Word Count: 9909
Prompts used: Picture Prompt 14, Song - Don't You Wanna to Stay
Summary: Edward's life used to be perfect. A pretty girl with big brown eyes told him she loved him and made him believe she'd be his forever. Now his life sucks. That girl got on a bus and never looked back. Maybe he should have asked her to stay. He won't make that mistake again.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight. This may make you want to move to Texas and find a cowboy named Edward. Good luck.
Gripping the last hay bale, I hoist it up and stack it with the rest. My arms burn from the hours of heavy labor I've put in today. The stable is in tip top shape, though, and that's all that matters. I pull the rag out of my back pocket and wipe the sweat dripping down my neck. I lift my hat off and give my forehead a good swipe as well. It's hotter than hell today. Summers in Texas are always like lying in a cast iron skillet over a raging campfire. Hot.
"Dad says the fence needs some fixin' before the day is done." My brother enters with a saddle thrown over his shoulder. Jasper loves living on the ranch, working on it is another story.
"I still need to run to town. You, on the other hand, have plenty of time to fix the fence."
Jasper adjusts the hat on his head, tipping it up so he can get a good look at me. "Come on, Edward. I'm going to go check on the herd, plus Alice needs to run. She hates being cooped up in the stables. Baby was born to run." Alice is his favorite horse. "Ain't that right, girl?" The horse whinnies on cue. She knows he's here for her. Damn horse is probably in love with him, too.
"Emmett and Garrett are picking me up at seven. I don't know if I'll have time." My stomach does that churning thing it's been doing every time I think about my ten year class reunion. Well, the class doesn't reunite until tomorrow, but some of us are getting together tonight for a game of night baseball at Meyer Park for old times' sake.
"You're leaving Rosie tonight?" My brother looks shocked.
"She's pregnant not dying."
Jasper drops the saddle and opens Alice's stall. "She gonna be there tonight?"
My stomach starts up like someone just dumped a shitload of baking soda into my vinegar filled belly. The she he's referring to is definitely the reason for all my reunion anxiety.
"Don't know. Don't care. I'm sure Texas holds no lure for her to leave her big, fancy city."
Jasper shakes his head and pets his horse. "I still can't believe she left. I thought Bella would always call Texas home."
That makes two of us.
Sometimes life takes a sharp left when you thought you were turning right. My life was perfect. I had the girl with the prettiest brown eyes by my side and she loved me or so she said. Then life got a little crazy. My girl came to me all teary-eyed, talking about an opportunity in New York City. I kept my mouth shut because I was so damn sure she'd pick me over some job. I mean, she had to know I loved her too. I didn't say it like she did, but I loved her more than three little words could really express. I was wrong and the girl I love got on a bus and never looked back. That was five years ago. Life has pretty much sucked since then.
I pull off one of my work gloves and press my hand over my aching stomach, but maybe the pain is a little higher, maybe it's right in the center of my chest. I've never wanted and not wanted something so badly. Seeing Bella would be amazing but completely devastating at the same time. I'm not sure I'll survive if she's here. Of course, I'm not sure I'll survive if she's not. I'm pretty much fucked.
"Well, if she is here, make sure Mom doesn't find out about it. Lord only knows what she'd do if she could have two words with the girl who broke her poor baby's heart." My younger brother is teasing me, but he's not wrong. My mom is as protective as a bear. No one is safe if they hurt someone she loves. And the truth is Bella's leaving crushed me. I didn't show it, but my mother knew. Mothers always know.
I leave Jasper to take his horse for a ride and run into the main house to get the check from Dad. My brother still sleeps under my parents' roof. I've graduated to the small cottage on the other side of the property. I still spend most of my time with the family. Mom cooks way better than I do and I'm not a big fan of being alone. Not to mention my place makes me think about a certain girl I thought was going to live there with me.
Bella and I used to sneak into the cottage and play house when we were in high school. And by play house I mean have sex. We used to have a lot of sex in that cottage. I spent hours running my hands over her apricot skin, trying to memorize every curve and freckle. She had the softest skin, especially on the inside of her thighs. My fingers would glide back and forth, back and forth. It was hypnotic. She used to call me a tease. I guess the inner thigh is a sensitive spot on a woman's body. I don't know. I refuse to touch anyone else there. No one else could ever be as soft and I know I'd be disappointed.
I'm already disappointed enough. No one kisses like she used to. No one else can pull off that look of pure innocence while doing lots of dirty things with me. No one makes my heart beat right. No one fits. I play games. I get off. But it's never like Bella.
My mother corners me as I'm heading out. "Goin' to town?"
"I need peaches. Your father wants peach pie. But don't you dare get them from that Supercenter. I'll know, Edward. You know I'll know."
"Yes, ma'am." I tip my hat and control the eyeroll.
Our little town finally moved into the 21st century when we got our very own Walmart Supercenter last March. Town had a big ol' party to celebrate its opening and everything. The mayor cut a ribbon and everyone within a fifty mile radius made the drive to Forks, Texas. Everyone except those of us with the last name Cullen. Mom and Dad forbid us to go, said corporate America had no place in our town. Sal and Ida's Market was good enough for the past thirty five years, why wouldn't it be good enough for the next thirty five?
I'll admit, I've been in there once since the grand opening. I was going to buy some beer, but on my way to the checkout I could almost hear my mother's voice telling me I was a traitor. And if I wanted to shop at Walmart maybe I should move to New York. That was all it took for me to set that shit down and head over to Sal and Ida's where I paid $3 more for the same 12-pack of Budweiser. I will never live in New York. Texas forever.
I jump in my truck and head down the dusty road, past the fields where our cattle graze and our horses run free. When I get to the stop sign a few miles down, I don't think about the house to the left. I don't think about the girl who used to live there or how she used to ride her horse to our ranch. I don't think about how many times we pulled my truck over and lay in the back, looking up at the stars, talkin' about our hopes and dreams.
Nope. I turn right and don't think about any of that. My stomach does a thousand flip flops, though, so I mentally add some Pepto to my shopping list.
Main Street looks the same as always. There's Forks Diner and the barber shop. Sal and Ida's is next to the bank. As I pull up to the one and only stoplight in town, I give a wave to Mrs. Cope, the town librarian as she crosses in front of me. Of course, seeing her reminds me of how that girl I'm not supposed to be thinking about used to volunteer at the library and would let me make out with her in the encyclopedia section, because let's be real, once the internet happened, no one ventured into the encyclopedia section. I can't look at the set of encyclopedias my mom and dad have on the big bookshelf in the family room without getting feeling like I need to throw up.
Kitty-corner to the market is a big, white, brick building that houses Newton Feed and Seed. I went to school with Mike Newton. His family has owned the Feed and Seed for generations. Mike went to business college and now is trying to help them move into the digital age, but I heard it's been a pain in the ass. Old habits die hard around these parts. Waylon Jennings, the guy who owns the one and only used car lot in town, still accepts trade instead of cash. Got some chickens? Does he have the car for you!
I park in front of Crowley's Saddle Shop. I've spent a small fortune there on everything from hats to boots to saddle bags. The boots are my downfall; Crowley's has the best boots in town. Dad always says if you're gonna splurge on something, splurge on a good pair of boots. Nobody gets blisters from wearing a cheap hat. He's not wrong about that.
I steer clear of Crowley's because in my current anxiety-ridden state, I'm certain to walk out of there with an empty bank account. Jasper likes to call me a chick for indulging in some retail therapy now and then, but at least I'm not in love with a horse.
I make my way to the bank and deposit a check for my dad before ducking into Sal and Ida's to pick up those peaches. I pass on the Pepto, figuring I just need to eat something. I grab a pre-made sandwich from the small deli section. It's wrapped up in so much cellophane I wonder if it will take me more time to get the damn thing out than to eat it.
I'm unwrapping that sandwich as I walk back out onto Main Street. That's when I see her. She's coming out of Crowley's and I'm pretty sure I've forgotten how to breathe. The girl who left five years ago is no girl. She's a woman. A breathtaking, mind-blowing woman. She's got curves where they didn't exist before. Breast that would more than fill the palm of my hand.
Her hair is shorter than I remember it. It hits her shoulders and looks like it smells good. You know, if you could tell how something like hair smells from looking at it across the street. I want to bury my nose in it, run my fingers through it. It looks soft, of that much I'm sure. She's in jean shorts and the hem of her t-shirt is tied in a knot at her hip. I can see those thighs and my fingers actually get fucking tingly just thinking about how it would feel to touch them.
That's when I see him. Him would be the guy who follows her out of Crowley's. He is most definitely not from around here. There's practically a giant neon sign flashing above his head that says New York City. The black cowboy hat on his head makes him look stupid since it ain't hard to tell he's no cowboy. He takes off the hat and places it on Bella's head. It slips down over her eyes because the guy's got a head the size of a goddamn watermelon.
She laughs and my heart does a swan dive onto the pavement along with my sandwich. I realize in that moment the biggest mistake I made was giving another guy a chance to be the reason she smiles. I watch as she takes the hat off her head and spins around to face him. She sets the hat back on his head and tilts hers to the side like maybe looking at him on an angle will somehow make that shit look right. Trust me, it doesn't. He bends down and kisses her and that's when I've seen enough. I tip my hat and avert my eyes to the sidewalk. I stay on my side of the street and slip into Newton's. I've got a To Do list a mile long and dying a slow and painful death is not on it.
She's here and didn't even bother to warn me. I guess she had her reasons - like the six-foot imbecile with the brand new cowboy hat. Just when I think I'm going to throw up, Old Man Newton gets my attention.
"Edward Cullen! Heard Rosie's due any day."
"Yes, sir. I reckon it'll be sooner than later."
"How exciting. I hope you're ready," he says with a wink.
"I can't wait, sir."
Mr. Newton is tall and gray-haired. His arms are unnaturally long and sometimes I think he's like that one comic book hero - the one who can stretch like a rubberband. I've often imagined him and his elastic arms reaching all the way up to the top shelf to pull something down when I need it.
"Good for you, son. Well, tell your parents I said hello."
I nod and promise to do so. When I leave the store, there's no sign of Bella and Mr. NYC. Part of me wonders if I just made them up. Then the image of him putting his stupid lips on her perfect ones pops back in my head and I know I could never make that shit up.
My stomach is twisted in knots and wonder if you can live without a stomach. I mean, I survived five years without a properly functioning heart. I bet I could live without a stomach.
I drive home, trying really hard not to think about anything but Rosie. She might be the only thing keeping me from giving up completely. She needs me and I can't let her down.
Mom thanks me for the peaches, but gives me that look like she can tell something's wrong. She asks if I ran into any trouble. I say no since I didn't actually run into trouble, she was all the way on the other side of the street.
Mom is not so easy to convince, especially since I'm not being 100% honest. She side eyes me as she washes the fruit. "See anyone in town?" I start to wonder if everyone knew she was here but me. There's no way Mom would have let me stumble upon what I saw, though.
"Mr. Newton says hi." I look past her and out the window. Somehow everything looks different now that I know Bella's in town. Her presence taints everything. I sigh long and exasperated. Is there no getting over this girl? Am I going to spend the rest of my life wondering why I wasn't good enough for her?
"I'm gonna check on Rosie and fix the fence before I clean up for dinner," I say. Pounding some wood into the ground may be just what I need. Maybe I can physically purge these feelings from my body. Mom nods with a knowing, sad smile. She lets me go without an argument even though she's still suspicious.
She knows I'll talk about it if I want to talk about it. She also knows I'm never going to want to talk about it.
"Ten years," Emmett says wistfully as we watch the sun set in the western sky. "How in the hell have ten years gone by?"
"Well, one year past. Then another. Then another. Then seven more." My sarcasm is answered with a swift kick to the shin.
"Asshole!" I bend over and rub the spot he's just bruised for sure.
"I'm being serious." Emmett's never serious. I don't know why he thinks I would think he was being serious now.
I finish off the rest of my beer and reach back to grab another one. Garrett and Emmett are my best friends from high school. We all went in different directions afterwards but managed to stay friends. Garrett went to school down in Austin then moved to some Dallas suburb to be a PE teacher.
Emmett lives here in Forks after five years at LSU. He was a great football player but you have to be better than great to go on to the NFL. So, Emmett came back here to work on his parents' pig farm.
Me, I didn't go to college. No need. I was born to be a rancher and will inherit the ranch someday. Hell, I'm practically in charge now. Of course if I was really the boss, Jasper would be fired. I think Dad's gonna hold out until my brother figures out what he's going to do with the rest of his life. Yeah, good luck with that.
My friends and I hang out by my truck in Meyer Park, waiting for everyone else to show. Tyler, Mike, Brady, and Eric are all supposed to be here. Someone heard Jess and Lauren and that gang were coming, too. I haven't heard her name yet, thank God.
"My mom said she ran into Bella today at Crowley's," Garrett says, and my relief is short-lived.
I stare down at my feet and shrug my shoulders like this news means nothing to me.
"Mom said she looked really good. Had some boyfriend with her. I think she said his name was Marcus or something like that."
Marcus. It sounds like something you cough up when you've got a cold. Or something that you'd get in trouble for saying in church. Bella and Marcus. That sounds so … wrong.
"Guess she's been travelling a lot for work. Crazy, right? Little Bella Swan world traveler You two were always attached at the hip, I didn't think she'd make it a week on her own."
I chug down the beer in my hand. I'm not sure if the alcohol is going to help this raging stomach disorder I'm suffering from or make it worse. I'm betting worse but I stopped caring three beers ago.
Emmett swats Garrett's baseball hat off his head. "Are you fucking retarded or something?"
"What?" Garrett asks, completely clueless.
"We don't talk about her, you dick. Ever."
Garrett gets defensive quickly. "It's been like five years. We can't talk about her five years after they broke up? Jesus, he's slept with every other single woman in the county since she left. I thought he was over it."
For the record, I have not slept with every single woman in the county. I just don't date anyone more than a couple times. That's what gives the illusion that I've had every eligible female. No one sees me with the same woman more than once or twice.
Our conversation is cut short by a line of trucks and cars that show up. Meyer's baseball diamond doesn't have lights, so we park our cars and trucks behind home plate and use the headlights to brighten things up.
Suddenly ten years feels like a strange combination of yesterday and a lifetime ago. People pile out of every vehicle. Some of them are exactly the same. Jess tackle hugs me and Tyler's dressed like he's here to play professional baseball. Lauren still has that annoying laugh and Brady brought enough alcohol to get the entire town wasted. Then there's the ones I barely recognize. Eric's balding, Charlotte lost at least a hundred pounds, and Angela is pregnant - with twins.
We're a mass of hellos and how the hell have you beens. I'm introduced to a few husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. In the back of the pack is a black Mercedes. There's only one douche in town who would rent a Mercedes and his name rhymes with Farcus.
Bella appears out of the passenger side and the girls all squeal and make a mad rush for her. She's hugged and welcomed, but her eyes are locked on yours truly. The knots in my stomach are tied so tight, I almost double over. She's got her hair pulled back in a ponytail and a blue Rangers jersey on over a white tank top. She swapped her shorts for jeans, but my fingers still ache to touch her.
That is until Marcus opens his door and joins the party. He's an unwelcome interloper as far as I'm concerned and I plan on hating him for no reason except that he has what I had. That seems like a perfectly good reason to hate someone. I know he didn't steal her and might not even know she was mine before she was his, but that doesn't change anything in my book. She'll always be mine.
I'm just not hers.
Bella's eyes are what stole my heart when we were ten years old. She has these huge, brown eyes that are framed by lashes that look like they could catch you if you got too close. They're like two chocolate brown venus fly traps, waiting to capture and suck the life out of you.
I try not to think about the way she used to tell me she loved me when I was inside of her. Or how I'd steal kisses when we were supposed to be doing homework at my mom's kitchen table. I push aside the thoughts of her sitting in the back of my pickup truck with her ankles crossed and her tanned legs swinging back and forth like the sexiest clock pendulum while I finished up my chores. As soon as I was done, she'd open those legs up and let me fit in between, then she'd reward my hard work with a kiss I felt from my lips to my toes.
I try real hard to not think about all that as she slides the camera bag strap over her shoulder, heading my way. Bella loves to take pictures. She's so good at paying attention to the world around her and enjoys it much more than being the center of attention. She used to take pictures for the local paper. She took some great shots of Jasper when he rode at the rodeo. Shots so great that one of the pictures of my brother on a buckin' bronco got picked up by a national magazine. That led to a phone call from some magazine who wanted her to come work for them. In New York.
The rest is history. And it all leads to this moment. The one where she's going to introduce me to the guy who knows all her secrets now. When I have to shake the hand of the man who gets to place that hand over her heart, touch her hair, feel the softness of her thighs.
I try to focus on what Charlotte's saying next to me, but all I can do is watch Bella come closer. My stomach threatens to return all the beer I drank to where it came from. I don't know how I'm going to survive this.
Edward Cullen is going to be the death of me. But he's the only reason I'm here, so avoiding him seems pretty stupid. I figure ripping this bandage off fast is the only way to minimize the pain. We're trapped in some weird staring contest. It makes my heart beat too fast and I'm sure I'm going to collapse before I make it over to him.
He, on the other hand, looks like I remember him - unaffected. Edward is the strong, silent type. Always has been. I don't think he even realizes how much time he spends in his own head. When we were together, he seemed shocked when I couldn't read his mind. He'd look at me like I was crazy if I asked him what he thought about something. It was as if he had already answered that question in his head and couldn't understand how I hadn't heard it.
I never knew what Edward was thinking. I knew he liked to kiss me. I knew he could come up with a million reasons to get me naked. But he never once told me how he felt about me, never once told me he loved me. And for a long time I figured it didn't matter. He was with me. That had to mean something because Edward could have been with anyone. He's magnetic. He's gorgeous. The way he moves makes me want to be near him so I can just watch him. He's this cool guy who puts off this enormous amount of warmth. I want to lift up his shirt and press my cheek against his chest so I can feel his heat on my skin. I still dream about having his arms around me because that's the safest place in the whole world.
Emmett stops me before I can get to Edward and gives me a welcome home hug. I forgot how big he really is. Emmett dwarfs everyone I've ever met, but he's a gentle giant. He loves Edward like a brother and vice versa.
"If it isn't the big city girl! Can't believe you came home for this." Emmett lets me go and I watch as Edward releases me too. He turns his attention to the woman standing next to him who looks alot like the shrinky dink version of Charlotte Johnson. When Edward smiles at her, you'd think she won the lottery.
"It was time," I reply. I couldn't stay away forever. I had to come home and put things to rest once and for all.
"This must be Marcus." Emmett extends a hand and I can't believe I forgot Marcus was here. Edward will do that to me. I tend to forget anything or anyone else exists when I'm near him.
I shouldn't be surprised Emmett knows Marcus' name. This town can't keep a secret about anything. I knew when I talked to Mrs. Thompson at Crowley's that it wouldn't take long before everyone in town would know I was back and not alone. I knew Edward would hear about it before I showed up for the game tonight. Not that he cares. Not that he needed warning. Nothing bothers Edward. I heard he found lots of other girls to kiss and get naked after I left. The thought makes my knees almost buckle. I hold it together. I've cried all the tears I can cry over it.
While Emmett and Marcus exchange pleasantries, my old habit of needing to know where Edward is at all times kicks back in, but I don't find him talking to Charlotte anymore. I don't see him anywhere until he clears his throat right next to me. My whole body responds and I can't believe I didn't feel him there before I saw him. He smells the same - like soap and hay. He always smells like hay even when he steps out of the shower. I want to lean into him and bury my nose in his shirt.
"We gonna play some baseball or what?" he says to Emmett, not even bothering to acknowledge my presence. It stings more than a slap in the face and I feel a lump building in my throat.
"How are we supposed to play in the dark?" Marcus asks innocently. "You guys got glow in the dark balls or something?" He smiles, hoping the guys will laugh, but Edward stares back blankly.
"That's what the headlights are for," Emmett explains.
"Hi, Edward," I finally manage to spit out around that lump. I feel lightheaded and pray I don't pass out.
His bright green eyes shift from Marcus to me and I'm paralyzed. "Bella."
It's just my name but it cuts through me like a warm knife in butter. All the tears I thought I cried threaten to resurface. I don't know what I thought would happen when we actually spoke to each other. I probably let myself believe he'd tell me he was a fool and never should have let me go. I imagined him taking me in his arms and telling me he loves me, that he's always loved me.
I'm a fool. I've always been his fool.
"Marcus Kennedy, nice to meet you, Edward." Marcus sticks his hand out while wrapping the other arm around my waist. I didn't tell him about Edward but something tells me he can tell by looking at him that Edward's not the guy you ever leave alone with your girl.
Edward shakes his hand while staring hard at the hand on my hip. He doesn't return a greeting or say another word. He lets go of Marcus' hand and walks toward the ballfield. Everyone follows him because that's what you do when you're with Edward. You gravitate to him and hope he doesn't push you away. Edward doesn't really push. But he also doesn't stop you if you start to drift.
"Mr. Personality, that one," Marcus says in my ear before kissing my temple.
"Don't take it personal. He's not a real talkative guy."
Marcus laughs dryly. "Obviously."
I like Marcus. He's a good guy. He has an amazing job doing something on Wall Street. He loves me. I know because he tells me all the time. Not like Edward who would listen to me say it over and over and do nothing but kiss my lips and rock my world. Marcus loves me so much he wants to marry me. I know this because he asked me. Out loud. So I know that's what he wants.
I like Marcus but I've been in love with someone else since I was ten years old. Love like that is hard to get over. I came back to Forks to say goodbye for real this time. I can't marry Marcus if I can't stop thinking about someone else. I'm here to make sure I put Edward Cullen in my rearview mirror for good. If that's possible. I don't have very high hopes.
Edward and Emmett are captains to Tyler's great dismay and the teams are chosen. If you brought a date to the party, they go where you go. Marcus and I get picked dead last and by Emmett. I know I'm a thousand times better than every girl here and half of the guys. I grew up playing ball with Edward and Jasper. I can hit and pitch.
"I thought he was going to pick you or I would have snatched you up first. You know that, right?" Emmett says to me as we walk to our respective benches.
I nod, the lump in my throat is now too big to talk around. Edward didn't choose me. He's much too good at letting me go.
Edward's team wins the coin flip and bats first. Emmett tosses me the ball. I pitch, he catches. Tyler's up first and I get two strikes before he hits a single. I strike out the next two batters and then it's Edward's turn.
He walks up to the plate with a swagger I'm not even sure he knows he has. He taps the bat to the base and takes a couple practice swings. I'm mesmerized by his arms and chest. Edward is solid. His arms are a masterpiece, biceps and triceps that make me and every other woman here swoon. Edward would never pay money to go to a gym or waste his time running on a treadmill. That's how guys like Marcus keep in shape. Edward doesn't buy his fitness. He earns it everyday on the ranch thanks to hard work and healthy living.
The Rangers t-shirt he's wearing clings a little tight across his broad chest as he gets in his ready stance. I knew he'd wear a Rangers shirt. That's why I wore mine. I am such a loser, thinking we could reconnect over a shirt.
I do wish I had my camera out here on the pitcher's mound. With the lights glowing behind him, he looks like a god - no, like a star. I close my eyes and shake my head. If this is me letting him go for good, I am doing a pretty shitty job. I take a deep breath and throw. He swings and misses. He actually looks surprised.
I pitch and he swings and misses again.
"Watch out, Cullen. Our little Bella is back and she looks like she's been training with the Yankees up there in New York City," Emmett teases as he stands up and throws me the ball.
I smile, letting a little bit of pride settle over me. Take that for not picking me.
"She must fit in real good up there," Edward says. "Yankees play without heart. It's all about the money in that organization."
If I thought hearing him say my name was bad, hearing him call me heartless is apocalyptic.
"That sounds like a jilted Rangers fan if you ask me," Marcus shouts from third base. "Who cares why the Yankees win, all that matters is we do. A helluva lot more than the Rangers." That shuts Edward up. Although I'm not surprised. It doesn't take much to make that man go silent.
I blink away the moisture that's begun to collect in my eyes. I'm rattled enough that my next three pitches are balls. Full count. He hates me, I decide. I thought I was facing indifference but it's clear now that he doesn't not care, he's unhappy I'm here. Instead of striking him out, I lob an easy one straight down the middle and Edward hits it out of the park. He jogs around the bases with his head down. He doesn't look the least bit excited about his home run. I can't win.
I strike out Jessica with ease and we switch places. I'm up to bat first. Tyler is pitching and Edward is catcher. I try not to make eye contact with him as I make my way to the plate but fail miserably. He's definitely mad. There's a scowl on his face I've seen when Jasper used to annoy him or he was in trouble with his dad.
I take a practice swing and step up to the plate. Tyler's first pitch is high. Edward stands up to throw it back and his close proximity is causing this tremble in my whole body. I swing at the next two - two pitches that would have been balls if I hadn't swung.
Edward tosses the ball back to Tyler. "First you hand me a home run on a silver platter and now you're giving Tyler a strikeout? Come on, Bella. Play like you mean it. Show me that girl I know isn't lost."
I look down at him as he crouches behind the plate. That's the most he's said to me in five years. I'll show him. The next pitch isn't great but I hit it in centerfield for a double. Take that, Edward. I've got more heart than anyone. Always have.
The game is close and the boys are much more competitive than the girls. Soon, most of the women choose to sit out so they can talk and catch up. Marcus and Edward seem to be liking each other less and less as the game goes on. There's some trash talking on both sides. When Marcus is the last batter of the night, things get interesting. Game's tied and we've got two outs. There's no one on base, leaving Marcus our only hope.
"How about we make this a little more interesting?" he poses to the crowd. I'm worried he's going to start throwing his money around. None of these other guys have any money to bet on this game and that's not why we play in the first place.
"Rule number one in Texas baseball - no bets," Edward says, effectively shutting down that idea.
"Oh, Cullen, this isn't really a bet per se," Marcus says with a laugh. "Not for money, at least. This is only for Bella." I feel the heat rise in my cheeks, thankful to be surrounded by the semi-darkness. "Bella Swan, if I score the last run to win the game, I want an answer to that question I asked you last week."
I hang on to the chainlink fence that separates me from him. I can't believe he's doing this here. Now. In front of everyone. In front of Edward.
"What question did he ask you, Bella?" Lauren asks from the circle of women. Suddenly, the game has piqued their interest again.
"I have asked Bella to marry me," Marcus announces and everyone either cheers or gasps. Everyone except for Edward who just stares at me, wordlessly like he did when I told him the magazine wanted me to move to New York. He shows no sign of any readable emotion. I don't know if he cares or not.
"So, this is the deal. If I score and win this game, you give me your answer. Deal?"
The circle of women claps like this is an episode of the Bachelor or something and I've been offered the final rose. "Do it, Bella!" Jess shouts.
I say nothing because I have already answered that question. I told him no. I told him I wasn't ready, but it doesn't matter. He's challenging me to choose. Yes or no. Not maybe when I get my head out of my ass. Marcus doesn't want to be in limbo anymore and I can't blame him.
I don't say a word, but my non-answer is taken as a yes and Tyler starts pitching. Strike one. I want to breathe a sigh of relief but one strike isn't enough. I pray he strikes out so this can be over. But as luck would have it, Tyler throws one right down the middle and Marcus makes contact. Without a full team fielding, the ball sails into the outfield and begins to roll into the darkness.
I'm fairly sure that had I eaten dinner tonight, it would now be all over my shoes. Marcus is full out sprinting. Mike gets the ball and throws it to Tyler just as Marcus makes his way around third. Tyler throws it to Edward, who has planted himself between Marcus and home plate. He also looks like he will kill anyone who even thinks about touching that base. Marcus has no choice but to go for it - there's no turning back now. Edward doesn't wait for him, though. His face contorts and he looks like a bull in a bullfight. He charges for Marcus and hits him with such force that Marcus is thrown backwards a good two feet, landing hard on his back.
"Jesus, Edward!" Emmett flies off the bench and helps me check on Marcus. "All you had to do was tag the poor guy."
I look up and Edward's eyes are glued to me. I'm back to feeling like a failure for not knowing what he's thinking. I'm sure he's thinking, why don't you know what I'm thinking? I wish I did. Actually, for once I wish he would just tell me.
Marcus sits up and tries to be a good sport. He waves off help to get to his feet but readily accepts the beer that's offered. He's fine but I'm not. I storm over to Edward and shove him as hard as I can. I don't have much impact, but he takes a step back. His eyes are wide as saucers.
"What the hell is wrong with you? Huh?" I shove him again. "You could have seriously hurt him." Edward says nothing and it fuels my fire. "Talk to me, damn it! Say something! What the hell is going on in that head? Anything?" I shove him again and again until he grabs my wrists.
It's the first time he's touched me in five years and it takes all the fight out of me. I fall silent and stare at his hands. They're strong but gentle. Rough from manual labor. The complete opposite of Marcus' hands. Marcus' hands are soft and smooth. They're perfectly manicured, there's never been so much as a papercut on his finger. I hate Marcus' hands.
Edward's phone rings and causes him to let go of me so he can retrieve it from his pocket. "Jas?" He pauses to listen to his brother. I notice that everyone is watching us. I made a scene and now am what I hate most - the center of attention. "I'm on my way," he says before hanging up. "Rosie's gone into labor. I have to go." I don't know why that makes my heart hurt, but it does.
"Who's Rosie?" Marcus asks.
"My horse," Edward answers, his eyes still holding me in place better than his hands ever could. "Come with me. You can take pictures."
I don't think about it, I simply nod. When Edward leads, I follow. I don't know what else to do. "Can you give me a minute? I need to talk to Marcus."
Edward glances over my shoulder and I know what I need to do.
I'm losing it. I am completely losing it. I just assaulted Mr. NYC in front of everyone. I mean I laid his ass out. There was no way in hell I was going to watch Bella agree to marry this guy. I would have gutted myself in front of them before I could stomach that.
After I almost killed her boyfriend, she looked at me like I was some sort of villain. I wanted to scream at her that I fucking love her and it's killing me that she's here and she's with him and why the fuck doesn't she understand. She didn't understand. She attacked me. Bella attacked me. I've never seen her so fired up. It was surreal. Not to mention she was touching me. Okay, it was more a push than a touch, but some part of her body was coming into contact with a part of my body and I never wanted that to end.
My brother's phone call ruined everything. I asked Bella to come with because there are things that need to be said. Things I guess I never made clear. So, I'm sitting in my truck, watching Bella and Marcus have some kind of heart to heart over by their car. For all I know, she's telling him she'll marry him as soon as she tells me off for good this time.
Marcus wraps his arms around her and they stay that way too long for my liking. He lets her go and takes her face in his hands. I can't watch. I know he's going to kiss her and seeing that once was enough for today. It was enough for a lifetime. I hear Bella close the door to the rental car and Marcus drives away before she even gets to my truck. She climbs in and holds her camera case on her lap like a shield.
"Is he okay? I didn't mean to hurt him." It's a lie, but I'm feeling guilty.
"You didn't hurt him." The way she says it makes it sound like she means he's hurt but not because of me. I don't know why she'd say that, but I don't ask. The sadness in her voice makes me shut up.
We drive to the ranch just like we walk to the stables - in silence. My parents and Jasper are all standing by Rosie's foaling stall. "You made it," my brother says. Jasper starts to fill me in on the progress when they notice Bella.
I remember what Jasper said earlier about not letting Mom near Bella, and instinctively, I put myself between the two of them. Mom will have none of that and to my surprise, she pulls Bella into a warm embrace.
"Welcome home, sweet girl. Don't you ever disappear on me ever again, you hear me?" she admonishes. I'm pretty sure my jaw hits the floor. Where the hell is the mama bear? Doesn't she remember what Bella did to me by leaving?
Jasper and I exchange a look. He gets this weird smirk on his face and shakes his head. "I guess we should have known she was Mom's favorite."
I have no words. I watch my mother let go of Bella only to turn her over to my dad who practically lifts her off the ground. Jasper goes last and I'm not the only one feeling a little jealous because a very angry snort comes from Alice's stall.
Once my family is done manhandling the love of my life who is probably engaged to her big city boyfriend, we get the rundown on Rosie. Her water broke just before Jasper called me. I watch and take in the scene. She's lying in the fresh hay I had put in there before I left. Her breathing is little heavy but there's this amazing calm about her.
Bella starts taking some pictures. I knew offering up the chance to get this on film was the easiest way to get her to come with me. What I'm going to say to her after this horse gives birth, I have no idea. But at least she's here and Marcus isn't. That makes it a little easier to think about telling her how I feel.
It doesn't take long before we see the miracle of life unfold before our eyes. Rosie is a trooper. The palomino quarter horse pushes and pushes without any complaining. And less than a half hour later a beautiful chestnut foal is there beside her mama.
Mom and Bella both wipe away tears as the little horse gets cleaned up by her mother. Rosie takes good care of her baby and I feel like a proud papa. The last horse I saw born in this stable was Rosie herself. That was two months after Bella left. I remember feeling so sad that Bella wasn't there to see it. The disappointment quickly turned to anger and I refused to have anything to do with Rosie for the first few months of her life. That horse is stubborn though. She made me love her even though I didn't want to.
I stare at Bella as she takes a thousand pictures of mother and foal. I can't stop loving her either. Even if I try, even if she runs off and marries Marcus. I'll love Bella Swan until the day I die.
The little foal decides it's time to stand. With a little effort, she manages to pull herself up. She looks like she's standing on ice. Her legs are spread out so far, it doesn't seem like they can hold her up. The good news is she's stubborn like her mother and after some initial wobbles, the foal takes her first steps.
Mom and Bella are crying. Again.
Dad and I clean the stall while Mom and Jasper take Bella up to the house. The thing I love most about my dad, he doesn't pry. He could have asked me about Bella, but he knew I couldn't talk about it. When we finish, he gives me a pat on the back and says, "She looks different, but she's still our Bella."
I nod and he leaves me alone to say goodnight to my horse and her newborn.
"Wish me luck, Rosie. That's the girl I've been telling you about. You know, the one who kinda broke my heart." There's no kinda about it. Bella absolutely broke it into a million tiny pieces. It's time I find out why.
I head back to the farmhouse to find Bella alone on my parent's huge front porch. She's leaning over the railing and taking pictures of the sky. I look up at the sea of stars and wonder what she's looking for up there. I know I spent the first year wishing on every last one of those damn things and it didn't bring her back. Until now.
I climb the stairs and join her on the porch. "I don't think you're the girl for him," I say, not sure where that came from.
Her arms drop and she lets out a soft sigh. Her face is soft but sad. "I guess I'm not the girl for anybody, huh?" She turns back to the sky and hides behind that damn camera.
What the hell does that mean? She's the girl for me. I'm who she belongs with. Me. Doesn't she get it? I press my back against the railing, resting my elbows on top. I wish I knew how to talk to her. I only know how to love her. When we were together and I needed her to know I loved her, I just kissed her. I showed her. I can't do that now and it's killing me.
She's taking a million pictures of the stars and it makes me curious. "Falling in love with the stars or something?" It's what Jasper says whenever I stare off in one direction for too long. I feel like a child the moment the words leave my mouth.
Bella drops her camera and actually smiles. It's a sad smile, though. "I don't see the stars in New York. You literally can't." She glances my way but quickly turns away to put her camera away.
"Not at all?"
She shakes her head. "Nope. But it's okay. Looking at the stars reminds me of you, so it was easier to not see them."
That hurts. The pain in my stomach jumps up to my chest. It's a sharp, piercing pain. "I'm sorry I'm such a regret."
Bella's head whips back around. "What?"
"That's why you don't want to look at something that reminds you of me, right?"
"The stars don't make me think about regret." I can see the sincerity in her eyes even though it's dark. "You aren't a regret."
I push off the railing but keep the space between us. "What am I then?"
She stops to think about it. I can see her war with herself over what to say. I try to breathe but until she answers, I'm not sure I can.
My next breath comes out in a rush. It's my heart's turn to stutter. I would give anything to be her home. She's mine. Nothing's right without her. I feel like I'm screaming the words at her until I hear her actually break the silence.
"But what's the saying? You can't go home or whatever." She shakes her head and turns her back to me.
I curse myself and my stupid mouth. Just say it, I tell myself. Tell her.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the curtain in the front room window move. Too many curious eyes and ears in this house. I can't do this here. "Come with me," I say, wrapping a hand around her arm. She stiffens for a second but follows me to the truck. "We can't do this here," I explain, opening the door for her. She climbs in and I walk around to the driver's side. Why does this have to be so hard. I love you. It sounds good in my head. Why I can't get it to pass my lips, I don't know.
We drive to the other side of the ranch, to my cottage on the north side. I don't ask her in, instead I tell her to wait for me out here while I run inside to get some pillows and blankets. She's sitting in the back of truck like she used to when we were together. Her ankles are locked and her legs swing back and forth. Only when I get close, she doesn't open her legs up for me to come inside.
I set up the back of the pickup like I used to when we'd sit under the stars and talk and kiss and mess around. She lies beside me and we both look up at the million points of light shining down.
"Remember when we used to sit back here and talk about everything and anything? Our dreams, our plans?" I ask, hoping she remembers the same things I do.
Bella's laugh is sharp and unexpected. I turn my head and her face is so close. "You never talked, Edward. You listened. You let me ramble on and on about what I imagined. But you never said a word."
Is she kidding me? We were in the back of this truck when I told her I wanted to be with her forever. That I never wanted her to leave. That I loved her more than the stars loved the sky.
Did I not say any of that stuff out loud? Didn't I tell her or was it only what ran around inside my head every time she was near?
"See?" Bella props herself up on her elbows. "This is what you do. You look at me like I should know what's going on inside your head. I don't have a clue. I never had a clue."
I scrub my face with my hands. I push the guilt down by letting the anger rise back up. I pop up like her mirror image. "Does it even matter anymore? I mean, obviously everything you said was a lie. You told me you loved me but then you left the first chance you got."
Her eyes go wide. "I came to you in tears! I did everything short of flat out begging to get you to ask me to stay. All I needed was for you to say something, anything and I would have never left. But instead you shrugged your shoulders like it didn't matter what the hell I did. The only reason I left was because you never once told me you wanted me to stay. Why didn't you want me to stay?" She's got tears in her eyes and I can't stand to see her cry.
Was I really that much of an idiot? Did I seriously lose the most important person in my life because I couldn't open my goddamn mouth? Why can't I just say it?
I fall back into default mode. My hand reaches up and I wipe the tears that roll down her cheek. I push her back on the pillow and press my aching lips to hers, and fuck if they don't feel and taste the same as I remember. She's sweet and warm and I pour all the love I feel into that kiss. Her fingers creep up my neck and slide into the hair at the nape. She kisses me back with equal passion. This I know. This is familiar and right. This is the only thing that's made sense since the day she told me she was going to leave.
"Stop." Bella turns her head and pushes on my chest. She wiggles out from underneath me and out of the truck bed. She pulls the hair tie out of her hair only to yank at the roots until it has to hurt.
"I can't do this. I can't hope for something because you make me feel like this. I need to know how you feel. I need to hear you say how you feel."
I sit up, these emotions Bella's so desperate to hear about are battering my insides like waves crashing against rocks.
"What is it that you need to hear, Bella? That the only time I've ever been happy was when I was with you? That I never imagined a life without you?" Everything comes pouring out. The dam has finally been broken. "Do you want to know that when you came to me about that job, I was scared to death I was going to hold you back? I didn't ask you to stay because I wanted you to choose for yourself. Will it make you feel better to know it ripped my heart out when you didn't pick me? That nothing's been right for the last five years because …" I slide out of the truck bed. The need to touch her overwhelms me. I'm afraid she's going to disappear and I need her to stay when I tell her this part. I cradle her face in my hands. "I love you. I love you; and when you aren't here, I don't know who I am or what to do. Without you, I have no past and no future. I exist in this now that I hate because you aren't in it."
I'm breathing heavy and my hands are catching her freshly made tears as they fall.
"I called you from New York, but you never ans -"
"I couldn't talk to you without falling apart."
"I heard all these stories about other girls."
"No one holds a candle to you, Bella. No one."
"You love me? Or you loved me?" Her inability to believe the truth even after she's heard it breaks what's left of my heart. I intend to tell her everyday until she doesn't doubt it.
"I've always loved you and always will."
"Yeah?" Her eyes search mine in the dim moonlight for it to be anything less than the truth. She ain't gonna find it.
My lips curl up and it feels like I haven't really smiled in all these years. "Yeah."
Bella throws her arms around my neck and kisses me. My fingers slide through her hair and one hand wraps around the back of her neck, bringing her closer and allowing me to kiss her deeper. I feel like it's the Fourth of July and I'm the sky and the firework show is going off inside of me. Her hands move down my shoulders and over my chest. I want to drag her back into the pickup truck and spend the night relearning her body, investigating all these new curves. I want tangled legs and bare chests.
Something makes me pull back. "There's just two little things we need to clear up." I can see the insecurity creep back up and threaten to envelop her. I know because the same feeling is making itself known deep in my stomach as well. "Marcus."
The worry fades faster than it showed up. "Marcus and I broke up. Tonight, before we left the park."
My girl is full of surprises. "Okay. Then all that's left is your job in New York."
Bella takes my hands in hers. Our fingers interlace and I'm ready to tell her I'm moving to New York City if that's what it takes. "I quit," she announces. "I quit before I even came home. I miss Texas. I miss Forks. I miss my family and your family. I miss you. I want to come home. Can I please come home?"
This time I don't screw it up by only answering in my head or kissing her instead of telling her what I want. This time I make myself very clear. "Come home, baby. And don't ever leave again."