Chapter Twenty-two: Fully Engaged
Edward is stunning in a suit and tie. A bit much, I'd told him, smiling and shaking my head as he climbs the stage. But he'd insisted on wearing the stupid thing. Something about looking his best in front of hundreds of people.
The room is filled with laughing, chatting women, deeply engaged in their own conversations. I enjoy watching them in my uninterrupted silence.
Rose and I had met Alice earlier in the day and now the two girls are in the middle of a deep discussion about a fanfic we've all been following. Alice is just how I pictured her: petite with choppy, dark hair streaked with pink, purple, and gold flowing through the ebony strands. She wears a peasant skirt and sparkling flip-flops. Her eyes are heavy-lidded and painted with glittering eyeshadow. Bangle bracelets clatter together on her thin wrist. Her appearance is the polar opposite of Rose, who's wearing a white bustier and skin-tight jeans.
Never knowing what to wear to these sort of things, I'd picked out a simple, red dress and a pair of black boots. Standing out is the last thing I want, considering I'm terrified of too much attention placed upon me. Confessing my fanfiction addiction in front of a room of strangers way back when was hard enough. I can't imagine all these eyes on me in this room.
Public speaking must not faze my boyfriend. He sits on a metal chair, a peculiar smile on his face as he watches me from across the room. I blush, remembering the hungry way he gazed at me this morning before we made love. We're ravenous for one another, that's for sure. I've never felt so hungry for a man, so needy to have him close by. I know once I head back home I'll be heartbroken yet again. If only we didn't have to part …
"What inspired you to write your first Moonlight fanfic?"
I'm yanked out of my thoughts by an elderly woman with a shaky hand grasping a microphone. Sometime during my inner musings the audience to author questions had begun. This particular question is directed at Emmett who looks like he just swallowed a golf ball.
I guess public speaking really isn't his forte either.
"I, uh." He coughs. "I was in college and it was sort of an idea I got from my buddies. They were making fun of Moonlight and how the clueless girl kept falling in love for the psychotic vampire. One of my friends joked that even I could write something more entertaining than that. I guess they thought since I played football and never took anything seriously that I couldn't sit down and put a couple of sentences together. I wrote my first fanfic to prove something to myself- to prove those so-called friends of mine were wrong about me. I've been writing ever since."
"My question is for Edward," says a blushing, younger girl. I raise my eyebrow and scowl at the moon-eyes she has for my man. "Do you plan on doing a book signing in Texas anytime soon? Particularly in the Dallas area." She bites her lip in an attempt to appear coy. Narrowing my eyes, I kinda hope she misses the seat when she goes to sit down.
"The only trip I have planned anytime soon is a visit down to Forks, Georgia," Edward replies, his smile growing wider at my confused frown. We haven't discussed him visiting my hometown, not that I mind. On the contrary. I'd love for him to visit and get to know my father now that our relationship has grown more serious.
A thin lady wearing thick glasses stands and someone hands her the mic."Do you have a current project you're working on? And if so, what does it involve?" she asks Edward.
"Currently I'm working on the most important project of my life," he says, his gaze locked on mine. "It involves a man who never thought he'd find true love, but he does. One night he's online and unintentionally insults this beautiful, witty, amazing woman. From that moment on he can't keep his mind off her. All he can think about is marrying her, spending the rest of his life loving her."
The room is filled with happy sighs and pleasant hums of approval. Everyone stares up at him goofy-eyed with big, glowing grins.
"If you don't mind," he says, glancing at the moderator. "I have my own question for Bella Swan, otherwise known as SwanLake."
My mouth falls open as he suddenly stands and gestures for me to join him on stage. Flashes of our morning conversation plays in the back of my mind.
Why are you wearing a suit and tie? I'd asked, glancing down at my simple dress. Am I under-dressed for the meet-up?
I'm wearing this suit and tie for a very particular reason, he'd responded, a smug grin stretching across his face. He pressed his lips to my forehead, whispering against it. You'll see why in a few, short hours.
Sweat beads on my forehead as he continues to beckon me forward. Someone is jabbering in my ear, pulling my numb body from my seat and shoving me forward. I stumble across the room and eventually across the stage, my boots feeling as though they are full of sand. I'm standing just a breath away from him when he removes a small, black box from deep within his pocket and drops to one knee.
My hands automatically cup my mouth to hide my startled gasp. The room is filled with gasps and whispers that slowly become a low roar. The moderator silences the crowd with a shush. All eyes are on us. The count's poison ring rests inside. Memories of my last visit to Chicago fill my head. Tears spring to my eyes.
"Bella Swan," he says, opening the box. "The most important thing in my life has always been words. When I'm sad, I flip open my laptop and put it into words. When I'm pissed, I bang out a chapter or two. Words are my life. Words are my livelihood. They're constantly flowing through my mind. But when I met you … I was speechless. There were no words. You stilled that voice inside of me and for once, I stopped focusing on the story inside my head and I focused on you.
"Even now, I can barely formulate the words I need to convey how much you mean to me, how much I love you. I've spent days trying to come up with an elegant way to ask you an important question, an intelligent way to display my utmost affection. I've scribbled on napkins and notebook paper, inevitably ripping the pieces to shreds because they weren't up to par. Not until I saw you sitting in the audience today did the perfect words strike me."
Edward removes the ring from the black box. He gives me a reassuring smile and takes my trembling hand in his. The ring slides on my finger perfectly, as though it were meant to be mine. Spreading my fingers wide, I turn my hand, examine the ring with my heart in my throat.
What is this insanity? Is this really happening to me?
"What are the perfect words?" I ask.
Edward grins. "Marry me."
I run my fingers through his hair and then cup his cheek. His face is so earnest, so full of anticipation and hope. Never have I known true love until this very moment.
"You know," I say, smiling. "I think I will."
"Why am I so nervous? It's just friends and family," I mutter.
Edward leans against the doorway watching as I remove fine china from the china cabinet. Each piece of dinnerware was a gift from Esme, a sort of pre-wedding wedding gift. Pink roses and mint-green leaves line the edges. The golden ring around the edge of each plate is made of real gold, a fact that stunned me when Esme gifted them to me, much to Edward's amusement.
Spending time with people who have money, hell, living with someone who has money is still sometimes uncomfortable for me. Growing up, our dinnerware consisted of Budweiser glasses and dollar store plates. I'm an avid coupon clipper, a fact that drives Edward so berserk that he won't even go grocery shopping with me anymore. Instead, he patiently waits for my return and graciously unloads each and every grocery from the back of our SUV.
Yup, our SUV.
Not only have we recently purchased our own house together, we've also purchased a vehicle together. Signing paperwork with my name beside Edward's seems so … permanent, so settled.
I like the feeling.
"We don't have to use the china, if you don't want to," Edward says. "We can use the plates you bought at Wal-Mart."
I smirk at the way he says "Wal-Mart," like it's some sort of disease or something. Shaking my head, I lay the last plate at its place on the table.
"No, I want this dinner to be flawless," I say, smoothing the wrinkles from my dress. "How do I look?"
Edward pushes himself from the doorway, crosses the dining room, and pulls me squealing into his arms. "Flawless," he whispers in my ear.
I playfully swat him away, but the dinging of the doorbell interrupts us from the beginning of a faux fight. Taking a deep breath, I give my dress one last once over and allow Edward to practically drag me from the room. We enter the foyer and Edward opens the door to a smiling Charlie and an equally nervous-looking Sue.
"Edward," Charlie says, shaking his hand. "This house is really … something."
"You find the place okay?" Edward asks, still pumping my father's hand. It looks as though they're in some sort of hand-shaking death match: grip for grip, pump for pump. I'm secretly worried one of them is gonna rip the other one's arm out of socket.
"Found it fine," he says, lowering his voice. "No thanks to your directions. Thank God for my Garmin GPS."
"Dad, don't start." I sigh, physically grabbing their hands and prying them apart. "Leave your negativity at the door, please. I know you're still pissed about me moving so far away from home, but you're gonna have to get over it. Edward and I bought a house together. This is a done deal."
"Speaking of new houses," Sue says in a sing-song voice. She holds up a box wrapped in shiny, silver paper topped with a loopy, glittering bow. "Where do we put the housewarming presents?"
Smooth move, Sue.
Forcing a tight smile, I put aside my own differences concerning my father and his girlfriend and gesture for the couple to come inside. Sue sets the gift on a narrow table in the hallway and turns to me, smiling.
"I hope we can get to know each other a little better while Charlie and I are in town."
Guilt nearly swallows me whole for always thinking poorly of the girl who seems so sincere. "Maybe we can go shopping one day."
Sue wrinkles her nose, but her expression smooths out almost instantly. "Okay," she says, nodding.
I can't help but laugh at the stiffness in her voice. "Don't like shopping?"
Sue bites her lip. "Not particularly."
"Thank God," I mutter, wiping non-existent sweat from my brow. "What about fishing?"
"For real?" she asks, laughing. "Fishing I can handle." Her eyes sparkle and the guilt continues to weighs heavily on my heart, for more than one reason.
"Sue, how about me and you take the ten-cent tour?" Charlie asks, clamping a beefy hand on my shoulder. "Bells, you mind if we take a look around?"
"Go right ahead. I'm sure Edward can show you ar-"
"Nah, I think I can navigate my way around a house," he says, then grumbles. "He'd probably have us lost somewhere in an upstairs closet."
Sue shoots him a disgruntled look that he ignores. The two disappear upstairs and Edward heaves a massive sigh.
"Your father hates me," he mutters, frowning. "And you hate Sue. I thought you were gonna give her a chance for a change."
"I don't hate her," I say. "But I feel guilty about giving her a chance, like I'm betraying my mother or something."
"Bells, we've talked about this. Your mom would understand. Don't you think she'd want your father to be happy again?"
"Stop all that noise," I say, joking, of course. "We're going fishing. We'll bond. Fishing always makes people bond."
"If you say so." Edward shakes his head, an amused expression on his face.
After all these months he still fails to understand me sometimes, but that's the beauty of our relationship. There's always little things we find out about one another that continues to surprise us, like my love of fishing and his strange fascination with sharing cleaning tips he finds online.
Rose, Emmett, Esme, Carlisle, and Granny Platt arrive minutes later. Granny Platt grumbles and complains as I throw my arms around her and smother her pale, wrinkled cheek with kisses.
"Go on, gal. You're smearing my makeup. There's a handsome feller standing behind you that I want to impress."
"Granny, that's Charlie, Bella's father," Edward says. "You remember meeting Charlie, don't you?"
"I'm old, not senile," she grumbles. "Dumbass."
Edward's shoulders slump. "Nice to see you too, Granny."
Granny huffs at his downcast face and slaps something hard and flat against his chest. Edward furrows his brow and takes a book from her hands. It's his newest novel and the one he is the most proud of.
"Sign that for me," Granny says, refusing to look at her grandson. "And don't smear the ink."
"Uh, okay. Who do you want me to make it out to?"
"Who do you think? Make it out to Granny Platt," she mutters.
Edward's smile is slow, curving upward around the edges and twisting into a full-fledged grin. Esme and Carlise exchange glances, their own smiles matching the intensity of my fiance's.
"Standing around grinning like the town idiots," Granny mumbles, shuffling towards the living room. "Charlie," she hollers. "Show me that tattoo you got in the Navy again. The one on your hard, hairy chest. Oh, look, it's your child bride. You shoulda left the kid at home and let a real woman show you a good time."
We all shudder and I possibly throw up in my mouth a little. Edward, Rose, Em, and Carlisle wander outside to drink in the scenery. When Edward and I first got engaged we had no clue where to move. His life and family was in Chicago, mine in Georgia. One night, after a bottle of wine and a hot and heavy Skyping session, I suggested we meet somewhere in the middle.
That's how we ended up purchasing a home in Louisville, Kentucky.
I can write anywhere, Edward had said. And you can find a nursing job anywhere, if that's what you still want to do.
What do you mean 'if that's still what I want to do?' I'd asked. What else would I do?
Write. Don't write, he'd said. Whatever makes you happy. I'll support you in whatever decision you make.
You make me happy, I'd said.
He'd grinned. You're not getting out of it that easy. Think about it, B. Do you want to focus on writing? Maybe work on some original fiction?
My response was hesitant, uncertain of his reaction. I want to focus on making a family.
The smile on his face in the computer screen grew. You mean … kids?
Maybe it's the wine talking, I'd said, knowing it wasn't.
Edward grinned knowingly. I hope it's not just the wine.
"What has my sweet Bella smiling so big?" Esme asks, pulling me from my thoughts.
My cheeks burn from being caught in la-la land. "I've got a secret."
"Oh, I love secrets. What is it?" she asks, following me into the kitchen.
I remove the pot roast from the oven and place it on the counter. Tossing the oven mitts aside, I run my fingers through my hair and shoot her an awkward glance. "I'm pregnant."
The glass Esme picks up shakes in her hand. I take it from her before she has a chance to drop it on the marble floor. Prices are always falling at Wal-Mart, but that doesn't mean the glass I purchased there has to.
"You're pregnant with my grandchild," she whispers, tears forming in her eyes. "How far along?"
For some reason I feel silly and shy. "Eight weeks. The baby is due sometime around Christmas."
"And Edward? He's happy?"
"So happy." I grin, the memory of the day I revealed our pregnancy to him playing in my mind. "He cried when I told him we were expecting."
"Oh, sweetie," Esme cries, wrapping her arms around me. "I'm so happy for the two of you. Carlisle and I will pay for college. I'll open a savings account as soon as we get back home."
"Esme, you're not paying for my child's college education." I laugh, relaxing into her arms. Tears form in my own eyes at the motherly way she holds me. "I wish my mom could be here for this. You would have loved her."
"If she was anything like you, I know I would have."
I sniff at her kind words, glancing away to hide the pain on my face. Esme smooths my hair, tucking it behind my shoulders and kissing my cheek. She releases me and flutters around the kitchen, chatting about strollers and playpens and bassinets, things I know nothing about. Her voice drops whenever someone enters the room and I'm sure she realizes I have yet to tell my father about the pregnancy. He's still sour over me moving far from home with a man I met online.
Edward wants us to tell him about the pregnancy tonight as soon as everyone leaves and it's just the four of us: me, him, Charlie, and Sue. But after I put away the supper dishes and take out a massive garbage bag full of wrapping paper from the housewarming gifts, I spot my father in the backyard alone and understand that this is the way he should find out about the baby- from me and only me.
"Whatcha doing, Daddy?"
Charlie smiles at the childhood name I still call him by at times. He nods towards a pile of wood leaning against a stout, thick tree in the backyard.
"Edward building something?"
The colorful, red slide and bright, yellow steps of a ladder peek out from behind the boards, a silent declaration.
"Edward is building a tree house," I say, carefully watching his face. "I told him it's too soon to build one, but he's so excited."
Charlie presses his lips together and stares into the distance. Somewhere in the far pasture a horse neighs. Stars sparkle overhead. The world is so quiet here. Only the sound of the animals and insects sing at night. There are no car horns, no drunken kids ripping up and down the roads. We live far in the country and alone. Perfectly alone.
"You're gonna have to teach him the ropes," he says. "He doesn't fish or hunt, doesn't work on cars. He probably doesn't even know how to air up a tire. Damn city slicker. How the hell is he gonna build a tree house? Does he even own a hammer?"
"Maybe you can help him," I say, hoping he'll accept my suggestion. "Edward's not a bad guy, Daddy. He's just different from us. His dad is a preacher, not a mechanic. You raised me to depend on myself. He was raised to pay someone else when he needed something done. But he's willing to learn. That's why he's been out here working on the tree house the past few days, after all."
Charlie says nothing for a while. He shoves his hands deep inside his pockets and leans back on his heels.
"He found y'all a nice place out here," he says. "Peaceful. Good place to raise a family."
"Yeah, that's why we bought it." I wrap my arms around my torso and stare up at the stars. "He suggested somewhere far outside the city."
Charlie nods. "He's making a fine living off those books, too."
I smile at the subtle way my father complements the man he pretends to care so little about. "He begs me to quit work and stay home. Says my job is too stressful on me and the baby."
"My daughter is having a baby." He chuckles. "I knew as soon as I saw you, ya know? You have that glow that your mother always had when she was pregnant with you." He pauses, drawing in a deep breath. "Edward's gonna make a fine daddy. I've been too hard on the boy."
"Maybe you should talk to him about this instead of me?"
"Talk to who about what?" a voice asks.
Charlie and I both jump. I hadn't heard the door open and shut, or the shuffle of his feet across the thick, emerald-green grass. He slides his arms around me, placing his hands on my belly. Charlie's eyes weigh heavy on the two of us, a half-smile tugging on one corner of his mouth before turning his attention back to the stars overhead. For a moment everything seems perfect. Charlie opens his mouth and I smile, something inside me telling me he's about to apologize to Edward for the way he's treated him.
"Talk to you about mowing this grass. You don't know how to work a lawn mower?"
Or maybe not.
"I think … the belt is broken on it." Edward's voice is quiet, embarrassed. "I'm not sure what I've done wrong."
"Well, I'll come over in the morning. Show you how to work that rig." Charlie nods to the beams of wood leaning against the tree. "Then we'll start on the tree house. I don't want my grandchild climbing on something that's not secure. After that, we'll take the girls fishing. You do know how to bait a hook, don't you?"
Edward purses his lips and shakes his head. "No, sir."
Charlie sighs. He walks over to us and places a hand on Edward's shoulder, squeezing it. "Grandpa Charlie will show you how it's done, okay?"
Edward nods and Charlie pats his shoulder in a friendly way. "I'm about to hit the hay. I'll see you in the morning … son."
Charlie walks away, disappearing into the night. Edward says nothing, but I feel his emotion in the tightening of his chest, and in the way he breaths so deeply. He rests his chin on the top of my head as continues to hold me, lightly massaging my belly. I think of my father, how different he is from Edward, yet the two of them love me so much and want nothing but the best for me and my child.
"Are you happy, Daddy?" I ask, lightly nudging him with my elbow.
"I'm so happy, Mama."
"I love that word," I say. "Mama."
"You're gonna be great at it, you know?"
"At what? Being a mother?"
"Yeah." His breath tickles the tiny hairs near my forehead.
"You're gonna be an amazing father." I reassure him with an upward glance into his unsure eyes. "Baiting a hook and repairing a lawn mower has nothing to do with being a father. You know that, right? Charlie is just being Charlie."
"I know. He sounds excited about the baby." Edward chuckles. "Well, as excited as Charlie can get. And I think he's starting to like me."
"I told you he would. He'll have to get used to the idea that we're not going the traditional route of marriage first, baby second. It'll just take a little time."
"Time," he murmurs, kissing my temple. "I like time. As long as it's spent with you."
I glance down at his hands resting atop mine. My engagement ring peeks out between our intertwined fingers. Wedding dress magazines and bridal planning books await me inside, where I'm sure Esme, Rose, and Sue are flipping the pages, anxiously waiting on me to walk inside, sit down, and map out the wedding. But I'm in no rush. Not now, not with his arms around me and our child in my belly. Time is on our side.
Time, full of love and life events and stories.
Stories we'll make together.
Hoodfabulous Fanfiction Confession: I'm on the author's panel at the TFMU in July. . I'm so nervous! Y'all send some positive vibes my way!
Thank y'all for reading this (mostly) unbeta'd story. AliCat did beta this last chapter. Her birthday was yesterday and I gifted her a story. Check out Heroic and let me know what you think about it. My collab with Jonesn under our JonesnindaHood account also completed today. The name of the story is Grind.
As usual, Peace and Love to all of you, my amazing readers!