This was our contest entry for the Twilight Happily Ever After contest. To our extreme shock and joy, it won as Magtwi78's host's pick! We both love Daddyward, so we decided to try one together.
Thank you so much to everyone who read, reviewed, and voted! And to all the judges of the contest for giving us this opportunity. We had a great time, combining our styles and ideas to create this!
And thank you so, SO much to our beta, MelissaMargaret. We couldn't have done it without her, and it definitely wouldn't look as pretty. We love you times a zillion!
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.
"I wanna go higher, Daddy!" Aiden laughs as he kicks his feet.
I push him a little harder, but not so much that he goes more than a couple feet from the ground. We just got into town two days ago, and I'd rather not see my dad at work quite yet.
"How's that, bub?" I ask, chuckling as I listen to his squeals of joy.
"If you go much higher, you'll be in outer space. Let's stay on planet earth for now, all right? You can be an astronaut later."
I keep pushing him for a while, letting him soak up the oddly nice day in the usually dreary town of Forks, Washington. We just moved back here — back with my parents, in fact — for a fresh start. We're away from New York, away from the bills I could barely pay, and away from all the mistakes I'd made, hoping to make things better.
Aiden is three, almost four. It's just the two of us and has been since a few weeks after his birth. His mother, Irina, and I tried to make things work, but . . . she didn't want this. It was a shock and changed our lives completely, but unlike her, I wanted our son from the moment I saw that positive pregnancy test. Sure, she hadn't been anyone important in my life at the time. Senior year was stressful for me, and I didn't handle it in the best ways, deciding to drink to the point of forgetting a condom after a party. But I couldn't regret it. I couldn't exactly explain why the idea of fatherhood appealed to me so much, but it did. I was only twenty-one and had a hell of a lot of growing up to do, but the moment my son was placed in my arms, I knew being a father was what I was meant to be.
Of all the mistakes I've made in the past four years, he could never be one of them. If anything, he's that one bright light that keeps me going. He's my entire world. He makes me want to be a better person and change completely. He's made me grow up and realize that I can't do everything on my own as I planned, and that's what brought us here to Forks.
I grew up in the small town on the Olympic Peninsula but left for New York City the summer after I graduated. It held a lot of memories — some amazing, some sad, and some I couldn't quite label. Even though I couldn't wait to get out when I was eighteen, I did miss it. I missed my parents and friends I left behind.
I'm back because of Aiden . . . because I want to give him everything I had, and I couldn't do that in New York. I was barely making it and keeping a roof above our heads. Graphic design did all right, but not well enough and my photography career wasn't going near as well as I hoped. After all, in a city full of artists, it was hard to stand out.
"I'm hungry," Aiden says as I stop the swing and take his hand, helping him off.
"You know what?" I ask, fixing his jacket. "I am, too. What do you say we go check out town, huh? I'm sure we'll find something to hold us over until we get back to Nana and Papa's house for dinner."
"Pizza?" His crooked smile almost makes me want to endure the wrath of my mom by spoiling his dinner, but I know better than that.
"Maybe some other time, all right? How about something smaller?"
Though he's clearly a little disappointed, he agrees and we head to the car. I know that Swan's Bakery is just a few blocks away, and I'm more than a little curious about my old favorite place — favorite for Grandma Swan's pie and her granddaughter. It's been a while, though, so I try not to expect much. It might not even be open, but it's worth the chance.
As soon as I park the car in front of the correct building, I'm as disappointed as my son. The place has an opensign in the window, but it's no longer Swan's Bakery. It appears to be some kind of coffee shop called Spoons. Nothing about Swan anymore, so it must have new owners. I do like coffee, though, so I help Aiden out of the car and head to the door, hoping for the best.
A little bell jingles as I open the door, and the scent of coffee hits me.
"Be right out," a woman's voice calls.
"What is this?" Aiden asks in awe as we walk to the counter. I'm with him; this place is a bit . . . weird. Like a cross between thrift store vomit and a homey kitchen. This isn't Starbucks by a long shot.
"It's a coffee shop, bub. Just one we've never been to." I point him to the case next to the main counter. "Go see if they have any good cakes or cookies."
He's all too enthusiastic in the task I've given him and skips off. Looking up, I study the chalkboard menu that sits high on the wall. For a small place, the menu is pretty diverse, and I think I've narrowed down my choice when the voice calls out again.
"Sorry this is taking so long. The special today is Grandma's apple pie."
There's something about the voice. I can't place it, but it's almost as if I've heard it before. I just don't know where considering I haven't been home in years.
"And we now have a fresh one out of the oven," the mystery woman says as she walks backwards out of the door behind the counter. "So, what can I get you?"
As she starts to turn around, I notice the pie in her hands. But more importantly, I see her face and I know her right away. I'd know her anywhere. I was wrong about no Swans.
"Oh," she gasps, eyes wide. She jumps back in shock, dropping the pie in the process. It falls to the floor with a clang. "Oh fuck. Oh no. Oh shit."
I'm too shocked to speak or move, at least until Aiden comes over.
"Daddy, what's happenin'?" he asks, looking up at me. "That lady's saying not nice words."
I laugh and look back at Bella who's watching us with even wider eyes.
"Oh shit," she whispers one more time. "Sorry. Shoot. Sorry."
"It's okay," I assure her, still laughing. "Aiden won't tell on you, will you, bub?"
"I don't tattle," he assures her. "Imma big boy and big boys don't tattle."
I nod and muss his hair, pleased that he maybe learned something at preschool. "And," I say, winking at her, "I won't tattle on you if I can still order a piece of that pie."
She looks at me, Aiden, and the pie a few times before shaking her head quickly and clearing her throat. She still blushes, just like in high school, but I don't want her to be embarrassed. When she finally focuses on me, I smile but it only makes her cheeks pinker.
"Uhh okay, Ed-Edward. Anything else for you and your . . . cute boy?" As soon as she says it, she claps a hand over her mouth. "Sorry," she mumbles, busying herself with the fallen pie.
I try to hold in my chuckle, maybe pretend I didn't hear her, but nothing escapes a three-year-old.
"Daddy," Aiden gasps, pulling on the leg of my jeans. "That lady thinks I'm cute!"
"She does," I agree. "What do you say?"
He lifts his arms, and I pick him up so he can see over the counter.
"Thank you, lady. I have pie and ice cream, please?" He smiles his sweetest smile and blinks slowly.
I hold my hand out for him to high-five me. I've taught the kid well. There's no way for Bella to resist that face. It's better than any of those fake puppy dog looks some kids try to use.
Bella reappears above the counter, pie in hand. Miraculously, it looks undisturbed in the pan. Her blush hasn't faded much, but I can tell she's much more composed.
"I think that order can be arranged, sweetheart," she says. "But would you like ice cream or . . . a milkshake? As long as it's okay with your . . . daddy."
The last word is basically a question, but I know she's almost sure. Aiden is nearly a photographic copy of me at his age. Wild red hair, dimples . . . really, the only difference is the blue eyes he got from his mother instead of my green. I know for a fact that Bella has seen my baby pictures, thanks to Mom.
"A milkshake will be fine," I say. "Vanilla, please. And I think I'll have the same."
She nods and as she prepares our order, I get Aiden settled at one of the small tables. Only a few minutes pass before Bella has everything ready, and after I pay, she helps me carry the plates and glasses to the table.
"Do you guys need anything else?" she asks, and I shake my head.
"I think we're good for now. Thanks, Bella."
"Yeah, thanks, Bella," Aiden repeats.
Smiling, she goes back behind the counter and leaves us to enjoy our snack.
For a few minutes, neither of us speaks. The apple pie is so fucking good, just as I remember it. This isn't Swan's Bakery anymore, but Bella obviously hasn't thrown out the recipes. A few moans almost escape as I clean my plate, and I'm tempted to lick the crumbs. Aiden is more tempted than me and starts to go tongue first at the plate.
"Bub," I scold. "No plate licking in public. Nana would kill me if she saw you do that."
"But, Daddy," he whines. "This pie is sooo yummy. Can I have some more?"
"Not right now." Mom would for sure kill me for that. "But maybe we can convince Bella to let us buy some to take home for after dinner."
"Okay. Bella!" he yells.
I'm very thankful there are no other customers currently in the small building. I love my son, but he can be a mess.
Bella appears at our table a few seconds later, seemingly amused at being summoned.
"Can I get you gentlemen anything else?" she asks, smiling at us. Her smile is so familiar and unchanged by time. And I realize that I've missed her. God, how I've missed her.
So I take a chance.
"Um . . . yeah. Can I get four slices of that apple pie to go? And uh . . . maybe some company while we finish our milkshakes?"
"Oh," she whispers. "Yeah, I can do that. Be right back."
I hand the money over to her before she can rush off and wait anxiously for her to return. Not for the pie. I don't know what I'm going to say when she gets back. She's one of the mistakes of my past. There are so many things I should have done differently, but I can't take them back. But I want something now. I have no clue what, but now that I've seen her again, I can't just leave without a word. It would be nice to have an old friend back, if I haven't burned all of my bridges with her.
When she returns with our boxes of pie, I pull a chair over from an adjacent table. She looks almost as nervous as I am but sits next to me without much stalling.
"Soo . . . hi."
She giggles, making both of us relax just a bit. "Hi," she echoes. "How long have you been back in town?"
"Just two days. We couldn't go any longer without visiting the playground and wound up here for a snack. A coffee shop, huh? That's a change."
"Yeah, well. Coffee and desserts go hand-in-hand. I just shifted the focus to try to bring in more business. Grandma didn't leave me a coffee recipe, though, so I just had to wing it."
"Leave?" I ask softly. "So she . . ."
She nods, smiling sadly. "Right after I got my business degree. We were expecting it, with how her heart was failing, but it was still hard."
"I'm sorry, Bella." I have to stop myself from reaching over to grab her hand. She isn't mine to comfort anymore, though I'm not sure if she belongs to anyone else. Her hands are bare of all things shiny, but I know that doesn't mean anything.
"It's okay," she says, shrugging. "I miss her, but honestly, I love running this place. I love baking and seeing my regular customers. It's been a crazy fun four years. So . . . what have you been up to?"
"Well, you've met Aiden," I say, chuckling. Aiden smiles with his straw in his mouth, showing his dimples. "It's just been me and him for almost four years now." I figure I'll throw my single status out there, just in case. I still don't know if there's anyone in her life or if there will ever be a reason for me to consider it, but for some reason, I want her to know. Her eyes widen in her tell-tale sign of surprise, but I continue. "And I did get my degree in graphic design and photography, but the competition is insane. So here we are for a fresh start."
"I'm glad you were able to follow your dream," she says after a few seconds. "I'm really proud of you, Edward." The sentiment is genuine, as is her smile.
"Thank you," I respond, smiling in return. "It wasn't easy, but I am glad I did it. And having Aiden didn't make it any easier, that's for sure. But I wouldn't trade him for all the money in the world."
"Or all the pizza and cameras in the world," Aiden adds with a serious nod.
Bella and I laugh. "You got that right, bub," I agree, and he grins.
"Nana says I'm the bestest grandson ever, and Papa says she hasta always be right."
I snort, and Bella looks down to try to hide her laugh. Aiden doesn't understand our amusement, so he goes back to drinking his milkshake.
When Bella has control over herself, she looks back to me. "I wonder why your mom didn't mention you coming home," she ponders. "Esme's here once a week or so."
"That's because she didn't know. I sort of sprung the move on everyone." I don't mention it's because I couldn't pay my high rent. It's shameful enough that my parents know, and I don't need Bella's pity or judgment. "We didn't even have a chance to find us a place, so I'm back in my old bedroom. I'm sure I sound pathetic. Twenty-five, a single dad, and back home with my parents." Okay, so maybe I'm not good at hiding my shame, but Bella doesn't let me dwell for long.
"You don't sound pathetic at all," she assures me. "I lived with my parents until about a year ago. Sometimes you do what you have to do."
I nod. That's very true. It's nice to have someone agree with me.
"And it's not listed or anything, but the apartment above this place is available," she says. "I haven't been up there since Gran passed, so I'm sure it needs a ton of work. But it's affordable and would be close to everything in town." She shrugs. "Just something for you to think about when you start looking for places."
And think about it I do. After finishing our milkshakes, we thank Bella again, grab our pie, and head back to Mom and Dad's. If Mom notices I'm quiet through dinner, she doesn't mention it. Maybe she attributes it to the move, and I'm certainly not going to correct her.
I tuck Aiden into bed fairly early and spend a few hours in my room, thinking in the silence. Bella's offer almost seems too good to be true. What are the chances that I'd run into her — my high school sweetheart — and have her offer me a place to live, all because I went looking for a good slice of pie?
Bella said to think about it while looking for possible places to live, but there's no way to get around the fact that I've already made my mind up. As long as the place isn't a complete dump, which I can't imagine it is, I'm going to take it. Bella and I might not be what we used to be, and might not be that ever again, but I hope we can rekindle our friendship. And Aiden seems to like her too, so maybe it'll be good for both of us.
Three days after Bella made the offer, Aiden and I took her up on it and had a chance to look through the small, two bedroom apartment. It's not much, but it's something. Much more than I could have expected. It needs some work before we can move in, though, so Aiden and I make plans to go to the hardware store today.
"I gonna wear my cape, Daddy," Aiden says as I tie his shoes. "You're gonna wear yours, too."
It doesn't sound like I have a choice in the matter, so I just chuckle and nod, deciding to indulge him. Sure, walking around town in a cape isn't something I usually do, but for Aiden, I'd do anything — even look like a fool in public. Scratch that, especially look like a fool in public. As long as he's happy, I couldn't care less what people think.
"Well, don't you two look adorable." Mom laughs as we make our way into the kitchen. Aiden grins before running toward her, helping his cape flap behind him.
The kid is cute. No one can ever deny that.
"We're superheroes today, aren't we, bub?" I ask, snagging a cookie off the pan Mom's cooling. She gives me a pointed look, and I try to replicate Aiden's grin, which usually gets him out of trouble.
"Not even close, sweetheart," she says, patting my cheek. "Where are you two going today?"
"Hardware store," I say after swallowing the last of the cookie. Luckily, Aiden's too busy flying around the house to notice I snuck one. "We need paint and some tools for the apartment. I'm hoping we can move in next week because Bella said it was ours when we wanted it."
"Next week, huh? Are you not . . . happy here?"
Hurting Mom's feeling is the last thing I want to do, and it's clear she's wondering why I'm trying to move out so quickly. "No, Mom," I say, leaning over and taking her hand for a brief moment. "I just . . . want my own place, you know? It's not just me anymore, and I need to take care of my kid . . . on my own. I'm sure you don't want us here forever anyway. Aiden's messy and loud." I chuckle.
"He's fine, sweetheart."
I shrug. "I know, but . . . I just feel like I can't rely on you and Dad forever. It's not like we're going far, so we'll be over all the time."
"I guess I just thought you'd be here for a little while longer," she confesses. "My baby and grandbaby have lived across the country from me for so long, so it's been nice having you under my roof again. I do understand that you need your own space and that you want to provide for Aiden on your own. You know you'll always have a place here, don't you? And if you need anything, we'll be glad to help you."
I smile, nodding as I lean in to wrap my arms around her. My mother truly is the sweetest woman in the world, and I do feel bad that Aiden spent the first three years of his life seeing them only a few times a year. That's another reason for this move. Sure, I was hurting on my own out on the east coast, but I could have tried to make a life for us somewhere else. I wanted to come back to my family because I wanted Aiden to have his grandparent's support and love.
As we walk through the small hardware store in town, Aiden makes the most out of our capes. I have to pretend to fly through the store with him — enduring strange looks from some of the other customers. I don't care, though, because Aiden laughs and it's the most beautiful sound in the world.
"I like blue and red paint, Daddy," he says as we look through the color swatches. "It's like Superman colors. I want a superhero room, okay? And a superman bed. Please?"
I chuckle and nod, knowing I was already planning on doing that for him thanks to Mom and Dad. They offered to pay for Aiden's new bedroom set, and though I felt a little bad about taking money from them, I rationalized it by saying that it was for him. He deserved whatever bedroom set he wanted.
"Sure, bub. We'll look at stuff online tonight, okay? Is red for the living room all right?"
He nods. "Yeah! We're gonna have the coolest 'partment in the world."
I rub my hand over his head, mussing up his hair, which only annoys him. "Yes, we are."
After getting a few cans of paint and some new hardware for the doors and kitchen, Aiden and I checkout but not before getting complimented on our capes. The young cashier smiles at Aiden, talking to him about how cool Superman is. The ladies love of my son — a trait that I'll probably have to worry about when he gets older.
"You two have fun saving the day," she says, laughing softly.
I tug at the string of my cape and nod. "Oh, we will. What do you say we go fuel up on some pie, bub?"
His eyes widen slightly as he grins. "Bella pie?"
"Yep." I grab the bags, holding a light one with the hardware in it out to him.
"Cool!" he says, taking the bag with two hands.
I figure since we need to drop this stuff off at the apartment anyway, a trip to the coffee shop isn't out of the ordinary. I do want some pie, though, so maybe it isn't an excuse. It takes me two trips to get everything upstairs while Aiden hangs out with Bella at the counter, telling her all about what kind of superhero he is. He has powers. Awesome ones, too.
"You wore that out in public?" Bella asks, trying to hide her smirk as I sit down at the counter next to Aiden.
I laugh. "What, I don't look great?"
She eyes me up and down for a moment, and I try not to notice — or maybe I'm reading too much into it — that she takes a little longer than necessary to answer. "You look very 'save the day-ish'. Aiden can fly. Can you?"
I nod as Aiden answers for me. "He taughted me, Bella. Daddy can do all kinds of cool things."
"I'm very versatile," I say with a smirk.
"He's super-duper strong and fast! He's also tall. That's a power. I'm gonna be tall like him one day."
"I'm sure you will, buddy," she says. "Now, would my two favorite superheroes like anything to eat or drink?"
"What was that, little dude?"
"Milkshake, please," he says, batting his lashes and flashing a smile.
"Two vanilla milkshakes and a slice of apple pie to share, please?" I ask.
"Coming right up," she says. "I can't have Forks' heroes waiting very long."
After spending an hour with Bella, Aiden and I finally head back to my parent's house. We spend the evening and next few days picking out furniture for our new apartment. Aiden finds the perfect bedroom set and insist that we need the Avengers shower curtain, too. While I'd rather not have men watching me shower, I give in and let him have it. He's only young once, after all.
I can't believe how easily things seem to come together. Once the furniture is ordered, Aiden and I spend a few days painting and installing the new hardware. We run into some issues with plumbing in the old place, but Bella quickly sends someone to fix it.
I honestly can't believe how much she's done for us. She gave us a place to live at a decent price, and I know full well that I'll never be able to repay her. Other than the plumbing, everything goes smoothly. Our furniture is delivered, and Dad helps me set everything up. After unpacking our few boxes, the apartment is finished.
Being completely moved in provides a huge sense of relief. I'll always be grateful to my parents for helping us out, but I'm an adult. It's nice to feel like I'm once again making it on my own.
With all the work we did, the apartment really does look great. It's small but the perfect size for the two of us. It's comfortable, warm, and affordable — the perfect combination for me. And Aiden loves having a window to look out of as well as having a bakery at our disposal. The delicious scents that float into our apartment every morning are a blessing and a curse, though. But if I gain two hundred pounds, it'll be completely worth it. Bella can bake.
Having Bella close is also good and bad. Things are still a bit awkward between us, but I think I can safely say we're becoming friends — if we aren't friends already. We talk every day when Aiden and I go down for a snack, and sometimes we wind up staying for a few hours. Aiden makes her smile and laugh all the time, so at least I know they'refriends now.
Work is getting there, too. I have a graphic design job for a company out of Seattle that I can work on remotely with a trip to their office every quarter. It's not quite full time, but it pays the rent and utilities — which I'm sure Bella is giving us a discount on but I don't question it — and it feeds us, too. There's not a whole lot to spare for anything else right now, but I know it'll come. Now that my website is updated with my new information and a few new galleries posted, I'm slowly being contacted. There has only been a few so far, but I'm much more optimistic than when I was in New York.
Overall, this move has been the perfect change for us.
The only thing I haven't been able to take care of yet is preschool or daycare for Aiden. Mom has been working on finding available spots, which are very limited in this small town, but I just haven't had time to look over what she's found.
It hasn't been a big deal yet. I work from home on the design, and so far, none of the photography jobs have required me to go anywhere that Aiden couldn't.
"Fuck," I mutter as I hang up the phone. "This can't be happening."
I scrub my hand over my face, trying to figure out what to do. Weddings aren't my thing. I never say never, though, and that has me in trouble now.
A bride's photographer came down with a virus and had to cancel short notice. Three hours short notice. The mother of the bride found my website because I'm fairly local, and I was basically begged to help them with a much higher offer than I'd normally charge. I couldn't say no, but now I have no idea what I'm going to do with Aiden. I can't take him to a wedding, but I have to get to Port Angeles as soon as possible.
"Hey, bub," I call as I walk toward Aiden's bedroom. "Hey, get dressed again, okay? Daddy has a job."
As expected, he's only in his underwear as he plays with his legos and heroes.
"Okay, Daddy," he says as he stands and drops his action figures. "Do I get to play with Nana?"
"Not this time, bub. Nana and Papa aren't home right now." Of all the weeks for them to go to a medical convention, it had to be this one. "We'll figure something out, okay? Just get dressed." I lay out some nice clothes for him, just in case, and then go to my own closet.
Since I showered this morning, I decide to skip it now. I quickly pull on some dress pants and a nice button down shirt, spray on some cologne, and call it good. I can hear Aiden talking to himself as I slip on my shoes which is a good sign that he's dressed, too.
I find him on the couch in the living room, swinging his feet as he waits for me to tie his shoes. Once the laces are secure, I throw him over my shoulder before grabbing my bag.
I quickly walk downstairs, playfully jostling Aiden to hear him giggle. I don't expect to run into Bella, but that's exactly what happens. I run right into Bella, nearly knocking her over.
"Shoot, Bella, I'm so sorry," I say as I put Aiden down and help to steady her. "Are you okay?"
She laughs and shakes her head. "I'm fine, Edward. Where are you two headed in such a hurry?"
"Wedding shoot. It's short notice, so I have to take Aiden with me."
"You know, you could leave him here," she suggests. "It's pretty slow and I have help coming in at two anyway. Aiden can hang out with me."
"I couldn't impose like that," I say, shaking my head. She's already given us a lot, and I never want to take advantage of her generosity.
"You won't be imposing. I like having him around. And I bet I can get him to convince people to buy more."
I bark out a laugh, knowing she's probably right. He's definitely convinced me to buy more every time we've grabbed a snack.
I'm conflicted. As much as I don't want to take advantage of Bella, I know it's not professional or appropriate for me to bring my kid with me to a wedding I'm working. I'm sure they'd understand since it's such short notice, but it still wouldn't be right.
"Just this once," I finally concede. "I'll find a way to make it up to you. Order a whole pie or three. And some cake."
"Edward." Bella giggles, shaking her head. "I promise it's okay. We'll have a great day. What time do you think you'll be back?"
"Probably around five, but I'll call you if it's any later. You have my cell number, right?" She nods. "Great. I guess I'll tell Aiden I'm leaving."
I search the room to find him, finally spotting him at a table in the corner talking to one of the regular customers. He's a little chatterbox, but luckily all the regulars around here know and love him. I excuse him and pull him into my arms, walking over to the counter where Bella is standing.
"Hey, bub? How about you stay here and play with Bella while I work, okay? It'll be way more fun, and I bet Bella will even let you sample a cookie or whatever else she bakes today."
"I get to stay with Bella?" he asks with wide, excited eyes. "That's so cool!" He puts his arms around my neck and hugs me. "Thank you, Daddy! Have fun takin' pictures, okay?"
I laugh and nod, kissing the side of his head. "I will, little dude. I'll see you later. Be good."
He rolls his eyes as I sit him on the counter. "I'm always good, Daddy."
I'd probably believe him if he wasn't mine.
"Of course you are, kid. Of course you are. Keep your clothes on, okay?"
After I make sure he agrees, I give him one more kiss and wave to Bella before I leave.
The wedding is fairly small and not very demanding. Everyone is extremely grateful that I'm able to make it, so I make sure I do the best I can. Weddings aren't my favorite by any means, but I manage to get through it without many issues and even snag a piece of the wedding cake. It's not nearly enough to fill me up, so by the time I pull into my parking spot behind the coffee shop, I'm starving.
The shop isn't crowded when I walk in, but the few people enjoying their coffee wave at me. Bella is nowhere in sight, but I can hear her coming closer.
"Hey, Edward," she says, smiling when she walks through the doorway and sees me. "Aiden and I are almost finished with dinner if you want to find a spot for us to sit."
"Yep," she confirms. "We made spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, and salad. We'll be out in five minutes." She turns and walks back before I can say anything else.
"Dinner," I whisper to myself as I take a seat at one of the side tables. "They made dinner." I definitely wasn't expecting that.
I turn to find Aiden carefully carrying a basket of bread. Miraculously, he's still fully clothed. He sets it on the table in front of me and jumps into my lap.
"Daddy, me and Bella made cupcakes and sketti and meatballs! And I gots to take orders and watch Thor and make people buy cupcakes. It was so cool!"
I chuckle and give him a kiss. "It sounds super cool. So you had fun with Bella?"
"Uh-huh." He nods. "She's lots and lots of fun!"
"Did you miss me?" I ask playfully.
"Yeah, I guess," he says, shrugging, and I don't know whether to be hurt or laugh. "But you here now and you get to eat what I made. I'm a good cooker, Daddy."
I settle on laughing and hug him. "I'm sure it's delicious. Did you already wash your hands?"
He shakes his head, so I lead him to the bathroom and help him wash his hands before I do the same. When we return to the table, Bella has everything else set up. Aiden and I take our seats, and Bella sits across from me once she brings out drinks.
"This looks amazing," I tell her as I scoop a big helping onto my plate and a small one onto Aiden's. "You didn't have to do this."
"We had time and we wanted to," she explains. "Aiden's a great help in the kitchen."
"See, Daddy?" he says. "I told you I'm a good cooker."
"The best," Bella says with a laugh.
Once I dig into the food, nothing else is said. I get homemade meals all the time at Mom and Dad's, but this is really incredible spaghetti. Maybe it's the fact that Bella and Aiden made it together. Whatever it is, I'm not complaining. We all clean our plates, and I think I can't possibly eat anymore.
But then Bella and Aiden bring out the cupcakes. I recognize right away that they're Bella's special German chocolate with cream cheese frosting. My mouth starts watering before they even make it to the table.
"Sorry if you were full before," Bella says, though clearly not sorry. "But we made these today. Aiden, tell Daddy how many we made for us."
Aiden jumps back into my lap and points to the tray. "Look, Daddy. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Twelve cupcakes, Daddy! That makes a dozen."
"Good job," Bella cheers, reaching over to give him a high five.
"Wow," I say with a smile. "That's a lot of cupcakes, bub. Are we going to eat them all right now?"
Aiden giggles and shakes his head. "Nooo. That's silly. I'm gonna have one and you have one and Bella have one. That's three."
Bella removes three off the tray, placing them on napkins. "How many are left now, Aiden?"
He takes a few seconds to count the ones still on the tray before answering. "Nine. We have nine now. And three. Nine and three."
"What are nine and three together?" she asks him, and after a minute, he has the answer.
"Aiden, that's awesome!" I say, wrapping him tightly in my arms. In just a few hours, Bella has taught him how to do math. He could already count to twenty and add little numbers like one plus one, but this is amazing. Bella's better than preschool.
"He loved helping me cook," Bella explains after putting the other cupcakes away and pouring three glasses of milk. "He was a great helper. And cooking involves a lot of math and measuring, so we got in some good practice today. Edward, he's so smart."
"Thank you," I say, smiling as I take a bite out of my cupcake. "I don't know where he gets it from, but he's always been pretty quick at learning new things. Mom wants to teach him to read soon, but I think I'll miss reading him books every night."
"Then he can just read to you," Bella says. "Or you can read together and have fun that way."
"Maybe you should've been a teacher instead," I say, only halfway joking. "You're good at this. At kids."
She shrugs, suddenly finding her cupcake very interesting. "I thought about it once. Even took an education class. I wondered what would happen if I did leave home, get a job in another state. Gran was okay with it, but the more I thought about it, the more I wasn't. I love what I do, but I love hanging out with kids, too." She looks back to me. "So if you want to leave Aiden with me more often, I'd be more than okay with that," she says with a wink, mood suddenly brighter.
I smile back and eat some more of my cupcake. She seems sincere about wanting to have Aiden around, but I still don't feel right about making her keep him for me. Plus, even though I haven't looked at preschools now, Aiden will need to go back. Not that we can't teach him enough out of school, but he enjoys socializing and playing with other kids. But at the same time, it's the middle of fall. It would probably be easier to get him in after the new year.
"Hey," Bella says, breaking me from my thoughts. I look up to find her biting her lip, looking worried. "If you don't want me to watch him, that's fine. I was just suggesting it. Just seeing you guys all the time is cool."
"No, no." I shake my head quickly. "It's not that. I just don't want to take advantage of your time. And he will need to go back to school eventually, but maybe not right away."
"So . . . is that a yes? Or a no?"
"It's a 'we'll see what happens.' I might not even have jobs like today again for a while, but I'll definitely bring him down to hang out more." If she likes hanging out with my kid that much, it's the least that I can do.
My suggestion seems to be good enough for her, and as she wraps up the extra cupcakes for us, I clean Aiden's chocolate face. Bella refuses to let me pay her for the babysitting, so instead, I buy two pies and two large milkshakes. She pouts but takes my money, and I snicker all the way upstairs.
After the weekend, I quickly realize that I spoke too soon about not having any more similar jobs. Apparently word travels fast, and the one wedding leads to two more along with some property shots. Mom and Dad are back home, but Bella's face is so hopeful each time we come downstairs that I don't even bother calling Mom to ask about babysitting.
Aiden loves this arrangement, too. Bella is great with him and every time I return, he's learned a new fun thing to tell me about. And when I get home, Bella has food waiting for me. There's really nothing to complain about except for the fact that I still feel a little guilty. Bella doesn't let that last long, though. She distracts me with baked goods and assurances that she enjoys the company of my little dude.
So we start a new routine. I work regular design hours while Aiden entertains himself and attempt to keep my freelance hours regular, too. It doesn't always work, but right now, it's not so bad. Friday is usually my busy day, and I only book every third Saturday and Sunday to make sure I have free time with Aiden. Family is going to be my priority now, and I refuse to budge on it as long as we have a place to stay and food to eat.
I leave Aiden with Bella while I'm out at different jobs, unless it's something I think he'd like. I'm trying to teach him to appreciate nature and the beauty of the world, but so far he seems to be more impressed by collecting rocks to defeat super villains and jumping in muddy puddles. But I love witnessing his love of life and the joy on his face every time he learns something new. I didn't get to see that while we were in New York.
This move has been exactly what we needed.
It's a usual Friday evening for us. I finish a photography session and head to the coffee shop where Bella and Aiden have dinner ready. We eat and laugh together while they tell stories about their afternoon until it's bath time and then Aiden and I go upstairs for the night with promises to see her the next day.
Aiden has always loved taking a bath, so getting him out of the water and away from his boats and pirates is always the hardest part. But tonight, it only takes a few minutes of convincing and after another few minutes of drying and dressing, we're cuddled in his superhero bed.
I'm exhausted to the point where I don't think I can stay awake for a long book but thankfully, Aiden just seems to want to talk. We talk about his day and my day, and I think he's just about asleep when he asks another question.
"Daddy, who do you love?"
"Hmm." I open my eyes and pretend to think, tapping my finger against my chin. Aiden's giggles fill the room as he pulls my finger away. "Well . . . I love Nana and Papa. Buuuuut, I love you the mostest."
He grins and rolls over, throwing his arms around my neck. "I love you the mostest, too. Do you love Bella?"
My eyes widen. "Uh, what?" Leave it to my almost four-year-old to catch me off guard like this. I'm definitely not tired anymore.
"Do you love Bella?" he asks again. "Bella is like a mommy. But better 'cause she's Bella." He shrugs. "I love Bella."
"Uh . . . well . . . yeah, maybe . . . I don't . . . know?"
Yeah, that's totally a good answer, but if I'm being honest with myself, it's the real answer. Do I love Bella? Maybe. Did I love Bella before? More than I've ever loved another woman. Do I still love her? I . . . don't know.
Aiden lets me off the hook and falls asleep before he can question me too much about my crazy answer. I lay with him for a while, eyes wide open and looking at the ceiling. When I go to my bed, I do the same.
I'm confused. As much as I want to brush it off as just a silly question from my silly boy, I can't. Because it wasn't a silly question, especially with him adding the M word to the mix.
Mommy. It's been no secret to Aiden that he doesn't have a mom. We don't talk about it much, but I'm sure he notices. I don't doubt that I'm a good dad and give him as much love and nurturing as he needs but one day I know he needs the chance to have a mommy. My mom does a great job filling in now, but it's not the same.
But could Bella be that for him? If I do love her — which I'm not even sure about — and if there is a chance of us being together, could I ask her to be that for Aiden? She obviously cares for him, but does she care that much?
So many questions swirl in my head until before I know it, the sun is up and so is Aiden. He sneaks into my room just after seven, and I make him believe I'm asleep so I still get his quiet Saturday morning cuddles. He's basically the only thing keeping me sane right now.
When we crawl out of bed together after watching a few cartoons, we drive to Mom and Dad's for our weekly brunch. Mom makes her famous French toast and omelets, but I don't enjoy it like I usually do. Who knew love — or maybe love — could ruin your appetite?
After we eat, Aiden entertains himself with his toys, giving my parents the chance to corner me. Not that I'm surprised. I am acting crazy.
"Is something on your mind, son?" Dad asks from his spot on the couch beside Mom. "Is work not going well? You know if you need anything from us, please ask. We don't mind helping you at all."
I shake my head, leaning back in my chair. "No, it's not that. Work is fine. The design is fairly steady, and I've been getting two or three shoots a week. We're getting by fine right now." A little bit more than fine, actually. I've been able to start putting a little bit in savings, so that's definitely not what's bothering me.
"Is it Aiden?" Mom asks. "Has he been going with you to take pictures? I'd love to watch him if you need me."
"Um, actually," I start, reaching up to rub the back of my neck. "Bella has been watching him for me."
"Oh," Mom says, but doesn't offer anything else.
"Yeah. I had an appointment that was short notice a few weeks ago and you were out of town, so Bella offered to watch him. He loves staying with her, so we just kind of started doing it all the time." I shrug, not knowing what else to say.
"Well, that's very nice of her," Dad says with a smile. "Bella's always been such a sweet girl. I'm glad you have her close by so you aren't alone."
"Mmhmm." I nod and look down at my lap. It is nice having her so close. If I decide that I love her, finding time to see each other won't be a problem.
And that was the biggest problem before. She wanted to stay home and get her associates degree in Port Angeles, but I wanted to go to New York. We never really talked about trying to make us work long-distance because I always assumed it wasn't possible. Now . . . I'm not so sure. If my current feelings, confusing as they are, are any indication, love — or maybe love — could survive distance and so much time.
The mess in my head definitely isn't anywhere closer to being sorted out.
"Oh," Mom repeats, and her tone makes me look up. She's smiling but not a usual smile. This one means she knows a secret. I brace myself for what's coming, and she doesn't disappoint. "So that's what has you going crazy. Bella. Hmm . . . I should have known, but I wasn't expecting anything this soon. When did you realize you still love her?"
I start to shake my head to deny it, but I can't so I simply sigh. "Aiden actually asked me last night if I loved her, but I didn't know how to answer. And now I've been thinking about it all night, and my head is just going in circles."
"So do you still love her?" Dad asks, honest curiosity written all over his face.
"Maybe?" I answer, shaking my head. This is so confusing. "She makes me laugh all the time, and I feel happier than I have in a long time, especially when she's around. Not that Aiden hasn't made me happy in the last four years, but Bella just adds to it. The time we spend together is perfect."
God, I sound like a chick, but it's the truth. It's only taken a few weeks for Bella to become my best friend. Or maybe she just reclaimed her spot.
"Can I ask you something personal?" Mom asks, and I nod after making sure Aiden is still occupied. "Why did you and Bella break up before? I always thought you two had something more than just a high school romance, so I just assumed I was wrong after it ended. But now . . . well, maybe I wasn't so wrong?"
I can tell she's trying not to get too personal or step on my toes, but at this point, I'm just grateful my parents are here to help me figure this out.
"I don't know, Mom. That sounds crazy, but right now, I really don't. We were in love, and not just teenager love, but we had different dreams. I can't say that it was the distance because we called it off before I moved, but that makes it sound like there was no reason."
"Maybe there was no reason," Dad offers. "Did you have a misunderstanding or something?"
"Not that I can remember," I say. "Bella was staying here, and I was going to New York. We just decided it wouldn't work anymore with us so far apart, and that was it."
"Ahh." Mom nods, as if she finally understands. At least one of us does. "So it wasn't the distance but the fear of the distance. You didn't even give your love a chance to see if it could last."
"Well, I . . . I . . . no, that's not . . . well." As much as I want to deny it because it sounds so ridiculous, I can't. "Yeah, okay. I guess that is what happened."
Mom hums, and Dad simply chuckles. "Son, I don't know where you got the idea that a long-distance relationship can't work," he says, shaking his head. "Your mother and I are an example of how with some effort, it can work and be better than you ever imagined."
What he's referring to suddenly dawns on me. I've grown up hearing this story, but I never thought to apply it to my own life.
Mom and Dad met in college when he was a senior and she was a freshman. When he went to a medical school that was across the country, they kept talking and never gave up. It was a lot of work from what they've told me, especially being newly married during his residency. But it was worth it for them, and as far as I know they're as in love now, after nearly thirty years, as they were then.
And I just gave up love without even trying. I'm a fucking idiot.
"I think the most important question," Mom begins after letting me stew in my thoughts, "is if you think it's worth trying now. It's obvious to both your father and I that you still care about Bella, but you have more to think about now. It's not just your own heart anymore."
"I know. And I've been thinking about that, too. When Aiden asked me if I loved Bella, he said he loved her because she was like a mommy."
"Aww." Mom brings her hand up to rest over her heart. "That boy is the most precious thing."
"I guess that's one hurdle you've crossed already," Dad adds. "You already have his approval. But does Bella feel the same?"
"I really have no idea." I lean over to rest my elbows on my knees as I run my hand through my hair. "Do I just ask her if she still has feelings for me or do we just keep going like this for a while? I haven't done this since high school."
All the girls I was with in college meant nothing. I never tried to impress them or make them feel anything for me. This is so much more, and I don't want to screw up.
"Fight for her," Mom says, leaving no room for argument. "Even if it was a mutual decision to end your relationship, it had to hurt her. You're going to have to prove that you aren't giving up so easily again. Fight like you mean it."
"And compliment her baked goods," Dad adds, pulling Mom close to kiss her cheek. Mom giggles, and it would be sweet if they weren't my parents. That's kind of gross. "Love is a must, of course, but the woman you love also likes to be appreciated. Eat cake and pie until you can't possibly eat another bite. And then ask for more."
I know I can handle that part. Bella's desserts are the best I've ever had. So maybe I have a chance.
"Daddy!" Aiden yells from the other room, and I quickly realize that he's been quiet for too long. He runs in, wearing only his Iron Man underwear and mask with his Superman cape. "Daddy, come help me save the world from Loki and Lex Lufer! They takin' all the clothes away!"
"I can see that." I chuckle. "Okay, bub. I'll meet you there in a second, okay?"
He nods and runs back to the other room, and I turn to my parents.
"If all else fails, use the kid," Dad instructs me as Mom laughs. "He's pretty adorable."
"That he is," I agree. And Bella already thinks he's cute. This could totally work.
"There's no way this can work," I tell myself as I pace the bedroom. "I already left her once. Why would she want to try again?"
I want to ask Bella to have dinner with me today. It's been a week since talking to my parents, and everything's been normal despite the million thoughts in my head. Mom kept Aiden after brunch, so now I have nothing to distract me from finding the balls to go downstairs and ask her. Saturday night is always fairly slow, and one of her employees is here for the night, too. There's no reason for her to say no, unless she just doesn't want to be around me. And that's what I'm afraid of.
After a few more minutes of mulling it over and trying to find my balls, I finally head downstairs into the coffee shop. It's fairly empty and Bella's employee is the only one at the counter. I smile and nod at her before walking back into the kitchen.
When I find her, Bella's apron is covered in flour and she even has a little on the tip of her nose. It's adorable. She's adorable. More like beautiful, actually. She's always been the most beautiful woman in the world to me, not even the years apart have changed that.
"Hey, Edward," she says, looking up at me as she rolls out some dough. "Are you going somewhere?"
I shake my head, smiling nervously. "No, but . . . I was, well . . . I was hoping that—"
Her soft giggle interrupts me. "Just spit it out. Do you need something?"
"No. Well, yes actually. I was hoping you'd let me make you dinner?"
She stops dead in her tracks, looking at me with her head cocked to the side. The momentary silence makes me almost break out in a cold sweat. Damn, she's going to say no. She's rejecting me, and this is exactly what I feared. Things will be weird now, and Aiden will be the one most affected. He adores Bella, and I just ruined it.
"Yes," she says, smiling. "I'd love for you to make me dinner."
My heart hammers in my chest as I realize she said yes. "Really?"
She nods. "Of course. Just let me go home and clean up, okay? Jess can handle the coffee shop for the rest of the night."
I grin from ear to ear and we make plans for her to come over in about an hour. I quickly head back upstairs and pull out the ingredients to make chicken fettuccine alfredo and garlic bread. I'm nervous — so incredibly nervous — but it means something that she said yes, right? She wanted to have dinner with me, and I'm pretty sure it was obvious that it wasn't just as friends.
I wouldn't have stuttered so damn much if it were.
Maybe she has the same feelings — confusing, strange, frightening feelings. We were good together when we were younger. We were happy. I still want to kick myself for ending it before I left for college, but I just didn't consider trying to make it work. It seemed so impossible.
As I cook, I call Mom to check on Aiden and briefly fill her in on what's going on. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I hear an "I told you so," tone in her voice. She offers to keep Aiden tonight, and though I know for sure I won't need the entire night, I agree. When we were younger, Bella and I could talk for hours. Maybe it will still be like that.
Or maybe I just hope it'll still be like that.
While the food cools, I rush into my room to clean up and change. I spray a little extra cologne on, realizing I probably should have showered. I don't have time, though. Once I walk back into the kitchen, there's a knock on my door and I feel my palms start to sweat.
With another glance in the mirror, I open the door and find Bella standing before me. She's . . . she's gorgeous. Her hair is down with one side tucked behind her ear, so I can clearly see her beautiful eyes. She's wearing a simple black dress and it hugs her curves perfectly. Those have changed since we were younger, but only for the much, much better.
"Hi," she says before pulling her lip between her teeth.
She's nervous and I feel a little more at ease because I'm not the only one. "Hey," I say. "You look beautiful."
Her cheeks flush, and I realize that's something I missed. "Thank you, Edward. I brought us dessert." She holds a bag out to me, and I take it with a grin. The cupcakes inside smell delicious, and I know it really won't be long until I'm as big as a house because of her.
I'm totally okay with that, though.
"Come on in," I say. "Dinner's done, so I'll grab it out."
She smiles and nods, following behind me into the apartment. Once I set the table, I sit down across from her and just watch her for a moment. The memories from when we dated come rushing back, and I'm left with a smile and a question.
Why the hell didn't we try to make it work?
"So, Aiden's with your parents?" she asks as she twirls her fork into the pasta. I nod and she smiles, looking around the apartment. "I really love what you've done in here. You've made it your own."
"I still can't tell you how much I appreciate what you did for us. It's too much, but . . . thank you. Starting over was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, and you made it a lot easier on me. Especially with you taking care of Aiden. He absolutely adores you." I chuckle.
"I love that sweet boy."
She loves my kid. Could I ever really find anyone better than that? I never found anyone that compared to her in New York, and I'm sure I know why. Because there is no one else like her. There's no one who's as kind and generous, as loving and caring. Bella's one of a kind, and I feel like an idiot for not realizing this sooner.
As we eat, we talk a little. Some about Aiden, some about my jobs and hers, and some about nothing important. Long after we finish dinner, we sit on my couch, drinking our second glass of wine and reminiscing about when we were younger and how things have changed.
"Esme never told me you had a son," she says, crossing one leg over another, falling a little closer to me. "Then again, we really didn't talk about you, which I was actually pretty thankful about."
It's not hard to read between the lines. Even though our split was mutual, Mom was right. I'd hurt her. "You know, I am really sorry about how we left things."
She cocks her head. "We decided it was for the best."
"Yeah, but . . . I'm still sorry. Sometimes I think that it wasn't for the best. Don't get me wrong, if I hadn't left, I wouldn't have Aiden. I wouldn't give him up for anything in the world, but sometimes I wonder . . . what if we'd made it work? Do you ever think that way?"
She sighs, looking down at her wine glass. "Every day," she whispers. "I didn't want to agree to it, Edward. Part of me hoped you'd change your mind for me, but you didn't."
"I was a moron. A young, naive, moron."
She looks up and I see tears in her eyes. "Why do you say that?"
I know this is my chance. If I don't go for it now, I will have no right to ever try again. "Because . . ." I pause, trying to figure out what the hell to say. I love her . . . maybe. No, scratch that. I do love her. I'm just an idiot and didn't realize it right away. "Because I still have those feelings, but more, I think. The past few weeks with you have honestly been the best of my life. The way you are with Aiden makes me happier than I could ever explain. You said you love him. Well, he loves you, too. And so do I."
A small gasp escapes her lips and she reaches up, covering her mouth. I've shocked her, as well as myself. "We have a lot of history," she says softly. "Are you sure . . . are you sure you're not just remembering that?"
I turn slightly, reaching out for her hand. It's so warm and soft in mine and I feel like it's belonged there this entire time. Like we never separated. "Trust me, I didn't just think of this. I've been going crazy in my own mind, thinking it over for the past week. I thought maybe it was just how you treated Aiden, but I know it's more than that. We made a mistake, Bella. I made a mistake by ending our relationship. I know it's a lot to take in, so I don't expect you to answer me right away, but I have to ask. Would you consider giving me another chance?"
She blinks slowly, letting my words sink in as I try to remember what the hell I just said. It just came out of me, like I didn't have a choice but to say it and ask that question. I know when she doesn't answer me for a few minutes that she needs time to think. She was always the kind of person who had to think things over thoroughly before giving an answer.
I can't say I'm not let down when she says she needs to think about it, but I know it's for the best. As she leaves, I try to remind myself that at least she didn't say no. I know I hit her with such a big question suddenly.
"Just . . . give me time, okay?" she asks, standing in my doorway. "And you need to think about this, too. It's not just the two of us that would be affected by this. I do love Aiden, and I don't want to see him hurt."
I nod, lifting my hand to grasp hers one last time. "I know, Bella. That's the last thing I want to happen, too."
"Thank you for the wonderful dinner."
I smile and let her hand go, but not before giving it a gentle squeeze. "You're welcome. Good night."
A day passes and Bella still hasn't given me an answer, but she's not avoiding me either, so I take that as a good sign. I honestly think I might go crazy if I don't know one way or the other soon because everything she does makes me love her more.
Like how she's busying herself around the coffee shop with a pencil behind her ear and when she goes to take her next order, she'll forget about and try to search for one. Or how she lets Aiden taste the batter for the brownies because she knows how much he likes it. And how when she glances over at me, her lips curve into the slightest smile — I doubt she even realizes she's doing it.
I'm in love. There's really no other explanation.
Now, I just need her to love me back.
"Is Jess coming in?" I ask when Bella stops in front of me to refill my coffee as I work on editing some photos from a few days ago.
She nods. "Yep, in about an hour. Why?"
"Well, I planned on taking Aiden out with me later to take some pictures. It's not for a job, but with the seasons changing, I think I can get some great shots to add to my portfolio. You should come with us."
"Yeah, Bella!" Aiden says from beside me. "Please come? It'll be fun! I'll wear my cape and show you how I can fly."
She can't resist him. I know it for a fact, so I made sure he was beside me when I asked her. Was it wrong to use my son? Most certainly. But was it so wrong I wasn't willing to do it? Nope.
"I promise I won't bug you for an answer," I say, smiling.
She bites her bottom lip, but still nods. "All right, I'll go get changed once Jess gets here. I expect you'll be wearing your cape too, right?"
I laugh as Aiden answers in the affirmative for me. Obviously, I don't have a choice, not that I care much anyway. I look damn good in that cape, and I'm pretty sure Bella agrees. After I finish up the editing I have, Aiden and I head upstairs to change while Bella heads to her house.
Aiden's truly a great kid — except when it comes to keeping clothes on him. The second we step into the apartment, his pants and t-shirt are gone in a flash. It takes me a good ten minutes to convince him that the cape isn't enough clothes, but he finally relents and lets me dress him again. It's late fall so I tie his scarf around him, which he doesn't particularly enjoy because it doesn't go with the cape.
Once I grab my camera bag, we head out and stop to pick Bella up before starting our hike into the forest. I stand behind them, snapping shots as Aiden takes Bella's hand, explaining to her what animal sounds he hears. I'm pretty sure we don't hear a hippo, but Bella lets him believe it. She indulges his every whim as he explores, and I'm left with the biggest grin possible on my face.
"You have samwiches, right?" Aiden asks as we stop in a clearing and sit down on the grass. The sunlight peeks through the trees, making it a little warmer and truly gorgeous.
"I do," Bella says, smiling as she opens the lunch bag she brought with. She has her hand on something and pulls it out slowly as Aiden watches in anticipation. I take a picture, knowing it's a perfect shot of him. "And . . . I brought you apple juice!"
He lights up, and I keep snapping my camera of the two of them. He acts as if she's just given him the Holy Grail, and she laughs at his exuberance.
"Did you bring me one?" I ask, smirking and setting my camera down, inching a little closer to her than I probably should've been.
"You get water," she says. "But I did put extra pickles on your sandwich, so I think that should make up for it."
I laugh. "Totally makes up for it."
As we eat, it's obvious Aiden is trying to finish as quickly as he can so he can play. The kid has more energy than I ever realized could be possible, so I'm all for him burning some of it off. Bella never misses a beat with him, offering more potato chips, another juice box, and even cleaning the chicken salad off his face once he's done.
Honestly, seeing her with him just . . . I can't explain how it makes me feel. It's like I'm finally seeing the missing piece from mine and Aiden's life, and that also scares me. She was right last night that it isn't just the two of us involved in this. If we are going to do this, it can't be a maybe it'll work out or maybe it won't situation.
I have a son, and though I truly believe I love Bella, he has to come first. If she decides this isn't what she wants, I know I'll have to accept it and move on — no matter how much it may hurt.
"I hope he doesn't hurt himself," Bella says as we watch Aiden run around the clearing. He's taking no prisoners in the invisible fight, and it does look a little rough. I know this is how he plays, though, so I'm sure he'll be all right. I told him to stay clear of the rocks to our left, and he's listened to me.
"It looks like a very serious fight." I chuckle. "I'm not exactly sure who he's fighting, though. That kid's mind is a wonder."
She smiles and closes her eyes as the wind blows softly around us. She looks so beautiful, and all I want to do is move just a little closer. "You haven't asked for an answer."
"I don't want to pressure you."
"If I were to say yes, do you really think it can work? What if you get a job somewhere else? We both know you couldn't wait to leave Forks when we were younger."
"I did leave. I've done it, Bella. I've gone to college, done the things I wanted to, made mistakes, and grown up. I came back here because I needed to. I could've tried somewhere else, but something told me this is where I belong. I want Aiden to grow up here, so no job offer could pull me away. I'm supporting us now, and my photography business is only growing. If you're worried about me leaving again, don't because it's not going to happen."
She lifts her eyes to mine, and I see the glimmer of a tears in them. "Do you promise? Because, I want to say yes. I loved you so much when we were younger, and when you left I thought I could never have that again. I wanted to stop you so badly, but I knew I couldn't. You wanted something entirely different than I did, and I couldn't ask you to give it up for me when I wasn't willing to budge either."
"I wish you had," I sigh. "But, I'm also glad you didn't because doing that gave me Aiden, and I wouldn't give him up for anything in the world. I think we can make this work, if you'll just give me a shot. Can we just let our past go and try to start over?"
"Is that even possible? Starting over, I mean."
I nod, laying my hand over hers. "If we want to be together, I don't think anything could stop us. I'm not asking you to tell me you love me. I'm just asking for a shot to make things up to you and show you that you were always the one for me, even though I was too young and stupid to realize it."
"Did you think about me when you were in New York?"
"A lot," I chuckle and she smiles.
"I thought about you, too. I even thought about after you came back, but . . . I thought it could never happen, so I was content with just being your friend. I made myself content, and then we started seeing each other every day and I started watching Aiden, and I thought maybe, just maybe we could try again. I didn't answer you right away because I wanted to give you time to think."
"I've thought about nothing else for the past week and a half."
"And you're sure?"
I nod. "More than I've ever been sure of anything. I know this can work. So, you know your answer?"
She smiles, glancing down at our entwined hands as she blushes. "I've known my answer all along. It's yes. It's always been yes, and will always be yes."
I lean forward without even thinking about it and press my lips to hers. Nothing will ever feel more natural than kissing Bella. Her lips are soft and melt with mine perfectly, as if time never moved and we're kids again.
Those feelings never really left, even though I thought they had. It's like a gate opens and everything comes flooding back to me, hitting me like a tsunami. I love Bella. I don't have a list of reasons, and I don't need one. It's who she is that I love, not one thing or another.
"I never stopped loving you," she says as we part, panting softly. "You don't have to ask me if I love you, because not a day goes by that I don't. I had an ulterior motive in offering you Gran's apartment."
"Ulterior motive, huh?" I smirk.
She nods. "I wanted you close by. I'd like to say it was out of the goodness of my heart, but it was a little selfish, too."
I kiss her softly again, laughing. "I'm glad you were selfish. I love you too, Bella."
Months pass and life's better than I ever could have imagined. There are no words to describe how incredibly happy I am. Not long after our date in the forest, things start moving faster than I thought they would, but I'm more than okay with that.
And so is Aiden.
I didn't realize how easy it would be to blend Bella into our little family, and I'm more than grateful to have a son who's as easygoing as Aiden. He doesn't question why Bella and I kiss and say I love you, but instead just joins in on it, wanting his turn. He loves Bella and about a week ago, I realized I had to make this official because he asked her such a complex question without even batting an eyelash.
"Can I call you Mommy now?"
It threw her off guard and tears formed in her eyes. He thought he upset her, but it was the complete opposite. She glanced up at me, and I nodded, letting her know it was okay. She then wrapped my son up in her arms, telling him nothing would make her happier.
It may seem fast to someone on the outside, but to us, it's not. If anything, we delayed what was our beautiful future too long. I knew the instant he said those words what I needed to do. Actually, it was more like what I wanted to do, but didn't know if it was time.
I want to marry her, like I was always supposed to do.
I have no doubt that she'll say yes, but I was still nervous when picking out the ring. Aiden, of course, tried to pick out the biggest rock possible, but even if I did have that kind of money, I knew it wasn't right for Bella. She's the most down to earth person I've ever met, and she probably would say no to that ring just on principle alone.
Instead, we settled on a beautiful, antique ring. I had the diamond replaced with something a little clearer, but the charm of it wasn't taken away. It's beautiful, yet simple . . . It's Bella.
"I'm not going to get you into pants, am I?" I ask Aiden as he giggles, standing in front of me with his shirt buttoned completely wrong and Superman underwear on display in all their glory. Our capes are tied around our necks, just like he requested.
At least he got the shirt on.
"Mommy doesn't care!" he says, and I know he's right. In fact, this would probably only make it more memorable. The kid should be able to be himself today because I've decided he's the one with the very special question to ask.
"Let's at least get the buttons right, okay?" I ask, leaning down. "Mommy will be here any minute, so we have to look handsome. You know your cue, right?"
He nods. "You gonna tell Mommy that you love her and then kneel on the floor. Then I get to ask her and you're gonna pull the pretty ring out. She's gonna say yes and prolly cry, but they're happy tears so it's okay."
"Exactly, but don't tell her I said she'd cry, okay? Let's keep that between us."
I nod, holding out my pinkie. "Yep, and you've done so well with keeping this secret. I'm really proud of you, bub."
He grins and the tooth that just fell out only makes it more adorable. "I'm a good secret keeper."
"The best," I say, musing up his hair a little.
We wait anxiously for the door to open as I go over and over what I want to say. Thankfully, it's not long before she comes through and hangs her coat up before turning around. I know I'll never forget the expression on her face when she turns to us. Her eyes go wide and her mouth drops. Aiden's instantly by her side, taking her hand and pulling her over to me in the middle of the room.
The moment's here and everything I wanted to say rushes out of my mind. I'm left with the simplest words, but I know they're enough from the tears in her eyes. "You're the only woman I've ever loved and the only woman I ever will love. Bella, I should have done this years ago, but we both know I'm an idiot. Time came between us, but we found each other again. I'll never let anything come between us again. I love you."
As I drop to one knee and pull the ring from my pocket, Aiden steps between us and takes Bella's hand in his like planned. "Mommy, will you marry Daddy?"
"Please?" I ask, holding the ring out to her.
Her free hand covers her mouth as she cries, nodding. I gently slide the ring onto her finger with Aiden's help. She looks down at our son and smiles. "Of course I'll marry your daddy. You're my two favorite superheroes."
"Yay!" Aiden cheers, jumping up and down. "Now you can be a superhero too, Mommy! Help us save the world from all the bad guys!"
"Yeah, Mommy," I say, standing and taking her into my arms. I wipe her tears and kiss her now red nose. "We'll get you a cape later, but for now, we have work to do."
"Work?" she questions, sniffling.
I nod, smirking. "Mmhmm. I have to kiss you and you have to kiss me. And then we have that pesky Green Goblin to deal with."
Giggling, she places her arms around my waist and hugs me tightly. "I think we can manage that easy," she says before pressing her lips to mine.
Yeah, I think we'll manage just fine.
Someday, we may add a second part, so be sure to put this on alert. Until then, thank you so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed!