides. "Okay, so, do you have any ideas as to what we should get for Edward?"

"I'm not picking out your present for him!" She laughed and I felt my eyes widen. "I'm here to give you input. But you have to make the final decision and come up with the starting ideas."

"But..." I whined and she shrugged, reminding me that it was my present. "I have no clue what I'm supposed to do!"

"Think music. He's always open to musical things." She urged and I pouted.

"I can't buy him another grand piano. Even if I could afford an instrument, that's what he got me for my birthday." I glowered out the window, wishing that I had enough of my own money to go all out. I wanted his present to be extravagant and perfect. I wasn't going to spend Renee's money on him, either. I wanted it to be from me. Esme had made her point, loud and clear.

"Oh, I'll help you pay for the present. Price is not relevant." She added and I shook my head, explaining my need to have it be from me. She sighed. "Bella, it won't matter if it's from the heart. That's all that Edward cares about. You could buy him a bar of soap for fifty cents and he'd be over the moon. Just as he would be if you bought him a new Volvo. He loves you and he'll simply be glad to have you with him for the holiday. I mean that."

"I doesn't make me feel any better though. I feel like I should have this figured out. Does he already have my present?"

"He's actually been collecting things for you for months now..." She murmured and I groaned.


"I'm telling you, we'll find something."

We pulled into the parking lot of a mall in Seattle a little while later. Esme said that she enjoyed it because it was big, had a range of different stores, and because, despite that, it wasn't overly crowded. I agreed as we walked into the surprisingly half-empty building. I had expected a rushed, angry Christmas crowd. That was how it had always been at the mall in the past.

We explored the different clothing stores first. Esme was adamant that she was allowed to buy me whatever she wanted, using Christmas as her excuse. I hissed and stomped my feet, but couldn't stop her from buying anything that I looked at. When we came to a stopping point, I was carrying two bags of clothes for myself. We went to the food court, ready to get some lunch, where I was finally able to set the heavy bags down.

"Really, Esme, it's completely unnecessary."

"Oh, but it's not." She winked and I sighed. "It's Christmas! Besides, I know you've been low on clothes ever since the fire."

"It's not your job to make up for that stuff."

"And it's not yours either." She added. "But I want to and I am completely capable, therefore I will."

"I may complain...but I am grateful. It's nice to know you care." I murmured and she smiled widely.

"You've brought so much to my little family already, honey. Don't worry."

After eating some Chinese food, we grabbed our bags and began the trek to find Edward's present. I felt like it wasn't going to happen when an hour passed with no new ideas. We went to store after store after store, and we accomplished nothing. I was getting tired and anxious, and I wanted to be done with the holidays all together. When we passed another music store, I couldn't help but give it a look.

The walls were lined in instruments and instrument parts. Everything was nice and shiny, and I found myself in awe as I looked from one guitar to the next. When I found the one I needed, I knew instantly. My heart stopped at the sight of the black, wooden guitar. It was shiny and had a sign beside it that said the back of it could be engraved. There weren't any prices posted, but when Esme began giggling and clapping beside me, I knew that the price didn't matter.

"Yes! Do it, Bella!" She exclaimed. "That's it!"

"You think?"

"Yes! And you can sing to him. It's perfect. It's pretty, clever, and it's something he can use after the holiday." She waived at the store's clerk, having them come and retrieve the guitar for us.

"This the one you want?" He asked, pointing at it and I nodded. He pulled it down from the wall and led us back to the counter. "What do you want engraved in it?" I watched as he pulled a sticky note from a pad in front of him and placed it on top of the instrument.

"Um...'Tonight I'm gonna dance for all that we've been through, but I don't wanna dance if I'm not dancing with you.'" I started and he began scribbling it down. "And then, under the quote, put Merry Christmas, all of my love, Bella."

"You can pick it up at three-thirty." He told me and I grinned excitedly at Esme. It would be ready before we even left the mall.

"Thank you, sir! Happy holidays!" I nodded to the man as Esme left her name and number.

We continued to walk around the mall for a while. Esme grabbed some odds and ends for herself and Carlisle, and then some shirts for Edward. When three-thirty rolled around, we rushed back to the music shop to collect our final gift. The man had a box set out for it, which was pre-wrapped and almost ready to go. I raced to the desk, eager to see the final product.

They had waxed the instrument and tuned it, according to the man. I gently flipped it over to read the inscription. My lips turned up at the sides when I read the quote that I had put on it. It was perfect. Esme giggled and clapped her hands, then wrapped her arm around my shoulders and proudly hugged me into her side. I had the guy package it up and then Esme offered to carry it for me.

"I'm so happy with this present." I sighed as we climbed back into the Jeep. "I was terrified that I wasn't going to find something this good."

"I knew things would straighten out." Esme said nonchalantly.

I texted Edward, telling him that we were on our way, and then Charlie, telling him that I was eating dinner with Esme. When we got to their house, Carlisle and Edward were already there. Esme sent me in ahead of her, promising to keep the present hidden, and I raced straight to the kitchen. I could smell something cooking and knew that I would find the two of them in there.

"Hey, Beautiful!" Edward grinned, opening his arms as I stepped in. I ran over and wrapped my arms around him. He laughed. "How was your day out?"

"It was great! I found exactly what I needed to get you!" I rested my chin on his chest, my smile widening. "You'll love it."

"With or without presents, I think I'll just love the fact that you're with me." He shrugged and I rolled my eyes.

"Just be accepting of the gift and stop."

"Oh, you're telling me to accept a gift?"

"How about, because it's Christmas, we both be fair and take our gifts like we should? Nicely and without complaint." I compromised and he nodded in agreement.

"I am more than happy to do that."

Edward and Carlisle had spent the latter part of the afternoon cooking spaghetti for us. I helped Esme carry things upstairs and then we set the table together. Esme told me all about how it used to be her and Edward in the kitchen, and then Edward and Carlisle would set the table. I smiled when she told me that she was rather pleased with the way that things had changed after I joined their family. The fact that she considered me family was enough to make me jump up and down with joy. I loved it. The boys carried the food in and joined us at their dining room table.

I sat beside Esme, while Carlisle and Edward sat across from us. We all chatted quietly about our days when I felt a sock-clad foot run up my leg. My eyes shot up from my half-eaten plate of spaghetti and I found Edward's eyes locked on me. He winked and ran his foot even further up, the feeling sending chills down my spine. I bit my lip, fighting a grin as I kicked my own shoes off and ran my own foot up his leg. His green eyes grew wide with shock when I let the side of my foot graze his inner-thigh.

"Bella?" Carlisle asked and I jumped, and my knee smacked the table from underneath.

"Yes?" I swallowed thickly, ignoring the urge to cry out in pain.

"I was going to ask if you're excited to be entering your second semester of your senior year." He spoke slowly, eying me peculiarly.

"Edward, honey, that's my leg. Please." Esme spoke suddenly and Edward jumped back, choking slightly on his spaghetti.

"I should have known." Carlisle eyed both of us and I felt my face burn up. "You two were acting awfully distracted and overly occupied with your food."

"I am excited...for school to end, I mean." I spoke up. "I'm really looking forward to this summer."

"Going anywhere interesting?" He inquired and I sighed.

"Not really. I'm staying Forks. My home." I explained to him, not sure if he was able to understand. I decided to be even more specific. "I mean, I grew up with Renee. I've traveled all my life. Up until junior year, I didn't have a home. My life was just one vacation after another. You guys, you've lived in one place all your don't know what it's like to not have a home. To have somewhere to miss and go back to. I'm so grateful to be have no idea."

"And this will always be your home."

"Home is where the heart is, you know." I added playfully and he grinned in response.

"But really, Bella...I don't know why you would, but if you ever didn't have a home with'll always have a home with us." Esme told me and I nodded at her.

"Thank you. That means a lot."

"I didn't know your childhood was so...rough, Bella." Carlisle finally spoke up and I sighed.

"I had a very...independent childhood. I mean, I was practically on my own after I turned fifteen. Before that, I'd traveled with my mom as she jumped from boyfriend to boyfriend. City to city. I was making sure that bills got paid and that dinner was made before I was seven. I cleaned and I studied and I made sure that my mother got home, and not murdered while out drinking. I held her hair while she threw up after drinking..." I shook my head at the memory. I was twelve years old and Renee had shown up drunk. She woke me up, pleading with me to find medicine for her. I couldn't, because I knew that she was sick from all of the alcohol. And then I ended up holding her hair while she regurgitated.

"Some people...I can't believe their nerve!" Esme hissed, her face bright red.

"Was she really that bad?" Carlisle squeaked and I nodded.

"I would beg and plead to live with Charlie. But every time things got to court, Renee was married to someone with money. Especially with Phil. They said that I would be better off seeing the big cities and living with my rich parents, than stuck in some small town with less money and Charlie. They were wrong, obviously, but I couldn't tell them how bad she was. They'd probably arrest her."

"You don't want them to?"

"She's an alcoholic, not a murderer or a thief. She wouldn't last a day in prison." I sighed and shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm over her though. I tried to look at the bright side. I tried so hard...just to say that hey, she gave birth to me and took care of me until I was four. I wanted so badly for that to be enough. It wasn't. It never will be."

"And it shouldn't have to." Carlisle concluded and I raised my eyebrows. "Her being your mother isn't a reason for you to forgive her, Bella. Her being your mother is a reason for her to get herself together and take care of you."

"It's nice to know that Charlie and I aren't the only two people who think so." I told him and he shrugged.

"If that's the case, then we'll just have to take the bright side and be thankful that you only have half a school year." He smiled encouragingly and I had to smile back. It was nice to know that Carlisle was more supportive after hearing about my life.

"Speaking of my parents," I glanced at my phone. It was after eight at night and I knew that Charlie would be waiting up on me. "I should probably head home to Charlie. I didn't really tell him that dinner would take so long."

"I can call him if you're worried about him waiting on you." Esme offered and I shot her a grateful smile.

"I don't think so. I told him I'd hang out at our house tomorrow."

"Well, while you're here, we should probably plan our Christmas Break schedule." She told me, pulling her phone out. Carlisle stood and began collecting the empty plates. Edward nodded and reached out to take my hand in the middle of the table. I squeezed his and then intertwined our fingers.

"I have to spend Christmas with Charlie and Sue. That's not optional." I told her before she could even ask.

"Of course. I wouldn't ask you to skip out on your family for the holidays." Esme looked up at me, her eyes serious.

"I know you wouldn't ask me to. I just wanted to clarify, for the sake of planning." I nodded and then rubbed Edward's hand. "But other than that, my schedule is completely open."

"Well, I was wondering if you all, including your Mom and Dad, wanted to spend Christmas Eve and New Years here? Whoever can make it is welcome. We'll be having dinner and opening presents. I'll have gifts for everyone, although they aren't required." Esme squeezed my shoulder and I nodded at her, telling her that I'd love to have everyone together. "Charlie's deputy, Emmett will be there. A nurse from the hospital that I adore and then some other coworkers. I figured you and Edward could hang out. Get your Christmas time together."

"I would love that. Really."

"Well, Christmas is formal and New Years and semi-formal. Just call or text me who all is coming and I'll deal with the details. I'll even buy you a dress, if you need one." She kept her eyes on her phone, where she was avidly typing away, organizing her calendar and guest list.

"I will walk you out, to your car." Edward told me as I stretched and then stood. He quickly pushed his chair back and walked around to my side. Esme patted his arm before letting us go off on our own and returning to her planning.

We walked slowly to the kitchen, where I bid Carlisle goodnight, and then out to my truck. Edward held my door open and then stuck his hand out. I held onto it as I climbed into the cab. However, I didn't close the door behind myself. He walked over and placed his hands on my legs, just above my knees. I leaned forward to kiss him, humming at the feel of his warm fingers running up and down my jean-clad legs. The shivers that ran down my spine were warm, and somehow sweet.

I reached back behind him and let my fingers tangle into the hair at the nape of his neck. It was so soft, probably softer than my own, constantly conditioned, hair. I massaged the scalp and let my other fingers slip down, below the collar of his shirt. He sighed softly but didn't end the kiss. I chose that moment to swipe my tongue across his lips, silently having him part them. He did exactly that, letting his own tongue reach mine. My breathing picked up rapidly, and my lungs heaved for air, but I didn't stop kissing him.

"Bella..." He panted, pulling away and kissing my nose. I huffed, keeping my hands on the back of his neck for support. "You're going to make yourself pass out."

"It's not my fault you've dazzled me." I breathed, half-kidding. He laughed and shook his head, his eyes still glazed over. "I don't want to stop kissing you."

"You have no idea." He chuckled, his eyes crinkling at the side from his grin. I let my hands slide down his shoulders, onto his forearms. I squeezed them lightly and he pulled my hand up to his lips. "Don't worry. We'll have all of the time in the world for this in a few months."

"That's so far away!"

"Ah, but so close when compared to how we'll be spending the rest of our lives together." He said and then looked up, wide-eyed. Yeah, he probably hadn't meant for that to come out so seriously. I wasn't complaining, considering I agreed. "Sorry, Bella. That's probably a bit overwhelming. I-"

"No. Don't worry about it." I cut him off, my head shaking back and forth. "I can very easily see myself spending forever with you."

"I'm glad to hear that. Really." He tugged on my ponytail, making me giggle. "You need to get home. Promise you'll drive safely? And text me when you get in?"

"Always." I nodded.

"Well. I'll see you on Christmas Eve then." He patted my thighs and stood up straighter. "I already miss you."

"I miss you too." I widened my eyes at him and then pulled the door shut. He knocked on the window, forcing me to roll it down. "You know, I'm never gonna get out of here if you don't let me leave."

"I guess I'm never gonna let you leave then." He leaned into my window and I glared playfully at him, my wide smile giving me away. "Now, what did you get me for Christmas?"

"Are you kidding me? Get out." I laughed, rolling the window up and forcing him to bounce back. He pouted jokingly and I shrugged at him, starting my engine.

"Bye, beautiful!"

"Bye!" I waived, pulling out of the garage door that Edward had opened when we walked in.

I turned on my radio and zoned out during my drive back to Charlie's. I noticed, halfway there, that Esme had stuck my bags of clothes in the passenger seat, instead of wrapping them like she had said that she was going to. I shook my head, but decided not to argue as I pulled into my driveway. I climbed out, went around and grabbed the bags, and then ran up to the door and walked in.

"How was your day?" Charlie asked me as I dropped my bags off in the living room.

"It was really good. It was nice to talk to Esme and spend some time not worrying about anything. I found some good presents for everyone too." I half lied. I still didn't have presents for Carlisle and Esme, but I knew that I would have to figure that out on my own. "Actually, the Cullens invited us all over for Christmas Eve dinner and then a New Years party."

"Oh?" Charlie looked questioningly at Sue, who nodded with a smile.

"That would be nice. We're having dinner for us, here, on Christmas though." She told me pointedly and I nodded.

"Of course! Absolutely. But you do want to go on Christmas Eve? It's formal. Emmett McCarty will be there."

"Yeah. I think it sounds like fun."


"I'm assuming you're headed to bed now, then?" Sue asked me, from where she was seated beside my dad on the loveseat. I nodded. "Well, try to keep quiet going up the stairs. We just got Clara laid down. She was a bit grumpy."

"Okay." I nodded and then rushed up the stairs. Once safely in my room, I shot Edward a text, letting him know that I was home and that I was safe, and that I was missing him.

When I woke up on Christmas Eve, I felt extremely excited. I had finally collected presents for everyone and I was thrilled to see their faces when they opened them. I was also thrilled to spend the evening with Edward, probably more thrilled to do that than open anything for myself the entire break. I loved being at the Cullens' house.

I rolled out of bed and walked downstairs. I was surprised, as I poured a bowl of cereal, to notice a dress, wrapped in a bag and on a hanger, resting on the back of the couch. I sat my Cheerios down and went to inspect it. There was a sticky note on it, telling me that Esme had left it and a bag of makeup with instructions on how to apply it. She said that she was busy planning for dinner and the party and that she was sure I was capable of making myself look even more beautiful than I did naturally. I shook my head and returned to my food.

After I finished my breakfast, I went upstairs to make sure that all of my presents were wrapped and where they needed to be. Charlie, Sue, and Clara were getting their gifts on Christmas morning. But I was giving the Cullens all of their gifts when they gave me mine, half to take the attention off of me opening them.

Sue and Charlie left a note on the door, telling me that they had gone out grocery shopping. Clara was with them and Seth was at a friend's house. Leah wasn't coming home from school until later in the evening. I grinned, deciding to add a clean house to Sue's presents. With her job, she didn't have time to just stay home an do housework all the time. It wasn't a messy house, but it wasn't squeaky clean either. I ran upstairs and changed into some shorts and a t-shirt, and then some house shoes. I was going to make the place shine.

I plugged my iPod into Seth's iHome and blasted it. The first song that played was Shake It by Metro Station. It was incredibly easy to dance around to that song. I loosened up considerably, bouncing around the bathroom and scrubbing away.

"Now, if she does it like this, will you do it like that? Now, if she touches like this, will you touch her right back? Now, if she moves like this, will you move it like that? Come on!" I sang along with it, using the multipurpose cleaner as my mike. "Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it!"

The hours sped by. My music grew louder as the house grew cleaner. It was around three when I was in the living room, tidying up last bits of stuff. I had taken my hair down and was practically in the middle of a private concert. I hadn't had much time to myself in a while and it felt nice to just let loose and not worry.

"We're happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way! It's miserable and magical, oh yeah!" I climbed up onto the coffee table and spun around, closing my eyes as I took on the last chorus of 22 by Taylor Swift. "Uh oh! I don't know about you, but I'm feeling twenty-two. Everything will be alright if you keep me next to you. You don't know about me, but I'll bet you want to. Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we're twenty-two! Twenty-two!"

I did not notice the door opening and closing, and someone walking in.

"It feels like one of those nights. We ditch the whole scene. It feels like one of those nights. We won't be sleeping. It feels like one of those nights. You look like bad news. I gotta have you. I gotta have you!"

When I opened my eyes, Charlie, Sue, Seth, and Clara were all standing in front of me. Clara was clapping and Seth was laughing. My skin burned and I slowly backed off of the table. In my embarrassment, I nearly stumbled and plopped onto the couch behind me. Sue was looking around in awe, but nobody else had noticed the incredibly clean house. They were all too fixated on the idiot that had been caught singing on the coffee table in her pajamas.

"Nice, Bells." Charlie chuckled and held out his hand, helping me up.

"Bella, did you do this?" Sue asked me, gesturing to the room around her.

I nodded, keeping my eyes on my feet. "Yeah...uh, I was in the mood to clean so I decided to put on some music."

"Oh, so that's what they're calling that these days?" Seth remarked and I glared at him.

"Be nice, Seth. Bella probably did your next two weeks worth of chores for you." Charlie scolded him and he looked around with a new appreciation. I winked at him when his eyes landed back on me, his jaw hanging loose.

"Merry Christmas, I guess?" I shrugged and Sue laughed.

"Seriously. We need you living here. Not that we'd expect you to clean the entire place all the time...but this is nice." Sue sat my wiggly sister down before walking over and hugging me. I hugged her back, feeling slightly smug. She pulled back and patted my cheek. "Go shower and get ready for tonight. You deserve the warm water first, the most."

"Thanks! I won't be long!" I promised, turning to run up the stairs.

I kept the shower short but thorough. I made sure to shave and condition twice, knowing that Edward liked to play with my hair. Once I was fresh, I hopped out and ran to my room, where I blew my hair dry and then curled it. I pulled out the makeup instructions, and found that Esme wanted me to wear it completely down and side swept to the right. I didn't contradict what she wanted, but rather tried to embrace it. I trusted her judgment. I then added my makeup, carefully putting together a dark, smokey-eyed effect. When I was done, I looked in the mirror and grinned.

It was time to finally see my dress.

I unzipped the bag and pulled the hanger out. The dress was not what I had expected. It was floor length, deep red, and seemed to be sewn together in a wrap-like fashion. There was a strap flowing over the left shoulder, leaving the other strapless. I suddenly knew why she was so specific with where she wanted my hair to sit. I quickly slipped the gown on and found that it didn't even have a zipper. It was form fitting and the back was completely open. It went all the way down to the dimples right below my spine. I shook my head, feeling suddenly self-conscious.

What the hell was she thinking?

"Bella?" Sue called from outside my door.


"It's almost six."

"I know." I squeaked, my skin turning bright red. We were leaving at five-forty five. It was five-thirty. I had zero time to back out or switch dresses. I was screwed.

"Are you okay?" She questioned and I sighed.

"It's just...the dress..."

"Are you dressed?" She asked, and I told her I was. I stared at myself in the mirror as she slipped into my room and closed the door behind her. I heard her gasp, knowing that she was just as shocked as I was.

"I know. It's barely a dress..."

" look beautiful." She shook her head, walking over and pulling my hair over my shoulder, the way that Esme had asked for me to sweep it. I shook my head.

"It's so...revealing. I can't go to a family dinner dressed like this!"

"You're eighteen. I think you're both old and young enough to dress like this. You look like you've just stepped off of the red carpet."

"I don't know..." I mumbled. "It's not me."

"Not you? It's simple, but beautiful. I think that's exactly you. Esme hit the nail on the head." She encouraged and I looked at her, seeing nothing but honesty in her eyes. I wasn't sure what to say, so I just stared at her. "You look dazzling. God knows that Cullen boy will be head over heels for you."

"Is that a good thing?" I inquired, genuinely curious. I could never tell whether Sue was with or against Edward and I.

"I don't know, Bella. Is it?" She used my own question against me and I narrowed my eyes at her.

"He's my teacher. Don't be ridiculous."

"Sure, sure." She shrugged and held up her hand, which had been carrying my heels. I hadn't even noticed. They were black and strappy, and very simple. "I forgot to set these with your clothes."

"Fantastic." I grumbled. "As if I'm not uncomfortable enough."

"You look more than fine. Stop fretting." She laughed. That was when I noticed that she was dressed. She was wearing a simple, black gown. It went to the floor as well and had a rhinestone belt just under her cleavage and up the v-neckline. She looked gorgeous. Her hair was straight and falling down to her shoulder blades. Her earrings and necklace matched the jewels on the dress.

"Please. Just ignore me. You look gorgeous as well, by the way."

"Oh hush." She laughed and then calmed down, her eyes shining. "Thank you, Bella. Let's get those shoes on and hit the road."

"Fine." I muttered, dropping the heels to the floor and slipping my feet into them.

When I walked downstairs, Charlie and Seth were waiting beside the door. Seth was wearing a red, button-down while Charlie's was black. They both looked very nice. Seth even combed and tamed his hair a bit, brushing it to the side. I stayed behind Sue, not revealing the very revealing dress that I was wearing. I wasn't sure that charlie would take it as well as I did. Clara came running in, dressed in a red and black dress and green tights. She looked very cute and ready for the holiday. I couldn't ignore her when she ran up and tried to climb into my arms. Sue stepped over to Charlie, revealing me to the family.

"She can't go out in that!" Charlie groaned and I flushed bright red. "I don't need that Cullen boy to be all over her! I saw the way he looked at her last time they were together, and they were fully clothed and public then!"

If only he knew. I shook my head.

"Oh, hush. She's fine. Your daughter knows what she wants and doesn't want, and she also knows how to stand up for herself."

Charlie continued to grumble obscenities, but didn't openly complain again. I carried Clara out, and followed my family to the car. The drive was quick and quiet, and when we got to the Cullen's fairly full driveway, my stomach suddenly filled with butterflies. I hadn't expected that many people to show up. I would have considered half as many cars to be a big crowd.

I couldn't hide out in the car though, because the others quickly climbed out immediately.

"Leah will be here in about twenty minutes." Sue announced. "She just got back to the house and is getting quickly changed."

"I'll be glad to see her." I smiled, hiding my sudden anxiety.

I didn't even think about it as we got to the front door as I pulled the doors open. I was so used to walking in and out of the place that I didn't consider ringing the bell. Charlie was mid-knock as I stepped into the house. Sue simply shrugged and followed me in.

"Shouldn't you have knocked?" Charlie grumbled.

"I guess I didn't really think about it..." I sighed. That was when Edward walked over, probably going to open the door for us after hearing Charlie's knocks. I could see the way that his eyes darkened when they landed on me. I noted that his hair had been trimmed and that someone had styled it so that it was smoothed over, parted on the side. I had never seen him so clean-shaven before. He looked very handsome.

"Good evening. I'm glad you all could make it." He took my hand and pressed it to his lips. "You ladies look lovely."

"Ed'ard, is that you?" Clara gasped from Seth's arms.

"Why yes, it is." He walked over to her and kissed her knuckles as well. She shook her head, her cheeks pinkening.

"You look simply stunning tonight, Clara."

"You look pretty." She cooed and he laughed, but nodded.

"Thank you very much."

"I knew that you would look perfect in that dress!" Esme came running over, her eyes light and beautiful. She and Edward almost matched. He was in a green-button down and slacks. Her dress was the same emerald green and tied behind her neck. The color scheme brought out their eyes and made their hair shine. She grabbed Edward's arm. "Doesn't she look perfect, Edward?"

"Bella always looks perfect." He shook his head at her and her grin only widened.

"Please. Come in. Make yourselves at home. There's food over at that table. Drinks. Help yourselves to whatever you like."

"Thank you Doctor Cullen." Charlie smiled and she shook her head.

"Hush, Charlie. You know you can call me Esme."

"Edward Cullen!" I heard from the doorway. I turned to see Carmen walking in, dressed in a beautiful, purple gown. She came walking in and wrapped her arms around him in a quick hug. "I've never seen you look so...debonair!"

"You look beautiful as well, Carmen."

"Why, Mrs. Salazar. When was the last time you visited us?" Esme asked her and she chuckled.

"A while." She shrugged and then glanced at me, realizing that I had been standing beside Edward the entire time. "Holy shit! You brought a date this year Edward? I think this is a first!"

"Carmen..." He groaned and I giggled.

"Bella's not his date." Charlie stepped in. Carmen did a double take, her eyes locking on me.

"Bella Swan?"

"The one and only." I spoke softly.

"I didn't recognize you. You look so much older...and beautiful, of course." She turned, revealing the man behind her. "Bella, this is my husband Eleazar. El, this is Bella. She's a student of Edward's."

"I've heard some very nice things." Eleazar held his hand out and I shook it gladly. "You look beautiful tonight."

"Thank you." I nodded.

"And Chief Swan, it's nice to see you here." He turned to my dad, who nodded and shook his hand. They immediately went into their police talk. Sue joined them, leaving Seth and Clara to follow me back to Edward and Esme.

"Really though, Bella. That dress is fantastic." Carmen added once we were more on our own.

"Thank you. Esme picked it out." I smoothed out the fabric, smiling at Esme. She began telling Carmen about the boutique that she had found it in. I tuned them out, turning to Edward, Seth, and Clara.

"So, you're one of Bella's teachers?" Seth asked, eying Edward. Edward chuckled at him but nodded.

"As you know, I coached her in Cross Country this year. I also teach her Advanced Placement Biology course this year. And Music Theory."

"We don't have any young teachers at Forks." Seth complained. "They're all old and close-minded. It's not fair."

"Trust me. I know. I went to Forks High. Does Mrs. Cope still teach?"

"Yes! You had her too?"

"Yep. Still monotonous and evil?" Edward asked and Seth nodded.

"Totally, dude!" They fist bumped and I couldn't help but smile. I was happy to see them hit it off. They didn't know it, but they had a long life together ahead of them. Because of me. It was good that they were able to form a friendship.

"I'm glad to see you're enjoying your break, Bella." Carmen interrupted my thoughts.

"Yeah. It's been nice so far. It's nice to be in Forks."

"You're the only person from Forks who would ever say that." She rolled her eyes but smiled, showing that she was only half joking. I was definitely a part of the minority, I couldn't argue with her there.

"Yeah, then he wakes up and finds out that the girl he was saving in the game was his daughter from the beginning! Talk about plot twist!" Seth exclaimed when I tuned back into him and Edward's conversation.

"It was definitely a fun game." Edward concluded the conversation.

"Video games?" I asked, unsurprised. Seth treasured his Xbox. The game system took up the half of his life that basketball didn't.

"Yep! Edward likes Xbox too!" Seth exclaimed, his eyes alight with happiness.

"He has one, you know. It's down in the den. I winked at Edward, who shrugged in response.

"You can go play it. I know these parties aren't the most fun things in the world for younger people." Edward told him and he looked at me, his eyes asking if it was okay. I nodded in response.

Edward explained how to get there, where to find the games, and how to set it up. Seth handed me Clara and then disappeared into the crowd. Clara said Edward's name and he grinned, holding his arms out for her. I let him hold her, knowing my weak arms wouldn't be able to carry her for long. I loved seeing him with her. It helped my brain form a picture of him with our own possible children. There was just something so special about a tall, beautiful man carrying a small, precious child.

My heart picked up its pace.

"I'm going to go see where my husband ran off too. It was nice running into you guys." Carmen waived, and then disappeared into the crowd as well.

"I guess that just leaves us." I smiled, stepping closer to Edward and Clara.

"You, me, and Clara." He winked and Clara grinned.

"When are we opening presents?" Clara asked suddenly, glancing between the two of us.

"In a short while. I promise." Edward tickled her side and she giggled.

"Okay. I can wait."

"We're going to go grab some food. Wanna come with us, Clara?" Sue walked up to us. Clara nodded and climbed into her arms. I watched as they all went back towards the food and drinks.

"How about a dance with me? While we wait?" Edward asked me and my face heated.

"Can we do that? There's so many people..."

"Most of whom don't know a single thing about us. The ones who do will most likely assume that we're just dancing for something to do. After all, we're best friends." He held out his pinky and I gladly wrapped mine around it.

"Best friends. Of course."

Edward pulled me close to him and placed his hands on my hips. His fingertips pressed warmly against the exposed skin of my lower back. I reached up and wrapped my own arms around his neck, smiling up at him as we began to dance on the floor. After my third time stumbling over our feet, he tugged me closer and helped me step up and onto his feet. I felt like a child, simply holding onto him as he did all of the dancing. With the way that our bodies pressed tightly together, our faces close enough for me to smell the peppermint on his breath, I wasn't going to complain. In fact, I relished in the moment.

"I was simply speechless when you walked in. I heard someone knocking on the door, but when I walked over you had already come in. I wanted to wrap you up in my jacket and carry you away, hiding you from all of the greedy eyes of the room." He whispered, so softly that only I could hear him, despite the dancing bodies all around us.

"I could say the same about you. You look dazzling."

"And you look ravishing." He murmured, leaning in to steal a quick kiss. When he pulled away, his eyes were sneaky. "Your father's back is to us at the moment. Him and Sue are talking to Carlisle. I'm certain that Carlisle pulled them over just to give us a few moments of privacy."


"Your dad was watching you like a hawk. Not that I'm surprised. With the way that you're dressed."

"But Carlisle knows that I'm safe with you." I murmured and he nodded.

"Carlisle doesn't let on, but that man is more fond of you than he is of me even. I'm certain that he's already accepted you as a daughter."

"Does he have a reason to be so accepting?"

"Bella...I know it's early and I know you're young...but I honest to God cannot see myself with anyone else for the rest of my life." He sighed after a pause. I could tell that he was wording everything very carefully. "I can't picture a more perfect woman than you."

"I'm glad to hear that. I feel the same way about you." I agreed and his features morphed from a happy grin to an astonishing smile. "I can't say what will happen tomorrow, or next year, or next month. But I can tell you that no matter what I picture, I picture you there beside me. That's all that matters."

"Absolutely." Edward sighed, pulling me close and wrapping his long arms around my upper body. I wrapped my own around his waist, letting my face rest against his strong chest. He placed his chin on top of my head and hummed along with the music.

"So this is Christmas. What have you done? Another year over and a new one just begun. So this is Christmas. I hope you have fun. The near and the dear one, the old and the young." I sang quietly as a new song began. The song fit our lives very well. "A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear."

"And so this is Christmas. For weak and for strong, for rich and the poor one, fhe world is so wrong. And so happy Christmas. For black and for whites, for yellow and red ones, let's stop all the fight. A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear. And so this is Christmas. What have we done? Another year over and a new one just begun." Edward added to the next chorus, making me smile up at him. "And so this is Christmas. I hope you have fun. The near and the dear one, the old and the young."

As usual, we finished the song singing together. Our voices harmonizing sweetly. "A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear. War is over, if you want it. War is over now. War is over now."

"I think I should give you up now. It's been three songs." Edward whispered after we sang through another song. I pouted at him, not wanting to let go. He chuckled darkly, his eyes looking at me with pure love. "Your father is growing suspicious over there. He's been pacing for a few seconds."

"If you insist." I sighed, stepping back and letting go of him. His hand trailed down my arm, where his fingers grazed my hand so softly and quickly that I didn't have time to respond. "Thank you for the dances. You make a lovely dance partner."

"Here's to me being the only dance partner that you should ever have to dance with again!" He winked. "Other than Carlisle, Charlie, and our hypothetical wedding, I mean."

"Oh, of course. Wouldn't want to exclude them, huh?" I laughed, rolling my eyes. I was amazed at how laid back he was being about us being together forever. Most guys would have been running in the opposite direction at the mention of children and marriage. Edward was the one bringing up the subject, digging for my opinions on it.

I found it odd though, that we were talking so extravagantly about our future when we hadn't even exchanged 'I love yous' yet. I didn't want to be the one to say it first though. Not until I thought the moment was absolutely perfect. I wanted it to be memorable.

Edward lead me back to where Carlisle and Esme were standing beside the Christmas tree. It wasn't the one that we had decorated. That one was in their living room. There were presents all underneath it. Esme waived at me, her grin growing upon my entrance. "I thought we'd all exchange gifts while we're over here."

"Okay. Yeah." I nodded, smiling. Charlie had went out to retrieve the ones that I had gotten for the Cullens while Edward and I were dancing. Esme lead me over to a spot beside the tree and pointed to where she had hid the guitar. I smiled and grabbed it, thanking her for keeping it out of sight but handy. I had noticed that she set up a microphone by the stairs as well.

Esme went back to Edward and the others, distracting them while I prepared to sing for Edward. I couldn't make it obvious that the song was to him, but that the guitar was for him. Esme lowered the lights, focusing a spotlight on me and the room quieted.

"Hi...I'm Bella, for the many of you who don't know me." I waived awkwardly at the crowd, placing the guitar strap over my shoulder and adjusting the mic. "I'm a good friend of Carlisle, Esme, and Edward. This Christmas I bought Edward a new guitar and thought I'd sing a song while I was at it. So, Merry Christmas, Edward. This one's for you."

"I walked through the door with you, the air was cold, but something about it felt like home somehow. And I left my scarf there at your sister's house. You still got it in your drawer, even now." I started out quiet but my volume grew with each stanza. "Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze. We're singing in the car, getting lost upstate. Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place, and I can picture it after all these days."

The song almost described us perfectly. I thought of how significant autumn was to me. We had met in the fall. He had coached me and saved my life, and became my first best friend. We sang along with the radio in his Volvo and I remembered each second like it had just happened. The only part of the song that didn't line up with us was the part where the narrator and the subject broke up. I had no plans to break up with Edward, or to let him let go of me.

"And I know it's long gone. And that magic's not here no more. And I might be okay but I'm not fine at all. 'Cause there we are again on that little town street. You almost ran the red 'cause you were looking over me. Wind in my hair, I was there, I remember it all too well.

"Photo album on the counter, your cheeks were turning red. You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin-size bed. And your mother's telling stories about you on the tee ball team. You tell me about your past, thinking your future was me." I remembered one of my first nights at their house. When Carlisle and Esme first started bringing me in as theirs and I first got some glimpses of how Edward had been raised. "And I know it's long gone. And there was nothing else I could do. And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to..."

"'Cause there we are again in the middle of the night. We dance around the kitchen in the refrigerator light. Down the stairs, I was there, I remember it all too well, yeah. Maybe we got lost in translation, maybe I asked for too much. And maybe this thing was a masterpiece 'til you tore it all up. Running scared, I was there, I remember it all too well." I sang, getting ready for the song to take its turn. "And you call me up again just to break me like a promise. So casually cruel in the name of being honest. I'm a crumpled up piece of paper lying here. 'Cause I remember it all, all, all...too well."

"Time won't fly, it's like I'm paralyzed by it. I'd like to be my old self again, but I'm still trying to find it. After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own. Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone. But you keep my old scarf from that very first week. 'Cause it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me. You can't get rid of it 'cause you remember it all too well,

"'Cause there we are again, when I loved you so, back before you lost the one real thing you've ever known. It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well. Wind in my hair, you were there, you remember it all...down the stairs, you were there, you remember it was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well."

I finished the song feeling a bit breathless. My heart was pounding from the mixture of everyone's eyes being on me and the way that Edward smiled at me and inched closer and closer to me. As soon as the song ended, Esme dropped the spotlight and turned the other lights back up. Everyone was still clapping as Edward took my hand and lead me back to where we had been before.

"Bella, that was perfect. Apart from the end. You weren't dropping a hint were you?" He winked and I giggled.

"No, but the beginning was too perfect for me pass it up." I explained. "Oh! This is for you!" I stopped before we could even reach the Christmas tree and pulled the guitar from my shoulders. "I had the back engraved."

He flipped the instrument over and read the back, his eyes wide and excited as he did so.

"It's perfect, Bella. I'm floored. You're perfect."

"Well, I saw it and I just knew it was perfect. Besides, you have a brown guitar but I thought it would be cool for you to have a sleek, black one. Gives you more looks to choose from." I explained and he nodded, his smile wide.

"Thank you. You're amazing."

"Thank you."

"Come on. I want to give you mine." He grabbed my hand and dragged me back to the group.

"I told you it was a good idea, Bella!" Esme greeted me and I nodded, my smile painfully wide. She was right, yet again.

"Thank you for the advice. Really." I smiled at her. "You were right."

"And now for your present from me." Edward took my hand and brought me to the tree. I watched in silence as he pulled out a small box. I knew the Tiffany's label well enough to gasp at the sight of it. He handed me the box, wishing me a Merry Christmas, and watched my face the entire time. I took the box into my hand, noting that it was at least too big to be a ring as I ran my fingers over the satin lid. "Go on, Bella. Open it."

I slowly lifted its lid and my breath caught in my throat when I realized what he had gotten me. Edward had gotten a charm bracelet personalized for me. I gently lifted it from the case and examined each charm. Esme took the box from me, allowing me to use both hands. The charms obviously represented something different for each one. There was a simple heart with an E engraved on one side and a B on the other. A piano for our love of music, a small chef's hat for my future career, the Caduceus charm represented his medical career, an apple for how we met, and a running shoe. I noticed that it was only half full, almost leaving it lopsided. Almost.

"I didn't fill it up all the way." He whispered, his words barely breaking through my daze. My heart was swelling with love by the second and he was only enabling it. "I left space for us to add onto it."

"Oh, Edward." I sighed, breathlessly. He chuckled at me.

"You like it?"

"It's beautiful. And perfect." I turned to wrap my arms around his neck, holding him close for a short moment. I couldn't quite show how I felt in that embrace, but I knew that I would make sure to show him later.

"Like you." He cooed and then pulled back. I just shook my head, staring up and into his green eyes. He ran his thumb over my cheek, where tears had been spilling over for a few minutes. He made me such a mess.

"That's not everything, Bella." Esme cut in. "Carlisle, Edward, and I all put in on one present that I've been dying to share with you since I came up with it. I wanted to finalize every detail though. This is actually a gift to you, Charlie, Sue, and the others as well."

I turned to see my dad and Sue. They were watching me skeptically, but their gaze softened when Esme mentioned them. I wasn't surprised. Esme had everyone wrapped around her perfectly manicured fingers. It was impossible to say no to a woman who cared as passionately as Esme Cullen did. There weren't many people like her on the planet. Even my slightly dense parents could sense that about her.

"You got me more than enough the other day." I commented.

"No. This is different." She sighed, standing up a little bit straighter and taking Carlisle's hand into hers. "Carlisle actually came up with this, but I didn't follow through with his idea until Thanksgiving. He thought it would make a great gift for us to pay for our best family lawyer to take over your case in the courts. This man has never lost a single case and says that he is more than capable of making sure that Charlie gets permanent custody of you, until you graduate, at least."

"Carlisle? This was your idea?" I gasped, looking up at the man in a new light. He had always been so stand-offish when it came to me. I had no idea that he was capable of doing something so magical for me. My heart beat picked up then, my eyes wetting with fresh tears. Carlisle nodded, his eyes shining with the smile that he wasn't showing just yet. I giggled and let go of Edward, running into him. I wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. "Carlisle! That's more than I could have ever asked of you. Thank you so much!"

"Bella..." He sighed into my ear, shaking his head. "I think I've finally come to terms with how seriously a part of this family you are and I myself have grown to love you as a daughter. So yes, I'm more than willing to do anything to make you happy. This is only a small gift, in the long run."

"Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I hugged him tighter before letting go and jumping over to his wife. "You too! Seriously! You guys are the best!"

"Merry Christmas, Bella." Esme laughed and then leaned into whisper in my ear. "I have one more gift for you. I will give it to you and Edward when we're more alone. It's not a big one, but it's more private."

I nodded and pulled away, stepping back to stand by my dad. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and hugged me. I hugged him back, surprised but relishing in the moment. It wasn't often that Charlie was open about his emotions. I knew that he was not only touched by the Cullens' gift, but that he was also happy to have me moving back in with him. He hugged me tightly for a moment, before letting go with one arm and keeping the other strewn across my shoulder.

"I have gifts for you guys as well." I grinned, handing Esme and Carlisle their presents. "They aren't quite as extravagant, but I wanted to give you something."

Esme opened the necklace that I had bought her from Tiffany's quickly. I used the money that I had originally planned on spending on Edward's present to pay for it. She and Carlisle had done so much for me. It was the least I could do. Inside the box was a silver necklace with a round, silver charm on the end. The charm had 'Mom' engraved on one side and 'Esme' on the other. There was an emerald heart on the side of the charm, and you could see it on both sides. That was Esme's birthstone and it matched her eyes.

"Bella...this is beautiful." She sighed, gently removing it from where it had been resting. "I love it."

"You do?"


"I'm glad. Merry Christmas." I smiled and turned to Carlisle, who was just opening his own. I had dipped into Renee's money to pay for his. I bought him a simple, silver, Rolex watch. I had the back engraved to say, 'Merry Christmas, Carlisle. Thank you for everything, Bella.' He pulled the gift out, his eyes surprised as they ran over the delicate watch. I was anxious. It had been hard to find something that was nice and usable.

"Bella! This is great!" He told me, looking at me with happy eyes. My face flushed as he immediately moved to put it on. "Thank you so much."

"You're always welcome." I shook my head.

After we finished exchanging what was left of the gifts, we all split up again. Charlie and Sue were trying to calm Clara down when I approached them. She had been fussing, her eyes drooping with sleepiness for a while. I knew that it had been a really long and busy night for the little girl. As I ran my fingers over her flushed cheek, I looked up at her mom questioningly.

"How about I go lay her down upstairs? I can put her in the guest room, away from the crowd." I offered, knowing that I would actually be putting her in Edward's room. He was on the third floor and had the most comfortable bed that I had ever laid in. Not that I was going to share that information with my parents.

"You don't mind?" Sue asked me, cocking her head to the side.

"Not one bit." I smiled, holding my arms out. She passed Clara to me, and Clara calmed down considerably in my arms. I knew that she had been stressed out by the crowd and the excitement, even when she was acting considerably excited herself.

I then carried her back towards the stairs, quietly making my way through the crowd. I shot a quick glance over my shoulder before going up the stairs and then up to Edward's bedroom. Clara mumbled stuff about being sleepy and bored along the way, to which I responded in hushing tones. That seemed to comfort her enough, quieting her.

I stepped into his bedroom and kept her on one shoulder as I pulled the bedspread back. She wiggled and I smiled, gently laying her body down in the spot that I had opened up for her. Once on the bed, I pulled her small shoes off of her feet and her plastic headband from her hair. The poor child felt like I did about dressing up all the time. I hadn't liked dressing up until I had someone to dress up for and with.

"Bella?" She sighed, her brown eyes fluttering open.

"Hey sleepy." I smiled at her, rubbing her small tummy with my hand. "You can go to sleep up here. I'll wake you up before we leave."

"I don't wanna' miss the party..." She looked around, seeming to expect the party to still be all around us. Only we were alone. It was just me, her, an the moonlight shining in from Edward's window. She blinked drowsily, her groggy eyes locking on me.

"Oh, you've seen the exciting parts of it now. Besides, the sooner you sleep, the sooner you'll wake up in your own bed tomorrow. And you know what tomorrow is?"

"Huh?" She was definitely half-asleep. Clara always knew when Christmas was. She had been counting down the seconds earlier that day.

"Santa is coming tonight, sweetie." I giggled as her mouth formed a surprised 'o'.

"I can't wait..."

"I know. You better get your rest then. He's watching, you know." I winked and she nodded, squeezing her eyes much too tightly for sleep.

"Can you sing me to sleep then?" She pleaded, surprising me.

"Yeah...I'd be happy to." I nodded and then asked what song she wanted.

"Sing a Mulan song." She asked me and I laughed.

"Clara, that's not Christmas music."

"I wanna hear the Mulan song tonight!" She ignored my remark, and persisted that she knew what she wanted from me. She seemed sure enough that I chose not to argue with her about it.

"Look at me. I will never pass for a perfect bride or a perfect daughter

Can it be? I'm not meant to play this part? Now I see that if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family's heart..." I sang softly to her, watching her eyes flutter. "Who is that girl I see staring straight back at me? Why is my reflection someone I don't know? Somehow I cannot hide who I am, though I've tried. When will my reflection show who I am inside? When will my reflection show who I am inside?"

She was sound asleep already, in less than the two minutes that it took me to sing that song. I smiled and covered her up with Edward's golden comforter. While watching her sleep, I suddenly understood Edward's need to have a child that looked like me. Clara looked like me. She had a certain amount of pure innocence that most young children didn't hold. It wasn't just uneducated innocence, but rather pure innocence. She was warm-hearted and you could see it through her deep brown eyes and pink cheeks. I ran my hand through her hair, smiling down at her.

"I love you, Clarissa." I whispered, pressing my lips to her forehead one final time.

"Oh! I'm sorry!" Someone gasped quietly from the doorway. I turned to see a woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her face was structured in a very square way. She reminded me of someone, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. When she stepped closer, I could see that her blonde hair was graying a bit and that she had crows feet beside her eyes. Her eyes narrowed on me, and I watched as she seemed to be thinking a million miles an hour. "You're the girl that sang to Edward?"

"Yes...sorry...I was just laying my sister down." I stood slowly, careful of my heels and dress as I did so. The woman seemed to eye me then, her blue orbs judgmental and icy. "If you wouldn't mind stepping out and into the hallway...I don't want to wake her up."

"Right..." She muttered and stepped back, into the hallway. I pulled the door to, leaving it open enough for Clara to be able to open it if she were to wake up. "Sorry. She was getting fussy and I could tell that my Mom was getting exhausted."

"I see. And you're dating Edward?"


"Or you're his student. Because I've heard both stories from different people tonight." She snipped at me and I felt my eyes widen. "I'm very unimpressed by the fact that you're easy enough to sleep around with one of your teachers. Especially for something at petty as money."

"Money?" I gasped, my heart stopping. I had never once looked at Edward and judged him based off of his money. "I'm not after his money! I turned down my own money!"

"Sure." She scoffed and I felt my face heat up in both anger and hurt. Who was this woman and where did she get off calling me a gold digger?

"I don't know who the hell you think you are, but-"

"I'm Edward's Grandmother." She interrupted, smirking. "Carlisle's mother, Elizabeth. I'm not surprised that I haven't heard about you. They must not be planning to keep someone as pitiful as you around for too long."

"Pitiful?" I huffed, filling with rage.

"You heard me! First Carlisle falls into Esme's little gold-digging trap, and now their child is going to fall into yours! I, for one, am disgusted."

"First of all, Esme is not a gold-digger! Esme is one of the most compassionate, caring, and trustworthy people that I have every had the pleasure of meeting! And...I'm not either! I love Edward, and Esme, and Carlisle with all of my heart. I'd never do a thing to hurt them, or to cheat them. My family has money and I turned it down because I know first hand that it does not buy happiness. How dare you make those accusations?" I exploded, my anger rolling off of me and onto the crazed woman.

"And how dare you talk to me that way? I'm sure Edward will be thrilled to know that his flavor of the month thinks that she's important enough to talk down on his grandmother!"

"Bullshit! If you and Edward were that close, then I would have heard about you before. Period." I kept on arguing, uncontrollably. I knew better than to keep going. I knew that I was being stupid and that I shouldn't have been so rude. I couldn't help it though. The Cullens had been nothing but beyond kind since they met me and I would never do something like that to them. "Don't you dare try to gossip about me! You don't know a God damn thing about me! You don't know what I feel! I love him and that's all it is!"

"Bella!" Edward's voice came from the stairway. I looked over Elizabeth's shoulder to see him running up behind her. Esme's head suddenly peeked around the corner, and her face was bright red from anger. I felt myself flush red, praying that they didn't hate me after what I had just said to Elizabeth. Edward ran over to me and wrapped his arms around me, shocking me. He pushed me back a bit and turned to face his grandmother. "What the hell is going on here?"

"That...that brat was calling me names and filling me in on her plots to take your money!" Elizabeth pointed at me, her eyes wide with lies.

"Elizabeth! I had to put up with your drama for twenty-five years!" Esme walked slowly in, her voice completely contradicting her calm stance. "But I will not let you sit and insult this sweet, sweet girl who has spent her whole life surrounded by ice-cold people, just like you! Bella has been the first person to catch our sons heart, and probably the one one who will ever. She's not some flavor of the month, as you said." I began to wonder just how long Esme had been standing there. "So take your sob story somewhere else! Nobody here is after your money. We have our own money now, not that it matters anyway."

"I agree. If you want to keep talking nasty to her, you may as well talk nasty to me. And if you're going to do that, then you can leave. You know where the door is. I won't stand for that." Edward spoke up then, gripping my side comfortingly.

"Whatever. I won't stand here and let you all treat me this way. You're all brainwashed. Wait until I tell Carl-"

"Mom. I have watched you make up lie after lie about my own wife for so long...and I'm done. I'm so done. I will not allow you to do this to Bella. I waited until I knew this girl to trust her and trust me when I say that she is one of the wisest, kindest people I have ever met. I'm proud to say that my son found her and fell for her and I will sit through this any longer." Carlisle explained, walking up the stairs.


"Mom...I'm afraid if you're going to be patronizing our guests, then I'm going to have to ask you to leave. And that is final."

"Fine!" Elizabeth stomped, gave me the death glare, and then stormed back down the staircase.

"Are you okay, Bella?" Edward asked me, turning to cup my face with his hand.

"Yes! I'm fine. I'm sorry! I shouldn't have spoken to her like that...I just got so angry and-"

"No. Do not apologize! If anything, you've earned my respect for saying something that I've pushed off for nearly thirty years." Esme interrupted me then, her eyes soft. "That woman is very bitter and won't get past her fears of people going after our money. We know better though."

"Yes. We do." Edward murmured, kissing my hair.

"While we're all up here...let's go get that last present for Edward and Bella."

"Of course." Carlisle wrapped his arm around her waist and lead her down the hall. I followed, keeping close to Edward as I did so.

We walked into Esme's room, where she ran to her closet to pull out the gift. I leaned into Edward's side, relishing in the moment of closeness before we had to go back out and face the crowd. Esme was ranting about being unable to wrap them, not that I cared, when she placed them on her bedspread.

I stepped forward with Edward, feeling a wide smile take over as I looked at the presents. They were perfect. Laying on Esme's bed were four picture frames. Two of them had the photo of us from the night that we decorated the tree. The one that Esme had gotten on her phone, where Edward and I were looking deeply into each others' eyes, our foreheads gently pressed against each other. There were Christmas lights in the background and the frames were a sleek black.

The second picture was surprisingly from the Christmas party. The one that we were at. She had snapped a picture of us with our lips locked, and then one of me smiling widely up at him. We were both dressed beautifully and the love was radiating off of us. She had put them in the black, collage style frames and had made two copies of all of them. There was one for me, and one for Edward. My eyes watered as I stepped forward and ran my thumb over the glass.

"Esme...these are perfect." I whispered. "I love them."

"Edward, obviously can keep his out at his house. But you're going to have to wait a while. I just wanted you guys to have something more to represent you. These pictures were too beautiful to pass up."

"How did you get these already?" I looked at the ones from that night, shaking my head in disbelief.

"Oh, I just shot them and immediately printed them with Carlisle's printer. He's got a really nice one in our office." She waived her hand nonchalantly.

"These are amazing, Ma. Thank you. Really." Edward just smiled at the picture frame and ran his fingers up and down the side.

"You're both welcome." She stepped over and hugged Edward and then turned to pull me into the hug. "Let's get back to the guests before they notice our absence."

When I walked back downstairs, I found Sue and Charlie standing beside my father's deputy and his wife. He was a huge, burly man with dark hair and dimples. His eyes were light blue and shined when he animatedly spoke. Emmett, despite his Hulk-like exterior, was closer to a teddy bear than a monster. His wife, Rosalie, stood loyally at his side. Her eyes were hard, but brown and her hair was set in perfect, blonde curls. She was smiling, showing off one of her own dimples, and was dressed in a red gown similar to mine. They were a beautiful couple.

"Hey! It's the famous Bella!" Emmett boomed, holding his arms open. I walked over to hug him with one arm, and then leaned over to hug Rosalie. When he began talking again, Edward appeared behind Charlie, shaking his head frantically. "I'm happy to see you and E-" Emmett paused, awkwardly coming to terms with the fact that we weren't open about our relationship yet. "That you and Edward finally met. He's a good pal of mine. And so is your dad. We always missed you guys at these parties."

"Nice save," I muttered under my breath and Emmett patted my shoulder in acknowledgment.

"Charlie tells us you'll be moving back to Forks soon?"

"Yeah. I doubt I'll transfer schools, because I do attend a nice school, but I would love to live here in Forks."

"You and Eddie could carpool!" Emmett laughed as Edward stepped closer, shaking his head at Emmett's antics.

"Don't call me Eddie, for starters." He pointed at Emmett, who simply laughed in his face. "Although, if it were necessary, I would be glad to carpool with Bella. It's kind of a long drive for so early in the morning."

"That would be fun." I added for emphasis.

"Or, Bella could drive herself." Charlie smirked sarcastically and I shrugged. I knew better than to argue. I wasn't going to be defensive, because I knew that would only lead to us getting caught in the end.

"Oh my God!" I heard someone shout behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see a smaller woman, with short black hair and blue eyes, running towards me. She was dressed in a black dress that was longer in the back and above her knees in the front. She somehow made it look more dressy than it was designed to be. She landed in front of me and I cringed, crossing my arms. She giggled, bouncing up and down. "You're wearing my dress! That's my dress!"

"No, this is Esme-" I began when Esme walked over, grinning.

"I was hoping you'd recognize it." She wrapped her arm around my shoulders. Everyone was staring at us, their eyes curious and their faces confused.

"I designed your dress! You make it look perfect, by the way. Better than I could have pictured it on someone!" She cooed, covering her mouth with her perfectly manicured hands. My skin burned with embarrassment and because I was completely shocked. The dressed had been designed by somebody? That meant that it was probably a lot more expensive than I thought. I huffed, crossing my arms even tighter across my body. The small woman just kept babbling. "So, do you like it?"

"Yes...yeah...of course. I love it." I told her honestly, smiling softly. "It's gorgeous."

"Good!" She clapped her hands together, a smile playing at her lips. "I'm Alice Brandon, by the way."

"It's great to meet you. I'm Bella Swan."

"Esme speaks very highly of you." Alice smiled. "I'm happy to finally meet you."

"You're awful famous around here." Rosalie commented and my skin heated up with a fresh blush.

"We adore Bella!" Esme grinned, hugging me around the shoulders. "You two could be the best of friends."

"I'd be happy to get to know you better." Alice, nodded, her enthusiasm not faltering.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering and mingling. It was nearing midnight and I knew that the party was probably about over. Sue and Charlie were ready to go home, and I watched as they walked off to collect Leah, Seth, and Clara.

"Bella," Edward whispered, taking my hand. "Can I have one more dance? Before you leave?"

"I would like that." I nodded, following him onto the floor again.

The crowd had dwindled, but Charlie and Sue were upstairs. Nobody else mattered. I stepped onto his shoes and wrapped my arms tightly around his neck. Edward pulled my body flush up against his, his green eyes shining as they looked down and into mine. I ran my fingers through the hair on the back of his head, smiling up at him as we slowly spun around the room.

"Can I address something that I heard you say earlier?" Edward asked quietly.

"Um...I don't see why not." I sighed, praying that he wasn't still mad about his grandma. "But first, I want to say that I really am sorry for exploding on your grandmother. She was just being aggravating. And wretched. I'm sorry though. She said you were close and I ignor-"

"No. Hold it. I's something you said to her. But not that." He shook his head and I frowned. "Bella...did you mean what you said? When you said that you loved me?"

"Oh!" I felt it all connect. "Yes...sorry...I didn't mean for it to come out that way. I...I love you. I really do. I wanted to tell you on my own though. Not in some fit."

"But you still said it. And you meant it." He clarified again and I nodded, pursing my lips. I felt like an idiot.

"Yes..." My bottom lip quivered as I answered out loud.

"Bella, sweetheart, look at me." He whispered and when I didn't he, lifted my chin himself. Our eyes met and I didn't feel so stupid anymore. "I love you too."

"You do?"

"Very much. With all my heart."

"Thank you." I sighed with relief and wrapped my arms around his waist. "I love you so much."

Edward lifted my chin again and pressed his soft lips to mine. I hummed softly, kissing him back. He ran his fingers along the outline of the back of my dress, causing my skin to break out into goosebumps. We both grinned when he noticed and he pulled back, his green eyes shining.

"Merry Christmas, Bella Swan."

"Merry Christmas, Edward Cullen."

Author's Note:

I know, it's been a month since my last update and I apologize! I had major writer's block until this last Sunday. Thankfully, I got back on the train and I'm back to writing again. With final exams, final elections for Student Council, and then the final issue of my school's paper coming out, it may be a while again before I update. Hopefully I'll have another one out sooner. I'm thinking I'm gonna focus the next chapter around New Years. That was what I had planned for this one, but it's already 20k words, which is a bit much.

*Reviews are better than opening a personalized charm bracelet, from Edward, on Christmas.