A/N: Happy New Year's Adam! (That's what my daughter calls the day before a holiday eve, you know…Adam and Eve) I wish you all a wonderful new year filled with all the goodness life has to offer. Thank you all for coming along with me on this journey and for giving me the opportunity to wish this for you because if you flounced my story a long time ago, you would have never gotten to this page.

For those who have inquired, we have 5 regular chapters and the Epilogue left. That may change because I tinker, but I anticipate by the end of January, I will be able to hit that complete button.

Please accept my apologies for slacking off on review replies.

Thanks to kitchmill, my beta and to SM who owns everything twilight related, except our wicked imaginations when we continue to play with the characters she created.

Chapter 32


At seven a.m. my phone starts ringing. Without even looking, I know it's my sister. I should be sleeping, but little does she know—I have already been awake for about fifteen minutes. So the joke is on her. My mother lives to feed me and my sister lives to wake me up too early for various reasons that could usually wait until I am fully rested.

I ignore her call twice with the intention of continuing to relax, hoping she will give up and call me at a more reasonable hour. Maybe, I could even fall back to sleep. Nah, who am I kidding? I woke up as excited as a kid on Christmas morning and I'll never fall asleep now. Now I think I'll ignore her just to tick her off.

After the third call, with a few texts thrown in between, I realize that, if nothing else, my sister is a persistent pain in the ass of a woman. I give up on the notion of winning and answer my cell on her fourth attempt.

"What do you have against me and my REM sleep, Alice?"

"It's about time you answered your phone. How could you sleep at a time like this?"

I stretch out my tired muscles and yawn loudly into the phone. "Just so you know, I've been awake for almost a half hour, but I was planning on relaxing for a while. Unfortunately, speaking with you and relaxing don't mix. AND, according to my clock, it's only ten after seven, and since I have nowhere to be and nothing to do, on any other day, this would be a fantastic time for me to sleep."

"Well, this isn't any other day and you have plenty to do. I'm leaving my house in fifteen minutes. We're going to the diner, my treat because I love having breakfast with my little brother. We need to talk about last night. I'm so excited for you both!"

I close my eyes for a prolonged moment and sigh realizing I'm already defeated. I may as well wave the white flag. "No, Alice, please. I really don't feel like going to the diner for some enormous amount of greasy breakfast food. I prefer to go back to sleep, but since that isn't going to happen, how about you just pick up some bagels and we can eat here? Better yet, I have some pancake mix and syrup. You can make me pancakes since you're the one who's inviting yourself over."

"All right, deal, but I'm stopping for different syrup and some fruit. I don't like the syrup you use."

"The syrup I use is called maple. It comes from a tree in Vermont, not some factory in Jersey."

"Nonsense. The supermarket sells that strawberry and blueberry syrup you can get at the pancake house now. I think I want that with some fresh strawberries and blueberries to put on top. And some whipped cream, too. And I'm going to eat that while you tell me all about what happened with Bella," she says matter-of-factly.

I rub my temple with my free hand, seeking any amount of solace I can muster while talking to my sister at this hour.

"Why are you so nosy? Can't you find someone else's life to poke around in?"

"I could, but there wouldn't be as much drama as yours, plus you're my favorite brother and Bella is my best friend. I need to be prepared."

"Prepared for what?"

"For anything really, but mostly, for your wedding."

Her words obliterate any trace of relaxation remaining in my system. "ALICE! JESUS CHRIST ON THE CROSS! ARE YOU INSANE?"

"My goodness, calm down, Edward. I don't think they heard you in Canada. I didn't say I needed to be ready tomorrow, but it'll happen, just like I said it would way back when. I was worried for a while there, but now that you have your head out of your ass, we'll be back on track."

I mumble to myself, "And they say I'm the crazy one…"

"Don't doubt me, and you're not crazy. Now go whack off in the shower, or do whatever else you do to start your day, and be dressed with some coffee started by the time I get there, which will be in about a half hour."

I try to massage the throbbing pain I have that has moved from my temples and is now sitting right behind my eyes, but it's no use. Instead, I continue to mumble, "I have to change my lock. Maybe I should just move. That might help with the bothersome sibling issue I have. Oh, and definitely get a new phone number, too."

"I love you too, little brother. Now get out of bed, please. I'm on my way."

She hangs up on me.

Almost exactly thirty minutes later, the small but fearsome tyrant that is my sister is unlocking my front door, letting herself into my house.

She hugs me tightly as soon as she enters my kitchen. "Well, look at you. Happiness becomes you, little brother, handsome as ever. Be a sport and make me a cup of coffee, please. Milk, no sugar. I'm gonna start cooking now so we can get down to business."

Like the tool I am, I promptly get a cup and start making her coffee, but I feel the need to dispute her claims. "Alice, there really is no business to get down to. She kissed me, that's all. Yes, she wants to try again. I would like to, but I know it's not going to be all that easy. I'm worried that once we start talking again and she finds out all that has happened since we broke up, she won't be able to forgive me. I don't even know if this is gonna be doable. That's all there is to it."

"Oh. Please. Shut. Up. Edward." Each word is infused with a bored intonation.

I sigh deeply because I know she's not going to show me any mercy.

She doesn't even look at me as she starts lecturing; only turning around for a moment from the batter she begins mixing to face me.

"Please don't get all dramatic and stupid again. Yes, you both have a lot to get through and it won't be easy, but if you have faith and communicate with each other, you'll do whatever needs to be done to get there. It's been one hell of a bumpy road, but for God's sake, it's smoothing out now. Stop being so pessimistic and enjoy the ride."

"Well excuse me if I haven't re-embraced your prophecy, just so you can go look for a reception hall and go dress shopping this afternoon."

"Edward, jeez. Don't be such a drama queen. I was just trying to get a rise out of you when I mentioned the wedding before, but don't worry, that will happen eventually, too. The question is how much more of your life do you want to spend alone before you're back where you belong? It's not gonna be easy getting there, but when the time comes, it won't be a big surprise. You've both taken that first step…that was the hard part."

The pain behind my eyes is back. I can do nothing but squeeze the bridge of my nose and try to relax. "First of all, it's not that freaking easy. Next, if you have this all figured out, then why the hell would I need to think about this? I could just come to you and you can tell me everything I'm doing wrong."

"Stop being mean and aggressive, Edward. We're trying to have a civilized discussion, not an argument."

"But you're PISSING me OFF!" I yell as I slam my coffee mug down. Luckily, it's almost empty.

I know what I need to do, I have known for as long as I've wanted her back in my life. The problem is, now that it's a reality, I'm really dreading having to talk to Bella about all my indiscretions. I'm afraid to see the look of disappointment and revulsion on her face.

"I'm just trying to get you to remember your past with Bella, not just the bad but the good. You keep forgetting about the good. And there was so much good, Edward, but you're being stubborn again. I never said this was going to be easy, I just said that it's what's meant to be. Here's your chance. See it for what it is. Go slow, never stop talking to one another, be honest and don't hide anything. You both have a difficult journey to navigate through to get to the easy stuff, but you'll have each other to get you through it all. That's the prize."

My sister loves me and means well, I know this. She just has a very different style of dealing with her problems than I have. "All right, Ali. I just need some time to take it all in. I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"Look, Edward, I love you both and I want to see you both happy. The only way that is going to happen is if each of you stop fighting this and believe in one another again. I know how this fairy tale ends. I just wish you two could see it as clearly."

She hands me my plate with a stack of pancakes that are each shaped like Mickey Mouse's head. God, she is so...sooo...Alice. As much as I hate her, I love my sister so much. She drives me crazy, but I don't know what I'd do without her.

Mmm, pancakes are good. After a couple bites I talk again with my mouth full. I don't care if she doesn't like my lack of manners. Maybe if I start burping and scratching my nuts at the table too, she will think twice before inviting herself over at o-dark-thirty to feed me.

"I just need a little time to let the dust settle, Ali. I left Mom and Dad's with my head spinning last night. I thought I was going to have a coronary by the time I got home."

She giggles a bit because she thinks I'm kidding. "I have to hand it to Bella, she took the bull by the horns and laid it all on the table. She's not messing around. She wants you back, little brother."

Like I'm a kid again, I intentionally shovel more pancakes into my mouth and talk, just to annoy her and be her disgusting "little" brother. "O nn, I met ta tell ya, n yu cun tel vevywun elz tha wuz lizenen, I din'n nee un audyenz."

She cringes and waves her hand at me. "Gah! Stop talking with your mouth full, you're so gross. Personally, I don't know how Bella can stand you. And nonsense. We weren't listening. We had no idea what was going on…that is until Mom stepped into the kitchen to leave you both some desert on the counter. She was going to just pop in and pop back out with some chocolate cake, but she turned around with both plates still in her hands, wide-eyed, looking rather pale. All she said was it was going better than expected. We could only speculate from then on. Anyway, shortly after that you left, so we didn't know anything and Mom didn't want to talk about it."

I swallow my food down, feeling a bit sick. Closing my eyes, I cover them with my hand. Shit, my mom saw me dry humping my ex-girlfriend on her kitchen counters. That is not cool.

"The point is, last night should have been private between me and Bella. Instead, everyone was in the next room hoping for smoke signals or something to let them know how things were going. I just wish it happened somewhere a little more private."

"Well, from the look on Mom's face, thank goodness we were all in the next room. Otherwise, I would have been helping her bleach the kitchen 'til all hours of the morning."

"Ha, ha. You're a riot Alice." I fake punch her in the shoulder, but her verbal jab is pretty accurate. How much of a misstep would it have been to wind up back in bed together before we even talked about getting back together? It's going to be hard enough to get back on track, without mixing sex into it. "I just feel bad for Bella. After I left, she must have been pretty embarrassed having to face everyone."

"Actually, Emmett grabbed her and spun her around because he was happy for you guys. That started like a mini celebration. Dad made everyone raise their glass for a toast. It was sweet. We all couldn't be happier for you both. Well except for Rose…she wasn't thrilled."

"Really? You know, I just don't know what the hell Rosalie's problem is, and right now, I'm not gonna let her drag me down. I don't need anything else to worry about."

I look down at my plate and notice it's empty. I don't even remember eating all my food, and for a moment I think Alice filched off me when I wasn't looking. I start picking at her plate with the red syrup pancakes on one side and blue syrup ones on the other, both with the white whipped cream and fruit. This fake, colorful, syrup-like substance isn't half bad.

"You know, it was so easy before. I mean, I know I had some problems then, but being with Bella was easy. I feel nervous now, like I know how easy it is to mess it up and I don't want to do that."

She takes her fork and hits mine with it, in defense of what's left of her breakfast. "You're nervous because you are only seeing your and Bella's mistakes. If you can get past that and remember who you both are together, you would have all the confidence you need."

"I'm just afraid. Life isn't that simple."

Moving her plate to the other side of her body where I can't reach, she takes a small bite and speaks again, "No one ever said life was simple. It's hard as hell. I think we all know that very well after the last couple years, especially you. But we also make it harder than it has to be, sometimes. In fact, making life harder than it has to be is your gift. It's what you do best. You gotta stop punishing yourself and realize that you deserve to be happy. If Bella is what makes you happy, and by some miracle she feels the same way about you, then by George you both should be together. I never said it was going to be easy, I just said it was going to be worth it."

Shit, I ate too much. I bet Alice didn't eat my pancakes after all. I think each one is accounted for and sitting like a lead weight in my stomach. Especially after the last few bites I took off Alice's plate. I must have eaten twelve pounds of pancakes here, in one sitting. I'll have a pancake hangover for days. I'm not quite sure what that feels like, or if there is such a thing, but if there is—I'm fucked.

"There's no need to rush. Bella isn't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean that you should keep her waiting very long either. You were best friends before you guys became a couple, so maybe you should start there."

"Yeah, I agree. We need to take it slow."

"Yep, slow. You both have a lot to talk about. And by the way, Edward, omission is like lying. Don't do it. It'll bite you in the ass, guaranteed. Get everything out in the open first and move on from there. You don't want to leave something out and have it come up when you're both settled in and happy."

She gets up and collects our plates, bringing them to the sink. It seems like she is going to clean up too. I let her have at it since she got me out of bed early and forced me to eat pancakes.

"I did a lot of fucked up shit I have to account for, you know. You talked to her… and you're sure she's all in, this is what she wants? She wants...me?"

She starts rinsing the plates and loading my dishwasher as she talks. I lean back against the counter crossing my legs, watching and listening. "I'm certain. She's told me everything after a couple cosmopolitans this weekend. We had no idea it would happen so soon, but she saw the opportunity and took it. She's been doing a lot of soul searching and I think she's finally at a point where she knows who she is and what she wants. She needed to straighten some of her own issues out as well and I think she's finally done that. It wasn't easy with all that's been going on for her.

"You know, she and Charlie had a big argument after she broke up with Jake. It's no secret that Charlie wanted Bella to marry Jake. He's friends with Jake's dad, Billy. He was the one to push Bella toward Jake in the first place."

"Yeah. I wish I knew that a couple weeks ago." I think back to that disastrous phone call and I feel even more sick to my stomach.

Alice continues, "When Billy had a stroke, Bella was occasionally helping Jake take care of him. Billy is now staying in an extended care facility because Jake can't handle him alone. Bella says that Charlie was upset over the breakup, because if she was still dating Jake, Billy wouldn't be going to live out the rest of his life in a nursing home. I told her that no one should make her feel guilty over her decision, but thankfully, she already realized that."

I shake my head in disbelief. "I can't believe he would try to guilt his own daughter into staying in a relationship that she wasn't happy with…no matter what the consequences."

"I know, right? Her dad is coming around though. They've begun talking again and working everything out recently."

I nod my head. "I'm surprised she didn't take care of Billy more often, just to avoid any conflict with Charlie. She told me that after her mom left her, she's knows it's not realistic, but she's afraid that he'll drop out of her life as well. She has these issues with trust. That's probably the reason why she's never told him about her past, I still don't think Charlie knows that she was in a relationship with a woman."

"I think you're right, but that's on her list of things to change in her life as well. It can't be easy for anyone, but when she's afraid that her father, who is only constant in her life, could possibly abandon her if he knew the truth, it must be even more difficult."

I look down at the floor, a bit embarrassed at what I'm going to say next.

"Charlie can be a bit difficult to deal with, I know that first hand. Uhm, I never told anyone this yet, but I got into a bit of a scrape with Charlie recently too. It was the day that Jake told me he was marrying Bella. I thought it was a possibility that he was lying again, but I couldn't take a chance. I called Charlie to convince him that he shouldn't give Jake his blessing. Long story short, it wasn't my finest hour. I had no idea that Charlie knows Jake and would love to have him as a son-in-law, so I sounded like an asshole and he went ape shit. Somehow he knows about a lot of the shit that happened when Bella and I were apart. Some of the stuff, I don't even think Bella knows. He wanted to scare me, he threatened to get me locked up on fake charges, and well…he got his point across. He doesn't want me anywhere near Bella. He hates me, and I have no idea how he knows some of the things he does. He said he'd make my life miserable if I contacted Bella again, and I believe him. SOOOOO there's always that little obstacle."

She smacks me rapidly in the shoulder no less than four times before I move away while shouting her disbelief. "Holy shit, Edward! You have a set of balls, don't you?"

"Well shit, Alice, I didn't know that Charlie was friends with Jake's dad at the time. The less I knew about that scum bag, the better. This just won't work if Charlie is going to kill me…or worse, lock me up on some made up charges."

"Obviously Bella will have to take care of Charlie and set him straight." Her calmness restored. Again, she thinks this is so easy.

I nervously run my fingers through my already messy bed-head hair. "Oh man…I don't know. This just doesn't sound good, already."

"So what do you want me to say, 'Yeah, Charlie hates you so you should give up'? Don't look for reasons to chicken out. You do still love her, don't you?"

"Yes, of course I do. I'm just scared." I busy myself by wiping down the area where we just ate, pretending to listen casually, but in reality, I'm hanging on every word of her advice.

"No one can predict how things will mesh between you two now. It's gonna be hard, but if both of you are committed to each other, then anything is possible. Before, you kinda kept each other afloat. Now I think each one of you can weather a storm as individuals, and together, you'll be even better, I'm sure of it. It's kinda like the saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But this means taking chances all over again and feeling vulnerable. In order to do that, you'll have to trust each other."

"Yeah. It's a lot to think about, but I told Bella I would call her, and I will. Thanks for the advice, Ali. I love you, you know."

I bring her into a strong hug.

"I love you too, little brother. I'll give you a call tomorrow. Are you working?"

"Yeah, a double. Then I'm off for the rest of the week. Call me the day after, instead. Maybe if I'm feeling brave, I'll call Bella after I talk to you...provided everything works itself out in my mind between now and then."

"Don't over think this, okay? Just call me if you need to talk and if I don't hear from you, I'll call you the day after tomorrow." She stands on her tiptoes and kisses my cheek.

"Yeah. Uh, hey, I know I've told you before, but I really appreciate everything you do for me and…and there were times when I wasn't a very nice person to you. I still have a lot to make up for."

She smiles sadly at me. "You know, Mom always said, when it's hardest to love someone, it's then when that person needs the most love. And there were times when I had a really, really hard time, Edward. I'm sorry for pushing you when you weren't ready, then turning my back on you when you truly needed someone."

She brightens up instantly from her previously serious statement and with a twinkle in her eye, says, "So the way you can make it up to me is for you both to be happy again. And, give me another niece or a nephew."

I push her away and yell, "ALICCCCCE! One step at a time! Please!"

"Jussayin...Talk to ya' later, little brother," she remarks walking out the door with the snarky tone in her voice restored.

"Yeah. Later, Ali."

I close the door once the tail lights to Alice's car are no longer in sight, already lost in my thoughts.

Could I do this all over again?


Could I trust again?


Would I ever be able to love someone else the way I loved Bella?

That thought alone makes me feel sick to my stomach.

One thing Alice said stays with me, though. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We're both stronger, and now, I think there is nothing we can't do together.


I open my eyes to a new day. Laying there, I expect to feel that typical morning remorse. I wait for it to cripple my enthusiasm toward the situation with Edward from last night, but it never comes. Then I realize why. The only thing I've ever regretted with Edward was hurting him. I could never regret loving him.

I'm grateful for the peace within my mind as I think back on last night. Sunday dinner with the Cullens. Alice had invited me. It should have felt awkward, but since no one mentioned his name, and once I arrived, everyone made me feel so at home, it was almost as if there was nothing unusual about the situation at all. Esme and Carlisle had been so genuinely thrilled to have me.

I was sure if Edward ever found out that I spent a Sunday dinner at his parent's house when he was not there, he would be beyond angry and let everyone know just how he felt about it. Alice tried to tell me that he would no longer do that. That somehow he had changed, but I thought that it would seem like a betrayal to him, nevertheless. One in which his whole family was involved. I was sure it would be ugly, regardless.

Nothing could have prepared us for him unexpectedly showing up. What were the chances that he would be able to leave work early and just make a surprise appearance? And, dear God, his appearance did surprise us all. And what's more, he didn't flip out. I took this as a sign. I knew fate was stepping in by putting us together, so I couldn't let that opportunity just pass me by.

Although, if there was a one to ten scale of surprising happenings that night, Edward showing up would only rate somewhere in the middle in comparison to what I did to get his attention and show him I was serious about getting back together. I still can't believe I kissed him and his response was so much more than I could have ever asked for.

I suppose, when he saw me with his family and he responded so differently from the way I thought he would, it spurred me on. In fact, he certainly seemed like he was the kinder, gentler Edward that Alice had described. There was no anger, no abrupt departures or yelling. In fact, he seemed sad at first. He was quite humble and apologetic for coming to his own mother's house without calling, which was completely ridiculous. They are his family, in the home he was raised.

He looked as handsome as ever, maybe even more so. He was almost freakishly beautiful, to the point that he was almost too much to take in all at once. His face gave away his emotions when he finally looked at me; his eyes were serious, almost somber, his expression, contemplative. A slight scruff was on his cheeks, as he probably shaved the night prior, rather than that morning. He had a more notably prominent goatee that it seemed he was intentionally letting grow in. His bronze hair was in typical disarray that somehow always seems perfect, with tiny curls on his sideburns. They extended down to the bottom of is ear. They tend to grow in a more blondish than bronze color, which matched the color of his facial hair and my favorite blonde fuzz that grew to the side of his hair line in nape of his neck.

He was in his flight suit, O.D. Green with muted green/black patches and a leather name plate over his left chest, finished off with his black, size thirteen paratrooper boots. A sight that is still hard to get used to. At times, it's easier on my heart to just to look away because he is so striking. But I didn't look away. In fact, I intentionally wanted to soak it all in, all of him.

Last night I decided that not being able to see him again would be unacceptable. To do nothing would certainly promote his scarcity in my life, which is what I wanted desperately to change.

So I kissed him. It went...uhm, I would say, better than expected. Everything fell away once our lips met. The world outside of us was put on hold. Nothing registered in my mind outside of what was happening between the two of us. My entire focus was on that beautiful man. The kiss rapidly escalated, like adding gasoline to a small fire.

The passion we had always been bound by was there again, in force. It overwhelmed my senses and judgment. It took hold of both of me with an iron grip after having so much transpire between us in the year that we had been apart. At that moment, it was as strong as ever. Every cell in my body awakened under his touch.

Edward broke the spell I was under when he wisely stopped before we lost complete control. He was sensible. Thankfully the decision was not left up to me. Me? Sensible? At that moment? After feeling Edward's passion and his body awaken between us? Not so much. Nor could I bring myself to regret what I did.

Watching him leave last night was painful. The only comfort was the fact that he said he would call me. I believed him. I TRUSTED him.

I guess I should have been embarrassed confronting his family in the next room once he left, but I was not. They were happy with what had happened. Everyone but Rose, that is. She seemed to think that the things that Edward had said and done were completely unforgiveable, and she made her opinion known.

Apparently she and Edward haven't been as close as they once were since he left the psychiatric hospital. It didn't matter to her that most of his behavior was due to the drastic inconsistency in his medication levels. She refused to give him any slack. Emmett flippantly wrote his wife's point of view off as hormones, which judging by the look she gave him after that comment, I'm sure it did not bode well for him later that night.

Aside from Rose, everyone else was hopeful that when all is said and done, Edward and I will decide to make an attempt to repair our relationship.

I get myself out of bed and go about my day with frequent but not unwelcome breaks, as I remember the feeling of Edward's lips on mine.

Those memories are all I have to go on for three days. I promised to go slow, and that seems to be precisely what Edward is already doing, so I can't complain.

While it is true the days seem to drag by, I have faith in Edward that he will keep his word and I will hear from him soon. I manage to spend my days at work focused on my job, and my days at home accomplishing all the little odds and ends that I need to get done without constantly obsessing about when my phone is going to ring and when Edward will be the person causing it to do so.

In the middle of a cooking show that has a great sounding recipe for chicken that I would like to try, my phone rings with Edward's name on the caller ID.

Although I have gone through all the possible scenarios of this phone call and despite the fact that I should remain calm, I want this so much that my body refuses to cooperate with my mind urging it to relax as anxiety tingles throughout my extremities.


"Hey Bella, uhm, it's me…uhm, Edward. Is that okay? Uh, I mean, is this a good time to call?"

"Oh, yeah, no, it's fine. Uhm…perfect."

"Oh...uh, okay, good. Um, I wasn't sure when would be a good time to call so I just had to guess when would be the best non…bothering...um, I mean, um, the best time that you weren't busy, but I know you're always usually busy so I, uhm, didn't know."

Well it's good to see that I'm not the only one who is nervous.

"You can call me anytime, Edward." I want to add, "or come over, any time, day or night," but I'm supposed to go slow.

Yes, right, going slow.

"Wow, uh, really? Oh, okay. Cool."

I chuckle a bit. He's adorable when he's flustered, and I don't get a chance to see it too often. I would have loved to see it in person, since I'm not the only one who blushes like a Catholic schoolgirl. "I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who is nervous."

"What makes you think I'm nervous? Here I am thinking I'm playing it smooth. Uh, not so much, ay?"

He makes me laugh. "Nope, not so smooth. But that's okay. I'll let you in on a little secret—I thought I was going to hyperventilate when I saw your name on the caller ID."

"Really? Well lemme tell ya', you had the easy job. All you had to do was wait. I dialed your number and tried to push send on my phone so many times today that I had to re-charge it just to make sure the battery wouldn't die in the middle of our conversation. And then, from out of the blue it hits me, I finally got up the nerve to call you—it felt like a kick in the pants, I had to do it that second. So I pick up the phone and I had to risk this call with only thirty eight percent battery life, otherwise, I may have chickened out completely."

He has me a bit nervous. I let out a weak laugh, but I try to keep it light. "Are you just nervous about talking to me, or are you nervous about what you're going to say? Like, are you gonna give me some bad news here?" I was going for carefree, but that just sounded needy and pathetic. Force of habit. Damn.

"Bad news? Well, I guess that would be a matter of perspective. If you were Rose and I called asking if you wanted to get together one day for coffee and talk about our problems, then yeah, I guess that would be bad news. But I was hoping you might be a little more willing to accept my invitation."

"Oh, uhm, yeah! I would love to get coffee with you, when? Uh, now would be good for me."

Palm, meet face.

I didn't want to say that, but my mouth had other ideas.

"Uh, well I was thinking more like tomorrow or the next day, or whenever you don't have work."

I giggle, embarrassed by my eagerness. "Oh yeah, sure. I'm actually off the rest of the week. I have a few days off…so yeah, my schedule is wide open."

"Wow, great. Umm, how about tomorrow? Um, one thirty at the cafe?"

"One thirty is perfect. Oh, and, Edward?"


"Just so you know, I'm really hoping that maybe tomorrow we could talk. You know…about us?"

Of course we'll talk about us…God why can't I communicate today? I hope he knows what I mean.

"Yeah...Yeah. We can talk."

I sigh, relieved. He knows.

"Okay, good. Not gonna lie, though. I'm nervous." More than I could ever effectively convey to him over the phone, that's for sure.

"Yeah, I know how you feel."

"So, I shouldn't look forward to another sneak attack kiss tomorrow?"

Oh, God, he has no idea how much I would love to do that. "Well…that probably wouldn't be a good idea if we are supposed to talk, ya' know?"

"Yeah, true. But damn, what an opener."

"Edward! You're not helping my nervousness, here."

"Sorry. You're right. We have some issues to talk about. I'm looking forward to seeing you."

"All right, Edward. I'll see you at one thirty, tomorrow."

I end the call with a smile and so much hope.


How pathetic is it that I needed my daughter's advice on whether to wear a button down shirt or a pullover sweater or both? I even modeled each combination for her. We went with the button down. She said definitely not both unless I was going golfing. Twelve years old and giving me a run for my money already, that one.

…Or the fact that I had to drive almost ten miles out of my way so I wasn't more than thirty minutes early for my pseudo-date with Bella? How is it that this tiny woman can completely throw me off balance with just the prospect of seeing her again?

I look at my watch again, 1:12 p.m. I order my coffee and get us a table that is tucked in a corner and as private as possible. The café is a far cry from cafeteria style seating in booths or tables. It's warm and inviting, if not highly overpriced. But today it's worth the extra cash simply for its comfortable seating areas, a fireplace, red brick walls and sconces creating a relaxed environment because I could use all the help I could get.

So far, so good. I just wish I didn't feel every rapid beat of my heart bouncing off the inside of my chest. I wish my palms weren't sweating, and I wish that each deep breath I take actually did something to alleviate the nagging feeling off in the periphery of my mind that is telling me I need more air to help me feel better. The familiar feeling of panic, my nemesis for far too long now, wants to override my control. But I won't let that happen.

I refocus my mind back to my respect and reverence for the woman that has irrevocably changed my life.

She saved me by healing my body, but then came the hard part. It has taken a long time to forgive myself for all the sins I have committed in my own mind. The biggest one was failing Jared and Harry. It was eating away at me, and no amount of medication was going to make it go away, it was up to me to let it go first. Dr. Banner has really helped me figure all this out, although he is pretty sure that I had to hit my lowest point in order to be completely open to the help he was able to provide. I guess I agree with him on that. I don't think I could have gotten any lower. I think about those days and just how destructive I had become. It's not often a person gets a do-over in life, let alone as many as I have been blessed with. I have to do it right this time.

I can finally handle my emotions, good and bad. I only have what's left of this life to live, and I want to do it with Bella. For now I have to remember to take this slowly. Baby steps. We have a lot of work to do reestablishing our relationship.

At one twenty two, she walks in the door. She spots me and smiles, taking my breath away before going to the barista to place her order. I get to the counter to pay for her coffee and she thanks me. I am so happy that she didn't resist that small gesture.

I look in her eyes to formally say hello, and my knees feel a bit weak. She is so beautiful. She greets me back and kisses me on the cheek, again thanking me for her coffee. She seems so cool and composed. She definitely has the upper hand here because it feels like I am barely keeping it together.

We take our seats and small talk ensues.

"I can't believe how much rain we've gotten over the past couple days, huh?"

"Yeah, something like four inches. I'm just glad it's not snow," I say, trying to sound upbeat.

"Oh yeah, right? I guess work has been pretty slow for you then."

"No, surprisingly. There have been only a couple times where we were down for weather. Luckily, the forward visibility and the cloud ceiling have been compatible with our weather minimums, so we've managed to stay in service and take almost all of the missions that came in recently."

God, I'm boring myself here.

"I don't know if I would want to be in a helicopter in the rain," she says, looking into her cup while shaking her head.

"As long as we can get high enough without going into the soup, there's no lightning and the viz is good, it isn't a problem. It's just like any other flight, really, just wetter."

I really don't want to talk about this. I hate it. I suppose since we both feel raw and exposed, a few minutes of benign talking seems necessary. It feels forced and uncomfortable, ultimately, each of us afraid of the other. This sucks.

"What if it was windy too?"

"Uhm, really high gusts can be an issue, and as long as it isn't over forty to fifty knots, sustained, we don't have a problem. Helicopters like the wind. The ship works harder when the air is stagnant. When it's really windy, it can get quite bumpy with the turbulence, though. It's pretty different from a plane ride."

Why are we talking about this shit?

"Yeah, I'd probably puke." She lets out a nervous laugh.

I am done with this stock conversation to fill in the gaps, trying to prevent awkwardness. To me, it feels worse, like we are strangers.

I reach out to touch her hand, holding it within mine. It is so small and graceful in comparison. Soft, delicate, but part of a woman so strong that she can bring me to my knees with only a glance.

She is utterly superior to me in every way.

"I'm glad you're here."

After my small gesture, she falls right into the comfort zone with me. "It's so good to see you again, Edward. I was so nervous this morning, but just having your hand in mine now I'm calm again. It's pretty crazy."

Just like that, the awkwardness of a moment ago melts away to who we really are together.

"I don't want to talk about the weather, or helicopters. I don't want to talk about anything except us. Today, I'm being selfish and impatient, probably bordering on impulsive, but I'm okay with that. I'm afraid, but I'm gonna be completely honest with you. I want to talk about a way to get us to a point where we're friends again. I want you in my life, Bella. I want to go out to a bar with you and watch a ball game or drive you wherever you need to go if your car is being fixed. I want to watch a movie with you at my house while we sit on the floor, eating pizza. And eventually I want to be able to have you trust me enough so we can move our relationship to the next level."

With a sharp intake of breath, she says, "I want that too, so much. I know we shouldn't rush into anything, and I'm sorry for going overboard at your parent's house. But if it got us to where we are now…able to talk to one another and look toward a relationship together, then there's no way I can regret doing it."

"God knows I don't regret you doing it either."

"I just don't want to mess this up. You, us, it all means too much to me." She shakes her head seriously, which matches the look on her face.

I can't hold back my smile after that statement. "You have no idea how happy I am to hear you say that. It means the world to me as well, Bella, and whatever it takes, I'll do it, no question. Not gonna lie though, I'm scared."

"What scares you?" She looks away, shyly, reluctant for our eyes to meet while hearing my answer.

"Well, honestly, a lot of things. Like, maybe we don't want the same things. That's one. At one point, a year ago, I was so certain of everything. Then there was a time where I wasn't sure of anything except my own name."

She nods her head in understanding while her small hands squeeze mine. "I know, and that's my fault. I wish you never doubted me..."

I open my mouth to reply, but she continues, "Look, Edward, I've always loved you, only you, but I know how easy it was question that after all that happened. I lied to others, I lied to you, and I know those words have damaged who we are together. We need to heal from that. The most important thing is we need to be completely honest with one another from this moment on. And I know you've made your share of mistakes as well. We've been apart for a long time, a year now, but it's not long enough that those wounds aren't still painful. We both have things to atone for. I understand all of that and I know it won't be quick or easy, but I'm not going anywhere and…" She takes in a deep breath and holds it for a few seconds before letting it out in a whoosh. "I don't want to ever give up on us again, and I won't let you do it, either."

Fuck, I want to kiss her right now. It is almost overwhelming. I shake my head a bit and close my eyes tightly. Letting go of her hands, I scrub my face until the urge is gone.

Of course, this display does not go unnoticed. I can imagine it is somewhat confusing.

"What?" She looks at me suspiciously.

I have to play it cool. "What?" I pretend like I don't know what she's questioning.

"What was that little display for?" Apprehension is now rolling off her in waves.

"Ohhh, s'nothin'." I wave my hand and smile crookedly.

Approximately one second passes after speaking the words before it registers in my brain. My eyes lock wide open, initially with shock at my idiocy for lying to her already, then alarm, because I'm not going to get away with it, either.

As expected, she calls me out on my shit immediately.

"Edward, didn't we just talk about honesty? I know you and your little quirks. You made that face and then rubbed it off for a reason. I know you were NOT thinking of nothing. Why would you lie to me already?"

I have to get my mind straight. I don't want to screw this up before it even starts.

While I'm stuttering, unsure of how to answer, she speaks again. This time, her voice is softer, subdued and a little shy. "I mean, am I wrong to want to fight for us? Should I not want that?"

"NO! SHIT!" I nearly jump out of my seat because I don't want this to be misunderstood. I tentatively hold her hand again, and the calm I feel is almost instantaneous. "Fight, Bella, please! I will too, I swear. I'm sorry…I knew I messed up as soon as I did it. I'm sorry, I…I did lie to you, but it's embarrassing. I guess I was just trying to avoid the conversation. I didn't do it maliciously, I swear. All right, here it comes, complete honesty...I lied and said it was nothing because after you told me that you weren't going to give up on us, I had this feeling that I really wanted to kiss you. I was just trying to refocus my thoughts. Restarting as friends is the best way for us, but it isn't going to be easy for me... I'm sorry."

I shake my head, disgusted at myself. "First day of our renewed friendship and I'm in trouble already."

She smiles from ear to ear and starts laughing at me. My heart does this little maneuver deep inside that spreads out to my whole body. It is so tangible that I want to hold my chest in an attempt preserve the sensation and be able to summon it whenever I want.

I had almost forgotten all about that flip-flop, tingly, butterfly, goose bumpy like thing. But now that I feel it again, I realize how much I missed it, how much I need it—how much I need her. Only she could ever make me feel this way.

This taking it slow thing is going to be really hard, because even though I never stopped loving her, now, ALREADY, I am pretty sure that I'm falling right back in love with her. I'm going to fall asleep to Bella on my mind and wake up to thinking of her as soon as my alarm stops ringing. At night, she will star in all my dreams, and during the day, everything around me will remind me of her. So yeah, pretty much status quo.

Slow it down, Cullen. Ease her into that. Explain it over time. Too soon, too intense.

She strokes my hand to physically let me know she accepts my apology. "But, do you see? The problem is that by now, we can read each other most of the time. You know, I really wish I had a snapshot of every expression I've ever seen you make. There would be thousands. Even if you never spoke again, I could probably interpret every nuance of your mood by the look on your face. You communicate so much without any words, and those faces never lie. But sometimes we can read too much into things. Like I just did right now."

"Well, yeah. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have tried to deceive you, I should have known, you don't miss a trick. You used to know what would set me off, too. Good and bad. But just so you know, I'm not as much of a hot-head now."

She hums in agreement. "This isn't going to be easy for either of us. But if we have faith in who we were together and know that was real, I truly believe we can do it. So, I guess for now, you can have a pass on the lie."

"Thanks for that, but I'm afraid I'm gonna mess up from time to time. But I swear, I never want to hurt you again. The only thing that I'm missing in my life is you as a friend, and hopefully, one day, we can look forward to something more…that is, if it's ever realistic to do so." I look down at the floor, self-conscious.

"Edward, don't doubt us already." Her formerly light touches on my hand turns into a snug grip and she shakes it. "Congratulations, as of today, you have me back in your life as a friend, but on the first day of our renewed friendship, you're already so pessimistic. It's kinda like putting a retainer on a divorce lawyer on your wedding day."

"I'm just trying to be realistic and not get my hopes up too high. You might still have good reason to not be able to forgive me, you know."

"Okay…okay, let's just do this now! Get it out of the way! Did you hurt anyone, Edward? More specifically, did you hurt any women?"

"No, of course not." I say with certainty, but a little intimidated at her conviction.

She starts pulling out one finger at a time from her closed hand with each question she asks.

"Did you force yourself on anyone or make them do anything against their will?"

I shake my head, vehemently with my brow furrowed. "No, never."

"Were any of the girls underage or impaired in any way, like unconscious?"

"God, no! Wait, do you actually think I would do any of these things you're asking?"

"Well, no. But apparently you said there are some things I'm going to have a hard time getting past. I'm just listing some of those things that would be the hardest for me to accept. The rest we can talk about at a later time. So, is anyone pregnant?"

My eyes nearly fall out of my head after that question. "Holy shit, no!"

"Do you have any diseases I should know about, and did you always use condoms?" She uses up all the fingers on her one hand, but technically the last question is a double.

"Yes. Wait, no. Hold on! One question at a time. Yes, I always used condoms. No I don't have any diseases. Uhm, I was tested was when I went mental and got thrown into the asylum and again in my yearly physical two months ago. I asked them throw it in extra just to be on the safe side."

"Okay, that was the hard stuff, we can work on the rest. But please, another thing, stop berating yourself, calling yourself mental and using the term 'asylum.' It's a passive aggressive attack on yourself, and I don't like it."

"Well, it may not be the most sensitive way to put it, but it's not a lie. I did go mental, and I was involuntarily committed. Not too many people are proud of something like that. If they are, they didn't spend enough time locked up. It's another huge thing you have be able to get past. It's part of the reason why I can't get my hopes up."

"You think I could stop loving you because you were sick?"

I chuff at her. "It's not like I had diabetes, Bella. Don't make it sound so pretty. The ugly truth is, my head was fucked and I wanted to put a bullet in it to make everything go away."

She closes her eyes for a second and turns her head away from me. Her face belies sadness, but more so, anger.

"For future reference, I will not speak to you about that situation if you are going to use shock value to get your point across. And yes, Edward, you were sick because just believing for even one moment that was your only option proves that point. Your sickness couldn't be confirmed with a blood test or x-ray or any other diagnostic exam, but it doesn't mean what you suffered through wasn't legitimate. Soon we'll have to speak about this as well, and when that time comes…it's…it's disturbing enough, I don't need it to be graphic as well. Can you understand that?"

I lower my head and nod. Effectively dissuaded.

"So, I'll ask you again. Do you think I could stop loving you because you were sick? Or are you saying you don't trust in my love for you?"

"NO! WHAT? That's certainly not what I'm saying, Bella. I was an asshole, and maybe I'm just trying to set the stage so you're not thrown off balance later...I don't know."

I shake my head back and forth in frustration. "I wish I hadn't done any of it, but I can't take it back. I didn't recognize myself. I think back on the things I did, which in most cases are a very hazy memory, and I can't believe I would ever be capable of making some of those choices. I swear, I didn't know who I was or what I was doing. I knew I was losing control, and I didn't care. Yeah, my head was fucked up, but I had plenty of opportunities to get help, and I willfully ignored every one."

Taking a sip of my coffee, I realize it doesn't taste as good as it did ten minutes ago. "I don't want people to walk around on eggshells either and think they can't get mad or disagree with me because they don't want to hurt my feelings. It's getting better, but at first everyone really treated me like I was so fragile, and I hated it. I don't want you to do that, Bella. I don't want you to blindly forgive me for everything now and then wind up resenting me and holding it over my head later."

"I fully intend to hold you accountable for what you did, Edward. I'm sure I'll hear you confess something that will cause me to be disappointed in you, but nothing could be as bad as you wanting to die. As far as everything else goes, I have to temper that with that fact that we weren't together then. Also, I really think some of that behavior can be attributed to your sickness, as well. Uhm…have you been involved with many women, um…recently?"

I shake my head. "Not since before I was admitted."

She looks visibly relieved. "Okay…okay, I think I can work with that."

"You're strong. I can't be so sure that I won't have a hard time when you tell me about what your life was like when we were apart. I may need some time to digest it, especially because the difference between you and me when we were apart was that I didn't care about any of those women, I can't even remember them. They were nothing to me. You were like…in love with Jake." My leg is jumping up and down with the anxiety that is caused by my mind wandering into thoughts of Bella and Jake together.

Her eyes never leaving mine as she brings her hand up to lightly rub her fingers over the stubble already making itself known on my cheek. "I thought I explained this to you, Edward. Yes, I wanted to feel happy again and I thought if I opened my heart to let someone in, maybe that could happen. But there was no room in my heart for anyone else because it was still owned entirely by you. I never came close to falling in love with Jacob. It was always you, Edward. It will always be only you."

Nothing can stop me now. I lean forward and reach across the small table with my upper body and kiss her.

My lips stay on hers for just a second longer than I intend because she tastes so incredible, and it has nothing to do with the coffee she is drinking. I close my eyes and let the sublime feeling wash over me, unashamed. She tastes like everything I remember, just like she did at Mom's house. It made my heart hurt that night when I had to break the kiss, not knowing when, if ever, I would taste her lips again.

I move back into my seat as I take a deep breath and open my eyes. I find her looking directly at me, blushing. I clear my throat before I start to speak. "That right there wasn't something I planned on happening. But I'm not going to apologize, either. You're an incredible woman and I won't give up. I'll do whatever it takes to make you mine again. The only thing I am sorry for is that I ever let you go in the first place. Mark my words, if I'm blessed enough to deserve you once more, I'll never push you away or let you go again. You are the only one I have ever truly loved, and I love you still, Bella."

She reaches over the table just as I did and then kisses me soundly. I readily accept her kiss, meeting her halfway. Within a second, I brush my tongue up against her soft lips. She allows me to deepen the kiss. Bella is just as lost as I am in this moment because I hear her whimper as I moan into her mouth. God, I want to taste more of her.

The kiss continues on, it's not sweet, it's not angry, it's a perfect mix of passion and love. I break for a moment with a few smaller pecks then start again from the beginning. For propriety's sake, I thank goodness there is a small table between us.

She pulls away, but I'm still grateful for the simple touch of her hands in mine. I can see by the look on her face that there is something on her mind.

"Edward," she says, seriously. Desire fades and my smile dims. After a sigh, she starts again, "About these kisses. You know this isn't a good idea. A kiss can undoubtedly progress if we let it. We can't. It's too soon. It can distract us from everything else we have to talk about."

I take her left hand and place a kiss near the finger that at one time, a year ago, I intended to place a ring on. "Yeah, I know we need to talk a lot more than we need to kiss. But hell, the awkwardness in the beginning of each time we see or speak to each other lately makes us feel like strangers, but God knows we're not. You know me better than anyone. And I don't want to wonder if the way I feel is too much, too soon, because in all honesty, the way I feel for you never went away. I haven't stopped loving you, if it's too soon to say I love you and I want you back forever, so be it. But I just said it, and I can't take it back."

She just stares at me and I'm unsure if I should proceed, but since I've already gone over the top, there is nothing else left to lose. I take a deep breath and continue.

I decided as long as I'm going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.

"I have no intention of ever letting you go again. When we broke up, a part of me died inside, and it almost killed me. I did some things I need to confess and be held accountable for, but ultimately, the end game for me is the same as it was before. I know we can't just pick up where we left off and we have a lot of work to do. In the meantime, I PROMISE YOU, I will keep my hands to myself, but I don't want to feel like a stranger around you either. Maybe a kiss here or there might not be too bad. Let's just take it slow for a while."

She still doesn't move for a long few seconds. But soon the small smile that she has been wearing most of the afternoon grows to cover most of her face, and her focused but kind eyes stare into my soul.

"I love you too, Edward, and I really think we want the same things. I want us back. I want you back."

"I'm right here. I'm better, Bella. I swear. Now, this is finally me. This is me as unbroken and as healed as I can get without you to complete my life. You are the final piece to make me whole again. You're my heart. I hope you can love me for who I am, because I'm a man who is completely devoted to the woman sitting in front of him. I swear to you, if you let me, I'll spend every day for the rest of my life making sure you never regret the decision to let me back into your life."

She's silent for a while and I can't tell what she is thinking, but her eyes are red and full of tears. "Edward, I really want to kiss you again..."

"I wouldn't stop you."

She reaches over and holds my face between both of her hands while looking into my eyes. She is now smiling, the light from the cafe reflected in her eyes making them almost twinkle, and this moment rivals almost every other where I thought Bella was at her most beautiful. The way she looks at me tells me there is honesty there, she won't hurt me again. For this woman, I have to give over the safety of my heart and put it on the line. I will do this willingly; there will never be anyone else.

"I do love you so much, Edward, but nothing could have hurt me more than your lack of faith in me and the fact that you ever doubted my love for you in the first place. It devastated me that you thought everything was a lie without giving me the opportunity to explain. I had no excuse, and it was one hundred percent wrong to hurt you that way, but I PROMISE, I will never intentionally hurt you again either, not ever."

After she speaks, her lips met mine again. She seals her promise with a kiss. It is sweet and light, and my heart swells with even more love for this woman.

We end the kiss after a few seconds. It is short, but it is perfect and holds our promises to each other intact, just waiting on forever to prove to each other our devotion. Only the passing of time can attest to the veracity of the love that we both profess.

"I know you won't, Bella. I forgive you. If you can forgive me for everything I did…every time I yelled, every horrible name I called you and everything I said and did to hurt you and eventually myself, then it's the least I can do."

"We'll work through all of it together, Edward, I promise."

"We have another obstacle, though."

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a second to steady herself. "Okay, tell me."

I explain to her everything that went down with her father. She looks concerned but she doesn't interrupt me. "He scares me, Bella. I can't get in trouble now, not for a long time and he knows it. I don't know if my boss would be able to give me another chance, even if the arrest is under a trumped up BS charge."

"Don't worry. I'll take care of my father and make sure he won't bother you. He's holding his badge over your head to intimidate you. That isn't the reason he wears that badge, and I'm gonna have to remind him of that."

"Uhm, you know I was wondering. Did he ever give you the letter that I sent you that I mailed to his house?"

"Yeah, he did. It was one of the things that inspired me to go to therapy and get a little bit better every day. He gave it to me the day after I broke up with Jake. I went to his house and told him what happened with Jake. I demanded that he hand over the letter. God, we had such a blow-out that night. He wanted me to marry Jake and when he found out that wasn't gonna happen, he blamed you for that, as well. That's probably why he gave you a hard time on the phone. But I really don't know who could be feeding him that information he had on you otherwise."

"Yeah, neither do I."

"Uhm, Edward. I have a confession to make to you."

"Hoh, uhm…okay." I try to think what it could be while scanning her face for a clue to the severity of the revelation. I come up short.

"Charlie still doesn't know the details of why we broke up." She pauses and starts again when I don't say anything.

"He still doesn't know I was ever a relationship with a woman. I never told him about Jessica. All I said was it was a misunderstanding and that it was all my fault. What he took away from what little information I gave him is that you got cold feet and left me. I tried to tell him that wasn't the truth, but…"

"Uhm, do you have any intention of ever telling him about Jessica or Carmen?"

"Yeah, soon."

"Okay. But maybe you should wait a while longer before you do anything. Let's work on what's going on between us first, and then we can talk to him. But I'm sorry for going to him in the first place. I called him trying to interfere with your life, and I had no right."

"He just has to get over himself and deal with reality. The reality of my past and the reality that you're not going anywhere, and it's better he gets used to it now."

"I'm not?"

"Not unless you want to."

"I don't want to go anywhere without you, Bella. You were my life then, you're my life now. Nothing has changed, except we made a mess of things in the middle."

I hadn't realized how long we have been in each other's company. It isn't enough for me, but I know I can't be greedy and I am really pleased on how this date has turned out. I look at my watch and realize that my Mom has already picked up Kate from the bus stop.

She doesn't miss me eyeing my watch and says, "Oh my gosh, did you have to get Kate today?"

"No worries, I had my Mom back me up, just in case I didn't bomb this. It's all good."

"So, I guess this wasn't a bomb then?"

"Uhm, no. As a matter of fact, I think it went a lot better than anything I could have hoped for. What do you think?"

"I'm afraid...I keep waiting to wake up, thinking it's a dream. So yeah, I think it went pretty good too."

"So...may I ask for your permission to take you to dinner next time?" I give her a lopsided grin because I'm pretty confident she will say yes. In fact, I'm bordering on arrogant about it.

"I would like that Edward. A lot." She beams back at me, and my arrogance switches seamlessly to enamored when she looks at me like that.

"How about next week then? Wednesday, Friday or Saturday?"

"Wednesday or Saturday would work for me."

"Good, it's settled then. I'll pick you up at six thirty on Wednesday and Saturday," I state smoothly, apparently pleased with myself.

With mock contempt, she says, "Eager much?"

"Now, you see...I thought I was showing remarkable restraint. I was trying to be good and not ask to take you out this week. I was trying to take it slow by waiting until next week, but when you gave me the option of both nights, I couldn't resist. Not to mention, Wednesday is almost a whole WEEK away."

"Oh, well, when you put it like that, I guess you are and should be commended."

"You're right." I jut my cheek out toward her, pointing at it.

"What are you doing?" she questions.

"I'm waiting for my commendation," I say as I begin to tap my cheek.

She obliges by placing a soft kiss there.

I point my finger to the other cheek, and I get another kiss.

Oh, I like this game.

I point to my nose, request accepted.

I point below my right ear, and she places a small kiss there causing a frisson of pleasure throughout my entire body.

She gives a second, unsolicited, slower kiss-nibble to my earlobe, which goes directly to my pants.

Okay. I should stop, but for some reason I can't find it in me to do so.

I turn my head, and this time I don't even have to point before her lips find my earlobe. A low moan escapes me. I can feel her warm breath in my ear. Her tongue and teeth find the spot that makes me crazy, and she is working it, but good. She knows full well what she is doing to me.

I growl deeply. "This is a dangerous game we're playing. We should stop now."

She whispers in my ear, interspersed with more kisses in the area which are making me crazy. Kiss, nibble. "Mmmmm. I'm justifying this in my mind that we're in public so it can't get too far." Kiss, kiss lick. "I want you to know I wouldn't tease you like this if anything could get out of control." Kiss, nibble kiss.

"Bella, we could be in my bedroom right now and you could be naked and it wouldn't get out of control because I just made a promise to you. I won't break it. You and our relationship mean too much to me. I promised you that I would keep my hands to myself and I'm pretty sure that spontaneous human combustion would claim me before I laid one finger on you and intentionally go back on my word."

"Ah, yes, your promise. Then why is this game so dangerous?"

"Hmm, maybe dangerous isn't the right word to describe it. More like painful."

"Painful…" She pulls away and looks unconvinced.

"Yeah, well, these jeans aren't very forgiving."

She starts laughing at me—she thinks I'm kidding. "Okay, okay, I'll be a good girl. I'm sorry, but I just miss you so much, being close to you, touching you..."

"I know the feeling, believe me."

She turns all serious on me again. "Uhm, Edward? You said that you would never go back on a promise, and you've made it clear that your word is solid. I truly believe that, and I really respect that about you. But I need you to promise me something else. I need your word that in the future, you won't make any unilateral decisions that involve 'us' without taking my point of view into consideration. All I want for you to do is weigh the options. You've made decisions for us in the past without my approval. In some cases, not even my opinion was allowed, and it usually caused us tremendous unnecessary difficulty. Do you agree? Is that a fair statement?"

"Umm, yeah, that's fair. I used to have difficulty listening to reason. Even when those reasonable words are being spoken to me by a beautiful and highly intelligent woman whom, in many ways, knows me better than I know myself."

"I'm only asking you to let go of some of those controlling tendencies. I just would like some level of moderation, not caveman-Edward or I-always-know-best-Edward."

I try to assure her. "I swear, I was in therapy, and that's one of the things I worked on. I'm better now."

"Then I'm sure it won't come up very often. But if it does, I'd like your word that you won't go off on your own without hearing my opinion first, because I'll call you on it."

"All right, I promise to consider compromising on any decisions about 'us.' But you have to take into consideration my perspective as well."

"Deal. Piece of cake so far, huh?"

"Yeah, so far," I say dryly, knowing this is the easy part.

"You know…I really think we're gonna be okay, Edward."