Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or the characters, but it sure is fun to dress them up in cowboy boots.
Written for The Heart of Country Contest by Jenny Kate (Prompt Used: Why Ya Wanna by Jana Kramer)
-Little Town, Texas-
I take a deep breath of clean Texas air as I step out onto the front porch and the breeze whips my hair around my face. Looking out from the porch, it's nothing but wide open spaces, maybe a horse or a cow or two, but other than that, it's like looking out into the ocean and feeling like you can see for miles. The clouds in the sky look like little white cotton balls. There are a lot of things that this place isn't, but one thing's for sure, it's peaceful.
When I moved away for college, I never thought I'd move back. Sure, I knew I'd be here for holidays and visits, but I didn't think I'd ever call this place home again. I was so ready to make a break for it and never look back. It's not that growing up here was bad. It was great, actually. I spent my days as a kid running through these fields and dreaming up whimsical stories. My best friend, Alice, and I would swim in the pond or ride our bikes into town. My Aunt Sue worked at the diner, so we would stop in there for a Coke or a fresh baked cookie, or both.
I just always had dreams of big cities. I grew up with everyone knowing who I was and every detail about my life. I wanted to know what it was like to get lost in a crowd and for no one to have any preconceived ideas about me. I wanted, for once, not to be "Charlie Swan's daughter" or "the little girl who grew up without a mother" or "the valedictorian." I just wanted to be "Bella" and let people decide what they thought about me based on just me. I wanted to live in a small apartment and sit around writing all day, maybe working for a magazine or a publishing company.
I guess I had a little of my mom in me, after all.
Renee, my mom, left when I was five. She was born and raised here, but she never wanted to stay. That was my dad's dream, not hers. He wanted a big farm and small town life. She wanted an office job and a studio apartment.
She and I were out of touch for a long time, but she slowly started coming back around when I was about twelve. It took awhile for us to have any kind of relationship, but thirteen years later, we're in a pretty good spot. We've mended the fences, so to speak.
I went to college at Stanford, which is close to where my mom and Phil live. Phil is my mom's husband. She found him in Sedona, while she was finding herself. She said that Phil is her soul mate and that she really did find herself when she met him; and I believe her. They're great together. They live in San Fran, which is just an hour up the coast. We used to see each other at least a couple of times a month. I'd drive up there for the day or they would drive down to see me, but I haven't seen them in a couple of months, not since the day before I flew out here to be with my dad.
Charlie is sick. About a year ago, Dr. Cullen found a mass on his kidney and I flew to Dallas when he had his surgery. It was a fairly quick procedure and he was back home in a few days. I stayed for a couple of days to make sure he was going to be able to get around and take care of himself, but I had to get back to California. I had a job and an apartment. I had a life back there.
As much as I wanted to get back to California, it left me with a bad feeling. I talked to my Aunt Sue everyday on the phone, and I knew that I needed to come back here. My dad needed me. They found another tumor in his stomach a few months ago and they started rounds of chemo. He couldn't manage this big ol' farm on his own. I know I'm a woman and from the looks of me, you'd think I wouldn't be able to do much, but I know how to drive a tractor and I'm not afraid of hard work.
So, I subleased my apartment, quit my job, and moved back home. Charlie has always been there for me. I have to be here for him. I want to be here for him.
Being back here is scary, though. It is scary watching Charlie go through the chemo. It is also scary thinking that he might not be here one day, and that one day might be sooner rather than later. I hate not knowing what tomorrow holds. Another thing that is a little scary is being back in a small town after seven years of being able to blend into a big city. I forgot what it was like for everyone to know my business, our business.
What isn't scary is how easy it has been to fall right back into the ways of the farm. I guess you could compare it to riding a bicycle. Just because you don't do it for a long time, doesn't mean you don't remember how. It may sound crazy, but I actually enjoy my time out in the fields. The work is simple and uncomplicated. When I'm out on the tractor, I have plenty of time to just think about life. I try to avoid thinking much about the future, because it feels too uncertain right now. Charlie always taught me that you're supposed to take one day at a time. So, that's what I'm doing.
Since I've been back home, most days are the same. Charlie goes out and works the fields for as he can and then I pick up the slack, but his time out there has been shorter and shorter as the chemo progresses. He's worried that it's too much work for me. I try to tell him that it's not and that I'll be fine, but he's so stubborn. Just the other day, I heard him talking to a few other farmers at the diner about hiring some of the college kids while they're home for the summer.
If I got my free spirit from my mom, I definitely got my stubbornness from my dad.
When I'm not helping around the farm or taking care of Charlie, I'm at the diner. It is my favorite part of the whole day. For one, I get to hang out with my Aunt Sue. She and I have always been like peas and carrots. When my mom left, she was the one that stepped in and helped take care of me. She taught me how to put on mascara and shave my legs and took me to buy tampons the first time. Somewhere around the ripe age of 16, she gave me the birds and bees talk, although I already knew most of it, but apparently Charlie insisted. God bless her for that one, because hearing anything about sex from Charlie would have scarred me for life.
Charlie thinks that working on the farm and at the diner is a little too much, but I would literally go crazy if I never came into town. Granted, I don't need to work, but I need the diner. I mean, it's nothing like being in a big city, but at least I see people and I can swing by the store for beef lo mein, even if it is from the frozen foods section. The small town grocery store here even started carrying Starbucks coffee. It almost feels like home...or what I had learned to call home. I guess this is home, really. It always has been.
I wouldn't admit this to Charlie, or myself for that matter, but it feels good being here. I think I might have actually missed it.
-Little Town, Texas-
"Corner!" I yell, as I pass the entry to kitchen.
"This has to be the busiest day we've had since I've been back working here," I tell my Aunt Sue, putting the dirty plates into the wash bin. "Is this what I have to look forward to all summer?" I ask, wiping my hands on my apron.
"I think you must be drawing the crowd, Honey. We're never busy like this," Waylon says from the behind the grill.
"That must be it, Waylon," I quip, "I'm like honey to bees, just drawin 'em in."
"You're our good luck charm, or it could be them peanut butter cookies you keep makin'. Dr. Cullen was in here for breakfast this morning and bought the whole batch you made yesterday."
"Whatever it is, Darlin', I'm glad you're here," Aunt Sue tells me, giving me a kiss on my cheek as she walks out of the kitchen with tray full of orders.
When she does that, I'm sixteen again; hair in braids, braces on, and dreaming of blue eyes. Now, there's a thought I haven't allowed to slip through in a while. I tried so hard for so many years to get him out of my head. The first few times I came home over Christmas break or for a short visit, I would dread running into the store for fear that I would run into him. But, after years went by without me seeing him or even hearing anything about him, I finally quit thinking about him and dreaming about him. Although, come to think of it, the last one took a little longer. It was like my subconscious was working against me. I could stop my thoughts during the day, but when I was sleeping, those blue eyes would find a way to slip through the cracks.
"Order up," Waylon calls, bringing me out of my trip down memory lane. "Where'd you go, Bella?" He smiles, tilts his head, and quirks an eyebrow at me. Sometimes I feel like Waylon knows me a little too well. He's perceptive and so much more intuitive than most people realize.
"I'd say you were miles away from here." He raises his eyebrows. "You thinkin' about California?"
"Nope, actually, I was just thinkin' about here...a long time ago. It was nothing, really." Blowing a stray hair out of my face, I take the loaded tray and head out the door.
I walk by the tables with my head down, my mind still in the past. Every table looks relatively the same from this point of view. The only difference is the number of pairs of boots...every once in awhile a pair of tennis shoes sneaks in and there's the occasional pair of flip flops, but mostly boots.
"Two patty melts and one smothered and covered," I say, sitting the plates down on the table. "Can I get ya anything else?"
"Nope, looks good," Hank replies, looking up at me. Billy and Norm seem to be pleased, too, so I make my way back to the kitchen with my tray, ready for the next order up.
Scanning the small diner, I look for empty glasses and plates, trying to see if anyone needs anything, when out of my peripheral vision; a mess of copper hair catches my eye. I stretch my neck out, looking around a cowboy hat. There is no way that hair belongs to who I think it does, because he doesn't live here. He hasn't been here in a long time. Aunt Sue told me so and she never lies. So, there is no way that is who I think it might be...or is it?
I take a deep breath, calming my sudden nerves.
Two steps to the right, I see a blonde haired guy sitting beside him and a taller guy with brown hair.
I swallow hard when I realize that the tall guy is none other than Emmett Cullen, meaning that the copper hair belongs to...oh, shit. Damn it.
I hurry back into the kitchen, my sanctuary at the moment, pressing my back up against the wall as I catch my breath. I feel my palms get sweaty and I wipe them down the front of my apron, resting my hands on my knees, breathing deeply.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," Waylon observes, looking up at me. "You alright?"
"What the hell is Edward Cullen doing out there?" I ask, shakily, pointing over my shoulder toward the door I just came through.
"Last time I checked, this here's a free country. People seem to go and do as they please, especially 'round these parts," my Aunt Sue says slowly and calmly, as she walks past me.
"I said that I hadn't seen him in a while. I didn't say he never came around."
"You told me..."
"I told you that he was livin' in Austin. That's all I said. Don't be goin' and gettin' all pissy with me, Bella Swan. I think it's high time you dealt with a few skeletons in your closet. It really makes no sense to me why y'all quit talking in the first place. Both of you are stubborn asses, if you ask me, but apparently no one asked me." She pauses for a moment. "You want to know what I really think? I think God brought you back here for more than just takin' care of your daddy. I suggest you don't squander it. Now, get out there and take some orders, make yourself useful," she orders, shoving a towel toward me and putting me in my place.
I stand there for a minute, letting it soak in and trying to get a hold of myself.
"What the hell is so funny?" I glare at him, about two seconds from pissed off.
He holds up his hands in surrender, or more like in defense...that's the "I don't want to be the next one to get my ass chewed out by Sue" stance. He should grow some balls. I wouldn't tell him that, because I love him, and it's sweet how he thinks my Aunt Sue hung the moon and looks at her like she just solved world hunger.
Besides, apparently, I need to grow a set myself.
Stop being a coward, Bella.
I peek out the door of the kitchen. I have to wait for someone to move out of my way, but then I see him. An old grey t-shirt, jeans, boots, and that smile. I think that smile was the hardest thing to let go. It lights up the room. He smiles with his eyes and his cheeks. It's not half-assed or forced. It's beautiful.
My face heats up. I know that if I looked in a mirror right now I would see pink cheeks and it might already be working its way down my neck.
I let the door swing shut and back away from it like it's on fire. I can't go out there.
"You're gonna..." Waylon starts.
"I know, I know. I just, I can't go out there, Waylon. I haven't seen him in years. I don't even know what to say." I keep my back turned to him.
"'Can I take your order?' That would be a good place to start." He suggests, and then pauses. "It's not like you're strangers, Bella. Just say 'hello'."
"You make it sound way too easy."
"If he tries to bite, I'll be right here with a pitchfork," he chuckles.
"Gee, thanks." I smooth out my apron, brush my hair behind my ears, and try to put on a brave face. When I walk back out, I see Sue taking an order at another table. I wish I could make eye contact with her, silently begging her to switch me tables, but it's almost as if she knows and refuses to turn around.
Man up, Bella.
Walking slowly, I stop by a couple of tables, just making sure they have everything they need and don't need any refills. Who am I kidding? I'm just delaying the inevitable.
Why did he have to come in here and sit down? I mean, I know this is a small town, but surely they could have gone and got a burger at Sully's or eaten at home. Damn it. I've heard Esme makes one hell of a meatloaf.
I stop by and check on one more table, picking up a pitcher of sweet tea and refilling a few glasses. I guess there's a chance that he doesn't even remember me, or maybe he won't recognize me. I look down and see my name tag sticking out like a sore thumb, and remind myself that we graduated with less than a hundred people. And there was that summer we shared together. I know it's taken me the last seven years to get him out of my head. If he felt even half of what I felt, he's going to remember everything...every touch, every hand hold, every kiss. There weren't many, but the few that we did share, we sure made them count.
Suddenly, I realize I'm just standing by the wall, holding a pitcher of sweet tea, with my mind miles away, for God only knows how long.
My Aunt Sue turns around and gives me a look, motioning with her head for me to just go over there already. It's now or never.
You're just supposed to rip the bandaid off. It's less painful that way, right?
I pull out my pen and order book and walk up to the table.
"Could I get y'all something to drink?"
Three sets of eyes look up at me. I look at each of them, not wanting to hold their gaze for very long. I feel my face heating up. Blues, greens, browns...I'll just look at the browns. Emmett has always been so sweet. Growing up, he was the class clown and the star athlete all rolled into one. Seeing him here makes me miss him and I wish that we hadn't lost touch. It's freaking me out a little just how much I missed these faces. You know that saying about "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone"? Yeah, I'm getting the full meaning of that…and that one about "the grass isn't always greener on the other side", and a few other cliché sentiments.
Emotions and feelings come flooding back to my mind. Almost the same way it does when Aunt Sue tucks a piece of hair behind my ear. I feel warmth, but not just because my face is probably the color of the red table cloth I'm staring at. It's more than that. It's like hot chocolate and bonfires and my favorite pair of pajama pants...oh, and those pink fuzzy boots...those, too.
I'm hoping in this instance that Emmett will save me...from myself, from Edward, from this entire awkward situation. I know we haven't spoken in seven years, but he has to remember how good of friends we used to be. Used to be. For some reason, that doesn't feel so good. I don't like it.
But it's Jasper that speaks first, "Bella Swan! What the hell are you doin' here, Darlin'?" In two seconds flat, he's out of his seat and has me off my feet. The hug is tight and genuine and just about the best damn thing I've felt in a while. Jasper has always been a charmer. He knows how to work his green eyes and dimples. He's always known exactly what to say and when to say it. When we were in school, all the girls loved Jasper, and his band always played at any event we had in town...Summerfest, Chili Cook-Offs, you name it. They were a hit.
After he puts me down, it's Emmett's turn. A giggle slips out of my mouth as he squeezes the shit out of me. Not literally, thank goodness. That would be embarrassing.
"Well, I work here," pointing to my name tag, finally getting a chance to answer Jasper. I'm such a dork sometimes. Of course, I work here.
"I figured that much. I mean, what brings you back here?"
I fidget with my notepad for a second too long, trying to think of the right thing to say, when a voice speaks up from my left, a voice that makes my knees weak and my heart skip a beat. "How's Charlie?" Edward asks, his tone showing his concern. Of course he would know. I feel like an idiot for thinking that he wouldn't.
"He's hanging in there," I sigh, trying to keep emotion out of my response. Most days, I'm strong and hold it together really well, but some days, the reality of what is happening to my dad sets in and I have trouble keeping the tears at bay.
Emmett and Jasper both look down at the table like it's the most interesting thing on the planet. I think I'd rather them do that than give me the pitiful look most people give me these days.
"So, how about those orders? I'm sure you guys didn't come in here to make small talk." I take a chance and look over at Edward. His eyes are on me, searching, I'm not sure what they're looking for, but it's making me feel things I'd rather not.
"I'm sure we'll have plenty of time for small talk," Emmett says, in his happy go lucky tone. Really? I was guessing they were just in for a visit...meeting up at the old diner...for old time's sake. Right? Yeah, I probably can't be that lucky.
"I say we all come down here for lunch every day," Jasper chimes in, earning him a high-five from Emmett.
"Uh..." I don't know what to say. I really just want to take their orders and high-tail it back to my hidey-hole, also known as the kitchen. I also don't want to ask questions that will make me seem over-eager.
Emmett finally puts me out of my awkward misery, "I'll have the special and a glass of iced tea."
"You know it."
Edward and Jasper both order quickly, thankfully. I need a minute to process behind closed doors...and have a come to Jesus meeting with my aunt.
I turn around calmly, but as soon as I get a few tables distance between me and them, I practically run to the kitchen.
"Spill it." I look my Aunt Sue straight in the eye, no bullshitting. I know she knows why they're here and if I was a betting girl, I'd say she knew they'd be here today. She hears all, sees all, and, generally speaking, knows all.
I cross my arms, making a strong stance. I'm not leaving this kitchen until I have answers.
She looks at me, knowing the stubborn ass I am, and starts telling everything she knows.
Apparently, Jasper just recently finalized his divorce from his wife of three years. The Whitlocks own a large farm on the outskirts of town. So, Jasper decided to move back to help out and gain some perspective. He's been here a couple of weeks. I have no idea how I haven't seen him before today, except for the fact that I only frequent the diner and the grocery store. Emmett just drove in today for a big cattle sale that his family is hosting. He'll be here a couple of weeks getting things ready. He and his wife own a ranch about two hours from here. Waylon says that he's actually here quite a bit. Again, I obviously need to get out more.
Edward, on the other hand, is a little bit of a mystery. My Aunt Sue said she "honest to goodness" doesn't know why he's here. The only thing she knows is that Esme went and visited him for a week or so in Austin a while back. When she came home, she was talking about her visit one afternoon and said that she was worried about him, but she wouldn't say why.
"Order up," Waylon calls from the grill.
Thirty minutes later, the guys have practically licked their plates clean. I brought them their checks and was trying to make a quick getaway when they stood up and started hugging me and passing me around again.
"We'll probably see you tomorrow, Bella," Emmett says, finally releasing me from his grizzly hold.
Before I know what is happening, Edward's two strong arms are around me and it's like the world stops spinning. I can't breathe. My stomach is all the way up in my throat. I don't know what to do with my hands, so I instinctively put them around his waist...his toned, hard-as-a-rock abs press up against me. My head is filled with Edward, the feel of his arms around me, the familiar smell that can only be described as him. I feel like I am coming unglued at the seams.
"It's good to see you, Bella. It's been way too long," he whispers, before leaving me standing there in the middle of the diner.
"See you later, Bella," Jasper calls over his shoulder, as the three of them head out the door.
What was he thinking hugging me like that? Who does he think he is?
He's the one who said goodbye, not me.
This was not ok. This isn't what I came back here for. I'm here to take care of Charlie, that's it.
-Little Town, Texas-
Every day, like clockwork, Edward, Emmett, and Jasper waltz into the diner at noon sharp. They sit down at the same table and I walk over and take their order. Every day the conversation becomes easier. Every day I try to squash the butterflies in my stomach.
I wish Edward would wear some sunglasses or something, so I wouldn't have to look at his deep blue eyes. It's really not fair. They're like his own personal secret weapon. Thanks to the eyes and the smirk, I'm a mess when I'm around him. The smirk, especially, does crazy things to my body. I'm in a constant battle, waring between wanting to either slap it or kiss it off his face. I take precaution and keep my hands in my apron pockets to keep me from doing either.
I try to keep the bulk of my conversations to Jasper and Emmett. They make me remember what I loved about this place - the people. It's funny really, because in my mind all this time, it was the people I thought I was running away from. The busy-bodies and the town gossips, small town, small-minded people. But talking to Emmett and Jasper every day reminds me of the good stuff.
There's a laid-back, slow-paced way to people from the south that you just don't find everywhere. I think at this point in my life, with Charlie being sick, I've come to realize that I don't want life to pass me by. I'd like to savor it, enjoy some small blessing every day. Whether it's my Aunt Sue's cooking, or Charlie having a good day, or watching the clouds pass by; I want to soak it all in.
"We should all get together for drinks or something. Catch up..." Edward says when I walk over with their check. He had mentioned me joining them at the Cullen Ranch for dinner last week, but I quickly shot that down. I could see the disappointment in his eyes, but I know me...I know me with Edward. As hard as I've tried to forget, I haven't forgotten that. If I gave him an inch, I would give him a mile. Dinner with all of them at his house would end up with me wanting him, giving into him. Hell, I don't even know what he wants from me, but I know whatever it is, I would give it to him. Dinner wouldn't be enough for me. I would want more.
Right now, my focus is on Charlie and getting him better. I can't let myself get distracted. Besides, I still don't know why he's here or for how long. With my luck, I'd fall hard and then he'd be gone. I said goodbye to him before. I know how much that hurts and I've got enough heartache in my life right now without that.
"I can't. I'm away from Charlie all day, so I like to get straight home when I leave here."
"I understand." Of course he does. Why does he have to be so sweet? Why can't he say something mean...something to piss me off? It would make this a whole lot easier on me. "Maybe some other time?"
I nod. Not trusting myself to open my mouth.
"You have to promise me we'll get together before I leave," Emmett says, standing up from the table. "And, I'll be back in town next month. I think Rosie is going to come down with me. We should definitely all get together then. I would love for the two of you to meet," his eyes have an extra twinkle to them as he talks about his wife. She's a lucky girl.
"I'd like that," I say it because I know that it will get them to leave, but I also mean it. I really would like to meet Rosalie. If she stole Emmett's heart, she must be pretty great.
"Don't work too hard, Bella," Jasper says, giving me a quick kiss on my cheek. Always the charmer, that one. If I didn't think of Jasper as a brother, I'd be completely smitten with him. Whoever the girl is that screwed things up with him is an idiot, that's for sure.
I wave to them as they walk out and let out a deep breath, blowing my hair away from my face.
"Seems as though you have some regular admirers."
"Regular customers," I correct my Aunt Sue. "And besides, they come here for your cooking. So, I'd say they're your admirers."
"Uh huh, keep tellin' yourself that," she raises her eyebrows and twists her mouth into a lopsided grin.
I don't even respond to that, instead I busy myself with cleaning tables from the lunch rush. I can't let my mind go there. Not today, anyway.
-Little Town, Texas-
I walk out the backdoor of the diner and slide down the wall. Tears flow freely down my face. I just can't keep it in any longer. I feel like if I try to put on a brave face for another second today, I'm going to crumble in on myself. For the most part, I usually feel strong. I know that I have to be for Charlie's sake. The doctor's told us when he first was diagnosed that most people who pull through this type of illness have a strong will to live. So, I never want him to think that I doubt he'll recover, because I don't want him to ever doubt it himself. My hope is that he'll be in remission one day. We can't ever give up hope.
But, he had a bad day yesterday. We had driven to the hospital for his weekly chemo treatment and he was really sick. By the time we got home and I helped him to his room, he was so weak that he couldn't even swing his legs into bed. I sat up with him all night, with the sick bucket at his bedside. It's the same bucket that he always brought into my room when I was sick, just in case I couldn't make it to the bathroom.
Occasionally, through the night, I would feel his forehead and put a cool washcloth on him or tuck his blankets in tighter, depending on whether he felt hot or cold. It was a long night.
So, today, I'm tired and sad and I'm just not feeling so strong. Today, I feel like crying.
The tears feel cleansing.
I really do hope that my Aunt Sue doesn't follow me out here though, because I don't want her to see me like this. It's hard on her, too. It's hard on all of us.
I start to feel a little selfish for having this momentary breakdown, but it just feels good to let it all out.
The door squeaks and I quickly wipe the tears off of my face.
That's not the voice I expected.
"You sure about that?" He doesn't wait for an answer or ask permission or anything, he just sits down right beside me. "You know you can talk to me, Bella."
We sit there for awhile, neither of us saying anything, until I can't stand the silence any longer. I start by telling him the first thing that comes to my mind...the thing that has been plaguing me for the last few weeks.
"You said goodbye."
"You're the one who said goodbye, not me. Now, you come walking in here and act like nothing's wrong. You're so nice to me," I let out a small growl of frustration, "and you make me feel things that I haven't felt in a really long time."
I stand up, feeling the need to move around. The tears are flowing again. "You have no idea what you do to me." I turn around, holding my chest, like I'm keeping my heart from breaking again, pleading with him to understand how I feel. "It took me almost the entire time I've been gone to get you outta my head and here you come walking right back in. Why can't you just be like any other ex-boyfriend? Why can't you be mean or say something to piss me off? Anything? Just..."
Edward stands quickly, and puts his finger up to my lips, silencing my rambling outburst. My heart is beating quickly, partly from my emotions, but mostly from his touch. It's always been that way.
"I said goodbye, because I wanted you to be happy," he says, quietly, barely above a whisper. "I knew you wanted to get outta this place and stretch your wings. You have no idea how hard it was for me. But, I knew that if we stayed together, there was a chance you wouldn't leave at all or that you'd come back too soon." He shakes his head, like he can't find the right words. "Trust me, Bella, I always hoped you'd come back, but not before you were ready and I would not have wished for these circumstances to be what brought you back here." He tucks a loose strand of hair behind my ear and his thumb brushes gently across my cheek.
I just stare at him for the longest time. It is hard for me to understand his words and his reasoning.
"You broke up with me...for me? I don't understand," voicing my confusion.
"My momma always told me that if you love someone enough you'll let them go and if it's meant to be they'll come back to you." He shrugs his shoulders. "And to be honest, I was afraid that a long distance relationship would be too hard. I was young, too, you know. I had a lot of learnin' to do."
"Did I what?"
"Did you learn stuff?"
"You could say that," he answers. And there's that smirk.
"What brought you back here now? My Aunt Sue seems to know everyone's business but yours."
"Well, since we're airin' dirty laundry, I guess I should be honest."
I nod in response. "Yeah, I've always appreciated honesty."
He smiles, and I feel it straight down to my toes.
"My mom was in Austin last month and she told me how bad Charlie was," he starts, gathering my hands in his. "I know you might not believe me, Bella, but I've always asked about you and wondered how you were. My mom has always been good to keep me up to date. So, she told me that you had been back for his surgery and I just had a feeling in my gut that you'd be back here for awhile. I've actually wanted to come back here, myself, for some time now, but I couldn't until I knew I could set up practice and have a good go at it. You know how all these old farmers are; they stick with what they know and it's hard to earn their business."
"Yeah, but you're Edward Cullen. That's gotta mean something."
"It does, but it still doesn't mean that they'd leave Doc Johnson for me."
"I heard he passed away earlier this year," I shake my head, feeling sadness wash over me again. He was a good man, the best vet in the county. Anytime we had a sick horse or cow, he was always there, johnny on the spot.
"I hate monopolizing on the loss of good person, but I knew that now was my chance. When my mom mentioned you coming back here, it was like all the stars were lining up. I didn't want to miss my second chance."
His confidence shocks me. I don't know why it should. He's always been confident and sure of himself. Those are a couple of qualities that made me love him so much when we were in high school.
Our eyes are locked on each other. I can tell he is gauging my reaction to his words. He finally continues.
"I know I might should be, but I'm not sorry, Bella." The only thing I see reflected in his eyes and his expression are honesty and sincerity, and I'm finding it hard to breathe. "Being away from you has only made me realize just how special you are. I've missed you so much over the years and I've wanted to get in touch with you. I always thought we'd run into each other or something. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I wouldn't see you until now." He pauses, taking a breath and swallowing hard.
"I'm partly to blame for that," I say, feeling guilty all of a sudden. "When I've been home, which hasn't been a lot, I've stayed at the farm. I would come into the diner, but I'd wait for closing time or early mornings to make my visits. Usually, I was here for a couple of days and then I'd leave again. I'm not sure why, but I tended to avoid running into people." I finally take a chance and look up at him, his blue eyes looking at me so intently.
"Why is that? You know, we've all missed you, not just me. You've been the topic of conversation more than once over the years. We've all wondered about you, worried about you, thought about where you were. I mean, we knew where you were..."
"My Aunt Sue." I roll my eyes, knowing that she had probably kept them properly informed of my whereabouts. She is always quick to brag about her niece that went off to California and graduated from Stanford...with honors. She can never leave that part out.
"I just figured you were searching for something and when you found it, you'd be back."
That's funny. I always felt like what I was searching for was thousands of miles away from here, but in this moment, it seemed like what I've been searching for was standing right in front of me.
"Did you find what you were searching for? Are you...or were you happy in California?"
"I thought I was." The words come out of my mouth before I even have time to think about them, which means they must be true. "And yes, I found what I was searching for, I guess. I mean, I went to school and got a degree...lived in a tiny apartment, just like I always wanted. So, if that's what you're asking, then yes, I found what I was searching for."
"But, being here makes me realize that I've missed this place and I miss small town life...and the people, I miss the people most of all."
"Did you miss me?"
That was the question of the moment. Did I miss him? Hell yes, I miss him...I've missed him every second of every day, but do I tell him that? Does that make me desperate or pathetic?
He nods, his eyes piercing me. The atmosphere around us is tingly and thick. I can't take my eyes off of him and I want to touch him so bad. I want to run my hands down his well-worn t-shirt, feel his strong muscles underneath, feel his hair between my fingers, and...he's waiting on my answer. Shit.
"Yeah," I breathe out. "I've missed you."
There's a spark in his eyes and I feel him looking at my lips, silently asking.
"I thought I'd find you out here!" The door opens and my Aunt peeks her head out. When she sees us, she starts backing out of the doorway. "Oh, sorry! Don't mind me. I'm just going back to the kitchen..." She continues to mumble something that I'm probably glad I can't hear, as she goes back inside.
"I really should get back in there." I fidget with my apron, not knowing what to do at this point.
"I'd really love if we could talk some more, catch up." He pauses, just staring at me. "You sure you're alright?"
"Yeah," I squeak out.
"Was that an answer to my first or my second question?"
"Both." I was better, thanks to him, and I'd really like to finish this, whatever this is.
"Really?" The shock is evident in his voice.
"Yeah." I seem to have lost my immense vocabulary. I've been reduced to one syllable responses. Edward did that. He made me forget to breathe sometimes.
I step around him and head back into the diner. The lunch rush is starting and I bet my Aunt Sue is ready to string me up, except I'm sure that she is more than happy about what she walked up on outside...maybe that'll save me.
"Everything alright, Darlin'?" Waylon's expression is concerned, as he looks up at me.
I smile at him and nod my head. He walks around the counter and pulls me into a hug. "It's ok to have a bad day, kiddo. We all have them." I lean into the hug, wrapping my arms around his waist.
My Aunt walks in with an empty tray, and her face turns up into a warm smile when she sees us. I notice that their eyes meet. I wish they would just throw in the towel and quit pretending that they don't love each other, I mean, in a romantic kind of way, because we all know they do. I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands one of these days, if they don't.
"You've got a table of regulars waitin' on you out there," she winks at me, setting the tray down on the counter.
-Little Town, Texas-
"I don't need you fussin' over me."
"Yes, you do."
"Don't argue with me, Isabella Marie." Charlie can still put me in my place with those two words. Even at twenty-five, the minute he says my first and middle name together, he has my complete attention. There was a day when I would argue with him until the cows come home, but not today, if he really doesn't need me this evening, I have somewhere else I'd like to be.
"Well, you have to promise that you'll call me if you start feelin' bad at all. I'll just be over at The Cullens, only a few miles away," I look up as I slide into my flip flops and grab my truck keys off the table. I know my Aunt Sue will call him and possibly even stop by, but I need him to promise me he'll call if he needs anything. I have to have his word on that or I'll worry the entire time I'm gone.
I stand in the doorway staring at him, as he flips the channels on the TV from his recliner.
"I promise," he huffs, never looking up. I know he hates me to hover and I try not to, but it's hard.
"Be safe," he hollers out as I walk out the door.
"Always am," I holler back.
About ten minutes later, I'm pulling down the long gravel drive that leads up to the Cullens house. They live on a large ranch, just like the majority of people that live in this town. It doesn't matter if you're a doctor, lawyer, or mechanic; more than likely, you have some land with cattle. It's just what we do; it's in our blood to work the land.
I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing here, but after my talk with Edward last week, I've wanted nothing more than to see him and spend more time with him. This was a good excuse. Esme stopped by the diner and invited me to a bonfire. It's seemed harmless and since the invite came from her and not Edward, I couldn't turn it down. I love Esme; I wouldn't want to hurt her feelings.
I step out of the truck and I can smell the wood burning. I hear people talking and the sound leads me around to the back of the house.
"Bella! I'm so glad you came!" Esme hurries over and pulls me in for a hug. She's always been such a wonderful hostess, always making her company feel welcome. I used to love to spend time out here when we were in high school. If we were watching a movie, she would make us popcorn in this old-fashioned popcorn popper. She was definitely the cool mom. Everyone wanted to spend time out here. I think that was her motive...she's sneaky.
"Edward and Jasper have been out feeding the cows. I bet they're in the barn putting the horses up. Would you mind going out there and telling them dinner is ready?"
She gives me a knowing smile, as I turn around to walk off. Like I said, sneaky.
I take inventory of the guests as I pass by and see a few people I recognize from town, but they're all parents of friends I graduated with. I wave as a few people acknowledge me, but continue walking out toward the barn.
When I get there, I pause by the opening, watching. Edward is putting his horse in the stall and when he turns, I see that his shirt is completely unbuttoned, leaving his chest bare and visible. His jeans and boots are dirty and his face is sweaty.
He is a sight to behold.
I swallow hard and think about turning around and going back to the house, pretending like I saw nothing. I'll just tell Esme that they weren't here.
I want to leave, but my feet won't budge. I don't want him to know I'm watching him, but I can't take my eyes away. His skillful hands wind up the rope he was using and hang it on a hook outside the stall. The horse neighs and sticks its head out of the open door. Edward walks up to it and strokes its head, talking to it softly. I love his tenderness. He's always been that way, with people and with animals. I miss it. I miss him.
"See something you like?"
I let out a squeal, before I realize what I'm doing. Whirling around, covering my mouth, I see Jasper standing right behind me. I have no idea how long he's been there, but he scared the ever living shit out of me. Damn him.
My eyes grow wider when I hear Edward's melodic laugh coming from behind me.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
"Um, Esme sent me out here. She said that dinner is ready." I make my statement and promptly walk off, leaving them behind me. I know they're laughing at me and probably talking about me, but I'd rather not hear it. So, I walk quickly until I'm back at the house.
"Everything ok, dear? You look a little flushed," Esme says, softly patting my cheek.
"Oh, fine. Everything is fine. I just, um, I told Edward and Jasper that dinner was ready. And, uh, they're almost finished. I'm sure they'll be right here."
She eyes me cautiously, recognizing my nervous ramble, I'm sure. "Ok, sweetie. Well, can I get you something to drink then?"
"Water would be great. Thank you."
Esme goes off to get me some water and I sink down into one of the chairs on the patio.
"Bella, it's so good to see you. How's Charlie?" Carlisle asks, walking up and sitting down beside me.
"Hey, Dr. C! It's good to see you!" I lean over and give him a hug. Just as I'm getting ready to give him an update on my dad, Edward and Jasper are walking up toward the house. They're obviously still laughing at my expense, or possibly something else. Both of them have the most boyish grins on their faces, their smiles reaching their eyes.
"Those two are obviously up to no good, as usual," Carlisle says, smiling at them and giving them a wave.
"You two hurry inside and clean up. We're starving," Esme tells them, sitting a glass of water down in front of me.
"Thank you, Esme."
She smiles sweetly at me and walks over to visit with a few of her other guests.
I continue my conversation with Carlisle, telling him about Charlie's last chemo treatment and how he's been feeling this week. He listens to me and gives me some feedback. Talking with him is so reassuring. He tells me that it's normal to feel weak after the treatments and that the last time he checked Charlie's levels, everything was looking as good as could be expected. I don't know why, but he just gives me some peace of mind and I feel much better after our talk.
"Let's eat!" Esme exclaims, walking over and taking the cover off of the dishes she has out on a long table. I look up to see Edward standing there in a clean shirt.
Everything looks delicious.
His sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, putting his muscular forearms on display, and his eyes are more piercing than normal as he stares across the table at me, like I'm the meal.
I feel my insides ignite, heat building between my legs. This is going to be a long night. If I'm not already a hot mess from the heat of the bonfire, I will certainly be one if Edward keeps looking at me like that. A knowing smirk flashes across his face, as he rakes a hand through his bronze hair, and if I'm not mistaken, a groan slips past those perfect lips.
The entire evening is spent in that same fashion - Edward looking at me, me looking at Edward. The atmosphere feels charged, but, thankfully, the conversation remains light. We talk about Austin and California. Jasper opens up a little bit about his divorce. A few of the other people join in the conversation and ask about Charlie. I try to keep my answers upbeat and positive, but I catch Edward giving me a sad look. I'm sure he's remembering the break down that he walked up on last week.
When the bonfire finally dies down and everyone is saying their goodbyes, I look over at Esme and thank her for inviting me. She hugs me tight and tells me that if Charlie or I need anything, I'm to call her. Carlisle says the same thing. I hug him and thank him for everything. "No need to thank me, Bella. It's the least I can do." I give him a small smile of appreciation.
"I'll walk you to your truck," Edward says, somewhere in between a statement and a question. I nod in agreement.
"Bye, Jasper." He gives me a classic Jasper hug; they're not quite as constricting as Emmett's, but they're close. I laugh a little, squeezing him back. "If you ever need to talk, I'm here to listen," I whisper. "Same goes for you, Bells," he whispers back and kisses my cheek.
I don't know why I ever thought I wanted to leave this place. I need these people and they need me.
Edward and I walk quietly out to my truck. The night air is warm and there isn't a breeze in sight. I look up at the stars and admire what I see. You just cannot beat a clear Texas sky, especially at night. The Milky Way is on full display.
"Beautiful," Edward says in a quiet voice.
"It really is, isn't it?" I look over at him to see that he's not looking at the sky. He's looking at me.
"I'd like to take you on a date."
I turn and lean against the door of my truck. Edward puts his arms on either side of me and he's so close, if I were to lean in, our lips would be touching. I want that. I lick my lips, thinking about it.
"Would you go on a date with me?" His voice is low and sultry.
"I'd like that," I breathe out, not able to make my voice louder than a whisper.
"How about Sunday night?"
He leans in closer, pausing. His lips are slightly parted and his eyes are on mine. I don't back away, telling him that I want it, without saying a word. Slowly, his lips brush mine. He breathes in deeply at the contact. My eyes automatically shut, as I lose myself in the moment and the feel of Edward's lips on mine.
"Perfect." The word comes out as a response to his question, but there is more behind it than that. He feels perfect. This feels perfect.
-Little Town, Texas-
"Where are we going, Edward?" It was driving me crazy not knowing where we were headed. He blindfolded me with a bandana before we drove away from my house. For a few minutes, I knew exactly where we were. I know every inch of the gravel road from my house to the main road. I could drive it myself with this blindfold on. But then, he starts messing me up. He takes a left, like he might be going to his house, and then he drives a few minutes and turns around. I can tell he makes a u-turn by the sharpness of the turn. There aren't many places we can go in the little town, but I'm definitely stumped.
"You know, it's ok for you to not know where we're going. You trust me, right," his smooth voice taking over all my senses.
"Yes," I answer, quickly, confidently. I do trust him. A few weeks ago, I might not have answered with such fervor. Our past had left me unsure of him, of us. But now, more than ever, I know I trust him.
The truck comes to a stop. I know we're in a gravel parking lot or on a gravel road, because I can hear the crunch of the rocks under the tires. That doesn't give a lot away. We could still be anywhere. I mean, over half the town is gravel.
Edward gets out of the truck and then I hear my door open. I instinctively reach out and my hand comes in contact with him, warmth spreads through my body. I always respond that way to Edward's touch. I can't help it. I have tried to will it away, but you just can't will away fate...or destiny...or whatever my Aunt Sue calls this.
He helps me out of the truck and guides me. When he stops to open a door, I immediately know where we are, due to the chiming of the bells as we enter. The diner? Really? He said a romantic date. I figured maybe we were driving out of town somewhere or maybe to the restaurant that is down by the lake, but not the diner.
"Edward," I begin, but quickly shut my mouth. The blindfold drops from my eyes and I scan the room, not believing what I'm seeing. There is just one solitary table in the middle of the dinner and the entire floor is covered in jars with candles lit in them. The table is set for two and there are candles on it as well. As I hear the soft music playing in the background, tears come to my eyes. For the first time in a long time, they're not tears of sadness or from being scared.
I'm happy. I'm genuinely happy.
I'm happy that I'm standing here in this diner that I come to every day. I'm most happy about the person who is standing next to me. No one has done anything this nice for me ever.
"Bella?" Edward turns to me. "Are you disappointed?" There is concern and maybe a little disappointment of his own in his voice. His thumb comes up and brushes a tear off my cheek.
"No, this is beautiful."
"Please don't cry," he says, gently.
"I'm sorry. I've just...I mean...well, this is seriously the nicest, most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me."
A stunning smile breaks out across his face, and his eyes twinkle in the candlelight.
"So, you like it?"
"I love it." I almost say that I love him, but that would be jumping the gun. Slow your roll, Bella.
"Good," he breathes out, a sigh of relief.
He walks over and pulls a chair out for me.
"Please, have a seat. I'll be right back."
While he's gone, I take the chance to look around. Someone went to a lot of work to make this place look like this. I should know, I clean it. Along with the candles covering the floor, there are white Christmas lights on the ceiling. It looks so beautiful and I kinda want to live here.
Edward comes back with plates of food.
"I cooked," he says, setting one down in front of me. "Well, my mom helped, but I did most of the work. She just made the raviolis. I found out I really suck at making raviolis. You like raviolis, right? And mushrooms? Shit. I guess I should have asked you before..."
His little rambly rant he has going on is adorable, but I can't let him suffer.
"I love it, Edward. I love ravioli and I love mushrooms. This all looks amazing."
Finally, he sits down and we eat, and drink wine, and talk like seven years never passed. I watch him across the table, telling a story about college. I love the story, but I love watching him more. I love the way the corners of his eyes crinkle when he smiles. It's like his whole face lights up. I love the way he brushes his hand through his hair when he's nervous or he doesn't know what to say. I love the way his eyes look back at me. He sees me, more than any human on this planet. I know this is headed somewhere good.
"What are you thinking about?" he asks.
"I was just thinking about how I'm glad you're sitting across the table from me. You know, I didn't come back here expecting to see you. I guess I figured if I was going to run into you, I would have over the last seven years. It seemed like it wasn't meant to be. Actually, I was beginning to think that love wasn't meant to be, for me, at least. I think I've spent the last seven years comparing every guy I met to you."
He reaches across the table and rubs soft circles on my hand.
"I know twenty five is really young to give up on love, but honestly, it wasn't even on my radar. Until..."
"Until you walked in here and sat down."
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