No Matter What

Chapter Eleven

*X*—Edward Masen —*X*


"Do you like it?"

"I love it," Bella whispered, staring at the framed drawing of her and Briella. "I can't believe you did this."

"It's been a while." Edward looked sheepish. He didn't want to admit that 'a while' really meant almost five years. If he told her that, she would know why he stopped drawing. She would put two and two together, realize he stopped right after Rosie died, and then she'd want to talk about it. However, he didn't want to have that conversation. "It took me a lot longer than it would have years ago, but … are you sure you like it? You won't hurt my feelings if you say you don't."

"I love it. I love ... everything about tonight. Thank you."

After they left Esme's it was still relatively early. So as planned, they dropped Briella off with Laurent and proceeded with their date night. At first, Edward worried his idea might come off as too cheesy—jazz in the park wasn't exactly an innovative idea. But the smile of contentment on Bella's face all night told him he was wrong.

And now, as they sat on their picnic blanket with soft music playing in the background, Edward feared his gift would look like a crappy scribbled mess or a cheap cop-out in place of a real present.

Again, Bella's smile said otherwise.

"I hate this picture, though. You know, the one I begged you to delete off your phone." She laughed, remembering the exact night that he'd taken it. It had been a rough one where Briella had been cranky and refused to go to sleep. In an exceptionally clingy mood, the only way Bella had been able to get her to sleep was sitting up with her in her old rocking chair, reading her a story. She'd just gotten Bree to settle down, and with a tired smile and haphazard hair she looked up to see Edward standing in the doorway with his phone in hand. Through his drawing, you saw none of that. Frustration didn't shine in her eyes the way it had been that night. It just looked like a tender and affectionate moment between mother and daughter. "But you make it look so beautiful."

"You really like it?"

"I told you—I love it."

Edward beamed with pride and sat a little straighter. Compliments from Bella made him feel 10 feet tall and like he could conquer anything. She gave him confidence, and there was a little something he'd wanted to ask. Now was the perfect time.

"Since you like it, maybe … uh, I was thinking I can do something for Bree. You know, for her room for her birthday? You can tell me if it's an overstepping type thing. But, I've had this idea for a mural and—"

Bella leaned over and interrupted his speech with a kiss.

His arm went around her waist as she weaved her hands into his hair. Shifting her weight, she pulled him into a deeper embrace than he'd expected. But he moaned and braced his hand on the ground to stop her from pulling them down.

"Wait." He looked around.

"No one can even see us." The park wasn't crowded and the few other couples that were in the area where they sat were spaced out yards apart, and in their own world.

For all they cared, Bella and Edward could be rolling around naked. They wouldn't notice. Bella realized this, but Edward always being hyper aware whenever people were around did not. Bella huffed and pushed him away to allow her space to sit up.

"Hey," Edward whispered, "It's not about whether or not they can see us, Bella. But, come on." He'd gotten over some of his aversion to PDA, but this was a little too much for him.

Bella's expression softened. She knew she'd been pushing it, but he had to understand the effect he had on her when he said and did certain things. "You can't take me to beautiful gardens, draw me pictures, and then offer to paint my daughter a mural and not expect to be jumped like that. Really, you were asking for it."

"Is that what I was doing?" Edward smirked and pulled her into his arms. "I had no clue."

"Well, now you do."

"So." He squeezed her shoulder. "Is my idea okay? Do you think she'd like it?"

Bella had to refrain from shaking her head. Sometimes, it was clear Edward still didn't get it.

"Technically, I don't know what your idea is," she hedged with a raised eyebrow. She was dying to know what he had planned, but one mirthful look in his eyes told her she'd have to wait and be surprised, too. "But, anyway, Bree loves you, and she loves everything you do for her. For the record, I do, too."

Edward wanted clarification—he needed Bella to say that she loved him, but he didn't have the guts to ask her if that's what she meant. Did she love him, or did she love everything he did for Bree?

They both let the moment pass, and when Bella turned to look at him she had a wide smile on her face. "The night's not over, is it?"

"Not if you don't want it to be."

"I don't want it to be. It's so beautiful out here." A thought crossed her mind. She wanted to know if he came here often—if he came here with other people often in the past. She decided not to ask. In the end, she knew it wasn't important. They were there together now. That's all that mattered. "I love …" she wanted to say it just as much as Edward needed to hear it, but for some reason she couldn't get the words out. "I love spending time with you like this; spending time with you here."

He saw the dilemma in her eyes, and he felt the same way. He wanted to tell Bella how he felt, too. How much she'd grown to mean to him. But there was something he needed to do first. "We'll come again." He cleared his throat. "But I have somewhere else I want to take you. It's not ..." The skin between his eyebrows pinched together. "It might seem strange—morbid even, but there's someone else I want you to meet tonight."

It was a split decision; an unplanned detour of their night. But knowing where the night might finally lead, knowing what he was suddenly itching to tell her, Edward couldn't let any of it happen without letting her meet everyone that was important to him.

Silently, they packed up their things.

During their drive, Bella clutched her drawing in one hand and Edward's hand in her other. She had a feeling that she knew where they were going.

"This is probably the least romantic thing anyone has ever done." Edward gripped the steering wheel once they parked. "But, I love you," he whispered, "And Rosie, she would have loved you, too. It's not fair that she didn't get to meet you. I guess I just thought—"

Bella's eyes were watery as she reached up and cupped his cheek. "I get it."

She blew out a breath and looked out the passenger side window. She'd never been to a cemetery before, and she had never wanted to visit one. But for Edward she was willing to step out of her comfort zone.

Facing this was a battle for him, she realized, and trusting her to stand there with him was one of the best gifts he could have given her.

X—X

"Are you okay?"

"Of course." Edward titled his head to the side. "Why wouldn't I be?"

For all the things Bella loved about Edward, this was one of the things she didn't. She loathed how he tried to act unfazed about things when they clearly bothered him.

Scowling, she adjusted her position on the couch to face him. They'd been back at Edward's for almost an hour, and he'd barely uttered a word. Even at the gravesite, he didn't speak.

"Please don't do that. Not tonight."

"What did I do?"

"You're pretending you're okay when I know you're not. And you do it all the time."

Hearing the edge to her voice, Edward's jaw tensed. "I don't do anything 'all the time.'"

"Oh, don't mock me."

"Then don't try to pick a fight."

Tension was high. Realizing they needed to rein it in, both Edward and Bella sighed and slumped back against the couch. They'd dealt with a few milestones all in one day. At the moment, the good of it all was being tainted by their anxiety over conversations neither wanted to have.

Bella didn't want to talk about the conversation she had with her mother.

And Edward still had no desire to discuss losing Rosalie. However, he knew it would be unfair to deny her an explanation if she asked for it. He brought her in—brought her there; to the cemetery. It was an internal battle, but he couldn't shut her out again. Not about this. He decided to man up and start talking.

"I'm okay," he whispered. "I swear. I'm just … thinking."

"About your sister?"

He nodded. "Yes. Well, about this whole day actually. And tonight. Did you have a good night?"

"I did." Bella smiled. However, it was guarded. She wouldn't let Edward change the subject, if that's what he was doing. "And you taking me to meet your sister—I hope you know how special that is to me."

"Like I said—" Edward sucked in a breath and repeated what he'd said in the car. "I love you, and she would have, too. It's only right that I took you there."

She said his name and grabbed his chin to force him to look at her. His eyes said it all … he did not expect her to return the sentiment. But she did, and with a whispered, "I love you, too", their lips came together.

There was some resistance—a power struggle, if you will—as they both tried to lean the other one backward. They knew things wouldn't go much further, at least not until they finished talking, but that could wait a few more minutes. It was Bella who eventually pulled away, flushed and slightly out of breath.

Edward's smile was bright, his eyes wide, as his chest heaved up and down. He looked … turned on, and suddenly Bella wondered how important it was that they talk right then.

It could wait—couldn't it?

"Umm …"

Edward threw his head back against the couch; nostrils flaring as he tried to regulate his breathing. "We should talk."

No! "Okay." Bella sat back and crossed her legs. "About what?"

"Anything, everything, just distract me. Umm … what happened before dinner? I know you talked to your mom, but —"

"Yeah." Bella exhaled. Right. Talking. Her mom. "Well, she'd called me for my birthday and I'd ignored her a few times. But then I was talking to your mom, and … I don't know. I guess I just got the urge to call mine. Only, I chickened out the last minute but my phone called her anyway." Edward kept his eyes closed, but he hummed to let Bella know he was listening. He needed a few minutes to control himself—center himself—if they were going to talk like he knew they should. One look at her, with her flushed face and swollen lips, would shoot that straight to hell.

"And what happened after that?"

"Our talk was brief. Once she called Bree 'Gabriella', I pretty much shut down."

Edward's eyes flew open. The devastated tone of her voice brought him out of his lustful stupor. "Babe …"

"I mean, how hard is it to remember her name? She's going to be four—FOUR!—in a matter of weeks. And she still fucks up her name. And then," she was on a roll now, "she's asking me about my plans, but she wasn't really asking, you know? She's all 'I hope you're having a great weekend' and 'I hope you make plans.' But she didn't ask me what my plans are. When I told her I was at my boyfriend's mother's house, she didn't even ask about you. I'm sure if I told her I was alone and miserable, though, she would have had plenty to say."

"Bella—"

"Because, according to her and my father, by the time I turned 21 I was going to be knocked up again and living off the system. God forbid I succeed in life, right? God fucking forbid I actually do something with myself, make it, and find someone who loves me."

"But, I do," he reminded her in a whisper.

"Why?" Bella whirled around to face him. "Why the hell do you love me?"

"How could I not?" The hurt in Edward's eyes was evident. He was hurt for her and hurt at her question. Did she doubt him already? "Please, come here." He pulled her to him, ignoring the fact she remained tense in his arms. "I had no idea your mom would ever say something like that," he admitted sadly. Never again would he push or encourage her to talk to her mother. Not if this was the result. "Don't let her do this to you. You're amazing. You're doing such a great job. So what she thought you'd be a failure. Fuck her. You know you're not. Don't let her negativity cause you to doubt yourself or my feelings for you."

Bella remained stiff and angry, and Edward sighed. He could feel it in the air that after one conversation with her mother, everything had changed.


Thanks so much for all your reviews. I appreciate all of them, truly. Just be patient with these two.

There's a good chance I won't be able to update before all the holidays are over. So, just in case ... I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Or, ya know, Seasons Greetings for those who don't celebrate either one exclusively.

Special love to my girls - VC-Girl, and Cap - for their help.

Until Next Time

~Lo