AN: Thanks for reading!
Chapter 10: Epilogue
1½ Years Later | June
"You've worked hard to get here, seniors! We are all extremely proud of each and every one of you… Congratulations, graduating class—"
There was an uproar of deafening squeals, yells, and hoots the very instant Principal Greene offered his praise. On cue, we all leaped to our feet (screaming our heads off, mind you), yanking the awfully bright yellow graduation caps off our heads and flinging it in the air above us.
The smile on my face was stretched so wide, from ear to ear, that it was actually starting to ache, but I didn't allow it to stop me from cheering along with the rest of my classmates.
I couldn't believe it. I was finally done with high school.
"Oh my gosh!" Jessica squealed from my right. Her arms went tight around my neck and I saw my life flash before my eyes. "Can you believe it, Bella? We've finally graduated! This is so exciting. I've been waiting for this moment forever! I can't believe we'll be going our separate ways now! Oh, I'm going to miss you so much!"
"Jess—" I gasped. "Can't… breathe."
She let out a shaky laugh and released me. I'd never really considered Jessica Stanley a good friend of mine. Sure, she had been a great girl when I'd started out at school initially, but over the years, I found that she really only became my friend whenever it was convenient for her. Nevertheless, I wasn't about to turn all moody and grumpy on one of the most important days of my life.
I smiled serenely and squeezed her hand. "I'll miss you too, Jess." Not really. "It's been great getting to know you these past few years." Lie. "We'll keep in touch." Please forget about me.
Her head bobbed earnestly. "Most definitely."
I promised to call her later, and then I escaped to find Angela and Ben before either of us left school. They were there, together with their families. I stepped up beside them with a much bigger and more genuine smile.
"Congratulations, guys," I smiled widely, poking Ben in the ribs. He laughed and jabbed me in return.
Angela grinning hugely and hugged me briefly. "You too, Bella. I'm just so happy to finally get out of here."
"Eager to get rid of me?" I teased.
She turned serious and, with a frown, I realized that her eyes were getting rather watery. She said quietly, "You know that's never the case. I'm going to miss you so much, Bella."
I swallowed hard. Angela and her boyfriend, Ben, had been such great friends during my time in Forks High School. After Edward and I had begun a relationship, it had been extremely difficult to go to school, knowing that he wouldn't be there with me. Of course, we almost always met up in the afternoons and on weekends, but I'd always been in a bad mood when surrounded by other couples. I could never thank Angela enough for being a true friend when I'd needed one.
"Ang," I whispered, throwing my arms around her. "I'm gonna miss you, too. We have to visit each other. Thank goodness you and Ben will be here anyway." Angela and Ben had been accepted into and were attending the University of Washington. "When I come to visit Charlie, I'll be able to meet you two."
"Darn right you will," she ordered. "I don't care how far Dartmouth is from here."
Much to my protest, Edward had persuaded me to send an application to Dartmouth University. I'd done so, just to humor him (there was no way I'd ever be accepted into such a prestigious school), but a pleasant shock had come in the mail two weeks later. Edward had been accepted as well (what a surprise).
Initially, Edward had suggested buying a house near the Dartmouth campus, but both Charlie and I had objected. Charlie, understandably, had been "concerned" about the two of us living alone together—though his worries were totally unnecessary. I, on the other hand, had downright refused to allow Edward simply buy "just a house". For the two of us to live in. For four years. As appealing as the idea to be alone with him was, there was no way in hell I was going to move in with Edward and let him pay entirely for everything. And since Edward had scoffed at the idea of my getting a job to deal with the half the rent, among other expenses…
Needless to say, Charlie had been more than thrilled when he realized that we would be living in the separate boys' and girls' dormitories.
Speaking of Charlie…
"Alright, I'd better go." I sighed. "Meet the family."
She laughed at my tone. She'd never met my parents, but I'd talked about Renée enough to her. "I'll see you later, then. Maybe finally meet that boyfriend of yours. Call me tomorrow."
I squeezed her hand, smiling at the thought of my best friend meeting Edward. I was sure that they'd get along perfectly. "Will do."
I headed towards the back of the room, smiling and nodding at fellow classmates as they congratulated me. I saw my mother first.
"Bella," she yelled, practically shoving people aside in her hurry to get to me.
I laughed as she flung her arms around me. Tightly.
"Congratulations, sweetie!" she shouted into my ear. "I am so proud of you."
Renée had flown in from Florida, her current state of residence because of Phil's baseball, three days ago—specifically for my graduation. Until today, she hadn't met any of the Cullens, or Jacob, Billy and Nessie. From the e-mails I'd been sending her, she knew about all of them, especially my relationship with Edward, but tonight would the first time they would actually have a chance to get to know each other.
And honestly? I was a little scared.
My mother pulled back and surveyed me. Her eyes were already wet with tears that were slowly dripping down her cheeks. "Oh, my baby is a high school graduate. So grown up. And soon you'll be off to college and after tonight you're going to—" She broke off that particular thought and smiled a little too brightly at me. "How does time fly so fast?"
I stared at her curiously. What did she mean about tonight? I supposed that she was just excited about the celebratory dinner that Alice had insisted on having in occasion of my graduation. She'd been mentioning all day how much she was looking forward to meeting my friends.
My mother was rambling now. "I was so excited when they called your name. You looked so beautiful up there—confident and proud. Just like me! Did you hear all of us cheering? Oh my gosh, I totally forgot! Let me see your diploma, honey!"
She swiped my rolled up certificate from my hands, unwrapping it so eagerly that I feared she would accidentally rip it in her hastiness. On the other hand, I was glad her attention was not on me anymore because the rest of my family were making their way towards me.
Charlie, Billy, Jacob, Nessie, Edward, Alice, Emmett, Jasper, Rosalie, Esme and Carlisle were sporting extremely wide Cheshire grins. Charlie made a move towards me before anyone else could.
"I'm real proud of you, honey," he muttered gruffly into my ear. Neither one of us were very good at expressing our emotions, least of all to each other, but this embrace wasn't awkward at all. "I know I haven't said this a lot, but I'm really glad that you came to live with me, Bells."
My eyes stung. "Me too, Dad." I pressed my face into his shoulder. "Thank you for letting me live with you. Love you."
"Was nothing," he muttered bashfully. "Love you, too, Bells."
He released me after a couple of seconds, Behind us, Renée was still a blubbering emotional mess, a mixture of joy and proud tears.
Each of the parents took their turns with firm, tight and proud hugs along with sentimental words, each of which made me weepy. By the time Carlisle let me go, I was a mess.
"Oh, dear," Edward's father chuckled, staring at the tears. He handed me a handkerchief. "It's a good thing that Alice insisted on waterproof makeup. She would have gone ballistic if your mascara had been ruined."
My first assumption of Edward's father had been that he would be a little intimidating (doctors usually gave off that vibe) and perhaps a little grumpy over the endless shifts and working hours. I didn't know a lot about the profession, but I was aware that a lot of them lost sleep. Though Carlisle was clearly the head of the family, he wasn't as tolerant and firm as I'd expected him to be.
To put it lightly, Edward's father was one of the coolest adults I knew. He looked more like a male model for a shampoo commercial with his perfect, sleek blond hair. He was tall and lean, just like Edward, and incredibly handsome. And of course, just as the rest of the Cullens, his personality reflected equally, if not more than, his outward appearance. It made me feel slightly better about myself.
Aside from his amazingly hot looks—that made me ponder over how difficult it would be for the female nurses and doctors at the hospital to focus on their patients with him in close vicinity—he was an incredibly relaxed person. Chill. Much like Jasper, it was impossible to be in his presence and not feel anything but calm. One of the best things I liked about him was that he never raised his voice. No matter what.
And he was always smiling which made me feel so welcome. He and his wife had so much in common. It was easy to see why they got along so well, hardly ever fought, and loved each other dearly.
Carlisle threw a relieved glance over his shoulder at his daughter whose arms were crossed over her chest smugly. Alice tapped her temple with a knowing grin. "Alice sees, Alice knows."
In unison, we all groaned. Alice claimed to have psychic abilities, her favorite including that she could see the future. Of course, when we asked her to make a prediction, she got all offended and insisted that the visions came naturally to her. It had been quite amusing at first, but now it was only getting ridiculous.
Emmett snorted, his lips curving up into a teasing grin. "Nobody needed any visions to predict Bella's crying scene. It's only natural for her. The little squirt cries at every thing. Women—such emotional wrecks." He shook his head in mock-sadness.
With a scowl, Edward smacked the back of his head, but I only laughed. After Emmett and I had met for the first time, he had taken a "liking" towards me and had seemed to take the absence of an elder brother figure in my life as a personal insult. He had declared that every girl deserved an elder brother to look after, protect, tease and, of course, make her life hell (Alice was living proof!). He promised that I would no longer be deprived of a true elder brother's "love".
So far, he was yet to break his promise.
"Jeez, Edward!" Emmett rolled his eyes at his brother. "Overprotective much? This is between me and Squirt. Mind your own business."
Edward laughed sarcastically. "Right—because you so give other people their rightful privacy! You don't interfere in other people's matters at all, do you?"
"Look, just because I walked in on you and Bella doing God-knows-what on that puny couch of yours the other day, doesn't mean that I butt into other people's privacy," Emmett retaliated without missing a beat. "Might I advice you to close the door next time you're getting ready to bang arou—"
"The door was closed, you idiot," Edward retorted hotly. "Only you would enter somebody else's bedroom without knocking. And we were not banging around, for your information."
I didn't need a mirror to prove that my face was bright red by now. Last week, I'd gone over to the Cullens' at noon after my last half-day of finals. Initially, the day had started out at Edward's piano where he had been playing "Bella's Lullaby" for me. (I had been ever so surprised to finally learn that the piano in the music room belonged to him. He had been reluctant to play for me at first, fearing that I wouldn't enjoy listening to his composed music, which was stupid because he was the best piano player in the world.)
Then, he'd led me into his room where he had all but demanded a dance with me to the slow, classical background music coming from his CD player. I'd stuttered at first, informing him that I was terrible at walking—how would dancing prove any better? Naturally, he'd been adamant and the next five minutes had been a ridiculous attempt at his teaching me how to waltz.
I probably wouldn't have minded if Emmett had barged through the door while Edward and I had been "dancing", but since when was luck ever on my side? No—Edward's obnoxious brother had entered after Edward and I had collapsed into a laughing mess onto his "puny couch" and began to kiss. Just kiss. I'd known that day would come back to haunt me.
Emmett raised his hands, palms forward. "What you do in your own time is really none of my business. I'll leave you two to it."
I couldn't have been more grateful that the adults were off to the side, engaged in their own discussion. Of course, there was nothing to hide. Edward and I hadn't been doing anything except for kissing. Even though our relationship was now one and a half year long, we hadn't taken that step. We were both virgins and neither of us were planning on changing that status anytime soon, but to be frank, we never really had an actual discussion about it. Edward was also rather traditional in every sense that I knew him. Neither his biological parents, nor Esme and Carlisle, had ever raised him that way.
That, and he also insisted that he would hate it if I felt pressurized in any way.
Charlie knew this, too. I'd explained it to him. That had been a very, very uncomfortable and awkward one-sided conversation, consisting of Charlie and I both scarlet in the face. My father knew that our relationship was pure. That made him tolerate Edward just a wee bit more. Still, the idea of Charlie overhearing this particular conversation… I mean, he was a cop…
Alice seemed to be thinking the same thing. Or maybe she was just getting really fed up. She squirmed out from Jasper's embrace and turned to her brothers.
"Will you two stop bickering like obnoxious toddlers?" she demanded. "Everybody knows you two are immature children at heart, but that doesn't mean that you both can't make an effort to at least act your age for once. There are innocent people and actual children watching." She gestured to the surrounding families who were, indeed, starting to stare.
I, along with the rest of my friends, tried to fight down laughs at Alice's pissed off expression, and Edward and Emmett's slightly stunned ones. My best friend whirled around to face me and enveloped me in a firm hug.
"Losers," She rolled her eyes when she pulled back to grin at me. "You're so lucky you don't have brothers. But who cares about them? You graduated! It's your special night," she squealed, her demeanor transitioning drastically which made me marvel once again at her endless energy. "We're going out to dinner! How fun will that be?"
I winced, not particularly dying for the dinner she had planned. No doubt, she'd create a huge fuss out of nothing. If this was just a celebratory dinner for my graduation, then what would Alice have in mind for next week, when she and her brothers would be graduating together? I sensed loud music, late nights, spiked drinks and socializing in the near future.
"Loads," I muttered sarcastically. "Can't wait."
Alice pouted at me. "Don't be such a killjoy, Bella. You, of all people, should be the happiest of us all. You're the first one of us to get out of high school. Don't you feel the freedom?"
"With you around? Not really."
Alice knew that I didn't truly mean it. However, in her presence, I did sometimes feel as though I were on a leash, especially when she insisted on having girls days out every weekend, filled with shopping, makeovers, pedicures, manicures and loads of other horrible stuff that I didn't want to think about.
Unaffected by my comment, my best friend rolled her eyes. "Whatever."
Everybody else gave me quick hugs and smiles. Jacob was a special case; in some ways, he was more of a brother than a best friend. We had a deeper friendship than I had with anyone else. I was going to miss him a lot.
It was a good thing I'd saved Edward for last because when he wrapped his arms around me, I knew that I would have a difficult time letting go.
"Congratulations, sweetheart," he murmured into my ear. "I'm so proud of you."
I smiled into his shoulder. "Thanks."
"Don't start anything here," I heard Emmett say warningly from behind us. "There are kids present."
Edward and I ignored him, and I stifled my giggle when I heard, this time, Rosalie smack Emmett on the head. She had a tendency to do that.
"Ready for tonight?" Edward whispered into my ear.
I shivered when I felt his breath fanning across the bare skin of my neck and throat. And groaned when I focused on his words. "Don't remind me. It's going to be tiring."
He laughed gently, squeezing me tighter. "I guess we'll have to get to the finale before you fall asleep, then."
I pulled my head from his chest to frown at him. "What finale?"
Edward simply smiled a dazzling, brilliant white crooked smile. "You'll see. Alice is getting impatient," He looked over my shoulder. "We should get going, love."
"Edward," I began, feeling like these people were playing some sort of game tonight. "What are you—?"
With his thumb and forefinger, he playfully pinched my lips together. "Later." he promised.
I huffed and turned away, hating that something was going on and that I seemed to be the only one kept in the dark about this.
"Okay, let's go." Alice squealed excitedly. "You'll love it, Bella. Promise."
I had to admit, Alice could be right sometimes. Not that I would ever acknowledge it aloud of course. The last thing I needed was for her to use that against me to try to "trust" her more. The little pixie was very manipulative.
The ten of us were seated around two large tables, which the waitresses had helped to join together. La Bella Italia was a restaurant in Port Angeles that I'd never heard of before. Alice and Emmett seemed to get a kick out of the restaurant's name. Since it was my day, they reasoned, everything needed to be about and related to me. I loved the two to death, but I told them that they were taking things too far.
Jacob, Nessie and Billy hadn't come with us to dinner since they were busy with something at home. That left Charlie, Renée, Carlisle, Esme, Jasper, Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, Edward and me huddled in the corner of the restaurant.
Renée and Esme seemed to be getting along quite well, I mused as I observed the two mothers. The two were absolutely gushing, squealing and bonding, and simply acting like best friends. It was amusing and slightly odd to watch. On the other side of the table, Emmett and Charlie were in a deep conversation about something sport-related which I didn't bother listening to. Apart from a few games of baseball with Charlie, I'd never had the patience to absorb myself into anything even remotely dangerous. Dangerous to me, at least.
Carlisle was conversing with Jasper about college, and Alice was finalizing plans with Rosalie for her own graduation next week.
And then there was me.
With a smile, I leaned back into Edward's chest, my eyes sliding from person to person currently seated at the table. It was amazing how close we all had become over the years. These people, all around me, were family in so many different way—in the form of friends, parents, parental figures… I loved each and every one of them to death.
And by some miracle, they all felt the same towards me too.
From behind me, Edward's arms tightened around my waist. I shivered when I felt him reach down to whisper in my ear, his breath fanning across my neck. "Aren't you going to finish that?"
I didn't have to look at his face to know that he was gesturing to my half-eaten bowl of mushroom ravioli. It was delicious as hell, but I was stuffed. I shook my head and patted my stomach. "I'm too full. You can eat it, if you want."
Edward was a guy. And guys liked food. I would never personally understand the connection between them, but it amused—and disgusted—me to no end when I caught sight of Emmett, Edward and Jasper wolfing down heaps of anything and everything present.
Edward slid his arm from my hip to cover my own hand resting on my belly. For a moment, he played with my fingers before he grasped the hem of my dress at my thighs.
"You are so beautiful," he murmured, pressing a lingering kiss to my bare shoulder. The motion made me my heart race and eyes skip around the table to see if anyone had noticed.
I had removed the graduation gown as soon as we had entered the car. Since there were so many of us, I'd ridden with Charlie and Renée, while the Cullens had ridden in their vehicles. So Edward hadn't gotten a chance to see the dress I'd been wearing underneath until we'd entered the restaurant.
To be honest, this was one of the few occasions Edward had actually seen me in a dress. It was slightly embarrassing to expose so much skin, especially since I was so foreign with the concept. In Phoenix, I'd worn shorts for sure, but I'd lived with my mom at that time. The thought of boys seeing so much of my pale complexion and scrawny frame made me feel like vomiting.
I dropped my eyes to my lap, extremely grateful that he couldn't see my face. "Thanks," I muttered. "Alice picked out the dress."
He playfully knocked the side of my head with his. "No kidding." he teased before turning serious. "But remind me to thank her later. You look absolutely stunning in the dark blue, love."
I felt the blood rise up to my cheeks. "Thank you," I mumbled again, not acknowledging his request.
To be honest, I didn't really find any features about myself that could be deemed attractive, so feeling awkward and uncomfortable at hearing praise wasn't so surprising. I figured that Edward was biased when he complimented me.
When he did that, I often advised Edward to get his vision checked. When I did that, he often shushed me effectively with a kiss.
Edward ran his finger down my cheek. "You look tired," he commented.
I hummed. "Just a little bit," I said lightly. "It's been a busy day."
"Do you want to come home?"
I knew he was talking about his house and felt taken aback. Some of the others were still having dinner. Wouldn't it be rude to leave in the middle of it? "Now?"
"Just us," he promised. "And no one would mind."
It took me just a few seconds of contemplation. All of the Cullens were here with us. No one else would be home. We would be completely alone.
"I don't mind either," I grinned at him. "Let's go."
His answering smile was huge and dazzlingly brilliant. He literally yanked me to my feet, practically shouted an announcement to the table that he would be driving me home, and dragged me out the door of the restaurant. I could hear the halfhearted groans and complaints following us about how rude it was on my part to ditch the party that was meant for me halfway. Emmett's hoots and snickers about us remembering to "be safe" left me feeling the heat creep up my neck. Apparently, he had forgotten that Charlie was still present and had the license to a gun.
I sincerely hoped that Emmett would remain alive after this.
The ride to Edward's house was short. Added to the fact that he lived not too far from the restaurant, my boyfriend drove like a maniac. I'd often reminded him that he didn't need to act like a race car driver, but over the months, I'd gotten tired of the repeated eye rolls as a response.
The Cullen mansion still amazed me. When I'd learned that Esme had been the mastermind and designer of the house, I'd been struck speechless. The entire family was made up of geniuses in their own ways.
It was entirely dark outside now. I grinned to myself as Edward cut the engine and raced around the car to open my door. After so long of being together, he was still a gentleman. And I loved that about him. Even if his charming ways did make me blush each time.
At the doorway of his home, he turned to me with his signature crooked smile.
"Welcome home, love."
Would it ever cease to amaze me how amazing and right it felt to be in her presence?
I certainly hoped not.
A fond smile spread across my face as I watched Bella head straight past the living room, seeming right at home. I supposed I shouldn't have expected any less; it was her home in a sense. Everybody who lived here loved her to death—though, not as much as I did.
In the early stages of our relationship, I'd been struck with panic that, for whatever reason, Bella wouldn't get along with my family. To see her interact and joke with my parents and siblings, with so much of ease and grace, had been relieving to me. Words couldn't have described the incredible joy that had coursed through me at their effortlessly relaxed relationship.
Being caught between two "pissing off, infuriating, annoying, childish, immature and lame" losers of brothers, Alice had accepted Bella instantly, treating her like the sister she never had. Emmett, of course, had been thrilled; he'd gotten another sister to tease and literally poke fun at. My parents… well, they'd been beyond ecstatic (especially Esme) to get another daughter.
However, more than Bella fitting in with us, I fit in better with her. It had been that way ever since I'd met her. My family was great, and I was extremely comfortable with him. After my biological parents, Carlisle and Esme were the two best people I could have ever asked to raise me.
The beginning had been difficult. Losing parents forever would be, of course, devastating to anybody with a heart. It had taken a while to get used to the fact that I would never see them again. In order to cope with the loss, I had buried myself into a shell, closing off from the unfair world.
When Carlisle and Esme had brought me in, all the pent up sadness and frustration had given way to fury. I'd felt angered that Alice and Emmett, having been the same age as me, were also adopted. I'd assumed, was this like a small adoption shelter of sorts—where orphaned kids filtered in and out?
Naturally, I'd felt terrible and ashamed of myself when I'd learned that Esme had become infertile after a very traumatizing experience in her life.
Since then, I felt a very strong respect and love for the two people I now called parents. Esme was just amazing—her ability to love others' children unconditionally. Carlisle was the ideal father, too. And the husband. His unwavering love, affection and support towards a woman who couldn't bear his children was so touching.
It was great to see that humanity was alive in some parts of the world.
Their values, morals, and respect for everybody surrounding them was inspiring, and it set a wonderful example.
However, it had really been Bella to pull me from my world. I'd gone from just existing to actually living. I'd become more social than before; I'd begun to make more friends, I'd reestablished current relationships. My life had been no longer a seemingly endless drag.
Whenever I expressed my immense gratitude for Bella being there for me, she always denied it—insisting that she had nothing to do with it and that it would have happened sooner or later—before changing the subject.
What she didn't realize that she had changed me for the better. Those friends and those relationships were completely meaningless at the end of the day. It all came down to her.
She was the single, most important person in my life. And I wanted everybody to know that.
Subconsciously, I reached out to touch my pocket. Luckily it was deep enough to not reveal the imprints of the tiny, square velvet box inside of it or else my ever perceptive girl would have zeroed in on it right away.
Feeling only slightly reassured at its touch, I followed Bella into the kitchen. She was facing the counter, so with a smile, I crept up behind her and hugged her to my chest.
"Edward," she squealed, dropping her hands to cover mine where they were clasped in front of her stomach.
"They call it love at first sight," I murmured, nuzzling the cool, smooth skin of her neck. I intertwined my fingers with hers, focusing on her slender ring finger. I could practically envisage my late mother's ring glittering proudly on it, a clear message that Bella was all mine. "But for me? I fall in love with you every time I see you."
I had no idea where that came from, but it was the utter truth. Every little action, even things she did without much thought put behind it, made me fall in love with her all over again. We saw each other almost daily, but no matter of distance or time from her could diminish my love for her. Nothing had the power to diminish my love for her.
She was my everything. My future.
The ring in my pocket burned.
Bella was silent for a moment. With a soft laugh that reminded me of wind chimes, she dropped her head on my shoulder. "Another pickup line? It's been years!" Her voice was teasing. "But you don't have to flirt with me anymore, Edward. I'm already yours."
Her last words made my smile huge. I'm already yours; I liked the sound of that. If only "already" could be replaced with "always"…
"It wasn't a pickup line; I didn't get it from the internet or anything. Just from the heart." I informed her. "And pickup line or not, I'll always flirt with you. It's my favorite pastime."
She huffed. "Only you would feel amusement at my expense."
I grinned into her ear. "Actually, I wanted to soften you up so that you'd agree to listen to the new song." I admitted.
Bella squirmed in my arms, and when I loosened my grip, she was facing me. "The one you finished yesterday?" she demanded, her wide brown eyes, the color of chocolate, sparkling with excitement. I stared in awe as her grin brightened up her entire face.
I had put the final touches to one of my latest compositions last night. I had wanted to share it with Bella immediately, but it had been late. So when I'd sent her my usual goodnight text message, I'd let her know about it as well. She'd expressed her wishes at hearing it then, which would have been rather challenging to carry out over the phone, but I'd promised to play it for her today instead.
"I can't wait to hear it," she gushed, before pausing. In the next second, she had smacked my chest. When I stared at her in bewilderment, she glared. "What do you mean you had to soften me up?" she scolded. "I'll always love listening to your music, you know."
I flashed a grin at her; she was adorable when she got angry—which was rare so I had to savor it. "I know. So do you want me to play it or not?"
She rolled her eyes and practically dragged me over to the piano, rather than the other way around. "Let's hear it, Cullen."
Amused, I pulled her down on the piano bench, her rightful spot on my left side.
Needless to say, her angry demeanor vanished five seconds into the song.
"That was beautiful, Edward," she whispered once I had finished playing.
"I'm glad you think so," I smiled at her, twisting on the bench to face her. "It was, after all, inspired by the most important person in my life."
Her slightly inquisitive eyes met mine. I felt the waves of confusion coming from her.
My heart picked up speed. Needing something to distract myself, I gripped her hands, which were loose in her lap, and began to play with her fingers, but my movements were too jerky because of my agitation. I kept my gaze locked on my motions, too afraid to look into her eyes.
And now that I'd already started, I just couldn't stop rambling.
"You are the most important person in my life. I love you so much for being there for me since the beginning and never letting go. For being the best friend that anybody could be lucky to have. You've changed me into a better person and you don't even realize it. It's what makes you such an amazing girl; you do the most selfless of things to everybody without even knowing or expecting anything in return. I owe you so much to begin with, and I know that I'm going to sound extremely selfish for what I'm about to ask you, but…"
I trailed off, unable to continue. The ring burned even further in my jacket.
Bella was completely frozen beside me. I couldn't hear her breathing. I still hadn't met her gaze; positively terrified of her expression.
There was a heavy, long, and painful silence. After what seemed like a day, she finally managed to stammer, in a strange voice, "E-Edward, what…" She was whispering, sounding completely freaked out. "What are you saying?"
I exhaled sharply. I was already halfway into making a fool of myself… might as well fulfill the task.
Completely frustrated with myself, I stood up abruptly from the piano bench, pulling Bella to her feet as well. I circled the bench, stood in front of Bella, and held her hands.
Marriage. Wedding. Husband. Wife. Children. Family.
The words rang through my mind in an endless loop. I thought about my future, getting old. Each image had her in it, right by my side.
"What I'm saying is…" I began, staring into her eyes for the first time. Her expression was perplexed and slightly shocked. It didn't exactly succeed in boosting my confidence.
When I slid down to one knee, I tried to take her strangled gasp as one of pleasant surprise rather than horrifying shock.
"Isabella Marie Swan," I hadn't raised my voice, but her name rang out clear and firm, barely echoing in the empty room.
Her eyebrows rose slightly at hearing her full name, but she kept her eyes on mine, the warmth in them giving me hope.
"I have been in love with you for as long as I've known you. And I will continue to do so every day of forever."
Bella was jaw-slacked, hands limp at her sides. Her mouth was steadily dropping further open with each thought I verbalized. I retrieved the flaming ring from my pocket and held it out to her.
Taking a deep breath, I asked the one question whose answer would determine my future.
"Would you do me the extraordinary honor of marrying me?"
And then, she uttered the one word that changed my life forever.
AN: Was the last part too cheesy? I thought so, too. But I hope you liked it! Anyway, this is the last chapter of the story. Officially. Sorry, folks. No sequel—I'm quite happy with the ending. Besides, this fic is just a short story, as I mentioned in the summary. But thanks for the incredible feedback and support. Until next time!