Tuesday, March 20, 2001 | By: Drotuno

An Angel's Promise Chapter 31

CHAPTER 31
BELLA
"Dad," I sighed, bolting from the car before Edward had even come to a complete stop at First Beach.
Charlie welcomed me with a chuckle and a warm embrace. "Hey, Bells," he said, picking me up slightly and setting me back on my feet again.
I pulled back to study him. He smelled the same, and had only aged slightly since his visit to England in the summer almost six months ago. To the average person, these things weren't noticeable, but with a perfect memory, I could usually see an extra age spot or more gray hair or a new wrinkle. Charlie was almost the same, though. And he felt and smelled like home and human days and heartbreak. I smiled, hugging him again.
"I've missed you, Bells."
"Me, too," I giggled, getting a quick kiss in to his cheek, because my sisters were coming up fast.
"Charlie!" they squealed, planting kisses on both of his cheeks at the same time.
"My girls," he chuckled, turning a crimson, his mustache twitching with his smile.
After handshakes to Edward, Carlisle, and my brothers, Charlie turned to Alice, wrapping an arm around her tiny shoulders. "Jake told me all about this Sinclair character, Ali. And Anna and I came to a standstill on your past, sweetie. Are you still looking for him?"
"Yes, sir. Demitri is tracking him now," she said, looking up at my father with warm, loving eyes. "I see him die, but the person that does it keeps changing. Sometimes, it's Jazz. Other times, it's Edward..."
Charlie's head snapped up to Jasper and Edward, who looked on with serious faces, neither of them looking surprised at this prediction. "Hmm, well, I can't think of two other people, besides my Bells, that would enjoy it more, honey. Maybe me..."
Jasper and Edward snorted into deep chuckles, Edward wrapping his arm around me.
"And you're a force to be reckoned with, Charlie," Jasper chuckled, shaking his head. "Wish you could be there, sir..."
Charlie harrumphed, but nodded in agreement. "Come on, the whole pack is ready for football." He grinned after giving Alice a kiss to the top of her spiky head. "They've already lit the bonfire."
"Aunt Bella!" we all heard from the beach, and I turned to see Izzy squirming in her dad's arms. Jake set her down, and she ran to me as fast as her little legs could carry her. My whole family chuckled at her.
"You've gotten big," I said, scooping her up.
She cupped my face, and then picked up a lock of my hair. "Daddy says you'll tell me stories about Grandpa Charlie."
"Oh, I will," I chuckled. "Did I tell you the time he fell into the ocean while fishing?" Her eyes grew wide as she shook her head at me.
"Bells," Charlie snorted, shaking his head. "Honestly," he huffed, rolling his eyes.
Edward laughed, and Izzy locked her sights on him. "Hey, Uncle Edward," she beamed, reaching for him, and I handed her over.
We were her and Little Eddie's Godparents – due to the fact that we would outlive their parents and could in all respects watch over them their whole lives, and their namesakes, after all. Jake, Charlie, and Anna told endless stories about us. It didn't shock me that she was drawn to us. Most likely, it was my shield pulling her in and holding her close.
"Hello, princess. You get bigger and prettier every time I see you," he said, setting her on his strong shoulders as she squealed into a giggle. Her tiny hands held his face as we made our way towards everyone else.
She was a beautiful little girl, with dark features like Anna and Jake, her hair spilling almost to her waist. She looked just like Anna, with Jake's sweet smile, but it was a chubby, babbling Little Eddie that my eyes fell to.
He was happily teething on a raw carrot when I hugged his mother. "Bewwa," he chirped, pointing to me.
I snickered, taking him from her. He was the clone of Jacob, with short, dark hair, and a beaming smile. He was sweet and cuddly, and so very warm. He smelled just like Jake, slightly offensive to my sensitive nose, but still like a clean baby – all baby powder, soap, and obviously carrot as he planted wet, sloppy kisses to my cheek.
It was fantastic seeing everyone. Sue looked amazing and so very happy, and was still pushing Avon like a drug dealer on the street. The rest of the pack that hadn't been in New York with us welcomed us back with jokes and big smiles.
Dinner was loud and jovial, the boys eating like they hadn't eaten in a week. Thankfully, the women of the reservation had made enough food to accommodate them. By the time that they'd devoured almost four pumpkin pies, the trash talk for the football game had begun.
They wanted me to play, but Little Eddie had fallen fast asleep in my arms, and there wasn't a thing that would have made me give that sweet feeling up. It gave me an understanding into why Edward loved to watch me sleep when I was human. It wasn't the sleep itself; it was the fact that I'd felt safe enough to curl into his strong arms, letting my complete and utter guard down.
"Come on, Bells," Emmett begged as everyone made their way to the open field. "You're my best running back."
"No," I growled softly but dramatically, squeezing Little Eddie closer as he nuzzled against my neck. "Not a chance. I'll play next game."
Edward chuckled, kissing the top of my head as I settled into a chair on the sidelines. "Next game, then, love."
"I promise," I said with a smile, rubbing Little Eddie's back as he sighed contentedly.
He smiled the sweetest of smiles, his eyes showing a touch of sadness that I was familiar with – his regret for not being able to have children ran deep into Edward's soul. It was the same look he gave me every time he saw me with kids. Though I understood it, there wasn't anything that could be done about it, especially since the only person I would've ever wanted children with was him.
Charlie sat with me for the first half of the football game, splitting his time from catching up with me and cheering over a good play.
"I'm sorry that I didn't come to New York, Bells." He frowned, looking over at me from the next chair.
I groaned, giving my father a reprimanding glare. "Don't say that, Dad. I almost lost Edward," I sighed, shaking my head at the memory. "Having to shield you, too, would have ended me."
"Mmm, maybe, but Jake and the boys have a way of making it sound so much more exciting," he chuckled. "Tell me your side."
I told him everything, from the hunting in the tunnels and sewers, to the fight in Central Park on a cold snowy morning. He flinched when I explained how I had lost control at the sight of my brother's very large fist punching through my husband's chest.
"Boy, oh, boy," he snickered, a funny smirk on his face as he shook his head back and forth slowly. "I do not envy the person that truly tries to hurt Edward or that family of yours one day. They are in for a hell of an awakening..."
"Awakening isn't the word I'd use," I snorted, smiling at my dad and leaning into his chuckling kiss to my temple.
~oOoOo~
"Aunt Bella," Izzy breathed with bated breath as she ran to me, dragging Jessica and her daughter along with her. "Stories...please!" she begged, plopping down on the blanket next to the fire.
"Uncle Edward sent you, didn't he?" I laughed, looking over at the field where the boys were all taking a break.
Edward smiled shamelessly, shrugging one shoulder.
"He did," Jessica laughed, rubbing her belly. She was expecting again, with a boy this time. "I heard him tell her that you knew all kinds of fairytales."
"I'll just bet he did," I snorted, rolling my eyes.
"What fairytales?" Jessica's little girl whispered, her eyes wide.
Haley was stunning – a fantastic blend of Jessica and Quil, with blue eyes and dark hair. She was slightly younger than Izzy, but you could see she was the shy one between the two.
"Uncle Edward said the best is The Lion and the Lamb," Izzy whispered conspiratorially, looking over at her and then back to me expectantly.
I chuckled. "Okay. That story, it is..."
As Little Eddie continued to nap in my arms, I told the two little girls a few stories, pulling from my list that I had written for Toby. It was too fun, because the little ones gasped in all the right places, with wide eyes and sweet smiles, but as I finished The Caterpillar and the Butterfly, I realized that my audience had grown from just Jessica and the kids.
I had Sam and Emily's three little ones – Little Harry, named after Harry Clearwater, Natalie, and Eva. Standing towards the back was the entire football game's participants, including my very smug but very amused husband, Carlisle and Esme, Charlie and Sue, and Anna. Who knew how long they'd been listening?
I snorted, rolled my eyes, and shook my head.
"Bells," Jake chuckled. "Are you gonna play or what?"
"Okay, okay," I laughed, handing Little Eddie, who was now stirring, back to Anna.
"Lord, they've been bitching the whole time you've been ignoring them..." Anna snorted with an eye roll. "You'd think they needed their butts kicked or something."
I chuckled, looking over at the pack of boys, who were all scoffing. Except Seth...
"Hells, yeah, Bells. Let's go..." he called.
With Edward calling the plays and playing quarterback, Emmett and Jasper playing blocking backs, my sisters and I played receivers. My shield was in full blown use. We were fantastically rendering the wolves scoreless.
There were cheers from the sidelines from both sides of my family, Charlie and Esme being the loudest of all of them.
The field was wet, sloshy, and cold. All of our shoes were ruined. The edge of our jeans were no better. Somehow—I snorted to myself and mentally rolling my eyes— Alice had known this, telling us before we even left the house to pack a change of clothes to take with us.
As we all lined up to receive a kick off from Paul, Alice smirked up at Edward, who chuckled. "The ball's coming to you, Bella," he said, jerking a thumb towards the other end of the field. "We'll block you the whole way."
"'Kay." I nodded, following the ball when it thumped off of Paul's foot.
Edward was my usual guard as we ran up the field, but when Embry and Jake both aimed straight for me, he threw himself in their way. I winced at the sound of grunts, laughs, and squishing mud as they all fell to the ground, hitting the grass with a thunderclap of noise and sliding past my feet. I leaped over them, dodging behind Emmett, who landed with a growl on Quil, in order to cross over into the end-zone.
"And that's how it's done, baby sis," Jasper cheered, picking me up and swinging me around.
My brother set me down next to Rose, who smirked and gave me a high five. We both turned to look down the field.
"Oh, damn..." we both breathed, watching our mates heading our way.
They. Were. Filthy.
And so damn sexy, I could hardly take a breath. Or form a sentence, so it seemed.
"He...um...and...d-did he...i-is that...shit," I babbled, shaking my head, because sometimes...just sometimes...Edward's presence made me completely stupid, and he was totally ignorant in exactly what he did to me.
"No kidding," Rose snorted, licking her lips. "That's um...yeah..." she huffed as we looked to each other with pained expressions, before turning back to the sexy, messy pair walking our way.
Emmett and Edward were laughing and shaking the dirty snow out of their hair. They'd both been wearing just plain white t-shirts under their sweaters, which had been discarded long before the first game had been played. Their jeans were soaked with mud and water, their shirts wet and clinging to every muscle they owned, and their smiles said they were completely oblivious to our ogling.
Jasper, of course, was in hysterics, feeling every bit of whatever Rose and I were dishing out. He pulled Alice to him with a devious smirk. She was giggling into his chest, well aware of what was about to take place, I'm sure.
Finally, Edward caught our thoughts, his steps coming to a complete halt. A wicked, evil smile spread over his face, before he tilted his head slightly.
"Want a hug, sweet girl?" he chuckled, taking a few swift strides my way.
"Don't you dare!" I growled, backing away from him and snapping out of my lust-induced haze.
I never stood a chance. He was way too fast, beating my shield before I could safely protect myself from his sopping wet body. He scooped me up, tossed me over his shoulder, and stalked away from the field. I smacked at his perfect ass, squealing and wriggling in his strong arms.
While in the background, I could hear everyone's laughter and Rose's own screams of terror, my sight was completely focused on Edward's clingy shirt and beautiful bottom. I smacked it again with a chuckle, suddenly finding myself being set down on my feet in the sand.
I tried to step away from him, but discovered that he had put me down in front of one of the tide pools on the beach.
"Ah, ah, ah," he purred, his eyes dark, but his smile deadly, placing a hand on either side of my hips to prevent my escape. "Not so fast, beautiful..."
"Edward," I panted, looking him over again.
He was deliciously dirty, his hair slicked back, except for one errant lock that flopped down into the middle of his forehead. His shirt clung to strong shoulders, collarbones, pecs, and abs, and it was practically transparent. Bits of dead grass stuck to his skin and clothes as droplets dripped from his face. His jeans had fallen dangerously low, due to the weight of the water and mud.
I shook my head slowly back and forth, unable to say a word, and I damn well didn't know what he wanted from me. Before he could answer that mental question of mine, my hand shot out to grasp a fistful of his t-shirt, tugging him towards me with a low, deep growl erupting from my mouth.
"Bel—" was all that he uttered, before my lips met his.
There was no preamble, no chaste beginnings to that kiss. I wanted to consume him, wanted to taste every filthy inch of him.
Edward, thank God, caught up quickly, pressing me into the tide pool behind me.
I gripped his shirt, turning my head and delving my tongue in to meet his. Gasps, whimpers, and moans were the only sounds we made as he sandwiched me between his rock hard body and...well, a rock.
"Promise me," I growled, unable to resist diving back to his mouth. Suckling his bottom lip, I looked up at him with what I'm sure were pitch black eyes. "Promise me that I can finish this in the shower...fuck," I whined, kissing him again, "...cleaning you up..."
A rough, but sweet laugh rushed from him. "After a kiss like that," he chuckled, shaking his head to clear it, "I'm pretty much yours to command, my love. What the hell was that?" His voice was still husky and sexy, but his incredulity was adorable.
"I don't know," I whined, waving a hand at him, my brow furrowing as I looked up at his smug face. "Don't you dare laugh at me. I couldn't help it."
"Like I could judge you," he snorted, rolling his eyes and pressing his forehead to mine. "I almost took you on the plane to Atlanta, baby. You were so mad..."
"She was so looking at what is mine," I growled back, pouting just enough that he kissed me quickly. "Wait...really?"
He laughed, his face just beautifully happy. "Oh, Mrs. Cullen, you have no idea..."
God, he was deadly. Using my real name was his sure-fire way to get my attention. "Shower...later, Mr. Cullen. You're mine to cleanse." I grinned when he nodded like a child, kissing me quickly when we heard everyone calling for us to finish the game.
~oOoOo~
Emmett and Edward had at least changed into clean shirts, their jeans drying as we all sat around the fire to watch the little ones tear into Christmas presents like small Tasmanian Devils. Paper flew, ribbons snapped, and squeals of delight rang through the evening.
We'd decided, after a long talk between Charlie and Carlisle, that the presents should be all about the kids. We were all adults, quite capable of buying what we wanted, and the Cullens just wanted to see the holiday through the eyes of little ones. If anyone was excited about this, it would be my big brother, Emmett, who was a big kid to the deepest part of his sweet soul. And he doled out gifts and toys with the happiest of smiles.
"You spoil them," Jessica accused, her smile giving away her sarcasm, as she sat next to me.
"And?" I snorted. "If you only knew what my family is like when they wanted something for themselves, you'd crack the hell up. They get the latest games or cars or whatever. They don't need presents. I swear Edward breaks his phones on purpose, just to get whatever new one is out. It's a huge deal to them to be able to do this..."
"I see that," she chuckled, watching Edward, Jake, and Jasper put together a mini-Jeep for Little Eddie, who was hanging onto my husband's shirt with a vice grip in order not to topple over. He babbled away with wide, sweet brown eyes, causing Edward and Jasper to chuckle at him.
Jessica hissed, rubbing her belly and then her back, smirking when my head shot her way. "He's definitely a pack member," she chuckled. "He's been stomping on my kidneys for days."
"Jess, go inside for a few, huh?" Quil frowned, coming to kneel beside her.
"Okay," she sighed, nodding in acquiescence. She turned to me, saying, "It's a nice way of saying...go pee."
I snorted, standing up. "Come on, I'll walk with you. Are you close?"
"Yeah," she groaned, standing up with mine and Quil's help. "It's not far."
Jessica and Quil had an adorable house. It wasn't big, but it was so very comfortable. It was different than the girl I knew from Forks High. I never expected the Jessica Stanley that I knew to have toys laying around and cozy handmade quilts on her couch, but it suited her now. She was a mother, and it made her happy.
Over her mantle were pictures from high school, and I gasped when I saw one of me and Edward. We were sitting at the table in the lunch room. From the angle in which it was taken, it was focused mainly on him, and the love just radiated from him. It glowed all around him as he looked at me, but the hunch of his shoulders, the wry smirk on his face that didn't quite meet his eyes, told me that despite that overflowing love, he felt he didn't deserve a single, solitary second of my time or returned feelings. And it was heart wrenching to see it caught, frozen in time.
"Mike took that with his phone," Jessica said softly from behind me, returning from the bathroom. "I made him email it to me, and I printed it when I headed off to UW. Back then, I was jealous, so I was trying to figure out what Edward saw in you."
"I'm still trying to figure that out myself," I chuckled, studying the picture a little more. "He left not long after that," I mused, my brow furrowing at the heartbreak that had ensued.
"I felt bad for you," she sighed, sitting carefully down at her small table with her hand at her back. "Lauren was crazy mean about it, but I knew that it was terrible. I'm sorry for the way we acted. You looked..."
"Shattered," I sighed, turning to see her nod, a sad smile playing on her face. "I was...we didn't know that it was more than just...teen love..." I winced, not really knowing how to put it.
"You mated," she stated firmly with a shrug. "Jake and Anna have explained it to me."
"Yeah," I said, joining her at the table.
"And you did, too...at that party. Remember?"
"Oh yeah!" I beamed, pointing to her. "That was the night Quil imprinted on you."
"Yup," she giggled. "The same night Lauren and Mike hooked up..."
"Oh, geez," I snorted with an eye roll. "I heard she's in California now. Remarried?"
"Divorced," she countered with a wrinkled nose. "But she's not with Mike. She's still in California, but she's single, making it on her own. She's doing well. She's working for a bank out there and really likes it."
"Good. That's really good." I smiled, remembering the last time I'd seen Lauren was at our going away party at the Blue Moon in Port Angeles. I'd had to dance with Mike, and she was so angry.
"Mike, on the other hand," she snorted, looking up at me with a wry smile. "He was a mess for a long time. He still works for his parents, but at least he's taking classes again. He's a single dad."
"What?"
"Yeah," she huffed a laugh. "One of the many girls he cheated on Lauren with showed up, baby in tow, and handed the little girl over. The woman just walked away. I can't understand how she did that, but..." Jessica shrugged, her brow furrowing. "Anyway, Allison is his whole world now. Hell, I don't know if he even dates."
"Wow," I sighed, wincing when she groaned and rubbed her belly again. "Something to drink? I can get it, Jess..."
"Yeah." She nodded with a deep sigh, looking tired. "Angela misses you," she said softly, sipping the juice I'd poured for her as I sat back down.
I grimaced, wondering how it must feel to think someone I knew was dead. "I miss her, too..." I looked up at Jessica. "How did I come up in conversation?"
Jessica chuckled, shaking her head. "Edward," she smirked. "We were talking about hot guys from school... and well, there you go."
I laughed, nodding and tucking my hair behind my ear. "That makes sense. He'll love that. They think they're so easily forgotten once they leave someplace."
"I imagine it's true, but with you involved, it was different," she giggled. "Angela could barely remember Emmett's name...but with a mention of Edward, she flew into memories of you."
"Oh."
"Speaking of Angela," she said with a frown. "She and Ben came home for Christmas, so you'd better be careful while you're here."
"Okay, thanks for the heads up," I told her.
"You guys are staying in New York for a while, right?" she asked after a few minutes of quiet, and I nodded. "Jake and the boys never found anything about my friend, Megan. Could you kinda...well, keep a look out for her?"
"You know, there's a possibility..."
"I know, that she may not be alive," she whispered, her eyes sad. "Jake said the same thing. I just... Look, we were friends at UW, and she had no family. We were roommates, and she leaned on me a lot once we became close. She even stayed with Quil and me for a while, just before she transferred to NYU. I would like to just...know."
"I understand," I sighed, shaking my head and thinking it was quite possible that Megan had either been turned or just plain disappeared, thanks to Sinclair or Lance.
By the time we made it back out to the beach, there was a full on race between Little Eddie's mini-Jeep and Izzy's Barbie Corvette. And yes, Emmett had totally put money on Izzy.
~oOoOo~
EDWARD
My Bella was quiet when she returned from taking Jessica back to her house. She watched the kids play with their new toys, a sweet, soft smile playing on her lips, but not saying much. Her mind was closed to me as I wrapped my arms around her, placing a kiss to the back of her head.
"Everything okay, sweet girl? You look...pensive," I whispered in her ear. "Is Jessica all right?"
"She's fine," my girl sighed, turning to look up at me. She swept my mud-matted hair from my forehead, saying, "I can hear both heartbeats from her. It's kinda...cool."
I smiled, nodding. "It is cool. He's already thinking in colors and sounds. He recognizes the voices of his father and his older sister already."
"Oh, now that's even cooler," she snorted, shaking her head. "Fine, one up me, Cullen."
I laughed, but I could see something was still hiding behind those dark, chocolate pools. "You won't tell me..."
"Later," she sighed, smiling and kissing my lips sweetly. "I promise."
We stayed late into the evening, eventually the children all going home to bed. Where we had brought a ton of gifts for them, Santa was still supposed to show up by morning. Sue and Jessica took them all to Jessica's house, until the rest of the parents went later to claim them.
Bella and I were sitting together on a blanket next to Charlie and Billy, listening to them tell old stories about each other, when Alice plopped down in front of us.
"I don't see this Megan," she said firmly. "I can only assume..."
"I know," Bella groaned sadly, shaking her head. "But I promised to keep an eye out, even if it's in the obituaries."
"Jessica's friend?" I asked, just to make sure we were all on the same page.
"Yeah." Bella nodded, turning her body slightly my way. "Apparently, she's all the family this girl had, so Jess wants..."
"Closure," Alice finished for her.
"We'll keep a look out," Jasper said from the next blanket over, poking the fire with a stick. "Seth has been monitoring the NYPD website."
"Why do I get the feeling that's not legal?" Bella snorted, and we all laughed with her.
"It is when I requested it," Charlie smirked. "I've been calling New York for weeks now for updates. We're treating her as a missing local, using Jess' address."
"Oh!" My girl's head shot up to meet her father's gaze. "Okay then..."
"And Mike?" Alice smirked, her eyes and mind filled with mischief.
"Is a single dad," Bella huffed into an incredulous laugh, and I couldn't help but join her.
"No way," Rose gasped, rushing over to us.
I would never understand the fascination those girls had with gossip concerning Mike Newton and Lauren Mallory, the latter of which was the next topic. But my Bella switched gears soon.
"Oh, and apparently, Angela and Ben are here for the holiday, so we have to be careful," she said, looking to me. Again, I noticed her subdued manner, her quiet voice. "You and I can't be seen by them."
"Okay, baby," I agreed, my brow furrowing as I tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. "Um..." I stalled, looking around at everyone and back to her. "I'd really like to get this mud out of my hair, love... Can we go?"
I couldn't take another minute of not knowing what was bothering my wife. And even though Emmett and Charlie chuckled, Jasper's head shot up to meet my gaze.
Yeah, something's up with the little one. We'll give you some time. I feel an old sadness, or maybe it's just memories from being here. Head home. Ali wants to chat with Charlie anyway. Plus, I think the rest are going hunting 'til morning.
I nodded a thanks to him, standing up and taking my Bella's hand. With hugs all around to everyone, she promised Charlie to come down to the station tomorrow afternoon to see him. We were flying back to New York the day after that, so we all wanted her to spend as much time with him as she could fit in, and both were over the top happy to be able to do just that.
The drive back to the Forks house was quiet, but not uncomfortable. Bella laid her head on my shoulder, tracing her fingers down my arm as I shifted gears in her classic little Ferrari that had been stored in the garage. Damn, I'd missed that car. It seriously had to be one of the best gifts she'd ever accepted from me.
She snorted, looking up at me as I flew down the driveway. "Missed this car, did you?"
"Who's reading minds now?" I chuckled, kissing her nose once I pulled to a stop.
She giggled, the first real spark of happiness I'd seen in her eyes in over two hours. "I just know you, Edward," she snorted, rolling her eyes. "And this car has always brought out the 'Speed Racer' in you." She grinned, shaking her head at my chuckle.
"Watching late night cartoons with Emmett and Jasper again, I see," I teased, letting us into the house.
I shook my head at the interior of the house. Again, it hadn't taken long for Esme to make it home again. Decorated for the holidays, at that. Maybe Jasper was right – maybe it was a talent.
"I miss your piano," my sweet girl muttered as we walked up the stairs, giving the living room a parting glance. "I miss our house, period."
"Me, too," I agreed as we walked into our old room.
Our old room. That definitely brought back memories as I looked around. Even though there were sparse decorations and minimal clothes, the room itself was untouched, as was the bathroom, which my girl walked into immediately, turning on the water to let it run for a moment.
"Let's get that mud out of your hair," she smirked, waving me to her. "I can't stand not being able to touch it..."
I chuckled, shedding my clothes and dropping them to the floor of the bathroom. "Now you understand my feelings concerning hairspray," I said with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah, yeah," she snorted, popping me on the butt cheek to get me in the shower.
I could tell she wanted to wash my hair, so I knelt before her, making it easier for her to reach. I watched, fascinated with her facial expressions, as she tipped my head back with gentle fingers and a warm, loving look in her eye.
"Tell me," I whispered, leaning forward to place a kiss on her belly. "You promised, love..."
She was quietly working the shampoo into my hair, her fingers massaging my scalp deliciously, but I forced my eyes to stay open, to watch her. Her brow furrowed as she took a deep breath.
"Remember our lunches together at school?" she asked softly, tilting my head back to rinse out the soap. "I would eat, you would...tease me," she snorted.
"Yes, of course. I had the most coveted date in Forks High lunch history." I grinned, feeling quite proud of that fact, even more proud of the eye roll I totally expected from her. And I wasn't disappointed.
"Did you know Mike took a picture of us?"
My grin fell, but it wasn't a shock to me. "I was aware, but had forgotten. Why, sweet girl?"
"Jess has that picture. Framed. On her mantle." She smiled sadly, cupping my face with warm, wet hands.
"Show me," I said, standing up and turning her under the spray. It was my turn to wash her hair.
"Before I do that," she started, "let me ask you why he would have taken a picture..." I tipped her head back much like she did mine, wetting her long hair.
"He was...really infatuated with you, Bella. I knew he took the picture, but it wasn't as important as the conversation we were having – nothing ever was. He was jealous and immature. His mind was trying to figure out how to start rumors about us...as if they weren't bad enough to begin with."
She locked eyes with me as I worked the shampoo into her hair. When she opened her mind, along with the glimpse of the photograph, came the conversation that surrounded it.
"Back then, I was jealous, so I was trying to figure out what Edward saw in you."
"I'm still trying to figure that out," she chuckled. The sadness in my wife's voice was unmistakable as she studied my whole being in that picture. "He left not long after that..."
"I felt bad for you. Lauren was crazy mean, but I knew that it was terrible. I'm sorry for the way we acted. You looked..."
"Shattered..."
"Bella," I groaned. "I'm sorry, baby..."
"I'm not," she sighed, turning off the water. She handed me a towel, before grabbing her own. She secured it around herself and stepped into the bedroom, leaving me to dry off.
I wrapped my towel around my waist, following her. I found her looking out the window into the night covered forest.
"I'm not sorry, Edward," she said, her eyes still focused out the window. "It just was a shock to see it written all over you. You looked so...conflicted."
"You know I was," I whispered, stepping behind her. "I'm not him anymore."
"Who knows that better than me?" She turned to face me, leaning back against the glass.
I nodded, swallowing thickly. I wasn't sure where this conversation stood, but I needed to know one thing. "How mean were they?" I asked, my voice a mere whisper.
A bitter laugh huffed from her, and she grimaced. "Lauren was the worst. I didn't speak much—or eat much, for that matter—but Lauren would talk around me...like I wasn't there. She would say your name just to watch my reaction. Soon enough, I stopped listening. Angela and Ben would shut her up most of the time. Lunch was torture. If Mike wasn't asking me out every five seconds, then the rest were ignoring me... I ignored them, too. There were a few months that I couldn't have told you what happened. Christmas after you left...no idea what went on there. They told me Renee came..."
I gaped at her, shaking my head slowly. How had we not discussed this? In all the talks with Carlisle, in all the arguments concerning my leaving, how had this escaped my knowledge? I felt like a total shit for leaving her already, but knowing that immature people that had called themselves Bella's friends had hurt her...on purpose, it made me murderous. I'd left her to Jake's eventual abuse, but he wasn't the only source of her pain while I was gone.
But I knew if I apologized for it, I would be in deep trouble. We didn't apologize for that time anymore. It was an unspoken rule between us; one I broke more often than not. "Renee came twice?"
"Yeah, I guess," she answered with a shrug. "Like I said, I don't remember Christmas. But Charlie called her back about a month and a half later. She was there to take me with her. I flipped the hell out," she said, her nose wrinkled at the memory.
And I saw it all.
~o~
"Come on, baby," Renee crooned, pulling Bella's bag down from her closet in Charlie's house. "You'll love Florida. It's warm and sunny...just about all year round."
Bella's eyes were glazed, emotionless, as she silently watched her mother rummage through her dresser.
"I'm not going," she said, her voice sounding like it hadn't been used in quite some time – scratchy and rough and completely without inflection.
"Of course you are," Renee sang, ignoring her protest. "There's a great school right around the corner from our place. Phil misses you. We'll go to the beach every weekend, baby."
"I don't want fucking sunshine," she muttered.
Watching her memories, I wasn't sure her parents really heard her.
When Renee placed her hands on Bella's bookcase, all ability to stay calm left my poor, sweet girl.
"No!" Bella snapped, yanking the suitcase to the floor and spilling its contents all over the place. She slammed the closet, the dresser drawers, and pulled open her bedroom door to find Charlie. "You're kicking me out?"
"No, sweetie, but your mom wants you...they're in a more stable..."
"No! I don't want to go. I want to stay here. I live here," she sobbed, tears pouring down her face. "I want to be here. Daddy, you can't...you just can't..." She shook her head in denial, her tiny fists clenched at her side. Her whole body shook with the mere idea of leaving Charlie's—or really, the memories of us. She needed something to cling to.
"Bells, your mom and I think you need help...just someone to talk to." Charlie looked pained as he watched his daughter completely fall apart at the seams.
"I don't need help! I need to keep going. I'm fine, I swear. I've got finals coming. I have... I need... Don't make me go, Dad...Please..." Her shoulders slumped with defeat, but I could hear Charlie's deep sigh. He could tell her no to something she wanted no more than I could.
"He's not coming back, Bells. I spoke to Dr. Gerandy, and they've settled in California." Charlie chose his words carefully, but said them so very gently.
"I know," she sniffled, and at that very moment, I saw the last glimmer of hope leave my Bella's face as she sat down hard on her bed, dissolving into heartbreaking sobs.
She knew California was a cover. She knew there was no telling where we'd gone. And I could see the dark, deep, lonely feeling of complete and utter abandonment settle over her like a thick blanket, because she didn't just need me, she'd needed my whole family.
And I'd taken it all away without a second thought as to what I was truly leaving behind.
I'd never seen my girl like that. She seemed too small, too fragile, and just barely able to function. Her hair didn't hold any of its usual healthy shine, her eyes were dead, hollow, with deep purple patches underneath, and her demeanor was nothing but complete surrender. She looked like a beaten stray dog.
~o~
"I'm sorry," she whispered, turning away from me. "You never should've seen that. I never, ever wanted you to see that..." I heard her voice crack on the last word.
I turned her back around, studying her face, but she wouldn't meet my gaze. At all.
"You're mad," she said, her voice hitching. "I didn't mean for it to slip, Edward..." She sounded like an admonished child, and I hated it.
"It's okay," I finally breathed, pulling her to me and burying my nose in her hair. "These things...these memories upset you today?"
She said nothing, just wrapped her arms around my neck. I sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled her onto my lap. She took a deep breath, finally meeting my eyes as I ran my fingers through her damp hair. They were sweet and brown and sad, but so loving that I couldn't stop from tracing over one of her eyebrows.
"Not upset, just...to see it so clearly on your face," she sighed, tilting her beautiful head at me. "I'd forgotten how I'd looked to them during that time." Her brow furrowed, and her nose wrinkled. "And I'm sorry about the Renee thing..."
"No apologies," I whispered against her lips in order to stop her. I pulled back, cupping her face and stroking her cheek bones with my thumbs. "Do we need to talk about this?"
This was a question that had to be asked. Carlisle would have asked it, if he'd been here. He was, for all intents and purposes, our therapist, as well as our father. He would encourage me to stay calm, stay focused on the issue.
"On Christmas, Edward?" she countered, frowning at me. "No." She shook her head. "I know what I looked like. I know what it seemed, but had my mother not shown up like that, I probably would've never snapped out of it. Not long after that, I started to come around. I tried to go on with my life...and the rest you know about."
I looked at her now, compared to her memory, and I just couldn't fathom that they were the same Bella. Even though she was immortal and perfect and stunning now, that Bella in her memory looked...haunted, a shell of the sweet, boisterous little human that I had fallen in love with. I wasn't comparing her physical appearance; I was talking about the lack of her sweet spark of life that she usually filled a room with. There was just...nothing in her eyes.
"I'm sorry we were apart. I did that," I said with a frown, pressing a finger to her lips when she started to protest. "Wait, my gorgeous girl. Let me finish. But...I'm not sorry for what I'm holding right now. I can't regret a single thing about coming back to you, surrendering to you, changing you. And I know that all is forgiven between us. And I also know that sometimes we can't help but...remember. Yes?" I asked, verifying what I was hearing in her mind – that some memories just were, and we had to face them again once in a while.
"Yes." Her voice was a whisper, her whole demeanor relaxing with my words, my touch. But her mind was wondering why I wasn't upset with the memory she'd kept from me, when we normally didn't hide anything from each other.
I smiled, kissing her nose. "Because I know you, my over protective wife. You were sheltering me."
She giggled softly, reaching up to brush my hair from my forehead. "That's right. It's an embarrassing memory, though. I pitched a true teenage fit."
"You did. And it was fantastic," I teased, chuckling with her. "I love you," I sighed as she pressed her forehead to mine. "We're okay?"
"We're perfect, Edward."
I could feel our connection flutter around us, filling the air with a crackling energy. I fought it as best I could, because it was Christmas Eve – or technically Christmas morning, we were all alone, and I had plans for my beautiful girl. None of which would happen if I couldn't keep my hands from her shower warm, sweetly clean skin that was exposed around her towel, which was a glorious amount, I was happy to note.
"I have something for you," I said, swallowing thickly and trying to focus on something other than how her legs felt straddling mine or how her towel had ridden up when I'd pulled her to my lap.
Bella breathed roughly through her nose, giving me a chastising look, but smiled anyway. She knew she could never stop me from trying to spoil her. It would never happen.
"I suppose it's a good time for your present, too," she smirked. "Who goes first?"
"I do," I beamed, setting her on the bed and diving for the hallway. Alice had kept my present with her things, mentally showing me where I could find it.
My girl was giggling when I made it back from the other bedroom. "Excited much, baby?" she teased, grinning up at me.
"You've gotten really good at accepting gifts, Bella," I chuckled, turning on the iPod deck to some soft Christmas music. "I have to take advantage when I can."
"Okay, Edward," she snorted, rolling her eyes and holding her hands out for her present.
I set the box in her hands. It was wrapped with blue, shiny paper with snowflakes all over it, thanks to Rose. My girl tugged the ribbon and tore off the paper, and I held my breath, because this wasn't normally my style, but I just knew the box's contents would make her smile.
The first thing she pulled out was a crystal version of Alice's drawing – the lion and the lamb from Bella's story that she'd written.
"Oh, Edward," she gasped, holding it up in the soft light. "It's exact!"
"I took Alice's picture to a man in Brooklyn," I said softly, watching her turn the little statue every which way to catch the glimmer. "There's more in there, love."
She set the figurine down beside her with careful reverence, reaching into the box again. This time, she pulled out her old notebook from when we were in Forks the very first time.
"Okay," she giggled, looking up at me.
"Charlie had it, and Alice called him for it," I chuckled. "If we go back to school, I want you carrying this. Look at my name all over it," I pointed out.
She laughed, leaning over and kissing me sweetly. "You're not possessive at all, sweetheart..."
"Who said that?" I laughed, shrugging nonchalantly. "Please? For me?"
"Damn," she smirked, shaking her head. "Never can say no to that face... Fine, baby." She chuckled again when I smiled widely.
It wasn't about the notebook, but the memories that all those swirls, doodles, and hearts had brought with it. My name was carefully scrolled within the midst of all of it, and I loved it. It was like marking her again, staking a claim on her in a sea of hormone driven students, or kissing her senseless in front of an entire school. They needed to know that she was mine.
The last thing she pulled out was her real present.
"Is this... Holy hell, Edward... Is this a first edition?" she gasped, pulling out a copy of Wuthering Heights.
"Y-yes," I stuttered, knowing that she would realize that I had spent what she thought was far too much on her. "But it's really beautiful, love. Look. You love the story so much..."
"That was the auction Jasper was sweating bullets over," she snorted, shaking her head. "He's the eBay king, isn't he?"
"That's not eBay, but yes, he did bid on it for me," I chuckled. "That's from a private collection."
"Oh, it's really just...perfect, baby," she sighed, her brow wrinkling. "Thank you." She kissed me, smiling against my lips. "And I know the other things were just to soften the blow of the book, Edward. You don't fool me. And don't you dare tell me how much it was..."
I laughed, my forehead hitting her shoulder. "I'll never get away with anything again..."
She giggled, and it was a fabulous sound to my ears. I smiled, turning my head to kiss her sweet neck.
"Your turn, Edward," she sang, getting up from the bed.
I frowned, not understanding why she was bringing my phone with her back to the bed. She touched the screen with swift movements, a silly but sexy smile on her face.
"See," she started, holding the phone away from me. "You, of all people, gave me this idea. And it was Alice that helped me get it accomplished." Her shield was down, so I had no clue as to what she was up to. "And since you're never anywhere without your phone, we thought that an app for it would be perfect. Besides, I didn't want this in print." She giggled again, rolling her eyes.
"Bella, open your mind or show me, because I'm dying over here," I begged, which just caused her to laugh.
"You're such a child. Wait!" She laughed, handing me my phone. "It was a joke at Halloween when I teased you about being a model for a firefighter calendar, but I thought you would like your own Bella calendar."
The low, deep growl that erupted from me couldn't be stopped. She'd posed for pictures for every single month for the next year. And she was fucking stunning in each and every one.
January was all white – snowy, fluffy, white lingerie with mahogany curls spread about her head. February was red and lacy and sexy. March...green, as she lay in the midst of a field of clovers. April was a wet Bella in the rain, and I had to stop to ask...
"Who the hell took these?" I growled, thinking the man with the camera was going to lose his eyes...or his life...I didn't care which.
Her giggle was sweet and musical, like she expected that very question. "Some were Alice with Jasper's camera. Some were Rose."
"Oh," I sighed with relief, unable to tear my eyes from April and ice blue satin clinging to amazing slick skin. "Yeah, but... oh, fuck..." I groaned, my mouth hanging open at the sight of May. She was artfully nude with wildflowers covering her strategically in the sweetest of places.
"Edward," she laughed, shaking her head. "Emmett taught me how to make the application. I put it on your phone myself."
None of them were crude. In fact, my girl was so beautiful in each month, that she would have made a stunning model of top money making proportions. But it was all for me... July with an American flag wrapped around her. August in white again – a reminder of our anniversary. September – but instead of some reminder of her birthday, she was wearing nothing but my black leather jacket. I really, really liked that one.
October made me laugh and growl at the same time. She was my little cheerleader again, all in red and black and white. Her ponytail was long as it cascaded over her shoulder, a red ribbon tied in a bow at the top of her head.
"Oh, God, you're so damn beautiful," I groaned, looking up at her and feeling like the luckiest bastard on the planet, because this woman, this gorgeous woman was all for me.
"Thank you." She smiled, and I could see if she were still human, she would have been blushing the sweetest of crimson. I had to kiss her for that – for that shy, humble side of her that never changed.
November was my girl on a haystack, wearing very short cut-off denim shorts and a plaid shirt that was tied in a knot just under the black bra that I could barely see peaking out.
And then...there was December. She was not in lingerie in this one, but sat in the snow next to a perfectly formed snow angel. A tendril of her hair caressed her face as she laughed at whatever one of my sisters was saying. Her light blue, jean-clad legs were up, an arm wrapped around them loosely. She was wearing a white jacket with a furry edged hood, and she was perfect and happy. It was, by far, my favorite – not that the other pictures weren't stunning, but this was my Bella, frozen in amazing clarity.
"My snow angel," I whispered aloud, finally meeting her sweet, expectant gaze. "I love it."
"Good," she sighed, kissing me softly. "I'm glad you like it."
"Like?" I scoffed, flipping back through them one more time. "Um... Can we print them?"
She snorted, breaking out into a sweet grin. "Yes, if you want. They're all on my laptop. But you can set them as wallpapers or a slide show or..." She pointed to my phone, touching the screen for me, but I cut her off with my mouth on hers.
I set my phone aside, and our towels hit the floor as I dragged her to the center of the bed. "Those are really beautiful pictures, baby, but I want to see the real thing," I sighed, laying on my side and pulling her flush to me, reveling in the feel of skin on skin. Our legs tangled, and our hands caressed backs and faces.
The soft music of Mannheim Steamroller gave way to Nat King Cole, and The Christmas Song wafted around us.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
Our touches were soft, sweet, and reverent as we kissed. It was slow, languid, with absolutely no hurry to get anywhere. I wanted to show her that even though our presents were fun and sweet and perfect, I hadn't forgotten about her memories from before. That it was okay that she had memories, because I was no better off without her than she was without me. And it was fine, because we knew, just fucking knew that it would never happen again.
Everybody knows that turkey and some mistletoe
Can help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight
Her deep, chocolate brown eyes locked with mine when I rolled her onto her back, whispering of my love and my regrets, of her beauty and her sweet soul. I told her, as I kissed her immortal scar, that I didn't need presents or pictures or anything, as long as I had her.
They know that Santa's on his way
He's loading lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother's child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly
Her fingers slipped up my back as our hips pressed together, her fingers finally weaving themselves into my hair as I slowly entered her, finally giving into our connection that had been tugging at my heart for the last few minutes.
As the last verse repeated beautifully, we became one – a pile of arms, legs, and naughty smiles, but the talking was over. Because it was Christmas, and we were alone in the house that we had fallen in love in, learned everything about each other in, and gotten married in.
With lips on skin and deep breaths, we silently gave into our hearts and souls. We told each other that no matter the memories, bad or good, they were ours, and ours alone. And we said, with each gripping hand and sensual groan and dark, lust-filled eyes, "I love you...forever."


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